Shining Lights – 17/10/21

Opening Music: ‘The Light of the Spirit’ by David Kent and Anita Hale (1.14)

Opening Words: ‘This Faith’ by Heide Cottam (adapted)

Let us be a faith that gathers, reaching out for one another
through the walls of hatred and suspicion others build,
through the cages of ignorance and arrogance,
and through the fear that stalks our streets.

Let us be a faith that sees a vision of a better world:
More compassionate, more just, more holy,
and guided by a liberating Love.

There is a faith that binds up the broken,
tends battle wounds with the balm of peace,
sings longer and louder than those who would divide us –
let us be that faith, too. A faith of solidarity.

Let us be the ones who do not turn away,
but light up this world with truth and love,
who hold up the mirror of worth and dignity,
who are the sanctuary others seek.

But first: Let us be a faith that worships together.
Here. This morning. In this sacred space.
At this moment. Let us be a faith.

These opening words from UU Heide Cottam 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, also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching on YouTube. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, I’m Ministry Coordinator with Kensington Unitarians, having previously been a member of this church for 22 years.

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 ‘Shining Lights’. We’ll be reflecting on the ‘lights of our lives’ – those people we’ve encountered along the way, who have shown us love, truth, and goodness – people who have inspired us to live according to higher values and help to build a better world. Not necessarily saintly people! But all those who’ve helped illuminate our path through life a little. Later on I’ll invite you to name and honour a few of these significant souls. And perhaps we’ll also dare to look at the possibility that each of us might be a ‘shining light’ to those around us too…

Chalice Lighting: ‘Nurture This Precious Light’ by Naomi King (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.

Our chalice lighting words are a responsive piece by UU Rev. Naomi King and I invite you, if you wish, to join in with the refrain which simply goes: ‘Nurture this Precious Light’.

How shall we begin to live out our free faith?
Nurture this precious light.

When we do, we are beacons of freedom creating
a safe place to rest, explore, and innovate.
Nurture this precious light!

How we keep this lamp of truth and justice affects how and whether
we are transforming inequity through witness and action.
Nurture this precious light.

As we nurture this precious light together, we become a light of hope
turning isolation into community, anguish into peace, sorrow into joy.
Nurture this precious light.

As we do, our faith burns a steady flame of innovation,
banishing illusion, creating a new and renewing way together.
Nurture this precious light!

With our living connections, with our glowing stories,
with our flame of freedom moving hand to hand, we
nurture this precious light.

Together, we turn this world from bleak to bright, one flame, one fire, one light at a time.

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 Linda Hart.

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 Linda Hart

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)

You are with us always – in our joy, in our sorrow,
in our triumphs, and when our grand plans fall flat –
when all we do just seems to turn to muck and loss,
when the world brings us to hopelessness and despair.

Open our eyes, our hearts to what is around, in the midst of
the struggle, illumine the wisp of truth that resides there, too;
in the midst of our failures, give us the strength and the courage,
to see what can be learned, to use what we have gathered.
Though we may pray that unguarded prayer
for life without trouble, without worry,
without all the difficulties and disasters,
hear the deeper prayer beneath that prayer:
that we might sift the events of our days
and offer our thanksgiving – despite it all –
for what can be gained,
for what can be celebrated,
if it is only thanks for that which sustained us,
if it is only for the lesson in humility and compassion,
if it is only for the relief at the end.

May we be renewed in our search
to find the gifts of our life moment on moment,
that we may live in gratitude, in compassion, and in love. (pause)

And in a quiet moment now, let us look back over the week just gone,
to take stock of it all – the many everyday cares and concerns of our own lives –
and concentric circles of concern rippling outwards to the many lives which touch our own.
Let’s take a little while to sit quietly in prayer with that which weighs on our hearts this day.

(pause – 30s)

And let us also take a moment to notice all the good that has happened in the past week –
moments of uplift and delight; beauty and pleasure; all those acts of generosity and kindness.
There’s lots to be grateful for. So let’s take a little while to sit quietly in prayer and give thanks.

(pause – 30s)

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: ‘The Flame of Truth is Kindled’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society

Time for our first hymn, ‘The Flame of Truth is Kindled’, performed by the Unitarian Music Society, with words that celebrate our symbol of the chalice flame and all it stands for: our values of truth, and love, and the search for meaning. 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 though.

The flame of truth is kindled,
our chalice burning bright;
amongst us moves the Spirit
in whom we take delight.
We worship here in freedom
with conscience unconstrained,
a pilgrim people thankful
of what great souls have gained.

The flame of thought is kindled,
we celebrate the mind:
its search for deepest meaning
that time-bound creeds can’t bind.
We celebrate its oneness
with body and with soul,
with universal process,
with God who makes us whole.

The flame of love is kindled,
we open wide our hearts,
that it may burn within us,
fuel us to do our parts.
Community needs building,
a Commonwealth of Earth,
we ask for strength to build it –
a new world come to birth.

Story: ‘A Lamp in Every Corner’ by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer

Are you sitting comfortably? In a change to our usual programme I’m going to read you a story. It’s from a book of Unitarian Universalist stories for children but I think we can say ‘children of all ages’ can’t we? It’s not an especially dramatic story – not much peril, doesn’t suit my temperament – but it’s rather charming. And it’s a bit longer than our usual readings – about 8 minutes I reckon – so settle in. This is called ‘A Lamp in Every Corner’ and it’s written by Janeen K. Grohsmeyer.

Many years ago in the land of Transylvania, in a mountain valley watered by quick rushing streams and shadowed by great forests of beech trees, there was a village of small wooden houses with dark-shingled roofs. The people in the village were of the Unitarian religion, and they wanted a church of their own. A church set on the hillside, they decided, looking down upon the village as a mother looks down upon her sleeping child.

So all the people of the village laboured long and hard to build themselves a church. The stonemasons hammered sharp chisels to cut great blocks of grey stone, then set the stones into stout and sturdy walls. The glaziers made tiny glass panes and fitted them neatly into the windows with leaded lines. The foresters sawed tall beech trees into enormous beams and laid the trusses for the ceiling, then covered the roof with close-fitting wooden shingles that wouldn’t leak a drop of rain. The carpenters carved wood for the pair of wide-­opening doors, setting them on strong pegs so that the doors hung straight and square. A bell was brought from a faraway city, then hoisted by ropes with a heave and a ho to the top of the tower. The weavers wove fine cloths for the altar table, cloths embroidered with flowers and edged with lace. The smiths hammered black iron into tall lamp stands and hammered thin bronze into shining oil lamps.

Finally, when the building of the church was done, the painting of the church could begin. The painters mixed bright colours: royal red and shimmering gold and brilliant blue, and everyone in the village—old and young, women and men, and people of all sorts — joyfully came to decorate their church. They painted flowers. They painted trees. They painted designs around the windows and different designs around the doors.

And at the end of the day, when it was finished—when their church was finally done—all the people of the village stood back to admire it . . . and then to sing, a song of happiness and praise. Their village had a church now, a church set on the hillside, looking down upon the village as a mother looks down upon her sleeping child.

Everyone was hungry after their long day’s work. So an elder of the village announced “We will go and eat now! And later tonight, we will come back to pray.”

So the people of the village went down the hillside to their homes and their suppers, all except one little girl named Zora and her father, who stayed behind. They had brought their own bread and cheese. They ate their food slowly, sitting on the grass on the hillside and admiring their new church with its strong stone walls, its tall tower, and its magnificent bell.

After they had eaten, they went back inside, opening those carved wooden doors to go into the gloriously painted sanctuary inside. Zora ran from picture to picture, with her footsteps echoing off the stone walls. She stopped in the centre of church and twirled slowly around. “Oh, look, Father! See how pretty the church is! See how grand!”

“Yes, it is,” said her father, looking around and nodding with pride. “Yes, it is.”

“But, Father,” she said suddenly, “we have not finished!”

“What do you mean?” he replied.

Zora explained: “There are tall iron lamp stands all along the walls, but there are no lamps! The church will be dark when the people come back.”

“Ah no, little one,” said her father. “The light of the church comes from its people. You shall see!” He rang the bell to call the people to worship, then took his daughter by the hand and led her back outside. They waited on the grassy hillside, next to their beautiful church of strong grey stone.

