Crying for Help – 19/09/21

Opening Music: ‘I Wish I Knew How’ performed by Abby and Sue Lorimier (1.31)

Opening Words: ‘May our Spirits be Renewed’ by Gary Kowalski

In this quiet hour may our spirits be renewed.

In this gathering of friends may we be ready to extend ourselves
to those in need, and with trust to receive the hand that is offered.

In this community of ideals may we remember the principles that guide us
and reflect upon those things that give meaning to our lives,
renewing our dedication to serve the highest that we know.

In this time of worship,
may our minds be open to new truth,
and our hearts be receptive to love,
as we give thanks for this precious life we are blessed to share.

These opening words by Gary Kowalski welcome all those who have gathered on Zoom this morning to take part in our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today – particularly the contingent from Brighton Unitarians who are joining us on a virtual away-day – 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 I’ve just completed ministry training at Unitarian College, so (all being well) I’m a few weeks away from officially becoming a Minister.

If you are here for the first time today – we’re especially glad to you have you with us – welcome! I hope you find something of what you need here – a bit of consolation or spiritual uplift perhaps. 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 more organically and get a rounded sense of the congregation. And if you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come each Sunday. Even on Zoom, we have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, this sense of community. So whoever you are, however you are, know you are welcome in this space, just as you are.

As we always say, feel free to do what you need to do to be comfortable this hour – it’s always lovely to see your faces in the gallery and get a sense of our togetherness as a community – but we know for some it will feel more comfortable to keep your camera mostly-off and that’s fine. Similarly there’ll be opportunities to join in as we go along there’s no compulsion to do so. You can quietly lurk with our blessing – you know how to find us if you want to say hello later.

This morning’s service is titled ‘Crying for Help’. In this service we will reflect on the experience of reaching out to others when we are struggling and in need, and the experience of being the one who hears another’s ‘cry for help’, as at some time or another in life we will likely find ourselves in both positions. This theme came out of a conversation that the members of the congregation’s Pastoral Network had over the summer and it’s a counterpoint, a part two perhaps, of the service on ‘Caring’ that members of the Pastoral Network led back in the spring. In a community of caring we need to think about the relation between the helper and the helped.

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 are people of all ages who enter this space
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 our 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.

(candles – thank each person)

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 now, which will be based on some 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.

Prayer: based on words by Bruce Southworth

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. (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 and the common good.

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. (pause)

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. (pause)

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. (pause)

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’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society

Time for our first hymn, ‘When I am Frightened’, performed by the Unitarian Music Society. In a way, this hymn reflects the sort of inner narrative we might have going on when we are struggling – when we need to cry for help – when we are scared, uncertain, angry, troubled, lonely, in a mess. And it reminds us what we might most helpfully offer to those in need – compassion, acceptance, comfort, commitment. 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 kept muted so nobody will hear you.

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.

Reading: ‘On Facing the Inevitable’ by Richard S. Gilbert (read by Sonya)

There is a story of a little girl sent by her mother on an errand. When she finally returned, her mother asked what took her so long. A friend had broken his bicycle and she had stopped to help. Her mother said, “But you don’t know anything about fixing bicycles.” “I know”, the little girl said. “I stopped to help him cry.”

We come here in the presence of the Ultimate Mystery, knowing we are bound by the inevitabilities of life. Determined as we are to “fix” things, to make all things right, to display our mastery over fate, in our wiser moments we know our limits. Sometimes, all we can do is sit in the presence of one another and cry.

Always we are trying to assert ourselves in the face of life’s difficulties. We need to feel that we can overcome them, that we can triumph over adversity. Sometimes, in the face of the imponderable, all we can do is sit with another and love.

We are all too human in our need to feel our superiority to the things of nature. Neither beasts nor flowers of the field are we, rather the crowning glory of creation. We are also creatures who have only begun to explore our limits. Sometimes, in the face of the unchangeable, all we can do is sit with another and laugh.

