'Buddhism or biscuits? From toy designer to a Hampstead Unitarian minister'

Reverend Kate Dean, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead

Reverend Kate Dean was led to Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead - Credit: Russell Bentley

My three-year-old, Freddie, and I came upon the wonderful Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel one Saturday morning that was offering a morning of toys, tea for the adults, and a host of books to read for the children.

I was so taken with both the chapel itself and its almost non-denominational ideology, welcoming people from all faiths for children and adults alike. I spoke with the wonderful and dynamic Reverend Kate Dean over coffee and we discussed how she came to be the reverend of this unique and inclusive home to all faiths.

Born into a non-religious background, Kate grew up in Somerset near Glastonbury amidst a more alternative new age and pagan religious scene. Kate held a belief, informed by her mother and grandmother that Jesus aside from being a great leader and teacher was a human being and this is what drew her to the Unitarian chapel as an adult.

After some Christian teachings as a child, at the tender age of 10 she discovered Buddhism and briefly became a vegetarian. Back in the days when biscuits contained animal fat, she had to choose between biscuits and Buddhism.

Like any good youngster she chose biscuits. She studied product design at University and worked for a toy company designing board games and craft kits. Then she moved into the charity sector working for the World Association of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in Lyndhurst Road taking leadership seminars for young women globally, a sort of mini United Nations if you will.

Speaking to a colleague, Kate felt she needed a home for her own burgeoning spiritual beliefs and was led to the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel in Hampstead. It was an immediate fit and their ethos fitted Kate’s perfectly, especially as she was looking to sing in a choir.

Russell Bentley made a documentary about the characters and history behind the launderette in Englan

Russell Bentley recently discovered Hampstead's Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel - Credit: Archant

In only a short time, Kate began speaking before the congregation, the tradition being you don’t need to be an ordained minister to lead a service. She gave a talk when President Obama was elected (as a mixed-heritage person herself) and that was her first tentative step toward moving in the direction of becoming a minister.

Most Read

Eventually she was encouraged to train in the ministry and join Rosslyn Hill Chapel in an official capacity as their minister five years ago. It was her perfect vocation, which married Kate’s passion for both design, creating a poster for the noticeboard on one day, and then building a spiritual gathering on a Sunday morning that’s going to move people.

The church offers all manner of groups including the Saturday Club held once a month from 9.30-11.30am for toddlers and children under the age of five. Bright Lights is the children’s chapel and creche, and during the pandemic a series of videos were created online and can still be accessed on the Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel’s YouTube channel.

For adults the church offers "30 Minute Mindfulness Meditation" on a Sunday at 6pm, followed by a meditation based gathering at 7pm which some Sundays could include a "Sound bath" where you lie down and are washed with the music of gongs and Tibetan soundscapes.

Other weeks might involve an elaborate walking meditation whereby a replica canvas of the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France is laid out and fills the whole of the chapel. It takes the congregants about 40 minutes to complete the walk as a meditation practice.

There is also Soul Fuel, a monthly acoustic music, poetry and storytelling event which will take place on the February 6. Last October, the chapel hosted a re-enactment of an abolitionist meeting as part of the national Black History Month, which was a resounding success.

Reverend Kate Dean has really fulfilled her mission of creating an inclusive and thriving community spirit offering something for everyone which comes at a most prescient time in our lives. It’s inspiring to meet someone with such a passion for people and helping others. A true local hero.

Details of forthcoming events are available on the website: rosslynhillchapel.org.uk

Russell Bentley is an actor and writer from Belsize Park whose documentary on England’s Lane's Launderette was released in 2019.