‘Dare to Dream’ – 26/06/22

Musical Prelude: ‘I Dreamed a Dream’

Opening Words: ‘We Come Bringing our Boldest Dreams’ by Lawrence E. McGinty (adapted)

To this gathering we come bringing our boldest dreams,
seeking here the inspiration and strength to make them a reality.
To this space we come carrying our broken dreams too,
to be sustained and held tenderly through times of pain and struggle,
and perhaps, in time, to glimpse a new way onward.

We come here in search of meaningful human contact,
hoping for warmth and closeness and care.
Needing to grow beyond the commonplace,
we may seek here challenges and commitments
productive of greater wholeness and deeper meanings.

We come intense and constructed, cautious and defended,
hoping for encouragement to open up, flourish, and be our true selves.
Wrestling with self-doubt, uncertainty, and even despair,
we seek affirmations prodding us to say “yes” to ourselves and to life.
Somehow, we – all of us – enter this place trusting that what happens here
will enable us to co-create, and to let in, a little taste of life’s goodness, here, and now.

A strange place, this —here we may cry, sing, laugh,
hurt, dance, touch, survive, celebrate, grow,
search, doubt, hope, rejoice, pray, trust,
care, learn, think, wonder, be, become!
This morning, to this place, we’ve come.

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words, written by Lawrence McGinty, welcome all those who have gathered this morning for our Sunday service. Welcome to those of you who have gathered in-person here at Essex Church and also to all who are joining via Zoom from far and wide (I understand we’ve got some friends from Hastings Unitarians with us this morning – you’re very welcome). For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and I’m ministry coordinator with Kensington Unitarians.

If it’s your first time joining us this morning, we’re especially glad to have you with us, I hope you find something of what you need in our gathering today. Perhaps you might like to hang around for a chat after the service, or come to one of our small groups to get to know us better. There will be opportunities to join in as we go along but they’re invitations not obligations. It is absolutely alright to lurk and be a bit antisocial if you’d rather (I did that for many years myself, I sympathise). You can always drop us an email afterwards to say hello and introduce yourself if you’d like. And if you’re a regular here – thank you for all that you do to welcome all who come – thank you for all you do to keep the show on the road – thank you for keeping the faith with our Unitarian cause. We all have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, this sense of community, this tradition.
Whoever you are, however you are, wherever you are, know you are welcome with us, just as you are.

Today’s service is titled ‘Dare to Dream’. In the next hour we’ll be exploring the power of dreaming boldly, of imagining that life – and the world – could be radically different (and better) than it is today.

Before we go any further take a moment now to settle ourselves – to become fully present here and now, into this precious hour of peace – wherever we may be. Maybe put down anything you don’t need to be holding. Maybe scrunch up your shoulders and let them go. And let’s breathe into this worshipful moment, as we co-create this sacred space, by our presence and intention. And as we breathe out let us release anything that is stopping us from being fully present – 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: ‘Cherish Your Dreams’ by Maureen Killoran

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)

The poet Langston Hughes has written:
“Hold fast to dreams / for if dreams die,
life is a broken-winged bird / that cannot fly.”

May this chalice flame challenge each of us to cherish our dreams,
for all things worth doing begin in the courage and inspiration of a dream.
For all this, and for all those things we dare to hope and dream,
we kindle our chalice flame this day.

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.

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, but please do speak up, because we want to hear what you’re saying. 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 Liz Weber

And let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer now. This prayer is loosely based on some words by Liz Weber.

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)

Spirit of Life, help us to be present with all that is our life,
both our deepest sorrows and our greatest joys,
so that we can truly live: engaging fully in our own life and in our community.

Spirit of Community, Help us know how linked we are,
how each one of our cares touches us all.
Help us to ask for support when we are in need,
and offer our support to others when we are able,
so that we may rest in the solace of one another’s love.

Spirit of Love, help us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves,
so that we might fully embody love and resist hatred.

Spirit of Resistance, help us to stick up for what is right,
even when we are tired or afraid.
Help us to dream of the world as it should be
and act to bring that world about.
Help us to find hope each day.

Spirit of Hope, help us through this day and each day.
Help us to be present for all that is our life. (pause)

And, in a quiet time of reflection now, let us look back with kind eyes over the week just passed.
Let us call to mind a few moments, however small they may seem, that brought some sense of uplift, consolation, or even joy. Let us pray inwardly to give thanks for these everyday blessings.

