Never the Same Again – 27/02/22
Opening Music: ‘Stormy Weather – Arlen’ performed by Benjie del Rosario and Peter Crockford (2.54)
Opening Words: ‘Not Alone’ based on words by Sharon Wylie
It is okay to be tired of change and uncertainty.
Okay to feel weary of ‘resilience’ and ‘wholeness’
(and all these opportunities for learning and growth).
When you’ve had enough, it’s okay to yearn simply for rest.
It’s okay to be tetchy, confused, afraid, and dissatisfied
and all the ordinary human ways of being that we are.
Let this morning be a reminder that you are loved and precious.
Let the solidarity of our time together soothe what is restless in you.
May you be comforted in knowing that whatever you are feeling,
today and other days, you are not alone. You are never alone. (pause)
These opening words, based on some by Unitarian Universalist minister Sharon Wylie, welcome all those who are 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, and 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 I’m Ministry Coordinator with Kensington Unitarians.
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 in our gathering this morning. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat or drop us an email to say hello and introduce yourself if you’d like. Or you might try coming to one of our various small-group gatherings to get to know us better. 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.
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 congregation – 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 but there’s no compulsion to do so. You can quietly lurk with our blessing – you know how to find us if you want to get in touch later.
This morning I’m delighted to welcome my colleague and chum Rev. Michael Allured, from our Golders Green congregation, to co-lead our service. His theme today is ‘Never the Same Again’. It’s nearly two years now since Covid first arrived on our shores, and a good time to reflect on some of the dramatic changes the pandemic has brought to our society, and their lasting impact. Michael will explore how we, as people on a spiritual journey, can draw on our free faith to meet changes in life with courage and vision, knowing that things will never be quite the same again.
Chalice Lighting: ‘In Honour’ by Amanda Schuber (adapted)
Before we go any further though, I’ll light our chalice, as we always do whenever we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.
In honour of the bold, those that hold the vision
with clarity and move forward with optimism
even in the face of others’ doubts.
You are our lamp lighters and our guides;
may we never forget the courage it takes to lead the way forward.
In honour of the cautious, those that gather
the information needed to navigate the tumultuous waters of change.
You are the map-makers and the preparers of the stores;
may we appreciate your attention
to the details that keep us on course.
In honour of the doubters, those that may fear
the changing tides of a turbulent world.
You are our anchors, and remind us of where
we have been and where we are as a community now.
May we relish your commitment to our history
and your passion for who we have become.
In honour of the dreamers, those that imagine
what we can be to, and in, this world.
You are the wind that blows the sails of change,
pushing us ever-forward to fulfil our mission;
may we revel always in your whimsy and hope
that dares us to never stop becoming.
May the work we do together
strengthen our community and our world.
May we heed the call to always hold the vision of the free church
ever in our sight and to work towards justice.
Together we wield a powerful spirit
that is strengthened by the gifts of all.
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 to represent all those joys and concerns that we might be holding silently in our heart today, those stories which we don’t feel able to share out loud this morning. Let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those little windows into our shared human condition and the life of the world we share… and let’s hold them – and each other – in a spirit of loving-kindness for a moment or two. And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now.
Prayer: based on words by ‘enfleshed’
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. (pause)
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, the light within and without.
Be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the silence
and stillness at the centre of our being. (pause)
In these days when we are haunted by the images of war in Ukraine,
when so much of our world is groaning with fatigue and injustice,
and global instability seems to threaten so much we hold dear,
we are invited to turn to God and to one another;
turn to the deepest reality we know: the oneness at the heart of all.
We are not meant to carry the struggles of the world alone.
And so, in a spirit of collective embrace this morning,
may we share together in prayer for all that troubles our hearts.
For all of the bodies in suffering – the sick and injured – deprived of resources,
withheld from care, or made into targets of violence. Hear our prayers.
For all whose spirits are in despair – the troubled and tormented – facing loss or grief,
lonely or isolated, and those struggling to accept their own worth. Hear our prayers.
For all of the ways power is wielded unjustly – for those living under oppressive regimes,
for the temptation to look away, or be complicit in injustice, and for the ways your name, God, is used as a weapon rather than a tool for healing and liberation. Hear our prayers.
In a few moments of silence and stillness now, let us call to mind
those sufferings and struggles that weigh heavy on our hearts this day,
and let us hold them gently in the light of love; that larger love that holds all. (pause)
Just as we are not meant to shoulder the world’s pain and suffering alone,
we are equally meant to delight with one another in the joy that sustains us.
For the beauty and creative love that grows around us and within us, we give thanks.
For the gifts of sharing and relationships that transform and sustain us – we give thanks.
For art and music and stories and truths that foster love and connection – we give thanks.
For every source of courage in the face of all that makes us afraid – we give thanks.
In a few moments of silence and stillness now, let us call to mind
some of the many gifts we have been given in the week just passed,
and inwardly treasure these blessings, be they large or small, with gratitude. (pause)
For your presence within and around us, in our highs and lows, God, we give thanks.
Hear our prayers and deepen our willingness to faithfully show up for one another,
sharing in each other’s burdens and working for one another’s protection and care.
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: ‘Song of Peace’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society
Time to sing; our first hymn today is ‘Song of Peace’. It’s a beautiful and poignant hymn and, with the people of Ukraine in our hearts, it seemed fitting to sing it in this morning’s service. The words will be on screen so you can sing along – you might prefer just to listen and reflect on the beautiful words – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re muted so nobody will hear.
This is my song, O God of all the nations
A song of peace for lands afar and mine;
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine;
But other lands have sunlight, too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.
Intro to Readings: Back in early 2020, a poem titled ‘Pandemic’ by the UU minister Lynn Ungar was shared widely on social media, and indeed read in Unitarian services worldwide. A few months later she published a whole collection, titled ‘These Days: Poetry for the Pandemic Age’, and we’re going to hear two poems from that book now, which dared to imagine the lasting change that might be possible.
Reading: ‘Imagine’ by Lynn Ungar – read by Michael
Imagine with me for a moment—
don’t worry, I’m not saying it’s real.
Imagine, if you can, that there has been
not a calamity, but a great awakening.
Pretend, just for a moment,
that we all so loved our threatened earth
that we stopped going on cruises,
limited international flights,
worked on cherishing the places
where we already are.
In this pretty fantasy, everyone who possibly can
stops commuting. Spends the extra time
with their kids or pets or garden.
We have the revelation that everyone
needs health care, sick leave, steady work.
It occurs to us that health care workers
are heroes. Also teachers. And scientists.
Not to mention the artists of all kinds
who teach us resilience and joy.
Imagine, if you will,
that we turned to our neighbours
in mutual aid, trading eggs for milk,
checking in on those who are elderly
or alone. Imagine if each of us
felt suddenly called to wonder
In this moment, what does the world
need from me? What are my gifts?
Yes, I know it’s just a fantasy.
The world could never change
so radically overnight.
Reading: ‘Afterwards’ by Lynn Ungar – read by Patricia
She told her granddaughter the whole
harrowing story, glossing over nothing.
Not just the lives lost, and the jobs,
but also how it seemed like
the world went dim
when they lost dancing and singing,
when the theatres and stadiums
and concert halls closed down,
when the school playgrounds went silent.
We never forgot, she assured the girl,
what a hug feels like.
We never stopped wanting that.
But, Grandma, the girl asked, how
did you do it? How did you make it through?
It wasn’t easy, the woman replied.
But at some point we decided
we were more attached to living
than to our old ideas about
the way things were supposed to be.
Meditation: ‘My Commitments to Myself’ by Laura Mancuso (adapted)
Thank you Michael. We’ve now come to a time of meditation. Our meditation words today, by Laura Mancuso, are a series of commitments to self-care in times of change and upheaval, something that many of us might benefit from when world news is so troubling. This will be followed by a few minutes of shared stillness during which we’ll have our virtual chalice on screen. The silence will end with some music from Peter and Benjie (with some restful blue-sky images). So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – have a wiggle if you need to –put your feet flat on the floor to ground and steady yourself – maybe close your eyes. As I always say, these words, images, and music are just an offering, feel free to meditate in your own way.
As I share each of these commitments, I invite you to take them in, repeat them to yourself.
I take care of myself first, because I am deserving of exquisite care.
I take care of myself to maintain the capacity to help others.
I attend to the needs of my body, and move and stretch every day.
I spend time outdoors, in nature, attuning my senses to the earth’s wisdom.
I ration my daily exposure to the news and am discerning about credible sources of information.
I protect myself from becoming overwhelmed by disturbing reports. I pace myself.
I sit with the reality of uncertainty & impermanence, and allow it to temper my desire for control.
I listen to others’ reactions, which may be different from mine, with equanimity.
I forgive myself and others when stress brings out our shadow selves.
I feel fear fully when I am fearful.
I experience sadness fully when I am sad.
I allow anger fully when I am angry.
I relish joy fully when I am joyful.
I seek out healthy pleasures and indulge in them without guilt.
I remind myself that feelings are transient states that move through me.
They do not last. And they do not define me. Nor do my thoughts.
I balance the urge for self-improvement with compassionate acceptance of myself as I am.
I initiate contact with loved ones, near and far, to let them know I hold them in my heart.
I seek out, with increased sensitivity, those who are the most vulnerable.
If possible, I share my resources with those who need help to survive.
I move away from people, situations, and experiences that do not serve the highest good.
I strengthen my connection to sources of spiritual strength so that I may be replenished.
I acknowledge the nearness of death as a spur for living a full life.
I grieve my losses and celebrate my successes.
I pray for the suffering of all beings to cease.
Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video
Musical Interlude: ‘Après un Reve’ played by Benjie del Rosario and Peter Crockford (2.48)
Sermon: ‘Never the Same Again’ by Rev. Michael Allured
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535 BCE – 475 BCE) wrote this about what we can expect from life:
No [one] ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and [you’re] not the same [person].
In other words our lives are always changing: the world we inhabit is always changing and time goes on even though on the surface life seems pretty much to have an old familiarity about it. Or to put it another way: we may recognisable as the same Jane or Michael compared to seven to ten years ago but we shall have a completely new set of skin cells.
And that’s the challenge in life for all of us: learning to accept that time and events do run on and changes do happen. They happen to the world, to the countries and communities to which we belong.
For many during the last two years our whole world has been turned upside down: dreams have been shattered and the war waged on Covid-19 has been at a huge financial and emotional cost. We grieve for the people and the rituals we cared for and still love and miss. We may feel lost, afraid, even angry.
We can be sure that changes are constantly happening to us and to the secular and religious communities to which we are interconnected, including for our beloved community of Kensington Unitarians.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on what has changed for Kensington Unitarians. Since the pandemic arrived on our shores in 2020 Sarah Tinker, your former minister, has retired, Jenny, your caretaker, has moved on, committee changes have happened, my chum Jane has become Rev. Dr Jane Blackall, we discovered worship through Zoom and the phenomenon of hybrid services. We have, with varying degrees of ease, adapted to wearing masks in certain settings. Along with Golders Green Unitarians, your monthly newsletter is hibernating and there aren’t the resources we once had to draw on.
As we emerge from the depth of pandemic living many of the reference points for the community do remain, bringing the comfort of a familiar blanket: the look and smell of worship space, the kitchen, the social coffee hour. Other old friends like Heart and Soul gatherings also remain.
And yet there is change. Though its format is reassuringly familiar Heart and Soul online has taken on new life. The experience of course is different to when we sat in the library.
