Among other adventures this summer, I headed down to Sewanee, Tennessee to attend a reunion retreat. During my sabbatical, I had participated in a five retreat series through the Center on Courage and Renewal with this group of wonderful folks. We had not seen each other for almost four years. A lot had changed, not just in our individual lives, but in our country.

I did not realize until I was there how much I needed a sacred pause. Like most people, I carry my share of worry, anxiety and grief within a busy life and full schedule. Once I had time to pause, I realized how disconnected I felt from God, that larger spirit of Love that I trust holds me and all life in “unity that binds us together across time, death and the space between the stars” (to quote David and Beverly Bumbaugh). I felt lonely, abandoned even. It was a dislocated and frankly scary way to start a retreat.

However, as the retreat work went along and I was invited into conversation with my fellow seekers, with the Holy and with my own soul, I realized that the sense of disconnection could be healed by taking the time to engage in this pause—to be still and listen to what was in my heart, even the sad and difficult fears and emotions. In doing so, I made my way back to gratitude and hope.

When I started to think about this newsletter column and a new church year, I initially intended to write about the beauty of the summer, the joy of coming back together and the possibilities of a new year. Then another natural disaster and another mass shooting appeared on the news. It felt trite to write about such things without acknowledging the pain, violence, and environmental threats that are relentless in their regularity. But as my retreat time reminded me, this is the gift and invitation of our beloved community: to offer time for a sacred pause. Tragedy, violence, pain and loss are real. So are joy, beauty, possibility and wonder. The purpose of religious community, I believe, is to hold all of these and honor the truth of them, to discern together how to live an authentic and examined life in beloved community. The more awareness, intention, compassion and care we bring to our lives and our expressions of faith, the more of gratitude, generosity, hope and grace we can both give and receive. Our worship time each Sunday is an opportunity to pause and to listen to what is happening within our own souls and each other’s—to deepen our awareness of what gives us life and hope, even as we name the realities that give rise to anxiety, fear, and even violence and hate. Hopefully, we can ground ourselves and renew our spirits.

For our opening service on Sunday, we will hold the annual water communion. You may bring water from somewhere special to add to the common bowl, if you wish. We will also have water up front to pour in. In preparation, I invite you to take a pause this week and to listen to what is sacred within and around you. Bring that word as an intention or blessing to pour into the common bowl with your water. We will gather these all together to bless our new church year.

We will also be welcoming two people onto our staff. Jennifer Johnson starts as our intern minister, part-time, for one year. She brings a fresh perspective and voice to our worship and ministry. And Jess Volk will serve as our new permanent building and events coordinator (aka sexton). Many thanks to Walter Cole who served as the interim last year after Leila Pelosi stepped down, after two decades. It is great to have both Jenn and Jess join us!

See you on Sunday!

Rev. Ellen