As I shared on Sunday during “Joys and Sorrows”, First Parish has been chosen to receive the “Guardian Award” from the Chelmsford Historical Society. This is a very special honor that has actually been awarded to three individual First Parish members in the past: Bob Morse, George Parkhurst (Sandy Johnston’s father) and Jane Drury. Here is an excerpt from the email I received from Tom Christiano: The Chelmsford Historical Society selects one recipient of the "Guardian" Award each year, based on their exemplifying the Chelmsford Town Motto "Let the children guard what the sires have won." We believe that the First Parish Community has done exactly that, by maintaining the First Parish Church Building and grounds in an exemplary manner for many decades. Since the First Parish Church Building is located right in the center of our wonderful town your willingness to beautifully maintain your building and grounds is truly to "Guard what the Sires have Won." Therefore, you will receive our Guardian Award this year and your First Parish Church name will be permanently engraved on our list of Awardees, and you will receive this Award at our annual dinner meeting on Saturday, May 6th, at the Barrett- Byam Homestead.
It is interesting that this award comes as we are preparing to undergo a major renovation to make our building more welcoming and handicap accessible. I imagine and I hope that the Historical Society will see that this is another example of us continuing our stewardship of our building and grounds. I know that members of the Building Design Team have been in conversation with the Historic District Commission (a different town committee) to make sure that our renovations are in keeping with the historic nature of our building. But for me, it goes much deeper than that. We are continuing the work of the lay leaders who worked to get our original elevator installed. They were the first to recognize that we needed to make it possible for individuals with mobility issues to get upstairs to the sanctuary. And they were continuing the stewardship of the lay leaders who added the Religious Education wing to the original Meetinghouse. They recognized that in order for us to be welcoming of families and children, the congregation needed to build dedicated space.
I recognize that any major change brings its own kind of disruption and chaos. We will certainly experience that during the months of the actual renovation. And we will have to adjust back after it is all done to share our space and storage in new ways. I am reading a book called Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. She writes about the ways different emotions live and relate in her body: “The only real difference between Anxiety and Excitement was my willingness to let go of Fear. Sometimes, when I was anxious, all I had to do was take a deep breath, and my nervousness turned to anticipation” (p. 82). I found this idea a helpful practice for framing the upcoming work.
While it will be chaotic at times, it is also full of opportunity to try new things and new ways, to let go of what no longer serves or adapt it for what is needed now. For example, Justine, the Evening Service Team and I have come to realize that we need to change the evening service model. Attendance is irregular since folks cannot attend consistently and we do not have the leadership needed for a weekly service once Justine leaves. I have received requests for adult religious education/faith formation and weekday evenings no longer work for many people. So, we are going to adapt and adjust—moving to one evening service a month and offer religious education/faith formation opportunities for all ages on the other evenings.
There is so much going on that it is hard to address it all in one column. There are two more things though I feel important to address. First, I offer my gratitude to all of you who have pledged, not only to the capital campaign, but to our annual pledge drive. There is no point in going through this whole building project if we don’t have a church community to worship, work, and learn in it. Participating in the financial stewardship of our congregation is an ongoing expression of our commitment to our Unitarian Universalist faith, as well as First Parish. And we need this kind of religious community now more than ever in our world. If you have not yet pledged, I ask you to consider doing so and thank you. My gratitude to Joan and Dennis Keane and the Canvass Committee for leading us in this.
Also, on Sunday, I shared news about upheaval in our larger Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Rev. Peter Morales, the President of the UUA resigned suddenly and effective immediately in response to a hiring controversy. You can read more at https://www.uuworld.org/articles/peter-morales-resigns. The UUA also announced that it was suspending the fellowship, pending the outcome of the legal proceedings, of the Rev. Ron Robinson, a UU minister serving in Oklahoma, after he was arrested for participating in a child pornography ring. We cannot undo what has been done in either situation. But we can choose how we will respond: how attentively we will listen to people’s stories; whom we will protect and stand with; and whom we will hold accountable. The UUA and the UUMA are both bringing all the resources they can to everyone
involved in both issues. As we are in congregation in covenant with the Unitarian Universalist Association, the ripples from these events will make themselves felt. I believe that people in our country are finding sanctuary and hope in our UU congregations right now and that we need to be ready to be hospitable and open to loving the hell out of the world, including among ourselves.