Rights and Responsibilities: Online Service for 6th December 2020


Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words


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) words by Alison Patrick


We light our chalice candle.

It is just an ordinary candle with a small flame.

But for this hour it stands for so much.

It stands for each lifelong effort to find truth and purpose.

It stands for the hopes we have for this world.

It stands for all that we will try to do in the future –

the mistakes we will make, as well as the good work we will do.

It stands for the spirit of freedom

and the fellowship of this community.

It is an extraordinary flame, because we make it so.


Opening Prayer


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 Rumination for 29th November 2020 by Celia Cartwright


I have been ruminating about the arrogant selfishness of a seemingly growing minority of people. There is the whole mask thing, and the not standing close and the washing, but now there is more! I remember conducting a service on the theme of rights and being challenged to do one on responsibility – the balance between being how we live in harmony. I did it the following week. I mention this only because there seems to be a lot of hot air and tantrumming at the moment, about the vaccine currently in production. The general thrust of all the weeping, shouting, general indignation and stamping is about the right to refuse.


1) Because it’s been created in the last six months so cannot possibly have made its way through all the checks and balances so will have devastating side effects – this is quite wrong and we have two previous similar viruses to thank for the ability to get it so quickly now.


2) Because vaccines are an evil plot to put nanobots inside everyone – numerous perceived reasons but it usually involves Bill Gates, who of course philanthropically gives to WHO and helped to almost eradicate polio across the world. (How dare he be generous with his wealth).


3) There has been an announcement, to-wit, an airline has declared that as of (sometime in the near future) only those with a valid vaccination certificate will be accepted to fly. What a hoo-ha this has caused.


At the root of this last is the business of rights and responsibilities. It seems impossible to argue that the airline has the ‘right’ to do this as part of its ‘responsibility’ to all its staff and passengers. Apparently a person’s right not to vaccinate is more important than the right of the rest to feel secure in safety arrangements by those we trust to keep us safe, and now these folks are being ‘denied’ the ‘right’ to fly to their chosen destination. I ask you!


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 As we would have tomorrow be by Sidney H. Knight, from Songs for Living.


Tomorrow’s world will ask much of us; tomorrow’s paths are unexplored. We have no maps of future time, and there are few signposts.

Tomorrow we shall travel in a strange, new place, where none has ever been before. Tomorrow waits for pioneers.

And we expect much of tomorrow. We ask for a new world, happy and glad, a world free from hunger and war,

Where human life is held sacred, and none shall be cold and miserable.

The kind of world that we shall see tomorrow – what will it be like?

It will be like the men and women who shall live tomorrow. It will be like us, for we are the people of tomorrow.

In tomorrow’s unknown world, adventurous people will be needed, brave and strong to forge a better life,

People warm in heart, who will hear every cry, who will let none go hungry,

Who will reject all violence, who will not tolerate injustice, whose love will reach across streets and continents, people who will care.

We are the people of tomorrow, and tomorrow can be happy only if we are happy, only if we ourselves are strong to uphold goodness and mercy, only if we care.

The map of the future is in our own hearts, we are the signposts of the future way.

Let us live as we would have tomorrow be.


Prayer A Thanksgiving for Human Rights Day by Cliff Reed


Human Rights Day commemorates the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on 10th December 1948. I invite you to join in the litany, with the words in capitals, if you wish.


We are human beings, whatever our beliefs, whatever our gender or our politics, whatever our faith or race or nation. We are human beings – this at least we have in common. Each in accordance with their own understanding, let us give thanks together.


We give thanks for all who, through the centuries have striven for human freedom and human dignity.


We give thanks for those who named and pioneered the rights of conscience and self-determination.


For those who asserted the freedom of mind and intellect, who challenged ignorance and strove to bring education to everyone,


For those who championed universal healthcare, who opposed exploitation in the workplace,


For those who struggled, suffered and died to win us democracy, free speech and equality before the law,


For those who fought against slavery, tyranny and oppressions of every kind,


For those who penned the testaments of liberty; their speeches and their sermons, their books and declarations, which set forth the equal rights of all human beings. And we give thanks for those who claimed those rights.


In particular, we give thanks today for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Composed in the aftermath of war, informed by the experience of monstrous inhumanity, its words encompass the hopes of humankind.



But we cannot leave it there. As we celebrate those rights, let us also accept our responsibilities. Our responsibility to enshrine them in our hearts and make them real in our lives, our responsibility to respect them in all our dealings with others, our responsibility as citizens to see that our own countries abide by them, our responsibility to establish them in the many places where they are ignored, violated or suppressed, our responsibility to live truly as members of the human family.



Let it be so. Amen


Reading Is there a Unitarian morality? from Unitarian? What’s that? by Cliff Reed.


With our belief in individual religious freedom, can Unitarians give any moral guidance? If Unitarians are free to “build their own theology”, are we not free to build our own morality? Can there be any shared moral standards, or are all free to behave as they please?


One point a Unitarian might make is that unless your moral standards are truly your own, then they do not really constitute morality. If they are simply imposed on you, then they are just a means of social control and nothing more. Of course, a commonly accepted “moral framework” must exist in any human society. But this is not enough, unless people also have a personal morality, an ethical code that is truly their own.


A Unitarian view of morality does not favour untrammelled individualism. Unitarian acceptance of the underlying unity and connectedness of humanity comes into play here. We don’t live in isolation. We are members of society, with a responsibility to help make it work. We may be individuals, with a right to our own beliefs, but we are also social beings. As such, it is incumbent upon each of us to behave in ways that respect others and make our community, and our world, a better place for everyone. In building a personal morality we may well learn from the teachings and example of others, but the crucial point is to make it ours. One of the traps in the area of morality is to pay more attention to other people’s behaviour than to one’s own. Judgementalism and self-righteousness can result.


Unitarians are suspicious of any morality that is too rigid in its decisions or which is lacking in mercy. Such “morality” often comes with a religious label attached. But a liberal religious Unitarian morality offers another model – one that imposes the highest standards on oneself, while treating others with justice and compassion.


Time of Stillness and Reflection A Stoic’s Prayer by Eusebius (adapted)


May we be no man’s enemy, and may we be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.

May we never quarrel with those nearest us; and if we do, may we be reconciled quickly.

May we never devise evil against any person; and if any devise evil against us, may we escape uninjured and without the need of hurting them.

May we love, seek, and attain only that which is good.

May we wish for all people’s happiness and envy none. May we never rejoice in the ill fortune of one who has wronged us.

When we have done or said what is wrong, may we never wait for the rebuke of another, but always rebuke ourselves until we make amends.

May we win no victory that harms either us or our opponent.

May we reconcile friends who are angry with one another.

May we, to the extent of our power, give all needful help to our friends, and to all who are in want.

May we never fail a friend in danger.

When visiting those in grief may we be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain.

May we respect ourselves. May we always keep tame that which rages within us.

May we accustom ourselves to be gentle, and never to be angry with people because of circumstances.

May we never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things they have done but know good people and follow in their footsteps.




May we do the best we can, with what we have, where we are.




Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley




Address Rights and Responsibilities


I was wondering about what theme to use for my service this Sunday, when I read my friend Celia Cartwright’s Daily Rumination for 29th November. She has been writing these each day on Facebook since 23rd March (the beginning of lockdown) and they have become a lovely spiritual pick-me-up each day, for me and for many Unitarians.


As we saw in my first reading, she was talking about rights and responsibilities, and sums it up by saying, “the balance between [them] being how we live in harmony.” And it is the 72nd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights next Thursday (10th December). This important document is a blueprint for how humankind might live together in mutual respect.


In the preamble to it, the authors wrote, among other things, that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” that “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,” and proclaimed the Declaration “as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”


It is an inspirational combination of a statement of universal rights, but also of implied universal responsibilities, to respect those rights and work towards achieving them. Because both are essential – as Celia illustrated in her Rumination, if people become too individualistic and stand on their individual rights, and “may the devil take the hindmost”, society will suffer and ultimately break down, because we are all in this world together. It is only by helping one another and respecting one another, that any meaningful society can grow. I share her frustration with silly people who spread conspiracy theories which work against the common good.


