Caring – 30/05/21

Opening Music: ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ – Performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (3.05)

Opening Words of Welcome: We Need One Another by George Odell (adapted)

We need one another when we mourn and would be comforted.

We need one another when we are in trouble and afraid

We need one another when we are in despair, in temptation
and need to be recalled to our best selves again.

We need one another when we would accomplish
some great purpose, and cannot do it alone

We need one another in the hour of success,
when we look for someone to share our triumphs with

We need one another in the hour of defeat,
when with encouragement we might endure and stand again

We need one another to remind us that
we share this journey of life as we share the earth our home

All our lives we are in need and others are in need of us.

These words by George Odell welcome all who have gathered on Zoom for 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 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 service is on the theme of ‘Caring’ and it’s led by members of the recently-formed Kensington Unitarians’ Pastoral Network. Since our previous minister, Sarah Tinker, retired at the end of last year, we’ve been thinking about how we can take more of shared responsibility for ministry as a congregation. In many ways, pastoral care comes naturally – we’re caring people – and we like to look out for each other and be mutually supportive – it’s just something we do. But especially during this last year, when the pandemic has kept us physically apart, we’ve had to be a bit more intentional about keeping in touch and reaching out to each other in new ways. And the Pastoral Network is a part of that – a small group of congregation members who have offered to be there if people want to reach out for a friendly chat and a listening ear – that’s me, Jeannene, Pat, Chloe, Marianne, and Sonya, with help from Roy and John. But as we reflect on the subject of ‘Caring’ in today’s service perhaps we can consider how each and every one of us can play our part in giving and receiving care – both gently offering support to others and vulnerably asking for (and accepting) the support we need – in a community such as this one.

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: ‘To Remember Our Promises’ by Sarah C. Stewart (adapted)

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.

Bring who you are as you enter our church this morning.
Bring your best self and your struggling self;
bring your mistakes and your triumphs;
bring your shortcomings and your recommitment to good.
Bring yourself here and open your heart to beauty, to truth,
to the door that is open to the presence of God.
Here in this church we are trying to walk together on the peaceable way;
trying to hammer out division, and hatred, and all that separates one from another;
trying to embody beloved community as we reach out in mutual caring.
We try, and we will fall short, but held in love, we try again.
We come together this morning, as a church,
to bow our heads in prayer, to raise our voices in song,
to remember our promises and vow to live by them once again.

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: based on words by Bruce Southworth

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,
in whom we live and move and have our being.
As we turn our attention to the depths of this life –
the cosmic mystery and wisdom that abides in All-That-Is –
we tune in to your Holy presence within us and amongst us. (short pause)

We give thanks for all of nature’s many gifts.

We give thanks for caring friends and compassionate neighbours.

We give thanks for the communion of those who seek to serve others.

Each of us carries our private griefs and burdens.
Sometimes we can share these, be vulnerable with others,
and for the open hearts which respond in kindness we are grateful.

Sometimes the world bears heavily upon us;
we struggle alone, search the depths and long for healing,
for renewed hope, for strength, which give their grace and peace.

May we be strengthened in efforts to be of service, and may each of us be mindful of any aspects of privilege and comfort we benefit from, that many others are denied.

May our prayer be that we always see clearly and keep before us the commandment to care; and may we try always to be inclusive and open—not exclusive and narrow.

On this day and every day, may we give thanks, but let us also be dissatisfied with the world as it is for a new and better world is waiting to be realized.

May our spirits and bodies be nourished and nurtured as we give thanks in praise of all that sustains, heals and holds—all that is holy. (short pause)

In our company this morning, and every time we gather in community, there will be those whose hearts are freshly broken open: by loss and grief, rejection and loneliness, disappointment and meaninglessness. Let us spend a quiet moment directing prayers of loving-kindness to the broken-hearted.

In our company this morning, and every time we gather in community, there will be those whose hearts are full and overflowing: buoyed by the beauty of nature and culture, uplifted by family and friends. Let us spend a quiet moment directing prayers of thanks for all that is good in our lives.

In our company this morning, and every time we gather in community, there will be those who are simply keeping on keeping on as best they can: their hearts a blessed, messy, blend of all life’s mixed emotions. Let us spend a quiet moment asking for what we need to face life’s ups and downs.

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 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: ‘When I Am Frightened’ by the Unitarian Music Society (2.33)

Our first hymn today is called ‘When I am Frightened’. It speaks of the many ways in which people might be struggling in life and the ways in which we can respond in loving-kindness to each other. 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.

When I am frightened, will you reassure me?
When I am uncertain, will you hold my hand?
Will you be strong for me? sing to me quietly?
Will you share some of your stories with me?
If you will show me compassion,
then I may learn to care as you do,
then I may learn to care.

When I am angry, will you embrace me?
When I am thoughtless, will you understand?
Will you believe in me, stand by me willingly?
Will you share some of your questions with me?
If you will show me acceptance,
then I may learn to give as you do,
then I may learn to give.

When I am troubled will you listen to me?
When I am lonely, will you be my friend?
Will you be there for me, comfort me tenderly?
Will you share some of your feelings with me?
If you will show me commitment,
then I may learn to love as you do,
then I may learn to love.

Jane: I’m going to hand over to first Chloë, and then Sonya, for a reflection and extended meditation on the many different ways in which we can show care for each other, both in the context of this church community, and more broadly in all of the many and varied relationships of our lives.

‘Ways We Show We Care’ by Chloë Harewood:

The American author, relationship counsellor and Baptist pastor, Dr Gary Chapman, introduced the concept of the Five Love Languages, through his acclaimed book first published in 1992, which explores the idea that there are different ways that love and care can be expressed and understood, and that people have innate preferences for how they wish to receive love.

We tend to give affection in the way we prefer to receive it – which may not be the same as our loved ones. In life, we try to navigate communicating in a way that the recipient understands; which fits with their ‘model of the world’ – this can be quite different to ours. And the same is true when it comes to love, care, or appreciation. Are we communicating this in a way that the person can hear and understand it? These five love languages can be applicable across all sorts of relationships in our lives… anybody we might be supporting emotionally, our families, friends, colleagues, students, neighbours.

Gary Chapman’s model suggests that there are five main ways in which we can show we care: speaking Words of Affirmation; spending Quality Time; Giving Gifts; performing Acts of Service; and Physical Touch. So let’s consider each one of those in turn.

Words of Affirmation: This is a love language which really focuses on verbal expression; the words that we use and the way we utilise them in order to connect with those we want to show love to. Ways to express this love language might be verbal compliments to let your loved one know you care, to let them know you notice; words of encouragement, words conveying empathy, praise, affirmations… the absence of criticism – and instead choosing rallying and optimistic words – which over time can build up a sense of security and self for the person who values this love language.

Quality Time: Identifying strongly with this love language means an appreciation of spending time with others, sharing an activity together, having moments of undivided attention with the other, stimulating conversation (really listening to each other) and making memories together.

Giving Gifts: This is one of the primary ways in which humans around the world engage in a transaction of affection. When we respond primarily to this love language, the act of exchanging gifts, a token of affection, no matter how small, can instil a sense of being valued, of being thought of. That the other person cares enough that they took the time to seek out and then deliver a tangible demonstration of warmth and connection. A gift serves as a visual reminder that we are appreciated.

Acts of Service: According to Dr Chapman, an act of service is the non-verbal form of care that can be time-consuming and demanding – a useful physical gesture that helps to relieve the responsibilities and burdens of another. If this love language resonates with us, it is ‘action’ rather than words that contribute to feeling secure and cared for. When people support us meaningfully with dedicated time and energy, its these valuable demonstrations that foster a sense of wellbeing.

Physical Touch: Touch can be a powerful way of communicating emotion and affection. For many of us, to feel connectedness and solidarity with another through touch, can be more affirming than any words or time spent together. Touch can promote a feeling of security, safety, being supported. A caress can be life-enhancing and tender; a hug, a warm, reassuring pat on the back, a hand on the shoulder, locking arms, holding a hand. For someone who speaks the primary love language of touch, it can be a crucial way of feeling valued and cared for.

So that’s the 5 Love Languages. By learning how to ‘speak’ each other’s love language, it means that both people in the relationship get to feel supported and seen. Personally, I think it’s useful to think about our relationships with others in this way – it helps us to pay more attention, and to foster more fulfilling relationships and to feel more connected with the people we interact with.

Meditation: ‘Our Languages of Love and Care’ by Sonya Leite:

Based on the Languages of Love and Care that Chloë was talking about I would like to take us into a reflective guided meditation on these qualities. This meditation will be longer and more spacious than usual – about 8 minutes – and will lead into a few minutes of shared stillness. We’ll put our chalice-cam up on our screen during the silence. And then there’ll be a musical offering from Marilisa Valtazanou – ‘Everybody Hurts’ – a well-loved song which reminds us how everybody’s life contains times of struggle – and we are all in need of care. As always, these words, and images, and music, are simply an offering. Feel free to use this time to meditate in your own way.

Let us get comfortable, eyes open or closed, camera on or off, lying down or sitting.
Take a breath and feel your feet on the floor
Take another breath and recall what it feels like in your body when you feel cared for.
If you can’t think of anything right now, imagine how you would like to feel.
Is your body relaxed or energized?
Let that sensation in with your next breath.

We are going to explore how you like to be loved and cared for;

1) Take a breath and imagine, sense or feel receiving the following Affirming Words or use your own words that come to mind.

You are amazing
You look very handsome/beautiful today
You are so kind and thoughtful
I don’t know what I would do without you
Thank you, I so appreciate your generosity of Spirit.

Do words make you feel cared for?

2) Take a breath and imagine, sense or feel receiving the following Gifts or gifts you might like to receive.

A box of chocolates
Money is gifted to you to support your new project
A card saying I love you
Tickets to a concert
A care package arrives in the post with all the things you love just when you needed it

Do gifts make you feel cared for?

3) Take a breath and imagine, sense or feel receiving Physical Touch. When you’re experiencing a joy or concern do you just want someone to…

Give you a hug
Pat you on the back
Give you a kiss
Squeeze your shoulders
Hold your hand

Does touch make you feel cared for?

4) Take a breath and imagine, sense or feel receiving Quality Time.

Spending time with someone who is completely there for you, there are no distractions, you feel the other person is totally present to you and what you are doing. Your conversation flows and you feel seen, heard and understood.

Does Quality time make you feel cared for?

5) Take a breath and imagine, sense or feel receiving an act of Service. Without you having to ask or having to pay…

Your car was cleaned
A friend picked up your kids from school so you could have a break
A neighbour fixed a leaking tap
Your partner/friend made you a meal
Someone did your laundry

Do Acts of Service make you feel cared for?

As we come to the end of this meditation
May you know that you are cared for
May you know how you like to be cared for
May you give and receive this care from yourself and others always. Amen.

Silence: [3 minutes silence]

Musical Interlude: ‘Everybody Hurts’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (3.47)

‘Our Need for Connection’ by Pat Gregory

For many years I worked as a Community Worker at a Neighbourhood Centre in Hammersmith and I learnt from the people who were part of that community that whatever your background, your health condition, your politics or your financial status, we all have a need for social connection – the feeling that we belong to a group who we can reach out to and trust we will be heard and respected.

For me, the Unitarian Church community provides this space. When I first attended Essex Church I had a real need for social connection and I felt welcomed in such an open minded way that I knew I would be coming back for more.

In 2019 I underwent surgery which left me housebound for some time. During this time I was contacted by the church to ask if I would like a visit and although I declined this kind offer I felt that I was being cared for, that I belonged. Just to know that someone was thinking of me was uplifting.

We all need to connect and care for ourselves, others and our environment and in order to do this we also need to feel safe in the knowledge that our wishes are considered and our boundaries are kept.

Caring does not need to be complicated – we can reach out by sending a card or phoning someone who is unwell or feeling isolated, we can show we care and that we want to connect in small ways – sometimes just a smile or a few words with a neighbour is enough. It is in this process of connecting with others that we realize that we are actually creating a connection with ourselves and that it’s ok to be who we are.

In today’s problematic world where we often feel we can do nothing it is the small acts of kindness, of helping one another, that make us feel empowered. Our daily choices and actions can have a significant impact on the world.

In the words of Ram Dass, “We are all just walking each other home”

Hymn: ‘Lean on Me’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (3.10)

Thank you Pat, and Sonya, and Chloe, and all the members of the Pastoral Network, for today’s reflections on how simple actions of caring – reaching out to one another in loving-kindness – sensitively tuning into each other’s needs (the particular, unique, way in which we each like to be cared for) – perhaps also being ready and willing to accept the care that we are offered – all these really can make an enormous difference in helping each other make it through life’s tough times.

Don’t forget that the Pastoral Network is now available if you need a listening ear from time to time (you can email and we’ll put you in touch with someone) but also that there’s a whole network of kind and caring people out there in this congregation. I know many of you are already quietly, thoughtfully, looking out for each other. It means a lot.

Time for one last chance to sing together now – not a hymn but a song, and an old favourite too – ‘Lean on Me’. What better song to represent the give-and-take of sharing care in a community? Marilisa has recorded a lovely new version of this golden oldie for us to sing along with. As always we’ll try to make sure you’re muted so feel free to sing or listen as you’d rather.

Sometimes in our lives
we all have pain, we all have sorrow
But if we are wise
we know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show.

So just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

So just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load, if you just call me

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on


Thanks to Jeannene for hosting today, to Marilisa for the wonderful music, and of course to Chloë, Sonya and Pat for their great contributions. There are a number of opportunities to connect in the week ahead: Coffee morning on Zoom at 10.30 on Tuesday. You can still sign up for Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering, 7pm tonight on the theme of ‘Pleasure’.

There’s a national Unitarian event coming up (online) in a few weeks – from 17th-19th June there will be three ‘Unitarian Societies Days’ in which special interest groups within Unitarianism will give presentations and run activities on Zoom – it’s free to attend but you need to register. The full details are in the weekly email but if you want to know more about the Music Society, the Women’s Group, the Earth Spirit Network, and all sorts of others, you might enjoy popping in. And it’s understood that people might just drop in and out for the bits they’re interested in.

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.

We’ll be back again on Zoom next week at 10am so tell your friends. It’s fine to share the link. And feel free to drop us a line during the week to get in touch if you’d like to say hello. And just a reminder to anyone who hasn’t yet emailed me to re-affirm their membership – please do!

We’ve just got some brief closing words now, followed by one more cheerful song by Marilisa – another celebration of friendship – to end (it’s a lovely old Pete Seeger song – I’ve had this one as an earworm all week). 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: ‘Be True, Be Well, Be Loving’ by Cynthia Landrum (adapted)

We leave this gathered community,
But we don’t leave our connection,
Our concerns, our care for each other.
Our service to each other, to the world, and to our faith continues.

Until we are together again, friends,
Be strong, be well, be true, be loving.

And, in the days to come, may you be a blessing to all you meet,
bringing care and loving-kindness wherever you may go. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Precious Friend’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (2.03)

Jane and Members of the Pastoral Network

30th May 2021