To Bless and Be Blessed – 24/07/22

Musical Prelude: ‘A Gaelic Blessing’ by John Rutter performed by Abby Lorimier and Sandra Smith

Opening Words: ‘A Shared Blessing’ by Marta M. Flanagan (adapted)

We gather this day; we come in search of life’s meaning.

All of us have moments of weakness and times of strength;
All sing songs of sorrow and love.

In this time we turn our thoughts to how we can
Touch and be touched,
Love and be loved,
Forgive and be forgiven,
Heal and be healed,
So that the goodness of our lives is a shared blessing.

As we gather together this morning
in the presence of the sacred,
may we come to know our true selves,
Finding a fresh impulse to love and do good.

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words, written by Marta Flanagan, 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 all who are joining us via Zoom from far and wide. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, 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, welcome. Perhaps you might like to hang around for a chat after the service, drop us an email to introduce yourself, 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. 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 – and for keeping faith with our Unitarian cause during these times of uncertainty and change. 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. I hope each and every one of you finds something of what you need in our gathering today.

Today’s service is ‘To Bless and Be Blessed’. Blessing is part of our everyday language – someone sneezes and we say ‘bless you!’ – someone does something sweet/kind and we say ‘oh, bless him’. But what does it mean, to bless? And how might we adopt a practice of blessing in our everyday lives?

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. We consecrate this time and space with our presence and intention. So perhaps you might put down anything you don’t need to be holding. Maybe scrunch up your shoulders and let them go. And let’s stop and take a breath. As we breathe out let us release anything that is stopping us from being fully present – any preoccupations or distractions we are carrying – let’s put them down and lay them to one side for an hour or so.

Chalice Lighting: ‘The Light in Each Other’ by Jill McAllister

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.

The light of life shines through
the eyes of each and every person.
The light of truth shines through each life.
May the light of this chalice remind us
that our search for truth and light is ongoing,
and is enhanced and nurtured by every person we meet.
May we honour the light in each other.

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. We’re going to go to the people in the building first, take all of those in one go, 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, and GET REALLY CLOSE TO THE MICROPHONE, so that everyone (including the people at home) can hear what you’re saying.

(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.

Time of Prayer & Reflection: based on words by Elizabeth Bukey

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

We gather in reverence and thanks for You,
Ground of our Being, Source of all Good.
We are grateful for the gift of another breath,
and for each moment of connection, beauty, and truth.

Cry with us in our pain for our world.
Remind us that we are loved, just as we are.
Remind us that we are connected with all that is.
Remind us that we do not journey alone.

Give us what we need for today.
Call us back to our promises, commitments, and values.
Help us love ourselves and each other,
And to show that love in our actions.

Make us instruments of justice, equity, and compassion.
Free us from all that is evil; keep us from wrong.
We declare that life and love are stronger than tyranny and fear,
That a world of beauty and love is coming,
And we must shape it together. (pause)

Let us take a moment now to focus our loving thoughts and prayers
on all those who are suffering in our world right now – through illness or injury, isolation or injustice – and let us also pray for those who care;
who act and speak out to improve the lives of those in need. In a moment or two of stillness let us call to mind a person, or situation, in need of prayer.

And let us take another moment to focus our thoughts and prayers
on all that we have to be grateful for right now – the goodness that persists despite all the world’s challenges and uncertainties – all the kindness, beauty, and pleasure we have known, and witnessed. In this moment of stillness let us call to mind something we feel moved to give thanks for.

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: ‘Gather the Spirit’

Let’s sing together now. Our first hymn today is a heart-warming favourite: ‘Gather the Spirit’. 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: ‘Gather the Spirit’.

Gather the spirit, harvest the power.
Our separate fires will kindle one flame.
Witness the mystery of this hour.
Our trials in this light appear all the same.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit of heart and mind.
Seeds for the sowing are laid in store.
Nurtured in love and conscience refined,
with body and spirit united once more.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Gather the spirit growing in all,
drawn by the moon and fed by the sun.
Winter to spring, and summer to fall,
the chorus of life resounding as one.
Gather in peace, gather in thanks.
Gather in sympathy now and then.
Gather in hope, compassion and strength.
Gather to celebrate once again.

Pre-Recorded Reading: ‘On Blessing’ by Jeanne Harrison Niewejaar (read by Chloe)

One of the curiosities in the life of a minister is that we are often asked to offer blessings – to bless marriages, children, animals, meals, houses, public events. These are wonderful invitations to participate in something of deep significance to the people involved. I will confess that I moved through hundreds of such events before pausing to think about just what it might mean to offer a blessing. David Spangler – a writer, teacher, and one-time director of Findhorn, a spiritual community in northern Scotland – begins his book Blessing, with a story. He describes how a woman approached him after a lecture saying, “Give me a blessing.” He is awed by her request, and although he responds to her in that moment, he then finds himself reflecting on what it means to bless. “Who am I,” he asks, “to stand in the place of spirit and pronounce a blessing?”

Many assume that you must have access to some spiritual source, or have some holiness within you, in order for the blessing to have power. Exactly this, having holiness within us, is central to what many of us affirm about spiritual realities. Whatever there is that is holy, whatever has a spiritual energy, is at least as much within us as beyond us. Spangler, in the end, comes to this affirmation himself. “Who am I to offer a blessing?” he asks. Then he answers, “Who am I not to?” And so when we touch and are touched by one another – touched with openness and trust, and with good and healthy intentions – we experience a blessing. We may touch one another with our eyes, with our hands, with our words. If this comes from a deep place of authenticity and caring, it carries a wondrous power.

The Sanskrit word Namaste means something like “the god within me greets the god within you, and the divine spark within me bows to the divine spark within you.” Namaste describes a moment of deep recognition and presence, a moment of spirit touching spirit. Spangler says the same about a blessing – that it is “a two-way street: not something one does for someone else, but something we become together in order that the spirit may flow.” What a wonderful concept! Many families do have a tradition of saying blessings before meals or before bedtime, or when they gather for holidays or milestone events. May such traditions multiply and expand, as openings for simple moments of spiritual connection.

Words for Meditation: ‘Blessing as Belovedness’

Thanks Chloë. We’ve come now to a time of meditation. I’m going to offer a few simple words on blessing to take us into a few minutes of shared stillness. The silence will end with the sound of a bell. And then we’ll hear some lovely meditative music from Abby and Sandra. So let’s each do what we need to do to get comfortable – adjust your position if you need to – perhaps put your feet flat on the floor to ground and steady yourself – you might like to close your eyes. As we always say, the words and music are just an offering, feel free to use this time to meditate in your own way.

Henri Nouwen once said this about the act of blessing:

‘A blessing is the most significant affirmation we can offer.
It is more than a word of praise or appreciation;
it is more than pointing out someone’s talents or good deeds;
it is more than putting someone in the light.
To give a blessing to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness.’

So as we enter into this time of shared stillness and peace, I invite you
to bring to mind some of the people who have touched your life,
and, as you ponder them, to offer a silent blessing within your heart.

You might find yourself thinking of a loved one or a dear friend…
then perhaps a person you don’t know so well, an acquaintance…
and even maybe somebody you find difficult, someone with whom
you’ve got unfinished business, or you are in need of reconciliation.

As individuals come to mind, in their turn, I invite you
to hold them in the light of love, and offer a silent blessing.

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

Musical Interlude: ‘Adoration’ by Florence Price’ performed by Abby/Sandra

In-Person Reading: from ‘Life of the Beloved’ by Henri Nouwen (read by Jane)

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch-born Catholic priest, wrote many beautiful books on spiritual matters, this one – ‘Life of the Beloved’ – was written specifically for a secular Jewish friend who didn’t connect with his more traditionally theological books and so is particularly accessible – it was recommended to me about twenty years ago and still means a lot to me now. Also for context Nouwen was part of a L’Arche community in Canada where people with a variety of disabilities, including learning disabilities, live together alongside those who help to care for them. This is a longer piece than I’d usually use (about 5 mins) but I think it’s a story worth settling in for. He writes:

I am increasingly aware of how much we fearful, anxious, insecure human beings are in need of a blessing. We all need each other’s blessings – masters and disciples, rabbis and students, bishops and priests, doctors and patients alike.

Let me first tell you what I mean by the word “blessing”. In Latin, to bless is benedicere. The word “benediction” that is used in many churches means literally: speaking (dictio) well (bene) or saying good things of someone. That speaks to me. I need to hear good things said of me, and I know how much you have the same need. Nowadays, we often say: “We have to affirm each other.” Without affirmation, it is hard to live well. To give someone a blessing is the most significant affirmation we can offer. It is more than a word of praise or appreciation; it is more than pointing out someone’s talents or good deeds; it is more than putting someone in the light. To give a blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness. And more than that: to give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks. There is a lot of mutual admiration in this world, just as there is a lot of mutual condemnation. A blessing goes beyond the distinction between admiration and condemnation, between virtues and vices, between good deeds or evil deeds. A blessing touches the original goodness of the other and calls forth that person’s Belovedness.

Not long ago, in my own community, I had a very personal experience of the power of a real blessing. Shortly before I started a prayer service in one of our houses, Janet, a member of our community, said to me: “Henri, can you give me a blessing?” I responded in a somewhat automatic way by tracing with my thumb the sign of the cross on her forehead. Instead of being grateful, however, she responded vehemently, “No, that doesn’t work. I want a real blessing!”

I suddenly became aware of the ritualistic quality of my response to her request and said, “Oh, I am sorry, let me give you a real blessing when we are all together for the prayer service.” She nodded with a smile, and I realised that something special was required of me. After the service, when about thirty people from the community were sitting in a circle on the floor, I said, “Janet has asked me for a special blessing. She feels that she needs that at this time.” As I was saying this, I didn’t know what Janet really wanted. But Janet didn’t leave me in doubt for very long. As soon as I had said, “Janet has asked me for a special blessing,” she stood up and walked toward me. I was wearing a long white robe with ample sleeves covering my hands as well as my arms. Spontaneously, Janet put her arms around me and put her head against my chest. Without thinking, I covered her with my sleeves so that she almost vanished in the folds of my robe. As we held each other, I said, “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s Beloved Daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you.”

As I said these words, Janet raised her head and looked at me; and her broad smile showed that she had really heard and received the blessing. When she returned to her place, Jane, another disabled young woman in our community, raised her hand and said, “I want a blessing too.” She stood up and, before I knew it, had put her face against my chest. After I had spoken words of blessing to her, many more community members followed, expressing the same desire to be blessed. The most touching moment, however, came when one of the care workers, a twenty-four-year-old student, raised his hand and said, “And what about me?” “Sure,” I said. “Come.” He came, and, as we stood before each other, I put my arms around him and said, “John, it is so good that you are here. You are God’s Beloved Son. Your presence is a joy for all of us. When things are hard and life is burdensome, always remember that you are loved with an everlasting love.” As I spoke these words, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and then he said, “Thank you, thank you very much.”

Address: ‘To Bless and Be Blessed’ by Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

I wonder how many of you have read ‘Gilead’, a wonderful novel by Marilynne Robinson? Many years ago we read it in our church book group. It was one of my favourites, though it’s been a few years now since I last read it, and it’s probably time for me to return to it again. ‘Gilead’ is told from the point of view of an elderly Congregationalist minister looking back over his life. In this passage he recalls that as an (unusually pious) child he had baptised a litter of stray cats. He says:

‘Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it is a very different thing. It stays in the mind. For years we would wonder what, from a cosmic viewpoint, we had done to them. It still seems to me to be a real question. There is a reality in blessing… It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it and there is a power in that. I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.’

So, if we begin by asking ‘what does it mean, to bless?’, we might consider the dictionary definitions. To bless is to: ‘to make holy by religious rite, to sanctify’ or ‘to infuse something with holiness… or one’s hope or approval’…but for our purposes I think that notion from the protagonist of ‘Gilead’ perhaps serves as a better starting point for our reflections: ‘blessing… doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that.’

In that story from Henri Nouwen I just read, he said: ‘I am increasingly aware of how much we fearful, anxious, insecure human beings are in need of a blessing.’ I couldn’t agree more. So many of us carry around a sense of ‘not being good enough’ that can creep up on us at any moment. Perhaps we heard too much criticism and not enough appreciation in our youth. It could also be said that in today’s socio-political climate there is increasingly an implicit message that people are only of any worth so long as they are economically ‘useful’ – God help you if you are poor, sick, old, or somehow don’t fit into the system – but whatever you do, it can seem as if all you’ve got to give is never enough. No wonder so many people feel fearful, anxious, insecure, and have a shaky sense of their own worth. Sometimes it seems like the whole world – certainly the world of advertising and social media – is queueing up to tell us what is ‘wrong’ with us. And the practice of blessing can be an antidote to all this, reminding people of their inherent sacredness.

However, paradoxically, a lot of us seem to feel uncertain, embarrassed or awkward about blessings. Even if, at some level, we long to be blessed, we might find ourselves shrinking back or unconsciously putting up barriers when a blessing is actually offered to us. There’s a reading by Barbara Merritt that we use quite often at church – it speaks of a time when she was effusively praised by a friend – and the ambivalence she felt at being affirmed in this way. She said: ‘I found a very complex internal process going on within me. I was touched, unnerved, and a little sad that I hadn’t heard these words as a child. But mostly I became conscious of enormous resistance. Something in me was not quite ready to let these words in.’

I find that rather sad… but I can also relate to it. I remember when I first started coming to Essex Church (twenty-something years ago) – I found it quite unnerving back then when all these strange Unitarians started saying nice, appreciative, encouraging things to me. It was so unlike what I was used to hearing in the world at large – workplace ‘banter’, and online mickey-taking – which can so often be critical and undermining. And I too felt this strange push-pull between the great hunger to hear kind words and the sense that I didn’t quite know what to do with them… I’d rarely experienced such kindness elsewhere. This place was – and is, mostly – a place of blessing.

Offering a blessing can be just as awkward, embarrassing, and anxiety-provoking as receiving one, so we typically save it for special occasions (births, marriages and deaths) and even then we tend to devolve responsibility for blessing to specially appointed ministers. Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopalian minister, has written something about this phenomenon. She says:

‘I think it is a big mistake to perpetuate the illusion that only certain people can bless things. There remain a great many people who excuse themselves when asked to pronounce a formal blessing. They are not qualified, they say. They are not good with words. They would rather jump off a high diving board than try to say something holy in front of a bunch of other people. My guess is that even if you asked them to bless something in private – thereby separating the fear of public speaking from the fear of pronouncing a blessing – they would still demur. If you are one of those people, then only you know why. All I can tell you is how much the world needs you to reconsider.’

I wonder if this is because, on some level, we know how important it is – how powerful a blessing can be – and we don’t want to be the one who messes it up. But really we can’t afford to leave it to the professionals – we need all hands on deck! There are so many people in this world in need of a blessing – who are fearful, anxious, insecure and uncertain of their own worth – and there’s nobody but us to do it. To paraphrase Teresa of Avila: ‘God has no hands but yours… yours are the hands by which God is to bless us now.’

So… we’ve looked at the what and the why and now we can turn to Henri Nouwen to find out how we might go about giving and receiving blessings. In the story I just read, the young woman from the L’Arche community, Janet, shows us how it’s done. She’s such a great example! Firstly, she knows she is in need of a blessing, and does not hesitate to ask for one. Secondly, when Henri offers a rather mechanical sign of the cross, she tells him off: ‘No, that doesn’t work! I want a real blessing!’ Janet longs for something significant, deep and real, and is bold enough to ask for it directly. When he is called on it, Henri realises that he was just going through the motions but, at first, doesn’t know what is required of him. What is a ‘real’ blessing? He stalls and says that he will offer a blessing in the evening service but even when the time comes he doesn’t know what he is going to say or do… but he opens himself to the moment… and in the end, perhaps, the blessing that arises is a joint effort between Janet, Henri, and what we might call the spirit.

There are a few words on the front of your order of service by Rachel Naomi Remen (and for those of you at home they are on the website along with the whole text of the sermon). She says: ‘A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another.’

Perhaps the most moving part of Henri Nouwen’s story, for me, is the way in which Janet’s boldness liberates everybody else in the community to be vulnerable and show that they too are in need, as one by one both the cared-for and the carers come forward to receive a blessing.

Although each instance of blessing will unfold spontaneously and uniquely, as the spirit moves, we can learn something about the shape or attributes of a blessing from this story. I want to highlight three aspects of a blessing which we might do well to take note of.

The first aspect of blessing is simple human contact, in this case an enfolding embrace, as Henri covers Janet in his big white robes. For me, this sort of gesture helps to convey something that goes beyond words – something of being enfolded in love, both human and divine. Even though we are often literally pressed right up against each other in big cities, this sort of intentional human contact, offering a sense of comfort and acceptance, is rare for many of us (and, for many of us, it has become a lot rarer over the last few years; lately we have had to weigh up the desire for such contact against the risks that come with it… for some of us that dilemma has been agonisingly painful, and it hasn’t gone away). We might broaden our understanding of this dimension of blessing to something more like ‘presence’ though; it’s not exclusively about physical touch but perhaps primarily about really being there, being with. And we can authentically ‘be there’ for each other in a multitude of ways even when we can’t be up close. But in the words of John O’Donohue, ‘when one is in sorrow or pain, touch can be the silent language that says everything; it travels deeper than words can.’ Its absence is a loss.

The second aspect of blessing is an element of personal affirmation, specifically naming the good that you see in someone. In modern life, particularly in big cities, many people feel almost invisible, so even to acknowledge that they have been seen or heard at all is a significant thing. To name the good that you see in another may enable them to see it in themselves, and even call forth that quality in them, as they try to ‘live up to’ your affirmation. Here’s an example from my own experience. Many years ago, in my twenties, I took part in a women’s group. On one occasion we sat in a circle and each of us had to offer a single word to the person sitting next to them, naming a good quality they saw in them. The woman next to me – Jackie, who I’ve not seen or heard from in a decade now – offered the word ‘creativity’ to describe me. That’s not how I saw myself at all at the time, but her affirmation really sowed a seed in my consciousness, and I have carried that positive notion around with me ever since. I have lost touch with Jackie but with that word she did such a lot of good for my self-confidence and has inadvertently helped shape the course of my life. One tiny affirmation such as this can be a blessing that lives on forever in another’s heart.

The third aspect of blessing, for me, involves a higher dimension. I think of it as the ‘God’s Eye View’. When we bless, we somehow transcend the personal, just for a moment. Henri Nouwen blesses people with the phrase ‘you are God’s beloved child’ and that phrase holds a lot of power for me. Barbara Brown Taylor says this: ‘Pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective… this may be why blessing prayers make some people uncomfortable. A loyal churchwoman once said in my hearing, “I don’t want to be that important.” Yet she relied on me, her priest, to say the blessings she was unwilling to say herself – because she knew they were necessary, because she needed to hear a human voice pronouncing God’s blessing on her… otherwise she might give in to the insistent idea that she truly was not important, that both she and the whole world… were without any significant meaning.’

If God-language doesn’t work for you, maybe there’s another way to phrase this ‘larger view’, and it’s one you might be familiar with as it’s a foundational Unitarian and UU principle: ‘to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person’. This is something quite apart from the specific good qualities we might choose to affirm… It is saying that regardless of the particulars of our life – whether we’ve been naughty or nice, as it were – we are ultimately worthwhile. This is the one key principle we share: affirmation of worth and dignity. As far as I’m concerned that message is central to our Unitarian mission, our ‘good news’.

So… I reckon it would be good for us as Unitarians to make a conscious practice of blessing. Maybe it won’t always feel right to include all three ‘dimensions’ of blessing I’ve suggested – human contact (or being present), personal affirmation, and taking a God’s-eye view – but I encourage you to do it in a way that suits your personality and the situation at hand. There’s no need to be extravagant about it if that’s not your style – for example, I rarely feel brave enough to tell people ‘you are God’s beloved child’ – but quite often say something a bit more casual and low-key like ‘you are such a good egg!’…and for a lot of people, I suspect, that message is going to be easier to hear. And please – please – don’t ever think ‘it goes without saying’ because the value of your affirmation may be huge. So many of us are in need of a good word.

So, in the days and weeks to come, I encourage you to give and receive blessings. Like Henri Nouwen, we might not know exactly what is required of us, but let us cultivate an attitude of reverence, sensitivity, and openness, approaching each potential moment of blessing with courage and goodwill. May it be so, for the greater good of all. Amen.

Hymn: ‘Here in this Moment’s Song’

Time for our last hymn, ‘Here in this Moment’s Song’. 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.

Here in this moment’s song
Great symphonies are sung;
All people we contain
Ageless, though old or young:
In passing words and melody
We celebrate eternity.

Thus, in each moment small
We can contain all hours;
In everyone the All
Expresses and empowers;
Each person great, a living world
From whom uniqueness is unfurled.

Hope shall admit no bounds
As love no limit knows;
Each new-born dream made real
In our commitment grows;
The possible, the yet-to-be
Is now, is here, is you and me.

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions

Just a few announcements: Thanks to Jeannene for tech-hosting today with Ramona in support. Thanks to Charlotte for co-hosting, Chloë for reading, Sandra and Abby for playing for us today.

For those of you who are here in-person, Heidi 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 ‘Sacrifice’.

In terms of in-person happenings: Next Sunday there will be a GreenSpirit summer picnic and walk, setting off from church at noon, or you can meet at Lancaster Gate at 12.30pm. And the following Wednesday, 3rd August, the in-person poetry group will be meeting at 7pm, do get in touch with David, Brian, or Marianne, if you would like to take part in that, do get in touch.

Speaking of poetry: our service next Sunday will be a congregational service on ‘Poems to Live By’ featuring contributions from Brian, Marianne, Hannah, Patricia and Juliet. That’s a Zoom service but if you’re planning to go along to the GreenSpirit picnic there will be an opportunity to join the service from a ‘watch party’ here at church where you can all gather round the big screen.

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. Time for our closing words and closing music now.

Benediction: based on words by Eric Williams and Gary Kowalski

What does it mean to bless? I wonder…
To bless does not mean saying magical words,
and thereby changing the mind of God,
or altering the course of the cosmos.

To bless does mean reminding each other of our gifts,
remembering the truth and wisdom that is within us,
naming the beauty and the goodness we each embody,
and recalling our common purpose here on earth.

The choices we make and the work we do
are how we bless each other and the world.
May the words we say, and the songs we sing
Name the wholeness we already are and still yet seek.

So may the blessings of life be upon us and upon this congregation.
May the memories we gather here give us hope for the future.
May the love that we share bring strength and joy to our hearts,
and the peace of this community be with us until we meet again.

Amen. (blow out candle)

Closing Music: ‘Spirit of Life’ performed by Abby/Sandra

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

24th July 2022