Prelude Chanson de Matin by Edward Elgar
Opening Words Saints, Sinners and Seekers (after Max Coots) by Richard S. Gilbert (adapted)
Welcome to this church, this sacred virtual space,
a congregation, not of saints or sinners,
but of seekers.
We gladly greet those who are on a journey
even if they know not where they go or wish to go.
We would walk with you as we explore the way together.
This church is a sacred space
where the lonely can find community,
where the friendless can befriend and be befriended,
where the hopeless can find a future,
where the happy can share their joy,
where the despondent can share their pain and woe,
and where people can find and be a neighbour,
one to the other.
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 Albert Schweitzer)
At times, our own light goes out
and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude
of those who have lighted the flame within us.
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 and climate change overshadow us.
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
Story Bridge-building story (source: Gillian Peel)
Old Joe lived way out in the countryside all by himself. His best friend Jim was also his closest neighbour. It seemed that they had grown old together. Now that their wives had passed on, and their children were grown up and living lives of their own, all they had left were their farms—and each other.
But for the first time in their long friendship, they’d had a serious disagreement. It was a silly argument over a stray calf that neither one of them really needed. The calf was found on Jim’s land and he claimed it as his own. Old Joe said, “No, no, no, that calf has the same markings as one of my cows, and I say it belongs to me!”
They were stubborn men, and neither would give in. Rather than hit each other, they just stopped talking and stomped off to their respective doors and slammed them shut! Two weeks went by without a word between them.
Come Saturday morning, Old Joe heard a knock on his front door. He wasn’t expecting anyone and was surprised to find a young man who called himself a “travelling carpenter” standing on his porch. He had a wooden toolbox at his feet, and there was kindness in his eyes.
“I’m looking for work,” he explained. “I’m good with my hands, and if you have a project or two, I’d like to help you out.”
Old Joe replied, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have a job for you. See that house way over yonder? That’s my neighbour’s house. You see that stream running along our property line? That stream wasn’t there last week. He did that to spite me! He hitched a plough to his tractor and dug that streambed from the upper pond right down the property line. Then he flooded it!
Now we’ve got this stream to separate us. I’m so darn mad at him! I’ve got wood in my barn, boards, posts, everything you’ll need to build me a fence—a tall fence—all along that stream. Then I won’t have to see his place no more. That’ll teach him!”
The carpenter smiled and said, “I’ll do a good job for you.”
The old man had to go to town for supplies, so he hitched up his wagon and left for the day. The young carpenter carried the wood from barn to streamside and started to work. He worked hard and he worked fast. He measured, sawed, and nailed those boards into place all day long without stopping for lunch. With the setting of the sun, he started to put his tools away. He had finished his project.
Old Joe pulled up, his wagon full of supplies. When he saw what the carpenter had built, he couldn’t speak. It wasn’t a fence. Instead, a beautiful footbridge, with handrails and all, reached from one side of the stream to the other.
Just then, Old Joe’s neighbour Jim crossed the bridge, his hand stuck out, and said, “I’m right sorry about our misunderstanding, Joe. The calf is yours. I just want us to go on being good friends.”
“You keep the calf, Jim,” said Old Joe. “I want us to be friends, too. The bridge was this young fellow’s idea. And I’m glad he did it.”
The carpenter hoisted his toolbox onto his shoulder and started to leave.
“Wait!” said Joe. “You’re a good man. Jim and I can keep you busy for weeks.”
The carpenter smiled and said, “I’d like to stay, but I can’t. I have more bridges to build.”
And he walked on down the road, whistling a happy tune as he went.
Prayer 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.
Reading from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
And a youth said, Speak to us of Friendship.
And he answered, saying:
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.
When your friend speaks his mind, you fear not the ‘nay’ in your own mind, nor do you withhold the ‘ay’.
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart,
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations, are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not,
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love, but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.
And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
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 We pass each other but briefly by Richard S. Gilbert
In this hallowed house of the spirit we come to be together.
Out of the tangled webs of our lives,
out of the hurts of the workaday world,
out of the frustrations of trying to be good,
we come to be reminded of this variously-peopled world
in which we are fated to live.
Our lives are fleeting, our days are few.
We pass each other but briefly,
so let us make haste to be kind.
We float on by each other as fish in the sea,
barely taking time to acknowledge the presence of the other,
each lost in our individual pursuits.
We flee from each other when the tides are rough.
We disperse when trouble comes.
Here, let us commit ourselves anew to each other.
Let us take the time to connect with our neighbours.
Let us make occasions for being together.
Let us bestir ourselves to rally round when there is need,
for there will come a time when we, too, are needful.
Our lives are fleeting, our days are few.
We pass each other but briefly,
so let us make haste to be kind.
Time of Stillness and Reflection (words by Sue Woolley)
Spirit of Life and Love,
All of us have friends.
All of us are friends.
May we understand the huge importance
of these connections in our lives.
May we appreciate our friends:
their kindness, their loyalty,
their ongoing, unchanging love for us,
warts and all.
And may we be such friends –
not falling away when the going gets rough,
but always there for each other,
steadfast in our love,
ready to celebrate each other’s joys,
empathise with each other’s concerns,
and treating one another
as we would like to be treated ourselves,
knowing that the ripples of our compassion
will flow out into the world,
making it a gentler, happier place.
May we be such friends and appreciate such friends,
this day and always.
Musical Interlude Clair de Lune by Debussy
Address On Friendship
In this doomful early Spring of 2024, when the violence in Gaza, the Yemen and the Ukraine (and in many other places) continues, and the ever-present clouds of climate change overwhelm us, many of us will have times when we feel “down” and wonder why we bother to get up in the morning, as there seems to be little to look forward to, and we wonder when, or even if, the clouds will lift…
At times such as these, friends are vital. If we can share our troubles with someone who loves us “just the way we are”, the chances are that we will be able to get over the bad patch and realise that yes, life is worth living, and that yes, we do have the courage to face whatever comes our way. Such friendship is beyond price – it can make the difference between surviving and living, between hurt and wholeness. It involves compassion and love, and, practiced purely, it is one of the most healing influences in the world. Being a friend means putting our friend’s happiness before our own, because we cannot be truly happy if they are sad.
So today, I would like to reflect on friendship, and the different values that it has in our lives.
One of the most important of these is: a friend is someone you can be yourself with, warts and all. The great American President Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” I have used that quotation as the opening words of a service about integrity, but even at the time, I worried about the last bit “I must stand with anybody that stands right … and part with him when he goes wrong.”
Because that’s not what friendship is about. To my mind, true friendship is about standing by your friends precisely when they do go wrong. As American author Mark Twain says: “The proper office of a friend is to side with you when you are in the wrong. Nearly anybody will side with you when you are in the right.” Hmmm.
As C. Raymond Beran wrote, “You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meannesses and absurdities and, in opening them up to him, they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of his loyalty.” Your friend is one who knows all about you, and still likes you. Your friend is someone you can be yourself with, warts and all.
Another important value of friendship for me is that friends can be the angels in our lives, like the mysterious carpenter in Gillian Peel’s lovely story, which I shared earlier. I have recently been re-reading Vera Brittain’s two volumes of autobiography – Testament of Youth and Testament of Experience. Which has encouraged me to reflect on the nature of true friendship, such as Vera shared with Winifred Holtby, who was a true angel in her life.
There is something very special about devoted friendship – the best marriages are based on it, for example. Such loyalty and devotion between two people is rare and precious, whether it occurs between a man and a woman, or between two people of the same sex. The relationship between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby is a beautiful example of a very strong, same-sex, devoted friendship. They met at Oxford University after the First World War and, after a rocky start, became the best of friends. In her wonderful tribute to Winifred, Testament of Friendship, Vera wrote of her time with Winifred in London before her (Vera’s) marriage:
“Those years with Winifred taught me that the type of friendship which reaches its apotheosis in the story of David and Jonathan is not a monopoly of the masculine sex… After a year or two of constant companionship, our response to each other’s needs and emotions had become so instinctive that in our correspondence, one of us often replied to some statement or request made by the other before the letter which contained it had arrived.”
Winifred’s love and loyalty to Vera were complete and absolute. After Vera’s marriage to George Catlin, the friendship between the two women was as strong as ever; indeed, for some years Winifred shared a house with the Brittain-Catlins. She wrote a typically rueful letter to Vera shortly after the latter’s marriage and subsequent removal to America for a year, “I am happy. In a way I suppose I miss you, but that does not make me less happy… When a person that one loves is in the world and alive and well, and pleased to be in the world, then to miss them is only a new flavour, a salt sharpness in experience.” When she died at the tragically early age of 37, Vera was devasted.
I believe that every human being needs at least one deep, true friend, who, in the words of the Arabian proverb, “is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” This is the sort of friendship that can, with a lot of luck and care, grow between people of all kinds.
It is a truism that in order to have a good friend, you have to be one. The qualities of a good friend include : she is someone with whom you can be yourself; he is someone who understands you; she is someone who lights the flame within you; and he is someone who believes in you and trusts you. Which involves showing compassion, love, kindness and loyalty, the four most important qualities of friendship.
So what might compassion look like in the context of friendship? It means trying to put yourself into your friend’s shoes, to really understand how they are feeling, so that you can respond appropriately to their joys and concerns. It doesn’t mean feeling sorry for them, or trying to “make it all better”. It means truly being there for them when they need you, whether it is to celebrate or commiserate.
Love in friendship is the same as it is in any other relationship. Love is an amazing thing. It is fundamental to human well-being. I would go so far as to say that we can only become fully rounded people if we love and are loved in return. Jesus recognised this when he described “Love your neighbour as yourself” as one of the two greatest commandments.
Building loving relationships with all the people we come into contact with may sound like an unrealistic proposition but stick with it; the rewards are beyond compare. Starting from where we are is the important thing and building up slowly. Resolving to live our lives in a spirit of love means recognising that there is “that of God in everyone”, to use a Quakerly phrase. The Quakers also ask us, “Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect? In close relationships we may risk pain as well as finding joy.”
Kindness in friendships is closely related to compassion. It means responding to the best in another person and forgiving the worst. It means making a positive difference to their lives, by small acts of kindness – remembering to send a birthday card, giving them a ring “just because”, listening with the ear of your heart, and knowing them well enough to tiptoe around their tender spots and rejoice with them when they are happy.
And kindness need not be limited to friends. The ways in which we interact with strangers can also be of huge benefit. The Christian theologian, Frederick Buechner, writes, “As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference or with hostility towards the people we meet, we are setting the great spider web atremble. The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops, or in what far place my touch will be felt.”
It is lovely to think any random act of kindness we do (which might be something as simple as smiling at another person, or holding a door open for them) might have a huge impact on their day, and hence on those around them. It can also make our own day, when their happiness makes us feel good! It is amazing how little it takes to make a difference – to our lives, and to that of others.
Loyalty in friendships is such an important thing. The sticking point of any friendship will come when your friend does or says something you cannot be happy about. If your friendship is true, you may be disappointed in them, but will still try to understand where they are coming from and stand by them. A friend who deserts their friend at a time when things go wrong is a weak and feeble friend at best. And as I said earlier, the loyalty of one true friend can make an enormous difference to how one copes in a crisis. If just one person stands by you through thick and thin, it can make life bearable.
I would like to finish by repeating the wisdom of the Prophet, “Your friend is your needs answered. He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and your fireside. For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace…. let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him with hours to live.”
May we all strive to be such friends, one to another.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we appreciate our friends,
and may we strive to be good friends,
one with another.
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 Romance No. 1 by John Brunning