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Exploring world religions

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Easter is an important and busy time of the year for anyone who has an interest in religion, the Church and its ceremonies, writes Caroline Green of Wetherby U3a.

This month after Easter I went along to Wetherby & District U3A World Religions Group. Sue Grafton had invited me to join the group at her house. Meetings are held once a month on a Thursday.

We all chatted in her kitchen, coffee in one hand, biscuit in the other, for a full ten minutes . It was a most convivial introduction to the Group members. Barry Atkinson, who is the Facilitator of the Group, explained that the subject can sometimes have potential for a difference of opinion so he ensures that the meeting always starts with a chat and coffee to enable everyone to relax and get to know each other. If then, during the group meeting there is a heated exchange, it’s much easier to handle without offence.

I thought it was such a considerate way to approach what could potentially be a contentious subject; discussing different religions. Indeed, the group which has only been in existence for two years, in that time has explored Buddhism, Judaism and the Muslim faith which have involved the invitation of visiting speakers and journeys out to their individual places of worship. The subject was an introduction to the Moravian Church.

Barry introduced our speaker, Jackie Depelle, who was giving a talk on The Moravian Settlement, which is based in Fulneck between Bradford and Leeds. I had little knowledge of the Moravian Church and discovered from Jackie, who was brought up in Fulneck, their fascinating history. It had its beginnings in the 15th century in Germany in the new Protestantism, emerging as Unitas Fratrum, with a belief in Brotherhood and Unity.

The early Church trod no easy path, through 200 years their fortunes fluctuated amid peril and persecution until they found refuge in Saxony under the guidance of Count Zinzendorf. He was expelled from Germany in 1742 and on his travels discovered the 22-acre site at Fulneck, founding the Moravian School and Settlement on that site in 1743. The aim for the Moravian Church in Fulneck was that its members were to become self-sufficient, which also provided a fully rounded education for its followers and children. Some of our best known musicians, actors and broadcasters were schooled at Fulneck. The history of the Church is now housed in the Museum at Fulneck, and the U3A now plans a visit to the Settlement.

The Moravian Church is a mainstream Christian Church and are members of the World Council of Churches, Churches Together in England and locally, Churches Together in Pudsey. The Church has no head apart from Jesus Christ and has adopted this phrase - In all things essential, unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In all things, charity.

A few of us held a little discussion following the talk and realised that if you hold no religious belief, having hope and fellowship is good for your mental health and psychological well-being.

Following my visit to the U3A World Religions Group I happened to tune into the World Service and heard a story about a young couple fleeing from Iran. They had changed their religious beliefs and fled their persecutors in fear of their lives. It brought home to me how it must have been for members of the early Moravian Church and what it is still like for those experiencing persecution now.

Reading more about the Moravian Church at Fulneck, I discovered that they also hold another service - a ‘Lovefeast’ - a meeting of shared news and light refreshments, just like the members of the World Religion U3A Group did before they started their meeting.