Bring Flowers to Our Altar – 17/07/22

Opening Music: ‘Traumerei’ by Schumann played by Abby Lorimier & Sydney Mariano

Opening Words: ‘The Flowers Remind Us’ adapted from words by David E. Bumbaugh

Everywhere you look,
in every nook and cranny,
during this season of life,
the flowers are there.
Spilling down from a grassy verge,
buttercups display a shower of gold
for drivers who speed by
too quickly to grasp the glory
poured out freely for all to see.

The flowers, you see,
do not bloom for us.
they do not care
whether or not we see them.
They grow and bloom
because they are full of life,
because the history of the species
impels them to display their glory,
not to the world, but as part of the world,
because the world would be incomplete
without the riot of blossoms
which expresses nature’s
voiceless joy in life.

We know they are a gift of grace,
softening the harsh edges of reality.
They invite us to seek the beauty in each moment;
they encourage us to find fulfilment
in life and the living of it;
and they remind us that nothing is forever,
that each moment, with its beauty and fulfilment,
passes on into another moment
with gifts to be discovered and savoured.
One cannot keep the moment
any more than one can keep the flower.
One can only rejoice and give thanks
for the grace which makes this world,
our home, a setting of beauty and delight,
where we, too, may be lived by life,
with nothing to gain, nothing to prove.

We, too, are products of nature’s extravagance.
Each of us is unique. Mingled together, interacting,
we do not become less unique,
but rather find our uniqueness heightened.
Here, in this space, this human community,
we find the fuller dimensions of our individuality,
the richer meaning of our existence,
the profound delight of this world
and the precious life we have been given. (pause)

These opening words, taken from a piece by David E. Bumbaugh, welcome all those who have gathered on Zoom this morning to take part in our Sunday service. Welcome to regular members of the Essex Church congregation, to friends old and new, and welcome too to 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.

I hope each one of you finds something of what you need in our gathering this morning. Please do hang around afterwards for a chat if you’d like to. You can always drop us an email to say hello and introduce yourself if you’d like. Or you might try coming to one of our small-group gatherings to get to know us better. Whether it’s your first time or your thousandth time, you are welcome, and you are valued. We have a part to play in co-creating this sacred space, this sense of community.

As we always say, feel free to do what you need to do to be comfortable this hour – it’s always lovely to see your faces in the gallery and get a sense of our togetherness as a congregation – but we know for some it will feel more comfortable to keep your camera mostly-off and that’s fine. Similarly there’ll be opportunities to join in as we go along but there’s no compulsion to do so.

This morning’s service is our virtual Flower Communion – this is a special Unitarian tradition – a service we hold each summer. The Flower Communion was created by Czech Unitarian minister Norbert Čapek almost a hundred years ago as a celebration of unity in diversity and the power of giving and receiving in community according to our diverse gifts and needs. And we’ll hear a bit more about the history and the symbolism of the ritual later in the service. Hopefully you’ll have all got the message encouraging you to bring along a single flower to our service today, or a picture of a favourite bloom, but imaginary flowers will also do the trick if you haven’t come prepared. Later on, in the second half of today’s service, I will invite you to take part in a flower communion ritual adapted for Zoom (and I’ll explain how we’re going to do it when we get there).

Chalice Lighting: ‘Cherishing Our Differences’ by Cindy Fesgen

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 are all capable
In different ways
With various strengths and talents.

We are all holy
Part of the universe
And the interdependent web.

We light this chalice
Cherishing our differences
And holding each other in sacredness.

Candles of Joy and Concern:

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. 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)

Prayer: based on words by John Saxon

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)

Our words fail us – our minds fail us –
when we ponder the enormity, diversity,
complexity, wonder, and beauty of the universe and this world.
And yet we sense, more than know, that our lives are part of a larger Life,
that we are indeed connected with everyone and everything
in one interdependent web of being, and that there is something,
both immanent and transcendent, that nurtures and sustains our lives and Life itself:
something that calls us and all life to greater wholeness and harmony. (pause)

We give thanks this morning for all of the gifts and blessings of life:
for this day, for the beauty and wonder and mystery of creation,
for our families and friends, for health and work,
for opportunities to learn and love and grow,
for the care and support of others in times of illness or despair.

But we remember, too, that others – our human kin –
here in this gathering, across the nation, and around the world,
live in poverty, hunger, fear, illness, isolation, violence, and insecurity;
so many are ground down by systems of injustice and oppression,
or are caught up in the chaos and confusion not of their making.

In the silence of this gathering and in the silence of our hearts,
may we hear the call to a wider perspective and a deeper resolve. (pause)

May we live with greater compassion and care for ourselves, others, and creation.
May we touch each other more deeply, hear each other more clearly,
and see each other’s joys and sorrows as our own.
May we strive to be and become more than we are:
more loving, more forgiving, more kind, more honest,
more authentic, more open, more connected, more whole.

And yet, paradoxically perhaps, may we accept ourselves,
just as we are in this moment, and know that we are enough.

May we heal and be healed.
May we face the uncertainties and tragedies of life
with hope, faith, and courage, knowing that
Life is good and that we are not alone.

And in a good few moments of silence 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 –
let us lift up whatever is on our heart this day. (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: ‘Bring Flowers to Our Altar’ performed by Unitarian Music Society

Time to sing! Our first hymn, ‘Bring Flowers to Our Altar’, just perfect for a flower communion. The words will appear on screen so that you can sing along – or you might prefer just to listen instead.

Bring flowers to our altar to show nature’s beauty
The harvest of goodness in earth, sky and sea.
Bring light to our altar to guide every nation
From hatred to love and to humanity.
Bring a dove to our altar its wings ever flying
In permanent quest for the peace all may share.
Bring bread to our altar the hungry supplying
And feeding the poor who depend on our care.

Bring hope to our altar in your cheerful dreaming
Of all the good things that will make your heart glad.
Bring love to our altar, a bright witness beaming
To all who are burdened, or lonely or sad.
Bring work to our altar to help every nation
And celebrate all that’s already achieved.
Come yourself to our altar in true dedication
To all the ideals we in common believe.

Reading: ‘A Short History of Flower Communion’ by Evan Keely (adapted) (read by Jeannene)

This year marks the (99th) anniversary of the founding of the Religious Society of Czech Unitarians. Its first minister, the Rev. Dr. Norbert Čapek, created a ritual that is celebrated by Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists all over the world to this day: Flower Communion. Čapek described the ceremony in a 1923 letter to Samuel Atkins Eliot II, president of the American Unitarian Association:

‘We have made a new experiment in symbolizing our Liberty and Brotherhood in a service which was so powerful and impressive that I never experienced anything like it… On that very Sunday… everybody was supposed to bring with him a flower. In the middle of the big hall was a suitable table with a big vase where everybody put his flower… in my sermon I put emphasis on the individual character of each “member-flower,” on our liberty as a foundation of our fellowship. Then I emphasized our common cause, our belonging together as one spiritual community… And when they go home, each is to take one flower just as it comes without making any distinction where it came from and whom it represents, to confess that we accept each other as brothers and sisters without regard to class, race, or other distinction, acknowledging everybody as our friend who is a human and wants to be good.’

The marvellous natural beauty of the flowers that are brought to these ceremonies is certainly inspiring, but it is of the utmost importance that we continue to learn the broader and deeper lesson this rite teaches. The idea that we should accept one another, with all our differences, and that we should even celebrate one another’s uniqueness, is a radical notion in any age, but in Europe in the 1920s it was downright dangerous; it became ever more so, of course, in the decades that followed, especially as Czechoslovakia found itself among the first nations to succumb to the opportunistic infection that was Nazism. The Nazis, of course, represent the polar opposite of Čapek’s ideals. Flower Communion is a defiant No! in the face of the brutal racism of Hitler and of the fascists’ craving to erect towering, horrific empires upon pediments of subjugation and terror, and it is a joyous Yes! to diversity, equality, and liberty.

As Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists all over the world celebrate Flower Communion, as so many of us do at this season of the year, we do well to consider what it is that we are saying No! to, and where our joyous Yes! is. (Do we continue to defy the forces of intolerance that seek to deny equal rights to all; which persecute minority groups, and make scapegoats of ‘outsiders’, in order to ‘divide and conquer’?) Do we stand together clutching bouquets of righteousness and justice in our hearts as we persevere in demanding compassion for immigrants, for labourers, and for the poor? Do we say Yes! to a future for our planet in which we will coexist with all life harmoniously?

Arrested by the Nazis for the “crime” of listening to foreign radio broadcasts, Čapek spent fourteen weeks at Dachau before being martyred in October of 1942 in a Nazi gas chamber. He is remembered around the world for how he died, but more so for what died for — and what he lived for.

