Home – 19/5/24

Musical Prelude: William Arms Fisher (adapted from Dvorak), Goin’ Home (performed by George Ireland)

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

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

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

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

Welcome home; welcome to this hour of worship. (pause)

Words of Welcome and Introduction:

These opening words welcome all who have gathered this morning for our Sunday service. Welcome to those of you who have gathered in-person at Essex Church, to all who are joining us via Zoom from far and wide, and anyone watching on YouTube or listening to the podcast at a later date (please get in touch if you’re our there – we’d love to know you’re tuning in). For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m Jeannene Powell, and I’m a member of Kensington Unitarians. It’s good to be together again.

This morning’s service is on the theme of ‘Home’. In the coming hour we’ll explore the theme from various angles, through readings and hymns, and later we’ll hear a reflection from our own Patricia Brewerton on what it means to feel at home in church. As Anne Lamott says in the words in the front of the order of service: ‘No matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, and hear their tawny voices, I can always find my way home.’

But before we go any further let’s take a moment to get settled, to arrive, to catch up with ourselves and prepare our hearts to worship. We make this hour sacred with our presence and intention. So let’s take a conscious breath, do whatever we need to do, to ground ourselves in the here and now.

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

Let’s light our chalice flame now, as we do each week. This simple ritual connects us in solidarity with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of
the proud and historic progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

(light chalice)

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

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

Hymn 172 (green): ‘All Are Welcome Here’

Let’s sing together. Our first hymn is number 172 in the green book, ‘All Are Welcome Here’. For those joining via zoom the words will be up on screen. Feel free to stand or sit as you prefer.

Now open wide your hearts, my friends,
And I will open mine,
And let us share all that is fair,
All that is true and fine.

We gather in this meeting house —
People of many kinds:
Let us, below the surface, seek
A meeting of true minds.

For in our company shall be
Great witnesses of light:
The Buddha, Krishna, Jesus — those
Gifted with clearest sight.

Like them, we seek to know ourselves,
To seek, in spite of fear;
To open wide, to all, our hearts —
For all are welcome here.

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. (light candle)

Time of Prayer & Reflection: based on words by Tamara Lebak

Let’s take those joys and concerns into an extended time of prayer. This prayer is based on some words by Tamara Lebak. 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 this day to be reminded of the sacred in the ordinary.
The holy moments of waking yet again to a new day.
The feel of the earth beneath our feet
The sun and the breeze on our skin
The joy of being welcomed by our fellow travellers
The warmth of this gathered community.

Help us this day to be fully present in our living,
awake to each breath, attentive to the possibilities.
Remind us that Life is taking place in the in-between,
the seasons of lethargy, disappointment, and frustration,
as well as in our lofty goals and peak experiences.
Remind us that the detours and the details
craft the path, and make it our own.

Help us to remember that we did not make this day.
But that we have the pleasure to greet each moment as it unfolds;
To reach out and embrace it wholeheartedly as though it were
an honoured guest who has come a long way just to see us. (pause)

In a few moments of shared stillness now, let us call to mind those people and situations who
are on our hearts this morning, thinking of all those issues that concern us close to home, and
those troubled places the world over, and let us hold them gently in loving-kindness. (pause)

And let us hold ourselves in loving-kindness too. Each of us carries our own private burdens.
Life is tough for so many right now; we are all too aware of life’s struggles and hardships.
So let us rest in self-compassion now as we ask silently for what we need this day. (pause)

And let us take a moment to reflect on the week just gone in a spirit of gratitude; let us notice
and give thanks for all those blessings, large or small, that have helped to lift our spirits.
Maybe we can prepare our hearts to recognise and receive life’s goodness in the week ahead. (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 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 (on sheet): ‘A Shelter from the Vast’

Our next hymn is in the centre of your hymn sheet, ‘A Shelter from the Vast’. It’s not one we’ve sung before, though it’s to a tune that might be familiar, I’ll ask George to play it through before we sing. The words will also be up on screen. As usual, feel free to stand or sit as you prefer.

A shelter from the vast we win
In homely hearths, and make therein
The glow of light, the sound of mirth,
That bind all children of the earth
In fellowship; and when the rain
Beats loud upon the window-pane,
The shadows of the firelight fall
Across the floor and on the wall.

We know that countless hearth-lights burn
In darkened places, and discern —
Inwoven with the troubled plan
Of worlds and ways unknown to Man —
The shelter at the heart of life,
The refuge beyond doubt and strife,
The rest for every soul out-cast:
The homely hidden in the vast.

Amid the boundless and unknown,
We call some darkened spot our own;
Though all without is unexplored,
Uncharted lands and seas and world,
We doubt not that whatever the fate
May lie beyond us, soon or late,
However far afield we roam
The unknown way will lead us home.

In-Person Reading: ‘Blessing for Home’ by John O’Donohue

May this house shelter your life.
When you come home here,
May all the weight of the world
Fall from your shoulders.

May your heart be tranquil here,
Blessed by peace the world cannot give.

May this home be a lucky place,
Where the graces your life desires
Always find the pathway to your door.

May nothing destructive
Ever cross your threshold.

May this be a safe place
Full of understanding and acceptance,
Where you can be as you are,
Without the need of any mask
Of pretence or image.

May this home be a place of discovery,
Where the possibilities that sleep
In the clay of your soul can emerge
To deepen and refine your vision
For all that is yet to come to birth.

May it be a house of courage,
Where healing and growth are loved,
Where dignity and forgiveness prevail;
A home where patience of spirit is prized,
And the sight of the destination is never lost
Though the journey be difficult and slow.
May there be great delight around this hearth.
May it be a house of welcome
For the broken and diminished.

May you have the eyes to see
That no visitor arrives without a gift
And no guest leaves without a blessing.

Meditation: ‘The Most Important Thing’ by Julia Fehrenbacher

We’re moving into a time of meditation now. I’m going to share a short poem by Julia Fehrenbacher, titled ‘The Most Important Thing’, which explores the idea of ‘making a home inside ourselves’. This will take us into 3 minutes of silence. The silence will end with a bell. Then we’ll hear some music for our continued meditation. So let’s do what we need to do to get comfortable – adjust your position if you need to – put your feet flat on the floor to ground yourself – close your eyes. As we always say, the words are an offering, you can use this time to meditate in your own way.

‘The Most Important Thing’ by Julia Fehrenbacher

I am making a home inside myself. A shelter
of kindness where everything
is forgiven, everything allowed—a quiet patch
of sunlight to stretch out without hurry,
where all that has been banished
and buried is welcomed, spoken, listened to—released.

A fiercely friendly place I can claim as my very own.

I am throwing arms open
to the whole of myself—especially the fearful,
fault-finding, falling apart, unfinished parts, knowing
every seed and weed, every drop
of rain, has made the soil richer.

I will light a candle, pour a hot cup of tea, gather
around the warmth of my own blazing fire. I will howl
if I want to, knowing this flame can burn through
any perceived problem, any prescribed perfectionism,
any lying limitation, every heavy thing.

I am making a home inside myself
where grace blooms in grand and glorious
abundance, a shelter of kindness that grows
all the truest things.

I whisper hallelujah to the friendly
sky. Watch now as I burst into blossom.

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

Interlude: Vaughan Williams, Whither must I wander? from Songs of Travel (performed by George Ireland)

In-Person Reading: ‘No Place Like Home’ by David S. Blanchard (adapted)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In-Person Address: ‘Home’ by Patricia Brewerton

There was an advert on television some years ago which for some reason stuck with me. You may remember it too. A woman arrives home from a trip to town carrying several bags of shopping. She is very smartly dressed, in a well-fitting suit and a hat. She sinks down into an armchair, drops the shopping, removes her hat, and kicks off her shoes. She is home!

I think we can all relate to her how she feels, which may be why I remember the scene whilst not remembering what the advert was for. Home – say it slowly – Ho – mm – you breathe out on the Ho – letting go of tension and sink into the Mm. It speaks of comfort, relaxation, and pleasure.

At the membership service last year, people reflected on why they had joined Essex Church and several said that it was where they felt at home. And recently someone who visits occasionally thanked us for making them feel at home. I have been reflecting on what that means – what makes people feel at home. So, I have been considering what we mean by “home”.

As some point during my studies, I came across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The American psychologist Abraham Maslow started working on this idea in the 1940s. It is a way of looking at what motivates people. When I Googled it recently, I found that it seems to be used mainly by employers in order find out how to motivate their staff. It is often represented as a pyramid of needs to be fulfilled. At the base are physiological needs – one of which is shelter. But a shelter is not a home. The sad little clusters of tents on the streets of our cities may provide shelter but we consider the people living there to be homeless. And we do not think that the much larger tents crowded on to a beach in Rafah are homes either even though people have laid carpets and scattered cushions around to provide some comfort. So, what do these shelters lack which we consider necessary for a home.

The next level up in Maslow’s pyramid recognises the need for security. We know all too well that these shelters do not offer security, but to feel at home requires more than just safety from physical harm.

If you are going to be able to metaphorically kick off your shoes and let your guard down you need to feel safe in another, deeper way. You need to feel accepted and respected just as you are.

You need to know that when you speak people are listening, really listening. It is difficult to really listen because so often we are so busy constructing our reply that we fail to hear what is being said. We are too ready to offer advice, or to disagree, or maybe to relate some anecdote which seems appropriate at the time. You know what I mean.

One of my favourite hymns speaks about how we should listen when someone is telling their story. Before they can feel safe enough to tell their story from deep inside, they need to trust that we will listen with a loving mind. We often speak about treating people as equals. I prefer to use the phrase “knowing people to be equal”. That isn’t easy in our very hierarchical and judgemental society, but it is very necessary to that feeling of being “at home”. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other all the time, but we do need to take time to really listen to others’ opinions. That is the way to learn and to understand how other people might experience life from a different perspective.

I was given a picture book last Christmas which was a best-seller at the time. It is about a boy who is lost and looking for a home. Although it isn’t really a children’s book it follows the usual pattern. The boy starts alone before encountering other creatures, all of which teach him something. There are a lot of aphorisms in the story some of which could form the theme of a sermon. I must admit the book has proved helpful to someone who thought writing a sermon on the theme of feeling at home would be easy. For instance, the first creature the boy meets is mole, who happens to be my favourite because he is funny. He is also obsessed with cake – so he would feel very at home here!

Then there is the fox and the flying horse. They are on an adventure to find the boy a home, somewhere described as warm, with lights and more importantly somewhere kind. Eventually they see lights in the distance, they have found the boy a home. But, of course, mole, fox and horse must now be left behind. After saying a very sad goodbye to his friends the boy walks away but then he runs back “A home isn’t always a place, is it?”

I told you the book was a useful resource for this service. Amongst our hybrid congregation there are some who have never, and will never, enter the physical space of Essex Church. I became a member online during the pandemic and long before I entered the building.

When I join a meeting via Zoom, I am aware that I am inviting people into my home. I feel more exposed when speaking in an on-line meeting and I really understand the need to listen and be listened to lovingly. I need to feel at home with the people I am engaging with even whilst being in my home.

I read somewhere an explanation from a Palestinian of what home meant to him. “A home is a place where you collectively come together and build it over time”. He was speaking of a physical building, but I think we could apply the same understanding to a church community. It is about people working together over time to build a space where everyone is comfortable, relaxed, safe and happy, a space where we can all feel at home and where we can make others feel at home too.

I must finish with some words from that book. After boy, mole, fox and horse have declared their love for one another, the boy says “that’s why we are here, isn’t it”. “For cake” asks Mole. No – it’s to love and be loved. May it be so.

Hymn (on sheet): ‘The Church Where Love Lives’

Time for our last hymn, it’s on your hymn sheet, ‘The Church Where Love Lives’. We have sung this before but we’re still learning it so I’ll ask George to play it through to remind us before we sing.

The church where love lives is a safe place for all
Where we gather in wonder to remember God’s call,
To embody God’s vision of kindness and care
With each song that we sing, with each protest and prayer.

On this sacred foundation of faith and of trust
We are building a world that is gentle and just.
We rejoice and repent, offer praise and forgive
And we welcome all people to the church where love lives.

The church where love lives draws the stranger inside,
Making neighbours of strangers, no neighbour denied,
Till there’s heaven on earth and God’s will has been done,
Till the whole of creation is restored to its home.

On this sacred foundation of faith and of trust
We are building a world that is gentle and just.
We rejoice and repent, offer praise and forgive
And we welcome all people to the church where love lives.

The church where love lives is preparing a feast
For the pained and rejected, for the lost and the least,
For the deeply afraid, for the truly ashamed.
Come and sit at our table. Love has called you by name.

On this sacred foundation of faith and of trust
We are building a world that is gentle and just.
We rejoice and repent, offer praise and forgive
And we welcome all people to the church where love lives.


Thanks to Patricia for offering our sermon this morning. Thanks to Ramona for tech-hosting. Thanks to Charlotte for co-hosting and welcoming everyone online. Thanks to George for lovely music this morning. Thanks to Brian and Juliet for reading. Thanks to Patricia for greeting and David for making coffee today. For those of you who are here in-person – please do stay for a cuppa after the service – that’ll be served in the hall next door. If you’re joining on Zoom please do hang on after for a chat with Charlotte.

If you’re here in-person I encourage you to stay on to sing with Margaret at 12.30. These monthly singing classes are free of charge and she can help everyone make a better sound.

We also have our regular online ‘Heart & Soul’ Contemplative Spiritual Gathering on Friday at 7pm, this week’s theme is ‘Generations’. We gather for sharing and prayer and it is a great way to get to know others on a deeper level. Sign up with Alex to book your place for that.

Next Sunday we’ll have guest preacher Rev. Stephanie Bisby who is travelling all the way from Yorkshire to lead our service in person so please do come along and welcome her.

And if you want to join us for this month’s ‘Better World Book Club’ – that’s meeting on Zoom at 7.30pm on Sunday 26th May – we’re exploring ‘On Being Unreasonable’ by Kirsty Sedgman. Please do pick up a flyer if you’re here in-person as we’ve lined up all our books until August.

And do save the date for the following Sunday, 2nd June, when you can stay here all day: after the service we’ll have the Many Voices singing group with Gaynor and Tati, followed by the return of our tea dance, led by Rachel Sparks. Do spread the word and tell your friends.

Details of all our various activities are printed on the back of the order of service, for you to take away, and also in the Friday email. Please do sign up for the mailing list if you haven’t already. 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.

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

Benediction: based on words by Emily Richards

Our time together is at an end; our work has just begun:
The work of holding one another and this community in love.
The work of trusting that we are on the right path.
The work of believing that what connects us is stronger than what separates us.
The work of engaging in that which makes us whole.
The work of deeper understanding and commitment.
The work of letting go of that which does not serve us.
The work of radical inclusion. The work of collective liberation.
The work of this beloved community.
A beloved community of which we are all part.
A place where we are welcomed, respected, valued, cherished.
A place where we belong. Amen. Go well, and blessed be.

Closing Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg, Bring Him Home from Les Miserables (performed by George Ireland)

Jeannene Powell and Patricia Brewerton

Sunday 19th May 2024