Getting to Know You – 22/05/22

Opening Music: ‘When Somebody Loved Me’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou (2.30)

Opening Words: ‘All That We Share Is Sacred’ by Andrée Mol (adapted)

As we gather together this morning, may we remember:

When you share with me what is most important to you,
That is where listening begins.

When I show you that I hear you, when I say your life matters,
That is where compassion begins.

When I open the door to greet you,
That is where hospitality begins.

When I venture out to bring you to shelter,
That is where love begins.

When I risk my comfort to ease your suffering,
When I act against hatred and oppression,
That is where courage begins.

When I open my eyes and my heart to the burdens you carry,
When I affirm your profound worth and dignity,
That is where justice begins.

When we experience the full presence of each other,
Because of our shared humanity,
Because of our differences,
That is where holy gratitude begins.

Our gathering is not complete until all are welcome.
May this be a space of beauty where together
we create a series of miracles, and
where all that we share is sacred. (pause)

These opening words, based on words by Andrée Mol, welcome all those who have gathered on Zoom this morning to take part in our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends and visitors with us today, 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’s service is titled ‘Getting to Know You’. This theme was suggested by our own Patricia Brewerton who will be offering her reflections later in the service. We’ll be considering what it means to truly know, and be known – and in so doing, to love, and be loved – in community.

Chalice Lighting: ‘With Hearts Open’ by Julianne Lepp (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.

We seek our place in this beautiful, heart-breaking, world
and we search for answers to our hearts’ deep questions.

As we seek, may our hearts be truly open –
open to unexpected answers,
open to the wise insights of others,
open to forming new and ever deeper connections
within, between, and beyond our selves.

And may the light of our chalice remind us that this is
a community of warmth, of wisdom, and welcoming.

10.39 Candles of Joy and Concern: ~ 7min estimate

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 Jerry Goddard and Tanya Cothran

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)

You who knows the secrets hidden within all hearts;
who knows all sorrow and all joy,
all hope springing from sources unknown,
all pain, all loneliness, all desolation;
the One who knows all this, and understands,
and with everlasting love seeks to lead us
in each moment toward beauty and harmony:
we bring ourselves just as we are into your transforming presence. (pause)

Teach us, once again, the ways of loving kindness,
that we may spread loving kindness from within our souls out into the entire world;
communicate to us, once again, your peace, that we may spread peace
from within our souls out into the entire world;
We may feel like strangers even to ourselves at times;
help us, once again, to feel your steady patience at work within us,
that we may spread patience from within our souls out into the entire world. (pause)

Teach us to consider also how others experience this world we share.
To understand how our reality and their reality are different
and yet they share qualities of the same deep desires.
Teach us to listen for shared feelings, for places of connection.
Teach us to be curious and open to hearing differences.
Teach us to love into brokenness, to give space and patience for healing. (pause)

Let us be strong in our vulnerability, in our not-knowing,
in exposing our less-than-perfect scary bits, to those in front of us.
Give us courage to face judgment, scorn, and hatred because of the greater good.
Let us be disciples of Essential Goodness, strong in our knowing
that in each Being there is a divine light of the soul.
And give us the strength to keep feeling empathy, even when we are tired and broken.
For it is then that You are feeling the empathy through us. (pause)

And in a few moments of shared stillness now,
may our hearts speak silently all the prayers of our lives—
our souls’ greatest joys and deepest sorrows, our triumphs and failures,
our regrets and fears, our disappointments and losses, our hopes and dreams –
our concerns for all those to whom we know to be suffering right now. (long 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: ‘Let Love Continue Long’ sung by the Unitarian Music Society

Time to sing; our first hymn, ‘Let Love Continue Long’, sung for us by the Unitarian Music Society. The words will appear on screen so that you can sing along – or you might prefer just to listen – we’ll do our best to make sure you’re all kept muted so nobody will hear you.

Let love continue long,
And show to us the way,
And if that love be strong
No hurt can have a say;
And if that love remain but strong,
No hurt can ever have a say.

If love cannot be found,
Though common faith prevail,
When love does not abound,
A common faith will fail.
When human love does not abound,
A common faith will always fail.

If we in love unite,
Debate can cause no strife:
For with this love in sight
Disputes enrich our life.
For with this bond of human love,
Disputes can mean a richer life.

May love continue long,
And lead us on our way:
For if that love be strong
No hurt can have a say.
For if that love remain but strong
No hurt can ever have a say.

Reading: ‘Who Knows You’ by Kathleen McTigue – pre-record by Antony Bunsee

Some of the old New England graveyards are serene little pockets of neglect. Their slate tombstones lean at odd angles and the elegant calligraphy is barely legible, spelling out obscure colonial names like “Ozias” and “Zebulon.” Some of the inscriptions that can still be deciphered tell poignant stories of sons and husbands fallen in long-ago wars and young wives lost in childbirth. Clusters of brick-sized stones mark the deaths of children in some catastrophic winter. The engraved cries of lament – “Farewell, Beloved Daughter” – evoke a tug of grief even now, though the people named have been dust and earth for two hundred years or more.

One of these graveyards in my town evokes a sadness of a different sort, held in the inscription on a modern tombstone marking the resting place of Franklin F. Bailey. He was born in 1901 and buried in 1988, so he lived a long time. His epitaph says simply, “Here lies a man that nobody really knew.”

What a strange message to leave echoing down the years – and what a freight of sadness is held in that short phrase! It tells of isolation, loneliness, a life lived invisibly, a voice unheard. “Here lies a man that nobody really knew.”

Who knows you? We each move through the world caught within the bubble of our own mind, circling around each other like small planets on which each of us is the only citizen. Spiritual practices are meant to turn us directly into that inner landscape, so we can know it well and without illusion. But their larger purpose is to show us pathways to one another, because with practice we come to know a bedrock truth of this human life: However different each inner landscape is from all the others, the same winds blow through us all. They are the winds of longing and fear, doubt, hope and regret. No one is exempt. That simple recognition opens a deep well of compassion, both for our own struggles and for those taking place behind all the faces that surround us.

I wonder about Franklin Bailey every time I take a walk through that little graveyard. I also wonder about the Franklin Baileys who walk among us. Who today is living a life of unremitting loneliness, in my town, in my neighbourhood, perhaps even in my own family? Before it comes time for a sad epitaph summing up their isolation, perhaps we can extend a bridge of compassion, allowing them to feel seen, heard, and touched – to be known a little, in the brief, common walk of our lives.

Meditation: ‘The Web of Life’ by Robert T. Weston (adapted)

Thank you, Antony. We’ve come to a time of meditation. To take us into stillness, I’m going to offer a few words, by Robert T. Weston. They’re perhaps a little tangential to our theme but they remind us of the interconnection of all of us, and all that is, a connection we are not always aware of but which is ever-present. These words 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 a song from Marilisa. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – have a wiggle – or 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, they’re just an offering, feel free to meditate in your own way.

There is a living web that runs through us
To all the universe
Linking us each with each and through all life
On to the distant stars.
Each knows a little corner of the world, and lives
As if this were the all.

We no more see the farther reaches of the threads
Than we see of the future, yet they’re there.
Touch but one thread, no matter which;
The thoughtful eye may trace to distant lands
Its firm continuing strand, yet lose its filaments as they reach out,
But find at last it coming back to the one from whom it led.

We move as in a fog, aware of self
But only dimly conscious of the rest
As they are close to us in sight or feeling.
New objects loom up for a time, fade in and out;
Then, sometimes, as we look on unawares, the fog lifts
And then there’s the web in shimmering beauty,
Reaching past all horizons. We catch our breath;
Stretch out our eager hands, and then
In comes the fog again, and we go on,
Feeling a little foolish, doubting what we had seen.
The hands were right. The web is real.
Our folly is that we so soon forget.

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by chalice video

Musical Interlude: ‘The Rose’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou

Reading: ‘Vulnerability and Connection’ by Karen Young – read by Chloë Harewood

The best part of being human is being able to connect with other humans. We’re hardwired for it. We live in tribes and families, work in groups, love as couples and thrive in friendships. The drive to connect is in all of us whether we acknowledge it or not. Yet, we’re seeing more loneliness, more depression, more broken relationships, more disconnection. What’s happening?

Vulnerability is the driving force of connection. It’s brave. It’s tender. It’s impossible to connect without it. But we’ve turned it into a weakness. We’ve made ourselves ‘strong’. We’ve toughened up, hardened up and protected ourselves from being hurt. We’ve protected ourselves from vulnerability and disallowed the surrender. Here’s the problem. When we close down our vulnerability we are shielded from hurt, but we are also shielded from love, intimacy and connection. They come to us through the same door. When we close it to one, we close it to all.

Without vulnerability, relationships struggle. Vulnerability is, ‘Here I am – my frayed edges, my secrets, my fears, my affection. Be careful – they’re precious.’ In return, it invites, ‘Oh, I see you there. It’s okay, you’re safe. And here – here’s me.’ It builds trust, closeness and a sense of belonging. Relationships won’t thrive without it.

Vulnerability is openness to experiences, people and uncertainty. It’s terrifying at times, and brave always. Occasionally we get hurt. Relationship pain is an unavoidable part of being human. When it happens it can be devastating. I know. But we can see this for what it is – a mismatch of people, a redirection, a learning, a happening – or we can take it as a warning and protect ourselves from the possibility of being hurt again. In this case, we make the decision to not be vulnerable. We shut it down. By shutting down to the risks of being vulnerable, we also shut down to the possibilities – the possibility of joy, intimacy, closeness, gratitude and connection.

When people believe themselves worthy of connection, they’re more likely to move towards others. They’ll be the first to say ‘I love you’. They’ll be quick to say, ‘I miss you’ (not just in absence but in the growing apart). They’ll ask for help and they’ll be open to the love, affection and influence of others. They’ll be grateful. They’ll be connected. This doesn’t mean they’ll always get what they want. What it means is that they are more willing to be open and vulnerable in relationships because their potential for shame is less. If the connection falls short – if the ‘I love you’ is left hanging, the ‘I miss you’ isn’t returned, the request for help is declined, people who believe they are worthy of connection are less likely to blame themselves and their own ‘unworthiness’ for the disconnection. They are often the people who people want to be with. They give to the relationship and they receive openly, abundantly, honestly, with love and gratitude. They allow themselves to be vulnerable to the uncertainty – and they make it safe for others to do the same.

Reflection: ‘Getting to Know You’ by Patricia Brewerton

When I used to teach in Junior Church one of the stories I often used was ‘The Stone Doll of Sister Brute’ by the American writer Russell Hoban.

Sister Brute is the nicest member of the Brute family which comprises Mama and Papa Brute and two brother Brutes, a big brother and a little brother. As the name implies this was not the nicest or happiest family in the woods. One day Sister Brute, needing something to love, asked her mother for a doll but was given a stone instead. Undeterred Sister Brute drew a face on the stone, made it a dress, named it Alice Brute Stone and took it off with her into the woods. Although Alice Brute Stone was hard and heavy Sister Brute loved her. One day whilst she was walking in the woods she came across an ugly yellow dog, his hair was matted and dirty and his hob-nailed boots were shabby and worn. Love Me, demanded the dog. No, said Sister Brute, I have my stone doll to love so Go Away. A kicking match took place which obviously the dog with hob—nailed boots was better placed to win. Sister Brute then threw her doll at him and, of course, the dog immediately thought this was a game and evidence that he was loved. So he began to follow Sister Brute through the woods, kicking her as they went along.

Finally tired with the weight of the heavy stone and the bruises of the kicking dog she asks her mother if there is anything else to love. It takes Mama Brute a while to think about this. Then she looks at Alice Brute Stone’s face and sees that it looks like her – a bit unlikely perhaps – but it triggers something and finally she suggests that Sister Brute might like to try loving her! And then all love breaks out in the Brute family and happiness descends!

Of course there is a lot we could unpack in this story but I used it simply to point out to the children how much alike we all are as a way of encouraging them to respect each other. And science supports the fact that we are all very much alike because apparently all human beings are 99.9% identical in their genetic make-up. But, I suggest, when we come in contact with a new group of people we are more inclined to notice the differences than the likenesses. When I was younger I would notice how old everyone was until I noticed the other young people in the group. Now I frequently think how young everyone is and wonder whether I will fit it.

We all come in contact with new groups of people at various times in our lives but I am going to focus on meeting new people in church. Churches all welcome new people into their congregations and seek to get to know them. During the pandemic many of these new people would have arrived at a church through zoom, as I did, and this of course makes it more difficult to get to know the congregation. People don’t even always look the same on-line as they do in person. But even when we do meet people face to face, how do we get to know them?

I was prompted to really think about this by a play I saw recently in which a father attempts to get to know a long-lost son. “Tell me a little about yourself” the father says. I am sure we have all faced a similar request at some time or other – but where do we start! The son tries with the usual details about his job, his family etc. But this is not what the father wants. The son tries again. His talks about his politics and even goes so far as describing his wife’s ears and the way he tries to get comfortable in bed. I sat there pondering what would I answer about myself if asked the same question. What would I want people to know about me? And what would they want to know about me?

Eventually the father gets angry and we realise that he really wants is to make an emotional connection with the son, to feel what we call love. Love! Love is a word we hear frequently in church and I sometimes feel that it is used too easily, as if love is easy. During the ‘How to be a Unitarian’ course I read a lot about the power of love being a fundamental principal of Unitarianism, as it is in mainstream Christianity. Paul Rasor writes that love creates relationships of respect. Respect is relatively easy. I read recently that Jamaicans use the word “respect” when they greet other people, no matter who they are, because we are all made in God’s image and should appreciate each other’s value. But Rasor goes on to describe love as a dynamic and transformative power that moves us to create relationships of compassion, mutuality and forgiveness. This kind of love demands more than just getting to know people. It demands much more than simply respecting them.

