Easter: Still Here

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Sermon #50 (4th April 2021 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

I invite you to imagine, as best you can, what it might have been like to be a follower of Jesus, one of his inner circle, in the week or so that led up to his death. Being a disciple was a big ask. You’d probably have had to make some serious sacrifices to commit yourself to following him. I can’t help thinking of the hymn we used to sing at my Catholic secondary school: ‘Follow me, follow me, leave your home and family, leave your fishing nets and boats along the shore…’

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Sowing Seeds

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Sermon #49 (21st March 2021 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

When people ask me about Unitarianism – what it is we do, what’s special about our church – I never really give the same answer twice… but one thing I often say is that we seek wisdom from wherever we can find it. So, for example, in this week’s service we’re drawing on ancient stories from the Bible – one of Jesus’ parables – also the best of contemporary Unitarian thought – my mate Bob’s recent poem – and alternative expressions from spiritual-seekers around the globe such as that track we heard from Nimo Patel. But if we’re going to talk about sowing seeds there’s one authority on the subject we just can’t ignore: Monty Don. So I made a point of tuning in on Friday night, for the first episode in the new season of Gardeners World to see if Monty had any wisdom that I could bring to you this morning. You can’t say I don’t take my research seriously!

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Improvisation as a Way of Life

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Sermon #48 (7th March 2021 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

In last week’s service, Jeannene and I considered the question: ‘To Plan or Not to Plan?’ In the light of this past year – and it is almost exactly a year; I realise it was 8th March 2020 when I last preached in the church building in Kensington – in the light of all the disruption and uncertainty of the last 12 months we were asking: ‘is there any point in planning anything anyway, when our plans are liable to get thwarted, or just torn up and thrown out the window?’ And – I hope this very brief summary of your sermon sounds about right, Jeannene! – we concluded that plans are still very much worth making as they can help us to live more intentionally, to act out of our principles and values, rather than following the crowd; plans can give us a sense of agency, rather than feeling we’re drifting through our days, at the mercy of chance; and plans can keep our spirits up, by giving us things to look forward to, hopes on the horizon. At the same time we can (and we must) be clear-eyed and realistic about the possibility – perhaps the likelihood – that our grand plans won’t entirely survive contact with reality. So it helps if we can hold our plans lightly, with a certain openness-of-mind-and-heart, and be ready to respond and adapt to whatever unexpected curveball life might throw at us next. Which brings us to this morning’s theme: Improvisation as a Way of Life.

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Judgement Calls

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Sermon #47 (7th February 2021 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

At the church coffee morning on Tuesday I accidentally gave away a bit of a spoiler about this Sunday’s service theme. And – not entirely unexpectedly – the news that we were going to think about ‘judgement’ this week provoked a bit of a reaction! I guess it doesn’t seem very Unitarian. At least not at first glance, anyway. Judgement sometimes seems to be a bit of a dirty word among religious liberals – quite a few of us have consciously walked away from other traditions where judgement is more of ‘a thing’ – more central to the theology. Perhaps, for that reason, we associate the idea of judgement with the prospect of being condemned to hell for all eternity (often for things – supposed transgressions – that seem no big deal to us liberal religious types). So, like I said, let me reassure you: I’m not talking about God’s eternal judgement, the verdict as to whether we’ll be sent forever upstairs or down on the basis of how naughty or nice we’ve been.

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Help! Thanks! Wow!

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Sermon #46 (10th January 2021 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

The title of today’s service – ‘Help! Thanks! Wow!’ – is shamelessly nicked from Anne Lamott’s book. It’s subtitled ‘the three essential prayers’ and is based on the premise that asking for help, appreciating what is good in our lives, and having a sense of awe at the universe we find ourselves in, these three are vital practices to get us through the day – and the night – to help us find our way in life and orient ourselves towards what is most life-giving – especially when times are hard. And – I don’t mean to bang on about it – but times have been pretty hard of late, haven’t they?

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All Will Be Well

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Sermon #45 (3rd January 2021 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

‘All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.’ Sarah expressed some unease about Julian of Norwich’s well-known saying earlier in the service, and it’s a saying which brings up rather mixed feelings for me too. There have been too many times when things have been hard and that phrase has been quoted at me – ‘All Will Be Well’ – and I’ve thought ‘Nah, mate. Too soon.’ Because for me, I think, it’s all in the timing.

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What Are You Waiting For?

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Sermon #44 (29th November 2020 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

This Sunday is the first in Advent and so today we’re pondering a classic Advent theme – waiting. I’ve called today’s service ‘What Are You Waiting For?’ – it’s a question you can take several ways – but one way I definitely don’t mean it is the way we’d usually say it, in the rhetorical sense, to try and gee someone up or hurry them along: ‘get on with it, what are you waiting for?!’ Today’s service, by contrast, is much more about the virtues of slowing down & embracing the wait.

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Why Are We Here?

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Sermon #43 (27th September 2020 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

I’ve got something a little bit different for you in the sermon-y bit this morning. A few weeks ago, as part the requirements of my ministry training, I had to give a short presentation on the history of this congregation. I’m about to give you a very abridged summary of it (in about 6 ½ minutes, I think) and afterwards I’ll tell you why. I think at least a few people here today will be familiar with the story of Essex Church (otherwise known as Kensington Unitarians) but in truth – London being what it is – and given our newly broadened ‘catchment area’ since we’ve been meeting on Zoom – the turnover of people coming to our services is pretty high and it’s likely many of you haven’t heard the story before. I’m going to show some slides of our illustrious forebears and their impressive hair and beard arrangements to keep it lively! But I will also keep it brief.

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Loss and Liberation

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Sermon #42 (26th July 2020 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

You don’t need me to tell you this but: we’re living in strange times, aren’t we? Every life includes some – many – unexpected and often unwanted events. In a way, that is normality, for life to not quite go as we expected, or hoped. But over the last few months many of our lives have been turned upside down.

This time of pandemic we find ourselves in has surely left no life entirely untouched (even if it hasn’t yet hit us close to home). The impact of this virus is being felt in many ways: Many of us have seen our future plans (both short- and long-term) evaporate overnight. Some have lost their lives. Others have lost loved ones. Many have suffered debilitating health problems (and the long-term effects of the virus are not yet fully known). Many have lost jobs and security – whole industries are in suspended animation – with no sense of how long it will last and what will survive on the far side. Some have been stuck at home for months now, shielding, due to underlying health conditions, and have no idea when it will be truly safe for them to emerge. Even for those who do feel able to get out and about (in a socially distanced way) – social lives, love lives, family lives, many of our opportunities to pursue life’s passions – all these things that are central to human flourishing have been interrupted – and our collective wellbeing, our mental and physical health, is suffering.

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Intimacy and Solitude

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Sermon #41 (8th March 2020 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

This month at Essex Church we’re considering the theme of ‘Self and Other’. Sarah kicked us off last week by speaking about our ‘Relationship with Self’, and today I’m taking us into territory that’s a bit more outward-looking, thinking about our relationships with others, and the balance between ‘Intimacy and Solitude’.

Some of you probably know that it’s usually me who makes the orders of service each week, and so part of my job is to find a suitable image to fit the topic, which is often more challenging than you might think, given the abstract spiritual and ethical topics we often talk about. We subscribe to an online image library – so that the photographers get properly paid – and I search for topics like ‘grace’ and ‘redemption’ and ‘disappointment’ and ‘heresy’… which aren’t well-represented concepts in the world of stock images on the internet!

But when it came to illustrating this week’s topic… well, that gave me a slightly different problem. You see, if you go to an online image library, and search for pictures of ‘intimacy’… there’s only one sort of intimacy they think you’re looking for. There was a lot of cavorting depicted in those images, lots of youthful flesh, and altogether more bums than I had bargained for…

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