Membership Service: Real People – 29/05/22

Musical Prelude: ‘At the River’ by Aaron Copland (performed by our quartet)

Opening Words: ‘A Place of Belonging and Caring’ by Kimberlee Anne Tomczak Carlson (adapted)

It is not by chance that you arrived here today.
You have been looking for something larger than yourself.
Inside of you there is a yearning, a calling, a hope for more,
A desire for a place of belonging and caring.

Through your struggles,
someone nurtured you into being,
Instilling a belief in a shared purpose,
a common yet precious resource
That belongs to all of us when we share.

And so, you began seeking a beloved community:
A people that does not put fences around love.
A community that holds its arms open to love’s possibilities.
A heart-home to nourish your soul and share your gifts.

Welcome home; welcome to this hour of worship.

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words, written by Unitarian Universalist minister Kimberlee Anne Tomczak Carlson, 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 via Zoom from far and wide. We’re delighted to have you all with us this morning – wherever you are, whoever you are, however you are – your presence means really something. And 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 and hear our Unitarian message. 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 put our shared values into practice, finding ways to include those who might otherwise be unable to join our community, and reaching 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 the last century! 23 years now. Today we’re having another hybrid service and I want to thank Jeannene and Ramona who are sitting at the back of the room and making this possible. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we have a few more technical hitches today but each time we do this we learn something and get a little bit closer to it being seamless and something we just for granted. 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.

Today is our membership service – a celebration of our belonging to this beloved community – and a chance to renew our commitment and remind ourselves of the mission and the vision that we share. I’ve called today’s service ‘Real People’ as a reminder that a church is first and foremost a community of real people – people who are brilliant and complicated and frustrating and glorious all at once – and remember we are all real people – whether we’re participating in this community in-person or online. It’ll be a slightly shorter and simpler service than usual to allow time for a proper coffee break prior to our AGM and I do encourage as many of you as possible (both in-person and online) to stay on. Our beloved church has weathered a lot of challenges and changes these last few years; those of us who have been keeping the show on the road behind the scenes through this time really appreciate your continued support and engagement as we navigate our way to a sustainable and flourishing future.

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: ‘For Each and For All’ adapted from words by Erik Walker Wikstrom

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.

(light chalice)

We light this chalice for all who are here, and all who are not;
For all who have ever come through the doors of Essex Church
(or indeed through the digital doors of our Zoom waiting room),
for those who may yet find their way to this spiritual community,
and for all those new ways of doing and being church together,
of touching and transforming lives, that we can’t yet even imagine.

For each of us and for us all, may this flame burn warm and bright.

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. This time we’re going to go to the people in the building first, and take all of those in one go, and then I’ll call on the people on Zoom to come forward. The plan is that we’ll switch this around!

So 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 if that’s everyone in the room we’ll go over to the people on Zoom next – you might like to switch to gallery view at this stage – 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 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. (light candle)

Time of Prayer & Reflection: loosely based on words by UU Rev. Maureen Killoran.

And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now. This prayer is loosely based on some words by the Unitarian Universalist minister Maureen Killoran.

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,
we turn our full attention to you, the light within and without,
as we tune in to the depths of this life, and the greater wisdom
to which – and through which – we are all intimately connected.
Be with us now as we allow ourselves to drop into the
silence and stillness at the very centre of our being. (pause)

Here we are gathered – called perhaps by our sense of sacred purpose,
or duty, or the longing for community; called to be together on this day
to worship; to lift up that which is of highest worth and which directs our lives.
Here we are gathered – called to hold ourselves to our highest values –
to remind ourselves of those hopes and dreams and possibilities which,
sometimes, in the rough-and-tumble of this world, it can be hard to hold on to.
Here we are gathered – called to do our part in weaving a web of human community.

Here, now, some of us have come in pain, bearing sufferings both physical and emotional.
To those who are dealing with health concerns, we pray for courage and healing.
To those who are feeling lonely and isolated, we pray for comfort and connection.
To those who are feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, we pray for rest and solace.
May we pause for a moment now, and hold gently all the concerns,
named and unnamed, that are present in our gathering. (pause)

And here, now, some of us have come with joy bubbling in our hearts – despite everything.
May we give ourselves permission to feel those joyful moments even in the midst of struggle.
May we rejoice together, recalling that our joys are multiplied when they are shared.
May we remember and return to gratitude for the simple pleasures of our days.
May we pause for a moment, and in our silence, may we give thanks for
one blessing, no matter how small, that has touched our life this week. (pause)

May this time we spend together be a blessing on our hearts, on this congregation, and may this precious blessing extend outward through each one of us so as to grace the wider world.

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 we 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: ‘Wake, Now, My Senses’

Let’s sing together now. Our first hymn this morning is ‘Wake, Now, My Senses’, a bit of an old favourite, to a beautiful tune. For me this is one of the hymns which best articulates what it is that we stand for as a Unitarian community. 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.

Wake, now, my senses, and hear the earth call;
feel the deep power of being in all;
keep with the web of creation your vow,
giving, receiving as love shows us how.

Wake, now, my reason, reach out to the new;
join with each pilgrim who quests for the true;
honour the beauty and wisdom of time;
suffer thy limit, and praise the sublime.

Wake, now, compassion, give heed to the cry;
voices of suffering fill the wide sky;
take as your neighbour both stranger and friend,
praying and striving their hardship to end.

Wake, now, my conscience, with justice thy guide;
join with all people whose rights are denied;
take not for granted a privileged place;
God’s love embraces the whole human race.

Wake, now, my vision of ministry clear;
brighten my pathway with radiance here;
mingle my calling with all who would share;
work toward a planet transformed by our care.

Reading: ‘No Place Like Home’ by David S. Blanchard (adapted) (read by Harold)

If a perfect church existed (and I have it on good authority that one has yet to develop), I think it would resemble something like the perfect home – another institution that lives more in our imaginations than in practice.

There are obvious differences of course. One usually joins a family by no choice of one’s own. At home, members may receive an allowance, at church it works the other way round. At home, unlike at church, the leaders actually have some power to enforce their authority, even if it’s only because they are bigger or older. Yet we persist in speaking about being at home in church. This is what this ideal means to me.

I hope this home will be a place of shelter, a refuge from the tumult of life’s disappointments and defeats, a place of consolation and encouragement.

I hope this home will be a place of challenge, not complacency, a space where we are helped to mature and take on a wider sense of responsibility for ourselves and others.

I hope this home will be a place where we can be ourselves, unencumbered by judgements or ridicule, where we are accepted as we are, where we are, and for whom we are.

I hope this home will be a place where we might take some chances, make some leaps, knowing that there will be arms to catch us if we fall.

I hope this home will be a place of caring, where we look out for those who are most marginalised and vulnerable, and go the extra mile for those who are in need.

I hope this home will be a place of true hospitality, where we remember to ask ‘who’s not here?’, and reach out in new ways to welcome to those who are excluded.

I hope we will know this home as a place of love, where life is made whole, where we may become engaged at the deepest levels of being alive.

If we give these hopes life among us in the community that is found here at church, then there will be no place like it, and we will know that we are home.

Words for Meditation: ‘Real People’ based on a quote by Rami Shapiro

Thanks Harold. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer just a few words to take us into a few minutes of shared stillness. The meditation is based on a quote by Rabbi Rami Shapiro (which, for those here in person, is on the front of the order of service; for those online you can find the quote along with the text of the whole service on our website under ‘sermons’). The silence will end with the sound of a bell and then we’ll hear some meditative music from our quartet. 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)

Rabbi Rami Shapiro said:

‘The more real unity becomes to us, the more connected we feel with others. The more connected we feel with others, the more compassionately we act toward them. When people become real to us as living human beings, as manifestations of God, we cannot… harm them.’ (pause)

As we enter into this time of meditation let us
bring our awareness to the realness of each other.

All of us unified by our connection to this community,
whether we are in the church building, or joining from afar,
listening in real-time or catching up at a later date,
whether this is our first time of attending a service,
or we’ve been here for months, years, or decades.
All of us real people. Joined in unity by our belonging here. (pause)

‘The more real unity becomes to us, the more connected we feel with others. The more connected we feel with others, the more compassionately we act toward them. When people become real to us as living human beings, as manifestations of God, we cannot… harm them.’

Let us radiate compassion to each other as we move into shared silence and stillness now.

Period of Silence and Stillness (3 minutes – end with a bell)

Musical Interlude: ‘Benedictus/Ave Verum’ – Mozart (performed by our quartet)

Short Reflection by Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

I promised you a short service today, on this day when we celebrate membership, commitment, and belonging, and hold our AGM. So I’m going to do my best to distil this morning’s message:

The church is us. Yes, us. (point around room, to camera, to self). We are it. We are all there is.

Yes, we’re part of a wider network of churches, our denomination – the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches – is a collection of independent congregations who have descended from the same historic roots and are pulling broadly in the same direction. We are connected to fellow Unitarians and UUs who have evolved in parallel worldwide as well. But knowing that we’re part of a denomination might give you the false impression that there are people ‘higher up’ or ‘at head office’ who are running things on our behalf – who might swoop in to rescue us if we got into a pickle – or bung us a few quid if we were hard up. Surely someone else is in charge? I’m afraid it ain’t so. We’re an independent community. And with that freedom comes responsibility.

And yes, we’re part of a historic religious tradition, this congregation in particular traces its origins back nearly 250 years to Theophilus Lindsey who founded the original Essex Church congregation. We can, if we like, look back with gratitude and appreciation at the great and the good who got us off the ground and who kept the church going over the centuries. But thinking of it in historic terms might have a distancing effect. It might fool us into thinking that these people who came before us were somehow cut from a wholly different cloth. We might kid ourselves that our forebears were the proper grown-ups. Yes, they were responsible enough to be left in charge of a congregation – and, God bless them, despite all the challenges they no doubt faced, they did a good enough job of it to leave us with the resources that are keeping us afloat today – but we might feel a bit daunted by the realisation that it’s our turn now. It’s up to us. We are the church.

The church is, and has always been, made up of people. Just people. Real people. People like us – those of you I can see in 3D here in the church building and the ones I can see in 2D on screen – we are all equally real people. And we have each chosen to be part of this community, to join the unbroken line of people who have kept our chalice flame alight since dear old Theophilus all those years ago.

So let us each proudly claim our place in this historic tradition, and celebrate our connection to the worldwide fellowship of our Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist family, this beloved religious community. And let us each ponder what part we will play in furthering the mission of the church – our church – so that our Unitarian presence can proliferate and flourish for many years to come.

So I invite you now, if you wish, to take a moment to inwardly affirm your membership of this congregation. And I want to share some words from the UU minister Tom Owen-Towle, used in the membership ceremony of his own church. This is what they say to new members, but I reckon it’s applicable to anyone who sincerely pledges commitment to the ongoing life and flourishing of this congregation, whether you’ve been here five minutes, or five years, or fifty:

‘We are happy that you are with us. We gladly share with you in everything that strengthens this congregation. And we stand with you against anything that will injure or weaken it. We believe that membership in our beloved community will enrich and enlarge your life as well as ours. We want your gifts. We offer you ours. Know well that in our membership you are truly accepted to come as you are and to grow who you wish to become.’

So with those words I’m delighted to welcome six new members who are officially joining Kensington Unitarians this morning: Sara Helen Binney, Emily Ford, Cheryl Glinwell, Rachel Hills, Caroline Walters and – technically not a member until now – the former minister of this congregation, Sarah Tinker. We are really chuffed that you have decided to officially join us! Welcome aboard. And perhaps we can have a little round of applause for our new members.

To close this little virtual membership ceremony I’d like to invite everyone – members old and new, near and far – anyone here today who wants to affirm their sense of belonging in this church – to join in with a shared affirmation – ‘We Travel This Road Together’. The words are in the centre of your yellow hymn sheet, if you’re here in-person, and they’ll be up on screen for those of you who are joining from home. And I’ll leave it to you to choose – of course you don’t have to join in at all if you don’t want to – or you might just want to join in with the refrain – but I wonder if we might take it to heart more deeply if we read the whole thing in unison. So I invite you to join in these words of affirmation by Tess Baumberger, ‘We Travel This Road Together’.

Shared Affirmation: ‘We Travel This Road Together’ by Tess Baumberger (adapted)

From the busy-ness of everyday
we gather once a week
to remember who we are,
to dream of who we might become.

We travel this road together.

As companions on this journey,
we share the milestones we meet along the way.
Individual moments of joy and sorrow
become shared moments of comfort and celebration.

We travel this road together.

We share this journey across
differences of belief and opinion
because we value diversity and
because we care for one another.

We travel this road together.

