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News In The Chapel
Leicester Unitarians
Leicester Unitarians
Roger Wilson & Chris Parkinson, photo Chris Tweed

Folk @ Great Meeting

2 May 2024

Thursday 2nd of May saw the well-attended folk gig at the chapel. Thanks to all who came out to enjoy the music and a fine summer’s evening in the garden and chapel. It featured locally and nationally accomplished musicians Roger Wilson and Chris Parkinson and local folk legend George Thomas from Frolesworth. We were delighted to welcome Roger fully recovered from a serious illness which had seen him have to cancel his last scheduled gig with us a year previously. The evening commenced with George on vocals performing a comic and touching rendition of one of his own tunes about wag the dog a canine he has taken ownership of and his I mpact on their lives. His performance of sands of time was a wonderful dreamy guitar and vocals piece about a fictional character called jack and his meandering course through life. We were engaged by his personal and intimate style.

Next up Roger and Chris took to the stage. Their set began with an up-tempo reel entitled Willow Creek followed by Pretty Sarah, a North American song. It was a rootsy soulful ballad featuring Roger’s vocals. Then followed some jigs performed in a medley: including the Holy Ha’penny. The melodies flowed in interplay between Roger’s fiddle and Chris’ deft accordion playing. They continued with Roger’s adaptation of famous nature writer Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken a lifting melody about tea drinking and walking in the woods. If course it would not be a Roger Wilson gig without a murder ballad as counterpoint to all the uplifting themes! So we were treated to their take on Hendrix’s Hey Joe which they had cunningly reformed while preserving the hooks which were so familiar to us. Pay Day was an original composition with hints of Americana as Chris played haunting blues harp. The theme was raves in country settings and the freedom to party, harking back to the nineties. Rounding things off before we all enjoyed a drink was The Burnt Old Man and Saddle the Pony, a couple of rousing jigs to finish first set.

The start of the next set saw George mount the pulpit to deliver a poem about safari in the Kruger – a remarkable tale of an encounter with an elephant. He then picked up his guitar and sang to us about Matty Grey, a story about a man speaking truth to power this roused the audience who joined in with his last song as he adeptly taught us the ways of folk music! As Roger and Chris took to the stage once more they picked up on the audience’s enthusiasm and again had us singing along with momentum to” if you can’t build a boat in life what’s the bloody use”. Then came a Greek tune Risk Pity, a jaunty tune with diminished scales and continuing the Eastern European theme a Moldovan horror story set to sparkling fid- dle rhythms. Roger battled bravely through a coughing fit to deliver a sublime Ewan McColl number. Showing true profes- sionalism they adapted the set. We enjoyed John Henry a tale of a man vs machine featuring blues harp and guitar followed by Leaving my Family and Leaving my Friends a wistful song of leaving and moving on.

Chris also had had health issues and had lost a tooth but as testament to his professionalism as well he deftly covered by delighting us with his fine accordion playing. The interplay between fiddle and accordion was stunning and left us wondering how incredible it would have been to hear their voices intermingle in the same way. We hope to have them back to discover! The evening concluded with Sleepy Eyed John, an up-tempo jig and Northern Lass a soulful ballad as an encore. All in all it was a most successful evening and the acoustics of the chapel were shown off to great effect as the entire performance was unamplified. We look forward to hosting another night soon.

Roger and the guys kindly donated some of the evenings proceeds to our After 18 club for young refugees for which we are most grateful. Most kind spirited.

Photo: Chris Tweed

Leicester Musical Memory Box: Music & Bluebells

24 April 2024


Our friends from Leicester Musical Memory Box joined us for a dementia-friendly singalong in the chapel and a lovely show of bluebells in our gardens, uniting their attendees from various groups from across the city. Leicester Musical Memory Box is an independent, not for profit organisation delivering fun and interactive sessions, focussing predominantly on people living with dementia and memory loss. They use singing, music and gentle seated exercises to help improve health and wellbeing whilst reducing loneliness and social isolation.

We sang songs of Spring and flowers in both English (and in Hindi!), including all-time favourites like “San Francisco,” “Tulips from Amsterdam,” and “Here Comes the Sun.” A special thanks goes out to Asda (Oadby) Community Champion and Hayleigh from the Alzheimer Society Leicester for joining us on the day!

We thank Kyle, Christina and Beena from the Memory Music Box for creating this event and showcasing the power of music in enhancing wellbeing and reducing social isolation. We look forward to hosting you again!

Coro Nostro Choir

All is Full of Love: Songs of Love, Spring, and the Natural World

19 April 2024


Coro Nostro Chamber Choir returned to the Great Meeting Chapel with a mesmerising concert themed around love, Spring, and the wonders of nature, featuring works of Josquin des Prez, Holst, Bjork, and Gjeilo and many more. The evening’s highlight incuded the world premiere of George Mackay Brown’s poem “A New Child” arranged by Coro Nostro’s own Lydia Hind to the famous “Farewell to Stromness” by Peter Maxwell Davies!

The Chapel’s exceptional acoustic space provided the perfect backdrop for the choir’s harmonies. The choir director, Lydia Hind, reflected that “it was a pleasure to perform in a church committed to music making.” – referring to our long and proud musical heritage.

We extend our sincere appreciation to Coro Nostro Chamber Choir for a truly memorable concert and anticipate their return to the Great Meeting Chapel in the future.

Community Iftar at Great Meeting

26 March 2024


This special event brought together our community in a spirit of unity, dialogue, and fellowship. Iftar, a traditional Islamic practice, marks the breaking of the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. It holds deep significance as a time for reflection, gratitude, and community bonding. The Garden Room was transformed into a welcoming dining hall by the dedicated efforts of our Diane, while the Christopher Wykes room provided a peaceful space for prayer with prayer rugs set facing towards the Mecca.

The Dialogue Society enriched our gathering with insightful presentations, including their impact report and educational videos on Ramadan. Our guests had the opportunity to explore the chapel and engage in meaningful conversations, as we learned about each other’s traditions. Rev Arek Malecki, our minister, delivered a short address emphasising the importance of building bridges across divisions, drawing wisdom from both the Bible and the Quran. Dr. Mike Drucquer, the chairman of the congregation, shared insights into the history of our chapel, while Dr. Firat Batmaz from Loughborough University, in his light-hearted yet inspiring talk, highlighted the potential of AI in promoting cohesion and understanding among diverse communities.

We were treated to delicious cuisine generously provided by the Dialogue Society, which added to the warmth of the evening. The event concluded with a lively game of Kahoot, testing our knowledge of Ramadan, with the minister – Arek leading the way on the leader board. Clearly his theological and religious studies paid off! 🙂

Our iftar celebration exemplified the values of inclusivity, dialogue, and fellowship that are central to our community at Great Meeting Unitarian Chapel. We remain committed to fostering meaningful connections and understanding within our congregation and beyond. Thank you to all who joined us for this special occasion, and we look forward to sharing more enriching experiences together in the future.

Leicester Council of Faiths: Interfaith Vigil for Palestine and Israel

17 March 2024


Our Minister, Rev Arek Malecki, joins Leicester faith leaders in the calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in the violence in Israel and Palestine that has caused so much pain and suffering. This is particularly pressing as concerns rise of famine and illness amongst the people of Gaza, there is fear of impact on civilians of a further military incursion in Rafah, and the plight of the hostages remains uncertain. With over 1,100 killed in Israel and over 30,000 killed in Gaza since October 7th there is a moral imperative to call for the killing to stop and to work for peace and justice, which is shared by all religions. Faith leaders from Leicester are also concerned about the impact that this crisis is having on community relationships within our city and county, namely the rise in incidents of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, and will continue to support and protect each other from such hatred.

To this end, Leicester Council of Faiths held an interfaith vigil of prayers and reflection at the Holy Cross Priory Church, off New Walk in Leicester. The vigil was attended by representatives of various faith communities of Leicester, including, Jews, Muslims, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Baha’is, Quakers, Humanists, and Unitarians. The vigil was also attended by Jon Ashworth, MP for Leicester South.

The prayers were four-fold: to remember and pray for the victims; for the swift end of the suffering; for reconciliation, justice, and security for all the peoples of Palestine and Israel; and that the bonds of respect and friendship which unite the diverse communities of our city and county remain steadfast.

Unitarian – Hindu Connections: How Hindu Dharma and Unitarianism inspired by public service.

7 February 2024

We were thrilled to attend a fascinating session in the ongoing series of Unitarian – Hindu Connections, featuring Manjula Sood MBE – member of our congregation. The event, held online on Wednesday, 7 February at 7:30 pm, offered valuable insights into how Hindu Dharma and Unitarianism have influenced her journey in public service.

