Reflections 06/01/2015

As you may know, I have worked with Larry Peers as my clergy coach since I started at First Parish twelve years ago. He is very good at listening, asking good questions, and helping me discern how to serve as your minister as authentically and faithfully as I can. Last week, he sent me a blog post he had written about the latest Pew Research study on the trends in religion in the United States. It has many clergy and denominations anxious, for it shows a continuing decline amongst those who affiliate with Christianity (mainly in the Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations) and a continuing increase amongst those who do not identify with any religious affiliation, often called the "spiritual but not religious" or the "nones." I sometimes share in that anxiety, especially after I have left a workshop or a conference where I feel that I should be leading worship in a congregation disguised as a café, a rock concert, or a spa in order to attract those put off by "traditional" religion. Then I take a few deep breaths and tell myself to stop it.

Larry writes: I always invite us to sit in the challenges so that we can feel their impact, so that we can identify our uncertainties or our feelings of being overwhelmed...naming the situation is an essential step to any move forward.

There is a lot of conversation right now about the Pew Research study recently released on the Changing U.S. Religious Landscape, including the decline of Christianity and diminishing participation in congregations across generations. I believe that those of us who are engaged in stewarding the religious life and institutions need to sit in these conversations a little longer and listen deeply. At the same time, I also think that we need to add to those conversations another essential element...(and)...ask, "What are the possibilities that are emerging as well?" This is as important a conversation as that about the challenges since we often see some of the possibilities even in the challenges... In her exquisite book, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Margaret Wheatley reminds us that:

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. Ask, 'What's possible?' not 'What's wrong?' Keep asking.... Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

It isn't about creating religious community that is fashionable. It is about creating religious community that matters—that addresses our human need to belong and to make meaning out of living in world that is at once terribly unfair and full of beauty and wonder. That helps us discern not just what is wrong but what is possible. We are very much involved in conversations around what we care about. It may look like we are talking about budgets or committee tasks or the undertaking of a capital campaign or a building project. But underneath we are discerning what we care about and what we are willing to commit ourselves to. Asking what is possible widens our vision and challenges us to trust in who we are and who we are striving to be: a Unitarian Universalist religious community, walking together in the promises of our covenants.

 On to more practical matters, we are winding down our regular church year. June is a month of intergenerational celebrations. On June 7th, we will honor our Coming of Age participants. On June 14th, as part of a larger service celebrating our community, I would like to offer a service of child dedication for families who wish to have their children blessed and welcomed into the congregation as their spiritual and religious home. We can do this blessing for all children, from infants through high school. Please let me know by June 10th if you would like your child(ren) dedicated. Our intern for the next 2 church years, Justine Sullivan, plans to attend this service. June 21st will be our Flower Communion. Please bring a flower to share.

Our summer services begin June 28th, at 9 am in the chapel and run through August 30th. We will start the new church year on Sunday, September 6th (the Sunday BEFORE Labor Day) with our water communion at our NEW start time of 10 am.

While things do slow down over the summer, I am generally around and available for pastoral care, meetings, and other church related things. I will be on vacation July 25th through August 22nd. Coverage information will be on my office answering machine, 978 256-5555.

--Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824