How to be a Unitarian (part 2) – 10/04/22

Opening Music: ‘Les Bicyclettes de Belsize’ by Peter Crockford

Opening Words: ‘True Religion’ by Cliff Reed (adapted)

If a religion is true, it sets you free to be your true self;
it nurtures loving-kindness and generosity in your heart;
it humbles you before the Ultimate – and before your neighbour.

If a religion is true, it challenges your conscience and opens your mind;
it makes you responsible for yourself and for your world;
it stirs you to seek the liberation and wellbeing of others.

If a religion is true, it deepens your awareness and nourishes your spirit;
it brings you comfort and strength in times of grief and trial;
it connects you to other people and to the life of the universe.

If a religion is true, it will care less for dogma and doctrine than it will for love;
it will care less for rules and customs than it will for compassion;
it will care less for the gods we make than for the people we are.

As we gather together in community this morning, may ours be a true religion. (pause)

These opening words by Cliff Reed 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 anyone who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, I’ve been a part of this congregation for 22 years, 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. 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.

This morning’s service is part two of two linked Sundays on ‘How to be a Unitarian’. To recap: we ran a six-part course on the subject, which concluded in March, and which brought together lots of our own congregation members with other Unitarians from far and wide to think deeply on what it really means to be a Unitarian. We talked about Unitarian history, theology, and values; about the nuts and bolts of how this particular congregation and the wider denomination is organised; and about how each of us might be personally transformed by our commitment to this faith, by doing the necessary work to build our own theology, deepen our spiritual practice, and engage in social justice which helps make the world better. I invited course participants to share their reflections on these matters in Sunday worship so they’d reach a wider audience. Last week we heard from Charlotte and Patricia (do catch up on YouTube if you missed it!) and this week we’ll be hearing from Lizzie Kingston-Harrison, Congregational Connections Lead for our General Assembly, and our own Rachel Hills, with a particular focus on commitment and what it means; how the practice of give-and-take within religious community is essential and beneficial to us all.

Chalice Lighting: ‘The Fire of Commitment’ by Paul Sprecher (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.

As we light this chalice, we rekindle the fire of commitment:
to nurture and share our beloved faith,
to reflect on, deepen, and embody our shared values,
to proclaim the Good News that all are worthy and all are welcome,
that God is Love, and none shall be left behind.

May we each carry this flame, to all we encounter, letting our lives shine with its glow.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

Each week when we gather together, 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 Susan Manker-Seale

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)

As we gather this morning,
in this sacred space we co-create,
we embody the yearning of all people
to touch each other more deeply,
to hear each other more keenly,
to see each other’s joys and sorrows as our own
and know that we are not alone.

Out of our yearning we have come
to this beloved religious community.

May we help each other to proclaim the possibilities we see
to create the community we desire,
to worship what is worthy in our lives,
to teach the truth as we know it,
and to serve with justice in all the ways that we can,
to the end that our yearning is assuaged
and our lives fulfilled in one another. (pause)

Let us take a few moments now to look back over the past week, sit quietly for a while, and inwardly give thanks for those joys and pleasures we have felt along the way:

moments of love, friendship and camaraderie,
experiences of wonder and delight; reassurance and relief ,
bursts of playfulness, spontaneity and generosity,

feelings of achievement, creativity, and flow,
all those times when we felt most alive and awake. (pause)

Let us also take some time to ask for the consolation, forgiveness,
and guidance we may need, as we acknowledge our sorrows and regrets:

times of loss, pain, anger, and fear,
periods of uncertainty and anxious waiting,

realisation of our own weaknesses, mistakes and failings,
awareness of missed opportunities, those things left unsaid or undone,
those moments when we struggled and felt like a mess. (pause)

Expanding our circle of concern, let us bring to mind those people,
places and situations that are in need of prayer right now:

  • maybe friends or loved ones, those closest to our heart.
  • maybe those we find difficult, or where there’s a conflict going on.
  • maybe those we don’t know so well, or who we’ve heard about in the news.

And let us take a few moments now to hold them in the light of love. (pause)

Spirit of Life – God of all Love – as this time of prayer comes to a close,
we offer up our joys and concerns, our hopes and fears,
our beauty and brokenness, and call on you for insight, healing, and renewal.

As we look forward now to the coming week,
help us to live well each day and be our best selves;
using our unique gifts in the service of love, justice and peace. Amen

Hymn: ‘The Fire of Commitment’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society

Time to sing now. I often go for something gentle after the prayers but this is a fairly lively one we haven’t sung for quite a while: ‘The Fire of Commitment’. The words will be up on screen so you can sing along at home – or just listen – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all kept muted.

From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear,
guiding hands and hearts and spirits into faith set free from fear.

When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze;
when our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way;
when we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within,
then our promise finds fulfilment and our future can begin.

From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free,
calling pilgrims still to witness to the life of liberty.

From the dreams of youthful vision comes a new, prophetic voice,
which demands a deeper justice built by our courageous choice.

Introduction to This Week’s Reflections

As I mentioned at the start of the service, both of our reflections this week, from Lizzie and Rachel, touch on the theme of commitment. When we held the ‘How to be a Unitarian’ course one of the recurring features was that at the end of each session I set a little bit of homework which usually included an invitation to make a pledge to do or try something in relation to that week’s theme. For example, in the week about understanding the wider denomination, I asked people to pledge to do something that would give them a taste of Unitarianism beyond the bounds of their home congregation (some visited other churches, in-person or online, others read books or signed up to go to the General Assembly annual meetings in Birmingham which are coming up later this month). Or in the session on how congregations are run I encouraged people to pledge to contribute or take responsibility for some aspect of church life, in their own congregation, no matter how small. In the session on ‘Doing Your Own Spiritual Work’ people pledged to read particular spiritual books or attend to spiritual practices to deepen their own personal religious literacy. You get the idea. And in a way both Lizzie and Rachel’s pieces today spring from those pledges and commitments.

So, first up, we’ve got a reflection from Lizzie Kingston-Harrison, who works as Congregational Connections Lead for our national umbrella organisation in the UK, the General Assembly of Unitarians and Free Christians, often referred to as ‘the GA’ for short, or ‘Essex Hall’ which is our historic home and the location of Unitarian ‘Head Office’ just off the Strand in central London. Lizzie’s pre-recorded her thoughts for us; perhaps as you listen it might spark some thoughts about own your spiritual journey and how it interweaves with your Unitarian commitments.

Short Reflection: ‘Being Held in Unitarian Community’ By Lizzie Kingston-Harrison

Hello, my name is Lizzie Kingston Harrison and I work as Congregational Connections Lead for the GA. My role involves helping individuals and congregations connect in new ways so that they can more easily share ideas, resources, and inspiration. I recently completed Jane’s ‘How to be a Unitarian’ course and I want to share this short reflection to acknowledge the positive impact the course had on me.

It was the perfect combination of deep and purposeful thinking, congruent and respectful sharing of feelings and joyful, inspiring connection. More than anything else I feel I have assimilated Unitarianism more deeply as an identity and as a meaningful way to help me navigate my spiritual life.

What I will take away from the course is a profound sense of Unitarians as people who do serious, sacred work in community. I include this to mean our own spiritual development; seeking to find meaning while being held by others who are on their own paths. I also feel this includes the work of serving others, developing flourishing faithful Unitarian communities, and reaching out to love others outside of our congregations.

I left with a strong feeling of Unitarianism as a movement that holds and contains us, that it is mature, loving and rooted enough to hold our vulnerabilities, questions, complexities, the big unknowns. It can be a safe place as we change, heal, grow, and flourish. Together we can create a uniquely Unitarian space, based on love and shared values that holds us safe while also giving us the freedom to be present, be ourselves, and held on our journey.

As a way of fully embracing your own Unitarian journey, I invite you to reflect on the relationship between your own spiritual development, which may feel like an individual or internal growth, and the Unitarian space which may be nurturing you in ways that are not always easy to spot. Perhaps it is a little too easy, in our atomised culture, to see ourselves as individuals first and community as something optional that we dip in and out of. For me, during the course, I realised how much of what I see as my personal journey is actually beautifully and subtly bound up with the people around me. Unitarianism has become something that is part of me because of this interaction, and in turn I now have a deeper, more embodied, and participatory sense of unity with my community.

Meditation: ‘Our Spiritual Journey in Community’

Thanks to Lizzie for sharing her thoughts for our service today. We’ve now come to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer just a few prompts for reflection, which follow on from Lizzie’s concluding remarks, inviting us to reflect on the way in which our individual spiritual journey is – or could be – closely and fruitfully bound up with our commitment to this spiritual community. 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 music from Peter Crockford. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – adjust your position if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to ground and steady yourself – you might like to close your eyes. As we always say, these words, images, and music are just an offering, feel free to meditate in your own way.

So as we move into a time of meditation I echo Lizzie’s invitation, to reflect on the relationship between your own individual spiritual journey, and your participation in this spiritual community.

