New Year 2023: Online Service for Sunday 1st January 2023


Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley


Opening Words by Cliff Reed


The Old Year and its turning is behind you.


In the spareness and clarity of winter,

see the promise of a New Year.

Sense the possibilities forming within you,

feel the stirring of life beneath your feet.


The nights are still long, but they’re getting shorter.

The days are still dark, but they’re getting lighter.

Nature still seems to sleep, but she is awakening.

Winter is preparing the earth for spring.


Give thanks.


Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point).

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.


Opening Prayer


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 has not yet gone away,

and the clouds of war hover.

May we keep in touch however we can,

and help 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,

victims of violence and war,

suffering in any way, Amen

Reading New Year Snow by Frances Horovitz


For three days we waited,

a bowl of dull quartz for sky.

At night the valley dreamed of snow,

lost Christmas angels with dark-white wings

flailing the hills.

I dreamed a poem, perfect

as the first five-pointed flake,

that melted at dawn:

a Janus-time

to peer back at guttering dark days,

trajectories of the spent year.

And then snow fell.

Within an hour, a world immaculate

as January’s new-hung page.

We breathe the radiant air like men new-born.

the children rush before us.

as in a dream of snow

we track through crystal fields

to the green horizon

and the sun’s reflected rose.


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 New Year is Before Us 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 peace.

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.


Prayer Journeying in Hope by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth (adapted)


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 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.

Time of Stillness and Reflection For Winter by Cliff Reed, from Spirit of Time and Place (adapted)


God of the circling year,

We who thank you for spring’s new life, summer’s warmth

and autumn’s fruitfulness, come to you now in winter.


We appreciate the charm of sparkling frost and gentle snowfall,

the special pleasures of the season, but we are conscious also

of its misery and suffering.


Sometimes its darkness and its cold oppress us.

We grieve at the hardship and the death it brings.

Then we find it hard to be grateful for winter.


Show us its necessity. Give us the vision to see why it must be.

Let us learn its lessons, hear how it speaks to us of life concealed

and wonders yet to come.


Help us to bear its gloom.

Make us ready to help those for whom its burden is too great.

May its hidden promise of rebirth kindle our hope and show us the way.




We give thanks for winter: for its elusive beauties and its warm fellowship.

We give thanks for what it reveals about our nature,

and for its opportunities to use the love you give us.


May it be so, Amen


Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley


Address New Year 2023


It is a new year. I would like to begin as I do each year at this time 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. I have been President of the General Assembly for more than eight months and it has been a fascinating ride, which has gone by much more quickly than I had expected. I count myself blessed that the worst of Covid is now over, and I have been able to visit congregations all around the country in person, unlike my predecessor, Anne Mills, who had to do part of her Presidential year virtually.


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.


My kind husband has bought me a new Fitbit for Christmas, so I would like to get back into my former daily habit of a walk in Salcey Forest. I don’t know why I’ve stopped, because whenever I do go, I really enjoy it. Perhaps it is because I have been so much busier this year, as I have striven to combine the roles of President and District Minister…. Or maybe that’s just an excuse. I hope that the presence of the Fitbit on my wrist will spur me into walking out of my front door each day.


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.


Its goal 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 seven 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 once again, as I believe they are important to remember at the beginning of each year:


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.”


Such good advice.


I hope that 2023 will be a better year for all of us – that Covid 19 will finally be defeated, and that the war in the Ukraine (and all other conflicts the world over) will come to an end. 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. May we choose to live in the spirit of the prayer by John O’Donohue:


May I live this day,

Compassionate of heart,

Gentle in word,

Gracious in awareness,

Courageous in thought,

Generous in love.



Closing Words


Spirit of Life and Love,

another New Year has begun.

May 2023 be a good year,

for all of us and for all those we love,

and for the world.

May we return to our everyday world refreshed,

may we share the love we feel,

may we look out for each other,

and may we keep up our hearts,

now and in the days to come,



Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley