Thursday, 22 October 2015

Unitarians Take to the Rails

The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which opened on 15 September 1830, was dominated by Unitarians. The railway was the brainchild of  two Unitarians: Joseph Sandars of Liverpool and John Kennedy of Manchester, owner of what was then the largest cotton spinning mill in Manchester (and by extension, perhaps the world).  John Kennedy was a member of the Mosley Street congregation in Manchester – other members included the industrialists Edmund Potter FRS, and Robert Hyde Gregg (he was also a Proprietor of the L&MR). Kennedy’s daughter married Edwin Chadwick, the noted social reformer who worked tirelessly to improve urban sanitation and public health. Sandars, a wealthy corn merchant, was a member of the Paradise Street congregation in Liverpool. Amongst the proprietors were the following Unitarian notables:

Robert Hyde Greg
William Potter
Richard Rathbone
WIlliam Rathbone (not to be mistaken of the Unitarian Liverpool MP of the same name)
Henry Booth (see below)
Thomas Booth
J. Sanders
W W Currie - the son of Rev. James Currie.

Unitarian Directors included Sandars, Kennedy, Rathbone, Booth and James Cropper.

 The project took nearly ten years to complete – the Board of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway appointed George Stephenson of Newcastle as it’s chief engineer. Stephenson had been a pupil of the Unitarian Minister Rev. William Turner of Newcastle and was a member of the Dissenter’s (latterly Unitarian) chapel at Wylam. Wealthy Newcastle industrialists the Walkers had founded the chapel; George Walker had been president of the Warrington Academy (1798). Company Secretary and Treasurer was Henry Booth, a well-connected Liverpool Unitarian. It was Booth who suggested to Robert Stephenson (George’s son) that he adopt the multi-tube boiler (patented by Marc Seguin in France in 1828) for his locomotive the “Rocket” which he was to enter in the Rainhill Trials of October1829 to find the best type of motive power for the new railway. Booth also had shares in "Rocket" and stood to make a considerable sum of money if the Stephensons won the trial and therefore the contract to supply the locomotives to the L&MR. The Liverpool Chronicle levelled charges of corruption at the L&MR, suggesting that  because of the relationship between Booth, Stephenson and the Directors of the L&MR the Rainhill Trials were merely a publicity stunt. The Unitarian owned and editted Manchester Guardian came to the defence of Stephenson and the Board. The London based Mechanics Magazine criticised Stephenson and the L&MR Board - but these were penend by Stephenson's rival Charles Vignoles as part of his personal anti-Stephenson campaign.

“Rocket”, of course, won the day but at the time there was a suggestion of foul play due to the connections between the Stephensons and the Board of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. “Rocket” was by far the best locomotive demonstrated, and one that incorporated many (but not all) the design features of the mature steam locomotive. “Rocket” had been built to do one job and one job only: to win the Rainhill Trails and she was effectively an evolutionary dead-end. It was the “Planet”  - built by the Stephensons which first ran 4th December 1830 – that is generally considered to be the ‘mother’ of the steam locomotive. The speed of development can be shown by the fact that whilst  “Rocket” (1829) weighed 4 tons and had top speed of c.20mph, “Planet” (and her six sisters) came in at 9 tons with a top speed of c.30mph – a speed at which Unitarian polymath Dr Dionysius Lardner suggested the human being would suffocate. Having been fireman on the replica “Planet” at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, at only speeds up to 10mph, I take my hat off to those early enginemen as “Planet” has no cab and only a very flimsy (and quite low) safety rail to stop you falling off!

 “Rocket,” other than Ericsson and Braithwaite’s “Novelty” was the only serious competitor –Joseph Brandredth entered the “Cycloped” which was nothing more than a horse-powered self-propelling treadmill on wheels, whilst Timothy Hackworth’s old-fashioned entry “Sans Pareil” should have been disqualified for being too heavy. Hackworth, however, vehemently complained that “Sans Pareil” was not over weight. The Judges remained resolute but the Directors, however, approved Hackworth’s entry, perhaps to make the competition less of a ‘one horse race.’ Hackworth, a fierce and bitter rival of the Stephensons, levelled a charge of corruption and industrial sabotage against them: unable to cast the cylinders for “Sans Pareil” he had them cast by the Stephensons but during the trial one of them burst, and he duly cast blame on the Stephensons. Part of the intense rivalry between Hackworth and Stephenson may also have been religious: both came from the village of Wylam but whereas Stephenson was a Unitarian, Hackworth was a Methodist – and a lay preacher to boot. Hackworth refused to do any work on Sunday - not even to get "Sans Pareil" ready for the trials - whilst Messrs. Stephenson and so such qualms! There may also have been some class rivalry going on: both were self-made men, but Stephenson had risen rapidly in society whereas Hackworth had not.

