It’s Complicated

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Sermon #51 (6th June 2021 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

Anyone who’s on our church mailing list – and presumably that includes everyone who’s with us live on zoom this morning, seeing as that’s how you get the link to join us – will hopefully by now have seen an email that we sent out on Thursday about our plans for the coming months. Roy and I sent out this message, on behalf of the church management committee, to explain how we’d carefully weighed up a lot of different factors in coming to the conclusion – that we’d keep our Sunday services online over the next few months – and take our time to prepare properly for hybrid services later in the year (subject to developments in the Covid situation).

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Engagement Groups: Congregations in the Community

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Part of the GA’s ‘Congregations in the Community’ series on 26th May 2021.

Introduction:

• As we promised in the ad I’m going to talk about Engagement Groups tonight – tell you why I think they’re so important for us as Unitarians – how they enable us to embody our values and better ‘walk our talk’ – how they can have a powerful impact on those who participate, and those who lead, the congregations they emerge from, and the wider community.
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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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