Rev. Ellen's Reflections, September 2017

Frankly, I am not sure which newsletter column to write: the semi-apocalyptic “everything is going to hell in a hand basket” one, that comes from reading the news or spending too much time on Facebook?  Or the more chipper, “I can’t wait for the new church year and all the possibilities of what we can do together” one? Of course, it is not an either/or but a both/and.

Turmoil, conflict, and some just plain awful things are happening on a seemingly daily basis in our country. I experience it all as a kind of emotional whiplash. Will this be a “pit in my stomach” kind of day? A helpless anger kind of day? A breath of hope kind of day?

And, I am excited about a new church year. I am looking forward as I always do to our opening Sunday service, to see how the kids have grown, and to hear about everyone’s summer adventures; to engage in the work of our beloved Unitarian Universalist community as we walk together in witness and support of one another lives and our larger community. Being with you makes me feel more hopeful about humanity and the world, and better equipped to deal with it all, something I need more of right now.

I have been reflecting a lot on the heart of Unitarian Universalism and what it offers as a sacred grounding for meeting both the anger and anxiety of our current culture and the day to day living we bring to our shared congregational life—the joys and sorrows of being human. If every person has an inherent worth and dignity, is a beloved child of God or the Spirit of Life, what practices does that call us to? How do we practice welcome and hospitality in an inhospitable atmosphere? Are there boundaries to our welcome? If this life and this earth matter, what practices does this call us to? How do we remember to practice gratitude and joy when we are anxious, angry or scared? How does this call us to heal our relationships with others and with the earth? If revelation is not sealed, what practices does this call us to? How do we bear witness to each other’s stories and weave them together with our own? Are we called to do this with people whose stories are radically different and even in conflict with our own? How do we listen, and stay in conversation when we feel uncomfortable, angry or even ashamed by what we hear in another’s story?

Over the summer, I have been reading and re-reading Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett, a reflection on the many interviews she has done over the years with scientists, artists, poets, activists, leaders, teachers, and theologians from all different places and points of view. There is much in this book, more than I could ever cover in a year’s worth of sermons. But two quotes have stayed with me and will probably make themselves felt in my sermons to come. The first is by a young Evangelical named Shane Claiborne, paraphrasing the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed as a traitor as part of the German resistance against Hitler: “The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy the community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community wherever they go.” (P. 224). The other comes from Tippett in reflecting on her conversation Frances Kissling, an advocate for reproductive justice who also engaged in dialogue with people on the other side of the abortion debate: “The crack in the middle where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see the other as evil—that is where I want to live and where I want to widen.” (p. 35).

Unitarian Universalism talks a lot about creating and living into Beloved Community. If we understand and speak of this as the vision of a perfect community we are trying to reach, we will fail, as no human community ever will be this. Revelation is not sealed and we can only continue to grow into it in fits and starts, with plenty of missteps and losing of our way, finding unexpected places of meaning and beauty as well. If we are to trust our Universalist ancestors, we have already been blessed: we have already been given this life, this creation and one another. We already have been given Beloved Community, messy and human as it is. Maybe Beloved Community is the crack in the middle we need to live into and widen.

Welcome back.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

ALL-CONGREGATIONAL RETREAT: Saturday September 30th from 9 am to 3:30 pm. The Standing Committee, the Committee on Ministry and I invite, encourage and request that everyone who can attend this retreat, facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Larry Peers. Larry facilitated two retreats with us about 10 years ago that led to our current First Parish Covenant. It is time to look it again as a congregation and see where we are. The
specific goals are of the retreat are to:

1. Explore what we have learned from our congregation’s story of living this covenant.

2. Listen deeply to one another and to what calls to us now in our congregation and the local areas we serve as well as the changing world around us.

3. Determine what we need to carry into the future and what we may need to do differently moving forward.

4. Discern some ways for moving forward into our immediate future as a Parish.  You will be hearing much more about this and how to RSVP very, very soon.

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133