And let us also gently call to mind those moments in the last week that we found hard going.
Times when we felt uneasy, agitated, or disheartened. Times when we made mistakes, perhaps.
Let us pray inwardly for the comfort, compassion, or guidance we need to face those struggles. (pause)

And, widening our circle of concern, let us focus our prayers on those situations that are concerning us – whether close to home or far away – thinking of those who are in pain this day, whether physical or mental – those who are caught up in conflict and cruelty, oppression and injustice – those who are struggling to make ends meet. Let us send loving-kindness wherever it is needed this day.

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: ‘Be Thou My Vision’

Let’s sing together now. Our first hymn this morning is a real classic, ‘Be Thou My Vision’, and though the words have been somewhat Unitarian-ised the language is still pretty traditional (so the poetic beauty of the hymn has been preserved). 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.

Be thou my vision, O God of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word,
I ever with thee, and thou with me God;
Thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower,
Raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I need not, nor world’s empty praise,
Thou my inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

Sovereign of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun.
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

Pre-Recorded Reading: ‘Magical Thinking’ by Colin Bossen (read by Maria)

The sign in the windowpane of Kristin Baybar’s toy-shop in London reads, “We do not exist, but if you think we do and would like to visit… please knock.”

Knock I have. It is a strange and magical place, filled with curios, doll house furniture and hand-carved toys. Every surface is covered, the cupboard display cases stacked high, with miniature flowers, snapping tin alligators, painted puzzles that move, penny whistles, and cheap magic tricks. Signs proclaiming “Do Not Touch” suggest that this might not be a shop for small children.

Yet some of my fondest childhood memories are of Kristin Baybar’s. For three summers, while my father taught a study abroad course, my family rented a flat around the corner. Every chance I got I wandered over to the toy shop. The shop owner seemed to delight in entertaining small children. There were magic tricks, toys that made noises, and puzzles.

The shop and its owner taught me about the power of the imagination. Creative play, the ability to dream and discover new things helps make us human. Without them there would be no culture, no religion, no art, and no science. They help us to define and redefine the world, for as William Shakespeare wrote, “We are such stuff / As dreams are made.”

My friend Richard defined magic as the act of imagining something and then creating it. He would say, “I think, ‘I’m hungry. I want a sandwich.’ I imagine it and then I create it. That’s magic!”

Open yourself to the marvellous that surrounds you, seek it out, if only for a moment, and you never know what sort of magic you might create. So much of the world began as a dream. So much of the world has yet to be dreamed.

Words for Meditation: ‘Finding Our Dreams’ by Teresa I. Soto

Thanks Maria. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer some poetic words – by the UU minister Teresa Soto – to take us into a few minutes of shared stillness. The silence will end with the sound of a bell, then we’ll hear some meditative piano music from 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.

Teresa Soto’s piece begins with a short quote from Georgia O’Keefe:
‘We haven’t found enough dreams. We haven’t dreamed enough.’

The world makes many demands on
your time, your skin, your heart. Until
you are left gasping and wondering
if you will ever do enough,
have enough, be enough. Stop your
counting, measuring, and checking.
You are enough. So much more than
enough, made from fragments
of the galaxy.

measure up.

And to recover from
the doubt pressed upon you,
the antidote for doubt is dreaming.
All the dreams that call to you,
lime green and frosting pink dreams.
The other soft and tender dreams
that run blue to grey,
sky indistinguishable from lulling
sea. The dreams that seem impossible –
listen: that’s their nature. If they
had already happened, then they
would be realities, solid and smooth,
like the round bone home of an
unbroken egg. Be brave enough
to name your dream. Nurture it. And
allow the rhythm of your breath
to bring your dreams to life.

Period of Silence and Stillness – end with a bell

Musical Interlude: ‘Träume’ by Wagner

In-Person Reading: ‘Dream Boldly’ by Harold S. Kushner (read by Patricia)

I wonder what happens to dreams that don’t come true. I wonder what happens to the dreamer. How do people cope with the realization that important dimensions of their lives will not turn out as they hoped they would?

Many of us look at the world and see two groups of people, winners and losers: those who get what they want out of life and those who don’t. But, in reality, life is far more complicated than that. Nobody gets everything he, she, or they yearns for. I look at the world and see three sorts of people: those who dream boldly even as they realize that a lot of their dreams will not come true; those who dream more modestly and fear that even their modest dreams may not be realized; and those who are afraid to dream at all, lest they be disappointed. I would wish for more people who dreamed boldly and trusted their powers of resilience to see them through the inevitable disappointments.

What does a person do with all the dreams that don’t come true – dreams of emerging talents, dreams of careers, dreams of wealth and recognition, dreams of marriage and family? Some people manage to hold on to the memories of those dreams without being weighed down by them, without letting their unfulfilled dreams define them as failures. They can cherish the memories of a time when they let their imaginations soar, when they could imagine a more exciting, more gratifying life for themselves. Others let themselves be defined not by their dreams but by their disappointments, perpetually frustrated by what they yearned for and never attained. For them, the broken pieces of their dreams are millstones, rather than stepping-stones.

I have known too many people who lost the ability to dream after having had their hearts broken. I have known too many parents who discouraged their children from dreaming, from aspiring too much, lest they be hurt when their dreams failed. And I am convinced they would have done better to let their children dare to dream and assure them that when their dreams failed, they would have the strength and resiliency to go on with their lives despite the disappointment. From the first time I heard Judy Collins sing ‘The Rose’, I have been haunted by the line ‘It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance.’ It spoke to me of all the people whose lives have been derailed by one serious failure, people whose fondest hopes never worked out, and as a result they had lost the ability to hope, the courage to dream.

I hate to think that experience will teach us not to dream, not to yearn for happiness or fulfilment. I want people to dare to dream, to be brave enough to dream even as they realise that many of our dreams won’t come true.

To dream is to imagine a world and a life better than the one we know now.

Reflection: ‘Dare to Dream’ by Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

There’s a famous quote – often (wrongly) attributed to Goethe – but in fact it was apparently said by the Scottish mountaineer W.H. Murray. He said ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now!’ These words are generally trotted out to urge people to commit themselves, without hesitation, to purposeful action. But today – and this will be no surprise given the title of this morning’s service – I want to focus more on the call to dream boldly. ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it!’, Murray says. What do we dream of – individually and collectively – for our personal lives, our communities, and even the future of our planet? In these times of global turbulence what do we still dare to dream?

On any given day, many of us (perhaps most of us) might feel that we haven’t really got the oomph to dream boldly; indeed many of us are only just hanging on in there, coping with whatever life happens to have thrown at us, dedicating much of our energy, resources, and brain-space to just getting by, keeping a roof over our head and dinner on the table. Keeping our chin up. Surviving. Life is hard for so many people in so many ways and it can be tough to raise our eyes to the horizon.

There are different ways we can take the call to ‘dream boldly’. It really depends what we mean by ‘dreaming’, doesn’t it?  When I hear that stirring quote from Murray – who was a mountaineer, let’s not forget – I think of a striving kind of dreaming; dreaming as ambition for personal achievement.  The sort of dreaming that gets you up mountains, across the finishing line of a marathon, or riding in the Tour de France; it might spur you on to write your best-selling novel, build your business empire, or get your name up in lights in the West End – with the right combination of genes, dedication, sacrifice, support, and luck – still, each of these endeavours starts with a dream, a hopeful vision.

There’s a slightly different aspect of dreaming I’d like us to focus on this morning though. The piece by Rabbi Harold Kushner on dreaming boldly, which Patricia just read for us, ends with the line: ‘To dream is to imagine a world and a life better than the one we know now’.

Dreams are often born of frustration with reality – with the way the world (in general) or our own life (in particular) is right now – we dream of a future that’s different, better, than today.  God knows there are more than enough reasons to be frustrated, if not despairing, with reality right now – as we look at what’s going on around the world in terms of the rolling back of those progressive values which we Unitarians have traditionally been so involved in promoting and defending – we see the erosion of human rights; the scapegoating of refugees and minorities; war, corruption and demagoguery – we see the interests of the super-rich being furthered, at the expense of the poorest, and of our planet. We know, don’t we, that our common life could be so much better than this. It doesn’t have to be this way. (pause) ‘To dream is to imagine a world and a life better than the one we know now’. And, perhaps, the tougher our current circumstances, the bolder our imagined alternatives might be.

Of course, being able to dream boldly – to imagine a utopian vision for our world, a realm of justice and liberation, or even just a happy-ever-after scenario for ourselves – doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to get our way. But it might well be an important first step towards changing things for the better.  Having a vision of how things might be otherwise – that may just galvanise us into action.  Imagining a better world, a better life, can inspire us to aim for goals we once thought beyond us.  Even if we don’t end up achieving all that we’d personally hoped for, even if we fall short of our very boldest dreams, it is quite likely that we’ll enrich our own life experience by trying, and perhaps even give the world a tiny nudge in a positive direction as we go about doing so.

There are risks to being a dreamer, of course.  There’s the risk of being put down, discouraged, or dismissed by nay-sayers; by those who don’t share your vision, or who are invested in the status quo, or who (sometimes) are just trying to protect you from the possibility of scorn, failure, and disappointment. Such discouragement – even when it’s kindly meant – can squash dreams.  (And it isn’t always kindly meant).  Boldness – a willingness to stand up, stand your ground, be courageous, and face down nay-sayers in pursuit of your dreams – a certain boldness seems to be vital.

Another risk involved in dreaming, though, is the possibility of going too far the other way. Of becoming detached from reality and going beyond the realm of what’s actually possible to achieve.  Of losing ourselves in a fantasy world of ‘what-ifs’ and delusions about an imagined future… without actually taking any practical steps towards bringing about the changes we dream of.

Perhaps the most likely risk involved in being a dreamer is the risk of disappointment.  Indeed the Harold Kushner reading came from a book titled ‘Overcoming Life’s Disappointments’.  In the piece we just heard, he reflects on how we humans respond to the disappointing – but unavoidable – experience of having cherished dreams that ultimately often don’t come true. And he notes that, for some of us, this leads us to close down, self-limiting our imagination, narrowing our horizons, no longer daring to dream boldly for fear of being hurt again. But, later in the book, Kushner says (in words that are on the front of your order of service or on the ‘sermons’ page of our website):

‘Broken dreams, broken hearts, hopes unrealized should not be seen as emblems of shame, badges of failure. If anything, they are tokens of courage. We were brave enough to dream, brave enough to long for so much, and when we did not get it, we were brave enough to carry the fragments of those dashed hopes with us into the future, telling us who we used to be as a prelude to discovering who we might become.’

These dreams, longings, hopes and desires may point to our truest self, our deepest purpose, and they may give us hints – despite the setbacks we face along the way – on how to live. We don’t always get what we dream of. But Kushner concludes ‘I would wish for more people who dreamed boldly, and trusted their powers of resilience to see them through the inevitable disappointments.’

Something I’ve done for quite a few years now is to keep a list – a subcategory of my never-ending to-do list – which goes under the heading ‘Dreams and Wishes’. Every now and then I’ll become aware of something I’ve got a yearning to do, or to get involved in, but which for some reason or another doesn’t seem quite within reach right now. But I don’t want the dream to just fade away. So I park it on the list so I don’t forget. Some of the items on the dream-list seem a bit implausible or over-ambitious (and maybe I’ll never get round to them). Some of the dreams seem pretty modest but time, money, or resources prevent me from ticking them off the wishlist anytime soon. Acknowledging these dreams, naming them, and writing them down seems to bring them one step closer to making them reality… even if it’s just by preventing me from forgetting, keeping the dreams safe and ready for the moment when the stars align and I can take action to make these tentative aspirations into reality. And there are a few that I’ve ticked off the list in recent years.

I wonder what dreams you’re secretly (or not so secretly) nurturing? For those who are here at Essex Church in person I’ve put a little sheet of paper with pre-printed ‘dream bubbles’ on your chair, along with a pencil, and I’m hoping our zoom host Charlotte has encouraged people at home to have a pen and paper to hand for this bit too. I invite you to write down some of your dreams. This is just for you. You don’t have to share these with anyone (though you can if you like). Think of what Rabbi Harold Kushner said: ‘to dream is to imagine a world and a life better than the one we know now’. Imagine your life, or the lives of your family and friends, your community, the world, just a little bit better than it is now, in some concrete way that you can name and note down. If dreaming boldly seems a bit of a stretch this morning, you’re allowed to dream modestly, or even tentatively. If you need to take a bit of a run-up before you dream boldly, that’s alright! But try to make sure your sense of what’s possible, what you’re even allowed to dream, hasn’t been unduly constrained by social and political norms, or other people’s lack of imagination. Dare to dream.

And perhaps you could keep that bit of paper on hand for the rest of the day, or for a few days, and keep adding to it as your dreams bubble up. I know I’ve not given you much chance to fill it in now.

I’d like to close with a blessing by Jean M. Olson; just right for those who dream boldly and are sometimes disappointed, yet who are brave, and resilient, and dare to dream again. She says: 

May you be brave enough to share
your aching woundedness
and reveal your vulnerability.

May you speak your deepest truths,
knowing that they will change as you do.

May you sing the music within you,
composing your own melody,
playing your song with all your heart.

May you draw, paint, dance, sculpt and sew,
showing the world your vision.

May you write letters, poetry, biography,
slogans, graffiti, the great novel,
laying bare your words to love and hate.

May you love even though your heart
breaks again and again.

And, to the end of your days,
may your life be filled
with possibilities and courage.

May you always dare to dream.

May it be so, for the greater good of all. Amen.

Hymn: ‘We Have a Dream’

Time for our last hymn, ‘We Have a Dream’, based on the famous and stirring words of Martin Luther King Jr., and proclaiming a dream of justice and equality for all people. Once again the words are on your hymn sheets and will be up on screen. Feel free to stand or sit as you feel moved. Let us sing.

We have a dream: this nation will arise,
and truly live according to its creed,
that all are equal in their maker’s eyes,
and none shall suffer though another’s greed.

We have a dream that one day we shall see
a world of justice, truth and equity,
where sons of slaves and daughters of the free
will share the banquet of community.

We have a dream of deserts brought to flower,
once made infertile by oppression’s heat,
when love and truth shall end oppressive power,
and streams of righteousness and justice meet.

We have a dream: our children shall be free
from judgements based on colour or on race;
free to become whatever they may be,
of their own choosing in the light of grace.

We have a dream that truth will overcome
the fear and anger of our present day;
that black and white will share a common home,
and hand in hand will walk the pilgrim way.

We have a dream: each valley will be raised,
and every mountain, every hill brought down;
then shall creation echo perfect praise,
and share God’s glory under freedom’s crown!

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions:

Just a few announcements now: Thanks to Ramona for being our onsite tech host today for the first time with Jeannene as co-pilot, encourager, and all-round right-hand-woman. Thanks to Charlotte for co-hosting, to Maria and Patricia for reading, and to Sandra for playing for us today.

For those of you who are here in-person, Patricia will be serving coffee, tea and biscuits in the hall after the service, if you want to stay for refreshments. For those of you who are on Zoom there will be virtual coffee hosted by Charlotte afterwards so please do hang around for a chat.

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 Wednesday. There are still spaces left for our Heart and Soul gatherings (online Sunday/Friday at 7pm) and this week’s theme is ‘About Time’.

In terms of in-person happenings: Our music scholar Abby Lorimier is holding a concert for Ukraine with her student chums on Tuesday 5th July at 7.30pm here at the church. Our poetry group will meet again on Wednesday 6th July at 7pm, get in touch with David, Brian, or Marianne if you want to know more and to sign up in advance. I’m afraid today’s ‘Many Voices’ LGBTQ+ singing group has been cancelled due to illness – hopefully it’ll be back later in the summer. Our own Harold and Margaret are holding a concert in a church local to them up, All Saints Child’s Hill up in Hampstead, on Saturday 9th July at 7.30pm. I’ll put details of that in next Friday’s email.

Our service next Sunday will be on ‘The A-Z of Pride’, it’s zoom only at 10.30am, and will feature a guest reflection from Gaynor, a friend of this congregation who you may know from Heart and Soul.

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 the details were in the Friday email too.

I think that’s everything. Just time for our closing words and closing music now.

Benediction: based on words by Sean Parker Dennison

At this moment of ending,
may there be a good word
– a blessing – to help us remember
what we have so often forgotten.

May the message we need
be gently spoken and held
in the spaces in our cells,
the fibres that hold all we need
to maintain our gentleness,
our courage, and our hope;
to hold on to the dream
of a better future.

At this moment of ending,
may the goodness we wish
for ourselves and each other,
this community, ecosystem,
planet, and stardust galaxy,
become such a part of us
that we cannot tell where
the blessing ends and we begin.


(blow out candle)

Closing Music: ‘The Impossible Dream’

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

26th June 2022