Inquiring Minds

Sermon #68 (5th February 2023 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

I’ve given today’s service the title ‘Inquiring Minds’, largely as a nod to The Inquirer, our Unitarian magazine which comes out once a fortnight. We always leave a little pile of copies out in the foyer – enough for everyone – and you’re welcome to take one home for free. Or, as I’m sure the editor and the Inquirer board would like me to remind you, you can subscribe to receive it direct to your doormat or indeed view electronic copies online at

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On Spiritual Direction

Sermon #67 (15th January 2023 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

I wonder how many among us gathered here this morning – whether in-person, or via zoom – are already familiar with the practice of Spiritual Direction? Perhaps it’s a completely new concept to some, maybe for others it’s something you’d heard of but only had a vague sense of what it’s all about, and I know of at least a few who are seeing Spiritual Directors or who have done so in the past. I can’t quite remember when I first came across the idea but I think it was when I heard of a fellow Unitarian going through the training to become a Spiritual Director about a decade ago. I remember thinking ‘ooh that sounds cool’ and then in the next breath thinking ‘I have no idea what it actually is though’ and having to go and look it up.

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Right Relationship

22nd August 2022 – Theme Talk for Hucklow Summer School Online – jointly with Rev. Sarah Tinker

This talk is in six sections alernating between Sarah (in italics) and Jane (in regular type).

Sarah: Surely the Summer School Panel have come up with the ultimate topic this year – Right Relationship. It’s all in there isn’t it? Life, the universe, the whole caboodle – expressed in that pleasingly brief concept.

We searched to find the origins of this terminology and though we can’t be sure, it does seem to have appeared first in writings connected with the Society of Friends. Not surprising, as Quakers have long encouraged one another to reflect on their relatedness to other human beings, as well as to God. We have them to thank for the ever useful injunction – ‘recognise something of God in everyone you meet’, which some of us use as a guiding principle to this day. In Unitarian circles I’ve heard that re-stated as ‘recognise the spark of divinity in all that exists’ – widening this circle beyond simply human beings. And the Sufi guidance of ‘this too is me’ is one I’ll come back to later on.

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Why Are We Here?

21st August 2021 – Opening Worship for Hucklow Summer School Online

So my job tonight is just to introduce our theme – we’ve got five fantastic speakers lined up – and I’ve only got fifteen minutes – but I’m going to offer a few preliminary thoughts on this topic of ‘Why are we here? Discerning our Unitarian mission in an upturned world’.

I think it’s important to start with an unflinching acknowledgement that to say we’re living in an ‘upturned world’ is a bit of an understatement. Many of us feel overwhelmed, right now, both with grief at the sufferings of the world and all her people, and our own daily struggles. Many are traumatised and exhausted, navigating loss, uncertainty, conflict, and hardship. Covid is not over. Climate catastrophe is beyond denial. Intersecting injustices are being unveiled every way we turn, and it’s becoming clear how baked-in to the fabric of our society they are, how comprehensively things need to change if we’re to right these wrongs. The modern media landscape renders knowledge of all the world’s suffering inescapable.

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Start with Why

Sermon #66 (4th December 2022 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

So: Why are we here? There are various ways in which you might choose to take this question. In the first reading, the one Brian gave for us earlier, the question was directed at the individual: ‘Why do you come, John?’ In the sense of: ‘why do you faithfully show up here every week, and muck in to help, when your life is already full-to-bursting with other commitments, and there are plenty of other fun things you might choose to do instead on any given Sunday morning?’

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Be Prepared: Advent

advent wreath for christmas

Sermon #65 (27th November 2022 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

I wonder what comes to mind, for you, when you hear the phrase ‘Be Prepared’? Personally, it makes me think firstly of the boy scouts (and the girl scouts). Baden-Powell, the founder of the scouts, wrote over a hundred years ago that to Be Prepared means ‘you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.’ And more recent versions of the scouting handbook unpack this for the modern day by saying the idea was that ‘Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and strong leaders and to bring joy to other people. He wanted each Scout to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.’

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Praying with Poets


Sermon #64 (16th October 2022 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

Prayer is a subject we come round to periodically at church – and that’s as it should be – prayer is a core part of what we do together as a religious community and, as such, it’s important to reflect on what it is we’re doing (or not doing), and the hows and whys of it too. Also, prayer is such a big topic, and such a varied practice, that it’s good to come back and approach it from different angles from time to time. So, with the help of a few distinguished poets, I’m just going to add a few thoughts to the ongoing exploration of prayer this morning.

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Back to School


Sermon #63 (4th September 2022 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

It’s that time of year again. Even if you’re not personally going ‘back to school’ this week – even if nobody in your house is gearing up to return (and there’s not been a last-minute dash to buy a new school uniform) – there’s a certain back-to-school feeling that descends on most of us in September. Perhaps, like Vanessa Rush Southern in the reading Lucy gave for us earlier, you’ve been minding your own business in Tesco or WHSmith when, under the influence of a ‘Back-to-School’ display, you’ve suddenly become overcome by a pressing urge to get yourself a new pencil case or a lunch box. These rituals which mark a new school year, a new start, suggest ‘all is new and all things are possible again’.

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The A-Z of Pride


Sermon #62 (3rd July 2022 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

As I mentioned at the start of today’s service, this weekend marks 50 years of Pride in London, and I’m pleased to report that a small group of Unitarians had a place in Saturday’s big parade, waving our own flags to proclaim our progressive religious witness, and shout about our commitment to equality. We Unitarians are rightly proud of our track record, having been a bit ahead of the curve in the past, particularly in campaigning for same-sex marriage. This year our Unitarian General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to affirm trans rights and endorse self-declaration of gender identity – great news! – but it’s important not to think that’s ‘job done’ and rest on our laurels.

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Be More Tree

Beautiful nature at morning in the misty spring forest with sun

Sermon #61 (12th June 2022 at Essex Church / Kensington Unitarians)

Victoria Safford, a Unitarian Universalist minister, once told the story of a child in the Sunday school of her church in New York state. This young boy was overheard by his mum, talking about the UU church they went to, and the little boy said ‘I don’t know the name of it, but the church where we go, we’re really interested in trees. All of us believe in trees.’ His mum, presumably amused by this, but perhaps also a bit concerned about what the boy had been picking up in Sunday school, got in touch with the minister to ask whether it might be time to supplement his understanding with a more comprehensive Unitarian theology. Victoria Safford reflected on this, saying: ‘I don’t know if there is a more comprehensive Unitarian theology. All of us believe in trees. Like my young comrade, I’ve always been “very interested in trees”, meaning I have always (as far back as I can remember) had a spiritual orientation that unfolds itself, reveals itself outside, and inside, one that cannot be contained within any single creed or book or building or tradition.’

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