Something Changed – 24/01/21

Opening Music: ‘The Times they are a-Changin’ by Marilisa Valtazanou

Opening Words of Welcome: ‘Forged in the Fire’ by Gretchen Haley (adapted)

What’s going to happen?
Will everything be ok?
What should I do?
In these days we find ourselves, too often,
Stuck with these questions on repeat:
What’s going to happen? / Will everything be ok? / What should I do?

In these times of relentless change and uncertainty
we grasp at signs and markers, articles of news and analysis,
Facebook memes and forwarded emails
as if they are some new zodiac
capable of forecasting all that life may yet bring our way –
enabling us to plot a course through the turmoil –
As if we could prepare;
As if life had ever made any promises of making sense,
or turning out the way we’d thought;
As if we are not also actors in this still unfolding story

For this hour we gather
to surrender to the mystery
to release ourselves from the needing to know
the yearning to have it all worked out
And also the burden of believing we either have all the control, or none at all.

Here in our words and our silence,
Our stories and our sharing,
We make space for a new breath,
a new healing, a new possibility to take root:
Courage, forged in the fire of our coming together
and felt in the spirit that comes alive in this act of faith:
that we believe still, a new world is possible;
That we are creating it, already, here, and now.

So come, let us worship together.

These opening words, loosely adapted from a piece by Gretchen Haley, welcome all those who have gathered on Zoom this morning to take part in our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today – how marvellous it is that people are discovering us from all over the country and the world! – including those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching this service on YouTube, at a later date. It’s a freezing day here in London with snow forecast for later so it’s one of those mornings when I’m secretly glad I didn’t actually have to leave the house to be able to go to church. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and having been part of the congregation for over 21 years I’m now the Ministry Coordinator with Kensington Unitarians, and also your ministry-student-on-placement, as part of my final year of training with Unitarian College.

I’m leading the service this morning with plenty of help from members of the congregation: Brian Ellis, John Humphreys and Veronica Needa will all be offering their personal reflections on turning points – large and small – in their lives when ‘Something Changed’. Our lives are full of moments where a chance encounter, or a throwaway comment someone makes, or a choice we’ve made, or one of those events that ‘happen’ to us whether we like it or not – like a global pandemic – for all of us these moments and happenings come along which shift the course of our life and set us off in a different direction (whether subtly or dramatically). And, more often than not, we’ve got options in how we respond to such moments of change. So in today’s service Brian, John, and Veronica will be sharing their experiences and wisdom – their stories of change – and in the time of meditation later on in the service there’ll also be a chance for you to inwardly reflect on times in your own life when ‘Something Changed’.

Before we go any further, though, let’s take a moment to make sure we’ve fully arrived. Do what you need to do to settle in – you might want to wiggle and stretch first – scrunch your shoulders up and let them go – or perhaps take one conscious breath… Set aside, if you can, anything that you don’t need to think about for the next hour. And do feel free to turn your camera off if that makes it easier for you to focus – of course we like to see all your lovely faces – but if you prefer to lurk that’s fine. There’ll be various opportunities to join in as we go along but all are entirely optional. Whoever you are, however you are, you are welcome in this gathering, just as you are.

Chalice Lighting:

And now I’ll light our chalice, as we do each Sunday, and at other times when we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

The lighting of this chalice calls us to attention –
as we focus on its flickering light for a moment
let us recall the shared intention that it represents –
to co-create a safe and sacred space for prayer and sharing
in which we can re-connect with life’s depths and our highest aspirations –
a space of solidarity and trust to nurture and strengthen us for the days of our lives.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church in Kensington or here as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with the community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle (real or imaginary) and say a few words about what it represents. When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. And if you seem to be having trouble unmuting yourself please wave and one of the co-hosts will try to help with the unmuting. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s enough time for everyone who might want to speak. Let’s leave a pause between one candle and the next, so we can honour what’s been shared. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time, or there’s a technical hitch of some sort – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.

I’ve got one more candle here and – as we often do – I’m going to light that to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today, those stories which we don’t feel able to share out loud this morning. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those little windows into our shared human condition and the life of the world we share… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness for a moment or two. And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now.

Prayer: This prayer is loosely based on some words by Elizabeth Bukey.

You might first want to adjust your position for comfort, close your eyes, or soften your gaze. There might be a posture that helps you feel more prayerful. Whatever works for you. Do whatever you need to do to get into the right state of body and mind for us to pray together – to be fully present here and now, in this sacred time and space – with ourselves, with each other, and with that which is both within us and beyond us. (pause)

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
Gentle Presence which holds us all,
We gather in reverence and thanks for You.
We are grateful for the gift of another breath,
and for each moment of connection, beauty, and truth.
Cry with us in our pain for our world.
Remind us that we are loved, just as we are.
Remind us that we are connected with all that is.
Remind us that we do not journey alone.
Give us what we need for today.
Call us back to our promises, commitments, and values.
Help us love ourselves and each other,
And to show that love in our actions.
Make us instruments of justice, equity, and compassion.
Free us from all that is evil.
We declare that life and love are stronger than tyranny and fear,
That a world of beauty and love is coming,
And we must shape it together. (pause)

We are living through strange days. This time of pandemic is testing our endurance. Many of us are weary. This morning, some of us are suffering, in body, mind and spirit. To those who are dealing with health concerns, we pray, we wish, for courage and healing. To those who are mourning their losses, we pray, we wish, for comfort and connection. To those who are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, we pray, we wish, for rest and solace. May we pause for a moment now, and hold gently all the concerns, named and unnamed, that are present in our gathering. (pause)

Even in these times of upheaval we may still find things to appreciate and be grateful for. This morning, some of us have come with joy bubbling in our hearts, despite everything. May we give ourselves permission to feel that sense of uplift even in the midst of struggle. May we rejoice together, recalling that our joys are multiplied when they are shared. May we remember and return to gratitude for the simple pleasures of our days. May we pause for a moment, and in our silence, may we give thanks for one blessing, no matter how small, that has touched our life this week. (pause)

Spirit of Life – God of all Love – as this time of prayer comes to a close, we offer up our joys and concerns, our hopes and fears, our beauty and brokenness, and we call on you for insight, healing, and renewal. As we look forward now to the coming week, help us to live well each day and be our best selves; using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen.

Reflection by Brian Ellis:

‘Do you want to come round my house after school’, said Mick. We’d been friends since we’d been sat together for the first lesson, on the first day of starting Grammar School. This was a few years later though, probably 1960. ‘I’ve built myself a record player’, he added.

This was significant. In those days, unbelievable to any one born into today’s digital age, there was no access to music of choice for most of us, unless your parents could afford to buy a record player. His parents had bought him a couple of records, this was the era of vinyl discs becoming available and affordable, and he put one on to play.

I’d had no exposure to music except an occasional tune on the radio, although I did enjoy the new pop music I heard sometimes. We listened and I felt indifferent to what I’d heard, although I did recognise it as what people called classical. But, and I have no explanation for this, somewhere in my head a little voice said ‘persist, there’s something in this music’. ‘What was that? I asked. ‘Beethoven’s 5th symphony’. ‘Oh’, I said.

‘You could make a record player for yourself’, said Mick. ‘I’ll come round and check your mum’s radio will work as the amplifier and speaker, just buy the turntable and arm’. It did; I bought the turntable and arm with some money I’d earned in the summer holidays, made a case for it from some bits of hardboard and timber in the shed. Here was change, the ability to listen to whatever I wanted, and whenever. I bought my first record from Woolworths, the seller of cheap records at the time. I picked a record at random, I knew nothing about classical music, went home and played it. Again indifferent to the music, but again the voice said ‘persist, persist’. Little did Leonard Pennario and the Los Angeles Philharmonic playing the Tchaikovsky 1st concerto know what they had started. Neither did I.

Gradually I listened to more music, more of us bought records which we happily swapped around; jazz, folk, pop whatever we could lay our ears on. But I always returned to classical music, and 60 years on I’m still listening, still finding it shining a light into the darkness, a solace and a resource, the one so called art form that I couldn’t do without.

Would I have found a love of classical music somewhere other than one afternoon in Mick’s back room; who knows? Would I never have found a love of classical music, perhaps; who knows? What would life have been like without a love for classical music; who knows? What I think I do know is that my life did begin to change, without me realising, with the slightest of nudges, one afternoon in that back room. And a lesson that came with it was listen to that little intuitive voice which says, persist, persist; keep walking towards the end of the rainbow, things change; it could enrich your life. Most of the time that voice is right; listen, listen.

Reflection by John Humphreys:

While thinking about how I might contribute to this theme, three events kept returning to me. The death of my mother when I was a young child, the help I needed to start my recovery from addiction twenty one years ago, and my retirement from medical practice in March last year. It is the last of these events that I wish to talk about in more depth today. The change itself was relatively straightforward. The arrival of Covid-19 closed the clinic I was working in, and I was not needed to help staff the altered service when it reopened some months later. So a retirement which was already planned was brought forward by a year by events over which I had no control.

I felt I could let go of the work role that had defined so much of my adult life and continue as a husband, father, grandad, and friend involved in a range of activities. But how to find and use support to guide me through this next stage of my life. I still battle in my thinking about how much my spiritual condition is determined by my changing moods and reactions to external events. I have learnt that a few simple actions seem to provide some clarity and a measure of internal peace.

Acceptance that feeling negative emotions and physical discomfort is important instead of using my habitual default to distract from or fix the problem. A willingness to use my personal mantra: Stop – Come Back to this Present Moment – Nothing is Missing (Thank you Ajahn Nanarato for passing this on to me). Establishing new routines requires commitment and effort. Getting up in time for morning yoga sessions, regular connections with friends, my weekly recovery meetings and church activities all give structure to my life. Regular visits to our allotment have provided added nourishment both physically and emotionally. I have come to greatly value the simple naming, knowing, listening and loving prayers that form the centre of our Heart and Soul gatherings.

Does my Higher Power have some new purpose for me now I have retired? I do not know, but strongly suspect that I will continue to need help to hear it and take action.

Meditation: ‘Reflecting on our Own Turning Points in Life’

Thanks John, and thanks Brian, for sharing your stories and wisdom with us all. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. You might like to have a wiggle and get as comfortable as you can in your chair (if you’re in a chair!) – put your feet flat on the floor to help ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes. In a while we’ll have our virtual chalice flame on screen.

There’ll be just a few words to take us into a time of meditation; Those words will take us into a good few minutes of shared stillness, and the silence will come to an end with some lovely music from Marilisa Valtazanou, it’s the song today’s service was named for, ‘Something Changed’. It tells of how when we meet someone for the first time it may seem insignificant… but that meeting might then turn out to change everything. As ever, you are free to think your own thoughts, and meditate in your own way.

So – I invite you to call to mind a moment in your life when ‘Something Changed’: Maybe a significant meeting with someone who turned out to be important to you; Maybe a chance comment that opened your eyes to new directions and possibilities; Maybe an unexpected event that disrupted your well-laid plans and forced you to adapt; Perhaps a change you brought about yourself after a lot of careful thought – or on a whim. It doesn’t have to be a very weighty change with huge consequences – every day we make hundreds of small choices about this and that – and as ‘way leads on to way’ our life changes. So in this time of shared stillness I invite you to reflect on some of the turning points in your life.

Silence: [3 minutes silence]

Musical Interlude: ‘Something Changed’ by Marilisa Valtazanou

Reflection by Veronica Needa:

Many of you know that I live with cancer. I have known I have cancer since 2006 when I had a simple operation to remove a cyst from somewhere near my ovaries. They analysed the cells to reveal that I was living with a very unusual slow-growing cancer which I may have had for years before. The specialists could only recommend major surgery to remove my entire peritoneal lining. During those years I had a very good quality of life, so I kept refusing their offer. But something changed in how I took care of myself.

About 4 years ago, something else was changing. I was losing weight though eating well; and I gradually accepted that my Pollyanna way of thinking positively was insufficient to help me survive this cancer. In 2017 the surgeon gave me a 6-month window for an intervention that promised a fair outcome. So, in April 2018 I went through the big surgical procedure… but not before six months of massive home clearance – a very necessary change: dozens of big black bags of papers, files, meaningless clutter; as well as giveaways of lovely furniture and nice things to good new homes. Clearance and renewal – a rebirthing of my home. So that when I returned…if I returned…from surgery, I would come back to a clear, beautiful, healing-full space. My yoga practice over the previous 3 years had given me a complete re-orientation to life – it was enabling an integration of mind and body that for me was critical to any future well-being that I could ever hope or wish for.

Well… I survived the surgery. That was nearly three years ago. I came home with 80% of the cancer removed, 20% still there. It was too complicated and dangerous to remove all of it, so I came home with a much-reduced digestive system, an ileostomy bag, and massive gratitude for still being here – in this body, in this incarnation. My body has become my teacher. I realised I had been living for over 60 years with my head about 3 feet in front of me, body left behind running to keep up and probably hovering about 2 feet off the ground. That’s what it felt like. My body is now Boss. My feet are on the ground. My previous ‘normal’ was giving all energy outward, all giveaway and much depletion. The new ‘normal’ is appropriate attention to self-care and nurturance. And thus resourced at all levels I have bottomless abundance for sharing with others. And that’s healthy giveaway. Also for about six months now I have been seeing a Functional Medicine doctor in the private sector. So, under her care I am taking substantial quantities of supplements with my meals. And my Yoga practice has enabled a responsible, everyday vitalised way of Being. And so, my entire lifestyle and rhythm have changed.

My NHS care is now transferred to the Royal Marsden in Fulham. I have quarterly CT scans to keep track of the cancer cells that are still there. I kept turning down their offer of Chemotherapy because they could give little to no evidence that this could be effective with the cancer that I have. But I did have episodes of stoma-stuckness which took me to a cliff edge several times. I pulled back on my own, but when it happened again in May last year, I admitted myself into hospital for immediate intravenous hydration – which I KNOW works and kick starts my system again. It’s simple. Eventually… I did get the hydration… but also … an aborted non-surgical invasive procedure – ghastly, starvation for over 12 days… I think the doctors panicked when they saw what-was-inside-me and felt they had to DO something. Even so there was much learning in this experience and blessings too, and so I left the hospital three weeks later … more open to the chemotherapy. Biweekly infusions. The first five infusions seemed to give me none of the forewarned side effects. Hurrah. But the sixth infusion flattened me. Fortunately, this was just before the CT scan which – compared to the scan before the chemo started – showed no positive effect on my condition whatsoever. It was not helpful other than in forcing me to find ingenious ways to take care of myself under its grisly onslaught. So we aborted the chemo process. The dear doctors at the Marsden are rather confused that I choose not to try another chemo variety, but they do insist on checking in on me which is rather wonderful. Three months later, that’s early December, just over a month ago, my most recent scan shows no development, no growth at all of ‘what should not be there’. The super best evolvement would be withdrawal of the stuff…. shrinkage and dissolving into nothing. I am EVER hopeful. But NO development is already awesome. So my focus is now to put on weight, develop strength, and practice a rhythm of being which is totally nurturing, with increasing sensitivity and response to the wisdom of the body. My Yoga practice, teacher and community are as Life Blood for me. My church community are like Family.