Take a moment to reflect on the gifts you have received by engaging in community:

The ideas you’ve encountered… perhaps you’ve been inspired to see things in a new way.
The people you’ve connected with… perhaps the support and encouragement you have felt.
The ways in which you’ve been challenged… perhaps this has brought transformation or growth.

And take a moment to reflect on the gifts you have given to others by engaging in community:

The listening ear… The helping hand… The insight shared… The meaningful conversation…
Or simply being there as a companion and a witness during someone else’s time of struggle.
Your commitment to showing up in community has a more far-reaching impact than you know.

As we move into shared stillness now let us reflect on our spiritual journey in community.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ by Mozart performed by Peter Crockford

Reflection: ‘Making a Commitment’ By Rachel Hills

At the last session of ‘How to Be a Unitarian’ we were asked to make commitments – and Jane has asked me to share my commitments with you all.

Perhaps it is useful to remind ourselves of the dictionary definition of ‘commitment’

The Oxford Dictionary states that commitment is

A promise to do something or to behave in a particular way; a promise to support someone or something; the fact of committing yourself; commitment (to somebody/something)

And just to show my boat race allegiance the Cambridge Dictionary states

  1. a promise or firm decision to do something:
  2. a willingness to give your time and energy

So what does commitment mean to me and my relationship with Kensington Church? For those who don’t. know me I am a ‘virtual’ attendee arriving during the pandemic. I have never attended in person and realistically, living on the south coast, do not expect to do so in the future.

I was introduced to Unitarianism while meeting with the Quakers in Bexhill. A Quaker friend and I found ourselves going to a Heart and Soul meeting at Hastings – led by Stephen Crowther – and the very next Sunday I went to one of their services and was captivated. During the pandemic Stephen sent out services by email but when he retired I joined in with the Brighton community staying with them until after Jef Jones retired. The re-introduction of in person services led to Brighton replacing Zoom services, like we’re having today, with live-streaming on YouTube. This sadly resulted in me feeling excluded. There was no way for me to join in with proceedings any more. I relate this so that you realise that I am a relative newcomer to Unitarianism and very much wish to be on a spiritual journey while also wishing to play a part in your community. I share with you my concerns that I may lose the sense of belonging as more and more of your activities revert to in-person opportunities available only to those who live near enough to undertake the commute.

So I represent what could, perhaps, be a new trend of virtual members: I am a regular attendee on Sunday mornings, at Friday’s Heart and Soul, and a keen supporter of the Tuesday coffee gatherings. Already, feeling that I belong to your community, while recognising the challenges of integrating with members who have enjoyed many years of in-person fellowship and may well find my virtual presence unsettling and even perhaps a trifle unwelcome.

Running alongside this period of the in-person and virtual groups of members integrating the community is in transition:
Sarah retired
Jenny left and a new warden is now in place
And at the moment we have no indication of the shape and size of the future ministerial team

So as a virtual attendee it is quite a challenge for us all to see where I fit, especially in this period of change and I present without knowing the back history of many issues or knowledge of all the work that is undoubtedly going on behind the scenes.

Of course, the traditional way of commitment to one’s church, both the fabric and the stipend of the incumbent, is through the giving of money (some groups seeking a tenth of one’s income). It is still easy for us to give a monetary donation either via PayPal, or by bank transfer. However, perhaps too easy for virtual attendees not to donate as they may not have quite the same experience of welcome, participation and belonging that in person first time and casual worshipers enjoy, and of course we don’t have to dodge the collection plate! Just for the record I have been making a monthly donation for some months!

So I miss out on the companionship of in-person fellowship; the atmosphere of actually being with you all and participating in person in your service. But I have been getting to know people when we chat after the services, at the coffee mornings, and making deeper connections with other members of the congregation at Heart and Soul. And I very much enjoy playing a part in the zoom services; this is my second service reflection. But I can’t chat in person after church or join in the Sunday walks. So now as the church moves towards offering more and more in person services, I reiterate that I have significant concerns, that even with Jane’s technical wizardry I will become an outsider and no longer part of a community. A community that I felt very much a part of during the pandemic.

A community relies on all of us giving – so perhaps the first step is for the church, for you, to work out what the virtual attendees can bring to your community – and for all of us to reflect on our part in contributing to the church and its thriving as one united congregation.

Surely, post covid hybrid and virtual activities give the church an enormous opportunity to gather attendees from far and wide. While this may mean that people can duck in and out without making a long-term commitment to any one community, our Friday Heart and Soul group demonstrates the value of such virtual gatherings, and the loyalty and commitment of those who participate. It consists of Kensington members (both in-person and virtual attendees), friends joining from Europe, and far-flung corners of the UK. We attend regularly so have the privilege of really getting to know each other, building relationships and sharing very personal experiences, joys and concerns. It is space which we truly value and surely is at the very heart of religious community.

Today, we all face many commitments; commitments to our family, our friends, and to our jobs. We face mounting pressures on our finances, our health and well-being. And as Unitarians I guess many of us are involved in many activities but that we also really want and need to be part of the Kensington Church. Offering our skills, expertise and enthusiasm to the community and hoping that you may be able to use us – even though members will only ‘know’ us via the screen.

So, having reflected on what was asked of us all at ‘How to be a Unitarian’, here is my commitment: I have subscribed to the Inquirer, I will continue to donate regularly, I am looking forward to being trained to host the virtual welcome to our hybrid church services and after church coffee (though I am somewhat anxious this is going to be an IT challenge too far). I will attend meetings regularly and very much look forward to getting to know you more deeply and you me. I want to be part of your community, travel alongside you on our respective spiritual journeys and work alongside you to further our ethos. I have learnt a great deal from the course on How to be a Unitarian and am looking forward to my onward journey with you all.

In conclusion I am proud and a little humble to share with you that I am now a member of Kensington Unitarians (Essex Church).

Hymn: ‘A Church is a Living Fellowship’ sung by Kensington Unitarians

Thanks so much Rachel for your reflection today. And I should take this opportunity to say that if you’re new or new-ish to this congregation and you’d like to follow Rachel’s lead and become a member then this is a very good time to do so. Do get in touch for a chat about what that means and how you might go about it, as it’s a great time to get on board and help shape the future of our congregation, as we move through this ongoing time of transition. Time for one last hymn. It’s a recording of our own congregation singing, ‘A Church is a Living Fellowship’, which reminds us that a church is made of committed people joining in a search for truth and goodness – and the bonds of trust, kindness, and love between us – whatever form our gatherings might take.

A church is a living fellowship
More than a holy shrine,
Where people can share their hopes and fears
Less of the yours and mine;

Where bonded by trust we search for Truth
Beyond the chains of creeds,
And thought can aspire to shine with fire
From all our deepest needs.

We’ll stretch out the open hand of Love,
Strengthen ourselves anew;
And share common tasks with all those who ask,
Burdens may then be few.

We’ll take all our building bricks of Truth,
Make of them homes of light,
A future to face, in this loved place,
Friendships that shine so bright.

A church is a place of human trust
More than of brick and stone;
Of Love we will sing to make it ring
In every joyous tone.


A few announcements: Thanks to Lizzie and Rachel for their reflections, Peter for our lovely music, and Jeannene for hosting. 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 during the week. 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 spaces left for our Heart and Soul gatherings (Sunday/Friday at 7) on ‘Discernment’ – even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch and look out for each other.

Next week we’ll have a hybrid gathering for Easter Sunday – you can join us either here on Zoom as usual at 10.30am or in-person at the church – we’re continuing our policy of wearing masks during the service (and we encourage you to take a lateral flow test before you come if you can) – but we will also offer refreshments after the service for those who want to stay for coffee and a biscuit. Thanks to Liz and Marianne for offering to organise our refreshments. And after that there’ll be another ‘Getting to Know You’ walk led by Patricia and David Brewerton. More details in the email.

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 Cliff Reed

We inherit the faith and the traditions
Of those who came this way before us.

We inherit the fruits of their struggle,
The legacy of their suffering,
The achievements of their courage,
The bounty of their generosity,
The afterglow of their vision.
We inherit as a unity the mingling of their diversity.

We, the inheritors, give thanks for all that we have received.
But we who have inherited must also bequeath.
May our bequest to our successors be all
That we have found of joy and compassion,
All that we have found to be divine.
And may the people of tomorrow be blessed by what we leave them.

It matters that we come here when we can,
Not just for what we each may gain
But for what we each may contribute
By our presence and participation.

So remind us, in our heart of hearts,
That if we want this church to be there for us,
Then we must be there for our church too;
If we want its members to be there for us in our need,
Then we must be there for them in theirs.

And, as we extinguish this chalice flame,
May we each carry its spirit out into the world with us,
Taking the gifts of faith wherever we may go, as we meet the days to come. Amen.

Closing Music: Lemoine performed by Peter Crockford

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall, Lizzie Kingston-Harrison and Rachel Hills

10th April 2022