Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words by Cliff Reed
We gather to share
our faith in the spirit of freedom,
our doubts in the spirit of honesty.
We gather to focus our love in prayer,
to send it to those who suffer and grieve –
in our own community and in the wider world.
We gather to strengthen
the good that is in us,
that goodness may be stronger on the earth.
We gather to worship.
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 each of us bring our light
to join the ‘carnival of lamps’.
We come as individual souls to gather in community,
finding our purpose in connection, our freedom in the self’s
surrender, and our oneness in diversity.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in our 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 world in which Covid again seems to be rampant,
Keeping in touch however we can,
And helping each other,
However we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way.
Hymn no. 176 Come Together in Love
Story from Mary by Megan McKenna
Once upon a time there was an abbot of a monastery who was very good friends with the rabbi of a local synagogue. It was Europe, and times were hard…
The abbot found his community dwindling and the faith of his monks shallow and lifeless. Life in the monastery was dying. He went to his friend and wept. His friend, the rabbi, comforted him, and told him “There is something you need to know, my brother. We have long known in the Jewish community that the Messiah is one of you.”
“What,” exclaimed the abbot, “the Messiah is one of us? How can that be?”
But the rabbi insisted that it was so, and the abbot went back to his monastery wondering and praying, comforted and excited.
Once back in the monastery, walking down the halls and in the courtyard, he would pass by a monk and wonder if he was the one. Sitting in chapel, praying he would hear a voice and look intently at a face and wonder if he was the one, and he began to treat all his brothers with respect, with kindness and awe, with reverence. Soon it became quite noticeable.
One of the other brothers came to him and asked him what had happened to him. After some coaxing, the abbot told him what the rabbi had said. Soon the other monk was looking at his brothers differently and wondering. The word spread through the monastery quickly; the Messiah is one of us. Soon the whole monastery was full of life, worship, kindness, and grace. The prayer life was rich and passionate, devoted, and the psalms and liturgy and services were alive and vibrant. Soon the surrounding villagers were coming to the services and listening and watching intently, and there were many who wished to join the community.
After their novitiate, when they took their vows, they were told the mystery, the truth that their life was based upon, the source of their strength and life together: The Messiah is one of us. The monastery grew and expanded into house after house, and all of the monks grew in wisdom, age and grace before the others and the eyes of God. And they say still, if you stumble across this place, where there is life and hope and kindness and graciousness, that the secret is the same: the Messiah is one of us.
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
Hymn no. 172 All are welcome here
Reading Life’s Highest Experience: A circle of love by Margaret Paul
A circle of love is a profound experience — well worth working toward. It’s what we all yearn for in our souls. Fun, joy, intimacy and creativity are some of the results of the circle of love. So, what can you do to create more circles of love in your life?
A circle of love occurs when two or more people are together with completely open hearts — open with their true Self, with each other and with Spirit. When we are deeply connected with our core Self and with the love and sustenance of Spirit, and we are sharing our Self and Love with others — and they are doing the same — a circle of love occurs.
Yet most people in relationships rarely, if ever, experience a circle of love. This is because when your intent is to protect against your painful feelings rather than to learn about loving yourself and others, your heart is closed — closed to your Self, closed to others and closed to Spirit. It is only when you have established a circle of love within yourself and with Spirit that you can extend this circle out to others. Without the inner and spiritual connection, any “love” you share with others isn’t really love — it’s a pull for love, attention and approval…
What could possibly be more important in life than being able to share a circle of love? Nothing else in life compares to this ultimate experience. While we certainly need to spend time creating financial security and physical health, and taking care of the everyday tasks of life, be sure to place learning to create a circle of love very high on your priority list. Doing your inner work really does work to create the foundation for the circle of love — the essential inner and spiritual connection. Learning to love your Self and connect with Spirit is the foundation necessary to create a circle of love.
Prayer by Nancee Campbell
Spirit of kindness and compassion, we come from different places to this sacred ground of communal caring. We are enriched by the company of each other and are drawn closer to the heart of love in this time of service. Touch this gathering with tenderness so that we may be refreshed anew by the grace that encompasses this morning.
Spirit of mercy, we are human and fragile and often frightened. We pray for the blessing of compassion as we face our frustration and pain. We pray for the blessing of courage to help us live with the fear of losing and the sorrow of loss. We especially pray for all those among us who need to feel the warmth of love in their lives.
Spirit that glows in the darkness, expand our vision with faith so we may always remember the unending circle of life and death and love reborn that surrounds us with kindness and compassion.
Spirit that glistens in the light, bless this community that shares so generously with their hands and their hearts. Keep us ever mindful of the powerful possibilities of love as we walk through all the seasons of our lives. Amen.
Hymn no. 188 Let love continue long
Reading Circles of Love from www.momentoflove.org
We gather in Circles of Love to strengthen our connection with ourselves, with each other, and with all around us through giving and receiving heartfelt love. We know that virtually anything is possible when we work together, and that every one of us makes a difference. We embrace diversity as a source of growth and inspiration. We also see beyond our differences to connect with that place in all hearts that wants only to love and be loved. In freely sharing our sacred love, these Circles of Love support a global shift towards a celebration of all life through love.
Circles of Love are intended to inspire each one of us to be all that we can be in every moment of our lives. Imagine Circles of Love sprouting around the globe, ever growing in number. Imagine these circles linking us all together through our deep-held desire to connect more deeply with the hearts of all people, and to inspire each other through sacred love. Circles of Love are a reflection of the infinite divine love which reaches out to all people and to all creatures on Earth and throughout the universe.
Time of Stillness and Reflection
There is no beginning and no end to the circle of life and love.
An artist friend once said to me that she was seeking God. I then began to think about how it is that we humans need to have a goal, a focus, from which to live;
We need to feel that we can be helped in times of change, that we are not alone.
We say we seek to find God: but we do not need to look for God.
The eternal power which is the breath of life is all around us
And fills our souls with love and joy in quiet moments, in the moments of stillness.
From this thought, we begin to experience a feeling which exceeds all expectations.
A feeling of awe and wonder, of being cared for and loved, beyond measure.
Therefore, be still. Through stillness, balance is obtained and we can find comfort and an inner peace and ask for what we need in the quietness of the moment,
And ask for assurance that we are not alone.
Let us ponder these things in the silence …
In returning from silence, let us give thanks,
For the circle of life and love in which we live, move and have our being.
God is there.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address Circles of Life and Love
In his fascinating book, The Unitarian Way, the late Philip Hewett wrote, “Human beings do not live in isolation. We are what we are as a result of continuous interaction with an environment that is not separated from our own essential nature by any impenetrable boundary. We are all of us continually being defined and redefined by the whole constellation of relationships into which we enter. … The living of my life in a spiritual sense is a continuous process of incorporating new relationships into the ever-changing pattern which constitutes my identity. … In a spiritual sense, the quality of living is enhanced by multiplication and exercise of my positive relationships to the cosmos as a whole, to the world of living things, and to other human beings.”
There is a lot of food for thought here. Unless we walk through life with our eyes, minds and hearts shut, we will inevitably be influenced and changed by the actions and words of people with whom we come into contact, whether it is a casual encounter in the street, a member of our family, or of our spiritual community. And, of course, our actions and words influence everyone else. I suppose another way of putting it would be to quote John Donne’s famous meditation: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
We are all human beings, we are all members of many communities – our families, our friends, our colleagues, our church – and we are all members of the human race. What difference can we, as individuals, make to those communities? We need to be aware that we are in a living relationship with the rest of the world, and that our words and actions can influence the fate of that world and its inhabitants, our fellow human beings, not to mention all the other living things. Whether our influence is for good or ill is up to us.
Perhaps we need to ask why we gather in community, in our individual churches, chapels or meeting houses, or online, Sunday after Sunday? These days, there are so many other things we could be doing – snoozing in bed, indulging in a little retail therapy, playing sport, surfing the internet, meeting with family or friends. But something keeps us coming – something we cannot get anywhere else. I believe it is the possibility of creating a beloved community – a circle of life and love – that keeps us faithful in our attendance.
Hewett also wrote, “Unitarians are committed to an affirmation of life in face of all life-threatening forces [and] a hopeful belief in the potentialities of human nature.” If we believe that Life with a capital L is fundamentally good (although our individual lives at any particular point may not be so good) and that all human beings have the potential to be good or evil, then we must commit ourselves to doing our best to live our lives as well as we can, in accordance with the best we know, and to make our lives and the lives of those we touch as good as we can. This is what being part of a Unitarian community is all about. It is about building beloved community, building circles of life and love, building safe and sacred spaces in which we can learn and grow and trust and love.
