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.

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With blessings

Duncan