Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this time of continuing insecurity and social upheaval,
When most of us are unable to meet in person,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short space of 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,
At this one 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,
All the everyday saints,
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 painful events, in their lives,
And in the wider world,
Of which we are all a part. Amen
Reading from 365 saints: your daily guide to the wisdom and wonder of their lives by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker
Anyone who is in heaven is a saint, but a Saint with a capital S in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions is someone whose life so exemplifies holiness and virtue that the Church has officially declared them to be in heaven…
The saints were never plaster statues on a heavenly assembly line. They made mistakes in everything from business deals to marriage. They suffered the same heartaches, illnesses, and sorrows that we suffer. And they experienced all the joys of everyday life. They didn’t become saints because they were perfect; they became saints because they let God transform their imperfections….
I hope as you discover the love the saints had for God, you will also discover how much love God has for each and every one of us. And I pray that you will realise God is calling each and every one of us to become saints as well.
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 Genuine gifts by Vernon Marshall, from With Heart and Mind 2
A gift is something we have that marks us out as an individual. It is a natural part of our being. It is a sacred characteristic. It is also a mysterious something. It is something that we have that comes to us without an obvious reason. Sometimes it is unknown to us but has benefits for others. I believe it is something to do with the human soul. We are far more gifted than we realise. We are mirrors of the divine and thus have divine qualities. Our tragedy, alas, is that often we do not realise just how remarkable we are.
To live fruitful lives on earth we need to be reminded over and again just how remarkable we are. There is no need for a communal act of humility. Of course, we feel humble in the face of the mystery of life; we are, however, part of that mystery. When we look at nature and see its beauty as awesome, remember that we are part of that awe of nature. When we hear beautiful music, remember that it is from human hands like ours, and human feelings like ours, that that music came. When we are moved by acts of generosity, remember that we have a portion of that generous nature that is ours as our birth right. We all have the right to be generous.
We all have a gift, and it is a sign from the divine that we are also divine. Like all gifts, we need to accept with a pure heart. We accept with the recognition, not of deserving, not of a quid pro quo, but that it is a free exchange, without expectations. The greatest gift is the gift of life itself. When we reflect on the glory of life, the mystery of life, the perplexity of life, then we can only stand back in praise at the wonder of something beyond us that is so spectacular.
Prayer by Vernon Marshall, from With Heart and Mind 2 (adapted)
To the Great Giver, the Divine Giver, the Benefactor of all, we offer back our sincere gratitude.
We give thanks for the different seasons, bringing us changes, beautifying and nourishing the earth. We give thanks for the many colours that appear to us, often magically, in our homes, through the media, in our gardens.
We give thanks for sights, sounds, smells, that make for us a world of exhilaration and joy.
We give thanks for the gift of creativity, that we can write, and draw, and paint, and play music, and sing, and match our skills to our imagination.
We give thanks for all people who have made our lives so fulfilling with their creative works.
We give thanks for the talents of the worker, constructing homes, schools, hospitals and factories.
We give thanks for the sights and sounds of children at play, delighting us with their verve for living…
We give thanks for human friendship and companionship, for relationships that bond us closer to one another.
We give thanks for life itself, for a sense of meaning and purpose…
For all that makes for life, we give thanks; and vow this day to be eternally grateful to the Founder and Creator, that whom we call God.
Reading All Souls Day by John Harley, from With Heart and Mind (adapted)
The other day I was sitting in the pub, a few nights before Halloween. It would have been difficult to miss the décor – fake spray-on cobwebs garnishing the draught beer pumps, a plastic skeleton hanging up from a picture and a row of paper pumpkins hung like Christmas decorations.
Apparently Halloween is now the biggest money-spinner for the shops after Christmas… It’s the season of fancy dress parties and the time for lashings of plastic scariness and light-hearted haunting. It’s a big excuse to spook each other and wallow in all the clichés of cauldrons, witches and grim reapers. This can all be a bundle of fun, though it would be a great loss if the increasingly commercial Halloween overshadowed the complementary traditions of All Souls’ Day and Samhain.
All Souls’ Day helps us to get in contact with the healing touch of our ancestors, honour the rich memories of folk lost to us, make our peace with the spirits of the past by offering sweets and learn to enjoy their playfulness. Also we can relearn how life and death are one tapestry. Samhain is the start of the Celtic season of winter. It challenges us to go deeper into ourselves and find a sense of renewal, clarity and wisdom by being still.
I find the following words inspiring. They are taken from a poem called All Souls’ by May Sarton:
Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited –
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.
Time of Stillness and Reflection by John Harley, from With Heart and Mind
As we slowly tread towards winter, let us learn
how to befriend darkness.
May we find our way in the night and welcome
the shapes we see.
Let us honour the voices of our ancestors,
and the faces of friends,
lost through death or conflict.
May we hear their whispers of wisdom,
of laughter and of love.
May their courage to live life fully
provide energy for our dance on the edge of fear.
Give us the strength to find hidden riches
in the night times of our existence,
and a groundedness that we can bring with us
into our days.
As my cheek gently brushes the curtain
marking the transition of light to darkness,
may I know the oneness of all life
and the unity of all seasons.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address All Saints and All Souls
Today, 1st November, is the Christian festival of All Saints, which, according to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, celebrates “all the Christian saints, known and unknown” and tomorrow is the festival of All Souls, for “the commemoration of the faithful departed”.
But I would prefer a wider interpretation, a Unitarian twist, if you like, for both these festivals. Because I believe that we all have our own personal “saints” – the people in our lives whose lives and examples have been a gift to us, in whatever way. I believe that without the benign influence of such people, all of us would struggle to grow into our best selves. They are all worthy of being remembered, if they are no longer with us, and appreciated and thanked, if they are yet living, on the festival of All Saints.
If the concept of “saints” alarms you, perhaps we might think of such people as angels in our lives, or at least, guardian angels. The concept of the guardian angel has survived quite strongly in Western popular culture. I am sure that most of us will be able to visualise cartoon representations of a character with an angel sitting on one shoulder, trying to give them good advice, and a devil on the other, tempting them to do the wrong thing. And I am equally sure that many of us have watched that hoary Christmas favourite, It’s A Wonderful Life, in which a man’s guardian angel rescues him from despair by showing him how the choices he has made throughout his life, the random acts of kindness, have made a beneficial difference to many people.
I love the words of Frederick Buechner, explaining that how we act towards strangers can have a real knock-on effect. He writes, “As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with hostility towards the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops, or in what far place my touch will be felt.”
I would imagine that most Unitarians do not believe in angels as supernatural beings, certainly not with the traditional wings and white nightshirt so beloved of Christmas card artists. But I do believe in the possibility of ordinary people being messengers of the divine, our personal saints or guardian angels, whose words or actions give us a nudge in the right direction at a crucial moment. And I believe that each one of us has the potential to be an angel or saint to somebody else, by being a beneficent presence in their lives, enabling them to move beyond their limitations and grow.
But I’m not saying that we should consciously try to be that “beneficent presence” to other people – that would be pretentious and arrogant and would not work. But we can learn to recognise such presences in our own lives and give thanks.
Of course, some of you may think that the idea of an external agency having influence on the moral or actions of individuals is ridiculous. For you, your personal “saint” or “angel” may be the voice of your own conscience, the ‘still, small voice’ within that prompts you to take one action rather than another, because it is the ‘right’ thing to do. But I believe that we only have that voice within us, because of the teachings and example of others.
Who need not even be known to us personally. Thanks to the efficiencies of modern communications, we can hear stories about people who have gone the extra mile and been a beneficial influence on the wider world. One who comes to mind this year is the young footballer, Marcus Rashford, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Friday. He has used his high profile as a professional footballer (he plays for Manchester United and England) to become an activist on the issue of child food poverty in this country. So much so, in fact, that he was awarded an MBE in the recent birthday honours list, and is credited with causing the government to do a U-turn on the issue of the provision of free school meals for children in need over the Summer holidays. He is currently campaigning for the same thing to happen over half-term. I am sure he would not consider himself a saint, yet he has been a huge influence for good in recent months.
I know some Unitarian ministers who celebrate the Feast of All Souls annually, as an opportunity to give thanks for the lives of members of their congregations and those close to them, who have passed away during the previous twelve months. Candles are lit and people share stories of the ones they have loved, who are no longer with them in this world. Had this been a live service, rather than an online one, I would have done the same.
It has been a sad year for many of us, during which family members and friends have passed away. And one of the great sadnesses has been that it has often not been possible for us to attend their funerals, to pay our last respects to them, and to be with their families in their time of grief and loss, because of the restrictions of Covid, which have now lasted for more than seven months, and do not look like being lifted, any time soon. So I believe it is more important than ever to have an opportunity to come together, even if this is only virtually, to talk about them, to give thanks for their good influence on our lives, and about how much we miss them, now that they are no longer part of our physical world.
But I also believe that in some way, we do not lose the ones we have loved completely. The memory of their lives and deeds and good advice lives on in our hearts. We can carry them with us for the rest of our lives.
My friend and colleague, Rev Danny Crosby, wrote on his blog last November, “I wonder who and what has been significant in our lives? Who and what has touched and shaped our lives? Who are the significant people, what are the significant moments and events?… Our lives are surely shaped by every moment and person that we share our lives with. … I’ve been thinking of the people who have inspired me. Who gave to me and kept me going in my darkest days…. One of the great figures of the twentieth century came to mind. I remembered a favourite quote of Albert Schweitzer… ‘At time, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.’ There are many people who have inspired me, who have lit the flame, when all was dark, there are many who have taught me life-enhancing, nay, life-changing things. I was thinking of many of them yesterday during the All Souls’ service as we remembered those who have touched our hearts but who are no longer physically with us. There are so many souls who have inspired me and who continue to do so even though they have long gone.”
I would like to finish by sharing the words of Roger Courtney, from his book, Gathering in Prayer:
“Those who cared for, nurtured and protected us,
they are always with us.
Those who have loved us unselfishly,
they are always with us.
Those we have loved deeply,
they are always with us.
Those who have inspired us to greater things,
they are always with us.
Those who have listened to us when we were struggling and helped to guide us on to the right track,
they are always with us.
Those who shared their wisdom with us and enabled us to see more of the truth,
they are always with us.
Those to whom we have had to say goodbye with great sadness,
they are always with us.”
May we always remember, and appreciate, the saints and kind souls who have shared our lives.
Closing Words by Cliff Reed
be with us as we part.
Bless those who are here.
Bless those who are not here.
Bless those we love and those we should love.
Bless those who need our love and those whom we need to love.
Bless those we would love if we knew them
and those we may never love.
Bless all who love and help us to love when we find it hard.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley