I spent the first two Saturdays in January attending a training on supporting people who had suffered trauma. I have volunteered, along with several other folks from First Parish, to be part of “Can We Talk?”, a monthly support group for people who have suffered trauma in their lives and a need a place to share their stories. It is a new ministry being launched by Reverends Janine and Rodney Dailey, the new pastors at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lowell. “Can We Talk” is a program that was started by Rev. Liz Walker (of WBZ fame) and the members of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church where she serves. She and other members of her congregation led the training.
The goal of the program is simple: to create a safe and sacred place for people who have suffered from trauma to share their stories and be heard. As part of the training, people shared their own stories of trauma. Stories of family members lost to gun violence. Stories of childhood sexual abuse and not being believed. Stories of struggles with addiction, gang violence, homelessness. Stories of how social agencies re-traumatized the people they were supposed to help. But here was the interesting thing. Although the training sessions were intense and heartbreaking in their content, I left feeling more hopeful about our country and our world than I have in a long time. I have been reflecting on why that was.
Rev. Walker talked about the power of abiding with one another. She said that was the whole point of the ministry. While simply listening to people with respect and care doesn’t seem like it changes anything, it actually does. Being seen, being heard, being held can heal the isolation, loneliness, and disconnection that trauma causes. It is a first step. And all it takes is an intention to listen.
Surrounded as we are by the deep divisions and nasty discourse around us, much of it hateful and hate-filled, I can fall into feelings of helplessness and even despair. I can’t change things on a national level, let alone a global one. But at Bethel AME, I have been invited to do what I love to do anyway—listen to people’s stories—and it will help. It will help me and I hope that it will help the people who come as well. This is the work of Beloved Community: abiding with one another. “The person in love with their vision of community will destroy that community. But the person who loves the people they are with will create community wherever they go” to adapt the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What a wonderful mission statement: to abide with one another, wherever we may be.” I believe this is something we already do at First Parish and do well. And that we can take a faithful risk to do so more intentionally within and beyond our sanctuary.
-- Rev. Ellen
Signs of spring are beginning to appear: longer days, warmer (slightly) sunshine and the start of our annual stewardship canvass! March is the month we kick off our pledge drive so we can plan our budget for next year. Once again, I would like to thank Doug Aker and Frans Janssen for their willing and able leadership of our canvass. As I say most Sunday mornings, ours is a free church and what we are able to do for one another, for our community and for our larger world is a direct result of what each of us is able to give of our time, talent, and treasure. Our budget is not just a financial document but an expression of how we put our faith and values into action through stewardship.
First Parish is a generous congregation. I am constantly moved at how abundantly you give of your time, talent, and treasure, especially when there is a specific cause or reason. This congregation has stepped up over and over again to support each other and our neighbors: to care for grieving families; to keep our building and our grounds in good shape; to provide spiritual nurture through worship, music and faith formation; to bear witness through service by providing meals or rebuilding after disasters, participating in the Pride Parade or holding the Transgender Day of Remembrance Service. We also share our treasure through the Faith in Action grant program, where we donate a portion of our income from our cell tower funds to support non-profit groups or social action projects and through our monthly “Split the Plate” offering. Of course, we raised the money to renovate our building and made it accessible and welcoming.
While responding to specific events and concerns is important, the more essential and deeper commitment lies in the mundane task of keeping the institution of First Parish up and running, so we can be there when we are needed. So much of what we do is about nurturing and building community, being present to one another in our joys and sorrows and working to make the world a kinder and more just place. It can be easy to forget that we have important responsibilities as an institution. We are employers who are committed to paying our staff fair wages and benefits. This is the largest part of our budget. We are blessed to have a great staff who are gifted in their work, love their jobs, love working with one another, and love serving this congregation. Speaking as supervisor of staff, I know that they are grateful for the generosity of this congregation and very appreciative of the steps we are taking to fund healthcare and meet the UUA standards for salaries and benefits. We are also property owners, caring for an historic building that must kept in shape and up to code. We are a congregation in covenant with the other Unitarian Universalist congregations to support and fund our national Unitarian Universalist Association. And we need to fund the programs we run that bring and keep people here—all our choirs, our faith formation programs for children, youth, young adults and adults; our committees and ministries.
The Standing Committee (our governing board) made a special effort this year to get a preliminary budget ready for review and feedback in time for the start of this year’s canvass. I encourage everyone to read it through to get a sense of what is required to keep First Parish as an institution solvent and functional so we can be here as a community when we are needed. Ours is an economically diverse congregation and we don’t require specific dues to be part of First Parish. We ask that everyone consider what they can pledge generously within their means, understanding that for some of us, that pledge will be as time and talent. So, look for the canvass materials to come in the next couple of weeks. Pledge early and as generously as you can. Together, we can do this.
-- Rev. Ellen