Well, another holiday whirlwind is winding up. My deepest thanks to everyone who made our Advents services, Solstice Cookie Communion Service, Christmas Eve Charlie Brown Christmas Pageant, Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols, and Pancakes and Carols joyful and meaningful (and sometimes very yummy!). I love these special services. And I am glad also when we return to our normal schedule!

We are not only on the verge of a new year but of a new decade. It will be an anxious year, I suspect, as our country will be going through another bruising presidential election. It is hard to know when we are in the middle of things how it will all turn out. We will have to wait to see what history says down the road. Meanwhile, we can ground ourselves in the values and ethics that guide us and our understanding of the sacred that calls us to life. That is our purpose as a religious community—to reveal the meaningful and powerful ways we are connected to one another and to the Spirit of Life. I find myself returning again and again to adrienne maree brown’s image of the seven birds. When flying together, the birds cannot possibly connect with each and every other member of the flock. Instead, they work with the seven birds immediately around them and replicate the pattern across the whole flock, so it can travel as one. So much of what is happening in our country is beyond my control. However, I can, with you, sustain and strengthen this community. And we can then replicate that as we reach out.

Covenant is our “flocking” practice: the way that we as Unitarian Universalists bind ourselves to walk together in the ways of love and truth as they are revealed to us. This is true within our congregation and between our congregations. We have witnessed how grounding ourselves in our covenant can be transformative through the accomplishment of our building renovation project. But how do we continue to practice covenant daily? What is calling to us next? And how do we bring the new people who are joining our congregation into covenant?

A team from First Parish has been working with four other New England UU congregations and the New England Regional UUA staff to take a “deeper dive” into exploring covenant together. Our First Parish team (Caroline Snow, Diana Keohane, Carlene Merrill, Brenda Rogers, Ruth Whalen Crockett, Dolores and myself) have been discussing how we might share what we have learned thus far and also how we might do a “deeper dive” into covenant within our congregation. Our worship theme for January is “visions for change”, which seems timely for the New Year and also for looking at “what’s next” when it comes to covenant. I will be preaching about what our team has learned about covenant and where that might take us. We are also looking to hold one or two community conversations after church to hear from you. More information on that will come as we reassemble after the holidays! Stay alert!

Best wishes for the New Year!

 Rev. Ellen

When November started, I thought of Thanksgiving as being a long way off, since it was as late as it could possibly be. Now, suddenly, it is here. And on its heels, come the rest of the holidays—Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, Kwanza, and New Year’s. It is an interesting time of juxtaposing darkness and light. We experience longer (and often colder) nights until December 21. Even after that, it takes until February for it to feel as if the light is increasing. The trees are truly bare and although it has not yet snowed, the rain feels icy and raw. And yet, the holidays we celebrate talk about warmth and light: light that celebrates miracles, light that speaks of hope and new life, light that challenges despair, light that celebrates joy, friendship, sweetness, and song.

When a group of us went on a service trip down to New Orleans some fourteen years ago, we made t-shirts with the words: “More Love, More Hope, More Peace, More Joy” taken from an African American hymn in Singing the Living Tradition: “There is more love somewhere. There is more love somewhere. I’m gonna keep on, ‘til I find it. There is more love somewhere.” We were sent to help rebuild the home of two pastors: Henry and Ella O’Neal. Their home was serving as a food bank for people in the Ninth Ward. Pastor Ella saw us in our t-shirts and embraced us all with cries of “More hope! More love! More peace! More joy!” To this day, I am in touch with Pastor Ella who sends her prayers to us regularly. And since then, that hymn has had a special meaning to me, as its words came alive.

I find it fitting then that the candles of Advent—the season of waiting in darkness and building up the light each week—are lit for hope, peace, joy and love. Whatever we may or may not believe about Jesus and his birth, the story is powerful for it describes a deep human yearning for these four things. Jesus embodied them in such a visceral and meaningful way that people look to his life and his words still today for hope, for peace, for joy, for love. We do not have to take the story literally to experience its call, to light candles in anticipation: waiting, praying, singing and working for more hope, more joy, more peace and more love to truly come into being, to help heal our world.

In this spirit, Dolores and I would like to invite you to join us for three Advent gatherings: Saturdays December 7, 14 and 21 at 4 pm in the chapel. We will start with a short service: lighting the appropriate candles for the week in hope, peace, joy and love and reflecting on their meanings through story, meditation and song. We will follow with an outreach project for people in our larger community who could use gifts of more hope, more peace, more joy and more love. These gatherings are multigenerational, with all ages welcome. You do not have to attend all three. We hope you will come!

With deep appreciation and gratitude for all of you and this beloved community, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

 Rev. Ellen