Transcript for Black Lives Matter service 14/06/2020

Black lives matter service 14.5.2020 ‘ Together we stand in colour and culture’ on Zoom, 10:30am

Meeting ID: 811 3277 6786

Password: 943351

Order of Service

  • Opening words and welcome – Mark
  • Chalice Lighting – Karl
  • Introit – Mark play, Karl sing
  • Reflection – Mark
  • HYMN Hymn 1: P.15 ‘Brother Sister Let Me Serve You’ - Karl play
  • Reflection – Brigid
  • Prayers of lament – Mark lead
  • Candles of Joy and Concern – Karl
  • Story – Karl
  • Hymn 2: G.218 ‘Liberation’ - Mark play
  • Reflection – Susan – Mark read
  • Reflection – Andrew
  • Prayers of thanksgiving – Karl lead
  • Reflection and silence – Lindy
  • Reflection – Karl
  • Hymn 3: G.204 ‘We shall overcome’ - Karl play
  • Blessing

Mark - Introduction

Opening words and Chalice Lighting- Karl

Welcome to this sanctuary. Come and rest with us a while. As you come through this open door we invite one another in the wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Come to a place where you are welcome. We won’t ask your belief, nor do we ask who your named God is. Your whole being, body and skin colour is welcome here in this sanctuary of love, care, compassion and understanding. Here we hold one another in hospitality and trust, here we hold one another’s stories. And we as well hold all those we don’t know. Love is our prayer. Amen.

Introit – Mark play

Reflection – Mark

We’ve heard it sometimes said in response to Black Lives Matter, ‘but surely all lives matter’, to which the movement responds, ‘yes of course all lives matter, but some lives have systematically and throughout ages been debased and defiled on the basis of their ethnicity and skin colour.’

Again we need to be reminded that the Black Lives Matter movement does not seek to elevate the lives of black people above other ethnicities, rather is seeks, in the face of ongoing discrimination, prejudice and the devaluation of black lives, to gain equality and parity for black people in the eyes of law makers and law enforcers.

It also seeks to raise awareness amongst white people of their white privilege; being far less likely to be stopped and searched, or criminally charged and incarcerated amongst the many privileges of being born with white skin.

I’m struck and cut at the impolitic injustice of a person being targeted by law enforcers, just because of the colour of their skin.

The Black Lives Matter movement emerges out of long history of countless incidents and examples of black people being discriminated against, treated unfairly and abused by law enforcement officials. These statistics are not coincidental. They are not explained away by other factors such as poverty and education. They tell an incontrovertible story about the mistreatment of black people, based solely on their skin colour and ethnicity.

So why do black lives matter to me, and why should they matter to us?

To answer this, I would pose another question. Do you see yourself in the person of George Floyd? Whatever your gender, age or ethnicity, do you see yourself there, your neck under that cop’s knee?

Or do you feel reassured that if it had been you there, at that time and in that place, the same thing wouldn’t have happened to you? What accident of birth could have prevented you from receiving the same treatment that befell George Floyd?

When we get to the place of saying ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’, then surely we begin to see that black lives are our lives.

To adapt a famous quote by Martin Niemöller, ‘First they came for the blacks, but I did not speak out, because I was not black,
Then they came for the Asians, but I did not speak out, because I was not Asian,
Then they came for the Chinese, but I did not speak out, because I was not Chinese,
Then they came for the Eastern Europeans, but I did not speak out because I was not Eastern European,’
All the way down to ‘And when they came for me there was no-one left to speak out for me...’

When we assert that Black Lives Matter, we are asserting our shared humanity. We are asserting that all human life is of equal worth, and as the German constitution states that ‘human dignity is inviolable’. In other words, that human dignity is untouchable, that human life is sacred. All human life. But in proclaiming that black lives matter, we are also calling out the countless times when human lives have not been treated equally, when the dignity of human lives has been defiled, debased, undermined, abused and violated solely on the basis of skin colour or ethnicity. Because Black Lives Matter is not just a movement of asserting the equality of black people, but it is also a movement of reckoning and recognition – recognition for when white people have rested in their white privilege, and not acted to redress this iniquity, as we squeamishly try to bring into cognisance the knowledge that none of us can truly be free whilst a single one of us is still enslaved.

My final thought for this reflection is concerns the expression ‘Can I get a witness?’, a phrase which was often called out by preachers in African American churches when they had finished giving their sermon. ‘Can I get a witness?’ Well because of the ubiquity of modern video phone technology, George Floyd could get a witness. Thanks to this technology, the whole world has been able to bear witness to the 8 minutes and 43 seconds of that cop kneeling on his neck; we have all been witness to his cruel murder. We have seen it with our own eyes. Now what part do we have to play in creating a culture where it cannot happen again?

HYMN Hymn 1: P.15 ‘Brother Sister Let Me Serve You’ - Karl play

Reflection – Brigid
Together we stand in colour & culture - the importance of education in strengthening that understanding”

I want to tell you a story about how I got involved in Black Lives Matter before that term was coined.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where colour & race really did not matter, were valued even. When I was 5 years old my parents offered hospitality to students from Kenya and Biafra who were studying to become teachers & doctors. They lived with us, ate with us, enjoyed our leisurely Sunday breakfasts together, invited us to visit them back home.
I thought nothing of this nor of the Race/ colour Issue in the UK until I went to University. I went to Goldsmiths College In 1972, bang in the middle of New Cross, Deptford down the road, with Peckham & Brixton a bus ride away. Goldsmith had a large & highly regarded Teacher Training course. We were surrounded by Afro Caribbeans living in relative poverty on the doorstep. There were few black students, Linton Kwesi Johnson was the leader of the pack, a budding poet & early rap artist. It was a time of campaigning Apartheid in South Africa, Mandela still in prison, Bob Marley on the rise with “Catch a Fire”.
I became drawn into the AfroCaribbean Culture, music, food, dance and the other side, the deprivation, discrimination, the underachievement in education and the misunderstandings when people dont know about each other’s history & culture.

Students on the Teacher Training Course, were going into local schools from Year 1 to do teaching practice, that’s to say, young people aged 18 upwards, from around the UK, from Surrey, Yorkshire etc were going into classrooms with a high percentage of children of AfroCaribbean parentage. These children spoke the language of home, a strong patois, called “broken english or “pidgin english”. It was assumed to be inferior, virtually incomprehensible, to be corrected, eradicated, the language of underachievement & failure.
The students went into these schools with no background or history of these children or their culture. However a more detailed study reveals that this patois is the language of the survivors of the transatlantic passage, of slavery, cut off deliberately from their own native languages, left to pick up the remnants & the English language of their slavemasters. This “broken” english is actually rich, funny, expressive, logical & intelligent in how it developed, with some West African Syntax and vocabulary.

Education has a huge role to play in transmitting this history & culture, to transform the attitudes of teachers in the classroom and the self esteem of young people struggling to be understood and to progress at school and greater tolerance in society at large.”
The work we started in the 70’s is as relevant today, to live in harmony with people of different colour & ethnicity.

Prayers of lament – Mark lead

We divide our prayers this morning into a time of lamentation and later on a time of thanksgiving.

Please feel to join in the response: We pray a change will come

We lament when black lives are debased and defiled, their dignity uprooted, their worth dismissed: We pray a change will come

We lament the power structures that continue to use and abuse black people, and the white people who have stood idly by, complacent in their privilege: We pray a change will come

We lament this corona virus, which still has us in its grips, and continues to cause so much loss, suffering, worry and uncertainty, in terms of health, finance and what our day to day purpose on this earth is: We pray a change will come

We lament the violence that any human hand does unto another being, and the injury that any human tongue speaks unto another creature: We pray a change will come

We lament the iniquity in the world, and the forces of greed, fear and jealously, which keeps the gulfs between peoples so wide: We pray a change will come

We lament the needless suffering of all beings this day, particularly where we have contributed to it by our actions or inaction: We pray a change will come

Take a moment to give voice or embodiment to your lament, in a heave or a sigh, or a grunt; a hunch of the shoulders, a screwing up of the face, a clench of the stomach and fists. Gather all your lament up in this noise and this movement, and then let it go.

Feel free to repeat as necessary.


Candles of Joy and Concern – Karl

After the candles
Thank you for every flame that has been lit, and for that which has been shared. May these flames live on in us as they pass time today. May all these flames be held in love. Thank you for your sharing, your testimonies and ministries. May we also hold the flames we can’t see. Love is our prayer, Amen.

Story – Karl

This holy manna – a meal for strangers.

Once there was a gathering in a place where there was an old tumble-down ruin, in a woodland. A walker found this place. The idea came to him as there was a table there: ‘I could invite people to a meal’. So with that he went about invitations. At the appointed time he went to the woods and waited. At the table he laid food on platters. He sat waiting, then guests arrived, until the table was full, and all were gathered in this company: men, women and children of many creeds and cultures.

One guest said to another, ‘There is no-one at the head of the table, who is the host?’

One of the guests picked up the platter and put a piece of food on his plate and passed it to a guest and said, ‘Pass along and with your neighbour share’. Then another guest picked up the jug of juice, poured some and passed it and said, ‘Pass this and with your neighbour share’.

At the end of the meal the silent guest stood up and asked the people, ‘How was the food?’ All replied that it was very good. ‘And how was the drink?’ he asked. Again, all answered that it was very good. Then one of the guests asked, ‘Whose place is this?’ He answered, ‘Well it’s ours. I found it whilst I was out walking. I wanted to bring a community’.

‘What was the drink?’ someone asked.
He said, ‘Berry juice, I wanted that to be the wine of love.’
‘Before I go,’ he said to the gathered community, ‘Will you always with your neighbour share?’
All said, ‘We will’.
Leaving he said, ‘My prayer to you is love.’
And it remains to this day that no one knew his name.

Hymn 2: G.218 ‘Liberation’ - Mark play

Reflection – Susan – Mark read

To understand the reaction to recent events in America, when a black man, George Floyd was killed, by a white policeman one has to have some understanding of the legacy of slavery. American police inherited the role of slave catchers. Ever since, this has led to the suppression of people of colour. This inheritance, acknowledged or not, lies at the bottom of the reaction of many members of the 18,000 police forces which patrol the USA.

Mixed in with this on both sides, is the fear of guns, which are so readily available. In spite of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 racism and discrimination still flourish in the USA. A lot of progress has been made, but has been held back by poverty, unemployment and, for many people, a lack of adequate medical care.

Now there is the Coronavirus pandemic which has hit black people much harder than white fellow citizens. This, together with the lockdown, has led to much frustration and anger. Emotions erupted into protest when George Floyd was killed. This is understandable in America, but why so much protest in Britain? Common language, cultural ties and seeing what actually happened drew immediate sympathy. Added to which most of us know that police in Britain do not always handle racial incidents as well as they could.

In recent times there has been more acknowledgement of the part Britain played in the slave trade and hence some feeling of culpability. On BBC Newsnight, Aliyah Hasinah, a young woman from ‘Black Lives Matter’ said that the incident has unlocked a lot of pent up rage in this country made worse by the frustrations of the lockdown. The actor Clark Peters says that he is aware of being the butt for many subtle racial jokes he hears in Britain and urges more education of facts, not false indoctrination. This he feels would lead to more understanding. He would like people to see the new film ‘Da Five Bloods’ about four black soldiers in Vietnam. There is a need to become more aware of many aspects black culture. SUSAN WILDMAN 6th June 2020

Reflection – Andrew
For me, as a white person, I think that this is a time when I really need to listen.What we can see across multiple statistics and personal stories is that there is not equality for all as things stand, regardless of ethnic background. I’ve read various posts on Facebook recently from black and minority ethnic people who I know and it is clear that many of them do not feel that they are sadly not fully valued as part of society -that they have been denied opportunities simply because of the colour of their skin.

This is a significant problem and I think means that we really need to look carefully at the entrenched problems within society and our unconscious bias which means that black and minority ethnic people do not get a fair deal. This is undeniably going to be a very uncomfortable process for many – it goes far beyond not calling people racist terms to their face, although that is of course important. It is really going to involve looking at how black and minority ethnic people are treated in every sphere of life – at job interviews, at work appraisals, in the judicial system, as a customer and a human being.

My underlying belief is that every life matters. And it is because of this belief that I am clear in my head of how crucial the black lives matter movement is. I’m aware that some are advocating #alllivesmatter instead. However, I am concerned that this thinking will only serve to avoid the really difficult conversations that are so desperately needed to examine why BAME people are so undervalued by society and avoid making any of the changes that are so desperately needed. Indeed, if as a society we truly believed that all lives mattered then I don’t believe that we would be in the position where so many lives are perceived as being less worthy.

I know that some of you are aware that I shared a petition on Facebook to have the Edward Colston statue removed from the city centre in the week before it was torn down anyway. I will admit that I felt a little uneasy about the methods by which it was removed. I feel though that if the voices of BAME people had been heard sooner then it would not have got to this point. What struck me most when I shared this petition was that 3 former black teaching colleagues of mine liked what I had shared – and I don’t think that they often like what I’ve shared. What I would like to stress is that I’m not up for erasing history – far from it – I think it is a very valuable component of the school curriculum, should feature in museums and on information boards around the city. But I believe that history also needs to be delivered sensitively in an appropriate way, with the suffering of its victims in mind.

Prayers of thanksgiving – Karl lead

We now move into our time of Thanksgiving Prayer, to which you’re welcome to respond: We give thanks.

For the life of George Floyd: We give thanks.

For the Black Lives Matter protests around the world and the momentum of change they are gathering: We give thanks.

For people in public life speaking out and for ordinary people rising up in solidarity: We give thanks.

