Rev. Ellen's Reflections, Febuary 2018

Wow, we did it. And we are going to do it. We are going to move forward with making our building more handicap accessible and more welcoming. I want to take a moment to pause to say thank-you: to this congregation for your generosity of donations and of spirit; to Tom Coffey, Dee Halzack, Leslie Yauckoes, Ron Cook, Ron Deschenes, Chris Sweetnam, Don Hayden, and everyone else who has served on the Building Task Force—meeting with architects, contractors, town boards and members of the congregation; to Dave Kaffine and Doug Snow for creating and presenting a clear and thoughtful financial plan; to Jim Curley and John Schneider and everyone who worked on the capital campaign; to the Board of Investment members who have thoughtfully guided us to use our financial resources wisely; and to the Standing Committee, under Sarah Manning’s steady leadership, who have kept the process moving along and communicated clearly in voters’ guides. I appreciate the deepening of covenantal relationship that I have witnessed as we have walked together as a congregation toward making our building reflective of our values. I appreciate the trust you are offering one another and the commitment you are making. It is not easy work.

This past Sunday, I preached about faith formation. I shared these words by Judy Frediani, written for the introduction to Full Circle: Fifteen Ways to Grow Lifelong UUs (by Kate Tweedie Erslev): “...the entire course of a church’s life is its curriculum—that everything a church says and does, and does not do, ‘teaches’ what that religious community is all about...every person and every activity in the congregation can contribute to individual faith development and congregational growth and development.” With this understanding of congregational life, all we do is “faith formation”. This building project has certainly been an example of that. We have explored questions about our values and ethics with regard to our building. We have discussed the importance of stewardship and setting priorities. We have considered who can and cannot get in for worship and community. We have considered the legacy, both as gift and burden, for our children and youth and the generations to come after them. We have made the big decisions as a congregation and given a lot of time and treasure. We have empowered and trusted those among us who have stepped into leadership to make the day-to-day decisions and to educate and update us as needed. As I said my in sermon, Dolores and I talk all the time about how all the things we are doing in worship, religious education, leadership, committee work, pastoral care, social outreach and justice and building community serve as our “curriculum”: what are we embodying ethically, spiritually, and religiously about Unitarian Universalism? What are our children and youth learning from us? And what are we learning from them, as they come at our Unitarian Universalist faith with fresh eyes and ears?

This church year, only half way through, has been filled with challenge, change, loss, accomplishment, and celebration. I sense that while there have been difficult moments, there is also a lot of healthy energy and spiritual growth as we demonstrate our deepening commitment to the well-being of one another and thoughtful stewardship of our congregation and our Unitarian Universalist faith.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Rev. Ellen's Reflections, January 2018

Welcome to 2018! I hope that everyone had a happy and safe New Year’s. And that you are staying warm. The Big Chill came early. Usually, this kind of cold is February weather.

Looking back on 2017, it felt many times like a year I was trying to get through with some sense of hope intact. The political and social conflicts in our country have felt divisive and bitter. It is hard to trust that our political leaders have the will to come together to lead us a country, to work for the best interests of the whole people instead of the few. The national and regional leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association has also been going through crisis and change, struggling to figure out how to live into the UU principles while facing the realities of racism in our own history and current structures. Our congregation has had to deal with a crisis of our own, a breach of trust that challenged us but also deepened understanding of our values and the meaning of covenant. We had to put the accessibility building project on hold for a year as we try to figure out how to handle the unexpected increase in the cost of the construction. And we have had to figure out how to do some things we “have always done this way” in new ways.

Over the holiday break, Josh, Sam and I watched Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary on Viet Nam. During the war, I was too young to understand what was happening except that it was going on overseas and that it divided the country. As I watched the series, I became aware of the complexities of the Viet Nam War, the social and political issues that accompanied it, and how we are still dealing with them to this day. In some ways, it was helpful to see that our country has survived much greater political and social turmoil than today. It was amazing to see how Viet Nam has rebuilt itself from the terrible destruction. Things today are not the worst that they have ever been. It was also frustrating to see that we can’t seem to learn from our past, our human tendency to fear and make enemies of those of who are different, to justify the use of violence and the abuse power in the name of righteousness. It was interesting to learn about something that I grew up with through the lens of history. I wonder fifty years from now how this time will be understood, how the story, or the many stories really, will be told.

For it is in the many stories that I find hope. The men in power made the decisions about the war and their decisions had terrible consequences for those who had to fight it and those who were caught in the crossfire. They had the power of distance, to view the lives involved in terms of numbers and statistics. Yet as I listened to all the different and complex stories of the individuals involved—Americans, South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese—the things that they had to live through, the choices they had to make, the losses they suffered, the consequences that they have had to live with, I realize that they each had to make meaning out of all this for themselves. Each person brought their own humanity to bear. And that some of them, maybe even many of them, over time, chose humanity over inhumanity.

May it be true for our time as well.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133