Celebrating May Day and Labour Day on 2 May 2021 - Service with Rev. John Harley

The May Carol – Kyle Carey, Josienne Clarke, Ben Walker

Listen at:



Beltane is the Gaelic May Day festival. Most commonly it is held on 1 May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice. Beltane marked the beginning of the pastoral summer season, when livestock were driven out to the summer pastures

Light Chalice

We light this chalice alongside Unitarians and people of many faiths around the world this morning.

For the Web of Life
By Paul Sprecher

For the Web of Life | WorshipWeb | UUA.org

Opening words

Some words taken from the Crowning of the May Queen. "The leaves are budding across the land on the ash and oak and hawthorn trees. Magic rises around us in the forest and the hedges are filled with laughter and love. Dear lady, we offer you a gift, a gathering of flowers picked by our hands, woven into the circle of endless life. The bright colors of nature herself blend together to honor you, Queen of spring, as we give you honor this day. Spring is here and the land is fertile, ready to offer up gifts in your name. we pay you tribute, our lady, daughter of the Fae,and ask your blessing this Beltane." - Beltane Prayers

Hymn 181 – purple book

Wake Now My Senses (Hymn) - YouTube

May Day is also a traditional holiday in many countries originating from various Celtic and German festivals. May Day marks the beginning of farmable spring in the Northern hemisphere and was associated with pagan and neo-pagan festivals. As Europe became Christianized, pagan holidays merged with or replaced Christian holidays. May Day is most closely associated with Easter - when small baskets of sweets and/or flowers were usually left secretly on neighbors doorsteps.

The earliest May Day celebration appeared BC, with the festival of Flora (the Roman Goddess of flowers). In Europe and America, May Day tradition involves dancing around the Maypole and crowning of the "Queen of the May." May 1 was one of the most important holidays for the Druids of the British Isles. the day was thought to divide the year in half. The other half ended at Samhain on November 1st.

Decorating Houses

May Day began early in the morning. People would go out before sunrise in order to gather flowers and greenery to decorate their houses and villages with the belief that the vegetation spirits would bring good fortune.

Washing in the early morning dew

Girls would make a special point of washing their faces in the dew of the early morning. They believed this made them very beautiful for the following year.

The rest of the day was given over to various festivities. There was dancing on the village green, archery contest and exhibitions of strength. The highlight of the day was the crowning of the May Queen, the human replica of Flora. By tradition she took no part in the games or dancing, but sat like a queen in a flower-decked chair to watch her 'subjects'.

Unite, Unite, let us all unite

Trad p62 in The Seasons – The Nation’s Most Treasured Nature Poems

May Day in Oxford – when I was at the Poly for 3 years studying art and history of art

May day – getting up early around 4 – seeing Morris dancers and jugglers, having a drink in a pub at 5, seeing crowds in the streets

Unite, Unite let us all unite

Think of all the happy occasions when you have been merrymaking or having fun with companions perhaps in times before the pandemic – dancing, picnicking, partying, being entertained by street artists


Who would you like to send that spirit of fun and merrymaking and companionship in these moments?

P47 Hafiz – If God invited you to a party

Poem: If God Invited You To A Party by Shams al-Din Hafiz (poetrynook.com)

The Lark Ascending – Ralph Vaughan Williams


Candles of Joy and Concern

Pray for what you cannot see. Pray clearly for what you can only faintly grasp. Pray silently from the core of your being. Pray for healing. Pray for humanity. Pray lovingly Pray deeply --- pray so deeply that the prayer and the praying become one.

by Charlie Elkind

Early Air/Tullochgorum – Kathryn Tickell – The Side


Labor Day - or International workers day

May 1st - International Workers day

Day to celebrate hard work of the working classes and trade unions, it started in 1880s after protests for the 8 hour working day. Labor day is a national holiday in many countries of the world. In the US celebrated in September.

Kerala (India) and other communist states observe this holiday in a dedicated fashion.

Subsequently, the May Day Riots of 1894 occurred. The May Day riots of 1894 were a series of violent demonstrations that occurred throughout Cleveland, Ohio on May 1, 1894 (May Day). Cleveland's unemployment rate increased dramatically during the Panic of 1893. Finally, riots broke out among the unemployed who condemned city leaders for their ineffective relief measures.[1]

In 1955, the Catholic Church dedicated May 1 to "Saint Joseph -The Worker". Saint Joseph is for the Church the patron saint of workers and craftsmen (among others).

A story about work from the Sufi tradition

And a poem about work

Some selected stanzas from


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree

The village smithy stands;

The smith, a mighty man is he,

With large and sinewy hands;

And the muscles of his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,

His face is like the tan;

His brow is wet with honest sweat,

He earns whate'er he can,

And looks the whole world in the face,

For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,

You can hear his bellows blow;

You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,

With measured beat and slow,

Like a sexton ringing the village bell,

When the evening sun is low.

He goes on Sunday to the church,

And sits among his boys;

He hears the parson pray and preach,

He hears his daughter's voice,

Singing in the village choir,

And it makes his heart rejoice.


Onward through life he goes;

Each morning sees some task begin,

Each evening sees it close;

Something attempted, something done,

Has earned a night's repose.

The Unthanks

The Village Blacksmith perfectly captures the traditional work ethic of yesteryear

Have we lost those times? How many of us do such physical toil for our work and how many of us perfect a craft like metal working.

