Transforming Death into Lessons for Being

Classical Music before service starts –Nella Fantasia 

Transforming Death into Lessons for Being. 

Sunday 23rd August 2020, 10:30am at Frenchay Chapel and on Zoom 

with Angela Bufton and Peter Bruce


Welcome to all both in chapel and online. In these new Covid rules I am sorry we have to wear masks if possible and we shall collect feedback afterwards. Also the damp weather reduces the signal bandwidth for our online services so can those in chapel please switch off mobile phones to help.

First an opening piece (after lighting candle): 

Opening Prayer 

Small Moments by Andrew Usher 

We have gathered in this Oasis of Peace from many

places, with many thoughts. We pause together now, to allow

ourselves to settle into this place at this time, letting the

cares of the outside world relax their grip. As we take the time

to reflect on our presence here, let us give thanks for all the

small moments which make our lives so special. May we recognise

in those small moments that divine grace which is present at all

times if only we would be aware of it.

We acknowledge with regret the moments when we have been less

than we would wish to be: the moments when we have forgotten the

divinity within ourselves and within others: the moments when

life is hard on us, when we cannot face the world, when our

sorrows seem too much to bear.

May we have the strength and the courage to affirm that there is

divinity in these moments too. May our hearts be turned, that we

might see divine grace working wherever we look, and may that

recognition lighten our burdens. And where we still cannot see

that grace, may we be filled with the spirit to bring love,

grace, compassion and hope ourselves to those places where it is needed.

May we find peace and renewal in this place, and may we take that

peace with us, that it may fill the world.



Seneca once said – The main thing is not how long but how well you have lived.


In this service we shall explore a little of the nature of death and reflect on how it affects our life. It is still such a taboo subject that it doesn’t even appear in the top 10 lists of taboo subjects on internet searches. Death of our body is the only certainty. It is an ever present essence in our lives but is mostly hidden in the shadows until it sort of catches up on us. It has sadly touched many we love in this congregation recently and so if anything comes up for you then do talk to one of our ministers or a friend to share the experience. We shall now listen to a song by Eric Clapton with questions from heaven.

Song - Eric Clapton ‘Tears in Heaven’

Cultural Beliefs

Every culture has its own set of beliefs that describe how the world works and people’s roles in the world. Each culture has its own beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life and what happens after death. This informs how people in those cultures approach death. For example, people may find death more bearable if they believe in a life after death. In some cultures, people believe that the spirit of someone who has died directly influences the living family members. The family members are comforted by the belief that their loved one is watching over them. In general, beliefs about the meaning of death help people make sense of it and cope with its mystery.

In Japan death is seen as liberation and acceptance is more important than expressing oneself. People bring condolence money to wakes in white envelopes tied with black and white ribbon

In Ghana people believe in an afterlife, with a relatively new tradition of elaborate coffins, which will illustrate the interests, profession or status of the departed but also see them off into the next life in style. A coffin may take the form of an aeroplane, or a Porsche, or a Coca Cola bottle.

White is the colour of mourning in China and the official mourning period for a Buddhist may go on for 100 days.

Funerals of the Torajan people in Indonesia are very elaborate and expensive. The ceremony is often held weeks, months, or years after the death so that the deceased's family can raise the significant funds needed to cover funeral expenses. Torajans traditionally believe that death is not a sudden, abrupt event, but a gradual process toward Puya (the land of souls, or afterlife). During the waiting period, the body of the deceased is wrapped in several layers of cloth and kept under the ancestral 2house. The soul of the deceased is thought to linger around the village until the funeral ceremony is completed, after which it begins its journey to Puya.[29]

Song - Green Day ‘Wake me up when September ends’


Moving now to the views of death Quotes

The Dalai Lama when asked what surprised him most about humanity said “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health, And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived. “

We can be so in fear of death that we ignore it and ‘disable’ ourselves from living well, the two are paradoxically linked

Here are a few of other people’s opinions

Terry Pratchett’s Humanism gave him a practical angle saying “No-one is actually ‘dead’ until the ripples they cause in the world die away.”

Arthur Schopenhauer was something of a pessimist who challenged the value of existence and said “After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.“ His Nihilism was reflected upon by Nietzsche later.

A pragmatic positive stance on life and death came from utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill who believe that our purpose is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness).


Poem by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world. 


It is interesting to look at how we might reflect back at life from our Deathbed. The regrets & lessons from others is poignant for us and this selection was adapted from George Mortimer on

We should look after our body better as when we’re young you feel you will live forever, but suffer consequences later! So that’s less smoking and drinking and more healthy eating and exercise in!

When we hold onto fear, anger, shame or guilt it can slowly make us ill. It is better to be open, loving, engaging and encouraging and then your actions will help you and others be fruitful.

It is important to step out of your comfort zone often to do new things as we regret NOT doing these rather more than pride ourselves on waiting for exactly the right opportunity that feels safe.

As death approaches we Forgive our family members more easily so why not do it earlier despite the hurts. It seems we regret it later if we don’t.

We seem to spend too much time acquiring Money and stuff in life. We never have enough and you cannot take it with you. Putting more effort into relationships and investing love in others seems to be more valued at death.

Despite the above Have no regrets at the end. Don’t take the joy out of life. You did your best and played the card you were dealt.

The conclusions from the deathbed seem to be:

It doesn’t matter if you swim with sharks, travel to every country, and take the first ride of space tourism; what matters is HOW you live your life, how well you take CARE of yourself, and OTHERS, how deeply you feel connections with nature and find your true self rather than living other people’s stories . We never get things fully right or wrong, but the truth is the choice and responsibility is ours.



Let Me Go by Christina Rossetti

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It's all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.

We shall now have music for time of reflection

Ludovic Einaudi - ‘Giorni’

Candles of Joy and Concern



In line with Greek philosophers, Michael A. Singer in his book The Untethered Soul: the Journey Beyond Yourself, argues for people to make something of life in finding happiness: he says:

“If you want to be happy, you have to let go of the part of you that wants to create melodrama. This is the part that thinks there’s a reason not to be happy. You have to transcend the personal, and as you do, you will naturally awaken to the higher aspects of your being. In the end, enjoying life’s experiences is the only rational thing to do. You’re sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Go ahead, take a look at reality. You’re floating in empty space in a universe that goes on forever. If you have to be here, at least be happy and enjoy the experience. You’re going to die anyway. Things

are going to happen anyway. Why shouldn’t you be happy? You gain nothing by being bothered by life’s events. It doesn’t change the world; you just suffer. There’s always going to be something that can bother you, if you let it.”

In contrast Ralph Waldo Emerson said “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

Mother Teresa would Surprisingly agree with Einstein who said: ‘Only a life lived in service to others is worth living’.

God given purpose inspires other people or a view that healing pain is what brings merit in life.

Everyone dies, But not everyone really lives is a common phrase.

The advice just quoted is very varied, but all the above do link death to greater meaning in life. We are certainly in for increasing change in coming years and our choices do matter. Death is the great leveller and reminds us we are ALL equal, so it counts what EVERY one of us does with our life.


We shall now have a story that shows how our heart can also have a strong voice on life and death –adapted from "The Star Thrower" by Loren C. Eiseley.

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she

would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,
“Well, I made a difference for that one!”

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

Song – The Byrds ‘To Everything there is a Season’

Closing Prayer

Lastly a closing Benediction used at Golders Green Unitarians (by Andrew Usher)

We give thanks for life:

For fellowship and love;

For the songs of birds

and the beauty of flowers;

For the memories of people and places

long since gone;

For hope, bursting new each morning with the sun,

and peace coming with the close of day

and the end of a journey.

For all that gives meaning to existence

we give thanks

In freedom, hope, fellowship and love.


Collection donation via direct payment please 

Bring and Share Service on Zoom, 10:30am, Sunday 30th August

Next Wednesday online check-in: 26th August.

Bristol Unitarians Retreat postponed until next year

Hucklow Summer School: ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’: Having the Courage of our Convictions in a Post-Truth Age

This is an on-line event and started yesterday evening at 7pm and it will run throughout next week and also be at 7pm worship led by Kate McKenna and Michael Allured)

And we now have a dedicated NEWS page on our website, which will be updated between Marks email bulletins, so please keep an eye on this page, and send any new updates to