Secular Liturgies

Enriching secular life with Humanist and progressive ethics, heritage, liturgy, ceremony, community leadership and pastoral care…

Secular Liturgies Network

We are a professional network of academics, creatives, and Humanist/Progressive community leaders.

Our mission is to enrich societies with secular ethics and reflective practices, informed by the latest research, and expressed in original creative, scholarly and journalistic publications and events. Our work has strong themes of well-being, sustainability, cultural enrichment and community building.

We are also a think-tank, publisher, creative hub and events pioneer.

The SLN&F publishes original creative works of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, incisive journalistic articles including interview-style articles with experts and practitioners in relevant fields, and original research papers, which are shorter and more widely engaging than traditional academic publications.

We are committed to both creative excellence and the highest standards in peer-reviewed research.

Founding Editor

Dr Anastasia E. Somerville-Wong

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I am the very first Humanist Chaplain at the University of Exeter and Founding Editor of the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum. I am a historian and social scientist with a PhD in Historical Theology from the University of Aberdeen and an MA (Hons) in Philosophy and Politics from the University of Edinburgh. I am also an Assessment Specialist (Examiner in History) for the University of Cambridge.

I am currently writing a history of humanistic thought and practice and researching the impact of human belief and unbelief on our wellbeing, in terms of religious, non-religious and political world-views. I am also interested in the development of secular ethics, reflective practices, ritual, Humanist ‘ministries’ (such as  chaplaincy, celebrancy and pastoral care), and comparative religion and philosophy. I am researching the emergence of progressive religious reform movements, and the development of secular, Humanist and multi-faith/universalist models of community. My paper entitled ‘Secular Liturgies’,  was published in Secular Studies (Volume 1, Issue 2, October 2019), an international peer-reviewed journal (Brill).

I am an experienced Pastoral Carer and Mentor, and as Humanist Chaplain, I am sponsored and accredited by the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network and Humanists UK, which is a membership organisation of the Network for Pastoral, Spiritual and Religious Care in Health. For details of my chaplaincy work, click on Humanist Chaplaincy in the menu at the top of the page.

Since obtaining my PhD in 2010, I have worked as a researcher at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, and as an Associate Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen. On 13th July 2018, I launched the Secular Liturgies Creative Writing Project, now called the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum. It is a culmination of all my previous work, inspired by my love of writing, my experience as a published writer of liturgies and poetry, and my knowledge of history, theology, philosophy and comparative religion. I bring a combination of four approaches, the scholarly, the journalistic, the creative and the pastoral to the work of the SLN&F.

Any questions about the SLN&F or about nonreligious pastoral support? Email me at ana_wong@outlook.com


The External Advisory Board

Members of the External Advisory Board consider and advise on the SLN/Fs research, engagement, recruitment and communications strategies, providing advice and comments on projects between meetings, as appropriate. They participate in the evaluation of SLN/F activities, outputs and impacts, and where possible, in SLN/F events.

Dr David Sergeant
David is a lecturer in English (post-1850), in the School of Humanities and Performing Arts (Faculty of Arts and Humanities) at the University of Plymouth in the UK. Click on the link below for more information on his research:

https://web-dr.tis.plymouth.ac.uk/staff/david-sergeant

David leads the AHRC funded ‘Imagining Alternatives: Feasts for the Future’ project, which explores how communal meals might act as one way of bringing elements of a ‘utopian’ future (such as those imagined by writers since the late nineteenth century), into our shared present. See https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/research/feasts-for-the-future

Rev. Dr. Claire MacDonald

Claire is an artist and arts educator, a Professorial Fellow at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (London) and a Thinker in Residence at the Live Arts Development Agency (London). She trained as a Unitarian minister at Harris Manchester College Oxford and is the minister with Lewisham Unitarians in south London. Claire’s interests lie in creating conversational space across communities. Active as a performance writer and critic, two plays from her recent collection Utopia are currently in production in Europe, in Italy and the Czech Republic. She volunteers with Simple Gifts, a Unitarian food and story sharing project based in The Garrett Centre, where LADA has just relocated. Claire holds a PhD from the University of East Anglia in critical and creative writing and is completing an MA in Abrahamic Faiths with a thesis on fashion and performance across faiths called ‘What to Wear and why it Matters: Clergywomen and Dress.’