It also has to be remembered that "Rocket" was the only locomotive built in a specialist factory - R. Stephenson & Co's works in Newcastle. Hackworth built "Sans Pareil" in his spare time, using what little savings he had; despite the Rainhill Trials being advertised in January 1829 for some reason Ericsson and Braithwaite only learned of it in July leaving them with only a few months to build "Novelty". The pair had previously experimented with building steam-powered fire engines, and given the short space of time they had, "Novelty" is probably based upon the technology they developed for their steam pumps. Furthermore, only "Rocket" had any pre-Trial testing, both in Newcastle and at Rainhill carrying out demonstration runs and, when "Novelty" and "Sans Pareil" were out of action, carrying passengers over the trial course.  The leaking boiler of "Sans Pareil" and the teething trouble with "Novelty" (water feed pump; air compressor; boiler joints) would have been ironed out had there been any test period - but, as George Stephenson said the "Novelty", "had no goots" - Ericsson and Braithwaite built two "Novelty" class locos for the L&MR in 1830 but neither proved succesful over the 35-mile route and had to be rescued by one of Stephenson's engines.

Such was the pace of technological development, that "Rocket" was obsolete within  months. The L&MR ordered four "Rocket" type locomotives from R. Stephenson & Co. on  26 October 1829 ("Arrow", "Dart", "Comet", "Meteor"), first running in January 1830. They inorporated many lessons learned from "Rocket":-

Cylinders at 8 degrees (rather than the 38 of Rocket) which made the loco more stable
A Steam Dome (to reduce 'priming')

Internal steam pipe (from the Dome to the cylinders)
Larger wheels (five foot diameter)
Larger cylinders
Valve chest on top of the cylinders (Rockets were underneath and therefore transposed and inverted)

 In turn, these were rapidly superseded in June 1830 by "Pheonix" and "Northumbrian" which sported an integral firebox and an ash box at the front end - but not yet a smoke-box proper.  The obsolescence of "Rocket" is shown by the fact it had a working life on the L&MR of about four years; it was heavily rebuilt in 1830 following a severe accident to bring it into line with "Arrow" et al through lowering of the cylinders and fitting a steam dome. After about a year of being laid-up out of work, "Rocket" was sold in 1836 for use on the Naworth colliery.

 So were the Rainhill Trials fair? Probably not! "Rocket" (despite being the most reliable locomotive present) and her design team had the advantages of not only having a fully-equipped Locomotive Factory and experienced designers and engineers to constrcut it, also had the advantage of running-in trials and being able to test and modify the locomotive before the trials began. Furthermore, Stephenson, through his Unitarian connections, knew the 'great and the good' and was probably able to use them to his own advantage - George Stephenson was excellent at self-promotion and putting himself forward as the best man for the job.

Unitarians in Liverpool and Manchester had a degree of political and industrial clout and influence far stronger than their numbers would suggest. Charges of ‘insider trading’ were levelled against them by the largely Tory, Anglican Liverpool Corporation and for demonstrating favouritism to fellow Unitarians with regards to contracts, employment and apprentices. George Stephenson – chief engineer of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway – the company founders and most of the Board were Unitarians. Was the victory of the Stephensons at Rainhill and the subsequent very lucrative contract to supply locomotives to the Liverpool & Manchester already a foregone conclusion? Yes.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

"It's the New Sodom, I tell you"

Whilst walking my way down Market Street in Manchester this morning,  making my way to Chapel, amidst the debris of Gay Pride, side stepping mountains of half drunk champagne bottles, tattered rainbow flags and pink streamers, I couldn't help but notice amongst the detritus not only passed out drunks but homeless peoples, whose only possessions appeared to be in a few black plastic bin bags which looked scarily like the banks of rubbish being thrown on the dustcart by the council workers.

I was moved by the sharp dichotomy. The contrast between those who spent the night on the street in their party clothes because they had drunk too much, and for whom this would be something to tell their friends later - high jinks indeed - and those for whom every night was spent on the street, and we wearing their only clothes. and for whom there would be no high jinks,

And yet, this was taking place in Manchester, at the Pride Big Weekend - a festival to welcome and celebrate the LGBTQI communities, to celebrate, welcome and affirm. To support and uphold those who are differant; those who within a few short decades have had their lives transformed. Manchester, welcoming thousands of visitors and thousands of pounds spent in shops and bars.

But yet.

But yet  where was the welcome, the hospitality, for those who are down and out and quite literally have nothing?

On Saturday - again in Market Street - I was stopped by a Christian lady who warned me that Manchester "Is the new Sodom, I tell you! Repent!".

And I agreed. Which shocked her. But  not in the way I believe she intended me to reply.

The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality. It was about wealth. And power.  And the abuse of power. Of not showing hospitality, especially to the least:

"For this was the guilt ... of Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food and prosperous ease but did not aid the poor and needy" (Ezekiel 16: 48-49)

The sins of Sodom were Pride, Greed, and Inhospitality.

This is contrasted elsewhere in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah with the radical hospitality shown by Abraham  and also Lot toward strangers, toward unexpected guests in his house. Abraham was told by "God" that he would be rewarded for showing such hospitality.

The sin of Sodom is not homosexuality (although there is attempted rape....)

And yet this weekend, in Manchester I saw just that: greed and inhospitality. Whilst Manchester opened its arms to the LGBTQI community and the power of the "Pink Pound", people were living on the streets, in bin bags and tents. And were even asked to "move on" from the area around Canal Street, as if they were human detritis but be cleaned up by the council bin men to make the area nicer and litter free for the party-goers. The hypocracy is mind blowing:  an event to welcome "the other," those whom less than fifty years aho whose choice of lover was illegal, was treating "the other" and the downtrodden as little more than human waste, to be tidied up off the street for a Big Weekend to celebrate inclusion and community.

How do we as the LGBT community respond to the other, to those who do not conform within our community (those who do not fit the idealised gay man or woman or neatly fit into our compartments) and how do we respond to those who literally have nothing?  A three-year old report suggests that 20% of all homeless youth in the UK are LGBT - thrown out as unwanted, as damaged goods by their parents - and with the highest rate of suicide amongst homeless youth (69%).

So yes, I do agree with the Christian lady with the pamphlets and a bible  - this is a new sodom and we do need to repent. Repent of our sins of pride, of greed, and show hospitality to all.

The Church needs to repent of Sodomy, too: for two thousand years it has been persecuting, torturing and murdering gay people in the name of a "God of Love". Subjecting LGBT people to extreme acts of inhospitality. Because of policies of exlcusion, condemnation and denial by the Church towards LGBT people; by the response of Manchester council to the plight of the homeless (being moved on; installing spikes etc) i it is they who are the sodomtes rahter than the LGBT community and the homeless. Rather than LGBT people, it is they who deserve the anathema carried by the word 'Sodomite.'

"He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away."

Monday, 27 July 2015

Thunderbolts from Titfield

  I recently stared working at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester as a Trainee Fireman. No, not the big hunky fellas in the yellow helmets… but rather, the filthy guy in blue overalls shovelling coal on a steam train.  A boyhood dream realised – to learn to drive a steam train. And you don’t just start with learning how to drive the thing, oh no: you start at the very bottom literally – underneath it with an oil can. Learning how it works by cleaning the thing. Crawling all over it, under it, under it in your overalls, oiling it, cleaning it, polishing the brass until you can use it as a mirror... and then learning how to fire the engine. It’s a ... Long process. Glamorous it is not. But it is so very, very fulfilling.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Feed the Birds

 Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul's
The little old bird woman comes
In her own special way to the people she calls,
"Come, buy my bags full of crumbs;
Come feed the little birds,
Show them you care
And you'll be glad if you do
The young ones are hungry
The nests are so bare
All it takes is tuppence from you
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag
Feed the birds," that's what she cries
While overhead, her birds fill the skies

All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares
Although you can't see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares

Though her words are simple and few
Listen, listen, she's calling to you
"Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag"

Monday, 29 June 2015

We are the Daleks

The Daleks. A uniquely British science fiction "baddy". Nothing more than a dustbin armed with a sink-plunger and an egg whisk. Evil killing machines that can't be stopped by the best that human arsenals have to offer  - other than a flight of stairs.

Who do you say I am?

The above pictures were taken at Paris Pride. And, undestandably many Christians - especially Roman Catholics - found these tableaus offensive. I can understand why. But, at the same time, I think they are the most wonderful piece of challenging Queer Theology.

The image of Jesus kissing another man was branded disrespectual (despite kissing on the lips being perfectly common in the 1st century CE). And I think it's been branded as such because it makes Jesus human - it gives him not only a sex but also a sexuality with all the messy human stuff that goes with him. The whole point of Incarnational Theology is that the "Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us". The word became Flesh. Not a Ken Doll - shiny, and handsome but never having to worry about which side he dresses. Jesus was a human being - just like you and I. Messy, complicated. Mucky. Too often we put him up on a pedestal like a plaster saint: we make him perfect. Long haired. Blue eyed. Killer abs. Walking a few inches off the ground. We forget he was a first century Jew lilving in the levant (olive skinned, dark hair, probably not very tall by today's standards). We make him "perfect" , "sinless" (the Gospel writers try to do that too...) and by so doing we lose the essential humanity of Jesus. We lose the fact the he was a man. With working genitals and probably used them. I think the fact that Jesus kissing another man can be taken as offensive and disrespectful is becaues we don't want Jesus to be human. We can't handle the idea of Jesus having sex. We don't like our heros to be mucky. We don't want our teacher, examplar,pioneer to be just like us. We want them to be better than us. To be superhumna. But by making Jesus superhuman is to totally negate the incarnation.

But the whole point is that Jesus, messy and complicated as he was, he was able to become "one with God" and he says we can do it to - put aside the self and the selfish ego and live a life of servcie and oneness with the self and with God. And because he, a mucky complicated human being could do so, so can I. Sex, desires and sexuality included.

And the image of Christ Crucified with a sign reading "Homophobia" rather han INRI reminds us that LGTBQ+ people have been crucified by the intollerance of the Church  for centuries. Not literally crucified - usually they were burned at the stake - but metaphorically crucified. Made a scapegoat. In the image of a Queered Jesus, crucified by homophobia is to remind us not only of his sacrificial love for all but to remind us of the inhumanity man has shown to man.

The death of Jesus is a reminder that a life of love, serving others and of radical hospitality (Jesus never turned people away and used stories, such as the good sammaritan or the women at the well to challenge everyday stereotypes and prejudices) can be world changing and can be threatening and challenging. And it's dangerous. Jesus didn't die to literally save sinners  by being the only acceptable "sacrifice" but rather he "saved sinners" by what happened after his death. His death was a tragedy - just like the death of other radical leaders (spiritual and temporal). He made a decision to change the world, to challenge the powers that be and went to his death because of that. His was a sacrificial love. His death *did* change the world - his death inspired others to stand in his place; just as the death of Rev Jim Reeb 50 years ago at Selma did or the death of Dr Luther King. The death was a tragedy, but the transformation it inspired in others is the miracle. Love coming out of darkness and tragedy.

So yes, Jesus can represent all these things: He can represent the world being crucified by the greedy and wealthy in the name of money; he can represent the animals and species being crucified by man; he can represent man being crucified by man through his own inhumanity. Jesus can represent LGBTQ persons being crucified. Who do you say I am? he asked. I say he can represent all these things: not just because he is an archetype, but because his sacrificial love was world and life changing and transformational.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Fun with Flags

No, not this one....

But this one...

Flags have been in the news a lot over the past few weeks, with objections being raised to the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag and also the Pride or Freedom Flag – one US Christian commentator described the Pride Flag as being “anti-Christian” and  a “banner of fascism and intolerance” and that it should be banned, whilst at the same time arguing it was OK to fly the “stars and bars”.

The flag which today is most associated with the Confederate States of America – those states which seceded from the Union in 1861 over the right to own slaves – is the Confederate Battle Flag, a flag introduced after the Battle of Manassas in 1861, because the Confederate State Flag was too similar at a distance to the Stars and Stripes of the Union forces. Today, it is often erroneously thought to have been the flag of the Confederacy, but it was not.

The Flag of the Confederate States went through several iterations: the first was rectangular, with two horizontal red stripes separated by a white stripe of equal width. In the upper left canton was a blue field, bearing nine, later thirteen, white states – one per state of the Confederacy. It looked like this:

   But because this was too similar to the Stars and Stripes a new flag was designed by newspaper owner William T Thompson  in 1863 and dubbed “The Stainless Banner” because it was predominantly white The body of the flag was white, and in the upper canton the familiar red field with the blue saltire cross. 


 In describing his flag, Thompson stated

As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism….”

Furthermore the white field of the flag represented racial purity

We are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.”

