Count Us In – 14/03/21
Opening Music: played by Peter Crockford
Opening Words and Chalice Lighting:
Hello everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ weekly Sunday gathering here on Zoom. For those of you I haven’t met before my name is Sarah Tinker and I’m the recently retired minister of this congregation. Welcome to congregation members, friends and visitors from far and near. Though many of us long to be able to meet in person once again, there is certainly a benefit of meeting in this digital realm isn’t there, connecting with one another across physical distances. It’s good to see your lovely faces there in the gallery. I also bid a warm welcome to those of you watching this service on video sometime in the future, listening in to a podcast or reading the script online. There are many ways to join us. And if you are new to this community, do get in touch if you’d like to, send us an email, and do feel free to join in today at a level that is comfortable for you. There are two hymn singing opportunities today, there’s chance for a few people to light a candle and say a few words, but it’s fine just to sit back and relax, turn your camera off if you prefer, or if you need to move around and have a stretch.
Our theme today with the title ‘Count Us In’ will weave together the fact that this Sunday is known as Mothering Sunday here in the UK and next Sunday is Census Day here – when by law we have to fill out a form and say where we are that night. All of this touches on the deep, for many of us life-long question of who we are, the shaping of our identity. My hope is that something in this gathering of ours will be helpful for you in some way, perhaps sparking off a new thought, a new perspective on your life’s journey.
So I invite us all to take a moment now, to take a conscious breath and as we breathe out to know that we have arrived here and now. Let’s imagine the connections between us all, across time and space, the way that love in its many forms shapes our existences, forging connections of the heart – as I light our chalice flame, a single flame connecting us with Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities the world over, part of a progressive, contemporary and also historic, faith community.
These opening words are written by Richard Gilbert and for me they express the value of community – congregating with others in a circle where care can be expressed and received.
Come into our circle of caring.
Come into the community of gentleness, of justice and love.
Come and you shall be refreshed.
Let the healing power of this gathering surround you,
Let loving kindness and joy be within you, Let hope infuse you,
And peace be the law of your heart.
In this human circle, Caring is a calling.
All of us are called. So come into the circle of caring.
(words adapted from Richard Gilbert)
Candles of Joy and Concern
Each week when we meet in person at our church building in Kensington or here in our online congregation, we share candles of joy and concern, where we invite one another to light a candle and share something that is in our heart. So here in our Zoom service we’ve a good few minutes for some of you to tell us of a joy or a concern, and to light a candle, real or imaginary – visitors you are most welcome to join in. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and speak out so everyone can hear and then re-mute yourself when you’ve finished speaking. Do give it a go if you’d like to, as it’s good to hear some other voices, and let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for so others have chance to speak too. And I suggest we each now switch to gallery view on our own screens so we can see everyone. Jeannene our host and I will do our best to spot if you want to speak and can’t unmute yourself.
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 hearts today – for our joys and our griefs weave us together in the fabric of community. Our lives are connected.
Let’s take a moment now to think of the joys and concerns we have heard spoken this morning… these glimpses into one another’s lives and the life of our wider world… and let’s hold them – and each other – in loving compassion as we move into a time of prayer now. Let’s each do what we do to get ourselves into the right state of body and mind – maybe shift your position, find a position that helps you focus – close your eyes or soften your gaze – whatever assists you to be fully present with yourself, with each other, and with that larger presence which holds us all.
Time of Reflection and Prayer
Great spirit, God of our hearts and our understanding, be with us this day and guide our hearts, our minds to paths of love. I ask for a blessing on all those who care, on all friends and neighbours and co-workers, on those whose job it is to care for others – social workers, carers, medical staff. May all parents, grandparents, teachers – those who take on the important task of raising future generations be blessed. Bless the world’s children with good enough care – that each and every child might receive the basics for their upbringing – that no child need suffer for lack of care – clean water, adequate food, access to education and health care and most importantly – love and affection. If there is anything practical we can do to ease the troubles of others, may we find the motivation to do that which needs to be done.
Let us in a moment of stillness give silent thanks for those who have shown care towards us, those who have taught us the meaning of love and compassion, those who have touched our lives and influenced us, and helped us develop into the unique individuals we are …..
