St Cecilia and & Music’s Many Gifts – 19/11/23

Musical Prelude: Op.26 ‘Scherzino’ by Schumann played by Evi Wang

Opening Words of Welcome and Chalice Lighting: ‘Brief and simple rest’ from Mark Bellettini (abridged)

Let the difficulties of the week
take their Sabbath now,
their brief and simple rest.
Let the worries of the week
Lay their heft gently onto the dark earth
Below this carpeted floor
Which can bear them with greater ease
Than any of us can by ourselves.
Let the tangle of feelings,
The pull and push of these last seven days
Sit still for a minute,
Stop (any restlessness in my heart)writhing in my heart,
And move no more than a Buddha
At rest under a tree.
Let there be stillness in my heart for a moment,
The balance point between breathing in
And breathing out, like the pause of a dancer
Between movements in the music.

Good morning everybody and welcome to this Sunday morning gathering of Kensington Unitarians – here in person in Notting Hill, London as well as online – an especial welcome to those of you joining us today on Zoom and those of you listening to a recording of this service as a podcast or watching a video on You Tube some time in the future. It’s good to think of this congregation stretching outwards in time and space like this. I hope you are all comfortable wherever you are. If I’ve not met you before, I’m Sarah Tinker, a friend and member of this congregation that I used to minister with a few years ago. It’s good to be back.

Let’s take a moment to settle ourselves in the here and now, wherever that may be for you. Aware as we are of the tumult of the life of the world churning along, too often in discord, yet we can create together a time of peace and harmony, making this a sacred time by our togetherness. Let’s take a conscious breath and as we breathe out let us release anything that burdens us, let’s sense an easing of our burdens, a release of tensions, a softening of our hearts.

(light chalice and hold)

We light this chalice each week as a symbol of the Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist communities around the world with whom we are joined in a progressive religious faith. May its light shine outwards to touch all beings that we may share graciously our one gift of life on this, our one planet earth home.

Hymn 124 (purple): ‘One More Step’

And our first hymn now speaks of one more step, one more step, one more word, one more prayer, one more song – each helping to build a shared world of togetherness. It’s hymn number 124 in the purple hymnbook or words will appear on your screen. Feel free to stand, sit, sing or simply enjoy listening – one more step.

One more step, we will take one more step,
’til there is peace for us and everyone,
we’ll take one more step.

One more word, we will say one more word,
’til every word is heard by everyone,
we’ll say one more word.

One more prayer, we will say one more prayer,
’til every prayer is shared by everyone,
we’ll say one more prayer.

One more song, we will sing one more song,
’til every song is sung by everyone,
we’ll sing one more song.

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. Please do get up close to the microphone as that will help everyone hear (including the people at home). You can take the microphone out of the stand if it’s not at a good height and have it microphone pointing right at your mouth. And if you can’t get to the microphone give me a wave and I’ll bring it over to you. Thank you.

(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:

Let’s join now in a time of reflection as I call on the divine spirit of life and love to be with us now and to bless all that we do and say together here today. Let each of us in our own way align ourselves with all that we hold to be of greatest worth.

Let us pray for our world, with all its grievous troubles. Our hearts ache for those suffering through violence in Gaza and Israel, as well as so many other places where violence rules. May a song of peace whisper its healing message in the ears of all who seek vengeance. May a symphony of softness surround all whose hearts are hardened. May a chant of compassion touch all who know only despair.

In a shared time of silence now let us pray for all who are suffering. (pause)

Let us pray too for the peacemakers, those who dedicate their lives to finding solutions to the most difficult of situations and the medics who seek to heal the wounded, sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances. May they be inspired and strengthened in their work. May they be protected and supported in all they do.

When the troubles of the world seem too much to face may we be blessed with the courage and the commitment to keep singing out a message of justice and love. May we discover within us the simplicity of stillness and harmony, a quiet calm centre in the midst of all the demands of both our inner and our outer lives. May each of us find our own song of the spirit that can sweeten life’s toughest times.

Let us take time now in quietness for our own thoughts and prayers, for those we love, for the aspects of our lives that are troubling us, for all that we are carrying this day …….

That all who are troubled might know the comfort of a loving presence and a helping hand. And may this be so for the greater good of all, amen, so may it be.

Reading: ‘Playlists of the Spirit’ by Connie Simon with an invitation to think of your favourite music (read by Brian)

This reading starts with a little line from a song you may know: ‘When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything.’ ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer…’ Some of us instantly recognize that as the first line of the song ‘Do, Re, Mi’ from ’The Sound of Music’ – written by the famous Oscar Hammerstein. You might even be able to picture Julie Andrews (oops: Maria) telling the Von Trapp children that these notes are the ‘tools we use to build a song. Once you have these notes in your heads you can sing a million different tunes by mixing them up’ — after which, of course, she bursts into song. Within three minutes, they’re all harmonizing and parading through the streets and waterways of Salzburg having a good old time.

I know it’s corny, but it’s true. Think of all the music you know: every song you’ve ever sung, or danced to, or heard on the radio. Every single one of them is a different arrangement of the same notes. Using the power of imagination, composers have mixed those notes up in a gazillion different ways to express a multitude of emotions.

No matter how I’m feeling — happy or sad, sick or well, fragile or unbreakable, loved or unloved — I turn to music. Music is my solace and my comfort, the one thing that’s always with me. I feel its vibration deep in my soul; it’s my spiritual practice. Music can calm me, excite me, and sometimes its beauty even moves me to tears. I have playlists for exercising, celebrating, mourning, driving, housecleaning… and some for just being. From Bach to James Brown, there’s an arrangement of those same notes for every occasion in my life, including the hard times. Music tells the story of my life.

I recently went through a really rough patch. I was recovering from an accident and still trying to keep up with school and my other responsibilities. I felt out of control and lost. Once again, music saved me. I played quiet, soothing music when it hurt to move. I sang inspirational gospel music for encouragement when I began to stretch my sore limbs. Today I listen to thumping hip-hop as I work my muscles back into shape. I’m forever grateful for my music — those do-re-mi’s that fill my soul and provide the playlist for my life.

This reading by Connie Simon ends with a short prayer: May we each be blessed by the presence and power of music in our lives.

And maybe you’d like to be thinking of what your favourite music is. Is it a particular song or a particular type of music, or a composer or group that’s special for you.

Hymn 61 (purple): ‘Here in this Moment’s Song’

And as we think of some of our favourite music let’s sing another hymn – I think I may have to choose hymns as one of my favourite types of music – especially if I like both the words and the tune. See what you think of this one – it’s number 61 in the purple book and it has a beautiful, slightly mournful old tune, but with inspiring words written by Frank Clabburn – at one time minister with this congregation. Let’s sing – here in this moment’s song.

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.

Meditation: ‘I will sing a new song’ by Howard Thurman

We’re moving into the quieter time of our service now where there’ll be some words to lead us into a time of silence which ends with a chime from our bell and then we’ll hear Evi Wang our pianist play music composed by Hungarian musician Bela Bartok – Bartok was raised as a Catholic, moved towards atheism and then became a Unitarian – later in life he became lay president of the Hungarian Unitarian Church – an organisation still very active amongst the Hungarian minority living in Transylvania, part of Romania, as well as in Hungary itself. Bartok collected old folk tunes and re-worked their melodies – which was then quite a new thing to do musically – bringing new musical ideas and audiences together through old songs – we’ll be hearing Evi play four of what he described as old, sorrowful tunes. But first a short guided meditation to lead us into quietness.

I’m going to start with a short verse written by American minister Howard Thurman – I will sing a new song. I wonder what new songs we might feel we are ready to sing in Life?

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out.
It has long ago been learned by my heart;
It repeats itself over and over,
bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit.

I will sing a new song.

I must learn the new song for the new needs.
I must fashion new words born of all the new growth
of my life – of my mind – of my spirit.
I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before,
that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God.
Therefore, I shall rejoice with each new day
and delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding.
I will sing, this day, a new song unto the Lord.

As we enter the fellowship of silence together let us if we wish ask ourselves what new songs are yearning to be sung within us.

