Membership Service: Belonging – 23/05/21

Opening Music: ‘Spirit of Life’ played by Abby Lorimier, Nina Sarnath, Mikaela Livadiotis (2.55)

Opening Words of Welcome: ‘A Place of Belonging and Caring’ by Kimberlee Anne Tomczak Carlson (adapted)

It is not by chance that you arrived here today.
You have been looking for something larger than yourself.
Inside of you there is a yearning, a calling, a hope for more,
A desire for a place of belonging and caring.

Through your struggles, someone nurtured you into being,
Instilling a belief in a shared purpose, a common yet precious resource
That belongs to all of us when we share.

And so, you began seeking a beloved community:
A people that does not put fences around love.
A community that holds its arms open to possibilities of love.
A heart-home to nourish your soul and share your gifts.

Welcome home; welcome to this hour of worship.

These opening words, written by Unitarian Universalist minister Kimberlee Anne Tomczak Carlson, 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 – also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching this service on YouTube, at a later date. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and having been part of the congregation for 22 years I’m now Ministry Coordinator here and also a Ministry Student at Unitarian College.

This morning’s simple service of readings and reflections, music and meditation, is our annual membership service. This is the day we set apart each year to consider what it means to be a member of this community – a day when we invite you to affirm – or re-affirm – your sense of belonging and commitment to this congregation. If you are a visitor here today, don’t worry, you’re not going to be press-ganged into joining! I hope there’ll still be plenty in it for you. It’ll hopefully be a slightly shorter service than usual ahead of our AGM which will be held at 11am.

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: ‘For Each And For All’ adapted from words by Erik Walker Wikstrom

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.

We light this chalice for all who are here, and all who are not;
For all who have ever come through the doors of Essex Church
(or indeed through the digital doors of our Zoom waiting room),
for those who may yet find their way to this spiritual community,
and for all those new ways of doing and being church together,
of touching and transforming lives, that we can’t yet even imagine.

For each of us and for us all, may this flame burn warm and bright.

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 the UU minister Maureen Killoran.

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.

Spirit of Life, God of All Love, we turn our full attention to you,
as we tune in to the depths of this life, and the greater wisdom
to which – and through which – we are all intimately connected.

Here we are gathered – called perhaps by our sense of sacred purpose,
or duty, or the longing for community; called to be together on this day
to worship; to lift up that which is of highest worth and which directs our lives.
Here we are gathered – called to hold ourselves to our highest values –
to remind ourselves of those hopes and dreams and possibilities which,
sometimes, in the rough-and-tumble of this world, it can be hard to hold on to.
Here we are gathered – called to do our part in weaving a web of human community.

Here, now, some of us have come in pain, bearing sufferings both physical and emotional.
To those who are dealing with health concerns, we pray, we wish, for courage and healing.
To those who are feeling lonely and isolated, 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.

And here, now, some of us have come with joy bubbling in our hearts – despite everything.
May we give ourselves permission to feel those joyful moments 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.

May this time we spend together be a blessing on our hearts, on this congregation, and may this precious blessing extend outward through each one of us so as to grace the wider world.

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

Hymn: ‘We Laugh, We Cry’ (Unitarian Music Society)

Our first hymn today is titled ‘We Laugh, We Cry’ – it’s not one we sing very often and I think that’s mainly because it’s quite long! you need a bit of stamina for this one – but the sentiment really says a lot about what it means for us to join together in community – that sense of solidarity we can find as we accompany each other through life’s inevitable ups and downs. The words will appear on screen in a moment for you to sing along – and we’ll try to make sure you all stay muted – but if you don’t fancy singing it’s absolutely fine to just listen instead.

We laugh, we cry, we live, we die; we dance, we sing our song.
We need to feel there’s something here to which we can belong.
We need to feel the freedom just to have some time alone.
But most of all we need close friends we can call our very own.

And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a need to be together.
We have our hearts to give we have our thoughts to receive;
and we believe that sharing is an answer.

A child is born among us and we feel a special glow.
We see time’s endless journey as we watch the baby grow.
We thrill to hear imagination freely running wild.
We dedicate our minds and hearts to the spirit of the child.

And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a time to be together.
And with the grace of age, we share the wonder of youth,
and we believe that growing is an answer.

Our lives are full of wonder and our time is very brief.
The death of one among us fills us all with pain and grief.
But as we live, so shall we die, and when our lives are done
the memories we shared with friends, they will linger on and on.

And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a place to be together.
We have the right to grow, we have the gift to believe
that peace within our living is an answer.

We seek elusive answers to the questions of this life.
We seek to put an end to all the waste of human strife.
We search for truth, equality, and blessed peace of mind.
And then we come together here, to make sense of what we find.

And we believe in life, and in the strength of love;
and we have found a joy to be together.
And in our search for peace, maybe we’ll finally see:
even to question truly is an answer.

Reading: ‘The Blessings of Community’ by Douglas Taylor (read by Jennifer Young)

Alone in the world, I was beset with frustration and anger at the world around me – so much injustice and hatred, so little peace and freedom. I longed to make a difference. I struggled against powers and institutions. But my actions seemed insignificant and my words were drowned out.