For the health-care professionals and police officers who have risked their own safety to looked after us during this pandemic: We give thanks.

For the wonders of modern technology that allow us to meet when we are physically apart: We give thanks.

For the small and unexpected gifts of grace that befall us, and our ability to recognise them: We give thanks.

Allow yourself to give voice and movement to your expression of thanks giving with a yelp and a whoop and a cheer, a hooray, a bow or a flinging up and wide of arms (take all off mute for this).


Reflection and silence – Lindy

Waking up...

Over the past few weeks [and months] the world has had a wake up call – even a few wake up calls.

We here in Bristol have been woken up and called to respond,,,as Bristolians and also from our Unitarian bubble, ...our mainly white privileged bubble of which I am a part.

Waking up to the reality of racism in both the USA and UK. The stories which have shocked us all and woken us up.

For now there are only a few words that I want to share to lead me and and anyone else who would like to join me into a time of silence... a waking up kind of silence... after sharing these words....

words by Ben Okri, the black writer, from his book “Birds of Heaven”.

They are part rallying cry, part poetry, suggesting an alternative spiritual response to the problems and challenges of today. He urges the case for contemplation and renewal.

Ben says:

“ The greatest inspirations, the most sublime ideas of living that have come down to humanity come from a higher realm, a happier realm, a place of pure dreams , a heaven of blessed notions. Ideas and infinite possibilities dwell there in absolute tranquillity.

Before these ideas came to us, they were pure, they were silent, and their life giving possibilities were splendid.

But when they come to our earthly realm they acquire weight and words, They become less.

The sweetest notions, ideas of universal love and justice, love for one another, or intuitions of joyful creation, these are all perfect in their heavenly existences,

Any artist will tell you that ideas are happier in the heaven of their conception than on the earth of their realisation.

We should return to pure pure contemplation, to sweet meditation, to the peace of silent loving, the serenity of deep faith, to the stillness of deep waters.

We should sit still in our deep selves and dream good new things for humanity,
We should try and make those dreams real.
We should keep trying to raise higher the conditions and possibilities of this world.
Then maybe one day, after much striving, we might well begin to create a world justice and a new light on this earth that could inspire a ten-second silence of wonder – even in heaven.

Ben Okri

Let us now sit still together in our deep selves and dream good new things for humanity..… followed by music Marion Williams ‘My Soul Looks Back’ - Track 25.

Reflection – Karl

We have over the past week seen not only the protests here at home, America and Europe, we have heard the harrowing and very sad account, of a life taken. The name George Floyd isn’t going to be forgotten, and for a long time into the future there will be no end of searching for the answers of why this happened. This is only all too familiar and heard time and again.

We are not called to serve in any vocation to wield the power over others, nor are we to allow ourselves the appointed right to decide on the value of one life above another. I find it somewhat a travesty that someone, be they a judge or policeman, can take it up on themselves to use the justification of the uniform worn, to conduct such a poor decision. Upholding the law is not a right to work, it’s a privilege. And with that comes a real commitment of trust, it’s an oath and a bond; something that shouldn't be broken. Working in a position of authority comes with a great deal of responsibility. And this is where we also have a responsibly. It’s not for us as a faith people to decree, command, prophesy or shout all that is the holy law. Ours is to show an open door, a way that can be taken, that I hope only will be interpreted to do good. Here are some questions to ponder:

Is the divine spirit with you in the moments that you face in most frightening of situations? Do you use the understanding of the spirit to allow guidance for you and others? How do you understand the right or wrong? Has the holy or divine spirit lived with in your whole being, to allow you the authority to grow?

In this time and all other times allow us to act and react, time and again with care, love and compassion, allow us the tenacity to welcome every person and life into this sanctuary, be they any creed or colour. Every life matters, every human soul, every living breath, every seeking mind. Allow us here and now to hear every voice and every language, and understand in hospitality all that mattered to someone who isn't ourself. Once again, pass the bread of the spirit, share the salt, taste and see, pass the wine of love. Here, there is no separate door or divided path. Here, there are no riches to aspire to; only those you share with others. Give your little today for someone else’s plenty tomorrow.

In the love of the divine that’s in us all, once again pass the bread, and with your neighbour share. May we all hold reverence for all human life, as we live this divine vocation. Amen.

Hymn 3: G.204 ‘We shall overcome’ - Karl play

Excerpt from Eulogy given by Rev. Al Sharpton at the funeral of George Floyd.

Blessing – Mark

Let us especially bless all people who are afraid to leave their house this day, because they don’t know what reception awaits them out in the world because of the colour of their skin.

We pray a change will come,


Closing Music – Marion Williams ‘I looked down the line’ - Track 18