In the play the father finally asks his son if he is angry or frightened. In other words, he wants him to reveal his vulnerability. It seems that only by doing this will the father find the love he seeks. The French poet-philosopher Edouard Glissant considers what it means to expose our vulnerability to others. For him everyone has the right to remain opaque. It is not necessary for cultures or people to be transparent. I don’t think it is even really possible. Glissant poses this question. Can we even be open to others without losing something of ourselves. I would like to change this around a little and ask – must we be willing to give something of ourselves in order to be open to others? In other words, do we need to acknowledge something of our vulnerability in order to know the transformative power of love? The kind of love which is required if we are to create loving communities. The Unitarian practice of lighting candles of joy and concern offers a chance to give something of ourselves in community. ‘Heart and Soul’ and the Gratitude WhatsApp group are other ways of giving something of ourselves. But I am one of those who actually find it hard to admit vulnerability. I learned at the age of six not to reveal my vulnerability and am much better at being the strong, caring person rather than seeking comfort from others. But I know we are all in need of the support of loving communities and have always thought that this was the most important thing that churches can offer. That is probably why I am here.

Can I finish by returning to Sister Brute? Even when she finds love in her family, she keeps on loving Alice Brute Stone and the yellow kicking dog. All loving communities have heavy stone dolls to carry and, if they are lucky, they may have the odd yellow kicking dog to keep them on their toes.

Hymn: ‘When Our Heart is in a Holy Place’ sung by the Unitarian Music Society

Thank you Patricia for your thoughtful reflection and for suggesting another excellent theme. Let’s sing together one last time: ‘When Our Heart is in a Holy Place’ performed by the UMS.

When our heart is in a holy place,
when our heart is in a holy place,
we are blessed with love and amazing grace,
when our heart is in a holy place.

When we trust the wisdom in each of us,
ev’ry colour, ev’ry creed and kind,
and we see our faces in each other’s eyes,
then our heart is in a holy place. (refrain)

When we tell our story from deep inside,
and we listen with a loving mind,
and we hear our voice in each other’s words,
then our heart is in a holy place. (refrain)

When we share the silence of sacred space,
and the God of our heart stirs within,
and we feel the power of each other’s faith,
then our heart is in a holy place. (refrain)


Just a few brief announcements this morning: Thanks to Patricia for a great reflection, Antony and Chloë for reading, and Marilisa for three lovely songs. 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. And if you can bear to hang around we like to take a group photo after the closing music.

Next week we will have our Membership Service and AGM. This will be a hybrid service – more on that in a moment – but please do renew your membership this week if you can. Details on how to renew are in the email I sent out on Thursday, it’s not dependent on financial contributions, it’s about pledging your support to the congregation. New members are very welcome, get in touch if you want to find out more about that, we’ll be welcoming new members in next Sunday’s service.

As I said, next Sunday will be a hybrid service – we’re doubling the frequency from once a month to twice a month – our plan over the summer is to alternate between hybrid services and zoom-only. I do know that some people are desperately keen to get back into the building on a weekly basis and I also know that others are very concerned that their online access to services might be curtailed. We are doing our very best to make hybrid happen full-time as soon as we possibly can, we’re planning for September, but we are very stretched behind the scenes and I ask for your patience. You’ll doubtless hear more about this at the AGM next week, but we are both under-staffed and short of key volunteers, and the process of managing the changes of the last few years has been hard. So I ask everyone to bear that in mind when looking at what we are able to offer at present.

The poetry group, led by Brian Ellis, Marianne Harvey, and David Carter, will return as an in-person gathering at Essex Church on Wednesday 1st June at 7pm. The plan is to meet every first Wednesday of the month at 7pm in the church. Bring a favourite poem or two to read to the group, perhaps about summer, or any subject of your choice. Maybe it’ll be a poem you have written yourself, or one you’ve just discovered or a poem you’ve known for many years. Let us know in advance that you plan to come and send a copy of your poetry choices to David so they can be included in a handout for everyone. All this information is in the Friday email.

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 ‘Authentic Living’ – even if you’ve not been before it’s never too late to start – there’s one tonight and one on Friday. 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.

Our very own Abby Lorimier, our music scholar, is coming to the end of her masters studies and will be having a graduation recital on Monday 30th May at the Royal Academy of Music – all welcome.

Benediction: based on words by Jim Wickman, Frederick E Gillis and Philip R Giles

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.

Our time together ends.
May faith sustain us,
hope inspire us,
and love surround us
as we go our separate ways:

The love that
overcomes all differences,
that heals all wounds,
that puts to flight all fears,
that reconciles all who are separated:
Be in us and among us now and always,
as we build and embody beloved community.

And may the quality of our lives be our benediction,
a blessing to all whom we meet along the way,
as we go out and face the days to come. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Getting To Know You’ performed by Marilisa Valtazanou

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall and Patricia Brewerton

22nd May 2022