Secular Liturgies Network and Forum

From Wakefield Westgate Unitarians who are engaging with this initiative.

Welcome to the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum
Our mission is to enrich secular societies with a rational spirituality, informed by the latest research, and expressed in liturgical events that include creative writing, literature, ritual and other art forms.

Our story so far

On 13th July 2018, I launched the Secular Liturgies Creative Writing Project, now called the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum (SLN/F). The Network brings together people from diverse backgrounds to explore potential common ground when it comes developing and creatively expressing a secular ethic, and developing the concept and practice of a rational human spirituality.

Academics and practitioners from across many disciplines will be contributing to this Network and Forum. It will provide an innovative platform for knowledge exchange, communication of cutting-edge research, and experimentation with secular liturgical events.

The aim is to discuss and share writings and art works/forms (new and old), philosophical ideas, cultural heritage and relevant cutting-edge research, in order to develop innovative liturgical events that will help to enrich secular societies, making them more resilient in difficult times, and inspiring us to meet the global challenges of our time.

Rational spirituality

The Network and Forum seek to bring together all those interested in a rational, secular approach to human spirituality, an approach that rejects superstition and dogmatism but seeks to enrich secular life and culture with creative liturgical writings and events.
Spirituality, for most modern people, means a genuine pursuit of truth, goodness or virtue.

It means experiencing awe and wonder, love and self-transcendence, and cultivating empathy and compassion for other living beings. Rational spirituality demands honesty, freedom, tolerance and equality, values running counter to the religious power structures that have been dominant for so long.

It also means rediscovering and better appreciating our place in nature, an emphasis, which contrasts with the efforts of traditional religion to set humanity apart from its natural origins and even to set us apart from the needs of our own physical bodies.

Secular liturgies and carefully choreographed secular liturgical events can help us to live out and express, both individually and communally, a fidelity to truth and kindness, even when truth and kindness demand that we revise our assumptions or put aside our self-interest.

They facilitate a greater appreciation of the natural world (and of our place within it), encourage a robust engagement with secular ethics, induce experiences of self-transcendence through techniques such as mindfulness, cultivate empathy through self-understanding, and build community through regular socialisation at a meaningful depth.

Defining secular liturgy

Secular liturgies are writings, and other liturgical expressions such as ritual, meditation and art forms, which are read (or take place) at secular private or public gatherings.

They explore, celebrate and convey the secular values of compassion, truth, freedom, equality, courage, tolerance and responsibility. They also seek to capture and communicate, in creative ways, the latest information and research that can help us to advance well-being and alleviate suffering.

The Network’s definition of liturgy is very broad. Whilst it more obviously includes writings and readings, which are morally and/or intellectually instructive, it also includes words and activities, which are indirectly helpful to us, for example, by creating spaces for reflection or socialisation, or by defining rituals which instil healthy habits, practical wisdom, critical thinking and so forth. A story, a poem, a dance, the process of painting a picture, a journey, a piece of music, a period of silence, and even the shipping forecast- these may all be described as liturgy!

The Nine Themes

These are the Nine Themes for secular liturgical events:

1. Critical Thinking – truth, evidence, research, excellent science, responsibility
2. Good Life – character, empathy, wisdom, courage, virtue, kindness, compassion
3. Good Society – social justice, human rights, individual freedom, equality, democracy
4. Sustainability – our place in nature, green lifestyles, religious naturalism
5. Health and Well-being – reflection, meditation, mindfulness
6. Big Culture – cultural exchange, diversity, comparative philosophy/religion
7. Community – companionship, relationships, humour, fun, friendship
8. Life-Cycles – birth and coming of age celebrations, weddings, funerals
9. Seasons – annual and seasonal events following a secular calendar

Our diverse community

One of the distinctive features of this movement is its diversity. The Network brings together those who would not normally work together because although they have much in common in terms of shared values and goals, they have very different backgrounds, cultures, heritages and identities.

Another distinctive feature is what I am calling our ‘big culture’ approach. By a ‘big culture’ approach, I mean that we seek to sift the golden nuggets of wisdom from the world’s philosophical and religious traditions, in terms of both their thinking and practice, and apply it in the process of creating our secular liturgies and liturgical events.

This requires a critical process of determining which parts of our inherited cultural traditions, texts, objects and rituals conform to our secular values and goals, and which must be consigned to the past. I am of the view that while the ‘bath water’ needs to go, the ‘baby’ should not be thrown away with it, as the saying goes! Though of course, we need to keep the bath water in a museum somewhere, as a reminder of how far we have come and how we got here!

Our community consists of humanists, atheists, agnostics, free-thinkers, sceptics, the nonreligious, the ‘spiritual but not religious’, Unitarians, British Quakers, liberals from other denominations, and members of progressive religious reform movements such as Progressive Christianity, Humanistic Judaism, Secular Buddhism and others. Together, we can learn more about other cultural perspectives, while gaining a better perspective on our own.

A call for creative contributions

We value your engagement with this exciting and experimental process of writing new liturgy, creating innovative liturgical events, and compiling and curating appropriate material from existing literature and other sources, according to the Nine Themes.

This Network invites you to contribute relevant articles on subjects pertaining to the central objectives of the Network or the Nine Themes, personal accounts/secular testimony, liturgical extracts, poetry, short stories, short dramatic scripts, and suggestions for readings from novels, poetry, works of philosophy and other texts. You are also invited to contribute ideas for liturgical events, art works, photographs, audio-visuals, and other outputs that have the potential to enrich secular cultures and societies.

Also welcome, are ideas for activities that may be integrated into secular liturgical events, such as meditations, community feasts, tea ceremonies, dance routines, multimedia (and other technological contributions), art exhibitions, songs, and other musical compositions.

Secular liturgy: an example

Below is an extract of liturgy, which could be used at a coming of age celebration, or at a later re-affirmation of vows ceremony, or it could simply be used within a liturgy and/or liturgical event choreographed for regular communal use.

The Twelve Vows for Life

1. I shall be faithful to the principles of liberty, equality and sustainability.
2. I shall take time to rest and contemplate the beauty of the Earth and its inhabitants.
3. I shall study the brave, noble and kindly acts of my fellow humans, both my peers and my predecessors, and take inspiration from them.
4. I shall honour my family with gratitude and loving-kindness, and I shall be a comfort to my friends, knowing the richness that brings.
5. I shall be forgiving and compassionate towards others, since all of us are flawed, fellow-sufferers in a troubled world, dependent upon one another for our survival and flourishing. I shall do so from gratitude, since so many have been generous towards me.
6. I shall be compassionate towards other animals and the Earth, for they too sustain and enrich my life.
7. I shall work to bring justice, healing and peace to humanity and the Earth, and I shall refrain from doing harm.
8. I shall endeavour to pursue noble goals with diligence and care, so that I may make a valuable contribution to the world, and so that I may set a courageous example for others.
9. I shall speak kindly of others and truthfully of myself.
10. I shall respect the person and possessions of others, being honest in all my dealings.
11. I shall always seek the truth, by studying the evidence, listening to others, and taking time to come to my conclusions and judgments. I shall not ignore evidence I do not like, or seek out or invent evidence, which appears to confirm my own assumptions, or which advances my own interests, and which is a deliberate attempt to mislead others.
12. I shall be content with what I have, rejoicing in the success of others, while working hard to better myself.

(This article is also available on the Secular Liturgies website/blog in the ‘about’ section.

If you are interested in getting involved please contact:-
Paul Lindsay Dawson
Westgate Unitarian Chapel
Westgate Wakefield,
West Yorkshire.
WF1 1XR.