The Long View – 08/08/21

Opening Music: played by Peter Crockford (2.17)

Opening Words: ‘Holy is this Place’ by Maureen Killoran (adapted)

Blessed is this virtual space in which we gather. Holy is this place.

Holy are the places of memory,
the places which have formed us,
where we store the icons of success and shattered dreams
and gather threads and pieces of what we would become. . .
Holy are the places of memory.

Holy are the places of the dream, the places over the rainbow,
where all children are nurtured and all people are fed,
where diverse colours are the source of celebration
and youth and age come to the table as one. . .
Holy are the places of the dream.

Holy are the places of change and pain,
the places of our struggle and endurance,
where the rivers of our lives run choppy and fast,
and we hold on, hold on, and grow. . .
Holy are the places of change and pain.

Holy are the places of connection,
the places where we risk our selves,
where hearts touch hearts, touch souls, touch minds,
and in awareness still, we change our lives. . .
Holy are the places of connection.

Holy are the places of becoming,
the places of clear vision,
where life and world are intertwined
and we can see forever in this moment and give thanks. . .
Holy are the places of becoming.

Blessed is this virtual space in which we gather. Holy — and whole-making— is this place.

These words by UU Maureen Killoran 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.

If you are here for the first time today – a particular welcome to you – we’re glad you found us. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to introduce yourself if you’d like. Or you might think about coming to one of our small-group gatherings during the week as they’re a good way to get to know people and make connections. But there’s no pressure –it’s alright to quietly lurk – you don’t have to join in with anything – it’s fine to keep your camera switched off. We do like to see people’s faces as it helps us maintain a sense of community online but in the end we want everyone to feel comfortable. You know how to find us if you want to say hello later.

Welcome, too, if you’re a regular – welcome home – thank you for your commitment and care. Thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come, and for all the ways in which you look out for one another, in this community that has a life way beyond our gatherings on Sunday morning. We have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, in offering hospitality, even here on Zoom.

So whoever you are, however you are, know you are welcome in this gathering, just as you are.

This morning’s service, which I’ll be co-leading with Harold Lorenzelli, is titled ‘The Long View’. The theme was chosen entirely in Harold’s honour; he’s been a part of this congregation 50 years! So I’ve asked him to reflect on the perspective he’s gained by his long-standing commitment and involvement, through thick and thin, and we’ll hear what he has to say about that a little later on. More broadly, we’ll be reflecting on the stability we might gain from long-term attachment to a particular community, and the mix of continuity and change we will likely experience over the years.

Chalice Lighting: ‘We Come Together’ by Carol Meyer (adapted)

I’ll light our chalice now, 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 historic and progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

We gather this morning bringing our joys and our concerns. We come together in hope.

We greet each other warmly with our voices and our smiles. We come together in peace.

We light the chalice to symbolize our interdependence and unity. We come together in harmony.

We share our growth and our aspirations. We come together in wonder.

We share our losses and our disappointments. We come together in sorrow.

We share our concern and our compassion. We come together in love.

We come to this place bringing our doubts and our faith. We come together as seekers.

We sing and pray and listen. We speak and read and dream. We think and ponder and reflect.
We cry and laugh and share stillness. We mourn and celebrate and meditate.
We strive for justice and for mercy. We come together in worship.

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. If you are going to speak, please be aware of how long you’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. 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 candle to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… and let’s hold them – and each other – in compassion and loving-kindness as we move into an extended time of prayer based on some words from Harry Lismer Short. He was a prominent Unitarian minister who died in the mid-1970s, so these words are from at least 50 years ago, but there’s much about the human condition that doesn’t change, so they can still speak to us now.

So let’s each do what we need to do to get ourselves into the right state of body and mind for it – maybe shift your position, intentionally adopt a prayerful posture, whatever that looks like for you – close your eyes or soften your gaze – whatever helps you get your heart in the right place to be fully present with yourself, each other, and that larger presence which holds us all.

Prayer: based on words by Harry Lismer Short

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 presence within us and amongst us. (pause)

Here, on this quiet Sunday morning, we have gathered once again,
to seek something without which our lives would be strangely empty.
We cannot always put clearly to ourselves what it is we expect;
but we know that if our hearts are open and receptive,
there is a holy gift to be received from our presence here.

