Hand-Made – 15/05/22

Musical Prelude: ‘Simple Gifts’ (Abby Lorimier and Sandra Smith)

Opening Words: ‘As we Gather Together’ by Bets Wienecke (adapted)

As we gather together this morning,
May we learn to recognize and affirm
The pieces of possibility —
The bits of good — we bring.

May we encourage rather than control;
Love rather than possess;
Enable rather than envy;
Allowing our individual gifts to weave a patchwork of peace:
The soft deep blue of sensitivity and understanding;
The red energy of creativity;
The white heat of convictions;
The deep black of the nourishing depths;
The risky, fragile green of new growth;
The golden flashes of gratitude;
The warm rose of love.

Each of us is indispensable
If we are to care for a broken and wounded world.
Together, in our gathered diversity of gifts and potentials, we form the whole.

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These words by Bets Wienecke welcome all those who have gathered this morning for our Sunday service. Welcome to those of you who have gathered in-person here in Kensington, at Essex Church, and also to all who are joining us from far and wide via Zoom. We’re delighted to have you all with us this morning – wherever you are, whoever you are, however you are – even if you’re still in pyjamas. Welcome. Let’s not forget all those who connect with our community via the podcast, the YouTube channel, or simply by reading the text of these services on our website. We love hearing from people in all sorts of circumstances who appreciate being able to join our beloved community. If it’s your first time joining us this morning, we’re especially glad to have you with us, perhaps you might like to hang around for a chat, drop us an email, or come to one of our small groups. May our circle grow still wider as we find new ways to overcome the obstacles to inclusion, to live out our values, and to reach out in love to all those who would share the Unitarian way.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and I’m ministry coordinator with Kensington Unitarians. I’ve called this congregation home since 1999, over 23 years now, and I’ll be co-leading our service today alongside Sarah Tinker who was minister to this congregation for 15 years until retirement at the end of 2020. I also want to tip my metaphorical hat to our tech host Jeannene Powell, who is sat at the back of the church and in charge of mission control this morning, as we continue to get to grips with hybrid services. Jeannene has asked me to ask for your patience and understanding if there are any technical hitches! And I want to thank all of you here in-person for doing all you can to keep everyone as safe as possible while Covid is still very much in circulation, by keeping your masks on throughout the service, including while we sing hymns and light candles, and respecting each other’s boundaries as we each do our best to stay safe and well.

In this morning’s service we’ll be reflecting on all things hand-made – the meaning and spiritual insights we might find in the process of making things by hand – the beauty of unique objects created with a personal touch – and the memories that hand-made keepsakes hold for us. Today’s theme was chosen in honour of a long-standing and much-loved member of our congregation, Betty Evans, who died earlier this year. Betty was a regular member of our creativity group, which ran for over a decade, trying all sorts of arts and crafts, and there are signs of her handiwork in our seasonal wall hangings and our church banner. We’ll be holding a simple ceremony after today’s service to scatter Betty’s ashes in our church garden – some members of Betty’s family are here at Essex Church for the service this morning – a special welcome to you, it’s good to have you with us.

Let’s take a moment now to settle ourselves and become fully present in the here and now, into this time of togetherness, wherever we may be. Let’s breathe into this moment of worship, and co-create this sacred space, by our intention and our presence. And as we breathe out let us release anything that is stopping us from being present in this moment – any aggravations we are carrying – any preoccupations or distractions – let’s lay them to one side at least for an hour or so.

Chalice Lighting: ‘Let the Chalice Connect Us’ by Catherine Callahan (adapted)

Let’s light our chalice flame now, as we do each week. This simple ritual connects us in solidarity with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proud and historic progressive religious tradition of which we are a part.

As the chalice is lit let us settle, together,
into the sacred space we have co-created.
Let the cares of the day fall away, for a while,
and know that here is a place for quiet reflection,
for a pause in our lives, for breathing into our true selves.

Let what is said and felt here add richness to our lives
and call us back to living by the values we share.
We are stronger together, held in community.
We share the experience of being human.

Let the symbol of the chalice connect us,
to each other and to our common purpose,
so we may carry its light and warmth into the world.

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 an opportunity now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle and say a few words about what it represents. To make this technically easier for Jeannene we’re going to go to the people on Zoom first, and take all of those in one go, and then I’ll call on the people in the room to come forward. So to the people on Zoom – you might like to switch to gallery view at this stage – and 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 be able to hear you and see you up on the big screen here in the church.

(zoom candles)

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 you and get nice and close in so it picks you up properly – I’ll switch that on in a moment. We’re asking people to keep their masks on for this candle lighting today, given the continuing high rates of infection, but please do speak up. Thanks all of you for taking care of one another.

(in person candles)

And I’m going to light one more candle, as we often do, to represent all those joys and concerns that we hold in our hearts this day, but which we don’t feel able to speak out loud.

Time of Prayer & Reflection: (Sarah)

So let’s ready ourselves for a time of quiet, in this time for reflection and prayer, bringing the joys and cares we have heard expressed in our community into our circle of love and compassion as I call on the spirit of love and life to be with us now and to bless all that we say and do here this day. Let us breathe in the beauty of this spring morning and give thanks for that which is good in our own lives.

And we pray though many of us are unsure who or what we pray to, yet knowing the true value of going deeper in life, of opening ourselves to the source of all that is, within us and beyond us, expressing our gratitude for life itself and for the unique creatures that we are.

Let each of us align ourselves now with that which we hold to be of greatest worth, that which calls us to be our true selves.

May we learn to care well for all that is –

Can we care for ourselves a little better in the week ahead?

Can we care for our relationships a little better this week –our neighbours and friends, our families and co-workers, even those who challenge us – can we appreciate others more?

Are there aspects of our living that could do with a caring touch? Something needing mending, or clearing, or sorting in some way? Can we seek help – reaching out for support – if that would make a task easier?

And as we consider our wider world – the problems close at hand here in our own country, especially for those affected by rising prices and inadequate incomes, as well as the many troubles in other lands – we might think particularly this day of people in Ukraine, in Yemen, in Somalia, all those around the world caught up in conflict, facing hunger and thirst, those living within repressive regimes, people needing healthcare where there is little to be had, may all who are troubled find some peace this day. May all who are in need find practical support this day, and in a few moments of shared stillness let us direct the prayers of our hearts to places and people that particularly concern us, offering up our concerns to a spirit of compassion that holds us all …… and may we be guided by love to know ways to assist one another and ourselves – this day and all days, amen.

Hymn: ‘Weaver God, Creator’

Let’s sing together now. Our first hymn this morning is ‘Weaver God, Creator’. For those of you present at the church in-person you’ll find the words on your hymn sheet and for those joining via Zoom they’ll be up on your screen to sing along at home. Please feel free to stand or sit, as you prefer, as we sing together.

Weaver God, Creator, sets life on the loom,
Draws out threads of colour from primordial gloom.
Wise in the designing, in the weaving deft;
Love and justice joined – the fabric’s warp and weft.

Called to be co-weavers, yet we break the thread
And may smash the shuttle and the loom, instead.
Careless and greedy, we deny by theft
Love and justice joined – the fabrics’ warp and weft.

Weaver God, great Spirit, may we see your face
Tapestried in trees, in waves and winds of space;
Tenderness teach us, lest we be bereft;
Of love and justice joined – the fabric’s warp and weft.

Weavers we are called, yet woven too we’re born,
For the web is seamless: if we tear, we’re torn.
Gently may we live – that fragile Earth be left
With love and justice joined – the fabric’s warp and weft.

Reading: ‘Meditation by Hand’ by Annie Foerster (read by Juliet Edwards in-person)

Today’s service is celebrating all that can be considered hand-made in life and this reading is from an essay written by Annie Foerster called Meditation by Hand. She encourages us all to find creative outlets in life – activities that can be spiritual practices for us because they allow us to focus in a different way, encourage us to go deeper. For some of us that may be a sport or some other physical activity, some of us I know experience this through reading, artwork, photography.

Foerster writes, ‘Your creative practice can be tailored to the needs of your life … and I have discovered some guidelines as I have experimented with meditation by hand – with spiritual creativity.

While you practice the creative art you have chosen as your meditation, try not to be concerned about how much you have accomplished or how much there is to be done. Stay in the moment of creation – let it fill you and feed you. Let yourself feel the colours, hear the sounds, discover the meanings of whatever medium you select. As your creation is part of yourself, allow yourself to be part of your creation. That is soul work.

Be … as good as you can be, in your practice, but do not judge the outcome or product. This sounds like a paradox and requires patience and practice to achieve, for we tend to equate our own worth with false comparisons or become annoyed with our mistakes. Make the ripping out of inaccuracies – the erasing of words or the re-moulding of clay – be as creative as the rest of the process. There is a joy in such re-creating, when impatience is banished; there is a discipline that is delicious and deepening.

Your creation will let you know when it is finished if you listen with your heart. When we decide with our heads, we often stop too soon or carry it too far. When that completion occurs, celebrate it. Display it, wear it, sing it, share it, give it away. This celebration is part of the spiritual practice – a way to honour your creative spirit without arrogance or judgement.

Short Reflection by Rev. Sarah Tinker:

We had a congregational outing this week to see the Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum. Highly recommended – if a little overwhelming as there is such a lot to look at and take in. A friend with a sense of humour asked how they’d managed to get those huge standing stones from Stonehenge into the exhibition (they hadn’t!) – in fact it was less about Stonehenge itself and far more about the culture, the people, who built hundreds of such monuments in chosen locations around the British Isles and in sites across Europe too. This was a culture that spanned some 1500 years and the exhibition demonstrates their remarkable craft skills, alongside their building abilities and their evolving spiritual beliefs expressed in rituals. These societies engaged in vigorous trade with the continent – no post Brexit complexities to mess trade up then. They learnt craft skills from other communities and they expressed their spirituality through their making and doing.

What they made was clearly precious to them. They valued the work of their hands. They polished their stone axe heads to make them more beautiful – the axe would work just as well if it was left rough – but many that have been found from this Neolithic era had been smoothed for long hours. The exhibition shows the transition from an age of stone working to an age of metal working – the Bronze Age – when people learnt remarkable new skills to work with metal – not simply as a functional material but as a material that could be made into wondrous decorative items. There is a small gold disc displayed which is etched in a way that apparently even gold workers today do not fully understand how it was made. For these ancient people it seems that the work of their hands was closely interwoven with their spiritual lives, with their sense of identity and with the meaning they ascribed to their lives. Their crafts were both practical and imbued with spiritual meaning.

Those ancient craftspeople made objects that lasted, objects that they cared for. Yes there is the tantalising realisation that many objects made of fabric, leather, fur and clay would not have survived – there is much that we can never fully understand about our ancient forebears. But when we enjoy our craft activities, when we make things with our hands – our woodwork, our pottery, our sewing and knitting, our cooking even, we are echoing the activities of those who lived thousands of years before us. To be human is to create. And even today many of us have objects in our homes that are imbued with meaning for us – those items that we have made or that have been made for us by others; objects that hold stories, histories, connections, memories, love. Let’s be people who value this material world in which we live and who recognise that the material and the spiritual realms are inextricably inter-woven.

Words for Meditation: ‘Creative Silence’ by Vincent Silliman (Jane)

Thanks Sarah. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer a few words on ‘Creative Silence’ by Vincent Silliman to take us into a few minutes of shared stillness. The silence will end with the sound of a bell and then we’ll hear some music for meditation – Vivaldi – from Abby and Sandra. 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, the words are just an offering, feel free to use this time to meditate in your own way. (pause)

There is quiet that is all emptiness; and there is quiet that is life.

There is quiet that is rich with appreciation, with gratitude and with love.

There is quiet that is creative; there is quiet that is
full of generous purpose and serene determination.

There is quiet that is the very atmosphere of onward things
– of life and growth that shall be in the days and years to come.

There is quiet within the mind, the heart, the spirit – when outside there is no quiet at all.

There is quiet wherein is order, when without there are contention and disorder.

There is quiet where there is wisdom,
though the noises of misunderstanding and dissension are loud.

Let us seek quiet, now and then – an inward quiet, the quiet
that renews and reinvigorates, glorious quiet, the quiet of serenity,
the quiet that confronts with confidence the clamours of our fear.

Quiet whereto one may retire, not to evade responsibility
or whatever of strife may be necessary –
quiet then brings increase of strength.

Not the quiet of inaction:

Not that the sounds and sights, the enthusiasms
and the disappointments of our day are unimportant;
but let us seek a quiet aspect of living that is full and intense and real.

Let us seek quiet – blessed quiet that is life and opens us out to more life.

Period of Silence and Stillness – end with a bell

Musical Interlude: ‘Largo’ from Vivaldi’s E minor cello sonata (Sandra and Abby)

Reading: ‘By Hand’ by Deng Ming-Dao (read by Emily Ford online)

This short reading on the virtues of the hand-made comes from the book ‘Everyday Tao’ by Deng Ming-Dao.

That which is made by hand improves both the maker and the user.

In the past, everything was made by hand. The objects that were made did not have the precision and regularity of machine-made things. In turn, however, the objects had spirit.

Even today, “made by hand” carries a certain attraction. We associate this phrase with quality, care, and artistry. When we have objects like this, we feel a personal affinity with them: someone made it with great attention, and we cherish it with attention.

Those who make something by hand feel enriched by doing so. They are working on something tangible, something that can potentially outlive them. They have the opportunity to make things their way, to put all the work necessary into them, to do things because they feel it is right, not just because it may be cost-effective or marketable.

Over the years, their hands take on a wisdom of their own. The potter knows by touch when something is out of round. The furniture maker knows by feel when something is straight. We who follow Tao therefore value what the hand does. We want a personal relationship with what we do and how we live: There is no better measure of this than the breadth of one’s hand.

Reflection by Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall:

I wonder, what do you think of when you hear the phrase ‘hand-made’? Maybe scarves, hats, socks, jumpers or blankets, knitted by family members or friends and given as gifts? Clothing or jewellery. Pottery or sculpture. Woodwork or furnishings. Cards. Cakes, even.

Perhaps you think first of beautiful bespoke objects, the sort of artisan creations that might be showcased by the Crafts Council, great hand-made works of art that are probably out of reach for most of us to own, rightly priced to reflect the many hours of expert labour that have gone into making them. Or maybe when you hear ‘hand-made’ you think of something more rustic – home-made – those items that are a bit rough round the edges, perhaps, not necessarily made with the highest skill level, but which most likely hold much greater sentimental value, because of the personalised effort and care that’s gone into making them. Such items are tangible tokens of love.

I mentioned at the start of the service that we used to have a creativity group here at the church. It ran for over a decade, and there was a small but dedicated core of us that turned up each month, taking turns to suggest new crafts to try and occasionally projects to work on together. Members shared their skills and enthusiasms, teaching each other to knit and crochet, quilt and embroider, do bead-work and lino-printing, make sculptures from rubbish, weave and make felt. One of our younger members went on to set up her own business making felt hats as a result! You can see the fruits of our labour in the seasonal wall hangings, the church banner, the large ‘Fabric of Diversity’ banner in the hall next door. Many of our creations were more ephemeral. But these few items have lasted. And there’s something rather poignant about them now. When I look at them I think of all the people who were in that group ten, twenty, years ago, and who aren’t around any more. Of those who were founder members of the creativity group, only Juliet and I remain, as over the years most of the regulars have died, or moved away, all over the world in fact. Still, it’s poignant, but also heart-warming, that these treasured artefacts remain… these creations that our dear friends took the time to make with their hands. With care and attention. With love.

Back in the day, though, I noticed that the very idea of a creativity group seemed to divide people. Reactions were quite polarised. People seemed to see themselves as ‘crafty’ or decidedly ‘not crafty’. When I encouraged people to join us they often told me ‘I’m not creative’ – and that was their final word on the matter – no matter how much I tried to reassure them that the ethos of the group was very much about process over product – that participants were encouraged to have a go and see how they got on (and not to worry too much about how well it turned out in the end). Everyone discovered that some crafts suited them better than others – some had a knack for detail and precision – others were all about flair and spontaneity – we only found out by trying our hands. Still there was pleasure to be found in the sense of play, and learning, and occasionally mastery.

In my own family the same binary – ‘crafty’ vs ‘not crafty’ – seemed to be at work. My Mum could turn her hand to making just about anything. Throughout my childhood it seemed that the phone never stopped ringing with distant relatives asking her to make fancy dress costumes out of crepe paper for all their kids and – as time went on – the kids of their various friends and neighbours too. She’d got a reputation, both for the quality of her handiwork, and for not saying no very often. I don’t think she ever had a pattern for these costumes – she just made them up as she went along and knocked something up on her sewing machine after work – and the recipients were delighted. And she was proud, I think. She also made me a series of good luck mascots at various key points in my life – often on the morning of a big exam I’d wake up to find one of these eccentric hand-made characters waiting for me on the settee – I still have them dotted round the house to cheer me on.

Dad, on the other hand, is someone who has always been resolutely ‘non-crafty’ – or at least that’s how I used to see it – he couldn’t be persuaded to join in with creative projects very often. One notable exception was that in the first lockdown in 2020, when he couldn’t get out to a shop to buy me a birthday present, I joked that he should make me one, given that we had a houseful of blank cards and felt tip pens (I’ve inherited the crafty gene from my Mum). It was, mostly, a joke – I didn’t think he’d actually do it – but eventually he gave in and made me a card. I think it must’ve been the first time he’d drawn a picture – a little red flower – in 80-odd years. And he wrote ‘Happy Birthday’ in slightly shaky hand across the top. I will treasure that card. Anyone who knows us knows how much we drive each other nuts. But still, I will treasure it.

And I should add though I’ve always thought of Dad as ‘not crafty’, ‘not a maker’, I realise that’s not quite right. He actually made his shed and our outhouse from scratch, with no prior training, back in the early 80s – before the advent of YouTube tutorials – with only a DIY manual and a few helpful hints from Fred over the road who was a bit handy. Dad sat in his armchair of an evening, when I was a kid, drawing plans to scale on his clipboard, working out how to make dovetail joints and window frames… and that hand-made outhouse is still standing – just about – 40 years on.

I tell you these stories, of our creativity group, and my family, for one reason only. To encourage you to make things. Even if you think you can’t. Whether you see yourself as crafty or not. Make things for the fun of making, for the stimulation of learning a new skill, for the spiritual benefit of single-pointed focus and attention, for the fulfilment of self-expression, for the camaraderie you find in a community of makers, for the delight you might bring by presenting a hand-made gift to someone you care about, and – yes – for the treasures you might leave behind once you’re gone. Make time in your life to make things, if you can. Amen.

Hymn: ‘Life’s Great Gifts’

Time for our last hymn, and it’s an uplifting one, an old favourite: ‘Life’s Great Gifts’. Once again the words are on your hymn sheets and will be up on your screens. Feel free to stand or sit as you feel moved. Let us sing together: ‘Life’s Great Gifts’.

Life is the greatest gift of all
The riches on this earth;
Life and its creatures, great and small
Of high and lowly birth:
So treasure it and measure it
With deeds of shining worth.

We are of life, its shining gift,
The measure of all things;
Up from the dust our temples lift,
Our vision soars on wings;
For seed and root, for flower and fruit,
Our grateful spirit sings.

Mind is the brightest gift of all,
Its thought no barrier mars;
Seeking creation’s hidden plan,
Its quest surmounts all bars;
It reins the wind, it chains the storm,
It weighs the outmost stars.

Love is the highest gift of life,
Our glory and our good;
Kindred and friend, husband and wife,
It flows in golden flood;
So, hand in hand, from land to land,
Spread sister-brotherhood.

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions:

Just a few announcements now: Thanks to Jeannene for being our tech host today and for the enormous amount of work she’s put in to learning and practicing how to do it. Thanks also to Ramona, our warden, for helping with the set-up. Thanks to Maria for co-hosting on Zoom, to Juliet and Emily for reading, and to Abby and Sandra for the splendid music today. And thanks of course to Sarah for co-leading our service – it’s quite unusual for us to do one together!

For those of you who are here in-person, there’ll be a chance to stay for refreshments if you’d like to, Marianne will be serving coffee, tea and biscuits in the hall after the service. Please keep your mask on until you get into the hall for the sake of those being Covid-cautious. For those of you who are attending via Zoom there will be virtual coffee hosted by Maria afterwards so do hang around for a chat (though you’ll have to bring your own beverage).

If you don’t feel like socialising today, you can always drop us an email to say hello, or come along to one of our online events during the week. We have coffee morning as usual at 10.30am this Tuesday, always interesting conversation, and there are still spaces left for our Heart and Soul gatherings (Sunday/Friday at 7pm) on the theme of ‘Doing Our Best’ – 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.

Anyone who knew Betty is welcome to join us in the in the back garden after today’s service where we’ll be honouring Betty’s memory with a short ceremony for the scattering of ashes. That will be at 11.45am.

Our very own Abby Lorimier, our music scholar, is coming to the end of her masters studies and will be having a graduation recital in a couple of weeks from now, on the 30th May – and you’re all invited – Abby do you want to come up to the microphone and say a few words about this. Abby and her friends will also be holding a concert here at church in on 5th July – save the date.

Next week the service will be back on Zoom at 10.30 with a service co-led by me and Patricia Brewerton. The Sunday after that, 29th May, it’ll be another hybrid service – our Membership Service and AGM – it’s time to renew your church membership, or if you haven’t yet joined and you’re thinking about it now’s the time – please do have a read of your Friday email and send us a message to renew your membership or to join – your support really matters to us.

I think that’s everything. Just time for our closing words and closing music now. And I’m going to ask Sarah to come up and give our words of benediction.

Benediction: based on words by Steve J. Crump

That which is worthy of doing, create with your hands.
That which is worthy of repeating, speak with a clear voice.
That which is worthy of remembering, hold in your hearts.
And that which is worthy of living, go and live it now. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Sicilienne’ by Maria Theresa von Paradis (Abby Lorimier and Sandra Smith)

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall and Rev. Sarah Tinker

15th May 2022