ReflectionsOur Soul Matters Worship and Reflection Theme for the month of October is “Deep Listening.” And if there ever was a time for this practice, it is now. As we enter the last month before the election, there are a lot of loud and competing voices predicting all kinds of terrible things if one side or the other wins. Meanwhile, the pandemic continues, with over 205,000 Americans dead from COVID 19, with very little attention or voice given to those struggling to recover, the families of those who have lost loved ones or the people on the frontlines who are trying to treat those who are sick or prevent others from getting the disease. I understand the desire to get back to normal, to the way things were before. That is not possible right now and may never be. We are betwixt and between the reality we knew and a new way of being that has not yet made itself fully known. We are in a liminal season.

We are entering a third stage of sorts. We went through the crisis of spring. We had a pause over the summer—with no school, warmer weather and a receding of the virus, people could get outside and reclaim a little bit of normalcy. Now we have entered fall—a return to school with everything different, the impending reality of colder weather and shorter days, and the possibility of a second wave of COVID 19. Plus the stress of everything happening in our country with the reckoning for racial justice, a divided electorate and a national election where the soul of our nation feels at stake. I sense a growing weariness as people feel the strain of sustaining the extra effort and vigilance often required to negotiate these anxious times. I don’t blame anyone who wants to just crawl into bed, pull the covers over their head and stay there until spring. Or at least until the election is well past.

I took a course this summer called “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You are Going” with Susan Beaumont, a congregational consultant whose work I know and trust. It was excellent and healing. Susan pointed out again and again the work of this liminal season is one of deep listening—stilling ourselves so as to get below the noise and anxiety to reflect on what have we lost, what really matters, and what wants to emerge. I have shared these questions with the Standing Committee, our governing board, and the Committee on Ministry, the team that supports me in discerning what is needed in the ministry to the congregation. One very helpful idea that emerged from these conversations was to ask how we are living and can live into our covenant during this time. How do we and can we welcome all souls? How do we and can we be present to one another? How do we and can we bear witness? How do we and can we be good stewards? Things have changed and we have to do things very differently. But our covenant still calls us to sustain and nurture our beloved community. We are still here.

I know this to be true because I am witness to all the ways that people are connecting via Zoom or outdoors in small groups, or on the phone. I see the efforts and adaptations that our lay leaders and staff are putting in behind the scenes to keep our congregation up and running. I see how generous everyone continues to be with their time, talent and treasure. I see how people are finding ways to be present to one another in our joys and sorrows and to bear witness to justice and peace in our larger communities. Thank you. You are a creative, generous, compassionate and resilient congregation. We will get through this.

Two last things. First, the ramp up to a new church year is always busy. This year has been even more so, with the extra efforts required to connect. I am remembering back in the spring when we rebuilt our congregational life brick by brick—not trying to do too many new things at once. It is a wise practice. We will be adding things back slowly into worship and into our other activities as energy and capacity allow. We will be trying out new things, like our monthly Soul Matters Sharing Circles, and seeing how they work. And I promise that I will resume the Zoom Cafés, for example, once all the extra meetings needed for the new church year have slowed. So keep reaching out to one another in the ways that feel meaningful and safe for you and finding ways to connect.

Second, reasons for celebration and joy still abound. We will be celebrating the ordination of Jennifer Johnson, our intern minister from last year, on Sunday, October 11th by joining with her home congregation in Franklin for our worship service. We will be sending out the link for that particular Sunday closer to the date.

Take care, each and everyone of you. I send my love and gratitude.
Rev. Ellen

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Welcome to September! We have traditionally started our new church year with a water communion, the Sunday after Labor Day. And we will this year as we return to our “regular” worship schedule September 13th at 10 am. But we need to do our water communion differently since we cannot gather in person in our sanctuary. We held our first “mini” water communion this past Sunday outside at the labyrinth, with six people joining me. Jim Curley placed a beautiful ceramic birdbath to serve as the common bowl in the middle of the labyrinth. We stood at the edge and took turns pouring in water. I took pictures and some of us had signs to go with our water. I will offer another mini water communion next Sunday September 6th at 1:30 pm. If you and your family wish to come and pour water into our common bowl, PLEASE LET ME KNOW BY 11 AM SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 5 so Dolores and I can plan the logistics. If you do come in person, you must wear a mask, keep socially distanced from anyone else attending and follow the guidance of Dolores and myself. For those of you who wish to participate from home, please feel free to send a picture to me by Tuesday, September 8th to be included in the slide show. Please use landscape as opposed to portrait mode for your pictures. It is easier for the slide show.

And if you wish to come by during the week on your own to pour water into the bowl in the labyrinth, please feel free to do so. Again, whether you want to take a picture to share in the slide show is up to you.

The Worship Committee, Dolores and I decided to re-subscribe to Soul Matters, a UU theme-based monthly journal for worship, small group discussion, and faith formation, as a helpful tool for fostering connections in our congregation between worship and spiritual exploration for all ages. In addition, Soul Matters, adapting to the times, has added specific resources and discussion materials to address racial injustice and anti-racism work related to their monthly themes and provides permission resources for live stream and recorded worship services.

The theme for September will be Renewal. And as our water communion is a time for renewing our commitment and connection to our First Parish and Unitarian Universalist covenants, I offer this prompt for you to consider as you pour your water into the bowl: “Renewing...” Because we can only provide pictures for the service, feel free to make a poster with the word or phrase that describes what renewal you are giving, receiving, seeking...whatever comes to mind. Bring it to the mini water communion or include it in the photo you send from home. A reminder to parents that our regular church services are live streamed and then recorded and archived on our website. I will not include identifying information about our children and youth under the age of 18. However, if you do send us pictures for the water communion slide show that include them, you are giving us permission to share them publicly via live stream and our website.

I do not know what this new church year will bring, only that it will be different than what we have known before. Between the pandemic, the reckoning with the need for racial justice, and the upcoming election, we face many unknowns causing lots of anxiety and fear, grief and loss. But along with these come moments for creativity, unexpected possibilities, and even transformation. As we negotiate this new terrain, I have three goals: to keep us as safe as possible; to keep us connected and accessible, and to keep us grounded in our Unitarian Universalist covenants and faith.

I look forward to “seeing” you on September 13th.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

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