I notice that I get quite amused/annoyed when people talk about what I live with = cancer = in a sorrowful, commiserating attempt at sympathy sort of way. The latest report from Cancer Research UK – in 2015 – says that 1 in 2 people will develop cancer at some point in their lives. What I live with is something I am grateful for. It has woken me up. I AM indeed ALIVE. Incarnation is a blessing – every breath. Treasure it, in the same way we should treasure and not abuse or trash our dear blue-green planet Earth. We all live on a cliff’s edge.

Hymn: ‘The Joy of Living’ (Unitarian Music Society – 2.34)

Thanks so much to Veronica for sharing her story – her ‘re-orientation to life’ – and the reminder to treasure and celebrate the precious gift of this life that we have been given. In that spirit let’s sing together now – it’s an oldie but a goodie – ‘The Joy of Living’, performed by the Unitarian Music Society, which lists many of the things we can give thanks for in this ‘Universe of Change’. Don’t worry – Jeanenne’s going to make sure we all have our microphones muted for the hymn – so you can sing along safe in the knowledge that the rest of us won’t be able to hear you. The words will appear on screen and you can sing along – or feel free just to listen if you’d rather.

We sing the joy of living,
We sing the mystery,
Of knowledge, lore and science,
Of truth that is to be;
Of searching, doubting, testing,
Of deeper insights gained,
Of freedom claimed and honoured,
Of minds that are unchained.

We sing the joy of living,
We sing of harmony,
Of textures, sounds and colours,
To touch, to hear, to see;
Of order, rhythm, meaning,
Of chaos and of strife,
Of richness of sensation,
Of the creating life.

We sing the joy of living,
We sing of ecstasy,
Of warmth, of love, of passion,
Of flights of fantasy.
We sing of joy of living,
The dear, the known, the strange,
The moving, pulsing, throbbing –
A universe of change.


Thanks to Brian, John and Veronica for their reflections and Marilisa for the lovely music. Thanks to Jeannene for her hosting and ever-so-reassuring presence at the helm!There are a number of opportunities to connect in the week ahead: Coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday. Heart and Soul – just a couple of spaces tonight and Friday – on ‘Memories’. Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time afterwards, chat in small groups, if you’d like. And if you can bear it we like to take a group photo after the closing music so stick around. Save the date: West London GreenSpirit’s Imbolc gathering on Monday 1st February at 3pm. Save the date: Poetry Sharing with Brian on Wednesday 24th February at 7pm.

Also to let you know about a new project: now that we aren’t producing a regular newsletter we thought it’d be nice to find another way of sharing some of the writing and art that our congregation members are producing so we’re planning a ‘Quarterly Creative Journal’ to which anyone connected to the congregation can send in articles, poems, artworks, photos etc. Each issue is going to have a theme and for the first issue that theme is ‘Home’. See the weekly email for more details – the deadline for submissions is in March.

Back again on Zoom next week at 10am when Sarah and Harold will be co-leading. Bring your friends! It’s fine to share the link with trusted others and this time while we’re online makes it easier for those who are curious to try us out in a low-pressure kind of way.

We’ve just got some brief closing words now, followed by some more lovely music to end. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point so we can all see each other and get a sense of our community-and-connectedness for this closing.

Closing Words: adapted from words by Tim Haley

We walk this earth but a brief moment in time.

Amid our suffering and pain, however great or small,
let us continue to learn how to celebrate life in all its glory.
Whatever complications, difficulties, and unexpected turns we face,
let us continue to flourish, and grow in our capacity to love ourselves and each other.
And let us each play our part bring about a changed and better world for all.

Go well, everyone, in a renewed spirit of peace and hope,
and with wisdom and courage to meet the week to come. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Everybody’s Changing’ by Marilisa Valtazanou

Jane Blackall, Brian Ellis, John Humphreys, and Veronica Needa

24th January 2021