Happy New Year, and welcome to 2015! I hope that everyone had a good holiday. After a month of specials services and special events, things are returning to as normal as they get at First Parish.
I have a couple of different things to share in my reflections for this month. First, a warm welcome and enthusiastic congratulations to Steve Zocchi, who is now our permanent music director! Many thanks to the Music Director Search Team (Will Reiter, Carlene Merrill, Dave Kaffine, Sam Morse, Dee Halzack and Jane Collins) for a thoughtful survey and leading of cottage meetings that led to their recommendation that the Standing Committee hire Steve. We have a lot to look forward to with music in worship. It is always nice when things turn out to be quicker and easier than planned!Second, I have been thinking a lot about the discourse and discord on race and racism in our country, after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the "Black Lives Matter" protests that followed. The political landscape has become even more charged, as other black youth and men died due to police violence and two police officers (neither of them white) were shot in cold blood by a black man in apparent response to the other deaths. I am receiving a steady stream of invitations to attend protest rallies, workshops, and other events. A couple of you have already committed to attending the workshop series on Race, Violence and Peace sponsored by the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Others of you have attended rallies in support of "Black Lives Matter". Here are two more, hosted by fellow Unitarian Universalist congregations: On Wednesday, January 21st, from 7 pm to 8:30, the First Church Unitarian of Littleton is sponsoring a panel discussion with police chiefs from area towns (hopefully, Littleton, Acton, Groton, Ayer, and Westford)about their thinking and responses to what is happening nationally. We are all invited. Also, Andrea Long passed on an invitation to all of us from her friend, Nancy Kates, from the First Parish Church of Groton to attend a meeting of their Justice Working Group on Sunday, January 25th at 11:30. Several of you attended a vigil for "Black Lives Matter" on Christmas Eve afternoon with me at First Parish in Groton. This is their follow up to that vigil. This is the text of their invitation: As a part of a newly forming Justice Working Group at FPCOG of interested people, we are intent on learning the best way to use our talents, strengths and passion to effect change and protect all human life. Our goals are developing a dialog with other churches, helping each other with program ideas, and in general working together to make sure we use our privileged status to be a positive influence only... please pass this on to a like-minded group in Chelmsford or invite interested people to join our group. I would like to offer an invitation of my own for those of you who are interested in brainstorming with me what we can do to connect with the larger UU responses to the realities of institutional racism in our country, to learn more about intercultural competency as a practice to live in our increasingly multicultural, multiracial society, and to share questions or concerns about the growing polarization around whose lives matter. This is the work of years and not one meeting, but we need to begin somewhere. So, join me if you can, Sunday, January 18th after the morning service. More details to follow as I figure them out!
Finally, I am planning to take a three-month sabbatical, beginning in mid-January 2016. Sabbatical time is part of my letter of call with the congregation, offered to me as a way to support the health and energy of my continued ministry with you by giving me an intentional time for rest, renewal, and reflection. This will be my second sabbatical, so we have been through the experience before. The time to start preparing is now. I have been talking with the Committee on Ministry and the Standing Committee, and will be putting together a sabbatical committee, to plan coverage in my absence and discuss how both I and the congregation can use this time. If you are interested in this, please let me know. Also, feel free to ask me any questions or share any concerns you have.