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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Erasmus Darwin and serendipity

Erasmus Darwin is well known in British Unitarian circles, not least as the paternal grandfather of Charles, and for his pithy put down that “Unitarianism was a feather-bed to catch a falling Christian”.

I recall reading the following hymn attributed to him and being somewhat surprised. Did he write hymns I asked? I had found it in a long out of print hymnal, “A Hymn-Book of God the Moral Ideal” complied by Rev Francis Haydn Williams, minister of Flowergate Old Chapel in Whitby, Yorkshire. It was published in 1909 and had been highlighted at a worship studies course by Rev Dr Vernon Marshall.

  “Roll on, ye stars; exult in youthful prime,
  Mark with bright curves the printless steps of Time;
  Near, and more near, your beamy cars approach,
  Or lessening orbs on lessening orbs approach.

  Flowers of the sky! Ye, too, to age must yield,
  Frail as your silken sisters of the field;
  Star after star from Heaven’s high arch shall rush,
  Suns sink on suns, and systems systems crush.

  But o’er the wreck, emerging from the storm,
  Immortal Nature lifts her changeful form,
  Mounts from her funeral pyre on wings of flame,
 And soars, and shines; another, yet the same.”

I am still staggered by the power of this image and hoped sometime to find out more about its origins.

I recently come across “Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science and Serendipity” remaindered in a local bookshop. Written by Patricia Fara it was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. I was not really looking for it but there on pages 244-245 it jumped out at me. In the poem “The Temple of Nature” were the final eight lines as Darwin imagined nature rising like a phoenix from the ashes of a collapsed chaotic cosmos. The author relishes how serendipity played a large role in her research which I much appreciated and here I was too experiencing it.

There is an interesting section on Erasmus in Cliff Reed's "Till All the People's Are One" on Charles Darwin's Unitarian heritage.

So take time to rest over the summer and do let your mind drift and begin to see connections. Read something different and let serendipity play its part. Do enjoy your holiday if you are fortunate to have one.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Welsh Unitarians Celebrate Reopening of historic Hen Gapel Llwynrhydowen

Huw Edwards with Rev Eric Jones, Derek McAuley and Martin Gilbraith
Last Friday was an important day in the history of Welsh Unitarianism and indeed of the Nonconformist Chapels in Wales. It was a pleasure to attend the reopening of Hen Gapel Llwynrhydowen after its restoration by Addoldai Cymru, the Welsh Religious Buildings Trust. The well-known BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards, Patron of Addoldai Cymru, handed the keys to Rev Wyn Thomas and later spoke to the packed Chapel.

The Grade II* listed building has now been repaired and consolidated and will be used as a centre for activities for the local community.

Hen Gapel has a significant place in the religious, political and social history of Wales. The Congregation’s radical tradition goes back to its opening in 1733 as the first Arminian Chapel in Wales.

 Heini Thomas read a powerful personal  account of the events of 1876 written by her grandmother, Mallie thomas.

In 1860 Gwilym Marles was called to the ministry at Llwynrhydowen. He was radicalised politically during the “Hungry Forties” which were years of evictions and emigration provoked by agricultural depression. He was a strong advocate of the secret ballot. On 29 October 1876 the squire John Davies Lloyd, from whom the Unitarians rented the land upon which the chapel stood, evicted them citing their ‘radical’ non Tory, Unitarian ideologies as a breach of their lease. This was a national sensation and the following Sunday Gwilym Marles preached to some 3000 people on the road outside the chained gates.  A nation-wide fundraising effort saw a new Chapel opened in 1879. Following the squire’s death his sister, Mrs Massey (having challenged the Will) gifted the Old Chapel back to the congregation.

This was seen as an important test of religious and political freedom - the right of individuals to exercise their vote freely in a democratic society and to worship as they saw fit. These remain ongoing Unitarian values.

It was good to return to the "Black Spot" (Y Smotyn Du"), the small area of twenty square miles which resisted Calvinistic Methodist revivals, and the Unitarian stronghold in Ceredigion.