And as the troubles of our wider world are ever present let us pray for all who suffer this day – those who live in situations of tyranny and oppression, those whose lives are blighted by warfare, the people of the Yemen starving because of civil war and seemingly ignored by our world community, those trapped by the insurgency in Mozambique, all those affected here in Britain by news of yet another dreadful crime of violence towards a woman, …….other people and places that may be in your minds …..
And may we, each of us in our different ways, find ways to follow a path of love in the days ahead – love for ourselves, love for others, love for the precious world in which we live, love for the gift of life itself, this day and all days, amen.
Hymn: Sacred the Body
There’s an opportunity to sing a hymn now – called Sacred the Body. If you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine and they are particularly moving words for any of us concerned about coercion and violence in human relationships. There’s a line that goes ‘Love touches gently, never coercing; love leaves the other with power to choose’. May that be so for everyone here on earth. We’ll all now be muted here on Zoom so do join in singing at home if you’d like to.
Reflection on Identity
I mentioned at the start that the theme shaping our gathering today concerns identity. The question of who we are, how we identify ourselves, it arises from time to time in life for some of us, doesn’t it. And when we consider identity at a deeper level, the more it may become apparent to us that we make much of this up, that our lives are constructed through stories, the stories others tell of us and the stories we tell of ourselves. Which of us does not have at least one label from childhood or young adulthood that sticks to us to this day – for good or ill. You know the kinds of family stories – we might be the clever one or the sickly one, or the messy one or the entertaining one, a grump or a ray of sunshine, the quiet one or the one who can always sort things out.
We learn this habit of story telling about ourselves and others early on and we continue it through life. But they are to some extent, stories that we choose, either consciously or unconsciously to live into. And one of the fascinating things about us humans is our ability to become someone different – perhaps by going on holiday or by finding a new interest or hobby, a new friend or a new job. Our identities then can start to feel lighter, far less fixed. We can gain new perspectives and consider ourselves and life in a different light. By loosening our hold on our fixed identity we can start to expand into the creatures of infinite potential that we truly are.
The Sufi holy fool Mulla Nasrudin might be able to show us the way. This story I’m about to tell possibly comes from one of the out-takes of this week’s controversial Oprah Winfrey interview with a famous royal couple. See what you think. Could they have told Oprah this particularly revelatory tale? It tells of a day when Mulla Nasrudin was so very hungry and he found himself walking past the palace. Peering inside he saw that there was a great wedding feast going on, held in honour of the son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan. Nasrudin was so hungry that he slipped into the banqueting hall and found an empty place – not realising at first that he was in fact sitting next to the Queen herself. She politely turned to the Mulla and asked him who he was.
“Are you a foreign diplomat?” she enquired.
“No,” he replied. “I rank above a diplomat.”
“Are you a leader of a country?”
“No I rank above a leader of a country.”
“Do you run the United Nations?” the by now confused queen asked.
“No I am above the secretary general of the United Nations,” Nasrudin calmly replied.
“Then you must be God,” the queen replied with perhaps a tinge of sarcasm now in her royal voice.
“No,” said Nasrudin, “I am above that”.
“There is nothing above God!” shouted the queen, now thoroughly rattled.
Nasrudin replied – “Now you know who I am. That ‘nothing’ is me”.
And with that, so the story goes, the queen and Nasrudin settled back to enjoy the wedding feast and we can perhaps settle back into the comfortable realisation that answering the question of who we are is at least the work of an unfolding life time. And I’ll now hand over to Jeannene Powell who’s going to lead us in an inclusive meditation for Mothering Sunday.
Meditation and silence: A meditation for Mothering Sunday
We’re moving into the meditative part of our gathering now – we’ll have some words to guide us into stillness, then there’ll be a video of our chalice flame to focus on and after about 3 minutes of silence the video will show our clarinet player Benjie Del Rosario playing the beautiful Skye Boat Song.
This meditation considers how many varied meanings the concept of mothering will have in a group such as ours. If any of these words don’t feel right for you, feel free to let them go, to choose your own focus for meditation. The aim of the words is to try and include many possible situations with regards to mothering – and yet inevitably some aspect of human existence will be left out. Please add you own particular life experience or use this time in a way that is most helpful and healing for you. A traditional approach to Mothers’ Day may paint an over-rosy picture of what is such a key human relationship. Our Unitarian approach is to bring all human experiences in, to attempt to include us all.
