Ditchling Communal Service, Sunday 19th April 2020

by Stephen Crowther

Bless us, O God—
whisper in our hearts and light our times.
Help us to understand your love and your law
and bring them to bear on the world’s ills.
Let all the people of the earth praise you
with all their diverse voices.
Let them call out the ten thousand names.
Let all nations praise you with the best of their ways.
Let us all enjoy each other’s wisdom.
Let the peoples of the earth bless the earth
and heal her together.
Bless us, O God, with your presence in our hearts,
And in the soul of our nation.

(Doubter Psalms Psalm 67 by Christine Robinson)

Have a candle ready to light. You may want to play some gentle music for 5 or 10 minutes before we start at 11.00.

11.00am: On this Sunday morning in this strangest of times, we gather ourselves in and light a candle.

(light your candle)

As we join with others in our community, isolated in our homes, separated by a pandemic, may we be reminded that we are never alone, that we are always connected with each other and with the wider world.
May the flame of this candle connect with the light in all our hearts bringing trust and hope to each of us at this bewildering and fearful time in our lives.

(pause)

Welcome to our ‘online’ service at this unprecedented time in our history. It may seem a little inappropriate to greet you with ‘good morning’ but I wish you a very good morning – whatever the state of your heart or frame of mind this morning.

In case there is anyone joining us, who doesn’t normally worship with us on a Sunday, I would like to extend a special welcome. Unitarians have no fixed statement of beliefs or creed to which you have to agree in order to be accepted. Our attitude is that religion is wider than any church or faith-group, and deeper than any set of beliefs. Here we practice a free faith unfettered by dogma.
As such, when I speak of God, I invite you to bring your own unfolding, personal and intimate understanding to the name – for it is yours and yours alone and may just be your most intimate relationship of all….

Opening Words: NONE OF US ARE IMMUNE by Jeff Foster

It’s going to be okay.
It really is.

We will face this situation together with love, humour and patience.
We will weep together, we will laugh together.
We will discover togetherness in our apartness.

And the worst of it will end one day.
And we will have learned so much by then.

We will now be called to face very difficult feelings inside of us.
Fear. Grief. The loss of an old way of life. Our devastated plans.
We will learn to face ourselves. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
Nowhere to go except within.

A sacred quarantine.

We will learn to face our boredom. Our restlessness. The part of us that wants to be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else, having some other experience, in some other Now, living in some other life.
We will let go of the wonderful future we had planned.
We will let the fantasy future die, release it, and grieve it.
We will return to the solidity and warmth of the present.

We will make the present into our home.
We will begin again, here, build a new house on new soil.
We will explore a new way of life.
Strange, at first. But full of possibility.
Slower. Kinder. Quieter.

We will talk to each other honestly about death, and life, and impermanence, and how we feel about all the changes that have come to us and our loved ones.
We will learn to value life a little more.
Yes, perhaps we will learn to value life a little more.

And live with our hearts cracked slightly open to the elements.
And lean into uncertainty, and find our salvation there.

None of us are immune to change.
To rupture. To the shattering of old, familiar forms.
This is the way of things, this has always been the way of things.

From this perspective, nothing has gone wrong.
Crisis simply means “turning point”, and none of us are immune from the turning.

The breaking of the old makes way for the birth of new.
It has always been this way.

Love. Humour. Patience. With these things, we will come through.
Stronger than before. Renewed. Ready.

If you wish, please join in singing our hymn, Trust in Life

Words by Sidney Henry Knight, music John Bacchus Dykes, from Hymns for Living, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

Trust in Life

We do not seek a shallow faith,
A God to keep us free
From trial and error, harm and death,
Wherever we may be.

For none can live and not grow old,
Nor love and not risk loss:
Though life brings raptures manifold,
Each one must bear some cross.

When future days seem but a mass
Of menace more than hope,
We pray not for the cup to pass,
But strength that we may cope.

God grant us faith that when some ill
Unwanted comes our way,
Deep in our hearts, thy Spirit will
Give power to win the day.

And if from fear of pain or strife,
Calm peace we cannot win,
Then give us faith to trust thy Life
Invincible within.

Reading: from The Grace of Waiting by Margaret Whipp
The tragedy of our impatient generation is that we live as functional atheists, blind and deaf to the loving entreaties of this God who waits eternally for our embrace. Whether it is our shallow hedonism, which demands the immediate gratification of all our egotistical desires, or our self-determined Stoicism, which boasts of its own capacities for endurance and heroic indifference, we resist God’s patient invitation to embrace life’s necessary waiting as a matter of grace.
Grace is something entirely different: it is the quality of tender relatedness that is suffused with realism, mutuality and gratitude. Our word for ‘grace’ derives from an old French word for ‘kindness’. It bears the echoes of divine mercy and favour, of elegance, good will and virtue. Grace has the connotations of a blessing, a quality of the sacred, and implies beauty, ease, and fluidity. Grace seems endlessly responsive to our longing for it.
Grace is the beautiful alternative to our ugly and selfish refusals to wait on God. Grace is the conscious choice we make to enter into communion with the loving patience of God, who is eternally creating and re-creating our wonderful world. Grace is the delicate sense of reverence we feel for the gift of a life that we did not manufacture; and grace is the profound sense of respect we owe to the rhythms of an infinitely complex ecology of breathtakingly diverse life-forces that are not ours to command.
Grace is the readiness to embrace, and to be embraced, by a loving providence that will always exceed our limited capacity for comprehension and control. Grace, even in the white heat of terrible waiting, is the peace that passes all understanding. Grace breathes patience, learns wisdom, spreads forgiveness. And grace, within and despite our unfathomable waiting, overflows with a deep and sincere gratitude.
(from The Grace of Waiting pp 97-8, copyright Margaret Whipp, 2017)

(pause)

As is my daily custom, I was sitting quietly in my garden the other morning, reflecting on the unprecedented events that are unfolding in our lives, realising that we don’t have experience or knowledge to draw upon for guidance – and how unsettling this can be. And then I noticed Spring springing – and so, I realised in that moment – of course! – there is hope – God’s creation will continue to show forth despite current events and however these events unfold over the next few weeks and months. And so, in that vein, I offer the story of The Survivor Tree:

Story: The Survivor Tree (Inspired by a True Story) by Cheryl Somers Aubin, 2011 (redux)
A month after the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, recovery workers on the site discovered a few green leaves showing through the grey concrete and ash. Clearing the debris, they found a badly injured Callery Pear Tree. It was the last living thing to come out of the rubble — a charred stump that, to an untrained eye, looked dead. She was taken to a nursery outside the city, and put in the care of Richie Cabo, a City Parks Worker, who cared for her and helped her grow back to remarkable health. No one was sure if she would live. But the following spring, a dove built a nest in her branches and new green buds appeared.
After its recovery and rehabilitation, the tree became known as the “Survivor Tree” and was finally returned to the Memorial at Ground Zero in 2010. New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible demarcation between the tree’s past and its present.
Each year since 2013, seedlings grown from The Tree have been sent to communities throughout America that have experienced tragedies in recent times – and this has included 28 fire houses spread across Long Island. Last year for the first time, seedlings were donated internationally – to Madrid to mark the bombings there in 2004. Today, the Survivor Tree stands as a living reminder of resilience, survival and rebirth.

(pause)

I’m wondering if we are not all Survivor Trees – standing as living reminders of resilience, survival and rebirth. I’ve started referring to this time we’re in as The Great Pause. Because everything feels like it’s on hold. All the measures that climate change and ecology experts have been calling for, are now being enacted – but not from our human choice. And so, I take comfort from the belief that a greater plan is at work here – ‘…for there is a Force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go’ (Julian of Norwich). And I find this confirmed by the beautiful weather we’ve been having. It’s like this Force is saying ‘while you’re having to experience this terrible crisis, here’s a gift to help you through….’. Maybe this is what we could try and do over the coming weeks – open more to this truth and to God’s presence – draw closer – maybe use this time to reaffirm our trust and faith that all will be well if we rest in God’s love, knowing that…. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich)

Words from Elias Amidon entitled World Worry:

I wonder if the extreme of world worry, when we become overwhelmed by the anxiety of knowing the earth’s life-support systems are collapsing, isn’t in itself a kind of defence, a way to defend our hearts from being present. Being overwhelmed, we curl into anticipatory grief and the certainty that everything’s hopeless.

I think here of the prayer-words of Etty Hillesum a year before she was murdered at Auschwitz: “These are times of terror, my God. Tonight for the first time I stayed awake in the dark, my eyes burning, images of human suffering parading endlessly before me. I am going to promise you one thing, my God, oh, a trifle: I will not let myself weigh down the present day with those fears that the future inspires in me…”

Those are the words of an undefended heart, open to the hurt of the world without letting that hurt crush her heart’s presence. An undefended heart is in this way the requisite condition for survival, maybe not physical survival but survival of the most noble aspect of the human spirit. If, in the end, the earth’s human experiment does fail, at least we will have succumbed with our hearts alive and loving.

(from Notes from the Open Path posted online Sun 01/03/2020)

(pause)

As we enter a time of Prayer and Quiet Reflection, let us join in prayerful stillness. You may want to direct the focus of your attention inwards, bringing it to your heart – penetrating its walls and spending a few moments breathing into it deeply.

O God, we pray, not to request your presence, but to call ourselves into it, for the sustaining peace, the wisdom, the silence are nearer than breath. You are the ground of our being – the mover, the fire, and the place of rest.

(pause)

Prayer for a Pandemic by Cameron Bellm

May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbours.
Amen.

(pause)

At this time, let us bring to our minds and hearts all those who are suffering with the coronavirus – with isolation – with fear – and as difficult as we may find it, we may include ourselves.

(pause)

While many of us are confined to our homes, let us bring to our minds and hearts all those having to work at this time. In particular, we think of the NHS front-line workers and key staff who are working relentlessly to bring healing and an end to this pandemic. Let us silently offer them our respect and gratitude.

(pause)

May we hold those who we brought to mind in the loving and healing light of our hearts.
May those who are suffering be released from their pain.
May we all be released from our pain.

(pause)

Come, Holy Spirit of Love.
In the silence come to us and bring your peace;
Rest in us that we may be tranquil and still;
Speak to us as each heart needs to hear;
Reveal to us things longed for;
Rejoice in us that we may praise and be glad;
Pray in us that we may be at one with you and each other;
Refresh and renew us from your living springs of water;
Dwell in us now and always
Amen

Silence for aprox 5 minutes and/or some music

Music by Elizabeth Hornby

In this time of isolation and quarantine, it may feel as though we’re stuck in a tomb – like the one Mary found empty on Easter Sunday morning. But when our stones are rolled away and we can finally come out of hiding – will we be transformed? Resurrected? For, in one sense, the life we have known has died. In this time of great pausing, I believe we are being offered a chance to ‘take stock’ – to review our lives and to discern our priorities for living a whole and Godly life – in the Light. Because, if nothing else, we have discovered that life can no longer be taken for granted. We have the opportunity to be born again into new life – a new way of living.

Here, Elias Amidon speaks to these thoughts:

Reading: In the Shelter of Each Other by Elias Amidon

Pandemic spring. You’re told to go inside, close the door and wait. You do what you’re told. You wait.
The telephone rings. How are you? Are you okay? Do you need anything?

Days pass. People are hurting. The numbers rise.

You get quieter – or wish you could. When something gets you annoyed, you notice and back off. What’s the point?

At breakfast there’s talk of selfless people caring for others, countless millions of them in countries you’ve never been to. You want to applaud them like the Brits did from their doorsteps, a magical applause sounding like a sudden spring rain falling on all the roof tops and gardens.

It’s odd but you feel like taking care of someone or something, do some little kindness you haven’t done before. You clean the fridge.
You speak on the telephone to a friend and after you hang up you remember that you forgot to say the one thing you really wanted to. You call back.

One night, turning away from sleep, you get up before light. You make a cup of tea and sit by the window. An image comes unbidden of an old man struggling to breathe and a masked nurse entering the room. You wonder what it’s like to die like that, or to die in any way at all.

You try to imagine dying, letting go that last time, saying goodbye that last time, dissolving into God knows what, and you feel suddenly a tenderness flooding your heart, a tenderness for everyone and everything in this world, and the feeling keeps expanding, opening out from you, a beautiful, inexplicable radiance flowing into the air around you and into the sleeping house and into the space between the houses and between the budded twigs and out beyond to the approaching dawn. It’s as if the foreboding of death has turned into something so precious and dear you feel the whole world is wrapped in it and is sheltered in it, a warmth, a caring holy love and thankfulness, and you know it’s not just rising from you but that’s it’s trying to rise from everyone, and you don’t understand it and you know you don’t need to.

Dawn comes, and another day, and another. You feel different. You feel bigger than you were. Kinder.

Then one day the all-clear sounds.

Doors open. Neighbours come out of their houses. They’re smiling. Something’s happened to them like something’s happened to you. We’re not what we were. We greet strangers and shake hands. We say, How are you? It’s so good to see you! You must come over for tea! The waitress comes to thank you for the cookies and all the other things you left on her doorstep. Up and down the street, people are chatting and laughing, kids are running around, the trees are waving.

It feels like the beginning of the world.

A robin on the lawn looks up and sees you, and now she’s just as happy as you are.
(Notes from the Open Path posted online Wed 01/04/2020)

(pause)

Closing words: some words that I return to again and again by Teilhard de Chardin, SJ:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually – let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
(excerpted from Hearts on Fire)

Blessing
May the wind of the Spirit blow through our world, giving the answer of God’s everlasting love. And so, as you re-enter your day, may you go with peace and joy in your heart.
Amen

You may want to close by playing reflective, quiet music.

Annual Meeting of the General Assembly

Here is a opportunity to listen to the Anniversary Service from last weeks annual meetings, which were held online and called “Being Together”. The Service is led Led by Rev Mike O’Sullivan, Minister of Cork Unitarians, and Rev Bridget Spain, Minister of Dublin Unitarians. https://www.ldpaunitarians.org/

This is the keynote talk, by Alistair Mackintosh, called ‘The Revolution Will Be Spiritual’ — given via Zoom.
http://bit.ly/34ytDQ5

Note: After the talk you skip from 1’00 to 1’20, as this is breakout time, and go to a question and answer session.

The Spirit of Hope

By Rev. Duncan Voice

Welcome

A very warm welcome to our Sunday Service. As it is Easter I look to a traditional theme of hope this morning. And I “hope” you will find something among the words and music here that sustains you and perhaps gives you something to reflect upon. If you wish to light a chalice or candle during the Service please have something available before you start.

A very Happy Easter to you all.

Opening words

Every blade of grass, each leaf, each floret and petal, is an inscription of hope. Consider the grasses and the oaks, the swallows, the sweet blue butterfly – they are one and all a sign and token showing before our eyes earth made into life…my hope becomes as broad as the horizon afar, reiterated by every leaf, sung on every bough, reflected in the gleam of every flower. There is so much for us yet to come, as much to be gathered, and enjoyed. Not just for you or me, now, but for humanity, who will ultimately use this magic secret for their happiness. by Richard Jeffries, from The Pageant of Summer (adapted)

Chalice Lighting

As you light your chalice or candle, at home, to begin this service, you may like to say the following words:

As I kindle this chalice, symbol of loving community,
let there be light.
As the flame of this chalice reminds us of our deepest values,
let there be light.
As the glow of this chalice encourages us to hope,
let there be light.
Let there be light.

Prayer

Spirit of Love and Life,
we gather this Easter time in isolation,
but in a spirit of goodwill and togetherness.

We pause to hold in our hearts,
those whose passing comes to our mind at this time,
and those who cannot be with us because of illness,
or because they care for another.
May peace be with them.

We think of those in our community
who maybe feeling lonely, afraid or suffering;
may we reach out to them in any way we can,
and may caring and kindness
always be the expression of our faith.

May this season of new life, warmth, and colour
inspire in us a spirit of hope:
Hope in our living,
Hope in our caring,
Hope in our being,
Hope in our sharing.

I invite those of you that may wish to, to join in saying the prayer that Jesus taught.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

Please join in singing our first hymn, We Light the Flame

Words by David Andrew Usher, Music by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

We light the flame

We light the flame that kindles our devotions.
We lift our hearts in blessed community.
The mind has thoughts, the heart its true emotions,
we celebrate in worship, full and free.
Our faith transcends the boundaries of oceans.
All shall be granted worth and dignity.

So many ways to witness the wonder.
So many dreams by day for us to dare.
Yet, reaching out, each way is made the grander,
and love made bold for dreamers everywhere.
Diversity will never cast asunder
our common weal, our bonds of mutual care.

Infinite Spirit, dwell with us, we pray thee,
that we may share in life abundantly.
Forgive our sins, feed us with good bread daily,
with strength resist temptation steadfastly.
O God of life, sustain us now, and may we
with mindful hearts, be thankful constantly.

Reading: Mark 16: 1- 8

“When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Reading: “Hope” is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

I invite you now to enjoy a musical reflection provided by Elizabeth Hornby, who is currently training as a Unitarian Minister. After this you may like to enjoy a time of quietness before reading or listening to the address.

You are welcome to read or listen to this address.

Address

During the run up to Easter Sunday I had planned a special reading of the Gospel of Mark at The Old Meeting House. Sadly, restrictions put in place to control the coronavirus pandemic, put a stop to that; but we will do something later, when we can meet together once again. The idea of reading it aloud was to experience it as a whole, rather than in small bite sized pieces as we might do in a Service. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but listening to the whole story would be a different kind of experience. This was how it was originally communicated.

As well as being the shortest of the gospels, the Gospel of Mark is generally considered somewhat abrupt in its style, perhaps even crude in comparison to the more eloquent and flowing prose in Matthew. However, as the oldest of the gospels, it is generally agreed to be part of the source material used by Matthew and Luke. It conveys a very human image of Jesus, which I must say I like. At times he loses his temper, more than once he expresses despair and at one point his family and friends think he must have lost his mind. But he continues his journey and his ministry until he is cruelly crucified at a place called Golgotha. We, the reader or listener, accompany him on his journey with Mark as our narrator. As we do so perhaps we undertake a spiritual journey of our own, as the questions posed are as much for us as for Mark’s original audience.

Unitarians, and those that attend Unitarian meeting houses or churches but don’t identify in this way, will have a variety of thoughts and feelings about the Biblical resurrection story. Indeed, all the Biblical narratives. Even those who would call themselves Unitarian Christians, tend to interpret scripture liberally, not very literally, and have a universalist outlook. That is to say, they value sources of truth and wisdom from different faith traditions, or other sources as well. But our Unitarian tradition has Christian roots and so I feel, whatever our outlook, it is worth reflecting on this source material to see if we can gain fresh perspective. Although we don’t all think alike, we are perhaps all trying to live spiritually in some sense of the word and therefore trying to be open minded, aware and reflective.

Last Wednesday I listened to the keynote speaker at the General Assembly Meetings (our annual national meeting), Alistair Mackintosh. Alistair is honorary senior research fellow (professor) in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and a Quaker by faith. The meeting didn’t take place in Birmingham as usual however, but was conducted online. So I joined him, along with about 150 other people via the now ubiquitous meeting app called Zoom. I’m glad I did, as he delivered a very interesting talk entitled, “The Revolution will be Spiritual.”

I was very taken by his approach to spirituality, which he calls, “life as love made manifest”, and also his accessible interpretation and use of scripture during his talk. Early on he quoted the Gospel of John (1: 38) when Jesus gathered his first two disciples,
“When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”
Or “What seek ye?” if you prefer the King James version. It’s near the beginning of the gospel and it’s a fundamental question for us all isn’t it, what are we seeking?

As spiritual seekers, if that’s how we think of ourselves, then we do need to have these kinds of questions posed to us. Although we need words, ideas that inspire us and comfort us at times, we do, I think, need to visit or even re-visit these types of questions. How would we answer? It might take us some time to contemplate this, and perhaps that’s part of the point. After listening to Alistair’s talk I certainly felt I would like to re-evaluate my approach to reading Bible scripture from being less analytical and critical to a more spiritual relationship, and in fact to extend that further into my life – working with the idea of “love made manifest.”

In our first reading, the closing verses of Mark’s Gospel, the story comes to an abrupt end. There are two supplements to the ending that scholars believe may have been added later because scribes translating it might have thought the original seemed incomplete. Indeed, some still wonder this. However, I prefer the idea that some commentators put forward that it was deliberately left like this. In my Oxford Bible Commentary, C.M Tuckett says,

“There is no happy ending to the gospel. There is certainly no objective account of the reality that informs Christian existence for Mark, namely the presence of the risen Jesus with his people: such would be inappropriate for Mark. Maybe Mark’s gospel is indeed unfinished. But perhaps that is deliberate. It is up to the reader to supply the ending – and that is the perennial challenge of this gospel for all readers today.”

The sense of “where do we go from here” that the ending of Mark gives us, is one that we are perhaps familiar with this Easter Sunday, as we think about the pain and suffering of the pandemic and uncertainties about the future. What will happen in the coming weeks, months, years? What is our spiritual response? In the closing verses of Mark we are told, “he [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him”. Galilee is where Jesus’ ministry started, so perhaps this gives a clue as to where we might start. Back at the beginning, to walk the Way humbly once more, despite any previous failings.

Our current predicament is both serious and tragic, many people have and will lose their lives to coronavirus. But with our consumer society put on hold for a time it does seem to offer us a unique opportunity for contemplation. To reflect on our spiritual relationship with our God, or whatever we consider to be of highest worth; as well as ourselves, others and our planet. Can a spiritual revolution take place? I don’t know, but we can try to ensure some kind of renewal within ourselves in the context of our own lives.

For some contemplation, prayer or meditation may be seen as waste of time but as Buddhist nun and teacher Christina Feldman says,
“All that we accomplish, achieve, and perform is truly meaningful only when it communicates the values we cherish in our hearts. Each day, remembering what brings a deep authenticity to our lives, we need to ask ourselves:

Did I love well?
Am I awake to my life?
Did I remember to care for all the moments I lived?” from “Heart of Wisdom, Mind of Calm” by Christina Feldman, published by Element

How we answer these sorts of questions and others will determine the ending we might give to Mark’s Gospel, and the only way to consider them is through some kind of contemplative practice.

If we look around us we can see many wonderful, caring activities going on in our communities. People supporting elderly or vulnerable neighbours, volunteering in various ways and of course expressing gratitude to those that work in our National Health Service. I am particularly enjoying the moment on Thursday evenings when we all come out to cheer and clap. We need to hold on to this spirit, and when the restrictions are gradually lifted to try to live in peace, with love and gratitude. Supporting one another and practising forgiveness. Perhaps like the disciples we may fail sometimes, but we can keep faith and try again; and in doing so resurrect hope for our present and our future.

May it be so.

You may like to pause for a moment, or two, of quiet reflection.

Please join in singing our final hymn, The Spirit Lives to Set Us Free

Anon., traditional melody arranged by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

The Spirit lives to set us free

The Spirit lives to set us free,
walk, walk in the light.
It binds us all in unity,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

The light that shines is in us all,
walk, walk in the light.
We each must follow our own call,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Peace begins inside your heart,
walk, walk in the light.
We’ve got to live it from the start,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Seek the truth in what you see,
walk, walk in the light.
Then hold it firmly as can be,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

The Spirit lives in you and me,
walk, walk in the light.
Its light will shine for all to see,
walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light, walk in the light of love.

Closing words

Hope to the last…Always hope;…Never leave off hoping;…Don’t leave a stone unturned. It’s always something to know you’ve done the most you could. But don’t leave off hoping, or it’s no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last!
Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby adapted in “The Canterbury Book of Spiritual Quotations” complied by William Sykes, published by Canterbury Press

Blessing

“Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”
– John 14: 27

As we come to the end of our Service and go on our ways, may we do so in peace; and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always. Amen

Sunday 5th April, 2020 – Turning Towards Our Difficulties with Love

by Rev. Duncan Voice

A warm welcome to friends and visitors. Spring it seems is starting to breakthrough here in Sussex which I hope lifts your spirits as it does mine. As before, if you wish to join in with our customary chalice lighting to begin this Service, please have something to hand. As ever I welcome your comments.

Chalice Lighting

As you light a candle or chalice you may wish to say the following words:

I light this candle/chalice
as a symbol of community
and togetherness.
It’s light is the light of love.
May this always guide us,
helping us to share
hope, compassion and peace
in the lives we touch.

Prayer

Spirit of Life and Love
We gather this morning in separate places
but in oneness of spirit.
May we be fully present,
with open minds and hearts.

We pause to think of those
who face difficulties and pain
connected with the pandemic affecting our lives.
Those unwell, and those that care for them.
Those that have died, and those that grieve.
Those that face uncertainty, and those trying to help.
We bring them all into our circle of compassion

Ours is a tradition of religious freedom,
where we worship in accordance with
our own heartfelt feelings.
But we recognise that we need
one anther too.
To share in the spirit, to find inspiration,
to care for each other.

Help us to be an inclusive and welcoming community.
Help us to be a loving community.
Help us to be a peaceful community.
Help us to be – in community.

Amen

Please join in singing this morning’s hymn which is called True Simplicity.

True Simplicity, traditional Shaker song and traditional melody arranged by David Dawson, from Hymns for Living, published by the Lindsey Press, used by permission

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to know just where we want to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to share our common destiny;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

Story

There is a story told of a king who had three sons. The first was handsome and very popular. When he was twenty-one, his father built him a palace in the city in which to live. The second son was intelligent and also very popular. When he became twenty-one, his father built a second palace in the city for him. The third son, however, was neither handsome or intelligent, and was unfriendly and unpopular. When he was twenty-one, the king’s counsellors said: “There is no further room in the city. Have a palace built outside the city for your son. You can have it built so it will be strong. You can send some of your guards to prevent it from being attacked by the ruffians who live outside the city walls.” So, the king built such a palace and sent some of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, the son sent a message to his father: “I cannot live here. The ruffians are too strong.” So, the counsellors said: “Build another palace, bigger, stronger and twenty miles away from the city and the ruffians. With more soldiers, it will easily withstand attacks from the nomadic tribes that way.” So, the king built such a palace, and sent one hundred of his soldiers to protect it.

A year later, a message came from the son: “I cannot live here. The tribes are too strong.” So, the counsellors said: Build a castle, a large castle, one hundred miles away. It will be big enough to house five hundred soldiers, and strong enough to withstand attacks from the peoples that live over the border.” So, the king built such a castle, and sent five hundred of his soldiers to protect it.
But a year later, the son sent another message to the king: “Father, the attacks of the neighbouring peoples are too strong. They have attacked twice, and if they attack a third time I fear for my life and those of your soldiers.

And the king said to his counsellors: “Let him come home and he can live in the palace with me. For it is better that I learn to love my son than I should spend all the energy and resources of the kingdom keeping him at a distance.”

The story of the king holds an important lesson: it’s often far easier and more effective in the long run to live with our difficulties than to pour resources into battling and suppressing them.

Meditation

I now invite you to spend a little time in quietness. If you wish, you may like to listen to this short meditation which is about dealing with difficulty.

Address

You can either read or listen to this address.

“When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethpage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden: untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back immediately.” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some bystanders said to them, “What are you doing untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in
the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of
our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

“Then he entered Jerusalem….”
Mark 11: 1-11

Today is Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and in Christian tradition marks the beginning of the Passion, the final period of his life. The story is told, in broadly similar form, in the three so-called synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and is mentioned more briefly in John. Although, it is John that introduces the idea that the “leafy branches” laid on the road were palm branches, adding an additional layer of symbolism as the palm was associated with, among other things, victory and peace; as well as being the symbol of Judea in the Roman world.

The photograph above, taken by me on a visit to Israel in 2018, shows a view of the old city of Jerusalem viewed across the Kidron valley from the Mount of Olives. The view, of course, is much changed from the time of Jesus. The old city is surrounded by the new city today and the striking golden Dome of the Rock is now located on the temple mount, where the Jewish temple once stood; destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a significant event in the Gospels of the New Testament, and his brutal death shortly afterwards, another episode of violence meted out in the “holy” city, but it wasn’t the first or last shocking event to have happened there.

For a provincial town in the Judean hills, Jerusalem had experienced much violence up until the time of Jesus. Fought over by Jewish groups and caught up in the power struggles of empires such as the Egyptians, Persians and Macedonians, to name a few. The temple had also been catastrophically destroyed before, back in 587 BCE by the Babylonians. After which, much of the population had been led away into exile; causing Jewish scholars of the time to pour the despair of their people into books such as Lamentations.

“For these things I weep:
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
for the enemy has prevailed.”
Lamentations 1: 16

After the time of Jesus, Jerusalem continued to be fought over and ruled by different empires, from the Byzantines to the British, an object of desire, and fervour, for adherents of the Abrahamic faiths. Destroyed and rebuilt, destroyed and rebuilt; so much pain, death and destruction. Perhaps this is what prompted Benjamin Disraeli to say, “The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world; it is more, it is the history of heaven and earth.”

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, says in his book “Jerusalem: The Biography” that,
“Jerusalem has a way of disappointing and tormenting both conquerors and visitors. The contrast between real and heavenly cities is so excruciating that a hundred patients a year are committed to the city’s asylum, suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome, a madness of anticipation, disappointment and delusion.” He continues, “No other place evokes such a desire for exclusive possession.”

During my visit I certainly experienced the strange tension that ongoing conflict has brought to Jerusalem. Streets inhabited by tourists, pilgrims, and different ethnic groups trying to live their everyday lives, existing alongside layers of history and religion. Places where the ancient meets the modern, sometimes in quietness and sometimes in chaos. Where there are holy shrines and tourist trinkets, and where the mood can change from area to area, and street to street. A metaphor perhaps for the turmoil of the human heart. The shades of light and darkness that we all experience. A representation of our potential, perhaps, for living in peace or violence, in holiness or profanity, in generosity or self-serving greed. A lesson, an object of reflection for us all.

In the midst of a global pandemic, however, we may ask of what help is reflection? But in times of greatest difficulty it is most important that we connect with, and live, the values that we espouse in “normal” times. We can start by considering how we feel and what our concerns are; to try and understand ourselves a little better. So, if we are scared and worried about, for example, health or financial issues, or even grieving over the loss of someone close, we can acknowledge that. We are human. Being positive can be helpful, but we need to leave room to acknowledge and accept our pain and suffering.

Palm Sunday and the Easter story will have varying degrees of meaning and significance for each of us. However, the beginning of the Christian holy week is another reminder to us, in our isolation, to take stock and remember that we are not the first people to face difficulties. How we respond to the challenges is what becomes important. Nurses, doctors and carers are working on the “front line” caring for the sick. Others are keeping our vital services and food supply chains working. We can play our small, but important part, by preventing the spread of the virus, by observing the social distancing rules. If we need help, we can receive it with gratitude; if we can provide help, we can do so with love and generosity.

Today in old Jerusalem there are still many disputes over the possession of certain areas, and places, between different faith groups and within faith groups. But the pandemic has shown us in a terrible way how connected we really are, however we identify or try to distinguish ourselves. Perhaps as we spend time in isolation we can think about the time when we can interact more closely once again. How we will do so? Can we discover a fresh perspective, a new way of being? Can we turn towards our difficulties with love?

May it be so.

Closing words: Jerusalem, Jerusalem by Rev. Cliff Reed

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
if only you had known
the Way that leads to peace, to peace,
and peace the world has shown.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where once the Temple stood,
where now a Dome of gleaming gold
marks where the prophet trod.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where David’s line once ruled,
where still his people pray today
beneath their holy wall.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where Jesus preached God’s word;
where he was praised, betrayed, reviled,
and nailed upon the rood.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
where Mary brought the news
that she had seen her risen Lord
amid the morning dew.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
if only you could know
the way that leads to peace today
and God’s true Spirit show.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
a city and a dream,
God grant us all a healing hope
and peace, your crystal stream.

  • From “Carnival of Lamps: Words for Prayer and Reflection” by Rev. Cliff Reed

Benediction

As we draw to the end of our time together in spirit, let us do so in hope and in peace. May the God of our hearts be with us as we face the difficulties and fears of the coming days, and may love always guide us. Amen

Please join in singing our closing blessing, “May the Road Rise With You”

Arranged by David Dawson, from Sing Your Faith, published by The Lindsey Press, used by permission

May the road rise with you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
may rain fall soft upon your field,
and until we meet again,
may God hold you
in the hollow of his/her hand.

Sunday Service for 29th March 2020, Connection – the Antidote to Fear

This week our Sunday Service is led by Rev. Jennifer Sanders an Interfaith Minister and member of the Brighton Unitarian Church.  She lives in Lewes and regularly leads worship in Unitarian chapels including, of course, The Old Meeting House.  This morning, as British Summer Time begins, both Jennifer and I extend a warm welcome to friends and visitors.

This Sunday we have included an audio address. As we explore different ways of doing things please do let us know how you found this by clicking “Leave a Comment” at the end of the Service. Before listening to this morning’s Service you may like to have a candle, or chalice, available to light.

Please feel free to join in, or just listen to this morning’s hymn, Come Down, O Love Divine.

Please click the play button below to listen to this mornings Service.

Rumination on being isolated from C19

By Celia Cartwright, former minister of the Unitarian Chapel in Kendal, and current President of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

I am a fixer of things. A maker of ways to achieve things. I will turn myself inside out to make my family’s life easier. This virus has changed that.

Today all I can do is let my daughter’s dog out and, well and ……..
I cannot look after my granddaughter full time, I cannot make my daughter’s burden any lighter.
I cannot do anything to help my son.
I cannot aid the sick.
I cannot keep a friend company.
I cannot hold a hand.
I cannot do very much.
But
I can stay cheerful and phone my friends
I can spend uninterrupted hours playing with a complicated crochet pattern
I can read my book without interruption
I can stay well in isolation and cause my son and daughter no worry
I can face-time with my granddaughter every day.
I can talk to my daughter and my son on the phone
I can play 60’s music and pretend I’m a teenager again
I am lucky I can walk out of my door into open country.
I can go for a walk
I can write
I can rearrange the furniture
I can be creative
I can make bread
I can stay well.

Maybe this can be not all fear and trepidation but a time to re-engage with things I never get time for.

Mothering Sunday Service

Rev. Duncan Voice

Welcome

A very warm welcome to our first online Sunday Service. I hope there maybe something here that brings you peace, comfort, hope or inspiration. These are challenging times for us all, but by reaching out in different ways we can still support one another.

As I get used to creating Services online I hope to include more audio and visual elements. Before you begin reading this Service you may like to have a candle or chalice ready to light.

Chalice Lighting by Rev. Martin Whitell

As is our normal custom I invite you to light a chalice or a candle to begin this time of worship.  As you do so, you may wish to say these words shared by our District Minister Rev. Martin Whitell:

“As I light this personal chalice flame, I am grateful that I am not alone.
I remember with affection those who are doing the same and I look back with happy memories of the countless times I have observed it before.
What a privilege it is to belong to a faith which unites people and sees the divine in many ways.
During the coming days may I keep our values of care, kindness and hope burning strong no matter how difficult things become.
One thing is certain, the time will return when I can meet again with those I love and care for and then I will appreciate the meaning and strength of this ritual more than ever.” 

Prayer:

Spirit of Love and Life,

We gather in separate places, but with one spirit,
to be together in loving community.
We are apart, with our own thoughts and feelings,
but bonded through our common humanity.

We each bring the burdens of our heart
to the love of this moment;
our worries, cares and concerns,
which even in isolation are shared by us all.

We each bring the busyness of our minds
into the peace of this moment;
where we let go of the everyday for a time
and become quiet together.

We each bring our feelings and emotions
to the understanding of this moment,
a joy, a sadness; some peace and some anger,
they belong to us all.

May we recognise and respect
our differences and commonalities:
May all find kindness,
May all find healing,
May all find happiness,
May all find peace.
Amen

Music: Spirit of Life    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcFZ32EHexY

Reading:  Pandemic – a poem for our times http://www.lynnungar.com/poems/pandemic/

Address

This Mothering Sunday many people will find themselves at home.  If not self-isolating then maybe unable to go out because pubs and restaurants are closed.  Perhaps not able to visit elderly mothers for fear of spreading infection; bunches of flowers not delivered.  All around the country a strange feeling of dislocation, of distance and disruption; and yet as we sit at home and look out of our windows all seems well, no hint of crisis. Just less traffic, less people, less human activity in general.  In our hospitals and supermarkets, a different picture however.

As I write this address, I too am in self-isolation having felt a little unwell for a time.  Is it?  Isn’t it?  Better be on the safe side.  But I am also fortunate, as for me being at home is OK, and of course I have a home!  I live in a house with a small garden and when I look out of my window, I can see the birds busy with their springtime nesting preparations.  My garden has some hedges around it and this year it looks like a pair of blackbirds may have begun to take up residence in one of them.  From my window I can see the female going to and fro with a variety of nesting materials.  No knowledge of our human troubles, preparing for her own journey into motherhood. 

As I read from Catherine Robinson’s book of daily reflections, “Fragments of Holiness”, today’s piece of wisdom seems to ring very true:

“This we know: the Earth does not belong to us: we belong to the Earth.
This we know: all things are connected, like the blood which unites one family.
Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth.
We did not weave the web of life: we are merely a strand in it. – Attributed to a native American chief.”

Our “new normal”, our rapidly changing lifestyles and circumstances may have revealed this to many people in a shocking way.  But it has always been true, that we are not in control of everything and we are connected, as Lynn Ungar says in her “Pandemic Poem”, “in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.”  Beauty and suffering exist side by side.

Mothering Sunday apparently may have had its origins in the in the 16th century when people returned to their mother church during lent.  It is a strange and sad irony therefore that the first Sunday we are unable to meet is Mothering Sunday.  Later it became a tradition for children to pick wild flowers to give as posies to their mothers.  My own mother recalls doing this in the village where she was brought up.  It is a quaint image, but in our more populous world and with our environment under threat it is not practical or desirable to pick wild flowers any more.  But we nevertheless still recognise and celebrate mothers and mothering in its many forms.

Mothering, of course, means to look after children but sometimes also others as well.  In other words, it is about caring.  Women exclusively give birth to children, where we find beauty and suffering once again, but all of us can care.  Today we have same-sex couples who care for children, two mothers or two fathers, but still caring, still mothering.  And in many families, it is maybe Dad who has childcare responsibilities, or they may be shared between seperated parents.  Grandparents often play an important role.  As Unitarians we celebrate loving and caring in all its forms, whenever and wherever it happens. 

Perhaps this Mothering Sunday is a good opportunity for us to reflect on the care we can extend to others, especially in these difficult times where there is wide spread anxiety and people are experiencing many practical difficulties.  As we have to learn to do things differently, perhaps we can also learn to care differently.  We have to keep our distance from each other, but we can still reach out in many ways.  Good community is more important that ever and wonderful examples of caring community have already started to emerge.  For example, in the village where I live a coronavirus support group has been formed to offer help and advice to people. We have seen how panic begets panic in our supermarkets, perhaps caring can beget caring in our communities. 

In our meditation group at The Old Meeting House we sometimes practice a “loving-kindness” meditation.  We offer loving-kindness to ourselves, to those closest to us, to those with whom we have difficulty and to those we don’t know.  It can be challenging, but it is supposed to help us cultivate feelings of unconditional love and compassion.  It is a practice and therefore has to be practiced regularly; experienced rather than read about.  Meditation may not be your thing, but I think it is helpful for us to find practices that support the cultivation of compassion in us.  Perhaps these challenging times that we face present us with a new opportunity to practice loving-kindness through our caring actions.  Although we shouldn’t forget to take care of ourselves as well.

This year instead of rushing of to buy cut flowers I’d like to suggest that maybe we could grow some instead.  Sowing the seeds for a more beautiful and sustainable future.  Grow some for mum, or her memory, but also for the insects and the birds.  Who knows perhaps the blackbird in my garden will have chicks, and they will be fed by what you grow.  Now wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing.

May it be so.

Rev. Duncan

Closing Words

We may perhaps find ourselves a little lonely at times as we avoid gatherings and crowds.  But one crowd that we can spend time with is a crowd of daffodils. If we take time to look, we can always find inspiration in nature.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

As we continue on the ways of our lives may we do so with courage and compassion.  May love always be our guide and may the God of our understanding be with us now and always.

Together, we shall overcome.

Welcome

Welcome to our new blog where I will be publishing worship material each Sunday. Notes and links about each Service can be found on the Service Info page. Please enter your email address and click the follow button below. You will receive an email to confirm your subscription to the blog (there are no fees). Once you receive the email, click “confirm follow” and then you will receive automatic notifications of new publications. Please do get in touch if you have difficulty with any features and let me know your feedback.

With blessings

Duncan