Period of Silence and Stillness (~3 minutes)

Musical Interlude: ‘Four Old Tunes’ by Bartok

Reflection: ‘St Cecilia & Music’s Many Gifts’ with an invitation to choose your top three favourite pieces of music

I wonder if you’ve read the quotation on today’s order of service – each week we choose a quote that illustrates one of the points we’re wanting to make in our service. And today’s words are from Martin Luther himself – he who single handedly it’s sometimes thought, started the Protestant Reformation. He’s someone who clearly dedicated his life to God and yet he clearly also had his off days – when he got a bit tetchy with the world. And tetchy with people who didn’t like music – and so he allegedly wrote that
‘A person who…does not regard music as a marvellous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.’ – Martin Luther (on a bad day)

That’s a little bit judgemental Martin. But don’t we all feel a tad judgemental when someone doesn’t like our favourite pieces of music? And don’t most of us feel a bit tetchy when people play us music that rub us up the wrong way. I’m a latecomer to the world of jazz and much of it delights me – except when it goes all wild and discordant. And I still need to improve my listening to Shostakovich and his ilk when they go all out of kilter. My ears aren’t attuned to those sounds. Music is a very personal thing. Today we’re asking you to come up with your top three favourite pieces of music – and we’ll write them up here on the wall – – if you’re joining us from home do write us your favourites in the chat on Zoom so we can include them – or email me later. I’d like to hear what you like to hear!
It’s not at all surprising that we each have our own particular favourites and dislikes – music expresses something of who we are.

And also in our order of service today is another quote from a famous person – but this time someone who played music, composed music – Beethoven himself – and I prefer this quote – ‘Music is the mediator between the life of the senses and the life of the spirit.’ Beethoven That’s a quote that speaks to me – because I know it within myself, do you? – the way that music evokes and expresses feelings, emotions – and yet it also evokes something transcendent – something beyond this small human way of being in me – it connects me with realms of the spirit and through that connects me with all other beings, with life itself and that which is unknown, mysterious, beyond this small life – music can connect us with something greater than ourselves.

And I guess that’s what happening when we find ourselves transfixed by great music – listening to it and singing it and dancing to it. We become greater than our small selves.

There’s something in music that connects us very physically with our selves, with our bodies, with other people’s bodies – if we meet them on a dance floor.

I’m sure most of you don’t waste your lives watching videos on Facebook or YouTube – but if you do occasionally stray in that direction – have a look at all the videos of toddlers getting into the groove with some funky music – I don’t think they’ve learnt about swaying hips from watching their elders – I’d say the ability to respond within our bodies to music is inherent in us, it’s a natural form of expression, it’s innate. And yes as toddlers we then quickly learn the mores, the rules of our particular societies – which is why it pains many of us to think of social settings where music is frowned upon or even forbidden – where a dancing toddler would be quickly stopped from dancing, where a singing child would be reminded ‘we don’t sing’. I think of the people who, against the rules, play instruments and listen to music live or recorded when they can, O what a sadness such prohibitions must be for those with a musical spirit, for those who know that music and song and dance express something magnificent about human creativity.

We can imagine our ancient forebears – earlier even than the earliest homo sapiens – scholars reckon they had music, they had rhythm, they had sound – as part of their rituals, their celebrations, their mourning and honouring of the dead, their times of transition. Imagine the makers of those earliest instruments – flutes made from reeds or carved from bones, sticks brought together to keep the beat, voices freed to express a yearning for or pleading to the unknown realms, a gratitude for life itself.

So I wonder what part music plays in your lives. L:ooking round I know there are people here who sing in choirs, who enjoy music here at church, some of you play instruments or have extensive music collections that mean a lot to you.. We use music to take us back to earlier times in our lives when particular music and musicians meant such a lot to us. I wonder who many of us have enjoyed listening to the technical masterpiece of a new Beatle recording re-worked from much earlier recordings – it’s called ‘Now and Then’ and you can hear it online. Some songs take us back, they may connect us at that Beatles song does with those who are no longer with us.
I’ve been listening to Chopin’s poignant piano pieces recently and they remind me so much of my dad – who had an old fashioned tape recorder and only 3 or 4 tapes of music. Chopin was his favourite and hearing just a few bars takes me back, straight back to childhood days.

And what about St Cecilia, known as the patron saint of music and musicians, who inspired today’s service? Well if you want to know more about saints in general then I can highly recommend a listen to a service here back on Oct 29th when you minister Jane Blackall was exploring the topic of saints – fascinating – well worth a read or another listen. If you’ve not discovered the treasure trove of old service scripts on our website there are so many gems there.

Cecilia’s Saint’s Day is on November 22nd and she’s remembered for her great piety and for her love of music. It’s said that on her wedding day, when she was being forced to marry a pagan king, she spent the entire day singing hymns to the Lord. And the king was so impressed by her beautiful voice that he converted to Christianity. Cecilia is particularly connected with organ playing and the sweet picture of her, on the front of today’s order of service, shows her with an adoring cherub looking on as she plays an early organ. The stories of Cecilia’s life and martyrdom have inspired both artists and composers throughout the centuries. Do have a listen to pieces written for her by Handel and Purcell for instance.

And do have a think about your top three pieces of music and write them down for us all in the hall after the service. Because our music choices are an expression of us and it’s good to share a bit of who we are. Music connects our emotions with the realms of the spirit, as Beethoven told us, music also connects us one with another – and we live, don’t we, in a world that so needs greater connection and a better understanding of our shared humanity – may music help it be so.

Hymn 70 (purple): ‘I Wish I Knew How’ to celebrate London Jazz Week

It’s been London Jazz Week here – our capital has been full of musical treats and there’s plenty to listen to still on the radio and online. So I’ve chosen the jazziest tune I could find in our hymn book – number 70 I wish I knew how. Evi’s going to play it with an upbeat tempo and we’ll do our best to keep up – wishing we knew how!

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.
I wish I could break all these chains holding me.
I wish I could say all the things I could say,
say ’em loud, say ’em clear
for the whole world to hear.
Say ’em loud say ’em clear
for the whole world to hear.

I wish I could share all the love in my heart,
remove all the bars that still keep us apart.
I wish you could know what it means to be me,
then you’d see and agree
everyone should be free.
Then you’d see and agree
everyone should be free.

I wish I could give all I’m longing to give.
I wish I could live like I’m longing to live.
I wish I could do all the things I can do,
though I’m way overdue
I’d be starting anew.
Though I’m way overdue
I’d be starting anew.

I wish I could be like a bird in the sky.
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly
I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea,
then I’d sing ’cause I’d know
how it feels to be free.
Then I’d sing ’cause I’d know
how it feels to be free.

Sharing of News, Announcements, Introductions

Thanks to our reader Brian. Thanks to Ramona for tech-hosting and Jeannene for co-hosting at home. Thanks to Evi Wang for lovely music – and we hope to have you with us again Evi before too long. Thanks to our greeters and coffee makers. For those of you who are here in-person, please do hang around for a cuppa and a chat. If you’re joining us online stay on after the service for a chat with Jeannene.

Margaret Marshall is here with us today and is offering her regular monthly free singing workshop. No skills and confidence needed as Margaret is such a great teacher – she can improve every voice. And it’s good for our breathing too. That class is from 12 to 12.45.

We have various small group activities during the week. Heart and Soul, our contemplative spiritual gathering, takes place twice a week online it’s a great way to get to know people more deeply. This week’s theme is ‘Initiative’. Email Jane to join them this evening Sunday and Friday.

Jane will be back here leading worship next Sunday with a theme of generosity of spirit. And that service will start at 10.30am – remember that from 3rd December the services here will start at 11am.

We’ve given you a flyer about Christmas events here with Kensington Unitarians – they’re also listed online – do sign up for the carol service bring and share lunch. And it’s fine to invite a friend along.

Two events on December 13th – Carole Grace’s memorial service and then in the evening the new community choir which is great fun.

And don’t forget that every Friday here in church you can join Sonya’s Nia dance class – a great teacher with some great music.

And so time now for our closing words which will be followed by another piece by Bela Bartok based on a Hungarian folk song.

Benediction: based on words by Maureen Killoran

As we listen to the blessing of music,
May we know this ending
As more than a time of goodbye.
May the warmth of this community
and the memory of our chalice flame
sustain our hearts and encourage our minds,
as we engage the blessings
of life’s challenges and joys.

The service has ended.
Your service has begun
Go in peace. Go in joy. Go in love.
Amen, go well and blessed be.

Closing Music: ‘Hungarian Peasant Song’ No. 15 by Bartok

Rev. Sarah Tinker

19th November 2023