So let’s get ourselves into a comfortable position, feel free to turn off your video if that helps, enjoy that feeling of resting in your chair if you are sitting down, the sense of the earth beneath you, slip your shoes off if you like, whatever feels right for you. Maybe have a stretch, perhaps lift your shoulders up and let them circle back and down, letting go of any tension you might be aware of.
With eyes open or closed, your facial muscles eased and relaxed, let’s take a breath in and breathe into a connection – connection with ourselves, with our bodies, with our heart, with the light and love that we embody.
And in this more rested state I invite you to consider Mothering Sunday, traditionally a time of celebration and a time for gratitude for the gift of life that mothers bring. Yet we know that mothering, like all human endeavours, is a complex, messy, sometimes wounded area of our lives.
We remember that no two people have the same experience and that for many people Mothers’ Day can be a painful time: a time when they may feel excluded and even alienated. Let us therefore open our minds and our hearts to those who –
For whatever reason, have not known their own mother.
For those whose mothers died when they were too young to remember them,
For mothers who had to give up their children or had them taken from them for some reason, some of whom may never have felt able to reveal the secret of their motherhood.
For all those affected by stillbirths, by the agony of the death of children,
For those who are unable to have children of their own
For those who have chosen not to have children
For those whose lives have been blighted by parental cruelty or abandonment,
For those, of whatever gender and identity, who raise children as single parents
For those who are painfully aware of their inadequacies as parents
And for those whose mothers are ill, infirm or who have died.
We know that none of us here is without some pain or error. May we hold all these people, all of us, and all the multitude of human experiences in our thoughts and in our hearts. In the quiet time we will now share may we honour the complexity and variety of human experience and honour our human ability to care for one another.
Let’s enter a quiet time together now, with our chalice flame, which will end with our instrumental music. (Three minutes shared silence.)
Music: The Skye Boat Song
Short Address: Count Us In by Sarah Tinker
And so just a few thoughts now about the census. The holding of a census here in the UK goes back to 1801, when the first attempt to count the population was made. A census has been held every ten years since then. By law we all have to record where we sleep the night next Sunday night. The count is based upon households and it is the householder who fills in the form – online or on paper. Back in 1981 I worked as a census enumerator – helping people in a small part of Shropshire to complete their forms. That experience has left me with a great fondness for this statistical exercise – and for the data that it gathers. Because as any statistician will tell you – your data, your numbers, your collected information, are dependent upon well crafted questions. And the census questions are altered a bit each decade. The census no longer asks us if we have an outside toilet. But it does ask a voluntary question about sexual orientation. And it’s worth telling people that everyone in a household has the right to request a code that enables them to fill out their section individually and privately if they wish.
There are two other sections that I wanted to draw to everyone’s attention. The first is the section on nationality, where you can choose more than one. If you scroll down there’s a box for ‘Other’ and some people who are mourning our legal separation from Europe and using that box to declare themselves European as well as British. The second section where I have a special interest is the voluntary question about religion. Now the HumanistsUK organisation is I think right to point out that this is rather a leading question. The way it is put by the ONS, the Office for National Statistics, seems to assume people have a religious identity. The census data on religious affiliation is generally seen as an over-estimate of religious affiliation in this country. But there is a box for ‘other’ at the end of the list and this is the chance for us Unitarians to make a stand and fill in our name proudly. Even with my vigorous campaigning we will still be statistically insignificant. We will be painfully out-numbered by the Jedi Warriors who created themselves as a religion in the 2001 census and achieved over 330,000 adherents. So do have a think when you’re filling out your form and see if writing Unitarian in that ‘other’ box means something for you.
When I filled in my form – I’ve completed it early – partly so I knew what I was talking about for today’s service – partly because like most of us in these long days of lockdown I’m pretty sure I won’t be sleeping anyplace other than home next Sunday night – and when I reached the religion question I stopped to think of how this little religious community of Unitarianism has shaped my life. From the day I noticed a Unitarian chapel round the corner from where I’d moved to in Sheffield, I’ve felt welcomed into a quirky, flawed, yet heart-warmingly inclusive community of spiritual seekers. I’ve felt proud of our campaigning with the Quakers and liberal Jewish communities to achieve equal marriage here in the UK – something that really didn’t seem possible just a few years earlier. Kensington Unitarians are still the only religious building registered too conduct same sex marriage ceremonies in the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
And our inclusive and progressive campaigning on the issue of assisted dying may be slowly gaining ground. Yet we are still the only religious organisation here in Britain to have actually voted to support a change in legislation on this difficult, yet surely humane matter.