Let us go back to Margaret Paul’s definition of what a circle of love looks like. She writes: “A circle of love occurs when two or more people are together with completely open hearts — open with their true Self, with each other and with Spirit. When we are deeply connected with our core Self and with the love and sustenance of Spirit, and we are sharing our Self and Love with others — and they are doing the same — a circle of love occurs.”
So it is about being in deep, heart-level connection with other people, and with the Spirit. Which is why being a member of a faith community such as ours is a very good place to start. Because here we deal with things of the heart, matters of the Spirit. Here is where we can learn about how to be in loving relationship with others and, with the foundation of this safe and sacred space behind us, be brave enough to approach others in trust and love.
The American anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” In a way, every such “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” is a circle of love. Each congregation is – or could be – a circle of love. So how can we change the world?
Philip Hewett states that “one person who stands at the point of intersection where many positive relationships meet may induce their intersection at other points as well, and thus strengthen the living and loving of others. … This view of human nature and conduct demands a fresh and creative response to each new person and each new situation.”
It means being alert, being aware, being conscious of our part in the world, and our possible influence on it, not just on Sundays, but every day of the week, every minute of the day. Quite a challenge, but we can do it, if we truly want to. We may be small in number, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot be great in heart, that we cannot bear witness to the power of love, and “thus strengthen the living and loving of others.”
Ever since I started leading worship, more than twenty years ago, I have been an inveterate cut-out-and-keeper of inspirational articles by fellow Unitarians and others. And I came across this one the other day, a lovely piece by Cal Courtney and Mel Prideaux in one of the GAZettes at the 2006 GA conference. GAZette is the daily magazine which is produced at the GA meetings and sold to delegates. It was an extract from the opening celebrations, and I’d like to share it with you, because it illustrates beautifully how we could be reaching out to invite others into our circles of life and love:
“David O. Rankin, UUA Minister, has said in his piece called “Popularity”, that:
“To escape the trap of public acclaim, an authentic church should advertise as follows:
Our worship is not an entertainment.
Our congregation is not an audience.
Our music is not a concert performance.
Our preaching is not a trivial comfort.
Our theology is not a marketing strategy.
Our counselling is not a promise of prosperity.
Our church is not a business enterprise.
Our ministry is not a cult of personality.
Our community is not a gathering of sheep.
Our success is not a membership statistic.”
However, we cannot be defined solely by that which we are not. We would add that:
Our worship is an attempt to find the soul in the world around and within us.
Our congregations are imperfect communities in search of wholeness.
Our music is the song of our togetherness.
Our preaching is a challenge to the comfortable certainties of our times.
Our theology is an evolving process of sense making and love building.
Our counselling is the promise of endless possibility.
Our churches are precious links to a glorious past, and dreams for what we yet can be.
Our ministry is a seeking for rainbows in the midst of clouds, and water in the midst of a desert.
Our community is a faith filled ‘yes’ to life.
Our success is immeasurable, for the spirit knows no bounds and the soul knows no boundaries.”
I absolutely agree with Cal and Mel, that we should define what we do, what we believe, in positive terms. We – Unitarians in individual congregations, Unitarians in the Midlands, Unitarians in the UK – all need to work together to save our precious “uncommon denomination”, our Beloved Community, from extinction. We need to work out what we do believe in and publicise it positively in every way we can. And then make sure that our congregations live up to the publicity! Because it is no good having an inspiring web presence, if when a newcomer visits our congregation, we are not inviting them into deep community, into a circle of life and love.
In the words of Earl Holt, “We remember this day those who have gone before us here, who laboured not for themselves alone but with a vision of building for the future a world better than they had known. Inspire in us also a like vision, that we too may labour for things beyond ourselves, that our lives may be dedicated to high purposes and grand horizons. Make us unafraid of hopes and dreams; release us from cynicism and despair. Teach us to be realistic about our limitations but never to lose hope in our potential to transcend them.”
May it be so.
Hymn no. 174 A church is a living fellowship
Closing Words by Kathy Huff
Our time in this place may have ended,
But our connection to each other and this community remains.
Together, may we walk the path of justice,
Speak words of love, live the selfless deed,
Tread gently on the earth and
Fill the world with compassion
Until we meet again, blessed be.
Postlude Lady of Hill by Elizabeth Harley