The Confederate Battle flag only came to prominence within the last 50 years or so because of its adoption by the Klu Klux Klan and later, as a response in many former “Southern” states as a response to the Equal Rights movement. Even today, in the discussion in the US to banish the flags of the Confederacy for good, many still hold on the idea that the Confederacy was not racist at all, merely

 “a symbol of patriots who were willing to die to protect this country and make sure it remained as the founders intended….Freedom with as little interference from the federal government as possible…. A war for southern independence”.

The Pride or Freedom Flag, by direct contrast was designed by the artist Gilbert Baker for the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.  Just as the fifteen stars on the Confederate flag represented the states of the Confederacy, so each of the six stripes of the Pride Flag has its own meaning
Red for life

Orange for healing

Yellow for sunlight

Green for nature

Blue for art

Purple for serenity

 Is it flown horizontally so that the stripes form a natural rainbow. The original flags were hand-sewn as a peace demonstration; it grew in popularity after the death of Harvey Milk and the burgeoning of the Gay Rights movement in the US.

It has often drawn controversy: in 1998  in the US John Stout sued his landlords – and won- after they forbade him from flying a pride flag; in 2004 Westminster City Council forbade the display of the pride flag by gay businesses. The decision was later overruled and only this year, again in the US, one Christian group has complained about the placement of rainbow coloured candles in a front garden, for being “relentlessly gay”.

So I ask this question, which of the two flags – the Confederate Battle Flag or the Pride Flag is really a banner for intolerance? I suppose it all depends which side of the political spectrum you sit, but the Confederate States of America- despite their romantic image via the likes of Gone with the Wind or The Blue and the Grey extolling the virtues of an idealised south –  was a country established over racism, over slavery. Whilst those who apologise for the South will say it was all about small govmint and states rights, what it actually was about was slavery. Stars and Bars or Rainbow Stripes? And if the flag, the symbol embodies the country or movement it represents, displays their virtues, then the Pride Flag is a flag of hope, a flag of freedom, and  - despite the machinations of the Christian Right, a Christian emblem, embodying the virtues of life, of healing and spirit. Moreover, it embodies the values of humanity. There's nothing fascist or intelorant represented in the values - the virtues - represented in the Pride Flag.

You chose. But I know which flag as the side of history with it, and as we approach the Gay Pride time of year, let us all fly our Rainbow Stripes with pride.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Vive la Revolution

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

After hearing the news of the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, the Unitarian William Hazlitt was:

…staggering under the Blow of Waterloo. The reappearance of our Imperial Idol on the coast of France, and his triumphal march on Paris is like a fairy-vision, excited our admiration and sympathy to their utmost pitch...Waterloo... the greatest and most fatal in its consequence that was ever fought in the world...the Sun that illuminated the Day of Austerlitz has finally set; the Lamp of Liberty is extinguished.’
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The motto of the French Revolution, a Revolution which terrified the crowned heads of Europe who, for twenty years, desperately tried put the Genie of Liberty back into the bottle.  Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, are not just words uttered by dead politicians; the motto of a system of government once (still?) reviled in Britain. And contrary to the assertion of Hazlitt, the Lamp of Liberty is not extinguished. It cannot be extinguished, dimmed and guttering it may be: the Lamp of Liberty burns in all our hearts as the Divine Spark of Wesley; the Inner Light of George Fox, the still small voice of calm of Longfellow; the conscience of Emerson.
Unitarians supported the French Revolution because it’s values chimed with their own: Freedom, Reason and Tolerance. Freedom of thought, of belief, of action, the freedom to live an authentic life; the importance of Reason in understanding and interpreting the world; and Tolerance to accept the ideas, opinions and beliefs of those with whom we may not agree. Values many Unitarians still value.
These values are values of inclusion, of welcome, of radical hospitality.
Liberty to think for yourself, to make up your own mind, to be authentic and live and authentic life.
Equality – that all people are worth of the same dignity and respect; to treat others as we would have them treat us.
Fraternity – the recognition that we are all part of the same human family. That we are all “one”, one before each other and one before God.
The ‘Lamp of Liberty’ is rekindled every time freedom prevails over injustice; the Lamp of Liberty is rekindled every time equality triumphs over oppression; the Lamp of Liberty is rekindled every time the essential one-ness of our human condition is recognised.
And this is not just a political statement, but a religious one as well. Jesus of Nazareth no less urged his followers to ‘Love God, Love another and love your neighbour as yourself’; to ‘do unto others as you would them to do unto you’ to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us; that blessed are the peace makers and those who suffer for the sake of righteousness.  Jesus never told his followers what to believe, but more importantly – and one attended with far more difficulty – how to behave. This is a vision of radical inclusion where no one is cast out and all are welcome in the name of love.  No one is left outside ‘in my father’s  house there are many rooms.’ To paraphrase St Paul, if we do not have love we are nothing but a noisy gong or crashing cymbal – lots of noise but nothing else. ‘These three shall abide: Faith, Hope and Love, but the greatest of these is Love.’ This is a radical vision and message of a world set free, set free by love: love of the self, love of neighbour and love all that we find holy.  As the hymn-writer says
“We would be one in building for tomorrow, a greater world than we have known today; We would be one in searching for that meaning which binds our hearts and points us on the way. We would be one in living for each other, With love and justice strive to make all free. As one, we pledge ourselves to greater service, To show the world a new community.”
May we forever strive to encourage the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in our own lives and in the world at large.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