And in my final reading, from Unitarian? What’s that? Cliff Reed makes the same point, “A Unitarian view of morality does not favour untrammelled individualism. Unitarian acceptance of the underlying unity and connectedness of humanity comes into play here. We don’t live in isolation. We are members of society, with a responsibility to help make it work. We may be individuals, with a right to our own beliefs, but we are also social beings. As such, it is incumbent upon each of us to behave in ways that respect others and make our community, and our world, a better place for everyone.”


Again, those words – rights and responsibilities. We all have rights, but we all have responsibilities. Human beings are deeply interconnected, to each other and to every other living thing on the planet. Past decisions to think only of the rights of humans have resulted in many species of plants and animals dying out, as we have spread across the planet, regardless of the rest of its inhabitants.


In our second reading, Sidney Knight ponders what the world of tomorrow might be like and answers, “In tomorrow’s unknown world adventurous people will be needed, brave and strong to forge a better life, people warm in heart, who will hear every cry, who will let none go hungry, who will reject all violence, who will not tolerate injustice, whose love will reach across streets and continents, people who will care… and tomorrow can be happy only if we are happy, only if we ourselves are strong to uphold goodness and mercy, only if we care.”


So our challenge for tomorrow, for all our tomorrows, is to defend the rights of all people, all living beings and to be “strong to uphold goodness and mercy”, caring for others as we would wish to be cared for ourselves, responsibly defending their rights. I guess that when it comes right down to it, the balance between rights and responsibilities which Celia was talking about, is the implementation of the Golden Rule, some version of which is espoused by most religious traditions. It has both positive and negative iterations, “Do as you would be done by” and “Do not do to others, what you would not like to be done to you.”

Imagine what the world would be like if everyone followed it! If every person genuinely tried to behave to the rest of humankind and all living beings with a concern and care for how they would feel. As it says in the Charter for Compassion, “Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creature, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”


Compassion is not about being safe; it is about putting ourselves at risk, about letting down the guards around ourselves. If we want to make our religion more compassionate, it is we that have to do it – we who have to be the change we want to see in the world. We have to take responsibility for our own speech and actions. It is no good waiting for “them” to do something – even if “them” is the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, which is a partner organisation of the Charter for Compassion. It is us, the individual congregations, the individual people in those congregations, who need to take responsibility ourselves – to become activists *where we are*, to defend the rights of others. We need to work hard, to think outside the box, to grapple with difficulties. There are no simple blanket solutions.


As Unitarians, our beliefs and values chime in closely with this. Let me share an extract from the leaflet, A Faith Worth Thinking About, “Unitarians find their bond of unity in shared values, such as … mutual respect and good will in personal relations; constructive tolerance and openness towards the sincerely-held beliefs of others; peace, compassion, justice and democracy in human affairs.”


We are all members of a Unitarian community. If we are to embrace the Golden Rule, we need to start here, where we are. Let us ask ourselves the questions,

  • Have I shown mutual respect and goodwill to my friends and neighbours?
  • Have I practiced constructive tolerance and openness towards the sincerely-held beliefs of others?
  • Am I doing as I would be done by?
  • Am I avoiding giving pain to others by my actions?


And we need to be asking those questions not only as individuals, but also as congregations.

  • What can our congregation do to show mutual respect and goodwill to our friends and neighbours?
  • How can we engage constructively with the beliefs and faith-traditions of other people in our town/city?
  • What are we doing to show compassion to others?
  • How are we avoiding giving pain to others?


Really, I guess I’m just saying that it doesn’t matter how few of us there are, what matters is that we choose to do “the something we can do”, to quote my favourite Edward Everett Hale. Let us not stand on our rights as individuals but reach out to others with compassion. That is our responsibility, today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. May it be so.


Closing Words by Celia Cartwright


O God of All Creation, God of Love,

We pray that the walls that divide us shall be taken down,

And with the bricks and stones let us build bridges between us,

That we may learn from each other not to fear each other,

And so may more easily come to keep faith

With the Greatest Commandment,

That is: To love our God, with all our heart and mind and strength,

And each other as ourselves.



Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley