Destruction and Repair – 13/03/22

Opening Music: ‘Song of Peace’ from Sibelius’ Finlandia

Words of Welcome and Chalice Lighting:

‘This is our song, O god of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine;
This is our home, the country where our heart is,
Here are our hopes, our dreams, our holy shrine;
But other hearts, in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.’

You may have recognised these words and our opening music – from The Song Of Peace in Sibelius’ famous work Finlandia, written at the end of the 19th century in support of Finnish freedom. And here we are in 2022 watching with great concern the struggles of another land where hopes of independence are being crushed.

So it is with these troubled times much in our minds we meet this spring morning and I bid you welcome – those of you who are gathered here in London at Essex Unitarian Church and all of you who join us this morning online via Zoom. We’re delighted to have you with us and we now have the technology sorted so that people at home can actively join in with our service. A warm welcome also to those who will make a connection with us some time in the future through our video or podcast or by reading this script. We are living in an age where we’re creating new ways to connect and I welcome you all to this multi-faceted gathering of Kensington Unitarians. Thank you to people from far afield who’ve been in touch recently and let us know that they appreciate being able to access our services in these different ways.

For those of you I’ve not met before my name is Sarah Tinker, I retired as minister with this congregation a year or so ago and I appreciate these opportunities to stay in connection with you all.

Let me thank all of you here in person for doing all you can to keep one another safe in this on-going time of pandemic, by wearing masks and keeping a social distance from one another. And now I invite you to take a pause, to bring all of ourselves here and now, into this time of togetherness, wherever we may be, let’s breathe into this moment of worship here and now, creating sacred space by our intention and by our presence. And as we breathe out we might release anything that’s stopping us from being present in this moment – those niggles and tensions and distractions, inevitable as they may be in life – let’s lay them to one side at least for a while, so we might fully experience this opportunity to be together.

(light chalice flame)

Our chalice Lighting today is in Recognition of International Women’s Day, which took place last Tuesday 8th March:

When everyone in this world has a vote and is treated equally, we might not need this candle
When everyone in the world can follow their own hearts and love who they want to love, then we might not need this candle
When everyone in the world is treated as an equal human being, we might not need this candle
But today we need the light of this simple chalice flame, symbol of our world wide Unitarian & Unitarian Universalist community to remind us of the issues that need our support.
May all people be free from oppression, may all people feel free to express their true selves.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, whether it’s in person at the church here in Kensington or 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 an opportunity now, for anyone who would like to do so, to come and light a candle and say a few words about what it represents. Let’s start with people at home on Zoom – if you would like to light a real or imaginary candle and tell us who or what you light your candle for – just unmute yourselves when you are ready and speak out – and we should hear you here in the church… And now I invite some of you here in person to come and light a candle and then if you wish to tell us briefly who or what you light your candle for – do use the microphone so everyone can hear. We’re asking people to keep their masks on for this candle lighting today, given the continuing rates of infection. Thanks all of you for taking care of one another.

I have 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 carrying silently in our hearts. And let’s take a moment now to think of all those joys and concerns we have heard expressed… all those glimpses into our common human condition and the life of the world we share, I sometimes think of these issues we care about, as being like the many threads of a richly patterned tapestry of life … let’s hold these threads – and each other – in our hearts, with compassion. Thank you.

Time of Reflection and Prayer:

And so would you join me now in a time of reflection and prayer. Let us pray though we may stumble with the very idea of offering our thoughts to that which is unknown and nameless. Let us pray this day to all that is wise and true, both within us and beyond, that we might find that wisdom for ourselves and so align ourselves once more with that which leads to the highest good for all.

Let us first pray for all those who are homeless – all those who do not have a place of their own, nor safety, nor shelter. Let us pray for all those who live in fear within their homes, where violence and cruelty wield their power. Let us pray for all those who struggle to afford the homes in which they live and for whom rent or mortgage payments or rising fuel bills are a source of great distress. Let us pray for those who leave their homelands and make dangerous journeys, seeking new places to call home, places of security and peace. May help come for all those who suffer in these ways and may we play our part in assisting others, with compassion in our hearts and the awareness that their sufferings could so easily be ours.

And we for whom a home is perhaps a place of pleasure and comfort – let us give thanks for the homes we enjoy, let us appreciate all that they provide us.

And not just in our homes but in the very way we live our each and every day may we practice the gracious arts of hospitality, welcoming the stranger as friend – allowing people to be themselves, accepting them as they are, recognising the spark of divine potential, that lies within one and all.

And in a few moments of shared stillness now let us send our thoughts and prayers to the wounded places in those we know and in our wider world, we might particularly think of those caught up in the violence and fear of the invasion of Ukraine, affecting not just the people of that land but of their neighbours too ….. let us pray for our world leaders that they may be inspired to walks paths of peace and reconciliation and may we know ourselves to be one people living on one planet, one community, may we find peace this day. Amen

Reading: ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley (read by Maria)

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Hymn: ‘Now the Green Blade Riseth’

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again,
like wheat that springeth green

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Love’s touch can call us back to life again,
fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again,
like wheat that springeth green

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again,
like wheat that springeth green

Shared Reading: ‘We are More’ adapted from words by Andy Pakula

We are more
We have more resilience than we imagine
We find ourselves coming back from challenges we expected to crush us
We have more courage than we imagine
We find inner resources when step forward into difficult situations
We have more power than we imagine
We find ourselves overcoming challenges we thought were insurmountable
We have more imagination than we imagine
We find fresh wellsprings of creativity when we seek within
We have more love than we can imagine
We find more love coming to us and from us once we dare to open ourselves to it.
In a world so troubled and uncertain for so many
Let us harness the resilience, the courage, the power, the imagination and the love we have amongst us, in service of all.

Meditation: ‘On Mending’ followed by silence

Next Saturday our West London GreenSpirit group is holding a workshop for the spring equinox – which you can attend in person here at the church or online. The theme is mending and repair – in recognition of the spring season and its qualities of new life and regeneration. In preparation for this workshop I’ve been reading about mending – these words come from a book by the Montenegro sisters called Mending Life: A Handbook for Repairing Clothes and Hearts.

They invite their readers to remember a piece of clothing that someone once repaired for them – a button replaced perhaps, a patch seen on a torn knee, a seam altered or a hole darned. I’ll quote just a short piece from the book: ‘These clothes tatter, tear, split, run, rip, unravel, spring holes. Things fall apart. But we are gifted with hands that sew, mend, fasten, pin, glue, weave, darn. Things come back together.’

For our time of silent meditation I’m going to suggest that you might like to think of repairs you have made yourself or mending that others have helped you with – and it doesn’t have to be clothes, or crockery. It might be building repairs, or relationships, our bodies even, when skilled hands have eased our cuts and breakages. It may have been a task you tackled alone and felt proud of your accomplishment or perhaps a task you joined together with others to complete. What do these words of repair and mending bring to mind for you? And as always with Unitarian activities there is a pass option – my words are simply suggestions and what you choose to focus on is what matters most.

So a few words to accompany us into a shared time of stillness together, a silence that will last for about 3 minutes and will lead into music played for us by Peter Crockford, from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As we get ourselves comfy for a time of relaxation, doing whatever works best for us, allowing our breathing to calm and steady us, feeling the tension drop from our shoulders and our faces, no need to keep up appearances or be anyone other than who we are, softening our gaze or closing our eyes, or focusing on something like a candle flame, that draws our attention and pleases our eye. I invite you to consider this theme of mending and repair.

Silence: three minutes silence.

Music: ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ from Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’

The Story of Tikkun Olam, with thoughts about Destruction and Repair:

Thank you Peter for tackling that piece of music called The Great Gate of Kiev from Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’. It’s long been a favourite piece for me – one of the few classical LPs I owned as a teenager and repeatedly played when when we only had one or two to choose from. Mussorgsky wrote this collection of musical pieces in response to pictures by a friend and fellow artist and architect Viktor Hartmann. His picture of the Great Gate of Kiev won a competition established by Tsar Alexander 2nd but in the end the winning design was never built. Although I’ve read this week that there are remains of a golden gate in the old part of Kiev apparently dating back to the 11th century.

And now the world awaits, looking on with horror and disbelief as the Ukraine is invaded and Kiev is surrounded. Our hearts ache as the suffering of the Ukrainians is reported to us. Many of us feel anxious and afraid, deeply troubled as another part of the world is turned upside down by man’s inhumanity to man. It would be hard not to despair of human nature when we hear of attacks launched against hospitals and homes. Such destruction, such violence, is abhorrent to us. It seems so wasteful, so very wrong. And yet our knowledge of the world tells us that destruction has always formed part of human existence. And we know that the natural world itself demonstrates cycles of destruction, through floods and hurricanes, wildfires and storms. Even here at Essex Church we have suffered storm damage recently, which brought down part of our beloved strawberry tree in the back garden. But nature’s destructive forces are not deliberately targeted. No wonder that we struggle to make sense of human destructiveness, damage wilfully aimed at individuals and social groupings, seemingly with little respect for human life itself. Our hearts ache when people are hurt, for people just like us hurting other people, also just like us. How do we make sense of these destructive aspects of human nature?

I wonder if you have heard the Jewish teaching of Tikkun Olam, a duty given to all Jews, a duty sometimes described in Reform Judaism as Repair of the World. It is known as the midrash of the broken vessel, midrash meaning explanation or exposition.

The story is told that before God created the world, there was only God. And when God decided to create the world, God moved aside in order to create a space for the world. And it was in that space that the universe was formed. But now, in that space, there was no God. God created Divine Sparks; light, to be placed back into God’s creation. When God created light, and placed light inside of Creation, special containers, precious vessels, were prepared to hold it. But there was an accident. A cosmic accident. The containers broke. The universe became filled with sparks of God’s divine light and shards of broken containers. The midrash teaches us that until the sparks of God’s light are gathered together, the task of creation will not be complete. For Jews, this is a solemn duty, called Tikkun Olam: Repair of the World. And if the task seems too great, the answer is to start small, with acts of mending and repair, of restitution and regeneration, wherever and whenever we can. (with thanks for words adapted from Daniel Silva)

This story has always spoken to me. It perhaps helps to explain why we humans feel better when we’ve ‘done something’ in response to life’s tragedies and challenges. It links with the advice given in the quotation I used for the front of today’s order of service, when Maxine Hong Kingston writes, ‘Children, everybody, here’s what we do during war: In a time of destruction, create something. A poem. A parade. A community. A school. A vow. A moral principle. One peaceful moment.’

We humans are both creators and destroyers. When we respond creatively to acts of destruction we are joining in a mending process that may help heal. We know that not everything can be mended, don’t we, that not every wound will heal. Sometimes the very item that we seek to repair falls apart even further whilst held gently in our caring hands. We do what we can do and it will not always be enough. But we tried. And that is my suggestion to us all as we watch world events unfold in the days that lie ahead. Let us do something. Let us try the little we can do to rights wrongs, to seek healing, to redress injustices. Here in Notting Hill our church sits round the corner from the Russian Embassy and I salute all those who stand in protest before those walls. Just down the road is the Ukrainian Embassy and the statue of St Volodomyr, Ukraine’s patron saint, now decorated with sunflowers and other gifts.

The history of humanity on planet earth has been a history of invasion and oppression. There is nothing new under the sun. But let us be the ones who remember that we are divine sparks of shattered light. We can bring people together and seek commonalities, we can step way beyond stories of right and wrong, of simplistic polarities of good and bad. Let us remember that our individual and collective parts in such cycles of violence are complex and confusing. We are all implicated. And so these issues are worthy of our deep spiritual contemplation – that new insights and awareness might arise. So let us darn socks and pick up litter and stick old plates back together again. For in each small act of mending I do believe we are helping to repair the world, we are helping to heal the nations. So may it be.

Hymn: ‘For the Healing of the Nations’

For the healing of the nations,
God, we pray with one accord;
For a just and equal sharing
Of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
Help us rise and pledge our word,
Help us rise and pledge our word.

Lead us ever into freedom,
From despair your world release;
That, redeemed from war and hatred,
All may come and go in peace.
Show us how through care and goodness
Fear will die and hope increase,
Fear will die and hope increase.

All that kills abundant living,
Let it from the earth depart;
Pride of status, race or schooling,
Dogmas keeping us apart.
May our common quest for justice
Be our brief life’s hallowed art,
Be our brief life’s hallowed art.


‘Getting To Know You’ Walk today – There will be another ‘Getting to Know You’ walk, led by David Carter, straight after the in-person service at church today. The walk will include a visit to a statue of St Volodomyr where we will lay flowers in honour of the people of Ukraine.

‘Heart and Soul’ – Even if you’ve never been to a ‘Heart and Soul’ spiritual gathering before you’re welcome to give it a go for the first time. We spend about an hour and a half exploring a chosen theme and praying together in a gently structured way. These groups are a great opportunity to connect more deeply with others in the congregation (and beyond!). There are still spaces available to join Jane on Sunday and Friday at 7pm online for next week’s gatherings on the theme of ‘Making Plans’.

Coffee Morning – every Tuesday on Zoom at 10.30am. Good conversation guaranteed

Changed Start Time – GreenSpirit Spring Equinox Workshop and Shared Lunch: ‘Mending for a Broken World’ on Saturday 19th March – a meditative afternoon of making, mending, repairing, gentle gardening or tidying – to honour the turning of the seasons and to welcome spring’s restorative fresh energy into our own lives and the life of the world. This workshop can be attended in-person at Essex Church and via Zoom. Bring your darning and broken crockery. Suggested arrival times of 12 noon, bring your own lunch to eat together. Or 12.45pm for a 1pm start. Finish by 3.30pm. Please email Sarah Tinker on to let us know you’d like to attend – on Zoom or in-person at Essex Church. All welcome.

Closing Words: ‘Each of us ministers to a weary world’ by Darcy Roake (adapted)

There is too much hardship in this world to not find joy, every day
There is too much injustice in this world to not right the balance, every day
There is too much pain in this world to not heal, every day

Each of us ministers to a weary world, where so much is in need of regeneration and repair.
So let us go forth now and do the little we can do to repair this world,
to assist it in being more loving, more compassionate and more filled with the grace of divine presence, every day. Amen, go well everyone and blessed be.

Closing Music: ‘Spring Song’ by Frank Bridge

Rev. Sarah Tinker

13th March 2022