March 2021 marks a whole year of offering Heart and Soul online (it’s over eight years since we held our first in-person gathering in Kensington, which we did monthly, until switching to Zoom during the pandemic) so to celebrate we’ve asked some regulars to say a little about their experience of participating in Heart and Soul and what they have come to value about it:

From Jane’s gatherings: 

‘When Heart and Soul started just a year ago, I was feeling lonely, like a lot of people. All the shops were closed, I wasn’t allowed out, everything and everyone seemed dangerous. But Heart and Soul started, and once a week, I had a place to be where I could be myself and could welcome others being themselves. I had never met most people in my group, but we have come to know each other so well. Not only our daily lives but also what we value most in our inner lives. We have shared so much during reflections, but also in our chats afterwards. There is often talk of pudding and sometimes soft toys make a dancing appearance! During one of the most challenging years of my life, Heart and Soul has been one of the best parts. Thank you!’ – Charlotte

‘Heart and Soul is now firmly grounded into my weekly routine. It is a wonderful authentic ritual which has opened up my awareness of our shared need to connect with each other. I have gained a family of souls who are willing to show their vulnerability and share their gratitudes, love and concerns and I am excited every Friday to see them all again. In the week I now find myself thinking about different members of the group hoping that they are ok, that the leg is healing, that the dark cloud has lifted, are the dogs are ok, did they go for a swim, as I say they have become more than a group, they are my Heart and Soul family and I am full of gratitude. Thank you – you have created this amazing event that brings people together in such deep connection – this is what Church is all about.’ – Pat

‘I used to really enjoy Heart and Soul when it happened in person at Essex Church, but then childcare issues meant I wasn’t able to attend any more. When it began online, being a technophobe, it took me a couple of weeks to give it a try, but I’m glad I did and can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I first attended. In all the change and turmoil of the past pandemic year, it’s been a stable presence. And although it’s always open to new people, a core group of regular attendees have formed. What’s nice about that is that it feels like many of us, although in different locations across the UK, and even the world, have been on a journey together. I do hope that once physical restrictions are lifted, that an online version of Heart and Soul continues, as it’s a very welcome pause at the end of the week.’ – Jeannene

‘I think I have not missed one single Heart and Soul meeting since lockdown and yet every new ‘episode’ is fresh and stimulating and thought provoking and uplifting and… just wonderful. Wonderful in the sense that it brings the wonder of life right ‘in your face’ as you consider gratitude and, looking inward, get in touch again with what you love and who you love in this life. There is plenty of time to listen to a reading, reflect on a theme, light a candle and listen to great music. Yes, there is sadness at times, grief may well up unexpectedly and it is fine and safe, as we all hold each other gently, without commenting. I think we have grown quite fond of one another over time. One of the in -dis- pens- able part of the meeting is staying for the chat at the end. There is a lot of laughter and anything goes. The description of how one of us prepares his breakfast every morning, assembles the ingredients and how long it takes, had us mesmerized and in stitches 2 weeks ago. My breakfast can never be the same again. I cannot imagine Sundays without Heart and Soul and I am so grateful to you for making it happen every week.’ – Marianne

‘The Heart & Soul circles which I have been attending for the last year have become an essential part of my spiritual and emotional growth. The topics we have covered have been thought provoking and so relevant to the struggles and challenges we face daily. I have loved an opportunity to take time to reflect on each week and how I have dealt with events and the people I interact with. My learning about myself has deepened and I realise that I have done the best I could and that is ok. It is the sharing together of our struggles, griefs, successes and joys that is so inspirational and enriching. Also the circles feel safe and secure. I sometimes feel weary and worn and don’t feel I can make the effort to sign in but how different I feel afterwards! They are inspirational, comforting and often profoundly moving. Thank you for the work you do in thinking of the themes, researching the materials and music and for being able to ‘hold the space’ so we feel safe to share. You appear so grounded yourself although I know you struggle as we all do to live well and be there for others. What a lovely group of people on a Friday night with which I feel a deep connection. Much love and many thanks for creating such amazing circles of growth and care.’  – Barbara

‘I remember how much I enjoyed the Heart and Soul Services at Essex Church pre lockdown but I also struggled to get there on time in the rush hour. Not any more! It has been a great steadying strength and guide to me in the last year to have these intimate Services online instead. In fact, I wonder if I am using the right word to call this a Service, as it’s so participatory. Jane, you are doing us a great service to give us the space and leadership of 90 minutes to truly be ourselves in exploring one relevant subject after another every single week for 52 so far. Practically every title has already been something I have been mulling over. We used to have a month to wait between them! Attending Heart and Soul online has always been a relaxing experience near the end of my day. I have liked or loved every piece of music and been moved to some degree by every passage read out. In addition, it’s been good to feel I deeply care about the other people in the group as they have talked about the changes in their lives over this stretch of time, although I have never actually met many of them and quite likely never will. For those who also belong to Essex Church I feel a much deeper connection than before and this has been sustaining for me. I have long since stopped missing the live camaraderie and cake at Essex Church but I do hope I will eventually return to having that experience sometimes. With thanks from the bottom of my heart.’ – Carolyn

‘I’m so glad I started going to Heart and Soul. It’s become a much-loved feature of my Fridays, a way to connect with fellow seekers across the UK and beyond. The group I participate with is full of lovely people, and because of the format we’ve got to know each other in a way that would be much harder in a more traditional service format. The emphasis on contemplation is really helpful and conducive to good spiritual health; I know several people, including me, find it particularly nourishing. Heart and Soul gatherings are participatory but not discursive, structured but different each time because of the changing theme and the way we all feel on a given evening. They’ve brought me back to active involvement in Unitarianism after a few years of being without a congregation, and I am so grateful for that. Heart and Soul has been a blessing particularly in this time of Covid restrictions, but I hope it carries on afterwards as a means for those of us unable to access a conventional congregation on a regular basis to have a regular, collective spiritual practice. Thank you.’ – Alex

‘I have been attending Unitarian services for some time but found the Heart and Soul gatherings online last year. Since then, my weekly attendance has greatly enriched my spiritual life. The format is simple but structured to allow quiet reflection on the weekly topic with optional sharing in the Naming and Loving prayers. The group I attend has been so supportive and I value the opportunity to connect with them. Thank you for all the work you put in to make the meetings so enriching.’ – John

‘Heart and Soul has been a blessing for our church in Brighton. For several years now this apparently simple gift of a template for safe, quiet and contemplative gatherings has deepened our spiritual lives and strengthened our community. More recently the online Heart and Soul meetings we have been running since March 2020 have been a source of comfort and connection for our congregation during the pandemic. For myself I have come to think of Heart and Soul as a space where I can be myself, and rest in the truth of God’s presence, a fellowship of stillness and prayer in which I can consider some of life’s mysteries and challenges. Thank you Jane!’ – Jef

From Laura’s gathering: 

“The common eye sees only the outside of things, and judges by that, but the seeing eye pierces through and reads the heart and the soul.” Mark Twain

‘It is understandable to feel that the best Unitarian services are characterised by eloquence, deep thought and inspiring discourse, and of course, these experiences have their place. Highlights of my dreary months of lock down have been the tranquil times of contemplation and fellowship online, in the ‘Heart and Soul‘ meetings, devised and scripted by Jane Blackall. Our local group owes her a great debt of gratitude and thanks. These occasions provide opportunities to share with others a comforting silence and escape the clamour and busi-ness of the insistent everyday. Week after week Jane has worked hard to provide subjects and associated readings for participants to explore without prejudgement with the open mind Unitarians would expect . A small group from our church has been joined at different times by fellow inquirers in the UK and abroad to our mutual benefit. Please look out for your chance to participate in one of these sessions.’ Tom – Chorlton Unitarian Church

From Helen’s gathering: 

‘The Heart and Soul sessions each week produced by Jane are a wonderful way for giving a peaceful hour in our busy schedules. Silence, prayers, readings and time for reflection are thought provoking. For me it is also seeing people I have met once a year at the GA Meetings and to meet many new people in the wider communities of Churches or none.’ – Janet

‘I have found Helen’s meetings are helpful in many ways. Signing in is like meeting up with friends who are glad to see you and wishing you well, though in fact we are scattered across the country and in some cases, not known previously.to each other. The content each week is always thought provoking, calming and generally lifts your spirits. I am not a Unitarian, but I find myself agreeing with most of the content of the meeting. I always come away feeling calmer and more able to deal with life. Helen is extremely skilled in running the meeting and I am very grateful to be included.’ – Moira

‘Thank you for all the work you put in with the Heart and Soul sessions. I joined Helen’s grouping on Tuesday sometime early last summer. I have really enjoyed the sessions, which has given me a chance to share in fellowship and friendship some time for reflection and meditation within a framework. I have met Unitarians from across England, Scotland and Wales on a regular basis, some I had known previously others a new, but I feel I can call them all friends. Thank you, please continue your good work.’ – Wendy

‘Helen’s Tuesday Heart and Soul gatherings based on those of Jane Blackall, are an oasis in what is so often a busy week. They have become an essential part of my personal spiritual practice and I am so grateful. So often, the topics covered just touch for me, a current issue and have become reminders of my own journey. Thank you.’ – Lis