May we forgive our arrogance, understand our pride, be gentle without presumptions. It is only that we are human, that our reach exceeds our grasp, that we try so hard to be gods. In the face of the divine, all we can do is stay with one another and be human.

Meditation: ‘We Need One Another’ by George Odell

Thank you Sonya. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to share a few words by George Odell, words that might be familiar to some of you, to take us into a time of meditation. We use them quite often here, but I make no apology for that, as it’s an important reminder. These words will be followed by a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen. The silence will come to an end with a piece by our music scholar Abby Lorimier and her mum Sue. 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 ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes as we let these words from George Odell take us into a time of stillness:

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.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘Autumn in New York’ performed by Abby and Sue Lorimier (2.13)

Reading: ‘Love Is the Last Thing to Ration’ by Erika A. Hewitt

I’ve got an extra reading for you today. This is a piece by Unitarian Universalist minister Erika Hewitt, from their Braver/Wiser series, you can sign up on the UU website to receive a mini-reflection like this in your inbox every Wednesday which I highly recommend.

This reflection is called ‘Love is the Last thing to Ration’ and it begins with a quote from Brené Brown who writes: “Empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There’s more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbour who’s going through a divorce.”

Erika Hewitt continues with a story from her own life: When I picked up her call, Kira’s voice was thick with tears. Kira, one of my best friends, is the mother of 4-year old twins, working full-time, and grieving a recent divorce—which means she’s also learning how to be a single parent.

“I lost it tonight,” she confessed in a rush. “The kids pushed me over the limit at bedtime. I yelled and then I started sobbing so hard that I had to sit on the floor. I hate that my children had to see that. I’m so overwhelmed.” I listened as Kira continued: “…but I work with a woman who lived through the Bosnian war, and she’s still smiling, so I figure I should be able to do this. I should be grateful and stop complaining.”

I’m not a parent, but I recognize the voice of this particular demon all too well. Your pain isn’t legitimate, it taunts. Sorrow is a competitive sport, and you’re a loser. Only when I’m upright again do I manage to tell that demon to take a flying leap.

Pain is the most common human experience, along with our bodies’ primeval appetites. From my own intimate history with sorrow, pain is also the human experience we most exert ourselves dismissing or secreting away—for many reasons, real and imagined. What a loss it is to diminish our sorrow or fear, rather than bringing it to the companions and helpers that we trust, and to the proving ground of vulnerability between us.

I believe that we’re all entitled to our pain—that there’s no hierarchy of grief or fear, in which someone else’s pain invalidates our own. If anything, giving voice to our pain metabolizes it; we come to hold it instead of it holding us. Better yet, sorrow is an invitation to recalibrate our hearts so that we can view one another with both more gentleness and a sense of recognition: You too? Me too! It’s like a homing device, pinging out our longing for connection.

My wish for all of us wounded, scared human beings is that we remain watchful for those who would frame compassion as “a pizza with eight slices” rather than its true nature: mysterious and abundant; the place where we knit ourselves into each other’s’ lives; and evidence of our inherent wholeness.

Erika Hewitt concludes with a few words of prayer: Compassionate One whose arms hold the struggling single mums and everyone else too, may I never dole out my love in small slices, but instead draw from the deep well of goodness, empathy, and compassion that you provide to us.

Short Reflection: ‘Crying for Help’ by Jane Blackall

Earlier in the year, following the retirement of our minister, we decided to start a new venture – a Pastoral Network – in hope of being a bit more intentional about sharing out the responsibility for pastoral care in the congregation, during this time of transition, and hopefully for the long-term too. This isn’t something we’ve done before, and though we did our homework, and sought advice, being eager to learn about how this sort of thing works in other churches, it also got us reflecting on our own prior experiences of giving and receiving support – that is, the seven of us who are currently involved in running the Pastoral Network: me, Jeannene, Chloë, Sonya, Pat, Marianne, and Michaela – over the summer we got into an important conversation together about the relationship between ‘the helper’ and ‘the helped’ and how, in the end, we are all a bit of both. Some days we’re more aware of our struggles and needs, and we’re the one crying for help, other days we’re more aware of our strengths and gifts, and we’re in a position to respond to others’ cries. Perhaps most days we might find ourselves a mixture, somewhere in the middle.

