Rev. Ellen's Reflections, December 2019

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

Rev. Ellen's Reflections, November 2019

Happy Halloween! It has been a remarkably beautiful October, with the leaves keeping their color through the end of the month. Soon, we will be in the midst of Thanksgiving, and then...Christmas!

Our worship theme for the month of November is “Ancestors.” I have been thinking about my own quite a bit, as I have started to write down some of the family stories I have inherited over the years. They are good reminders for me in these anxious times about the resilience of the human spirit and that generations have survived much worse than this. They also remind me that we won’t know how it will all turn out, so to keep choosing as compassionately and hopefully as we can out of our core values. This is how we stay grounded.

Unitarian Universalism is not a faith that consistently honors its ancestors, especially outside of New England. In fact, it is often focused on the next new thing and dismissive of the past. I think this is in part because we are made up mostly of converts who have left something behind and who have been promised the opportunity to bring their own beliefs and ideas to their new faith. This is partly true. Revelation is not sealed. We do learn every generation from new ideas and new voices and new perspectives, as we are challenged and invited to consider them. At the same time, Unitarian Universalism is a religion—not just a movement—and it has ties that bind us one generation to the next.

The two core practices of our Unitarian Universalist tradition, passed down from our ancestors, are covenant and congregational polity. Both are flexible enough to adapt and change over the generations while still serving as touchstones. Last May, a team from First Parish attended a workshop on covenant led by the New England Regional UUA staff. Out of that workshop, we were invited to join five other of our area congregations in a year long “deeper dive” learning group with the New England staff to explore the meaning, power and purpose of covenant—not just within our own congregation but with our neighboring congregations. Our First Parish team consists of me, Dolores, Diana Keohane, Brenda Rogers, Carlene Merrill, Caroline Snow, and Ruth Whalen. It has been fun to work together on this and to talk more deeply about covenant, not just with one another but with other UUs, and to get to know them.

Our First Parish covenant helped us articulate why making our building accessible and welcoming was so important and provided a touchstone for the renovation project and capital campaign. I have experienced a deepening in the spiritual life and maturity of this congregation as we have come to understand in a tangible and real way what it means to walk together in covenant. This “deeper dive” into covenant comes at a good time, as we are standing in between what we have just accomplished and what is next. In the New Year, our First Parish team will be offering opportunities for “Deeper than Coffee” conversations about covenant and how we might grow even more into its practice.

Meanwhile, we will take this month to consider our ancestors—where we come from. We will also celebrate gratitude: welcoming into covenant our new members and renewing our covenant with our ten year, twenty-five year, forty year and fifty years members on November 17 and gathering food and donations for the Open Pantry at our intergenerational Thanksgiving service on November 24.

Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133