Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Welcome to the first service of this new year, 2021.
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,
For this one hour.
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) words by Cliff Reed
We gather on this first Sunday of the year
to renew our flame of love and fellowship
in hope of better days to come for us
and everyone on earth.
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
Story by Kay Millard
In the village lived a very old lady. She was older than anyone else in the neighbourhood. No-one could remember anyone living to such a great age. She had seen more years come and go than anyone else could imagine.
She remembered when cars were very rare. She remembered when there was no television, only the radio – which she still called the wireless. She remembered when there were shops in the village – a bakery, a butcher’s, a greengrocer, and of course a Post Office – instead of the Expresso Supermarket off the roundabout on the bypass. She was a very interesting old lady to talk to about her memories and had been interviewed by someone who collected tales of past days.
And yet, the old lady did not live in the past. She kept her eye on what was happening in the world. She noted new inventions, but she had seen so many in her lifetime that she had stopped being surprised by them. After all, she had been born when aeroplanes had been flimsy things that could barely cross the Channel, but lived to see a man walking on the moon, and what could possibly beat that?
Nevertheless, each year, on New Year’s Eve, the old lady made a list of things she would like to see happen in the coming year. Although her hand was a little shaky, her writing was always clear. She wrote:
- I want to see peace throughout the world
- I want to see everyone with enough to live on and able to enjoy the blessings of life
- I want to see all children happy and secure
- I want to see all those who are ill or in pain given the best medical treatment
- I want to see everyone having an education that makes the most of their abilities
Then she lit a candle and said: “Until I see these things I shall go on praying for them.” If you go to the village, you will find that she is still there, praying for all these things. And that she will have written her list, and lit her candle, a couple of days ago.
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. Amen
Reading Year’s End and Year’s Beginning by Keith Gilley, from Echoes
Years come, and years go, always the same, but never the same. And I have known and remember decades of life. There have been times of war and times of peace; times of hope and times of despair when hope was hard to cling to; times of love and times of desolation. And there were times of great joy, when all the pain and suffering of life were hard to credit, like believing in snow in the heat of the day, or sun-burn in a blizzard.
Yet these, and all the in-betweens, I have known. I wasn’t someone different at those times; it was the same me in all those times, the same me in continuity in each long decade of living. So are we all, people of all seasons. Can we then be people for all seasons? Celebrating, accepting, rejoicing, grieving, and sorrowing, as the die of the times is cast for us? We are here, each of us, with different burdens as with different gifts.
We would resolve to live fully, richly and wisely in all that pertains to ourselves. We would resolve to live thoughtfully, kindly and compassionately in all that pertains to others. We would be secure in the knowledge that we are all kindred, one of another, bound together in sorrow as in joy, in trial as in celebration.
Prayer by Cliff Reed
God of our inmost hearts, we turn to you
at the start of another year.
No one knows what it will bring, and we
make our plans in hope, not certainty.
As we set out once more on the journey, we pray
for courage and guidance in the way of love.
Help us to hold to the truth we know, and to
resist the lies and follies that beguile the world.
Open our eyes to see the needs of others,
our ears to hear your call in their unhappiness and discontent.
Make us listen to the Earth and what she has to teach,
for the sake of all your children.
In humility we turn to you, O God. Help us to
make this year a better one than anyone dared hope.
Reading In the Midst of Winter by Kenneth L. Patton, from Songs for Living (adapted))
The days of the year have stiffened in ice, and darkness has grown upon the land.
The season of cold and early dusk is upon us.
The sun has retreated down the sky, the living green has forsaken the earth, and the leaves have fallen.
The flowers no longer bloom, and the birds have fled to the south.
People approach the shortened days with gladness, for their ancient fear is no longer in their faces.
The heavy death upon the earth is no lasting peril, and the roots in the soil are only sleeping a long sleep.
People hold the turning of the year as a promise; and the renewing of life is their solid hope.
The time of returning light is known, and they ready their houses for the celebration.
The sun will climb the heavens again, and the darkness will be pushed back each day.
The months of snow will give way to the months of leaves, and petals will fall upon the earth.
The young will be brought forth from the womb, and the shoot will burst from the seed.
People will walk upon the greening grass, and their ploughshares will divide the warming soil.
In the midst of winter the promise is given of the summer season, and in the midst of darkness there comes the assurance of light.
In the time of cold comes a messenger of warmth, and in the days of death there is heard the good news of life.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Sydney H. Knight, from Songs for Living
The New Year is before us, like morning-fresh untrodden snow, unmarked by human tracks.
As we walk the days ahead, may our paths be straight and clear, widening into highways fair.
Where we pause and have dealings with others, may homes of fellowship arise.
May streets and market-places echo with gladness; may we build a city of tomorrow, peopled with understanding and rich with praise.
The New Year is like a new day yet unlived; a tomorrow yet to dawn; without life, empty.
We shall fill the coming year with our daily living; it is ours to make or mar.
May our dreams and hopes be worthy of the best within us, and our lives be worthy of our dreams. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address New Year 2021
It is a new year. I would like to begin by sharing some words by Patience Strong: “It is good to throw away the old calendar with its all too familiar picture, and to hang something fresh on the wall. How clean and bright the new calendar looks! It seems to symbolise the high hopes of this new morning of a new year. But as I flick through the crisp new pages of the months, I am suddenly aware of the strange mystery of the future. These pages with their neat rows of dates represent unlived time, the promise of seasons not yet come to fulfilment.” This time of year is full of new promise.
In the past year, all of us have fallen short, and been less than the best people we can be. But we have also done some things well, and lived up to our potential as human beings. Many world religions have a special time of year, during which adherents “reflect on and evaluate their thoughts, words and actions over the past year [and] acknowledge their prejudices, negative behaviours and bad habits so that they may begin the process of transforming themselves.” The Hindu festival of Diwali is one, and the ten-day period leading up to the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur is another. It is a time “to celebrate and appreciate life and to look forward to the coming year with a renewed sense of purpose and passion.” For Christians, it is the period of Lent, but for the vast majority of people in Britain, who do not follow any particular religion, New Year is the time for reflecting on the past, and making resolutions for the future.
I have made New Year’s resolutions every year since I can remember. Mostly, they have lasted until about the end of January, if that long. Because my heart was not in it. I think the reason behind this is that I have a certain inner stubbornness that doesn’t like being told to do something Just Because – just because it’s January 1st, just because it’s Dry January, just because it’s Stoptober. I know that such special months do help a lot of people to start the process of giving up drinking or smoking, and I applaud them for that. But for me, they don’t work. Gretchen Rubin would say that I am a Questioner – I will not stick to a resolution or a new course of action unless it makes sense to me. I have to have a reason which is relevant to my life, at this exact time, to be able to tackle any sort of major lifestyle change.
So for example, I was able to quit smoking on 1st June 2013, when I worked out that by giving up my 15 a day habit, I would be able to afford to give my two children, then just off to university, an extra £100 a month each! Deciding to quit drinking was a more long drawn-out process, during which I worked out the pros and cons, and really thought about the reasons why I wanted to stop. And the culmination of that process was that I stopped on 2nd September 2013 and have not touched alcohol since. But each time, the choice was mine, at a time of my own choosing.
Each New Year’s Eve for the past few years, my husband and I have completed a small booklet available as a download from Year Compass. The first part is about the year that has just gone (and what a year it has been!) and the second half is about our hopes and dreams for the year to come. It has made me go a little bit deeper, and to do some of the reflection and self-evaluation practiced by the adherents of other faiths, such as Hinduism and Judaism and Christianity. Being in spiritual direction for the past few years has taught me that this process of self-examination is a valuable one, if uncomfortable.
The goal of this self-examination is both very simple and very difficult: it is to become the best person you can be, true to the principles you hold dear, that are sanctioned by your reason and conscience. Which means that you have to work out what those principles are, as a starting point, before you can think about how you are going to live your life in accordance with them. It’s a challenge, but such a worthwhile one. The new year is an annual opportunity to re-evaluate where you are on the path, and to make some resolutions in order to move on in your spiritual journey. To discard what is broken, and to be hopeful about the year to come.
Just over five years ago, an e-mail from MindBodyGreen landed in my inbox, with the title 18 Sacred Intentions to set for 2016. Curious, I opened it. The post, by Vishnu Subramaniam, blew me away. It really spoke to my condition, as the Quakers say. The eighteen sacred intentions are about living with awareness, with integrity, being true to oneself. Let me share them with you:
1 I will take less and give more.
2 I will work less and live more.
3 I will do less and be more.
4 I will speak less and listen more.
5 I will buy less and simplify more.
6 I will have fewer distractions and more time for reflection.
7 I will be less realistic and dream more.
8 I will complain less and appreciate more.
9 I will worry less and surrender more.
10 I will judge less and understand more.
11 I will hate less and love more.
12 I will criticise less and praise more.
13 I will follow less and lead more.
14 I will fear less and act more.
15 I will think less and go with my gut more.
16 I will please less and stay true to myself more.
17 I will require less perfection from myself and accept where I am more.
18 I will hold fewer grudges and forgive more.
I printed them out and put them on the noticeboard next to the desk in my study, so that I could read them frequently in the coming year. I’ve just taken them down to type them out for you. They have been my Sacred Intentions ever since.
And I have always found the advice of 19th century Unitarian and Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson, both challenging and reassuring:
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. No man has learned anything rightly until he knows that every day is doomsday. Today is a king in disguise. Today always looks mean to the thoughtless, in the face of a uniform experience that all good and great and happy actions are made up precisely of these blank todays.
Let us not be so deceived; let us unmask the king as he passes! He only is rich who owns the day, and no-one owns the day who allows it to be invaded with worry, fret and anxiety.
You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”
I hope that 2021 will be a better year for all of us – that we will all be vaccinated against Covid 19, that we will eventually be able to meet in person once more, and that our experiences of the past year will have turned us into kinder, more compassionate people. Another New Year has been welcomed in, full of hints and promises. We have another chance to learn new things, to make new friends, to appreciate old friends, and to recognise God everywhere.
Spirit of Life and Love,
another New Year has begun.
May 2021 be a good year,
for me and for all those I love,
and for the world.
Closing Words from The Gate of the Year by Minnie Haskins
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
followed by some words of blessing by David Cole
May the coming year be significant in your life journey
May you know love, joy and peace
May it be a time of adventure and security
May you draw closer to the Divine and be a purer channel for the Divine flow
May you be blessed and be a blessing. Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley