(This article first appeared in The Inquirer)

We arrrived early - not knowing the normal congregation and we're pleased to see a scatter of folks in the Chapel but as 10.30am approached still they kept coming and the entire place was abuzz with the air of anticipation.  As the punters packed into the pews, this felt like the opening night of a show, a concert - but in fact this was a multi-faith service Padiham-style.

Hosted by Unitarian Minister Rev Jim Corrigall and presented jointly by Rauf Bashir of the Free Spiritual Centre in Pendle, this was a colourful, warm, evocative service of music, song, sound and prayer.  Held on Sunday 24th September, this was a feast for any who felt hungry for good news and positive stories in the modern world.  This was a welcome collision of east and west, a positive smorgasbord of styles, tastes and forms.

What is the role of the speaker at a conference?  To reaffirm your knowledge or belief, to challenge and provoke, to humble and support your views or insights or just to make you squirm from your assumptions or comfort?  The last two days have achieved all of these, but today's Dr Ann Peart was the very best of all.

As she spoke I wanted to make notes, hear her treatise again, felt awkward at my assumptions and felt the need to act on what was said.  Theology from Women's Experience was a thoughtful, considered and provocative assessment of the development of notions of equality and inclusion. 

A short train journey - meeting a fellow Unitarian en route - and out of Leeds Station, past the Queens hotel and there, as I cross the road four elders of this place greet us - of whom the last is Joseph Priestley, of course.  And there across the main square sits Mill Hill Chapel - and what one rose and towered - now enclosed by the rise and growth of the city of Leeds.  

Indeed the sight of the contrasts of the modern glistening glass tower, of the legal firms and accountants that look jealously on the tombs, stained glass, faith and real estate that is Mill Hill Chapel.  Here is a Chapel that either lives on it mission or dryly regrets the lack of living residential community.

Looking around the conference, any conference you get a fascinating and insightful slice of your own questions - in this case questions that I myself at least struggle with.  Why am I so curious about the ministry of religion and its impact upon society?

For me the impact is the impact upon those I care about - the translation of laws, judgements and edicts upon life, fun, freedom and liberty - all within the welcome constraint of not harming others by your actions.

I read somewhere that you never know a place until you have been in it in utter darkness.  It always seemed an extreme and threatening notion, until one night I walked along a beach in West Africa and bathed in the light of the cool moon and marvelled at the freedom and solitude.

 Yesterday, as our Heritage Open Day at Elder Yard Unitarian Chapel in Chesterfield came to an end, the fuse of a light blew and the chapel's natural light was heavily dimmed.  Far from being dark or threatening, we found it was suddenly deeply atmospheric.  Indeed, as I lit the two candles on the top altar at the top of the chapel, it felt warm, secure and enclosed.  The darkened light far from being chilled, acted as a cloak protecting those of us gathered in there.