Words by Walter Crane, The Workers' Maypole, 1894

..Let the winds lift your banners from far lands

With a message of strife and of hope:

Raise the Maypole aloft with its garlands

That gathers your cause in its scope....

...Stand fast, then, Oh Workers, your ground,

Together pull, strong and united:

Link your hands like a chain the world round,

If you will that your hopes be requited.

When the World's Workers, sisters and brothers,

Shall build, in the new coming years,

A lair house of life—not for others,

For the earth and its fulness is theirs.

You would have thought that now we are in 2021 we would have won the long path to gain workers rights and secure jobs but maybe we have gone backwards – only in March

Supreme court rules against Asda in workers' equal pay case

Ruling says shop workers, who are mostly women, can compare work to those, mainly men, in distribution centr

The win by Asda workers could lead to a £500m compensation claim and is the first major stage of a long-running court battle that has implications for staff in all the big supermarkets.

Wendy Arundale, who worked for Asda for 32 years, said: “I’m delighted that shop floor workers are one step closer to achieving equal pay.

“I loved my job but knowing that male colleagues working in distribution centres were being paid more left a bitter taste in my mouth.”

And that is just the UK – we would need weeks to consider workers rights across the globe – South Africa, Bangladesh, China,

Cooperative Bank – ‘for people with purpose’ – I not convinced about this strap line – what about people who have lost their purpose? Are they not welcome to open current accounts?

But are they tapping into something here?

Is purpose one of the biggest issues today for us a society?

If traditional customs of employment gave people a role, a niche in society how can we in modern times, when there are few jobs for life available, give our citizens a strong place to make a difference?

After the financial squeeze of the pandemic in the UK have young people and older people for that matter got less chance of getting a job? Or – with the rise of those doing crucial roles as volunteers – an amazing phenomenon during the lockdowns - are we witnessing a revolution in the way people give to society? Is the government behind in catching up with this change?

This pandemic and these lockdowns seem to have been terrible for some people’s sense of purpose and self -esteem – can we transform the way we see work and people’s sense of value?

Are the Green party ahead of their time when they are campaigning for a universal basic income for every resident?


A few brief thoughts around the theme of International Labour Day &how it connects to us as Unitarians.

As Anthony Leslie Dawson, historian & young Unitarian in Manchester,

said “As a movement we believe in the inherent worth & dignity of every human being & of all life”

Turning to the website of the American Unitarian Universalists, it proudly says

“We act in partnership with groups & communities most impacted by injustice at local, national & the international level” we give witness, that means “the spiritual practice of taking a public position in support of justice”

There is a long tradition in both the US of Unitarian involvement in social justice, workers’ rights & in the UK especially in the past.

So, on this weekend when we celebrate both the early, joyful Spring into Summer of MayDay & the International Labour day Bank holiday, we acknowledge & remember the social reform role played by early Unitarians, who have often led Reform by changing the Rules as well as breaking them!

The roots of Unitarianism lie mainly in the Reformation of the 16C, by people who broke away from the Church of England, viewed as dissenters from the mainstream. An open religion, insistent on the right of all to free enquiry, whose supporters were often urban & educated, saw the plight of the poor & lack of rights or any participation in civic life.

It was inevitable that Unitarians (among other religious dissenters), often denied the freedom to practice their religion of choice, to discuss or to build a chapel or place of assembly, would empathise with those who had even less freedom, the majority of working people. The movement itself attracted people who chose to follow their own conscience & pursuit of truth & justice, rather than doctrines of the C of E or Parliament. Let’s remember this was before Universal Suffrage - a Parliament of the landowners & wealthy, men only, passing laws to suit them.

Some of you may be thinking & it’s true that there were over the centuries & especially since the 19C, many reforms which improved the lives of working people in the UK, better wages, health & safety, & later the NHS & pensions etc. However, over the last couple of decades, some of these gains have been sliding backwards - 14m people in poverty, over 60% of benefits claimants are working , the working poor, whose children live in poverty, children admitted to hospital for malnutrition increased in 2021. That is preventable, surely? Then there are the millions around the world who still don’t partake of the earth’s bounty or even a seat at the table.

So, let’s recall the Mantra, shall we name it, of our Unitarian Universalist friends in the US. Let’s leave “a legacy of Deeds not Creeds”

“Our work for a better world calls us to unexpected places as we harness love’s power to stop oppression..... we put our faith into action”

So let’s do it not viewing it as a duty, a burden but do it with joy”

Brigid B

Some prayers to finish

No matter what field your work lies in

If you do something real

Something genuine in that field

It will live on after you

And that part of you will be eternal

by Ken Walsh

Written on the grave of the novelist Winifred Holtby at Rudstone, Yorkshire:

God give me work til my life shall end and life til my work is done

Be a Gardener. Dig a ditch. Toil and sweat. And turn the earth upside down. And seek the deepness. And water plants in time. Continue this labor. And make sweet floods to run, and noble and abundant fruits to spring. Take this food and drink, and carry it to God as your true worship.”

Julian of Norwich

Hymn 147 purple book

Spirit of Earth, Root Stone and Tree - YouTube

Closing Words Hymn to the Light By David Breeden

Our light is the light of the sun, keeper of all we love; our light is the light of the earth, provider of sustenance; our light is the light of all living things, life precious like our own. our light is the light of each of us, bound together in need and hope; our light is the light of the cosmos, keeper of all we know.

Music: Beltane by Lisa Thiel