Manjula Sood’s story is one of remarkable dedication and community spirit. Arriving in the United Kingdom in 1970, she quickly became an integral part of Leicester. Her path to public service took a poignant turn after the passing of her husband, Paul Sood, a respected figure in British politics. Following in his footsteps, Manjula entered politics, winning the by-election for her husband’s former seat as a local Councillor. Later she was elected as the first Asian female Lord Mayor of any city in the United Kingdom in May 2008.

Throughout her journey, Manjula has embodied the values of Hindu Dharma and Unitarianism, blending spirituality with a deep sense of duty to her community. Her leadership, grounded in compassion and inclusivity, serves as an inspiration to us all. We extend our sincere appreciation to Manjula Sood for sharing her inspiring story, and we eagerly anticipate further discussions on the intersections of Unitarianism and Hindu Dharma in future sessions.

Burns Lunch

28 January 2024

After the service, on the last Sunday in January, we met in the Garden Room for a shared Burns Lunch. This event has become an annual tradition with its origins traceable back to the time when brother and sister Charles Mackintosh and Morag Jones, who were born and bred in Scotland, started attending Great Meeting and introduced it to the Chapel calendar.

Stuart treated us to ceremonial readings by Robbie Burns and used his fearsome looking dagger to make the first cut into the haggis. We all appreciated his fine Scottish accent and the sense of drama and occasion he brought to the proceedings.

Thanks to all those who helped make it such a tasty meal and relaxed, enjoyable occasion.

Leicester Dialogue Society: “Faith in Focus”

17 January 2024

The 4th session of ‘Faith in Focus’ featuring our minister, Arek, has been an insightful exploration of Unitarianism. Hosted by the Leicester Dialogue Society, the “Faith in Focus” events aim to foster interreligious understanding and appreciation among a diverse audience. Arek explained the origins and development of Unitarianism, and provided insights into our structures, practices and values today. He also spoke about the role Leicester Unitarians played in the history of our city, and shared his own life journey that led him to joining a Unitarian congregation and eventually becoming a Unitarian minister.

The talk successfully contributed to the broader dialogue on faith, emphasizing the importance of mutual respect and harmony within the community, both in Leicester and on the national scale. The Leicester Dialogue Society continues to play a pivotal role in building bridges between different faiths, facilitating meaningful conversations, and nurturing a spirit of unity within the community.

Place of Welcome

We are pleased to announce that our weekly Coffee Mornings have been added to the online map of Places of Welcome after having met the “5 Ps” of Places of Welcome required for an official recognition:

Place: An accessible and hospitable building, open at the same time every week.

People: Open to everyone regardless of their circumstances or situation, and staffed by volunteers.

Presence: A place where people actively listen to one another.

Provision: Offering free refreshments and basic local information.

Participation: Every person will bring talents, experiences and skills that they may be willing to share locally.

Our Thursday Coffee Mornings are usually held in the Garden Room, although on nice days over Summer we prefer to gather outside in our garden to enjoy the peaceful city oasis in dappled shade of over 150 years old plane trees. Our Coffee Mornings are open to all: people of all faiths, all ages, all ethnicities, all genders. The doors open at 11am. You can pop in at any time and stay for as little or as long as you wish.

Additionally, we offer free meditation / reflection gatherings at 1pm in the adjacent room.

Board Games Afternoon

After wrapping up the first Sunday service of the year, 13 of us chose to stay behind a little longer to combat the January blues with a board games afternoon, transforming the Garden Room into a hub of laughter and camaraderie.

The selection of games was as diverse as the group itself, with a generous supply provided by Arek, Jude, and Gabi. From the ever-popular Ticket to Ride to the wordplay excitement of Scrabble, the strategic challenges of Qwirkle and Onitama, the undercover intrigue of Codenames, the quilt-building strategy in Patchwork —there was no shortage of entertainment.

As the dice rolled and cards were played, an impromptu “bring-and-share” lunch unfolded. Recognizing that conquering board games on an empty stomach was a challenge too great, the group rallied together, creating a light and delightful feast.

The joy of this gathering prompted discussions about making it a recurring event. Plans are already in motion for the next gathering scheduled for Sunday, February 4th — a monthly tradition in the making, uniting the church community in laughter, games, and shared snacks.

Dementia-Friendly Carols

We were pleased to welcome back Leicester Musical Memory Box to the chapel on 11th December to lead their dementia – friendly carol concert and singalong. It was a joyful and informal occasion, made merrier by tonnes of mince pies that added a touch of sweetness to the festivities! Kyle and Christina from Musical Memory Box led us through some of the best-known carols and winter songs: from “Hark the Herald” to “Let is Snow”, accompanied by our own Robin Lister.

The Lord Mayor, Dr. Susan Barton, graced us with her presence and shared a short but heartfelt Christmas message. Our Minister, Arek Malecki, brought a unique twist to the celebration by highlighting the fascinating fact that the first song performed by humans in outer space was none other than “Jingle Bells,” written by a Unitarian.

Can’t wait to do it all over again? Round two at St. Anne’s Church at Western Park on Tuesday 19th December at 2pm.

Induction of the Minister

On 18/11/2023 we held the induction service of our new minister – Rev Arek Malecki. Arek has been with us since June, and is well-settled in his role now, so in some sense the service might have felt like a formality to fulfil. A significant formality, nonetheless.

The service, led by Rev. Ant Howe (senior tutor at the Unitarian College) and Rev. Winnie Gordon (minister at Birmingham New Meeting Unitarian Chapel) was attended by the Lord Mayor of Leicester – Dr Susan Barton, the City Mayor – Sir Peter Soulsby, the president of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches – Mr Vince McCully, representatives of neighbouring and befriended faith groups, and Unitarians from far and wide.

In the service, which was made special by the Great Meeting Music Team led by Mr David Kent, the congregation and the minister exchanged promises to each other and expressed the will to work together to offer a shared, meaningful Unitarian ministry in Leicester.

We would like to wish our Minister, and ourselves, a long and fruitful ministry together.

Heritage Open Days 2023 & Tea in the Garden

This year’s annual Heritage Open Week ran from September 8th to 17th and we are very grateful to all those who volunteered their time so that the Chapel was open to visitors throughout the entire period. In total 130 people dropped in, most of whom took up the offer of had a guided tour of the Chapel. This year the beauty of the Chapel was enhanced by an exhibition of paintings by local artist Kendrick Snodin.

In the ‘Town’ section of the show Kendrick aims to “express and envisage our City as a 21st Century Metropolis”. The works forming the ‘Country’ aspect of the presentation, whilst still fully expressive in their rendering, look to develop the importance of our county in both subject matter and inspiration. Kendrick’s artworks were displayed on the window sills alongside hymnals opened on words to complement the art.

On the Thursday evening of Heritage Week Mike gave an illustrated talk entitled “Mystery of the Roof”. He drew on extensive research into the architecture of non-conformist Chapels together with practical knowledge acquired during his period as lead for the Chapel’s restoration project to present a fascinating insight into Great Meeting’s unique and innovative design. He conjured up the challenge posed by acquiring, transporting and hoisting into place the two huge (9 metre long)! beams that enable our beautiful ceiling; the audience left full of awe for the people who conceived the project and the architects, master carpenters and workmen who implemented their vision.

The annual Tea in the Garden event was held on 9th September, in the midst of Heritage Open Days.

The steady stream of friends and visitor who joined us were treated to two excellent sets of jazz standards by the Great Meeting Four, an ensemble consisting of Huw on electric key board, Robin on alto sax, George Dunseth on bass and Matt Lacey on drums. The garden was cool and shady and everyone naturally gravitated there, to sit under the trees, listen to the music and enjoy refreshments in the peaceful setting.

Leicester Pride 2023

Do you also sometimes feel like we are the best kept secret in town? How many Leicesterians are aware that our chapel was the first place of worship in the city registered for solemnisation of same-sex marriages? How well-known is our rich history of support for LGBT+ rights, including the fact that Unitarians were one of the very first religious groups campaigning for Equal Marriage?

A group from the Great Meeting Chapel decided that it’s time to do something about it, as they took the church out of the building to march in Leicester Pride shoulder to shoulder with other affirming religious groups.

Pride is a protest. Pride is a public declara- tion of our values of inclusivity and acceptance of LGBT+ people – something we constantly speak about in our own circles, but sometimes fail to be vocal about. Probably because for many of us the principles of acceptance are just obvious. We are hoping to march again in the next year’s Pride.

To find out more about the Unitarian History of campaign for LGBT+ rights click here: LGBT+ Unitarian Voices Timeline