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Andy Byng
Andy Byng

Gordon Higginson
Gordon Higginson

Estelle Roberts demonstrating mediumship at the Royal Albert Hall.
    Estelle Roberts demonstrating
mediumship at the Royal Albert Hall.

Andy Byng asks...
Where has all
the wonder gone?

Can we be optimistic about the current state of Spiritualism? From the outside looking in, it probably seems that there is little to be optimistic about: political in-fighting, jealousy, a declining membership, a philosophy in need of re-examination and modernisation, and constant complaints about the standard of mediumship demonstrated on our platforms.

It also seems that we've not moved forward since the 1920s, as the issues we were then debating are the same as those we debate today. Should we have Christian trappings within our churches? Should our churches actually be called churches, or be renamed as centres? But all these things seem trifling when one considers the degree of apathy that exists within our movement.

Miracle of communication

It appears to me that many Spiritualists have lost sight of the miracle of mediumship. And yes, it is a miracle. A discarnate mind - a mum, dad, brother or sister - is able to communicate with those who are still physically alive, and, even more amazingly, provide objective evidence of their survival. Our congregations should be awestruck - truly inspired and overjoyed by such an experience.

However, it seems to me that many Spiritualists have lost touch with what is actually happening at the services they attend. It's as though they've become immune to it, disinterested almost. Rather than seeing information provided by the spirit world as evidence of somebody's loved one reaching across the veil of death to be reunited with their family and friends, those attempts to communicate are perceived merely as pieces of information, either accurate or not.

How many times have you heard observations such as "Wasn't the medium good/bad tonight?" Shouldn't the comments be "How amazing is it that we were able to witness the presence of the spirit world this evening!" Or, "Isn't it wonderful to live in a world where a mother is able to communicate with her son who has passed away?"

Legacy of unity

I believe Gordon Higginson once said that Spiritualism had lost its spirit, and surely this is what he was referring to. For our pioneers, discovering that intelligence and individuality survived physical death inspired them to reach out to the wider world to demonstrate and share the truth that life is eternal. This joy and awe, experienced through the miracle of mediumship, not only cemented their unity but inspired them to stand firm against the emerging philosophy of materialism. By doing so, those pioneers left behind a legacy - a legacy I believe we have an obligation to continue.

So, what exactly is that legacy? Surely the work of every Spiritualist church is twofold. First, they should be havens for those who have discovered the truth of Spiritualism, so that they can share their experiences with people of like mind, and further their own personal investigation into the subject. Second, they should be attempting to inspire members of their local community, who have never experienced mediumship or the philosophy of Spiritualism, to invest-igate Spiritualism, by providing them with an appealing environment in which to do so.

It stands to reason that the latter should be the main concern of every Spiritualist. If someone has been en-lightened by the truth of survival, and privileged to have  a personal experience of the spirit world, they too should feel compelled to share their experiences with others. I'm not suggesting we should knock on doors and pester people, just that each and every Spiritualist should be willing to alter and change the way Spiritualism is presented, so that it becomes appealing and relevant 
for members of its local community who are not Spiritualists.

What's in a name?

If calling a church a centre would make investigating Spiritualism more appealing to a non-Spiritualist, surely we should be chomping at the bit to change the name. If removing hymns and prayers makes Spiritualism appear more modern and relevant to the sort of spiritual experience that a non-Spiritualist is seeking, surely we should make the change today so that these people can experience for themselves the reality of the spirit world.

To some readers such suggestions may seem abhorrent, but let's consider what Spiritualism truly is. First, it's the miracle of mediumship, in that it demonstrates the reality of the spirit world. Second, it's the philosophical implications of such a reality. The only thing that should be of any real concern, therefore, is that the integrity of the mediumship and philosophy is not compromised. We have to make sure that our exponents can demonstrate a high standard of mediumship. Furthermore, our members should be educated to a high standard in Spiritualist philosophy, and provided with the opportunity to critically explore and debate the philosophical and mediumistic components of Spiritualism.

Let's not forget that early Spiritualists had no religious meetings, because Spiritualism did not become a recognised religion until the twentieth century. It began with people meeting in their homes, simply to experience mediumship and discuss the philosophical implications of that experience. Later, there were large public meetings, at which lectures and demonstrations of mediumship were given, but even at that time we didn't have the Seven Principles as we know them today.

Over time, the style of the Spiritualist service took shape, and that style - the same as we experience today - was completely relevant and appropriate to that generation and culture. And that's my point: when Spiritualism was at the height of its popularity it was completely relevant to the culture and expectations of the time. It challenged materialism, empowered women in a world controlled by men, and the service itself was based on a Christian model, which would have been familiar and appealing to Spiritualists of that generation.

However, although it was familiar, the Spiritualist service placed emphasis on evidence rather than faith, which both the intelligentsia and Spiritualism itself were championing. Consequently, it offered the Spiritualist familiarity, whilst demonstrating the very thing that differentiated it from orthodoxy - evidence of an afterlife rather than faith in an afterlife.

Outdated and irrelevant

The problem for Spiritualism today is that the world has drastically changed, but Spirit-ualism hasn't. It's become out-dated, irrelevant and uninspiring. We have to wake up to the fact that today the vast majority of people in the Western world do not care for organised religion, nor do they want to par-take in any religious service that smacks of orth-odoxy.

This raises a vital question for the future of Spiritualism - do we try to change people to fit in with Spiritualism, or do we change Spiritualism to meet the needs of today's people? If we think the former is more important, then we should just continue on our present road. If the latter appears to be a more sensible option, which I believe it does, then we have to be bold and modernise. However, as I said earlier, we have to make sure that modernisation does not compromise the integrity of our mediumship and philosophy.

Barriers to communication

Let's picture a scenario. Imagine there is a mother in the spirit world, trying to reach her son. Her son has no interest in organised religion and definitely wouldn't enter any building called a church, but is desperately looking for answers about the possibility of an afterlife. If we are to be of service to the spirit world, don't we have a duty to reduce these barriers to communication for the mother? The name ‘church' smacks of orthodoxy, and so on. Don't we have a duty to be an appealing movement which makes it as easy as possible for mother and son to be reunited? And to give that son the opportunity to experience this truth so that he can find solace in his life, by ensuring that Spiritualism meets his expectations?

If you think that scenario is unrealistic, ask yourself why it is that church-going and church affiliation is decreasing, but inter-est in spirituality is increasing. There are thousands of people out there who would probably be helped by Spiritualism, but are put off by the way it's presented.

Let me ask a question of Spiritualists who vehemently defend the need for prayers and hymns, and for our buildings to be called churches. Which is more important - the singing of a hymn, the reciting of a prayer, the title of a building, or bringing together two people who live in different worlds, so that they can experience again the love that exists between them?

Our needs or the spirit world's?

What's more, if we want these things simply because this is how they've always been, let me ask another question. What's more important - our own needs and wants, or those of the spirit world? Surely the spirit world just wants to touch as many minds as possible so that everybody can understand the reality of the world in which we live? Do you really think they care if we sing a hymn, or say a formal prayer? Or is what they really want for people to have a personal experience of the power of the spirit?

What is the difference between a formal prayer at the beginning of a service, followed by a hymn, and somebody listening to a piece of music and, whilst doing so, reaching out to that power of the spirit world so that they can hopefully become aware of it themselves? I would say there's no difference, but the latter is much more modern and appealing than the former.

If you disagree that the aim of the spirit world is to touch as many minds as possible, let me ask you why is it that the spirit world attempts to communicate with us millions of times a year, worldwide?

If Spiritualists today simply re-connected to that joy of mediumship, and considered why Spiritualist churches exist in the first place, I think that, like our pioneers, we would do everything possible to ensure that we engaged and inspired as many people as possible to investigate Spiritualism. Indeed, as long as the integrity of our philosophy and mediumship is not compromised, who cares if a Spiritualist church is called a Spiritualist centre, or if we sing hymns or say formal prayers, especially if such things discourage non-Spiritualists? Again, ask yourself the question: is an empty Spiritualist church really of service to the spirit world?

Change is vital

Why are we so resistant to change when every indicator tells us we are in dire need of it? Why do we cling to the past when we know deep down that the world is drastically different from what it was 80 years ago? Why do we constantly fight amongst ourselves when we know that if Spiritualism is going to make a difference we need to put our own desires to one side, and, like our pioneers, act in unison, cemented by a common goal to spread the truth of Spiritualism?

It may sound harsh, but I fear we've become so occupied with what we want from Spiritualism that we've all but forgotten who we are really working for. We've become so used to complaining and finding problems that we've forgotten to provide solutions. Our pioneers believed passionately that it was possible to bring about peace on earth by uniting everybody, regardless of creed, race and gender, through the truth of Spiritualism - a truth encapsulated in every religious and philosophical system known to humankind.

Where, oh where, has the wonder gone? Where is the spirit of Spiritualism hiding? The truth is that it's within each and every one of us, just waiting to be reignited.

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