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Stand up and speak up
 

David Hopkins-red

by David Hopkins    

The Arthur Findlay College and Stansted Hall are in the news again. From the safety of my position (behind a computer screen!), I am adding some comments. I need to declare an interest, not financial, 
but an interest, and long-standing at that.

Like others who comment, I trace my links back to the early days of the Union’s link with the Hall. My first visit was just after the Hall had been given to the Union in 1964; my parents and I went to visit what seemed a fantastic acquisition for the Spiritualists’ National Union. In those days you could walk from the station, under the archway of the lodge (part of the acquisition) and up the drive, past the lake to the Hall. The door was answered by Edith, Arthur Findlay’s long-time maid. We looked around and had traditional afternoon tea at a refectory table in the dining room (now the lecture room). The kitchen gardens were filled with flowers and vegetables and I have an abiding memory of vast numbers of butterflies.

A special atmosphere

Subsequently, we helped at a Lyceum Union Summer School, the first event at the Hall. The now-shop area was the still room, with water for washing up coming through a hosepipe from the gent’s toilet! What a week!  Later my parents were asked to take a role there and lived for a year in Clock Cottage. The first manager, Tom Harrison (now better known for his personal and family links with physical mediumship), had moved in with his wife and three of his children. Gladys Owen, former SNU treasurer, was there and others like Irene
Oldroyd added to the strong lyceum link.

The atmosphere was special. We had a lyceum and a discussion group, both supported by local people, and a good rapport with the village. (This, of course, was before the ‘Spooks Hall’ period and the closed atmosphere that cut the Hall off from the village.) The acrimonious circumstances of the departure of Tom and his family and then my parents may form several paragraphs in the book I have long promised myself to write!

There were many visits to the Hall, some as a member of the Union’s National Council (the then board of directors) over two periods. I was at a meeting in the library when Frank Tams, close friend and colleague of Gordon Higginson, collapsed and passed shortly afterwards at the hospital in Bishops Stortford.

Plans for a clinic

Later visits involved my wife Mayne and I tutoring or being part of weeks held there. Many were the conversations we had with Gordon about his plans for a clinic in the grounds, to offer a range of complementary therapies (including healing of course), often when he was having acupuncture from Mayne. End of chapter on revelations!

Yes, I have a historical and current interest in the Hall and the College, its activities and what might lie ahead. For many, the actual building has sentimental attachment but we have also to look at the future in a practical way. In its present form the building is hardly suitable for purpose, as most people require a higher standard than those days of hosepiped water! Despite the restoration and improvements, there are enormous tasks ahead. Whilst many may enjoy the ‘historical old house’ atmosphere, I suggest most do not enjoy leaving their room to visit a bathroom, and the opportunity to keep up-to-date via TV and radio may be welcomed.

Prime objective

The prime objective of the SNU is: To promote the advancement and diffusion (particularly in the United Kingdom) of a knowledge of the religion and religious philosophy of Spiritualism. Its mission statement is: To Promote the Religion & religious Philosophy of Spiritualism as based upon the Seven Principles. There is a common and often-expressed acceptance of a three-fold basis to Spiritualism – as a Science, a Philosophy and a Religion.

The shortened version of the College programme gives the course name and type. Looking through the list we find:

• use of the word ‘science’  = nil; use of the word ‘mediumship’ = 39
• use of the word ‘philosophy’ = nil; use of the word ‘mediumship’ = 39
• use of the word ‘religion’ = nil; use of the word ‘mediumship’ = 39.

Final score: Core Spiritualism = nil (unless I missed something!); Mediumship = 39 (increased when the words ‘demonstrator’ and ‘trance’ are added).

There will be those who consider mediumship as being ‘Core Spiritualism’ but there we must disagree.

A recent internet comment on a PN article about the College said that “Stansted Hall has been the hallmark of the SNU and Spiritualism for all who believe and understand Spiritualism”. I think the words “has been” are very relevant. For many years Stansted Hall was referred to as the “Spiritualist College”. Given my quotations above, coupled with the current AFC syllabus, perhaps you can see why I reach the conclusion that “has been” could not be replaced by “is” as that would not be a correct reflection of current policy. Look at a magazine advertisement for the College - the SNU (which owns and runs the Hall and College) is not mentioned, nor is the word ‘Spiritualism’. Interesting omissions!

As a charity, trustees have a responsibility to utilise assets in a manner that will produce a satisfactory return. If this means investing in the modernisation and upgrading of the Hall then running quality courses on mediumship, where charges are what the market will bear, is fine by me. There are many people across the world who will pay well for such courses. There is, of course, a “However…”. The income, above a reasonable reserve sum for prudent future planning, should be used to facilitate the quoted prime object and mission statement and develop what I have termed Core Spiritualism for members and others interested in our religious philosophy. Using it to empire-build does not come into this category. One such operation, well run and presenting high quality tuition, is quite enough.

Inspection?

We have all heard of Ofsted, whose website says “we are independent and impartial. We inspect and regulate services… for those providing education and skills for learners of all ages”. What about some independent and impartial inspection and regulation at the Arthur Findlay College? One problem is that there is no overall College syllabus but a collection of individual weeks. So inspection and regulation would be more difficult. In a school, inspectors could see all the teachers carrying out their duties with all the students in a short period. Teachers have lesson plans with aims and objectives, methods and so on. At the AFC it would be necessary for the independent inspectors to visit numerous courses each year.

Is there a year-on-year developing syllabus at the College? Are the standards of tutors comparable? Who carries out the checks on those running courses and tutoring students? Is it a process of peer assessment? It does not seem “independent and impartial”. Are we running a college or a series of unconnected, individual weeks which are linked broadly under the heading of mediumship training? Even if the latter is the current case and the intention for the future, independent scrutiny remains important.

Despite recent PN reports about chairmanship at the AFC, it should not be thought that the current modus operandi at Stansted is a recent occurrence. It has been developing for many years, not at the expressed desire of members of the Union but at the behest of those who have had authority. Can anyone recall a discussion at a SNU AGM when the members decided the direction for the College programme on a short- and long-term basis? Can anyone remember a discussion or decision on extending the AFC brand? I suggest that figures for those who attend Stansted Hall indicate that there is not an overwhelming appetite amongst SNU members for what is presented there.

An extension of the same thing gives opportunities for another income source for the small (and perhaps almost closed?) group whose names appear regularly as organisers and tutors. Does anyone outside that group really think that there are not many people across the UK capable of presenting Spiritualism, even the mediumship element, to at least the standard being offered at the AFC? Elitism should not be a part of Spiritualism.

Discussion

Should the Hall be sold and the money used to purchase premises (more than one?) to present and promote the three-pronged thrust of Spiritualism? Should we use the current building as a major income source for the Union to fulfil the objectives laid down in its constitution? These are issues the members should be discussing, perhaps more important than changing logos and letter-headings. Let’s decide what it is we are branding before worrying about the packaging.

The Hall, the College and the Centre belong to the Union – and the Union is its members, not its hierarchy! Is not now the time for members to demand their say? We have seen recent revolutions at meetings of other companies and whilst we aren’t concerned about boardroom remuneration there are other issues to deal with. Let’s not have long presentations at this year’s AGM but ample time for members to express themselves. Speaking out will not get you thrown out of the Union – David Hopkins is still there! Stop complaining in the shadows; if you have conviction, stand up and speak up! How else will we know what the majority wants?

I express my views, accepting, of course, that I am not always right. (Confirmation of this is available from my wife!) Do you agree or disagree with what is happening in the Union, the Hall and AFC set-up? Does anyone support my views? Is anyone prepared 
to speak out where it matters – publicly, at your DC or the Union’s AGM? You don’t have to stay at the hotel 
to go to the meeting – as a member you can just turn up.

If you don’t take the opportunities available, don’t moan later. That’s like complaining about politicians and government and not voting! Change does not happen by itself. People create change!

David Hopkins is an SNU minister, author and broadcaster.


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