Generations – 07/11/21

Opening Music: ‘Song without Words Op 19 no 4 – Mendelssohn’ by Sandra Smith (2.16)

Opening Words: ‘All of Us in the Arms’ by Angela Herrera

This is a prayer for a fresh, unremarkable day
A prayer to bring us to attention before the steadiness of the world
Sunrises and sunsets, back and forth,
Like the rocking of your grandmother’s chair,
Life coming and going, rising and falling,
Droning and beating like ancient music
And you, remarkable for your ordinariness within it,
And your thinking about it, and your yearning for meaning.

You, dependent, spun into the interdependent web, confined to a body.
You, independent, conscious, free,
and so sometimes also lonely, but unconfined in spirit.
This is a prayer for you, for your well-being,
your peace, your deep peace,
And for everyone you love, and for their well-being,
And for the friends we haven’t met yet
And for the strangers we’ll never meet,
Though we are closer to them than we think,
All of us, in the arms of the earth,
Our mother, with her rocking and singing.

These opening words from Angela Herrera 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 congregational service is titled ‘Generations’. Through readings and music we will reflect on what’s handed on from each generation to the next – the sense of continuity and change as life and human history flows on – and our own place in the unfolding cosmic story. And, with a thought to the ongoing COP26 climate conference, we will reflect on the responsibility we have in this pivotal moment to take radical action for the sake of the generations yet to come.

Chalice Lighting: ‘We Carry the Flame’ by Douglas Taylor

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.

As I light this chalice I’ll share our chalice words, ‘We Carry the Flame’ by Douglas Taylor, pre-recorded as a team effort by John, Maria, Kyra, and Lucy, with little Laurel Rose, to symbolise the long line we are part of as we gather this morning, linking generations in common purpose.

John: Across the generations we have carried the flame.
We fought the injustice, sang the songs,
spoke for truth, and built something lasting.
We join in the line and we carry the flame forward.

Maria: Across the generations we are tending the flame.
Hand in hand together we share in the work of
fighting injustice, singing the songs, speaking the truth
And we are here to build something lasting.
We join in the line and we carry the flame forward

Kyra: Across the generations we have been nourished by this flame.
We are singing new songs, breaking old barriers, sharing in the work
And as we find our own space in what has been,
we are here to make space for the next person as well
We join in the line and we carry the flame forward.

Lucy and baby Laurel Rose: Across the generations, this flame comes to us.
We are here for the songs, for the justice, for the community sharing the work
We are here now, too, to build something new and lasting.
We are ready for a new day together.
We join in the line and we carry the flame forward.

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 Becky Edmiston-Lange. 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 Becky Edmiston-Lange

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)

Mysterious force giving shape to life,
miraculous source and river of being,
help us to know who we are, to see our place
in the history of earth and in the family of things;
Help us to see that we are part of all that ever was –
our grandmother’s prayers and our grandfather’s dreamings,
our mother’s courage and our father’s hope.

In our bones lies the calcium of antediluvian creatures,
in our veins courses the water of seas;
we are part of all that ever was,
born of this earth, riders upon a cosmic ocean;
we are not separate from nature, we are nature,
part of that same spirit that turned
scales into feathers and birdsong into speech;
we live by the sun; we move by the stars…
we eat from the earth; we drink from the rain.

Great Spirit, help us know who we are
and fill us with such love for this holy creation
and gratitude for this awesome gift we call living,
that we might claim our inheritance and live out our calling
to bless the world and each other with our care.

This day let us especially hold the ongoing meetings of COP26 in prayer.

May these meetings be a positive turning point in the global fight against
environmental destruction; may we at last put planet and people before profit.

Let us pray for the safety and well-being of all those communities
most affected and threatened by the unfolding climate crisis.
Let us give thanks for the many protestors and campaigners
speaking out for the good of the Earth and all its creatures.
And let us pray for the representatives and political leaders to see
their way to the radical change needed to avert greater catastrophe.

And in a quiet moment now, let us look back over the week just gone, bringing to mind
the cares and concerns of our own lives, and the those people and causes we care about.
Let’s take a little while to sit quietly in prayer with that which weighs on our hearts this day.

And let us also take a moment to notice all the good that has happened in the past week.
Bring to mind some of the blessings – small and large – that have graced our days.
Let’s take a little while to sit quietly in prayer with these memories and give thanks.

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: ‘Gather the Spirit’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society

Time for our first hymn, ‘Gather the Spirit’, performed by the Unitarian Music Society. It’s a bit of an old favourite which celebrates our coming together in community, the sharing of life’s trials and triumphs, and the oneness of all-that-is. 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.

Gather the spirit, harvest the power.
Our separate fires will kindle one flame.
Witness the mystery of this hour.
Our trials in this light appear all the same.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit of heart and mind.
Seeds for the sowing are laid in store.
Nurtured in love and conscience refined,
with body and spirit united once more.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit growing in all,
drawn by the moon and fed by the sun.
Winter to spring, and summer to fall,
the chorus of life resounding as one.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Reading: ‘Ceaseless Flow of Life’ by Vanessa Rush Southern (adapted) (Juliet)

I performed a memorial service for a man who died after a long illness. It was springtime, and all around us life was bursting at the seams. Yet, we gathered to honour the wintry sentiments of death and loss. According to the young man’s wishes, we buried his ashes at the roots of a young tree; the tree made leafless would nourish the tree just hatched, weaving life-to-come and life-past together.

I thought of that same tree later in the week when the women of our church gathered for fellowship. We spent our first hour together in the spitting rain, gardening in the yard. Sleeves rolled up, boots slick with mud, we mixed fresh topsoil and mulch and fertilizer with the old hard soil. Strange roots with no apparent purpose or source were ripped from the ground, grub worms tucked carefully back under, and flowers laid gently into their new beds.

With our work done, we shed our soiled shoes at the door, and marched in sock feet down to the kitchen to eat dinner and relax. It occurred to me as we sat there that we were doing what countless others had done countless times before in this church, that each generation of this community had spent days or nights in service, and then gathered around that same table, to share, and laugh, and revel in one another’s company.

It feels both strange and strangely comforting that although the faces change, the scenes remain quite constant. We seek the same solace as those who built our churches. The same is true for any institution that persists over time. If it is to survive, within its walls, and under its roof – and in all the virtual spaces where we gather too – there must be a ceaseless flow of life. The work and love of generations past always do lay the foundation for our own; life-to-come and life-gone-before are woven, gradually, into the same garment.

I know that there is much loss, and change, in life. Yet, despite it all, there is a continuity and a beauty that I cannot shake. I mean, though often forget, to give thanks for all that we have inherited and all the beauty in which we live and move and have our being, and for this ceaseless flow of life that moves through us, and then beyond us, into places not yet born.

Meditation: ‘Earth Prayer’ by Vern Barnet (adapted)

We’ve come now to a time of meditation. With the crucial ongoing work of the COP26 climate conference in mind, I’m going to offer a prayer for the Earth and all its inhabitants, adapted from words by Vern Barnet, to take us into a time of silent meditation. It’s a slightly longer piece than we’d usually use, a few minutes, so settle in. 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 song – the inspiration for today’s service – ‘We Are’ by Dr Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock and a virtual choir of UUs recorded for their general assembly meeting in 2020. We used it in one of our services last year but it bears repeating at least once a year I reckon. 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, as we always say, the words and music are an offering, feel free to meditate your own way.

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
sometimes called Grandfather, Grandmother —
Father Sky, Earth Mother – Creator, Source of All Being:

We gather to praise your creation,
to honour the swimmers and crawlers,
the four-leggeds and the winged ones;
we give thanks for the beauty and glory of creation
and open our hearts to new ways to understand
our place in the universe—not the centre or focus,
but a humble and balanced place,
where every step we take becomes a prayer,
where every word we say
makes harmony with the vast, vibrating cosmos,
and where we know we are singing the song of life.

We pray to know more deeply that we are in the Garden
where every plant and animal and
speck of dust is a living prayer.
Without our brothers and sisters, cousins and niblings,
of the plant and animal and mineral kingdoms,
the human family would end.
So we want to bless them, as they bless us.

We pray for humility—
not to humble ourselves before presidents or priests,
but before the ants and trees—
for if we cannot be in true relation to the ant,
we shall be outcasts of the garden.

Let us cast the pollution from our eyes
so we can see the glory and live with thanksgiving.

Great Spirit, let us remember
it is not how we talk but how we walk.
When we say we love animals, let us protect them.
When we say we that we love the plant people,
let us honour them by living lightly on the earth.
When we say we love the minerals,
let us use them only in necessity,
and remember their rightful places.
Oil and coal belongs in the ground now,
not in the air through our wasteful machines.

Wondrous trees, breathing life into the atmosphere:
your gifts of fire and shelter, fruit,
and sailing are precious to us.
And in many ways you offer us leaves of knowledge.

May the vision of mutual interrelatedness,
cosmic interdependence,
the seamless process of generations,
not end in cough-filled skies blotting the sun,
but rather may clear air, healthy forests,
wholesome water, expansive prairie, and pungent earth
nourish paths for all creatures
through mountain and valley, and the salt sea,
and through a protective atmosphere,
as we rejoice in the inhabitants.

Hear and empower our call for a radical turning;
may we collectively change our ways while we still can.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘We Are’ by Dr Ysaye Barnwell and the UU GA Virtual Choir (3.20)

Reading: ‘The Clock’ by Elizabeth Tarbox (read by Jeannene)

The clock arrived from England this week. It is an ornately carved table clock with a comforting tick that gently marks the quarter- and half-hours and noisily chimes the hours. It has an inscription which reads “Presented to James Usher by the congregation of the Parish Church of Thornaby-on-Tees, as a token of their appreciation of his 31 years of service to the Parish, Easter 1905.”

James Usher was my husband’s great-grandfather, but he died before Charles was born. James and Charles never met, but the clock has been a treasured possession of them both. The clock marked the hour of James’s death and the birth of his great-grandson. It measured the passage of two world wars and has sustained several house moves. The clock was admired by little children who had to be lifted up to run their curious fingers over its mysterious carvings; later it watched as those children, now grown to be beautiful young men and women, dressed for their wedding days, and it watched them grow old.

It is a rather fine clock, but that is not the reason why it is so welcome in our home. It is welcome because it has always been there; in its grain lies the memories of generations, in its crevices hides the dust of history. It is possible that this clock will stand on the sideboard in the homes of great-grandchildren we shall never live to meet. Its lines are as hard and exact as they ever were, while the lines on the faces of the people who take care of it grow deeper and more wrinkly. Why, oh why, should this object, beautiful though it is, live on, when dear ones we have loved pass away?

The clock is not alive and we are. That is why. The clock is condemned, like the Flying Dutchman, to survive generations, marking time without ever being able to participate in it. We are short-lived, but we can use time. We can be alive and busy, making, changing, and moving the world in the direction we want it to go. The clock may know things through its years of watching, but its wisdom cannot be passed along. Our structure is less perfect, less enduring, but our insight (should we acquire it) can be shaped and tested and offered to the next generation.

The clock has come to us from a time we never knew, and it will move without us into an age we will have created, but will not experience. It reminds me that I had better hurry to do my part of the world’s work.

Reading: ‘How Can We Be Good Ancestors?’ by Roman Krznaric (excerpt, adapted)

Just one more reading today – a long-ish one, about five minutes – but it seemed so timely in the middle of COP26 that I think it’s worth it: ‘How Can We Be Good Ancestors?’ by Roman Krznaric.

We are the inheritors of gifts from the past. Consider the immense legacy left by our ancestors: those who sowed the first seeds in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago, who cleared the land, built the waterways, and founded the cities where we now live, who made the scientific discoveries, won the political struggles and created the great works of art that have been passed down to us. We seldom stop to think about how they have transformed our lives. Most of their names have been forgotten by history, but among those who are remembered is the medical research Jonas Salk.

In 1955, after nearly a decade of painstaking experiments, Salk and his team developed the first successful and safe polio vaccine. It was an extraordinary breakthrough; at the time, polio paralysed or killed over half a million people worldwide each year. Salk was immediately hailed as a miracle worker. But he was not interested in fame and fortune – he never sought to have the vaccine patented. His ambition was to ‘be of some help to humankind’ and to leave a positive legacy for future generations. There’s no doubt he succeeded.

In later years, Salk expressed his philosophy of life in a single question: ‘Are we being good ancestors?’ He believed that just as we have inherited so many riches from the past, we must also pass them on to our descendants. He was convinced that in order to do so – and to confront global crises such as humanity’s destruction of the natural world – we needed a radical shift in our temporal perspective towards one far more focused on long-term thinking and the consequences of actions beyond our own lifetimes. Rather than thinking on a scale of days and months, we should extend our time horizons to encompass decades, centuries, and millennia. Only then would we be able to truly respect and honour the generations to come.

Salk’s question may even turn out to be his greatest contribution to history. Rendered in a more active form – ‘How can we be good ancestors?’ – I consider it the most important question of our time, and one that offers hope for the continued evolution of human civilisation. It calls on us to consider how we will be judge by future generations and whether we will leave a legacy that benefits or cripples them. Being a good ancestor is a formidable task. Our chances of doing so will be determined by the outcome of a struggle currently taking place on a global scale between the opposing forces of short-term and long-term thinking.