We have come with a sense of responsibility for the world in which we live.
We are deeply concerned about many things which seem to have gone sadly astray.
There are sorrows which touch the lives of others and fears which haunt our own days.
Conflict and unease reverberate amongst our communities, writ large and small.

We have come with a sense of responsibility for our own lives.
We have work to do, in the maintenance of our homes, relationships, and livelihoods.
Often we grow weary and discouraged, yet we know that others depend on us,
and we strive to be faithful and committed in our endeavours.

We have a sense of responsibility for this congregation too.
Much depends on our faith in these times of change and strife.

We have a sense of responsibility towards one another
and towards all those whose paths cross ours.
We can make or mar one another’s peace.
We can build one another up, or tear each other down.

We ask for light to see things in proportion;
and to see a little further forward on our way;
and we ask for strength, courage, and patience to walk in it.
We ask for kindness and compassion in our hearts,
to understand the needs of those who depend upon us. (pause)

And in a few minutes of quietness now, let us seek a higher perspective, a longer view;
starting right where we are, let us shift our awareness ever outward, in radiating circles of concern.

Let us bring to mind those we know to be struggling this day – perhaps including ourselves –
those friends and family we hold dearest – our neighbours in community –
others around the globe we may only have heard about on the news.
And let us take time to send prayers of loving kindness to all who suffer. (pause)

Let us look back over the last week, taking time to notice what was good, to count our blessings –
all the ways in which others helped or encouraged us, inspired or delighted us –
all the goodness and beauty we have known even in the mist of struggle.
And let us take time to give prayers of thanks for all we have been given. (pause)

God of all love, 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: ‘Let Love Continue Long’ (Unitarian Music Society)

Time for our first hymn, ‘Let Love Continue Long’, it’s got a simple message but one that never goes out of fashion really: it speaks of the power of love to see us through times of difficulty. The words will appear on screen so that you can sing along – or you might prefer just to listen – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all muted throughout so nobody will hear you.

Let love continue long,
And show to us the way,
And if that love be strong
No hurt can have a say;
And if that love remain but strong
No hurt can ever have a say.

If love cannot be found,
Though common faith prevail,
When love does not abound,
A common faith will fail.
When human love does not abound,
A common faith will always fail.

If we in love unite,
Debate can cause no strife:
For with this love in sight
Disputes enrich our life.
For with this bond of human love,
Disputes can mean a richer life.

May love continue long,
And lead us on our way:
For if that love be strong
No hurt can have a say.
For if that love remain but strong
No hurt can ever have a say.

Reading: ‘Where the Real Growth Happens’ by Alix Klingenberg

Today’s reading, by Unitarian Universalist minister Alix Klingenberg, reflects on the habit we humans sometimes have of making change for the sake of change in our lives, and introducing unnecessary drama. At this particularly moment in history, when we’ve got quite enough stress and trauma to be getting on with, perhaps we could do with reflecting on the value of stability. The piece opens with some words from the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, who famously said: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”

Alex Klingenberg continues: When things in my life are unmoored and emotional vertigo sets in, I like to watch mellow, low-stakes TV: things like The Great British Bake Off and predictable romantic comedies from the 90s. Shows that have essentially no conflict, outside of daily challenges, help me find my centre and give me something simple that I can count on.

One of my great frustrations is when a favourite show decides it’s time for a plot twist. I can almost imagine the room of writers chatting together and saying, “Things are getting stale; let’s switch things up before we lose our audience.” Suddenly the characters I’ve come to rely on begin to act completely out of character, places I love burn down, or relationships I cherish fall apart. “NO!” I scream at them from my bed (sometimes popcorn-throwing is involved).

I think about this often with regards to congregational life. As a minister, it’s easy to believe that what we do is getting stale. It’s easy to get bored with our own consistency, simplicity, and predictability. We get bored with what we’re creating, even if it’s exactly what our people need. We begin to hold meetings about how we can “switch things up,” as though we’re yelling PLOT TWIST! just as someone else’s life might be dealing them an unwelcome plot twist of their own. Often, what people need from us is a low-conflict, gentle place to land. They need The Great British Bake Off, with its gentle humour and scenes of baby lambs, not Game of Thrones.

I don’t think we should switch things up just to switch things up. I say this with humility, as someone who loves innovation and starting new things – I have to remind myself – just at the point when you’re getting bored, everyone else is beginning to see what it is you’re trying to do.

