Flower Communion – 13/06/21

Opening Music: ‘The Light of the Spirit’ by David Kent

Opening words: Hello everybody, I’m Sarah Tinker, recently retired minister with our Kensington Unitarians community. And here we are for our virtual Sunday morning gathering, on Zoom, reaching out and connecting with you wherever you are, however you are feeling today and whatever is going on for you in life at this time. That word ‘connection’ is what this is all about – for we are living aren’t we, through a time when because of the global pandemic we are still having to think more carefully about how we connect with others. And yet our lives are inextricably connected, as this service will be exploring. Our theme today combines a shout out for the start of Refugee Week here in the UK and an online version of our Unitarian tradition of a flower communion. I’ll say more about those later on.

But first a warm hello to all of you gathered here in the realm of Zoom as well as a greeting to those of you who are listening on a podcast, or watching a video of this service on YouTube some time in the future. If you are with us on Zoom and are new to our Sunday morning gatherings please feel free to join in at a level that is right for you – it’s fine just to sit back and listen and switch off your video if that’s more restful for you. There’s no need to join in, in any active way, although there is chance to speak and sing if you want at several points in this gathering. But simply your presence here in community is what matters most……

And some opening words by Richard Gilbert to help us settle into this moment:

Richard S. Gilbert writes – We bid you Welcome

We bid you welcome, who come with weary spirit seeking rest.
Who come with troubles that are too much with you,
Who come hurt and afraid
We bid you welcome, who come with hope in your heart.
Who come with anticipation in your step, who come proud and joyous.
We bid you welcome, who are seeker of a new faith.
Who come to probe and explore, Who come to learn.
We bid you welcome, who enter this space as a homecoming,
Who have found here room for your spirit. Who find in this place and this
people a community.
Whoever you are, whatever you are, Wherever you are in your life,
We bid you welcome.

Let’s take a moment to get a sense of what it might mean to us to be welcomed for who we are, just as we are, no need to pretend, no need to put on appearances, able for this time to just be ourselves, making this time for our own thoughts, opening ourselves to insights, let’s take a moment to get a sense of what it is we might most need this morning.

Chalice Lighting: This simple flame reminds us that we are part of the world wide community of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists. This chalice flame has a proud heritage and reminds us that there are issues in life worth standing up for – that justice and liberty might be available to all, the world over, that all people of the world might experience being welcomed just as they are.

Candles of Joy and Concern

Each Sunday when our Kensington Unitarians community meets, we share candles of joy and concern, where we invite a few people to light a candle and speak of something that is in their 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. When you are ready to speak you can unmute yourself and just 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 quite special to hear some other voices and perspectives, 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. Our hosts John and Jeannene will do their best to spot if someone wants to speak and can’t unmute themselves. And you’ll hear me thank each speaker by name – to let them know they’ve been heard and to signal that the space is free from someone else to speak.

Light a tealight – a candle to represent all the issues we haven’t spoken of today that we hold within us.
These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken,
weave us together in the fabric of community.

Prayer and Reflection:

Let’s bring the joys and concerns we’ve heard expressed today into our time of reflection and prayer, along with all those issues we carry quietly in our hearts.

Let’s make ourselves as comfortable as we can, take a bit of time to turn inwards, to bring all of ourselves to this moment, align ourselves with that which guides our living in this world, the god of our hearts and our understanding, the ground of our being.

In a week filled with news of human beings like us trying to move from one part of the world to another and meeting so many hardships along the way let us pray for all people who have had to leave their homes for any reason – all displaced persons, all refugees, all asylum seekers, all who migrate. It is hard for many of us to imagine what it must be like to feel the need to leave one country and seek refuge and a new life in another, but those of us who are blessed with homes of comfort and safety can give thanks for the privileges of our lives.

There are some among us who are far from home. Let us think of those currently away from home with love and with commitment to help all people feel welcome here in our church community.