Then I came into community, a religious community of hope and love. Here I found support and energy, vision and power, the authority of shared witness.

And together we changed the world.

Alone in the world, I was beset by sorrow and hurt in my life – so much loss and emptiness, so little hope and understanding. I wept for the pain in my heart. I ached from the hardships I bore. But my tears brought little relief and my burdens grew too heavy.

Then I came into community, a religious community of hope and love. Here I found support and compassion, wisdom and grace, and the power of shared suffering.

And together we made life sweeter.

Alone in the world, I was beset by confusion and emptiness in my soul – so much busyness and pettiness, so little depth or connection. I shrivelled inside from want of real spiritual bonds and my soul cried out for meaning.

Then I came into community, a religious community of hope and love. Here I found support and encouragement, depth and diversity, and the power of sharing the journey.

And together we saved my life.

For all the varied reasons that have brought us out of loneliness and into community, we give thanks. For the blessings we each bestow on one another with our energy, compassion, and prayer, we give thanks. For the blessings we become to others in need, we give thanks and remember that we are not alone.

Meditation: ‘On Belonging’ featuring words by Margaret A. Keip

Thanks Jennifer for giving our first reading today. 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 a few words to take us into a time of meditation – just a very few words today – followed by music from our trio, Abby Lorimier, Nina Sarnath & Mikaela Livadiotis, playing ‘None but the Lonely Heart’ by Tchaikovsky. As ever, the words, images, and music are just an offering. You are absolutely free to think your own thoughts and spend this time meditating in your own way. Margaret A. Keip wrote:

‘As surely as we belong to the universe, we belong together.
We join here to transcend the isolated self, to reconnect,
to know ourselves to be at home, here on earth,
under the stars, linked with each other.’

Taking these few words into our shared silence and stillness,
I invite you to gently meditate on your own sense of belonging.

Silence: 3 minutes silence

Musical Interlude: ‘None but the Lonely Heart’ by Tchaikovsky played by Abby Lorimier, Nina Sarnath, Mikaela Livadiotis (2.42)

Reading: ‘No Place Like Home’ by David S. Blanchard (read by Juliet Edwards)

If a perfect church existed (and I have it on good authority that one has yet to develop), I think it would resemble something like the perfect home – another institution that lives more in our imaginations than in practice. There are obvious differences of course. One usually joins a family by no choice of one’s own. At home, members may receive an allowance, at church it works the other way round. At home, unlike at church, the leaders actually have some power to enforce their authority, even if it’s only because they are bigger or older. Yet we persist in speaking about being at home in church. This is what this ideal means to me.

I hope this home will be a place of shelter, a refuge from the tumult of life’s disappointments and defeats, a place of consolation and encouragement.

I hope this home will be a place of challenge, not complacency, a space where we are helped to mature and take on a wider sense of responsibility for ourselves and others.

I hope this home will be a place where we can be ourselves, unencumbered by judgements or ridicule, where we are accepted as we are, where we are, and for whom we are.

I hope this home will be a place where we might take some risks, knowing that there will be arms to catch us if we fall.

I hope we will know this home as a place of love, where life is made whole, where we may become engaged at the deepest levels of being alive.

If we give these hopes life among us in the community that is found here at church, then there will be no place like it, and we will know that we are home.

A Few Words on Membership by Jane Blackall

Thanks Juliet for giving our second reading. Through our readings, hymns, and prayers today we’re reflecting on what it means to belong to a community such as this one. I guess it’ll mean something slightly different to each one of us but perhaps there are a few common threads. Our opening words spoke of church as ‘a heart-home to nourish your soul and share your gifts’. The piece from Doug Taylor that Jennifer read for us spoke of the blessings we get and the blessings we give, that reciprocity we feel when we belong, as we share the journey of life. And the reading by David S. Blanchard that we just heard spoke of what it might mean to be truly at home here.

In a normal year – whatever ‘normal’ means – we’d be welcoming new members today with a handshake from the chair of the congregation, and (if you were lucky and we’d got ourselves organised) a chalice badge and maybe even a mug. What I like to think of as the ‘church merch’. There’s a little logo on the side of the mug, I put it up on the screen during a service a few weeks back, and someone commented that they hadn’t knowingly seen it before, so here it is again:

As you can see it says ‘Community – Spirituality – Conscience’. And that’s what it’s all about. Building a community where we can support each other and share the journey of life; making a regular commitment to attend to matters of the spirit and meaning-making together; and cultivating our social conscience by upholding values of justice, equality, and liberation for all.

If you like the sound of that, well, you’re in the right place. So I invite you, if you wish, to take a moment to inwardly affirm your membership of this congregation. And what does that mean? Well, I rather like these words from the UU minister Tom Owen-Towle, from the membership ceremony in his own church, this is what they say to new members:

‘We are happy that you are with us. We gladly share with you in everything that strengthens this congregation. And we stand with you against anything that will injure or weaken it. We believe that membership in our beloved community will enrich and enlarge your life as well as ours. We want your gifts. We offer you ours. Know well that in our membership you are truly accepted to come as you are and to grow who you wish to become.’

