Service of Blessing by Revd John Harley for Bristol Unitarians & beyond 17Jan21

Settling music – Barbara Streisand Imagine/What a Wonderful World

‘Blessing in the chaos’ – finding a sense of belonging and gentleness in our lives. John will be looking at words by Jan Richardson and others to help us through these extraordinary times.

We will also be marking UMB’s Anniversary – and celebrating those who contributed to our rich heritage.

Words of welcome

Chalice Lighting with words adapted from Jan Richardson

Green17 Song of Thanksgiving lyrics by Edwin Theophil Buehrer

Daniel in the Lion's Den

By Christopher Buice

The Rev. Chris Buice is minister of the Tennessee Valley UU Church in Knoxville, Tenn.

It feels like we have had a nightmarish modern parable acted out in the US – a real life story that exposed how a leader obsessed with his own power and might lost his authority completely. This bible story to me teaches us about the power of gentleness and courage. Let us give thanks to all those who have kept our faith alive through the seasons of generations – those who have given themselves, campaigned for religious integrity and worked for a liberal, inclusive, welcoming community. And we are thankful for our friends at UMB and Frenchay who continue to keep the Unitarian witness alive and vibrant.

Karl – UMB Anniversary Address

Let us pray…….

David C Pohl

Hymn: Now thank we all our God – 19 in the green book, Lyrics Martin Rinckart, Tune Nun Danket

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

2. O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.

3. All praise and thanks to God
In joyfulness be given,

To whom we lift our hearts

Who reigns in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

Candles of Joy and Concern

Blessing in the Chaos Poem by Jan Richardson – short video by Dan Stevers

Words available 6th para

Reading: John O’ Donohue - The Trap of False Belonging

Address – counting our blessings?

We live in extraordinary times – I find myself saying this again and again these days like a mantra. In the 21st century we can celebrate such huge human breakthroughs, yet we witness such chaos playing out like a bad movie – a living nightmare – the US president inciting a mob to storm the Capitol, the Coronavirus raging across the UK, bringing such grief and hardship. Meanwhile is humanity taking its eyes off the other emergency – the climate crisis. I have noticed the papers are full of articles about finding happiness, building good mental health for the new year and resilience and I can see why. These are tough times for us spiritually and emotionally I feel. I can feel this growing stress in my body – it’s as if we all have to live in a heightened state of threat. How do we cope? Do we hide away, do we refuse to listen to the news – some of our fellow citizens get sucked into conspiracy theories and decide to believe in their own reality – or some people try and turn this challenge into a positive and take up a new pursuit such as opera singing or keep fit with a celebrity or nuclear physics.

How do we stay blessed in all this conflict? How do we hold onto our capacity to bless one another and feel blessed inside? Jan Richardson reminds us to reconnect with our sense of wholeness in all this chaos. In another of her poems A Blessing called Sanctuary she urges us to rediscover our inner sanctuary – that place of peace and stillness that can never be taken away – and then she writes:

The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found—
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart.

Here she is saying don’t hide away in your sanctuary but take it to the world – bring it like a torch to help and illuminate others. Let your place of calm and love be a resource.

John O’Donohue shares something parallel to this - he says be your longing. If he was alive today, he might be saying to us use these extraordinary times to re-establish a sense of home in yourself – to find your source. Maybe some of the solitude these lockdown days demand of us can act as a valuable spiritual practice – if we do not have the freedom to go out and about can you make peace with yourself and find the freedom you have deep down?

And finally, can we, in these chaotic times, develop the art of blessing others. I will leave you with an ancient Celtic blessing – offering beautiful wisdom to help us nurture those around us.

I honour your Gods

I drink at your well

I bring an undefended hear to our meeting place

I have no cherished outcome

I will not negotiate by withholding

I am not subject to disappointment

These are such old words but so relevant for today’s times – respecting one another’s beliefs, acknowledging that we all share the same source and core of life, keeping an open heart, trying not to have a strong agenda, not sweeping truth under the carpet and not feeling captive or hostage to disappointment


Irish Blessing (from Journey to Nowhere – performed by Sarah Martin, Sister Chanh Niem and Sister Ocean) Spotify

May the road rise with you

May the wind be always at your back

May the sun shine warm upon your face

May the rain fall softly on your fields

And until we meet again may God hold you in the hollow of her hand

(Repeat with this last line..)

And until we meet again may Love hold you in the hollow of her hand

Communal Blessing


A Sanskrit word in the Hindu tradition which means:

I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides – I honour the place in you where love and light and truth live – I honour the place in you where if you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me there is only one of us…

Aurora by Arthur Jeffes and Penguin Café spotify