If Unitarianism has made a difference to your life, do think about filling in that box on the census form. And let’s all take that moment, when we reach the religion section of the census form, to remember how fortunate we are to live somewhere where we are free to follow our faith, any faith, where we can declare ourselves as atheists, Jedi Knights, pagans, agnostics, Unitarians even.
And I’m sure there will be individuals amongst us who dislike the idea of being counted. I found a delightful story this week about the artist JMW Turner, who so loathed the idea, that in 1841 he took a rowing boat out for the night onto the River Thames so as to avoid being counted. Nowadays that wouldn’t excuse him! And maybe we benefit by being part of something, and by asserting our identity in various ways. So do let me know how it feels for you when you fill in that census form. And if you live in another country I’d be fascinated to hear if your census asks about religion. Let me end by reading a couple of verses from the hymn we’ll have a chance to sing in a moment – :
Ours is a town where every faith,
all creeds of hope and peace,
can worship freely, yet recall
we are one human race.
Ours is a town where, side by side
in friendship and goodwill,
we’ll build a place where all can be
respected and fulfilled.
Worthy aims – and still so much to be achieved.
Hymn: Ours is a town for everyone
We can sing together again now, alone and together here on Zoom, when we’ll be safely muted. This hymn is a cheery one with a message of inclusion – it’s called ‘ours is a town for everyone’ and it’s sung by the Unitarian Music Society for us to sing along with, thanks to them for this recording. And it’s fine just to listen if you’d rather or have a leg stretch round your room.
Time for some announcements now. As always much gratitude to our Zoom hosts Jeannene and John – without whom these services just would not happen, thanks to Jeannene for our meditation and Peter Crockford and Benjie Del Rosario for great music today. There are plenty of other opportunities to keep in touch in the week ahead – there are a few places for Heart and Soul this evening – let Jane Blackall know if you’d like to come along to a particularly lovely spiritual gathering online – this week’s theme is appreciation. And I’d like to appreciate Jane for setting up these gatherings for contemplation and connection online and for the fact that she and others have been running these weekly for a whole year now. There’s the coffee morning at 10.30 on Tuesday. And next Sunday Jane will be leading our 10am service. Do drop us an email if you are quite new to our Sunday gatherings. It’s always good to hear from people. This coming Friday is the deadline (at least theoretically) for the creative journal on the subject of ‘home’ – open to everyone – chance to write something creative or factual, draw or paint or take some photos. I also want to advertise next Saturday’s West London GreenSpirit event which is a Spring Equinox retreat taking place on Zoom on the 20th March from 3-5pm – details are in our weekly email – if you stayafter the service you could have a chat with David Carter or me to find out more about it. The afternoon will include time together, a guided meditation, and time alone with reflective activities of your choice, exploring themes of clearing, planting and emerging. We’ll be asking what helps us re-balance in changing times. Thank you everyone who has made a donation recently or taken out a standing order. Every bit helps in these challenging times for all organisations and charities. To make a quick payment just go to our Kensington Unitarians website and on the front page there’s a Donate button to click on. Or you’ll find the details needed to make an online banking payment or set up a standing order. At the end of the service, after our closing music, we’d like to take a photo so do stick around for that if that’s ok with you and we invite you to stay for a chat over a cuppa afterwards too, if you don’t need to dash off. For our closing words I suggest we all click on gallery view on our screens so we can see us all in community together.
And so I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. Let us take this warmth and our sense of loving connection back into our wider world, a world that yearns for a message of inclusivity and acceptance. May each of us in the week ahead have a sense of being part of something greater than ourselves, may we live by our values and principles and be people who others can count upon, and may this be for the greater good of all, amen, go well all of you and blessed be.
Closing Music: Music by Jean Xavier Lefevre played by Benjie del Rosario and Peter Crockford
Rev. Sarah Tinker
14th March 2021