So long, and thanks for all the Turtles

I started to plan this service before I heard of the death of Terry Pratchett and this sermon is both my thoughts – eulogy perhaps – about the impact Terry has had on my religious and spiritual life, someone who, via their writing, I have had a relationship with for over twenty years.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Meditation on Rev Jim Reeb

What would you live for?

So often we here the expression “I’d die for you” or “I’d die for [x y z]”. And whilst this conjures up images of sacrificial love, as a Unitarian I don’t think focussing on death and suffering is at all healthy; making death and suffering somehow worthy and spiritual. To make suffering in itself a vocation, and end to itself as though it has a purpose or inevitable. We are not here to suffer, friends. To be honest, I think the question should be “What would you live” for?

This morning I’d like to talk to you about the Unitarian Minister,  Rev. Jim Reeb who was murdered fifty years ago. As a Unitarian, Reeb fiercely believed in the Unitarian values of Freedom, Reason and Tolerance: that all people share in and are equal reflections of the Divine; all persons should be treated with equality and dignity irrespective of their sex, creed, race, class, sexual orientation. Reeb was from a very well to do middle class background and was offered a prestigious post ministering to a middle class congregation, but instead chose to work in a downtown inner city mostly African-American Parish in Boston, ministering to the needs of a community which was downtrodden, poor and denied basic human rights – African Americans could not vote, nor could they use the same public loos as a white person and had to give up their seat on a bus to a white person: that was, if they were allowed to use the bus. And the sad thing is, those laws were promoted by people who were Christians and believed God had ordained them! God, apparently, was the first segregationist.

Jim Reeb believed his faith could move a mountain  - the mountain of racism and discrimination. When Rev Martin Luther King Jnr made his famous call for the clergy of all denominations to stand alongside him in the city of Selma, in Alabama in Spring 1965 Jim Reeb answered that call. His faith demanded he be there. Selma had been the scene of an atrocious race-riot where peaceful African-American and their white supporters taking part in a peaceful demonstration for voting rights had been attacked by the police.

Whilst walking down the street with two other Unitarians, Jim Reeb was attacked by a group of white supremacists, armed with baseball bats and lengths of pipe. Reeb was beaten round the head and suffered from a blood clot in his brain. Whilst he was being taken to hospital Rev. Luther King presented a press conference calling the attack on the unarmed ministers as ‘cowardly’ and urging calm. Reeb died two hours later and his funeral Eulogy was preached by Rev King. His death provoked mourning throughout the country and candle-lit vigils in his memory. Rev King said

James Reeb, symbolizes the forces of good will in our nation. He demonstrated the conscience of the nation. He was an attorney for the defense of the innocent in the court of world opinion. He was a witness to the truth that men of different races and classes might live, eat, and work together as brothers (King, 15 March 1965).

The President, Lyndon Johnson invoked Reeb’s memory when delivered the draft of the Voting Rights Bill which would give African-Americans the vote before the US Congress

Jim Reeb had travelled to Selma not knowing he was to become a martyr. He travelled because his faith in God, and his faith in humanity demanded he did.  He lived with the poor and the marginalized. He lived for the poor and oppressed. He walked alongside the marginalized and oppressed; he walked alongside them. He believed his faith could move a mountain. Sadly, Jim Reeb paid the ultimate sacrifice for his love of humanity.  But his death, tragic as though it was, proved to be a catalyst, a defining moment. From the tragedy of his death others were inspired to stand in his place, to stand up and be counted, to stand up and want to change the world. Jim Reeb’s death changed the world for the African-American community. Jim Reeb died, but his spirit lived on. And still lives on, fighting against racism and all forms of discrimination.  The most important thing Jim Reeb did was to live: his example, his teaching, his courage are more important than his brutal murder.

What are we prepared to live for?