Over the last twenty years or so I have facilitated lots of workshops and engagement groups, mostly in Unitarian churches and at Hucklow Summer School, and increasingly online. This is one of my favourite things to do as I have found participating in such groups to be a deep and life-changing experience. Quite a lot of these courses have been developed from scratch with friends and a few have been adaptations of off-the-peg materials. Just a few highlights from the last two decades of workshop-type activities are listed below.
Selected Workshops and Engagement Groups at Essex Church (Kensington Unitarians)
‘Heart and Soul’ – contemplative spiritual gatherings since 2013 (online weekly since March 2020) – format devised by Jane and widely shared along with supportive resources and session plans for other groups to use.
‘How to be a Unitarian’ – Spring 2018 six-session course with Sarah Tinker (repeated online for a nationwide audience in early 2022).
‘Working on Our Welcome’ (LGBTQ+ Inclusion Training) – 17th June 2017 – day workshop with Fred Langridge and Jane Blackall (originally for the London District; repeated for the Yorkshire Unitarian Union in 2018 and the Ministerial Fellowship in 2019).
‘Something More’ – 2016 – six-session evening course with Jane Blackall and Sarah Tinker
‘A Life of Prayer’ – 29th November 2014 – day workshop with Jef Jones and Jane Blackall
‘A Sense of the Sacred’ – 2nd February 2014 – half-day workshop with Jane Blackall and Kate Buchanan
‘Art Meditations’ – January 2013 – three-session workshop facilitated by Jane Blackall
‘Life’s Ultimate Questions’ – 2012-3 – occasional series of workshops with Jane Blackall and Sarah Tinker
‘Rediscovering the Bible’ – 2012-3 – monthly bible-reading group with David Darling and Jane Blackall
‘Living Faith’ – 2012 – four-session evening course written and facilitated by Jane Blackall and Sarah Tinker
‘The Humane Virtues’ – 2011 – six-session evening course with Sarah Tinker and Jane Blackall
‘Heart to Heart’ – 2010 – five-session evening course with Sarah Tinker and Jane Blackall
‘The Fabric of Diversity’ – 2009-10 – community arts project facilitated by Jane Blackall
‘Exploring Prayer’ – 2009 – six-session engagement group with Jane Blackall and Jenny Moy
‘God in Daily Life’ – 2008 – six-session engagement group with Jane Blackall and Jenny Moy
‘The Quest’ – 2008 – ten-session engagement group with Sarah Tinker and Jane Blackall
‘Evensong’ – 2007 – eight-session engagement group with Sarah Tinker and Jane Blackall
‘Turning to One Another’ – 2004-6 – occasional engagement group with Jane Blackall and others
Week-long Residential Groups at Hucklow Summer School
August 2017 – ‘God in Daily Life – Theological Reflections’ with Jane Blackall and Daniel Costley
‘We may have good intentions to reflect on the many layers of our lives, but the busyness of our existence tends to take priority over quiet time. Typically we reflect on issues by letting them rattle around in our heads… We need a clear and deliberate process for thinking through our experiences – one that enables us to look at life through the lens of faith.’ – Abigail Johnson. This group – something different to the Summer School norm – requires some extra commitment prior to arrival and numbers will be limited; participants will be required to prepare a structured personal reflection / journaling on an issue in their own life or the life of the world (guidance will be sent) – looking at real events through a series of questions, designed to help individuals consider situations ‘through the lens of faith’. All group members will need to be prepared to share and explore further these theological reflections together, with care, in a guided way, when we get to Hucklow.
August 2015 – ‘To Dream the Impossible Dream’ with Jane Blackall and Katie McKenna
Our own sense of what is possible – for ourselves, our relationships, or the wider world – may be limited by inherited assumptions, societal norms, and ingrained patterns of thought that we may not even be consciously aware of. How can we find liberation from these constraints and be free to dream bigger, more beautiful, dreams? In this workshop we hope to explore some alternative ways of seeing that gently challenge convention and conformity in all spheres of our lives. Participants will be encouraged to experiment and play, make fresh connections, delve for deeper meanings, try out alternative perspectives, and imagine new possibilities. We will draw inspiration from non-conformists and outsiders of the past and present: radical thinkers and activists, contemporary queer culture, ground-breaking artists and creatives, and mystics down the ages.
August 2011: ‘Practising Peace in Daily Life’ with Jane Blackall and Jef Jones
In this engagement group we will explore ways in which we might be able to live more peacefully: sharing practices which might help us maintain inner peace and equanimity in the face of life’s ups and downs; learning how to cultivate peace and greater understanding in our personal relationships using the principles of compassionate communication; looking at alternative ways of responding to conflict in our communities; considering the effects of violence and contentiousness in the media and popular culture; reflecting on the use of nonviolent action and protest to work for social justice; and identifying practical ways in which every one of us can contribute towards a culture of peace in the wider world.
August 2010: Exploring Prayer’ with Jane Blackall and Mel Prideaux
This group will be partly based on the book ‘Simply Pray’ by UU minister Erik Walker Wikstrom. During the sessions, we will focus on four types of traditional prayer, which are shared by all the major world religions: naming, knowing, listening, and loving. It is our intention that the group will provide the opportunity to learn about practices from other faith traditions and also to directly experience various different forms of prayer. There will be plenty of time for your own personal reflection on the theme and chances to share your views and experiences of prayer with others. We hope that the course will help each participant to find a way to pray that is authentic to them and their sense of the Holy.
August 2008: ‘Beyond Words: Visions of the Holy’ with Jane Blackall and Sheena Gabriel
Art can provide a powerful means for reflecting on our personal spiritual experience. In this meditative workshop, we will explore a variety of religious concepts through visual art, using the language of colour, texture, shape, form and space. Participants will have an opportunity to consider some of religion’s ‘big’ – sometimes provocative – themes and will be encouraged to renew and expand their own understanding of these concepts by seeking deeper meaning through creative meditation and play. No prior artistic skill is required and the emphasis will be on process rather than finished product. There will also be space for sharing of personal responses as we encounter the diverse perspectives of others in an appreciative atmosphere.
August 2007: ‘Listen and You Shall Live’ with Margaret Kirk and Jane Blackall
Are we REALLY listening? This workshop challenges us to discover how good we are at the art of listening and to explore the different ways in which we do it. We shall explore a variety of approaches to listening: in dialogue, in conversation, in discussion meetings and also in meditation or prayer, through the practice of silence, stillness and contemplation. How does it feel not to be heard: at work, at home, in church, as a member of a minority group, in a relationship..? A workshop of fun and fellowship to deepen confidence, skill and understanding in our relationships with others.
August 2006: ‘Sacred Cycles, Healing Journeys’ with Simon John Barlow and Jane Blackall
Religious festival calendars relate to the yearly cycle of nature: some, such as native and pagan religions, more closely, and others, such as the monotheistic religions, with a more historical bias. All of these liturgical cycles can be seen as expressions of the finite soul’s progression towards infinite Wholeness. We aim to explore the meta-narrative of the yearly cycle as a spiritual journey of healing toward Wholeness. Focussing, appropriately, on the season of summer we will travel the cycle of the year using the vehicles of observation and inspiration, of nature, creative imagery, stories and archetypes, and personal ritual.
August 2005: ‘Creativity and Love’ with Simon John Barlow and Jane Blackall
The heart of belovèd community is love – love of self; each other; humanity; nature; what we each name God. Many religious traditions share the concept that God Is Love and that the Creation of the Universe was love in action. Emerging from the idea that Love is the potential energy of the Holy Spirit to act in the world, we aim to offer you the opportunity to explore your feelings, experiences and beliefs about Love in its myriad aspects, using creativity as our focus.