People and Stone – 22/08/21
Opening Music: Gliere’s Intermezzo recorded by Abby Lorimier and Rachel Spence
The strength of the Earth is the stones
And the same is the source of our bones.
The Water flows across the ground
And within our blood.
The Air blows around the world
And brings us our breath.
The Fire streams forth from the Sun without ceasing
And sustains our lives.
By these elements
We are formed.
By our togetherness
The beauty of the Creation is expressed.
(adapted from a Thanksgiving for the Earth by Eric Williams)
Good morning everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ Sunday gathering here on Zoom. For those of you I’ve not met before I’m Sarah Tinker, until last year minister with this great congregation, and still very much committed to our community and its message of compassion, conscience and spirituality bringing us together – a message that you can see on this church mug which I’ve borrowed for a while. It’s good to see you all again. And I bid a warm welcome to all those who might be listening in to a podcast of this service in the future or watching on a YouTube video.
If you are with us on Zoom this morning 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 are opportunities to speak and sing if you want at several points in this gathering. But as in all Unitarian activities, you can choose to take part in a way that works best for you. Our theme for today is ‘People and Stone’ and I’ll be taking us on an exploration of how stone and humanity shape one another. But let’s begin by taking a gentle connecting breath together – in and out – and use this moment to get a sense of how we are this morning. (light chalice in silence)
This chalice flame connects us with the world wide community of Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists. And its one light reminds us that we are one people, living one life, on our one, precious, planet earth home.
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. Or you may have read in the church email a suggestion that today you might bring a glass or bowl of water and a stone instead and place your little pebble in the water to represent your joy or concern being placed into the care of this gathering. I’ll place a pebble here in this bowl for every person who shares an issue with us today.
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, visitors do feel free to join in – 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 Zoom host Jeannene and I will do our 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.
I have one more pebble here – to represent all the issues we haven’t spoken of today that we hold within us. You might like to pause for a moment and think of what really matters to you this day. Let’s remember how these joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, help to build our community – a community partly created I think through our shared journeys of faith through life.
Reading: ‘Mending the Broken World’ by Rev. Kathleen McTigue
In early September I stop to watch my neighbour at work repairing a stone wall that lines the road perpendicular to ours. Built as all the old field walls of our region have been built, the stones are held by balance and judicious choice rather than by mortar. The wall was built well, but the weight of many decades has broken it here and there, with some stones fallen out of place or carried away for some other use.
As I warm myself in the autumn sun and watch him work, I see that about half of what he does is simply look at the stones in their haphazard piles, stroking his chin in thought. Then from time to time he rolls one from the pile onto the ground and turns it from side to side, pondering, or walks back to study again the place in the wall he’s trying to mend. When he finally makes his choice, he’s sure. Each stone waits for the right opening, the place where its particular heft and shape fit as though cradled. Once in place, it is no longer merely a stone, but an essential piece of the wall, part of a larger thing taking shape as naturally as a tree flows from root to trunk to branch.
My neighbour is an ordinary working man, I know his name, and sometimes we talk together about life and horses and his willingness to help me haul manure to my garden one of these days before the first hard frost. But on this sunny September afternoon as I watch his eyes and hands become familiar with each stone and then lift it to shape the wall, it’s easy to imagine God at work in the immense universe, quietly humming, pulling our lives together into something strong and useful.
I don’t mean we’re mute or helpless, waiting passively for the great Stonemason to lift and move our lives or tell us where we belong. I mean only that there is a place for us, that our gifts — the shape of our minds and talents, the angles of our interest and concern — fit the needs of the world the way my neighbour’s stones anchor themselves in the lengthening wall. I mean that the world’s possibilities shift and change each time we put ourselves into building something large and strong and beautiful. Whether or not we find room in our theologies for the word God, the world itself calls us to imagine ourselves essential to this engaged holiness, bringing forth what is ours to give of creation and strength, toward mending the broken world.
A time of prayer and reflection for life’s rocky places:
Thank you Harold. The reading speaks of our ability to mend the broken world by being who we truly are, by accepting the shape of our talents and concerns and finding where they fit with others to build something large and strong and beautiful. Let’s take that image into a time of reflection and prayer now.
As I call on the spirit of all that is to guide our living in this world, that we might do the little we can with the little we have, and by joining with others create beauty and possibility.
In a week when many of us sorrow for the state of our world, let us think with deep compassion of those who are suffering in lands far away: the people of Afghanistan whose plight we see through the news media and whose fate our country has had so much involvement with – an involvement that some of us feel great shame about. May the governments of all countries do what they can to ease the suffering of the people of Afghanistan. We think too of the people of Haiti, one of the poorest places in the world – now having to deal with the aftermath of the terrible earthquake they suffered. And the people caught up in fighting in Ethiopia and all other places where people fight – may peace come for these people, may justice come for these people, may their right to be who they are be recognised.
Our collective human life on earth has so many jagged rocky places, may they be eased by love and compassion and collective action. In a few moments of stillness let us speak our own prayers for those suffering this day ……
And many of us know the rocky places of our own lives – the difficulties and burdens we carry or have to steer our way through. We know the rocky places that our friends and family members may be experiencing …. In a few moments of shared quiet let us pray for those people or seek comfort for the difficulties we are dealing with ……
Rocks and stones can be barriers and burdens – they can also be holders of great beauty and wisdom – may each of us find beauty amidst life’s tough times, may we learn and grow through the times when we stumble or stub our metaphorical toes on some blockage we have come up against.
And if life is hard and rock-like for you right now, may some counter-balancing softness touch you this day and to this aspiration we can all say if we so wish – amen – so may it be.
Hymn: ‘What Wondrous Love’
It’s time for our first hymn now and it’s called ‘what wondrous love’ – which comes from the American folk hymn tradition. There’s a line that goes ‘when I was sinking down, friends to me rallied round’ – if you find yourself sinking down in the weeks ahead do shout out to others or if you’re doing ok in life at the moment spare a thought for those who might not be having such a good time. The words will appear on our screens and we’ll all be muted so feel free to sing out loud or hum along – whatever feels right for you.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this
that brings my heart such bliss,
and takes away the pain of my soul, of my soul,
and takes away the pain of my soul.
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down beneath my sorrows ground,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul, O my soul,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul.
To love and to all friends I will sing, I will sing,
to love and to all friends I will sing.
To love and to all friends
who pain and sorrow mend,
with thanks unto the end I will sing, I will sing,
with thanks unto the end I will sing.
So we’ve reached the meditative part of the service now when we’ll have a good six minutes – the first part in silence and then leading into a series of photos and some music. We’ve recorded a different chalice flame for us to look at today. The flame is held in a glass bowl, with pebbles around it, standing on a wooden board with a marble backdrop. All these different elements brought together. And the slide show shows photos rock and stone, used in different ways by humanity or some in their natural forms. The music was recorded for us by Abby Lorimier.
You might want to use this meditative time to think of the rocks and stones that shape all our lives, what they mean to you, what it feels like to live on a planet with a molten core, encased in a hard mineral, which by its nature holds the deep history of our planet’s formation and billions of years of existence.
So let’s ready ourselves for this quiet time, feel free to switch off your camera, lie down for a while perhaps, ease your gaze or close your eyes. We can take one of those releasing breaths in and out, slowing our breathing and allowing it to ease and release some of the tension our bodies often hold, let’s be aware of the earth beneath us holding us steady, the air around us lifting us, helping us straighten our spines, encouraging our shoulders to move back and down, any facial tension of the cheeks and foreheads gently releasing, even the many small muscles in our feet and toes can enjoy a sense of release, of softening from the inside perhaps, of our bodies letting go for a while as we enter the fellowship of silence together.
Silence, Music and Slides: Abby Lorimier plays Judith Wear’s ‘make me a garment’
Address: People and Stone….
I wonder if any of you love stones as much as I do? I’d happily sit on a stony beach for quite a while, digging around and collecting pebbles with patterns and different shapes and colours. I try to stick to a rule now that I can only take one pebble back home with me from a beach walk – well maybe a pebble and a shell! So today’s theme of people and stone encouraged me to find my box of stones and some of them are taking an active part in the service.
I don’t know if we have any geologists with us today – if so, do please stay for coffee and a chat after the service today and tell us what we need to know – because my knowledge is limited. Geologists would generally speak of rock not stone – unless it’s a specific sort of stone like limestone or millstone grit – two of my favourites. The word ‘stone’ sometimes indicates that humans are involved – they have worked the rock in some way. But for us amateurs rock and stone may be interchangeable – they both refer to a hard, dense, mineral substance that is not metal.
Rocks and stones contain the deep history of our planet – they hold a record of its formation and of the tumultuous changes the planet has gone through over billions of years. I like to imagine the people in years gone by who stared at a cliff edge clearly showing different layers of rock, some of which turned on edge sharply or showed hard rock almost flowing into a layered pattern and wondered how these changes could have occurred. The different strata and the finding of fossil remains within certain rocks were the clue that led those early geologists to challenge the standard religious view of a God creating earth over seven days. It’s hard still for me to truly comprehend the great age of our planet and the miniscule amount of time we humans have been around. It’s frightening too isn’t it – to realise the damage we’re doing as we change the planet by our behaviours. Geologists now speak of us as living in the Anthropocene Age – the geological time in which humans are altering the planet, just as it has been altered before by natural forces – by earthquakes and volcanoes and ice ages and meteorites.
If any of you have spent time with young children you may know how popular dinosaurs are – how children like to collect fossils. It’s a way to understand that the earth has seen many species come and go, that we humans too are finite creatures, here for a while. I was delighted to see that Dippy the diplodocus is on tour this summer – have you met Dippy? – he was in the entrance hallway of the Natural History Museum for many years but now he’s set off round Britain and is currently in residence at Norwich Cathedral – till the end of October. Well, it’s not actually the original Dippy – his fossilised bones are safe in the museum – it’s only ever been a cast of his bones that’s been on show. But how many youngsters and even the not so young – have marvelled at his great size – and imagined him and so many other sizes and shapes of dinosaur walking the earth. Standing next to a diplodocus skeleton puts us in our place I like to think. And it made me smile to see the combination of dinosaur and cathedral – built of course, of stone. A truly magnificent structure – showing the beauty and complexity we humans are capable of creating.
We’ve done such a lot with stone haven’t we, us humans. From stone age tools – that spanned simplicity to complexity in their making, some showing such developed craft skills and determination. We now know that many flint tools were made in early factories, where people gathered together where the flint was found- and worked together to make weapons like arrowheads and tools to work the land – and then they would be traded for other goods. We’ve built stone circles and soaring cathedrals and rounded mosques, we’ve built prisons and homes and so much more. We have developed remarkable skills in building walls – to keep animals in or feared people out. We’ve dug deep into the earth and quarried stone and discovered how stones have such different qualities and therefore uses. We’ve dug deep mines and found deposits of precious stones, that have been made into jewellery, stones that have been traded and fought over and stolen and worn as jewellery.
We’ve used stones as metaphors in our writing and explored their symbolism for us. That really came across for me in the reading we heard from Harold earlier on. We are all as varied as the pebbles on a beach, or the stones used to build a dry stone wall. Wouldn’t we choose if we could to have this world as a place in which we recognise each and every person for their diverse gifts and attributes.
And we’ve used stone to express ourselves in artwork. The final image in our slideshow was from Iceland where land artist Richard Long had created a piece of work from the local rocks, so subtle that it’s hard to show where nature ends and the artist begins. They are inter-woven.
And perhaps that’s the message today – let us be ever aware of how we and the natural world inter-relate. Let’s be appreciative visitors to this planet earth that is our home, and let’s regularly delve into the messages that stones bring us – of deep time, of ancient history, of forces way beyond our imagining.
Hymn: ‘We’ll Build a Land’
There’s chance now to sing together now – a hymn that was sung last night at the opening worship for the week of Hucklow Summer School talks online. The worship was led by our very own Jane Blackall and was asking the question of ‘why we’re here’ us Unitarians. This was our closing hymn and its emphasis on building and re-building really connected for me with today’s them of stone and people. So let’s sing along or just enjoy reading the words that will appear on the screen to ‘We’ll build a land’
We’ll build a land where we bind up the broken.
We’ll build a land where the captives go free,
where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning.
O, we’ll build a promised land that can be.
Come build a land where sisters and brothers,
anointed by God, may then create peace:
where justice shall roll down like waters,
and peace like an ever flowing stream.
We’ll build a land where we bring the good tidings
to all the afflicted and all those who mourn.
And we’ll give them garlands instead of ashes.
O, we’ll build a land where peace is born.
We’ll be a land building up ancient cities,
raising up devastations of old;
restoring ruins of generations.
O, we’ll build a land of people so bold.
Come, build a land where the mantles of praises
resound from spirits once faint and once weak;
where like oaks of righteousness stand her people.
O, come build the land, my people we seek.
And now we have some announcements: My thanks go to Jeannene and John for all the behind the scenes work of hosting this Zoom gathering today. Writing a service seems a piece of cake compared with the demands of Zoom hosting.
Thanks to all of you for being here today. This congregation has a life beyond Sunday mornings and we can all look out for each other so why not reach out with a text or an email or come along to one of our other gatherings so we can get to know one another better.
Opportunities to get together this week include our Tuesday coffee morning. And there’s still time to sign up for the Summer School events which are happening on line – the first talk is on Monday evening. You need to register for these by email, you can then attend the service and talks either live online or watch them later. They’ve an inspiring theme for 2021: ‘Why Are We Here? Discerning our Unitarian Mission in an Upturned World’.
Thank you everyone who has made a donation recently or taken out a standing order. Every bit helps in these difficult times for all organisations and charities. To make a quick payment just go to our Kensington Unitarians website and on the front page there’s a Donate button to click on. Or you’ll find the details needed to make an online banking payment or set up a standing order.
At the end of the service, after our closing music, we invite you to stay for a chat over a cuppa, if you don’t need to dash off. For our closing words, I suggest we all click on gallery view on our screens so we can see us all in community together. And let me tell you a bit about our closing music – sung for us in a video by David Kent, good friend to our congregation and a generous provider of music for Unitarian groups. The words were written by the minister of our York congregation Stephanie Bisby and they are about the village of Great Hucklow up in the Peak District where we have a Unitarian holiday and conference centre called The Nightingale Centre. This where the Hucklow Summer School usually happens – it’s been running every August since 1995. Hucklow is a marvellous place – I’d like to take you all there sometime and show you the limestone walls – with stones filled with tiny fossilised sea creatures. –And our closing words today …
I extinguish the light of this chalice but not the warmth of this community. May our togetherness help to warm a world that is sometimes cold and unwelcoming, may our community be open and inclusive. And when we find that life’s brightness is diminishing for us, let us remember how shiny pebbles become when placed in water, like these. We too can engage with the elements of life, and remember from whence we came – all part of the great mystery of all that is. So go well this day and all days, blessed be all of you and amen.
Closing Music: Great Hucklow sung by David Kent and written by Stephanie Bisby
Rev. Sarah Tinker
22nd August 2021