The sun had set behind the mountains, and night was coming soon. Yet in the growing darkness, tiny points of light came from many directions and moved steadily up the hill. Her father explained. “Each family is entrusted with a lamp, little one. Each family lights its own way here.”

“Where is our family’s lamp?” Zora asked.

Her father replied: “Your mother is carrying it. She will be here soon.”

The many lights moved closer together, gathering into one moving stream, all headed the same way, growing larger and brighter all the time. Zora’s mother arrived, bearing a burning oil lamp in her hands. The father lifted Zora so she could set their family’s lamp high in its tall iron stand. All around the church, other families were doing the same. Soon the church was ablaze with light in every corner, for all the people of the village had gathered to pray and to sing.

All through the worship service, Zora watched the lights flicker and glow. She watched her family’s lamp most of all. When the service was over, her father lifted her high. She took the shining bronze lamp from the lamp stand. Its curved sides were warm and smooth in her hands. Her mother carried the lamp home, with the flame lighting the way.

The lamp flame lit their house when they returned home. Zora washed her face and got ready for bed by the light of that flame. Zora climbed into bed and lay down. “Mother…” she began.

“Yes, little one?” her mother asked, tucking the red wool blanket around Zora’s shoulders.

“Father said the light of the church comes from its people.”

“Yes.” Her mother agreed.

“But also, the people take their light from the church! And we have that light every day.” Over on the table by the fireplace, the shiny bronze lamp was still burning.

“Yes, indeed,” said her mother. “And even when we are not in church, even when the lamp is not lit, we carry the light of truth in our minds and the flame of love in our hearts to show us the right way to be. That light—the light from truth and love—will never go out.”

“Never?” asked Zora.

“Never,” said her mother. “And this bronze lamp will last for many, many years. When you are grown, we will give the bronze lamp to you, and when your children are grown, you will give the lamp to them, and all of you will carry it back and forth to church every time.”

“But there is only one lamp,” Zora said.

“So make another, and let the light grow. Tell your friends to do likewise. And, someday, tell your children to make more lamps, too. And now goodnight,” her mother said and kissed Zora once on this cheek and once on that cheek and once on the forehead. Zora closed her eyes and drifted into dreams, while her mother looked down upon her sleeping child.

The years passed; Zora grew. The bronze lamp came into her care. She kept it polished and clean, and when the bell rang out across the valley to call the people to worship, she carried the lamp back and forth to the church on the hillside, the flame always lighting her way. When the time came, she made more lamps and gave them to her children, who made more lamps and gave them to their children, and so it went, on through the years, even until today.

And always, the light of truth and the flame of love from that Unitarian church on the hillside continued to grow and show them—and us—the way.

Meditation: ‘Shining Lights’

We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer just a few words on the theme of ‘Shining Lights’ to take us into the silence. There will be 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 wonderful chant by vocal activist Melanie DeMore called ‘Shine on Me’. Melanie introduces the chant herself – she recorded this for the Unitarian Universalist Association last year – I encourage you to join in with it at home (as she says it’s a chant to ‘put in your medicine bag’ for hard times). 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 for a while.

And let’s reflect on people who have been ‘shining lights’ in our lives. Not necessarily saintly people – just ordinary people – people like us – who have encouraged and inspired us for a little way along life’s path. Bring to mind some of those special people in your life who have, perhaps, embodied the divine light for you; the light of love, and truth, and goodness. Let us honour and contemplate the ‘shining lights’ of our lives in this time of silence.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘Shine on Me’ led by Melanie DeMore (3.37)

Interactive Activity: ‘Our Shining Lights’

While preparing today’s service, I thought of the famous words of Albert Schweitzer, who said: ‘At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.’

We’ve got a little time in our service now for a few people, if you’d like, to name and honour some of those people who have kindled our light, those ‘Shining Lights’ we’ve been thinking of. I hope that by recognising the impact of these people in our midst we might also become more aware of the likelihood that we too might have the opportunity to be a ‘Shining Light’ for others.

If anyone would like to speak about someone, maybe a few sentences, a minute or so, like we do during Candles of Joy and Concern, please put your hand up and I’ll call on you and spotlight you. By default we will leave this bit in the recording so if you join in but don’t want to be included in the video that goes online please have a word with me straight after the service and I’ll edit you out.

(invite people to speak – won’t have time for everyone – may continue after)

If nobody else wants to speak I’ll bring this time to a close with a few words by Kent Nerburn: ‘We are not saints, we are not heroes. Our lives are lived in the quiet corners of the ordinary. We build tiny hearth fires, sometimes barely strong enough to give off warmth. But to the person lost in the darkness, our tiny flame may be the road to safety, the path to salvation. It is not given us to know who is lost in the darkness that surrounds us or even if our light is seen. We can only know that against even the smallest of lights, darkness cannot stand. A sailor lost at sea can be guided home by a single candle. A person lost in a wood can be led to safety by a flickering flame. It is not an issue of quality or intensity or purity. It is simply an issue of the presence of light. We all have light, no matter how faint and fragile, and it calls us to proceed as if it is our light that matters. Perhaps, it tells us, it is our light that will make a difference. Perhaps it will light up the dark corners of somebody’s life. Perhaps it will even help to lead a stranger home. Our task is simply to offer such illumination as we can in the darkness that surrounds us.’ Amen.

Hymn: ‘Walk in the Light’ sung by the Unitarian Music Society

Our second hymn is an old favourite, and a jaunty one to end: ‘The Spirit Lives to Set Us Free’, AKA ‘Walk in the Light’, sung by the Unitarian Music Society. Feel free to sing along or just listen.

The Spirit lives to set us free, walk, walk in the light. It binds us all in unity, walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, (3 times) walk in the light of love.

The light that shines is in us all, walk, walk in the light. We each must follow our own call, walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, (3 times) walk in the light of love.

Peace begins inside your heart, walk, walk in the light. We’ve got to live it from the start, walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, (3 times) walk in the light of love.

Seek the truth in what you see, walk, walk in the light. Then hold it firmly as can be, walk, walk in the light.
Walk in the light, (3 times) walk in the light of love.

The Spirit lives in you and me, walk, walk in the light. Its light will shine for all to see, walk, walk in the light
Walk in the light, (3 times) walk in the light of love.


Just a few brief announcements this morning: Thanks to Maria for co-hosting, all our musicians: David Kent, Melanie DeMore, and Marilisa Valtazanou, and everyone who contributed today.

Don’t forget we’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service to chat 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 Sarah will be here. 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: this afternoon there’ll be a ‘Getting to Know You’ walk in Holland Park meeting at 2pm. Pat is the person to look out for. If you haven’t already signed up with her but want to come do hang around after the service and make yourself known so you know exactly where to meet and she knows who to look after. Coffee morning 10.30 Tuesday – this week hosted by Liz and John – always excellent conversation – newcomers always welcome. Heart & Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering – on ‘Encounter – tonight at 7pm with me and on Friday with Rita and Alex. Even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start. And looking further ahead the GreenSpirit group are having a Samhain gathering on zoom on Monday 1st November at 7pm (apologies that I made a mistake with the date in the Friday email) Contact David/Sarah to book. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch and look after each other while we’re still mostly online. Preparations are still ongoing behind the scenes to move towards hybrid Sunday services and we appreciate your patience as we work on that. We need to get all the technology in place to do a proper job and it takes time.

I’m about to have some time off! Two weeks from tomorrow so I’ll see you all again in November. I’ve pre-scheduled the Friday emails with zoom links so it’ll look like I’m working but I hope to be as off-duty as possible so please bear with me if you email me as I might not see it straight away.

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 James Morison

Within each of our hearts there is a most glorious light.

Go forth, and let its spark help you
understand what troubles both you and others;

Go forth, and let its light of reason be a guide in your decisions;

Go forth, and bring its ray of hope to those in need
of help in both body and spirit, that they may find healing;

Go forth, and fan the flames of passion to help heal our planet;

Go forth, and spread the warm glow of love, pushing back the shadows;

Go forth, and share your glorious light with the world. Let it shine. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Shine’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (2.59)

Rev. Jane Blackall

17th October 2021