Special Message from Sarah – 22/03/20

Good morning everybody and welcome to Essex Church and to this special podcast of a Sunday morning service for Kensington Unitarians. Most weeks I welcome you by saying that ours is a community created by all who walk through our doors. But today I am the only person here in our church building and our doors are locked. Like all religious organisations we’ve been asked by our government not to gather in person, in order to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. And so alongside the need to keep healthy we also need to find new ways to be a church and new ways to gather together. We’ll all be listening to this podcast at different times but perhaps through listening we can recreate a sense of belonging to this community, however distant we may be. And you’ll be able to find a text of this message on our Kensington Unitarians website.

So let’s take a moment to take a conscious breath and as we enjoy the calm of cooling air, breathing in and breathing out, let’s use our shared humanity to connect us one to another, across all separations and beyond all limitations. For we humans are creatures of imagination and our imaginations can bring us a sense of belonging, though we sit for now alone. For we are one people living on one planet earth home, each one of us a precious aspect of the inter-connected web of all existence.

Our Unitarian chalice flame is burning brightly here with me at Essex Church. May its one light find a place in your hearts, may its flame warm and comfort you and if ever you need to rekindle a sense of connectedness then do light a candle and spend time imagining all those who you are connected to the world over, connected through ties of friendship, love, respect and compassion.

Today’s podcast will be shorter than usual because we do not have our musicians here. They are some of the many people here in Britain and around the world whose livelihoods have been turned upside down by this pandemic and the need to avoid gatherings. So I invite you to enter a time of reflection and prayer with me for all those who are adversely affected by these times: my words will be followed by a beautiful prayer for a pandemic, written by blog writer Krugthethinker also known as Cameron Bellm. Cameron writes from Seattle and I’ve slightly tweaked a few of her words to fit our circumstances. Thank you Cameron.

So let’s ready ourselves to welcome in the spirit of life and love, the god of our hearts and understanding, that which encourages us to be the best that we might be and that loves and accepts us in our entirety, in our times of weakness as well as our times of strength.

Let us together pray for all those affected by these times, for those who are unwell and for those who are afraid of becoming unwell, that they might know peace. Let us pray for all health workers that they may know our gratitude and our hope for their safe passage through these times of great challenge. Let us pray for all those who have lost their jobs and are so suddenly faced by economic uncertainty. May they find the practical support they need.

Prayer for a Pandemic’ by Cameron Bellm (adapted)
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 paying 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 who have no safe place to go.May we whose savings are losing their value in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no savings at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our world, 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 the world over.

I am grateful to people like Cameron Bellm who wrote that prayer and the many others like her around the world, who are using their creativity and the power of the world wide web to connect with others and inspire us. This next short reading has been adapted from a Canadian website called Unsinkable. Unsinkable is a story telling platform, where people are encouraged to share their personal stories of overcoming adversity as a way of building individual and collective resilience. I trust they won’t mind that I’ve adapted their idea of listing all the many aspects of life that have not been cancelled. Here in London many of us are still in shock at the sudden shutting down of activities and places that helped to give our lives structure and purpose – no library, no gym, no choir, no school, no exams, no swimming, no evening class, no holiday flight, no theatre or cinema, no meal out, no church!! – you might want to add to this list all the elements of your life that have been cancelled or put on hold. Many of us will still be going through a rolling list of emotional responses to all this – disbelief, despair, anger, confusion, fear, to mention but a few possible responses to a time of sudden alteration – and perhaps there’ll be joy and relief for some amidst the cancellations.

To inspire us all to think again about what we are experiencing and to help us develop our own resilience here’s a list adapted from the Unsinkable organisation of all that has not been cancelled in life – you might want to add to the list yourself, any aspects of life that are carrying on for you:

Spring: Not cancelled
Cherry blossom: Not cancelled
Music: Not cancelled
Reading: Not cancelled
Laughter: Not cancelled
Singing: Not cancelled
Kindness: Not cancelled
Tidying a drawer: not cancelled
Cleaning windows: not cancelled
Connecting in new ways: Not cancelled
Supporting others: Not cancelled
Hope: Not cancelled

So, what has not been cancelled for you? What lifts your spirits and gives you hope? What or who is calling out for your attention? What new ways of being are beckoning you? What new structures and routines can help you through these times of uncertainty?

Some thoughts now on how we might ‘do’ church and ‘be’ a church without a building as our base. And I realise that some of you listening to this podcast are already experts at this because you consider yourselves part of Kensington Unitarians and yet you are rarely able to join us here in central London. You already know what I have still to develop – that sense of church as a community – community created by a connectedness that transcends the physical. Some of you will be able to see the Dave Walker cartoon that accompanies this message on our website – it’s called Where the church is – with arrows pointing to many different parts of a city – individuals in their homes and in the park, walking the streets and sitting on benches, looking out of windows, getting on with jobs – the message being clear – church is less about buildings and more about communities of people living their own lives and finding meaning and purpose together through their spiritual explorations. Our task in the days and weeks ahead is to find new ways of building community and ensuring that everybody has a sense of connectedness with others, however isolated they need to be physically for the greater well being of all. During this month of March our ministry theme is ‘self and other’ – we’re considering the delights and complexities of relatedness. Little did we know when planning this particular theme that our usual ways of relating would get such a shake up.

Our Essex Church building here in Notting Hill was last closed in 2010 when builders needed to remove asbestos from our hall ceiling. Ten years on and I can report that our building seems to be enjoying this quiet time. There’s a big rainbow notice on our front door telling passers-by the many ways they can keep in touch with our community, and looking forward to the time when our many user groups return to us with their classes and groups, their singing and meditating, their stretching and dancing. But for now all is still. We are encouraged to turn inwards and take this unexpected opportunity to reflect.

For each of us these reflections will be different, just as our lives are different. For each of us the challenges of the days and weeks ahead will vary. For those of us with family and friends suddenly confined together there may be a yearning for space. For those of us living alone there may be a yearning for company and shared activity.

My challenge to myself and to others is that we find some new learning in these ‘interesting times’. It is indeed remarkable to witness a whole planet of people changing their behaviours. What good might emerge from all this disruption? What new insights might support humanity in finding better ways to live our precious lives, lives of greater justice, lives that are sustainable, lives of heightened awareness to the many ways we are connected.

And so a closing blessing for us all as our northern hemisphere arrives once again at the spring equinox, when day and night are of equal length: In these disrupted days may each of us find ways to balance and steady ourselves, discovering the still, calm space deep within us all, grounded by our mother earth on whom we depend. Let each of us find ways to reach out to others, to offer support or to ask for it, to offer a listening ear or to seek one, to express our creativity or to encourage creativity in others. Church really is nothing to do with a building, but everything to do with connection, connections of the spirit, created by love. So please keep in touch and let us say together, amen – go well everyone and blessed be.

Rev. Sarah Tinker

Special Message – 22nd March 2020