The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero
I hope that everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. Many thanks to the Worship Committee, the Pastoral Care Team, Steve, and Matt Meyer for covering the worship service this last Sunday.
The Worship Theme for December is Centering. We chose this theme because it can be such a crazy, busy time of year, demanding in its expectations and its special events, and emotionally and spiritually challenging with the growing cold and longer nights. Centering is about finding practices that help us stay grounded in what matters most, and help us find calm and hope in times of struggle and chaos. This is actually the meaning of Advent: a time for introspection and contemplation, waiting to see what is going to emerge from the mystery of birth, the darkness of hibernation.
For this coming Sunday, I will be reflecting on the core spiritual practices of Unitarian Universalism, as articulated by the UUA’s New England Regional Staff. On December 9, I will explore more deeply the meaning of Advent as a time of centering and introspection. December 16th will be our wonderful annual Winter Solstice Intergenerational Service, with the UU School of Rock and a cookie communion. December 30 will be our traditional post-Christmas “Pancakes and Carols” in the vestry.
Of course, on Monday, December 24th, we will hold two traditional Christmas Eve Services: our family service at 5 pm and Lessons and Carols at 8 pm, complete with candle lighting (hopefully not a test of our new sprinkler system!).
What about December 23rd? Well, in consultation with Dolores, with Caroline McMullin (the new chair of the Council of Faith in Action Ministries) and the Worship Committee, I would like us to try a “working worship” service. Already, it has been bitter cold and who knows what this winter will bring. We have neighbors without shelter and without family. The Lowell Transitional Living Center offers a place for people to stay and they would love our support in offering their clients something of Christmas. So, for that Sunday, we will meet in the vestry to decorate and put together gift bags with much needed items for folks who are homeless like socks, chap stick, and toiletries. We are still working on the logistics in terms of how to do this, what is needed, how to collect it all and how to get it to the LTLC. Please stay tuned. I am excited, though, to try this out and see what emerges
Memory and hope—these are two essential tasks of religious community. We remember, as best we can, the sacred stories of the people who have come before. We remember the commitments and practices that inform our covenant so we can ground ourselves in them, even when the rest of the world seems to tell us they don’t matter. And we hope. We imagine the possibilities in the moments of beauty and generosity of spirit we experience and even create. There is a Spirit of Life and Love, I believe, that is stronger than hate and fear. Our call, as a Unitarian Universalist community of faith, is to do our best to embody the memory and hope of this Spirit.
Some days, this is much harder than others. Lost in the news of the horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was the story earlier in the week of a white man who shot two African Americans at a Kroger’s in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. The shooter had apparently gone first to an African American Baptist church. These murders are being treated as hate crimes. Another important piece of the Pittsburgh story is that the killer targeted the synagogue not just because it was Jewish but because the congregation was active in helping immigrants and refugees.
I have received numerous emails from my Jewish, Muslim, and Christian colleagues in Chelmsford, Lowell and beyond condemning these attacks—a reminder that we are not alone. There have been and will be vigils and other events to commemorate the dead and call for action—many more than I can forward in a timely manner.
As I said on Sunday, we are in the middle of the story of our very troubled and angry times. And when we are in the middle of the story, we cannot know how it will turn out. That is true in our individual lives, our community, our nation and our world. While we can’t control what goes on around us, we can choose the path that we will walk together in this story. It doesn’t matter whether or not the values and ethics we commit to in our Unitarian Universalist and First Parish covenants are “winning” the day. What matters is that we trust they are best way we know now to walk together, no matter what the news of the day. Our religion has never claimed that life is fair, that everything happens for a reason or that one people are more righteous than another. Our religion claims that this life and this earth matter, and this in turn lays a claim on us to live with one another on this earth with as much gratitude and generosity of spirit as we can safely and honestly offer. We don’t walk this path naively or with blinders to reality of human violence and evil. We must be honest and accountable to that.
We are a community of memory and hope. We resist the homogenization of the human story by remembering and celebrating the beauty, the diversity and the resilience of the human spirit and the experience of divine presence. This is my story and I am sticking to it.
If nothing else, remember to vote.