So with those words I’m delighted to welcome three new members who are officially joining Kensington Unitarians this morning: Patricia, Maria, and E. We are really happy that you are with us! Although we can’t do the formal handshake thing today perhaps you could switch to gallery view and let’s all give a wave of hearty welcome. And when we’re back in the building we’ll make sure you get the badge and mug as well.

To close this little virtual membership ceremony I’d like to invite everyone – members old and new, near and far – anyone here today who wants to affirm their sense of belonging in this church – to join in with the refrain of a reading (words on screen) – ‘We Travel This Road Together’.

Affirmation: ‘We Travel This Road Together’ by Tess Baumberger (adapted)

From the busy-ness of everyday we gather once a week
to remember who we are, to dream of who we might become.

We travel this road together.

As companions on this journey, we share the milestones we meet along the way.
Individual moments of joy and sorrow become shared moments of comfort and celebration.

We travel this road together.

We share this journey across differences of belief and opinion
Because we value diversity and because care for one another.

We travel this road together.

We are strengthened by those values that we share,
called onwards by the vision of a better world for all.

We travel this road together.

Today as we take the next steps, let us notice our fellow travellers:
The burdens that they carry, the songs that inspire their hearts.

We travel this road together.

As we gather in beloved community, let us open the holy havens of our hearts,
Let us share the sacred places of our souls
For we are pilgrims who share a common path.

We travel this road together. Amen.

Hymn: ‘A Church is a Living Fellowship’ (Kensington Unitarians – 1.55)

We’ve got one more hymn to sing together now – ‘A Church is a Living Fellowship’ – a great reminder of what being a church is really all about (however or wherever we may meet). This recording is of our congregation back in the church a few years ago. As always we’ll try to make sure you’re muted so feel free to sing along with gusto (or you can just listen if you’d rather).

A church is a living fellowship
More than a holy shrine,
Where people can share their hopes and fear
Less of the yours and mine;

Where bonded by trust we search for Truth
Beyond the chains of creeds,
And thought can aspire to shine with fire
From all our deepest needs.

Let’s stretch out the open hand of Love,
Conquer the fists of hate,
Divided no more by voices of war,
Greeds of our mindless state;

We’ll take all our building bricks of Truth,
Make of them homes of Life,
A future to face the shame and disgrace
In all our past of strife.

A church is a place of human trust
More than of brick and stone;
Of Love we will sing to make it ring
In every joyous tone.


Thanks to John for Zoom hosting today and to Jeannene for her valuable supporting role.

Don’t forget we’ve got the church AGM after the service today at 11am – that’s instead of the usual breakout groups – we’re going to try and make it short and sweet so we’d be glad if members could hang around after the service to participate in that and show their support. And can I remind members of the church to get in touch with me ASAP to formally re-affirm their membership and give permission (or not) for your contact details to be circulate. Thanks.

There are a few opportunities to connect in the week ahead: Coffee morning on Zoom at 10.30 on Tuesday. Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering – tonight and on Friday – is on the theme of ‘Pain’. We like to take a group photo after the closing music so stick around.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the music in today’s service – I’m pleased to let you know that Abby, our music scholar, is going to put on a series of concerts for us –the first will be on Monday 14th June at 1pm featuring this very trio playing works by Ravel, Messaien, Hindemith, and Takemitsu. There’ll be a strictly limited number of places to attend in-person at the church (booking information will be in next week’s email) and the concert will also be livestreamed to YouTube.

The Unitarian General Assembly are putting on an online event this Wednesday at 7.30pm – second of a series of talks on ‘Congregations in the Community’ – this time I’ve been invited to give a 15-minute talk about Engagement Groups followed by loads of time after that for Q&A on the subject with others from up and down the country so it might be a nice way to interact with fellow Unitarians. Details and a zoom link for the event are in the email that went out on Friday.

We’ll be back on Zoom next week at 10am with a service on ‘Care’ led by our Pastoral Network. It’s fine to share the link. And feel free to drop us a line during the week to get in touch.

We’ve just got some brief closing words now, adapted from Cliff Reed, followed by a well-loved tune from our trio to end the service. 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: ‘Being There’ by Cliff Reed (adapted)

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
be with us as we depart once more.

It matters that we come here when we can,
not just for what each may gain
but for what we each may contribute
by our presence and participation.

Remind us, in our heart of hearts, that if
we want our church to be there for us,
then we must be there for our church.

And remind us that, if we want others
to be there for us in our times of need,
then we must be there for them in theirs.

So, in the week to come, as we go about our daily lives,
may we feel a sense of connection to this beloved community.
And may we truly know this church as a place where we belong – our spiritual home. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Slane’ played by Abby Lorimier, Nina Sarnath, Mikaela Livadiotis (1.48)

Jane Blackall

23rd May 2021