The issue of refugees and displaced people is a concern throughout our world. Let us pray for the lawmakers and enforcers who have such a difficult task. May they be blessed always with compassion in their words and actions – may they never forget that they too might find themselves without a home and in danger at some time. When the words economic migrant are used to describe people that some developed countries are trying to shut out may we have the humility and the grasp of history required to remind us that our good fortune is based entirely on our ancestors moving about the earth to seek better conditions for themselves and their offspring – us.

May our world community find ever new creative ways to help one another and to overcome the problems that cause people to leave their homes – economic uncertainty and inequality, hatred and oppression, warfare, hunger and shortage of water. Let us be people who rise to the challenge and keep searching for humane ways to resolve complex issues.

In particular this day let us focus our attention on places in our world where life is so difficult – the Horn of Africa where famine is once again rearing its hungry head, in Mozambique where people are fleeing their homes to escape insurgents, in Palestine where so many people have lost so very much.

And in our own lives let us never slip into complacency in our thinking – but rather be ever grateful for that which we have, ever attentive to the lives of others, doing what we can, however small – to make this world of ours ever more just, more humane, more compassionate, a friendlier and more beautiful home for all – and may this be so for the greater good of all – amen.

And now there’s chance to sing a hymn – the words will be on our screens and we’ll all be muted and so you can sing out loud if you wish or just enjoy listening – both hymns today were recorded at our service in church back in 2017 – so if you were with us that day you might hear yourself rustling, coughing or singing tunefully. These words were written by Lena Cockcroft who was for a long time a minister in Northern Ireland with one of the NSPCI churches – NSPCI stands for Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland and they have a proud and interesting history – as a liberal, non-creedal denomination – like us Unitarians. One of their current ministers, Chris Hudson, is very involved in quiet work behind the scenes to ensure the Irish peace process continues.

Hymn: Bring Flowers to our Altar

Bring flowers to our altar to show nature’s beauty,
the harvest of goodness in earth, sky and sea.
Bring light to our altar to guide every nation
from hatred to love and to humanity.
Bring a dove to our altar its wings ever flying
in permanent quest for the peace all may share.
Bring bread to our altar the hungry supplying
and feeding the poor who depend on our care.

Bring hope to our altar in your gentle dreaming
of all the good things that will make your heart glad.
Bring love to our altar, a bright witness beaming
to all who are burdened, or lonely or sad.
Bring work to our altar to help every nation
and celebrate all that’s already achieved.
Come yourself to our altar in true dedication
to all the ideals we in common believe.

Shared Reading on Slide:
Flower Communion Liturgy Amy Zucker Morgenstern

Each of us is a flower, with a delicate beauty uniquely our own. We may be like sunflowers, turning always towards the light.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

We may be like night-blooming cereus, only displaying our fragrant petals when it is dark and we think no one can see.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

We may be hothouse flowers, far from our native lands, cautiously tended within a harsh and unfamiliar climate.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

We may be gray-headed like dandelions, eager to launch the new generation with the first strong gust of wind: past our own bright youth, but ready to pass our wisdom on in precious gossamer-carried seeds.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

Some of us, sometimes, spring up overnight and fade in the hot glare.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

Some of us, sometimes, are roses, slowly assembling petal after tightly-wrapped petal, and revealing our full glory only when everything is in place.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

Sometimes we are roadside weeds, lovelinesses bursting improbably from the dust and debris.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

May we offer our beauty with the simplicity of flowers, expecting no recognition, hoping for nothing, giving out of what we are, and knowing it is enough.
May our lives bloom like the flowers. Amen.

Our gathering today is a celebration of flowers and it reminds us of a yearly ritual held in many Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities around the world – known as the flower communion. This ritual was created in the 1930s by Nobert Capek, minister with the Prague Unitarian community in what was then Czechoslovakia. People were asked to bring a flower to church on that particular Sunday, place them in a shared bowl and at the end of the service they’d leave with a flower different from the one they’d brought with them. A bunch of flowers in a vase – a bunch of people in a church or on a Zoom screen even – Capek’s flower communion is a simple and effective reminder for a church community that it is made up of individuals – each with unique characteristics – together creating something quite beautiful, together creating something that is more than the sum of its parts. So let’s take that image into a time of meditation now.


And now we move into a time of meditation, so you might want to get into a comfy position where you can relax for 6 minutes or so – as after a few words from me, that will lead in to 3 minutes in silence – with our usual chalice flame quietly there for us to focus on if we want and our silence will end with piano music – Peter our pianist has taken Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies at a gentle pace to help settle us further – and on the screen we’ll see a slide show of flowers – put together for us by Jane Blackall.

Feel free to switch off your video for this section if you prefer, or close your eyes or soften your gaze and take one of those lovely breaths that go deep into the belly and as you release the breath you release some of the tension that all of us store – those muscles in our shoulders and backs, the tension in our faces, now is a time when we can let go, accept who we are and rest awhile in quietness as we enter the fellowship of silence together now. (sit and mute)


Music: Peter Crockford

Some Thoughts: Our o so human bunch of flowers

I want to start with some words from Ram Dass that have helped me over the years:

‘When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying, ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.’ Words from spiritual teacher Ram Dass.

What he’s describing is a vital aspect of choosing a spiritual approach to our living. Many people living in this world stick to their own tribe or family or nation or interest group or political party or football team. The tendency then is to distrust the outsiders, the people who look or sound different from us, those whose views of the world are different from our own. If we are truly to live our spiritual values we have to take steps towards those people who are different from us – at least in our thinking. When we find ourselves judging and assessing others – which of course is the task the human mind evolved to carry out – am I safe with this person or this group, are they a threat to me – if we’re on the spiritual path we’ll get a little reminder from time to time of the truth – that we are one people and we have to work on that oneness here in our own heads – in our habitual ways of thinking that need a shake up from time to time.

Norbert Capek who created the flower communion, died in a Nazi prison, Dachau, in the 2nd world war. He could have stayed safe in America when war broke out but he chose to go back to his congregation and he worked with others to bring Jewish refugees to places of safety. I suspect if Capek were alive today he’d point out to us that the rise in hatred and division that we are witnessing does have some parallels with Europe in the 1930s. I have these words written by journalist George Monbiot on my little noticeboard – he wrote ‘Beware of anyone who describes a human being as something other than human being.’ A quick look through some newspaper headlines will show us how the flames of fear and hatred are being fanned in this country of ours.

Almost every year when we hold our flower communion I quote words from Andrew Brown our Unitarian minister in Cambridge who says so much more clearly than I ever could why the flower communion is a powerfully symbolic act:

‘Taking a flower from this vase is not to engage in some pointless piece of nice liberal fluffy-bunny stuff and nonsense but to witness to your real intention to stand up to and face down the fascists, racists, religious and political bigots and extremists that are increasingly finding a place in our European societies. To take a flower is to signal your intention, like Čapek , to become watchmen and women standing on the crossroad warning people not to go back to barbarism and brutality and, at the same time, offering them a new way to be religious in our own age.’ Andrew Brown Minister with Cambridge Unitarians (from his blog – Caute)

Here in Britain in 2021 we have government ministers giving us textbook examples of what sociologists call ‘othering’ – the describing of groups of people in such a way that they seem alien or separate from us. It’s a remarkably effective technique and one that in truth we all use to define ourselves and our positions in the world. I’ve been doing it this week when I’ve made jokes about the G7 leaders – who are meeting in Cornwall here in Britain at the moment. They have such important work to do together as leaders of some of the most powerful countries of our world – and I really do hope and pray that they will make vital steps forward to seek resolution on some of the frighteningly serious problems of our time. When I mock them in their smart dark suits standing on a Cornish beach – I am ‘othering’ them. My ‘othering’ won’t do much harm. But ‘othering’ that comes from our government ministers and is repeated on the front pages of so many different news media – that matters a great deal. That will affect how some people will think about other people, will affect how some people will treat other people.

