Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this time of continuing 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 short 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 light our chalice to greet the Spring
and to rejoice in life’s renewal,
pledging ourselves to be good stewards
of this beautiful blossoming earth.
Give thanks for Spring! Here again,
with its promise ever-new,
with its many-yellowed flowers,
its bright songbirds proclaiming
their presence to the world –
a world darkened, as ever, by human folly,
by war and suffering undeserved.
But still give thanks for Spring,
the season of hope.
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 of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
We hold in our hearts
the brave and dedicated staff of the NHS,
and other key workers,
who are carrying on in difficult conditions,
and 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 Spring by John Knopf
Spring is a time of movement and unrest. It is, a poet has written, “the cruellest time”. It was the time of the crucifixion. Keep our hearts steady through its storms, our faces firm against the rain and hail.
It is a time for pruning and for repair, for discarding what is broken and useless, for repairing what is worn, but useful. May we have the judgement to know which is which, and the strength to do what is needed with both.
Spring is a time of light and glory, of the snowdrop, the crocus and the daffodil. Open our eyes to see its gifts. May the green gold of spring shine in our hearts, our spirits be filled with its coinage of beauty.
Spring is a time of cleansing airs. Let us open our windows to the breath of heaven, our hearts to the winds of change. Fill our lungs with new life, our sails with the breath of power, that we may live and sail to the glory of 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. Amen
Reading The Wonder of Reviving Life by Robert T. Weston, from Songs for Living.
Who can resolve for us the mysteries of earth, the wonder of reviving life in the spring?
Not all the stars in the sky are as wonderful as the bursting seed; or the tiny green shoot, or the first brave flower defying the storm.
The birds return, and in the dawn they form cathedral choirs rejoicing in the light.
The scampering squirrels take up the glad refrain – The spring is here!
The trees sing in the wind, and little streams swell into leaping, laughing torrents,
The dead leaves nestling on the earth whisper a glorious secret to the wind: The earth is stirring with new life!
Where yesterday the drifting snow covered grey leaves, impetuous green today thrusts upwards towards the light.
All nature sings, for light is life, and warmth and rain are life.
This is the truth that passes understanding; this is the joy to all forever free:
Life springs from death and shatters every fetter, and winter yields to spring eternally.
Prayer Creativeness by Harry Lismer Short, from Echoes (adapted)
O God, at this time of year our hearts rise up at the wonderful beauty that is in the world: the beauty of colour and shape and sound and movement.
We human beings can also create beauty ourselves, and that too is wonderful. We never cease to be grateful for the creativeness of men and women in so many fields. We are thankful for poets and painters, musicians and dancers, and all the gifted and talented in every generation who enrich our common life.
We are grateful too, for the frequent grace in the lives of quite ordinary people, who create lives and actions of beauty whilst doing their daily business. We are thankful for… every kind of ordinary grace…
But all our human creativeness is only a small part of the wonder of the world. The shapes and colours of flowers and fruit, the curling of a wave or a tendril, the songs of birds, the graceful movements of living creatures, the regularity of a crystal or a snowflake – all these and many more things are part of the beauty of thy world.
It is this which enables us to face up to the ugliness and pain of the world, which also is a continuing feature of it. All things grow misshapen, including human lives. There is grace, and there is also distortion; there is sweetness and there is bitterness; there is wonderful creativeness and there is senseless destruction.
And so we pray that we may learn to live in such a world, and with such a human nature.
We are grateful for all the help and inspiration we receive from the frequent beauty of the world, and the frequent grace in human lives.
Reading from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Now I’d like you to sit back, close your eyes, and transport yourselves back to the time when you first read Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. I am going to read you the immortal opening passage, when Mole feels the effects of Spring in his blood.
The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘Oh, blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged, and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself ‘Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.
‘This is fine!’ he said to himself. ‘This is better than whitewashing!’ The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the far side.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Meditation on the Equinox by Thomas Rhodes (adapted)
Over our heads, the great wheel of stars shifts,
the autumnal (or spring) equinox manifests itself,
and for one precious instant darkness and light
exist in balanced proportion to one another.
Within our minds the great web of neurons shifts,
new consciousness arises,
and for one precious instant experience and meaning
exist together as revelation and epiphany.
Within our hearts the great rhythm of our lives shifts
a new way of being reveals itself,
and for one precious instant
the nexus of the body and the seat of the soul
truly exist as one.
Let us give thanks for those times in our lives
when all seems in balance.
For those times are rare and precious.
The equinox shall pass, the revelation may be forgotten,
and our actions will not always reflect our true selves.
Let us be quiet for a moment, together.[silence]
Through our gratitude
we may remember who we are,
reflect on who we may become,
and restore the balance which brings equanimity to our lives.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Spring: the Season of Renewal
Spring is my favourite season. After the short, grey days of winter, with their seemingly endless rain and gloomy clouds, it is so nice to see the odd bit of blue sky and sunshine! I try to go for a walk most days, either in the forest or round the village, depending on the weather, and I have noticed squillions of buds starting to form on the trees and in the hedgerows, and the first brave Spring flowers pushing up their heads through the soil of the verges. If the sun is shining too, the whole walk is a quiet pleasure, which sets me up for the day.
Spring has always been an important season for people, right back to earliest times. Indeed, in “the old days”, before we could fly fruit and vegetables into our shops from around the world 365 days a year, the last few weeks of Winter were hard for people, who had to subsist on dried or otherwise preserved greens and fruit until the growing season began again. It is also the time of year when the days start to lengthen, and the evenings and mornings get lighter, and we naturally react to that – we are creatures who need natural light, even if we don’t realise it, cocooned in our electric wombs.
As John Knopf wrote in my first reading, Spring “is a time of light and glory, Of the snowdrop, the crocus and the daffodil … May the green gold of spring shine in our hearts, Our spirits be filled with its coinage of beauty.” As Mole found out when he tunnelled up to the surface in that immortal opening passage of The Wind in the Willows. Spring is a wonderful time, “The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and .. the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout.”
I think it is important that we can continue to experience the wonder of Spring – the sense of divine renewal, the small annual miracles of the first flowers and the first buds appearing. They have got to be a sign of hope, that Winter cannot last forever. There is the wonderful dichotomy between the revelation of the eternal round, and the revelation of that which is new. Every Spring we encounter something never before seen, a glimpse of potential for the future.
Spring is also the time when we feel renewed and have new resources of energy. It is no accident that Spring cleaning has endured as a tradition through the centuries. Partly it is a necessity (more so in times past, when people almost hibernated during the cold winter months, and Spring was the time of the big clear out). But it is almost an instinct too – it is a time for taking stock of what we have, of discarding the broken and useless, of repairing what is worn but useful, and of setting our faces forward for the year ahead. If we don’t carry out a periodic Spring clean, our lives can become cluttered and stagnant, with no space for renewal and growth. You can guess by this that I’m not just talking about physical Spring cleaning, satisfying though that is, but also about mental and spiritual Spring cleaning. It is only too easy to plod along in the same old ways, carrying out the same old duties, not realising how flat and dull our lives have become. Sometimes we need to have a good breath of fresh air blowing through our lives, revitalising us and setting us on a new path in good heart.
So I think we need to take a periodic look at ourselves, take stock and move on. But the process of self-examination is not an easy one. One of my favourite theologians is the wonderful Rabbi Lionel Blue, who I listened to regularly on Thought for the Day on Radio 4. I have most of his books, which I have read and re-read, and was lucky enough to go and see him “live” once, before he died. Over the years, he has taught me that the only thing that God wants from us is for us to be more kind, more generous to everyone (including ourselves) and more honest, both with ourselves and our fellow travellers in the world. It is about listening to that inner voice, whether we call it God, or the light within, or our conscience, and about doing the right thing rather than the easy one. So that we can “remember who we are, reflect on who we may become, and restore the balance which brings equanimity to our lives,” as Thomas Rhodes suggested in the words of our Time of Stillness and Reflection.
I am so very blessed. I have a lovely husband, two wonderful grown-up children, a nice house, good friends, a job that I love and enough money in the bank – what more could anyone wish for? But I know that without regular spiritual practices, I tend to ignore what’s going on at a deeper level, in my heart and soul. It is very easy to move out of balance, out of equanimity. And I know that I am missing being in community with fellow Unitarians so much, because it is they who enable me to go deep. Being part of a loving, living Unitarian community helps me to think and reflect on matters of the heart and soul, secure in the knowledge that there are loving arms to catch me, if I fall. I think that sometimes we underestimate the importance of our own Unitarian communities to their members. There is nowhere else that I can think of where it is possible to bring your whole self, and be wholeheartedly accepted, warts and all. And that is so precious.
But are our Unitarian communities always “fit for purpose”? Are they truly places where our members can learn new things and grow into their best selves? I wonder.
I think that all congregations need a regular Spring cleaning, so that we can discard the things that aren’t working and bring in some new ideas to attract more people through our doors. I think we need to take stock of our strengths and weaknesses, then make a plan to move on. And perhaps this Spring, when we are feeling the impact of having been closed for most of the past twelve months, because of Covid, is an ideal opportunity to undertake this kind of evaluation. How do we want to be together in community when we re-open? What can we take forward from what we have learned about being in virtual community for the last year? Are there things we do not want to go back to?
Rev Bob Janis-Dillon has recently been appointed as Congregational Connections Lead for the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. His role is to “support congregations in their vital work, by helping them share their knowledge and experience with each other.” He continues, “This role is an opportunity for us to explore the ways that congregations can learn from each other and support one another.” His interview in the 6th February 2021 issue of The Inquirer sheds some light on how he envisions the role developing.
He says, “This role is to help us enhance those inter-congregational connections that give congregational leaders the most support, inspiration and guidance. You might think of it a little like how a synapse functions in the brain – hopefully with this role, we can create sparks of connection for activity and thought.” He has already reached out via e-mail and brought together members of diverse congregations to speak about things like worship, digital resources and copyright. These online conversations, via Zoom, are lively and informative. I highly recommend them.
The Inquirer article asked him, “What will your success look like?” and he answered, “By this summer, if I succeed, congregational leaders across the country will feel a little more empowered to take bold action on behalf of their chapels and churches, try out new endeavours. They will have a greater sense of the opportunities that are out there…. My success in this role… has much to do with how supported congregational leaders feel in their efforts to serve community, justice and hope in this new era… congregations that, online and offline, are places of fellowship, transformation and outreach.” Please send me an e-mail if you are interested in taking part, and I will pass your name on to Bob. Or get in touch with him yourselves.
Perhaps this Spring is a wonderful opportunity to learn something new and to open the doors of our congregations wide. As John Knopf wrote, “Spring is a time of cleansing airs. Let us open our windows to the breath of heaven, our hearts to the winds of change. Fill our lungs with new life, our sails with the breath of power, that we may live and sail to the glory of God.”
May it be so.
Closing Words from The Hebrew Bible, The Song of Solomon, 2:10-13
My closing words are from that beautiful love poem The Song of Solomon.
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley