I will start by playing some gentle music to bring us together in this virtual time of worship…
In this time of insecurity and social upheaval,
When we are unable to meet in person,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short time,
Let us put our worldly cares aside,
Close our eyes and imagine ourselves
To be in our places of worship,
Surrounded by members of our beloved community,
And be together, if only virtually,
For this space of time.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning)
We light our chalice today
Remembering with gratitude all the front-line staff
Of our hospitals, shops and public services,
Who are selflessly carrying on,
To meet the needs of the people they serve.
We light our chalice in the hope
That our loved ones may be safe,
That all people may be safe,
And in faith that normality will return,
And that we will return to normality
As kinder, more compassionate people.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
Even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
In this difficult time,
Keeping in touch however we can,
And helping each other,
However we may.
We hold in our hearts all those
Whose lives have been touched,
In whatever way,
By the coronavirus and the fall-out from it.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Then a ploughman said, Speak to us of Work.
And he answered, saying:
You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession that marches
in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work, you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?
Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earths’ furthest dream,
assigned to you when that dream was born.
And in keeping yourself with labour, you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.
… when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.
God, our Father and Mother,
Great Spirit of Life and Love,
All of us need love and connection,
In order to thrive as human beings.
In this time of social isolation,
Help us to show our love in other ways.
May those of us who are well,
Give generously of our time and effort,
To help those around us who are in need,
And to make them feel less alone,
By keeping in regular touch.
May those of us who are vulnerable, or ill,
Receive the help we need, and accept it with grace.
Although e-mails and phone calls
Are no substitute for the warmth
Of closer human contact,
May we all share whatever love we can,
And grow together in virtual community.
In a Time of Fear by Cliff Reed
In a time of pandemic, when our prayers should be for the sick
and those who tend them with courage and compassion, may we
not fall into panic and hysteria.
May unwarranted self-concern not blind us to the needs of others
or lead us into irresponsibility and the undermining of community.
May we have a deep and active concern for those in hardship and
real danger and not inflate our own lesser worries into unreal terrors.
May we be conscious that fear can be the greatest sickness, infecting our minds and spirits, paralysing our daily lives and bringing chaos to the
economies and networks on which they depend.
May our prayer be for reason and good sense that we may face the
crisis with sound knowledge and clear sight.
And may our hearts be warmed and strengthened with the love that
drives out fear.
This is our prayer and our resolve. Amen
Reading Poem by Margaret Harris
In our strangely quiet road, rainbows now appear in
The windows as well as in the sky,
Conjured up by school-less children to greet and cheer the
Permissioned walkers passing by.
Some of us elderly in isolation, as the jobless may find,
have time on our hands.
Whilst medical, care and supply staff face many difficulties,
More so the vulnerable and those of other lands.
When at last the skies clear and the pandemic clouds pass,
To fade slowly away,
Post life for all will be different, the planet and the oppressed
Need priority, to have their say.
The economy of our world has become so very unbalanced,
Top heavy with its 1%,
Humanity cries out for truth, clarity, freedom, understanding,
Not to remain super wealthy bent.
Time of Stillness and Reflection
Let us now join in a time of stillness and reflection. The Buddhist Mettabhavana, or Prayer of Loving Kindness, is often used in Unitarian services, or for personal meditation. This is my version of it. After each line, I invite you to close your eyes, and pray for the people concerned, using the words given, if you wish…
First of all, we pray for ourselves: May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from harm, may I find peace.
Next, we pray for our loved ones, those people who are dear to us: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone less well-known to us, about whom we have no strong feelings, but whom we might know better, if we made the effort: May they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for people we don’t know, for all the people who are doing their best to make a positive difference in the world, and for those who are lost in places of scarcity and fear: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Next, we pray for someone we dislike, or find it difficult to get on with: may they be well, may they be happy, may they be free from harm, may they find peace.
Finally, we pray for the world: may all be well, may all be happy, may all be free from harm, may all find peace.
May all find peace, today and always, Amen
As many have said before me, and as many more will doubtless be saying again in the next weeks and months, these are very strange times. Most of the working population of this country are now having to work from home, which will be a sea-change for many. It has, perhaps, had less of an impact on me than on some – in my role as District Minister, I spend a lot of my time working from home anyway, except when I am visiting congregations to lead worship or doing pastoral care visits or attending meetings. And these last have gone on regardless, except that they are now by e-mail or Zoom. Oh my goodness, have they gone on!
And this last week, many of us will have participated in the virtual General Assembly meetings, made possible by the hard work of all the GA staff and session leaders. I am grateful for all they have done.
At a time when we are all quite rightly being urged to stay home, stay safe and protect the NHS, I take my hat off to all the people in front line jobs who don’t have that luxury. Who are being pressured to carry on working, because their work is essential in this time of crisis. Who are working long hours under difficult conditions. Some will come immediately to mind: doctors, nurses, other hospital staff, care staff, first responders, pharmacy staff, police, fire fighters, paramedics, and supermarket and corner shop workers. But others may not be so obvious. Yet without the work of delivery drivers and truck drivers, our shops and supermarkets would be empty, and our hospitals would not be receiving the supplies they so urgently need. Our binmen continue to empty our bins, week by week. Dedicated teachers are keeping the children of these front line staff busy and occupied. And I would add anyone doing research or work which has a direct connection to the current crisis, and also Post Office staff. I saw a heart-warming item on the news yesterday, about a postie who saw a woman on his regular round in distress, and not only went shopping for the supplies she needed, but also bought her a bunch of flowers. How nice is that?
So let us share a moment of grateful silence and thank these people in our hearts. Particularly, perhaps all the NHS workers who are working long hours in very stressful conditions, selflessly pushing themselves to treat and care for the ill, digging deep within themselves to find the strength they need, and never forgetting their compassion. I think they are splendid. Every last one of them.
My heart also goes out to all the people who have spent weeks and months organising all the events that were planned to take place this Spring and Summer. So many have been cancelled, and all that hard work has been for nothing. Not to mention all the Christian clergy and people, for whom the highlight of the year is this very special day, Easter Sunday. Which this year they will be unable to celebrate, at least in their communities. And I heard just yesterday that the Passion Play of Oberammergau, which Maz and I were privileged to attend in 1990, has now been cancelled. Heart breaking for all those involved, and with knock-on effects for the economy of the village and surrounding area. And that is just one example, which I’m sure can be multiplied all over this country, all over Europe. “When all this is over”, there are going to be a great many indirect casualties of this dreadful virus.
I count myself extremely blessed to be doing work that I love, that is more of a vocation than a job. So the words of Kahlil Gibran, which formed the first part of my second reading, really spoke to me: “What is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.”
I am not a weaver, nor a builder, nor an agricultural worker, at least not in the traditional meanings of those words. But if you interpret the words metaphorically, I am all three. I am a weaver of words, who weaves them into a story or blogpost or address “with threads drawn from my heart.” I am a builder of connections between congregations, and between Unitarians around the country, through the Bits & Pieces newsletter, the MU Now magazine, the District’s website and my work for the Worship Studies Course, the Ministerial Fellowship and the Peace Fellowship. And I build these connections with affection for our Unitarian communities in my heart. I am an agricultural worker, in that I sow seeds of words and training and care for others, and reap a harvest of joy, when these seeds bear wonderful fruit. The fruit I am most proud of in the past few years, is the number of trained lay worship leaders and celebrants who are doing fantastic work around the District and around the country.
I also believe that, even if you are retired from paid employment, there is still meaningful work for you to do. You can be a wise, non-anxious elder, to whom people turn in times of stress. You can care for your family and friends, keeping in touch with them however you may. And, going by the examples of my husband and my father, you can do any amount of meaningful work on a voluntary basis. My father “retired” over twenty years ago, and hasn’t stopped yet. His work for Unitarian communities around the Midlands has made a huge beneficial difference. And my husband retired a couple of years ago, and does a lot of work for his local model car club, is editor of a thriving online model car magazine, and is involved with the local amateur dramatics society and the local Neighbourhood Plan. Both of them do the work they do because they love it (most of the time) and derive great satisfaction from making a good job of it.
Many of our Unitarian congregations would fall to pieces, were it not for the hard work of the volunteers who keep things humming along. Whether they are serving on committees, running other-than-Sunday events, arranging the flowers, keeping the gardens / grounds looking lovely and cared for, keeping the website and Facebook page / Twitter account up to date, producing the congregation’s newsletter, being stewards on Sundays or serving refreshments after worship (please forgive me if I have forgotten to mention your voluntary role), all are working with love. And that is what I call lay ministry.
Remember the words of the Prophet: “When you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born. And in keeping yourself with labour, you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. … when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.”
May whatever work you do, whether paid or voluntary, bring you fulfilment and joy, now and in the days to come.
Our time together is drawing to a close.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
May we share the love we feel,
And do the work that is ours to do.
May we look out for each other,
And may we keep up our hearts,
Now and in the days to come,
I wish you all a very Happy Easter!