The spiritual task for us all is to return our thinking to our common humanity, shared with all people. If we are not saddened this week to hear of the body of a little 15 month old child being found on the coast of Norway – a child who drowned in the English Channel back in October last year with four other members of his family – Kurdish Iranians who had fled in the hope of finding a better life for themselves – if we are not saddened by this news then we have urgent work to do in reclaiming our humanity. That little boy was called Artin and he was described by family friends a very happy little boy.

It is because of lives cut short like Artin’s that we so need an image that includes all of us – just one bunch of flowers, one human race – containing flowers we may not like, flowers we may rightly have concerns about, flowers we may fundamentally disagree with. But we’re all in this vase of human existence together – and our lives are lived at so very different levels of privilege – now how shall we live? Thinking about that task of living together is going to be my spiritual exercise for the week ahead – perhaps you’d like to join me. And since it is Refugee Week here in Britain let’s make an effort to read everything we can find about refugees – and about the richness they bring to any society. Each of us has an ancestor who migrated. We are all in this story together. Amen

Hymn: There’s another opportunity to sing a hymn now but like all Unitarian activities this is optional. If you would rather just read the words that are going to appear on the screen soon that’s fine. These words were written just a few years ago by a Unitarian ministry colleague Bob Janis Dillon and he wrote them specially for a flower communion service like ours today. As we sing perhaps those of us who have a flower or plant with us can consider it as a single entity – knowing that it is part of a greater whole – the family of plants – so remarkably varied, with such differing attributes. Or let’s think of our favourite flowers – and our least favourite flowers – knowing that ours is a world that contains them all. Let this be our flower communion today. (check muted)

Hymn by Bob Janis Dillon (Tune: ‘Repton’)

When we are kind to one and all,
And plant compassion’s seeds,
We grow a garden, strong and tall
With beauty that keeps hearts in thrall,
Love rising from our deeds.

We flourish in the things we do
For others on the way,
Sweet virtue’s scent and kinship’s hue
Are found amidst the morning dew
That casts all fears away.

Community is only fair
If we can make it so,
With every act, our hands prepare
The soil of right and tender care
Where faith in good can grow.

If you’ll be human nature’s friend,
Then friendship shall ye reap,
The least of all the hearts you tend
Will all great temples’ truths transcend
And make the spirit leap.

Announcements: And so some announcements: My thanks go to John and Jeannene for all the focused background work of hosting today and to our pianist Peter Crockford. It’s been a pleasure to spend time with you here today. We’ll be back again next week for a 10am service here on Zoom, when Jane Blackall and Jef Jones are planning a beautifully meditative service on the theme of ‘wonder’. We’ve got a busy week ahead with a concert organised by Abby Lorimier our music scholar on Monday – both in person at church and on Zoom. There’s an in person Heart and Soul small gathering at church on Wednesday at 2pm – you need to book in advance for both the concert and Heart and Soul. You’re also welcome to join our 10.30 coffee morning on Tuesday – you can arrive unannounced for that. And our West London GreenSpirit group are holding a Summer Solstice gathering on Zoom next Monday 21st June. Details of all these events can be found in our weekly email or just ask me or Jeannene and we’ll send them to you. Thank you to everyone who has made a donation towards church running costs recently – they are much appreciated and help to keep our particular work going out in the world. Don’t forget we have a virtual coffee time to chat after the service if you’d like to join in – and we’d like to take a photo of us all as soon as the music ends, so do stick around if you don’t mind being in a photo.

We’re going to have some closing words in a moment followed by the classic tune An English Country Garden – I invite you to select gallery view on your screen now so that we can all see each other for the closing words and enjoy a feeling of connection in community.

Closing words, extinguish chalice: I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community. And I send the light of this candle out into the world that all lives might feel blessed by a sense of safety and plenty and being welcomed. May we who know such privileges in life never take them for granted but rather fill ourselves with a sense of gratitude that spills out to be shared with others – this day and all the days of our lives – and may this be so for the greater good of all.
Amen, go well all of you and blessed be.

Closing Music: ‘An English Country Garden’ played by Peter Crockford

Rev. Sarah Tinker

13th June 2021