HOW I CAME TO UNITARIANISM… Myrna Michell writes about her beliefs

Myrna Michel is a Minister wit the Unitarian Church in York…

Myrna Michel (portrait by Michael Scott)

I rejected organised religion, mentally, when I was 14, but was somewhat forced by my mother to keep attending the very retrictive Baptist chapel which her ancestors had all been part of for generations!

I saw Jesus as a special human being, not an aspect of God, and I sensed that the adults dared not think of him as human. This obligation to keep attending church and Sunday School put me off for another 14 years! I had felt when I was about 12 that religions are ‘looking in the same directions as each other’. When I found Subud at the age of 21, I recognised that it offered me the essence of what the religions always spoke of.

Whilst bringing up children, I attended two local churches but felt frustrated at Christianity’s ‘confusion between Jesus and God’, as I explained it to myself, and I would feel quite angry about that, but I was not drawn to Islam. I decided at 32 to become baptised, whilst I was the organist at a small Methodist chapel in our village.

Two Dreams

A couple of years later, I had two dreams a few months apart, and which later I understood to be related. In the first, I was standing in my kitchen and holding a phial of Jesus’ blood, when I experienced a sort of ‘time-tunnel’, after which I saw that the blood was now almost dried-up and corrupted. It seemed to be ‘unusable’.

My mind swivelled between using it ‘as it is’ to keep it pure, or diluting it because in truth it was no longer usable. It was yes, no, yes – and then I re-filled it with water from the tap. During this process, I sensed that this was the most important decision I ever had to make. I should say also that during those rapidly shifting thoughts, I noted that other people were just going out of the d

oor – so I could not consult them.

In the second dream, I was standing in a stone cellar, alone as before, where I noticed a loaf of bread left there with no-one using it. As in the first dream, some people were just going out of the door and I could not ask them. I considered leaving the loaf there, but realised it would moulder away, so I placed it by an air-vent where it would ‘last longer’.

Same thought came to me – what was the point of that? It would not be used. I picked it up and took it around the corner into another stone cellar, where I found some Libyan men sitting around a stone table: at that time in the mid ’80s, Libya held associations for me of ‘trouble’ and also of politically slanted Islam. I gave the loaf to them, and the dream ended. If that dream said anything to me, it was that I could offer the essence of Christianity to those not of my faith

Clearly, the blood and bread represented my upbringing in Christianity, though it was many years later that I understood the people who were ‘going out of the door’ as the generation just gone, whose responsibility was now done. I suppose Christians would say they had been witnesses to their faith.

A Call

Not long after these dreams, on the eve of my 36th birthday (also the 10th anniversary of my father’s death) I had a distinct ‘call’ to start taking chapel services. Until then, I had never considered it for a moment. It’s notable that during his last illness, my father had become Christian, quietly and inwardly. He had opened up considerably as a person during this period – my husband Hadrian and I had been in Subud then for four years and a lot had happened to us

I followed this prompting and started preacher-training, but my overall life – as well as my theological understanding – did not match its requirements, and it was an incident on my birthday exactly two years later, which shut it all down. After that, I assumed the ‘pulpit thing’ would never return. I could see no way that my mind would ever find enough breadth within a Christian framework, but I felt I would not change my religion.

The Cambridge Subud group met for some years at the Unitarian Church. I did not have good assocations with the building and so did not enquire about Unitarianism. However, around 1997 I read a book called ‘Jesus: A Prophet of Islam’ which had belonged to the late Michael Scott, a Subud member living partly in Cambridge and partly in Tangiers.

This book was written by a Muslim historian. I swallowed it all up with great interest, as the subject matter fitted exactly my own understanding. He spoke of ‘Unitarians’ down the ages who had objected to any emphasis upon Jesus as worthy of worship for his own sake, or of Jesus as an aspect of God from the beginning of time.

At this time I was poverty-stricken to a degree! I remained dissatisfied with my work, and wanted to find how I ought to earn money. After a latihan at home, I asked if I could be shown what this could be. I found myself ‘in the pulpit’ but I was not expounding the Bible as such, but was offering to people all around me a feeling of the wonder of life and the world. This surprised me, as I thought the ‘pulpit thing’ had gone never to return.

Turning to Unitarianis

By 2000, I turned to Unitarianism, a

nd recognised the feeling returning, to ‘lead worship’ and to support individuals by accepting them on their own terms. By 2004 I was in a position to follow this prompting, and have now completed two periods of study alongside both Unitarian and other denominational students, and am in my second appointment.

This study was contextually based – some of it was Biblical but all of it grounded in contemporary life. It also accepted the validity of other faiths (for those who could accept this). Unitarian respect for all faiths, philosophies, poetry, literature, arts and science meets my creative needs as a musician who has an interests in the arts, as well as a sense of wonder at cosmology. Unitarians are willing to ask questions rather than to offer clear-cut answers. In my chapel community in York, I am more likely to speak of words as ‘tools’ rather than to expect them to be the end of our exploration.

I currently know of only two other people in Britain who are both Unitarian and Subud members! I do know of others who are in Subud and are Christian, and in ministry. They may or may not accept my Unitarian stance, but I have never doubted – as child or adult – that all of us seek the same being or source, however we describe the Eternal.