That was the key thing that came out of the conversation in our Pastoral Network meeting and the insight that inspired the topic of this service. None of us thought of ourselves as specially set apart ‘helpers’ – just by virtue of being human, we all have plenty of our own troubles to worry about – ultimately we’re just as much in need of help as anyone who might come to us for a listening ear. So we know how hard it can sometimes be to reach out and ask for the help we need when we are struggling – especially if we feel like we’re the only one – if we’ve got the (probably mistaken) impression that everyone else seems to be coping just fine with everything life throws at them.

The reading we just heard, by Erika Hewitt, highlighted one of the things that might sometimes inhibit us from asking for the help we need: this sense we might have that others have got it worse, so we’re not entitled to make a fuss, and we ought to suck it up or ‘keep calm and carry on’ without ‘bothering’ anyone; as Erika Hewitt’s friend said, after her toddler had a meltdown, which pushed her over the limit: ‘I work with a woman who lived through the Bosnian war, and she’s still smiling, so I figure I should be able to do this, I should be grateful and stop complaining.’ But as Hewitt reflects, ‘Pain is the most common human experience… [and also] the human experience we most exert ourselves dismissing or secreting away—for many reasons, real and imagined. What a loss it is to diminish our sorrow or fear, rather than bringing it to the companions and helpers that we trust, and to the proving ground of vulnerability between us.’

So perhaps that’s the first part of this morning’s – pretty simple – message: an encouragement to be authentic with each other about the realities of our lives, in all their complicated shadings, and not to pretend we’re OK when we’re not. To cry out for help when we are in pain or distress. Our sufferings, our vulnerabilities, often turn out to be our deepest points of human connection. But a lot depends on how we respond when we hear another’s cry for help. When someone is struggling, even if they reach out to us, it is not always obvious what sort of help is needed.

When I was preparing this service I was reminded of this lovely cartoon from (which describes itself as ‘a comic about creatures who are kind’ – my favourite sort of comic). One creature says ‘I have a sad’ and the other asks ‘are you looking for solutions or comfort?’ The sad creature replies ‘I would like to be angry, then sad, then comforted, then adventure for solutions, then giggles’ to which his excellent friend and helper enthusiastically says ‘let’s start!’

This little cartoon tells us something important, I think. For many of us, when someone comes and tells us of their pain and distress, or some difficult stuff that’s going on in their lives, there’s an understandable human urge that arises to want to ‘fix’ the problem that we’re hearing about. We might have an urge to offer advice, or share similar experiences that we’ve been through, and it’s not that these responses are necessarily wrong, but they’re not always what is required. Often the person coming to us in pain might want, primarily, to be heard; to have their story listened to, and empathised with, to experience a sense that their suffering has been witnessed. As in our first reading, by Richard Gilbert, maybe someone needs us to stop and help them cry. Sometimes the person might be looking for practical help or advice, sometimes for distraction, sometimes simply for human connection and a sense of solidarity through the struggles of life. If in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to ask: ‘Do you want me to get involved, offer advice, or just listen?’ I expect most of us here this morning are familiar with the Golden Rule – ‘Treat others as you would wish to be treated’ – but I don’t know how many are familiar with the Platinum Rule? ‘Treat others as they would wish to be treated’. Take the time to find out about their needs. Their preferences.

So perhaps that’s the second key part of this morning’s message – when we hear another’s cry for help let’s be sensitive about how we respond – rather than assuming we know what’s best. At the same time, though, we need to be honest about what sort of help we’ve got it in us to give. If, in the moment we hear someone else’s cry for help, our own resources are particularly low, we’d better not over-promise about how much support we’re realistically going to be able to offer. And that’s something I’ve been especially aware of since the early days of the pandemic: pre-2020 I always tended to think ‘well, I’m having a bad day, but there are loads of people I could text to share my woes and get support, we’re not all going to be having a meltdown at the same time’. But last year when the pandemic struck, and it seemed like the end of the world as we knew it, we were all having a meltdown at the same time, and many of us didn’t have much surplus ‘cope’ to spare. And although, to some extent, many of us have got accustomed to the ‘new normal’ since then, I still get the impression that the cumulative impact of the last eighteen months has left us weary and spread rather thin. So it seems wise to check in with ourselves and make an honest assessment of our limits as a helper – especially as, at any given moment, we are likely to be dealing with our own ‘stuff’ too – we are each, after all, both helper and helped, so we need to keep an eye on our own self-care needs too.

That’s the third and final bit of my message for you today – yes, let’s help each other as best we can, but let’s also accept our human limits in the face of the endless need we’re all too aware of in this broken, hurting world – and, in moments when it’s all too much for us to carry, let us cry out in prayer and lamentation, to the One who holds all in Love.

To borrow a famous phrase from Martin Luther King, we are all caught in an ‘inescapable network of mutuality’ with all humanity – and indeed with all creation – in an interdependent web of life. Each of us both helper and helped; the one who cries out in pain and the one who hears the cry. And all of us, held in a larger reality in which we live and move and have our being – and in which we can perhaps find some ultimate solace – that source of all being which some of us call God.

In that spirit I’d like to end this reflection with a reprise of those words from George Odell that we heard earlier on, from today’s meditation, ‘We Need One Another’. And I’m going to put them up on screen now, and invite you to speak them out loud, as an acknowledgement of the struggles we all face in life, and an affirmation of the great gifts we can be to each other, if we have the courage to be vulnerable, and we open ourselves to give and receive in a spirit of love.

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. Amen.

Hymn: ‘The Tides of the Spirit’ sung by the Unitarian Music Society

Our second hymn is another lovely, gentle one, ‘The Tides of the Spirit’, by the Unitarian Music Society. For me it connects with this sense of showing up as ourselves, as best we can, and being open and receptive in this dance of giving and receiving. Feel free to sing along or just listen.

We come as we are to worship and pray,
Unsure of ourselves, unsure what to say
O may we be patient and willing to be
Receptive and open to hear and to see.

The God of our life is ever at hand
But not to be called by our proud command;
The tides of the spirit have their ebb and flow
And we must be patient and move as they go.

O let us be glad and hungry of heart
To wait upon God and learn our own part,
To give life the best of the powers we have
As servants of life and clear channels of love.


Just a few brief announcements this morning: Thanks to Maria for hosting, Sonya for reading, and Abby and her mum for lovely music. Also to Jeannene for all her behind-the-scenes organising.

Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service, to chat in small groups, if you’d like. If that’s not your thing, as I said at the start of the service, do get in touch via email if you’d like to introduce yourself, as it’s harder to get to know people during online services. 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 our good friend Michael Allured from Golders Green Unitarians will be joining us to co-lead the service. Do feel free to share the link with your friends.

As ever there are a number of opportunities to connect congregationally in the week ahead: Coffee morning 10.30 Tuesday – always excellent conversation – newcomers always welcome. Heart & Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering – on ‘Repetition’ – tonight and Friday at 7pm. Even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start. And by popular demand Brian’s poetry group will be back in a few weeks on Tuesday 5th October – details in the Friday email – do have a word with Brian and let him know if you’re planning to come along. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch during the week, drop each other a line, let’s look out for each other as best we can, especially while we’re online.

Another event on the horizon I’m particularly keen to let you know about is my ordination and valediction service which will be taking place on Zoom at 7pm on Friday 8th October. I’d love to have you there to help me celebrate the completion of my ministry training. I can’t quite call myself Rev. yet, not officially, but I’m looking forward to my big day and to sharing it with you. I’ll include all the details in the Friday email a bit nearer the time so please do save the date.

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 each other and get a sense of our gathered community as we close.

Benediction: based on words by Cynthia Landrum

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: ‘A Foggy Day’ performed by Abby and Sue Lorimier (2.33)

Jane Blackall

19th September 2021