Change must come, and resisting necessary change is detrimental—but we (make that I) need to remember that changes can be powerful even when they’re subtle. When we can gently hold things steady, the changes come instead from within; that’s where the real growth happens.

Meditation: ‘The Long View’

We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer just a few words – a few things that you might like to ponder on this theme of ‘The Long View’– to take us into a time of shared stillness. This will be followed by a few minutes of silence, during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen, in case you like to focus on the flame. The silence will come to an end with some gentle music played by Benjie del Rosario and Peter Crockford (accompanied by some restful footage of clouds floating by – a new innovation! – as we don’t have a performance video). So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – have a wiggle if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to help ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes.

So as we enter into this time of meditation I invite you to consider your own ‘long view’.

Where are the sources of stability and steadiness in your life? What has been a regular fixture?
Are there communities, or places, or people that have been a constant for you, long-term?
If not, are there communities, or places, or people, you would like to commit to now?

Consider the ‘long view’ you have gained – or might yet gain – by cultivating such stability.
What, for you, are the gifts – and perhaps the challenges – of putting down such roots?
What has stayed constant – and what has changed, for better or worse – over the years?

In this time of silence, you might like to reflect on these questions, or meditate in your own way.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘Après un Reve’ played by Benjie del Rosario and Peter Crockford (2.48)

Reflection: ‘The Long View’ by Harold Lorenzelli

I wonder where you all stand when it comes to the notion of the shape our lives have taken. Obviously it’s a viewpoint that gains advantage with the passing of the years. Yet no matter what our pathway, however short or long, we can all look back on that period of time which constitutes our past and see a shape or indeed lack of one as we gaze back over our shoulder at what has become of our lives. It’s quite possible we may discern a pattern shaped by principles or design. It’s equally possible we may discover a shapeless, incoherent picture whose only impulses were random and arbitrary. Or perhaps a mixture of the two. Whatever the case, no-one would deny that while the present is in the making and the future a distant dream, we have all had a past.

Now, I hear you asking what has got into me this morning? Well, the fact of the matter is that for better or worse I have been associated with this church for almost exactly 50 years, give or take a month either side. I came because my partner at the time insisted I accompany him to his church on Sunday morning. The relationship floundered but I stayed on to join the choir when a vacancy for baritone came up. The rest is history, as they say. In the early days there was a great deal of sacred music but over the years we ventured also into secular music and more recently I was even persuaded by a member of the congregation to sing Fields of Gold. I loved it, as a matter of fact. Alas, over this last year my involvement in the musical tradition of the church has dwindled, a sad legacy of Covid. But there it is, my contribution to the musical life of the church is a fact.

Did I ever imagine I would be here after 50 years? No, to be honest. I didn’t plan it, it just happened. Yet I had discovered an environment that I fitted in with and found pleasure in a place where I could use my modest talents hopefully enhancing the experience of those who came to worship here. That may sound rather grand. It isn’t meant to. So, no grand plan, simply a series of small gestures, responding to a need and accumulating over time.

Many years ago, while she was ironing, I asked my mother what she thought we were put on this earth for. She paused and then said she thought she was there to look after myself, my brother and sister and, of course, Dad. She blushed as she spoke, modesty gaining the upper hand. Now, no-one, as far as I recall, has ever asked me that. In some respects it’s the sort of question you pose when living through significant events, when we are challenged by life. From great moments there emerge significant reactions. Yet life for some of us is often a response to events rather than led by some profound inner belief. Great tragedy and high comedy alike each in their turn elicit reactions which shape our inner lives. So, gradually, imperceptibly we become who we are, not necessarily influenced by some grand design, pulled this way and that along life’s uncertain pathway. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I have never felt a guiding hand. Let others judge me as they will, find me lacking in certain areas or abundant in other qualities. I leave it to others to make of me what they will.

It’s clear, however, from what I’ve said that this church has, to some extent, had a hand in making me what I have become. But what that is I’m never quite sure. In an idle moment a week or two back I was watching one of those programmes where people search for their dream home abroad. The couple involved kept changing their mind about what their priorities were as they moved from house to house. Eventually they found what they were looking for. Their guide made the remark that you never recognise your dream until you’re actually in it. Maybe that’s how it is with me. Things feel more or less alright at the present.

I’m reminded of the old Shaker song. One line goes thus: Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight. I was recently up in the Peak District area which is kind of middle England if you don’t know it. Beautiful rolling hills and valleys, magical streams running through the dales, lambs calling out to their mothers, dappled sun-shaded spots. That sort of thing. As I walked and drove around I was overcome with a sense of peace and serenity. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all rural idyll, I got lost several times and kindly strangers occasionally had to point me in the right direction. Nonetheless it was a blissful experience and I asked myself a question. Was the serenity I felt in me or in the natural landscape that was indeed balm to my soul. Whatever the case, for a few days, I felt at ease with myself and the world. We fitted in with each other, perfectly. I was right with myself and the place was right for me.

Reflecting on my place in this church I guess there has been a similar action at work. Just as distance lends perspective to our view of the world, just as those ancient landscapes found a response inside me, so looking back at my involvement with Essex Church, I have come to realise the importance of this place in my life thus far. So far, then, so good….or better still, not too bad….and so, I wish you all an excellent continuation of the day so far.

Hymn: ‘True Simplicity’ (Unitarian Music Society)

Thanks Harold. Time for us to sing once again – our second hymn is one that Harold just made reference to – ‘True Simplicity’ or ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple’. It’s one we used to sing a lot twenty-odd years ago, when I first came to the church, but not so much these days, and it’s about time we put that right. So feel free to sing along with the Unitarian Music Society (or you can simply listen).

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to know just where we want to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free;
‘Tis the gift to share our common destiny;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To greet all as friend we shan’t be ashamed:
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning, we come round right.


Just a few brief announcements this morning: Thanks to Harold for giving our address today, to Maria for co-hosting (and to Jeannene for all her invisible-but-essential work behind the scenes in training up our new Zoom hosts), and to Benjie and Peter for providing lovely music this morning.

As ever there are a number of opportunities to hang out and have a chat in the week ahead: Coffee morning 10.30 Tuesday – always excellent conversation – newcomers always welcome. Heart & Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering – on the topic of ‘Kindness’ – a few spaces left tonight and Friday at 7pm. In these sessions we can reflect on all the ups and downs of life together and share our collective wisdom. Regulars speak of the ‘Heart and Soul’ family because of the depth of connection they find there. There are details of all these events in the weekly email. And don’t forget you can be in touch via email anytime – do drop us a line to say hello.

And I also want to encourage you to reach out to each other during the week. This church very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings on Zoom and we can be a source of mutual support as we continue to process and deal with these incredibly challenging times that we’re going through. We might think to check in with each other during the week, with a text or email, or pop along to the online coffee morning or one of our other regular gatherings to connect with others. If you’re relatively new to the congregation these small groups are a great way to get to know us better.

I also want to remind you about a couple of national Unitarian events that are coming up. In a couple of weeks, on Saturday 14th August, there’s a one-day online gathering of the Unitarian Music Society, which will include hymn-singing, talks, a music quiz and more. And a week after that, starting Saturday 21st, is this year’s online Summer School. I’ll be leading the first night worship, and in the nights that follow we’ve got a great line up of speakers giving in-depth hour-long talks, on ‘Why Are We Here? Discerning our Unitarian Mission in an Upturned World’. Details of how to sign up for these events are in the weekly email; it’s free but please do book your place.

Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service if you’d like to stop and chat. And if you can bear it we like to take a group photo after the closing music so stick around. We’ll be back next week on Zoom at 10am when it’s Corrina and Sarah. Feel free to share the link with friends. I’ll be off the next two Sundays as I try to finish up all my coursework for the ministry training…

We’ve just got our closing words and music now. So I invite you to select gallery view at this point, if you can, so we can all see and connect with each other for the words of benediction.

Benediction: based on words by Enid A. Virago

Go, now, in peace.
Hold in your heart the certainty
That the Spirit of Life is always at hand;
The God of All Love goes with you.

When your heart is broken and your soul is weary,
When you are filled with gladness and soar with sweet joy,
You are never alone, never apart,
From the One that resides within us,
That guides our lives and cherishes us always.

Take comfort, friends. Go well and blessed be. Amen

Closing Music: ‘Memories’ performed by Benjie del Rosario and Peter Crockford (4.10)

Jane Blackall and Harold Lorenzelli

8th August 2021