Through times of trial and turbulence,
we contribute as best we can,
supporting each other’s efforts
as we work to fulfil our mission.

We travel this road together.

We are strengthened
by those values that we share,
called onwards by the vision
of a better world for all.

We travel this road together.

Today as we take the next steps,
let us notice our fellow travellers:
The burdens that they carry,
the songs that inspire their hearts.

We travel this road together.

As we gather in beloved community,
let us open the holy havens of our hearts,
Let us share the sacred places of our souls
For we are pilgrims who share a common path.

We travel this road together. Amen.

Hymn: ‘A Church is a Living Fellowship’

Time for our last hymn, and it’s ‘A Church is a Living Fellowship’, a great reminder of what being a church is really all about (however or wherever we may meet). In fact the words of this hymn were written by a former minister of this church, Frank Clabburn, so they are a nice nod to the history of this congregation and the values that have endured down the years. 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.

A church is a living fellowship
More than a holy shrine,
Where people can share their hopes and fear
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.

Let’s stretch out the open hand of Love,
Conquer the fists of hate,
Divided no more by voices of war,
Greeds of our mindless state;

We’ll take all our building bricks of Truth,
Make of them homes of Life,
A future to face the shame and disgrace
In all our past of strife.

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.

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions:

Just a few announcements now: Thanks to Jeannene for being our tech host today. Thanks also to Ramona for helping with the set-up early this morning. Thanks to Hannah for co-hosting on Zoom, to Harold for reading, and to Peter and our quartet of singers for the splendid music today.

For those of you who are here in-person, there’ll be a chance to stay for refreshments if you’d like to, Heidi 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 (bring your own beverage). And please be back promptly on Zoom and in the church (with masks back on please) ready for our AGM at 11.45. We’ll be done by 1pm.

We have various small group activities during the week, both online and in-person, for you to meet up. Coffee morning is online at 10.30am this Tuesday – this is the last week on Tuesday – we’ll be switching to Wednesdays from June. There are still spaces left for our Heart and Soul gatherings (online Sunday/Friday at 7pm). In terms of in-person happenings, this a last-minute announcement, but this afternoon from 2pm there’s a new group meeting at the church: ‘Many Voices’ are a long-standing singing-for-fun group, primarily for the LGBTQ+ community, but allies are also very welcome to join. They’ve been running for years but after a pandemic hiatus they’ve changed both leadership and venue. The group is now run by Marilisa Valtazanou, who most of you will know as she regularly sings in our Sunday services, and she specifically asked me to extend an invitation to congregation members who can have a 50% discount (£6 cash).

Tomorrow, Abby Lorimier, our music scholar, is having her masters graduation concert at the Royal Academy of Music, that’s 11.45am and you’re all invited. The poetry group is meeting in person at the church this Wednesday evening at 7pm, led by Brian, David, and Marianne, and that’ll be monthly. And next Sunday at 2.30pm Veronica is storytelling on the Dragon Boat Festival here at church. The congregation very much has a life beyond Sunday mornings; we encourage you to keep in touch, look out for each other, and do what you can to nurture supportive connections. All this information is also on the back of the order of service and in the Friday email too.

As we are beginning to increase the frequency of hybrid services we are going to need more volunteers to help out with coffee making and greeting here at the church. Liz and Marianne have kindly agreed to organise the rotas for these jobs so please do seek them out and put your name down if you can. And have a chat with them about precisely what the tasks entail.

Next week the service will be back on Zoom at 10.30am and we’ll be joined by Unitarians from two other congregations, Lewisham and Brighton, who are coming to us for a virtual awayday. I think that’s everything. Just time for our closing words and closing music now.

Benediction: ‘Being There’ by Cliff Reed (adapted)

Spirit of Life, God of All Love,
be with us as we depart once more.

It matters that we come together when we can,
not just for what each may gain
but for what we each may contribute
by our presence and participation.

Remind us, in our heart of hearts, that if
we want our church to be there for us,
then we must be there for our church.

And remind us that, if we want others
to be there for us in our times of need,
then we must be there for them in theirs.

So, in the week to come, as we go about our daily lives,
may we feel a sense of lasting connection to this beloved community.
And may we truly know this church as a place where we belong – our spiritual home. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Now is the Month of Maying’ by Morley (performed by our quartet)

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

Sunday 29th May 2022