For some of us the switch to sharing deep matters of the heart with each other through the screen might have felt odd at first.
Now that Heart and Soul has been an online feature of Unitarian life every Friday and Sunday for 100 weeks the ministry of Jane and Kensington Unitarians has spread hope. It has brought comfort to the wider world and to the hearts of spiritual seekers across the country who had previously known nothing of Kensington Unitarians or this contemplative space to connect souls. The radio waves are the same but the radio has been changed. Do we hear the echo of Heraclitus?
No [one] ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and [you’re] not the same [person].
It’s true that we have more control over some changes than over others. There are moments when there are changes in our lives that really are so seismic that life will never be the same again. But isn’t that what life is really all about?
The cycles of births and deaths are the book ends within which the unfolding story happens: the joys and agonies, the tears and laughter, the failures and successes, the fear and courage, the hate and the love. We have a human need to search for meaning and purpose and above all the comfort of stability and familiarity.
We now begin to struggle with the new uncertainty. We are now faced with the dangers caused by the invasion of Ukraine and yet we may feel that we are still only beginning to come to terms with what this global pandemic has already done to force change on us. Where do we go from here?
A question came to me. What can we do as individuals to sooth our fears and take action for our future and the world?
A reasonable question you might think and yet for me there was something missing. That something is the purpose, the hope, the vision to which Unitarian Universalist values call me, and I hope you, to be the ripples of change whenever and however that’s possible.
So the question becomes ‘What difference does living as a Unitarian make to my life and what does that mean for how I live in the world?’ How can I dedicate my life to being the embodiment of those values in all of my thinking, all of my doing, the whole of my being? Alas, there are no ready-made easy answers.
It has been said of Unitarians that we should learn to love the questions so that we can live into the answers. In other words it’s hard. It takes courage, vision, commitment to search for the answers. And it’s not a solitary road, even though there will be times when we shall need to walk alone.
If we hold to the ethic that we are part of an interdependent web we must make that pilgrimage of spiritual growth and discovery with and through others.
And here I want to use the term mission. Now this has not been a word much used by Unitarians. Its associations with forced conversions to Christianity do not sit well with the value of belief according to reason and conscience. Yet I find it a helpful way to convey what being a Unitarian means for me and you too.
There are unspeakable cruelty and injustice in our world. Our planet and its inhabitants today are suffering. Do we despair or slowly, quietly, with determination, courage and compassion begin in the smallest of ways to plant seeds of hope and wholeness? What is it my mission to do for the world today?
‘I am’, wrote the American Unitarian minister Edward Everett-Hale, ‘only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’
So when fear of change may urge us to run away because it seems nothing will be the same again let us remember Lynn Ungar’s imagining if we dare.
Imagine, if you can, that there has been
not a calamity, but a great awakening….
The world keeps turning and we must turn with it to survive and grow. We gather here to make sense of that turning, to gain strength from each other and from that source of being and purpose which some call God. We seek out the warmth of spiritual seekers with whom to endure the ugliness of inhumanity as well as to search out its beauty.
When we sense ourselves resisting change let us take a moment to be still. In the stillness let us dare to imagine a community we are part of, imagine the world transfigured by human solidarity and our shared efforts. You might even want to meditate on Jacob Trapp’s hymn of Utopia on Earth where we envision that ideal world where all are ‘made one and understood’.
Could such a vision be achieved? If we can imagine it can it be possible? If it is, we must not only love the question: we have a duty to live ourselves into the answers. If it is and if we do there is a chance our world really could – in an ideal way – never be the same again. Amen.
Hymn: ‘A World Transfigured’ sung by Kensington Unitarians
Time for one more hymn, ‘A World Transfigured’, a hymn of hope and aspiration for a better future. This is a recording of the Kensington congregation from a few years ago so there may be some coughing or rustling. As always, do sing along at home, or simply listen if you’d rather.
Wonders still the world shall witness
Never known in days of old,
Never dreamed by ancient sages,
Howsoever free and bold.
Sons and daughters shall inherit
Wondrous arts to us unknown,
When the dawn of peace its splendour
Over all the world has thrown.
They shall rule with winged freedom
Worlds of health and human good,
Worlds of commerce, worlds of science,
All made one and understood.
They shall know a world transfigured,
Which our eyes but dimly see;
They shall make its towns and woodlands
Beautiful from sea to sea.
For a spirit then shall move them
We but vaguely apprehend —
Aims magnificent and holy,
Making joy and labour friend.
Then shall bloom in song and fragrance
Harmony of thought and deed,
Fruits of peace and love and justice —
Where today we plant the seed.
Just a few announcements: Thanks so much to Michael for co-leading, Patricia for reading, Peter and Benjie for our music, and John for co-hosting today. We’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service as usual so you can stay and 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 say hello, or come to some of our other events. If you can bear to hang around we like to take a group photo after the closing music.
Our online programme continues: we have coffee morning as usual at 10.30am this Tuesday and there are still a few spaces left for our Heart and Soul spiritual gathering on the theme of ‘Peace’ – even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start – there’s one tonight and one on Friday. Next Sunday we’ll be back on Zoom when Brighton Unitarians will be joining us for worship. 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, and look out for each other as best we can.
If you’d like to save the date our next hybrid services will be on Sundays 13th March and 17th April, that’s Easter Sunday, I’m hoping there’ll be another ‘Getting to Know You’ walk after each one. We have now got the hybrid system fully up and running and we’re about to start training up all the extra tech hosts we need so the hope is that we’ll be doing hybrid twice a month from May. If there’s anyone here who’s technically adept, with an ability to focus and attention to detail, and who might be willing and able to get trained and join the rota for tech hosting, let me know!
Another thing to mention is that if you were thinking about going to the Unitarian Annual Meetings this year, in-person at the Hilton Metropole hotel in Birmingham from 19th-21st April, the deadline is tomorrow. There are a limited number of subsidised places for newcomers and under-40s who couldn’t otherwise afford to go. The programme hasn’t yet been released but there’s usually a mix of business meetings and debates, workshops and worship, and time to socialise with Unitarians from all over the country. Again, details of this are in the Friday email.
One last announcement: Yesterday I had One Of My Bright Ideas and I’ve decided that for Lent this year I’m going to adopt a daily gratitude practice – I don’t know about the rest of you but I know I could do with something that’s going to help keep up morale and lift my spirits right now – and it occurred to me that I might share this project with anyone who wants to join. I’m going to send an email round about this later but my plan is to set up a WhatsApp group where we can share our gratitudes, just one per person per day, a text-based check-in (so it shouldn’t break out into chat – it’ll just be us offering our gratitudes – not commenting on the things that are shared). This is a little bit like the ‘Nature Carries On’ WhatsApp group that some of the congregation are familiar with, which was set up by our former warden Jenny in the first lockdown, back in 2020. When things are hard in life – what’s still good, despite it all? What can we still give thanks for? If you like the sound of this and you want to be counted in then email me your mobile number, I’ll set up the group, and we’ll start this coming Wednesday (2nd) and continue throughout Lent.
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 Tim Haley and Jim Wickman
We walk this earth but a brief moment in time.
Amid the suffering and pain we each must face, and witness,
let us continue to learn how to celebrate life in the place where we find ourselves.
Let us continue to grow in our capacity to love and care for ourselves and each other.
And let us continue to move toward the goal of a just world community.
May our faith sustain us, our hope inspire us, and our love surround us as we
go our separate ways, knowing that we will gather again in this beloved community. Amen.
Closing Music: ‘Spring – Reade’ performed by Benjie and Peter (0.47)
Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall and Rev. Michael Allured
27th February 2022