The need for long-term thinking is a matter of utmost urgency. Back in 2018, David Attenborough addressed world leaders at UN climate talks (just as he has at COP26 this week), saying:

‘Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. What happens now, and in these next few years, will profoundly affect the next few thousand years.’

Such statements should put us on red alert. But they often fail to convey who exactly will bear the consequences of our temporal myopia. The answer is not just our own children and grandchildren, but billions of human beings who will be born in the centuries ahead, and who far outnumber everyone alive today. The moment has come, especially for those of us living in wealthy nations, to recognise a disturbing truth: that we have colonised the future. We treat the future like a distant outpost devoid of people, where we can freely dump ecological degradation, technological risk and nuclear waste, and which we can plunder as we please.

There is a real possibility that humankind will not wake from its short-termist slumber until an extreme cataclysm takes place – and by then it may be too late to alter our course from the same self-destructive fate as the Roman Empire and the Mayans. But the prospect of civilizational breakdown is far from inevitable, especially if we harness the power of collective action to forge radical change. The first lesson history teaches is that nothing is inevitable until it happens. We should acknowledge that future generations would never forgive us if we gave up while there was still the possibility of change, no matter the odds. We must hear their voices in our dreams and heed them in our decisions.

The path of the good ancestor lies before us. It is our choice whether or not to take it.

Words by Roman Krznaric on how to be a good ancestor – our third and final reading today.

Hymn: ‘Forward through the Ages’ sung by the UMS

Our final hymn today is ‘Forward Through the Ages’, sung by the Unitarian Music Society. It’s quite a traditional and stirring tune to send us off purposefully into the rest of our week! The words remind us once again of the long chain of ‘faithful spirits’ that each of us here today is part of as we play our own part in creating a better world for all. Feel free to sing along or just listen.

Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,
Move the faithful spirits at the call Divine:
Gifts in differing measure, hearts of one accord,
Manifold the service, one the sure reward.
Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,
Move the faithful spirits at the call Divine.

Wider grows the kingdom, reign of love and light;
For it we must labour, till our faith is sight.
Prophets have proclaimed it, martyrs testified,
Poets sung its glory, heroes for it died.
Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,
Move the faithful spirits at the call Divine.

Not alone we conquer, not alone we fall;
In each loss or triumph, lose or triumph all.
Bound by God’s far purpose in one living whole,
Move we on together to the shining goal!
Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,
Move the faithful spirits at the call Divine.


A few more announcements than usual: Thanks to Maria for hosting. Thanks to Sandra Smith, we delved into the archive for her lovely pieces today, and to the UUA choir, and Dr Ysaye Barnwell.

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, 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 for our Remembrance Sunday service. 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 ‘Companionship’ – tonight, Sunday, or Friday at 7pm with me on Zoom. Even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start.

Some in-person events coming up: Next Saturday morning there will be a small-group spiritual gathering in the church led by Sarah. If you want to go to that please email Sarah to book, her contact details are in the Friday email. Places will be limited, we’re asking everyone to continue observing Covid-safe precautions and wearing masks at all times within the church building. And in a couple of weeks there’ll be another ‘Getting to Know You’ walk, that’s at 2pm on Sunday 21st, organised by Carolyn Appleby, I think it will be in Kensington Gardens, more details next week. And Carolyn’s a hardy soul so she tells me that this will be a ‘whatever-the-weather’ walk.

Looking further ahead: we’re looking for lots of people to be involved in a ‘virtual choir’ singing Christmas Carols to include in our Christmas Eve service. You don’t have to be a brilliant singer! The idea is that this is a community singalong. If you want to be involved please get in touch and I’ll send out instructions during the next couple of weeks. All you’ll need to do is video yourself singing a few well-known carols – we’ll send you the words and some guide tracks to sing along to – and then me and Marilisa will put them all together into a composite video. We can coach you! The more the merrier so drop me an email if you want to be a part of this fun community project.

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 and train volunteers to do a proper job, and it takes time and person-power, but we are getting there and we’ll keep you posted.

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.

10.57 Benediction: based on words by Tim Haley

We walk this earth but a brief moment in time.

Amid our suffering and struggles, let us remember how to celebrate life.
Let us continue to grow in our capacity to love ourselves and each other.
And let us do our bit to co-create a just and peaceful world community,
and a flourishing planet, as custodians for the generations yet to come.

As we depart, may we go our separate ways with a renewed spirit of hope,
and purpose, and with the wisdom we need to greet the week ahead. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Shibumi – Muriel Johnstone’ performed by Sandra Smith (1.03)

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

7th November 2021