Meditation: ‘A Bouquet of People’ by Thomas Rhodes

Thank you, Jeannene. We’ve come to a time of meditation. To take us into stillness, I’m going to share a few light-hearted words by Thomas Rhodes, describing humans in community as ‘A Bouquet of People’. After his words I’ll offer a few of my own – some prompts for your inward reflection –
to prepare for our Flower Communion. These words will be followed by a few minutes of stillness during which – in a slight change from our usual programming – we’ll have a selection of beautiful flowers on screen. And the silence will end with some well-known and soothing music from Abby and Sydney. 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. (pause)

We come in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes.
Some of us grow in bunches.
Some of us grow alone.
Some of us are cupped inward,
And some of us spread ourselves out wide.
Some of us are old and dried and tougher than we appear.
Some of us are still in bud.
Some of us grow low to the ground,
And some of us stretch toward the sun.
Some of us feel like weeds, sometimes.
Some of us carry seeds, sometimes.
Some of us are prickly, sometimes.
Some of us smell.
And all of us are beautiful.
What a bouquet of people we are! (pause)

As we move into a time of shared stillness now, I invite you to reflect on your place in this ‘bouquet of people’ – this church community – with all of our different characteristics and ways of being in this world – all our different likes and dislikes – all our differing gifts and needs.

Imagine yourself as bringing one unique bloom to this beautiful and varied bunch of flowers. So I invite you to let that flower symbolise one gift that you bring to the life of this community – perhaps a quality of your character, or some practical contribution, or your simple presence here – it’s not always easy to big ourselves up, but I encourage you to be brave, and acknowledge the good you bring. And, remembering that community is a space within which we give and receive, I invite you to imagine choosing another bloom from the bunch of flowers to take away with you. Let this symbolise a gift you receive, or have received, from being a part of this congregation.

As we move into shared stillness I invite you to ponder on this; ‘what a bouquet of people we are!’

Silence: 3 minutes silence accompanied by flower slideshow

Musical Interlude: ‘Air’ by Bach played by Abby Lorimier & Sydney Mariano

Reading: ‘For the Flowers have the Gift of Language’ by Richard S. Gilbert (read by Patricia)

The flowers have the gift of language.
In the meadow they speak of freedom,
Creating patterns wild and free as no gardener could match.
In the forest they nestle, snug carpets under the roof of
Leaf and branch, making a rug of such softness.
At end tip of branches they cling briefly
Before bursting into fruit sweet to taste.

Flowers, can you not speak joy to our sadness?
And hope to our fear?
Can you not say how it is with you
That you colour the darkest corner?

The flowers have the gift of language.
At the occasion of birth they are buds before bursting.
At the ceremony of love they unite two lovers in beauty.
At the occasion of death, they remind us how lovely is life.

Oh, would that you had voice,
Silent messengers of hope.
Would that you could tell us how you feel,
Arrayed in such beauty.

The flowers have the gift of language.
In the dark depths of a death camp
They speak the light of life.
In the face of cruelty
They speak of courage.
In the experience of ugliness
They bespeak the persistence of beauty.

Speak, messengers, speak!
For we would hear your message.
Speak, messengers, speak!
For we need to hear what you would say.

For the flowers have the gift of language:
They transport the human voice on winds of beauty;
They lift the melody of song to our ears;
They paint through the eye and hand of the artist;
Their fragrance binds us to sweet-smelling earth.

May the blessing of the flowers be upon you.
May their beauty beckon to you each morning
And their loveliness lure you each day,
And their tenderness caress you each night.
May their delicate petals make you gentle,
And their eyes make you aware.
May their stems make you sturdy,
And their reaching make you care.

Flower Communion:

We’ve come now to the time for our virtual Flower Communion ceremony. As we heard in the reading from Jeannene earlier, traditionally at an in-person Flower Communion, each person would bring a single flower with them and put it in a common bowl at the start of the service. Then at the end of the service everyone would take home a different flower, brought along by someone else, to symbolise the varied gifts we each give and receive in the life of community.

We have had to adapt the ritual a bit to something that we can do online but the spirit remains!

So in the next ten minutes or so I’m going to invite you to take turns in holding up the flower you have brought (or, as I said, it might be a picture of a flower, or you can describe an imaginary flower) and tell us about one gift you bring to our community and one gift you receive or have received. As I said in the words for meditation, I know sometimes people are hesitant to big themselves up, but I encourage you to own your gifts and be willing to acknowledge the good that you bring here. It might be a quality of your character, or some practical contribution, or your simple presence here.
Bear in mind that we have got about ten minutes and I want to allow everyone who wants to speak to do so; I don’t want to cut anyone off so I will let it run long if necessary to give everyone a chance. And as Jeannene said at the start your contributions will be in the recording and the podcast unless you get in touch straight after the service to let me know that you want your bit to be edited out.

And so we don’t get in too much of a muddle, when you want to speak, please put your hand up. I’ll call on you and spotlight you (and then you can unmute yourself). I hope that all makes sense. So – your flower – a gift you bring – and a gift you have received. Who would like to get us started?

(people share their flowers)

It looks like our flower communion is coming to an end. Thank you all for sharing your gifts and gratitudes. There’s no better way to close this ritual than with words by Norbert Čapek himself. ‘For the Consecration of the Flowers’:

Consecration of the Flowers: ‘For the Consecration of the Flowers’ by Norbert Čapek

Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these, thy messengers of fellowship and love.

May they remind us, amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts,
to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will.

May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike.

May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts.

May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us,
or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do,
great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world. Amen.

Hymn: ‘Earth Was Given as a Garden’ performed by the Unitarian Music Society

Let’s sing together one last time. Our second hymn today is ‘Earth Was Given as a Garden’. Once again the words will be up on your screen so I encourage you to sing along at home.

Earth was given as a garden,
cradle for humanity;
tree of life and tree of knowledge
placed for our discovery.
Here was home for all your creatures
born of land and sky and sea;
all created in your image,
all to live in harmony.

Show to us again the garden
where all life flows fresh and free.
Gently guide your sons and daughters
into full maturity.
Teach us how to trust each other,
how to use for good our power,
how to touch the earth with reverence.
Then once more will Eden flower.

Bless the earth and all your children.
One creation, make us whole,
interwoven, all connected,
planet wide and inmost soul.
Holy mother, life bestowing,
bid our waste and warfare cease.
Fill us all with grace o’erflowing.
Teach us how to live in peace.


A few announcements: Thanks to Jeannene and Patricia for reading, Abby and Sydney for our music, and Jeannene for co-hosting. We’ll have virtual coffee-time after the service as usual so you can stay and chat if you like. If that’s not your thing, do get in touch via email if you’d like to say hello.

We have various small group activities during the week. Coffee morning is online at 10.30am this Wednesday. There are still spaces left for our Heart and Soul gatherings (online Sunday/Friday at 7pm). H&S is a contemplative spiritual gathering, on Zoom, it’s a space for prayer and deep sharing – newcomers are always welcome – email me to sign up. This week’s theme is ‘Curiosity’.

Save the date for a Lammas picnic with the West London GreenSpirit group on Sunday 31st July.

And I want to draw your attention to an online event that’s coming up in just over a month’s time: Hucklow Summer School will be presenting an online series of talks once again this year. The topic is ‘Right Relationship’ and there’ll be five talks, nightly at 7pm, Monday-Friday from 22nd August. Each night a pair of speakers will take on some aspect of the theme and a few of those giving the talks will be familiar to our congregation: me and Sarah are kicking it off on the first night and some Heart and Soul regulars – Laura Dobson and Alex Brianson – are going to be involved as well.

Next week we’ll be having a hybrid service so you can join us either in-person at Essex Church or online as usual at 10.30 next Sunday. All the details of our programme will be in next Friday’s email. 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.

Benediction: ‘Flower Communion Blessing’ by Amy Zucker Morgenstern

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.

To close we have a responsive blessing by friend of the congregation Amy Zucker Morgenstern. If you’d like to join in the response is very simple: ‘may our lives bloom like the flowers’.

Each of us is a flower, with a delicate beauty uniquely our own.
We may be like sunflowers, turning always towards the light.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

We may be like night-blooming plants,
only displaying our fragrant petals when
it is dark and we think no one else can see.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

We may be hothouse flowers, far from our lands of origin,
cautiously tended within a harsh and unfamiliar climate.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

We may be frothy-headed like dandelions, eager to launch the new
generation with the first strong gust of wind: past our own bright youth,
but ready to pass our wisdom onward in precious gossamer-carried seeds.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

Some of us, sometimes, spring up
overnight and fade in the hot glare.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

Some of us, sometimes, are roses,
slowly assembling petal after tightly-wrapped petal,
and revealing our full glory only when everything is in place.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

Sometimes we are roadside weeds, wild loveliness
bursting improbably from the dust and debris.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

May we offer our beauty with the simplicity of flowers,
expecting no recognition, hoping for nothing,
giving out of what we are, and knowing it is enough.
May our lives bloom like the flowers.

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

Closing Music: ‘Vivace’ by Telemann played by Abby Lorimier & Sydney Mariano

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

17th July 2022