A Vision for the Future

The British Social Attitudes Surveys show that religious affiliation has declined steeply in the UK, and continues to do so. Fifty percent of British people no longer identify with a religious faith, and many who do, are non-practising. The percentage of 18-24 year olds with no religious affiliation is significantly higher, at sixty-four percent. Furthermore, a proportion of those who still identify with a religion will be liberals and progressives. In Europe as a whole, we are certainly moving into a post-religious age, and many other nations are undergoing a similar transition, with the world’s nonreligious now the third largest group of humans, exceeded in numbers only by Christians and Muslims. (See  reports by the National Centre for Social Research and the Pew Research Center, which are freely available online)

While traditional religion is losing ground, other forms of dogma and superstition are on the rise. However, secular ethics and reflective practices, which are based on a rational approach to knowledge and which reject dogma and superstition, have the potential to fill the void left by the decline of organised religion. In 2018, I launched the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum, to bring people together from many different secular, humanist and progressive backgrounds, to explore common ground when it comes to developing, and creatively expressing, a non-dogmatic or secular spirituality.

I am particularly keen to develop and experiment with reflective practices, which have the potential to enrich secular life and culture. My focus in this regard, is on secular liturgical creative writings, and carefully choreographed liturgical events. These events include readings of original work, rituals, cultural heritage (ideas, objects and exhibitions), a variety of art forms, and readings from existing literature, philosophy and so forth. They are organised around the following Nine Themes:

  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, biophilia
  5. Health and Well-being – reflection, meditation, mindfulness, socialisation
  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

Reflective Practices

Much that is good in spirituality and religion, and which can be transferred into a secular context, is to do with rituals that facilitate reflective practice. These rituals include liturgical communal services/gatherings, scheduled/habitual contemplation of one’s actions and of life and the universe (philosophy!), mindfulness meditations, rites of passage, lifecycle and seasonal events, pilgrimages and so forth. Producing creative art works is also a form of reflective practice, since our creations reflect our experience, impressions and understandings of the world.

Prayer can also be seen as form of reflective practice rather than as an actual conversation with a supernatural being. The person who prays has to put into words and a new context (sometimes a public context) their feelings and thoughts about the things they have heard about and experienced. In the process, they reflect on this information and experience in a way that can change their attitudes and behaviours over time. Certain forms of public prayer, such as call and response, can therefore be secular in content and used in nonreligious and inter-faith contexts.

Critical thinking and other reflective practices are the means by which human beings can pursue truth, goodness or virtue. They are the means by which we can more deeply and more regularly experience wonderment, love and self-transcendence. They enable us to cultivate empathy and compassion for other living beings. Reflective practices demand honesty, freedom, tolerance and equality, values which actually run counter to the religious power structures that have been dominant for so long. They also lead to us rediscover and better appreciate 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 and pleasures of our own physical bodies.

Defining Secular Liturgies

Secular liturgies are writings, and other liturgical expressions, such as rituals, meditations 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. I hope that they will make secular cultures more resilient in difficult times, and inspire us to meet our global challenges.

The Network’s definition of liturgy is very broad. It includes, more obviously, writings and readings, which are morally and/or intellectually instructive. However, 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 can 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!

In addition to liturgies written for secular events, I am also keen to explore the possibility of integrating liturgy, and what I call ‘liturgical moments’, into everyday life. Liturgies often define the values, goals and cultural identity of groups, from the tattoos and graffiti of youth subcultures, to the word-art one finds in the homes and workplaces of the aspirational classes. Therefore, we will be exploring how elements of our secular liturgies and events on the Nine Themes may be creatively incorporated into our home, working and leisure environments.

Secular liturgies and liturgical events can help us to live out, 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 can facilitate a greater appreciation of the natural world (and of our place within it), and encourage a vigorous engagement with secular ethics. They can also induce experiences of self-transcendence through techniques such as mindfulness, experiences which are not only pleasurable and health-giving in themselves but which can also lead to positive changes in our thinking and behaviour. Liturgical events can help us to cultivate empathy through self-understanding and the sharing of stories. They can build relationships and community through regular socialisation at a meaningful depth.

A Diverse Network

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.

Related to this, is another distinctive feature, which 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 cultures (the literature, the objects, the rituals and traditions) 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!

Our Secular Liturgies 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, not only can we learn so much more about other cultural perspectives but we can also gain a far better perspective on our own cultures.

A Call for Creative Contributions

Join us in this exciting and experimental process of writing secular liturgy and choreographing innovative liturgical events along the Nine Themes.

Send us your secular liturgical extracts, poetry, short stories, personal accounts and other creative nonfiction, short dramatic scripts/extracts, short films, art-works, music and cultural heritage content/objects.

Submit articles relating cutting-edge academic research in areas relevant to the SLN&F.

Share your suggestions for readings, from novels, poetry, works of philosophy and other literature.

Contribute ideas for activities that may be integrated into secular liturgical events e.g.meditations, community feasts, tea ceremonies, dance routines, multimedia, art exhibitions, songs and other musical compositions.

Please send your submissions to Anastasia at ana_wong@outlook.com

Secular Liturgy: an example

While we use the term ‘secular liturgy’ in a broad sense, and sometimes in a metaphorical one, we do also welcome contributions of actual liturgical material and will collect these scripts and make them available to the general public for life cycle, annual and other events.

Below is an extract from my own liturgical writing, just to give you an idea of the variety of forms it can take. The following ‘vows’ can be used at coming of age celebrations, or at ceremonies for the re-affirmation of vows, or they could simply be spoken as part of a liturgy 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.

A Secular ‘Prayer’ for Healing

(inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals)

As fellow sufferers in a troubled world, we come together in solidarity, with all who long for good health, for peace, for forgiveness, for comfort, for love, for reunion, for kindness, and for hope.

For those who long for the healing of their bodies, we work to create cultures and environments that are conducive to our physical health and well-being, and we work to alleviate all pain and suffering.

For those who long for the healing of their thoughts and emotions, we work to create cultures and environments that are conducive to healthy, peaceful minds, and we work to provide services to assist people in their recovery from mental illness.

For those who long for the healing of their relationships, we work to restore healthy relationships through mediation, forgiveness and reconciliation.

For the victims of religious and political oppression, armed conflict, crime, torture and exploitation, we work to achieve liberty and human rights for all. We uphold the rule of law and universal access to justice. We work for inclusive and peaceful societies, and for effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. We seek lasting solutions to conflict and insecurity, by reducing the flow of illicit arms, by bringing developing countries into the centre of institutions of global governance, and by strengthening global partnerships for justice, peace and sustainable development.

For those consumed by poverty and hunger, we work to achieve a fair distribution of wealth and equal opportunities for all, for greater co-operation between nations, for sustainable agriculture, optimal nutrition and a living wage for all.

For those without access to knowledge, we work to ensure that every child has a high quality and equitable education, regardless of gender and place of birth, and we endeavour to provide lifelong learning opportunities for all.

For all who are unemployed or unhappily employed, we work for an inclusive and sustainable economy, for full productive employment and decent work for all, and for an end to forced labour, slavery and human trafficking. We work to build a resilient infrastructure, and to ensure an inclusive and sustainable industrialisation that fosters innovation.

For those subject to discrimination, stereotyping and stigmatisation, we work to build societies without prejudice, where no one is judged according to a single facet of their identity, such as the colour of their skin, their gender, their faith or their sexuality.

For seas ravaged by pollution and plundering, we work to conserve our oceans, seas and marine resources, and to use them intelligently for sustainable development.

For lands ravaged by pollution and plundering, we work to protect and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and the sustainable management of forests, to combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and bring an end to the loss of biodiversity.

For the climate and ecosystems which have been altered by humankind, we work to restore clean, diverse environments, and to provide reliable, sustainable, clean and affordable energy for all. We work to build inclusive, safe and resilient human settlements and cities, with sustainable consumption and production, and designed with our well-being as the priority.

Moment of Silence

And finally,
We strive to grow in empathy and understanding, in kindness and compassion, in patience and a slowness to judge. We seek to know the truth and to find it in others.

(This one can also be a Call and Response, with the sections read by different people and the last part in bold spoken in unison by a ‘congregation’.)

© Anastasia E. Somerville-Wong

Academics and practitioners from across many disciplines are contributing to the movement on the website and blog: https://secularliturgies.wordpress.com/

You can follow our progress and posts on our Facebook Page, and you are welcome to participate in the more informal discussions on our Facebook Forum:

The Page: https://www.facebook.com/secularliturgies/

The Forum: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1961198670570251/

…and our twitter page can be found at at:

@SecularLit

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Copyright

To cite an article on this blog/website, you are legally obliged to include the name of the blog the post has been published on, the title of the specific post you’re citing, the date the post was published, the author of the post, the publisher of the blog site (where it is different from the name of the blog site), and the URL or direct link to the post.

An example of how to cite a guest article on this blog/website:

Ray, Roger. “A Common Story with Uncommon Results”, Secular Liturgies Network and Forum, 10th December 2018, https://secularliturgies.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/a-common-story-with-uncommon-results-by-rev-dr-roger-ray/

An example of how to cite other material on this blog/ website:

Somerville-Wong, Anastasia. “Welcome to the Secular Liturgies Network and Forum”, Secular Liturgies Network and Forum, 6th January 2019, https://secularliturgies.wordpress.com/about/

If you are contributing liturgical materials:

Your contributions of original material are protected by the copyright law of the country in which you created them. In the UK, copyright protection is automatic on the point of creation of something tangible such as text, video, audio track etc. Getting permissions can be a hindrance to the dissemination, re-use and re-mix of material, so many creatives now use Creative Commons Licences for their works, which allow for an optimal balance between sharing and ownership.

Do check out the Creative Commons website for more information:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

 

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