Dear First Parishers,

I hope that everyone has had a lovely summer, or at least a chance to take a breath! My summer was very full. I attended two writers’ workshops where I learned a lot and made some wonderful new friends. I also took a two-week family vacation up in Vermont, which is always a restorative place for me.

Each time I have returned from one of these trips and dropped by our church, I have been awed by the progress made with our building renovation project. It is definitely taking shape and it will be great to finally be back in. I have been surprised by how unmoored I feel by not having my office. Given my summer schedule, I did not expect to miss it all that much. It is a touchstone that obviously gives me a sense of place and purpose, a sense of home. It will be good to have it back.

Speaking of which, it is time to start thinking about the new church year. I am very much looking forward to seeing us all gathered together again. It’s funny, the rhythm of the seasons. In June, I look forward to the slower pace and lighter schedule of summer. But by August, I find that I am ready for the return to congregational life. I miss everyone and I miss the weekly work of preparing for and leading worship. Larry Peers, who is my clergy coach and who has led several retreats with us, including one last fall, always asks me to reflect on what season of ministry I am in, that the congregation is in. As we near the end of the renovation project, I feel we are in a season of autumn and harvest. We are seeing the results of our hard work and labor of love. I hope that we will take time to pause and celebrate what we have accomplished. We have made our building accessible to all as we can. It will be more reflective and less of an obstacle to our practice of hospitality and nurturing of all souls.

Autumn is also a season of letting go—the new configuration of the building means that things will not always be where they once were. It will take time to figure what belongs where and where to meet for this or that. The building as it was had been home for many of us for a long time. There is comfort in familiarity. And I imagine that very soon, it will feel like home again. While the building serves as a touchstone for our home, its true center is all of us, the people who gather in covenantal community for worship, mutual care, and service to the common good. While our building would not be First Parish without us, we learned this summer that we can be First Parish even without our building—meeting at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, at the Java Room, at Blake Funeral Home, at the Senior Center, or in our backyard, to worship, to offer or receive care, and to serve our congregation and our larger community.

I would like to thank the Worship Committee: Jayne Boissonneault, Ellen Ford, Ami Hughes, Colleen Leary, Donna Mitchelson, Edith Murphy, and Bonnie Rankin, for facilitating the summer services, and helping our lay worship leaders and musicians negotiate our ever changing space. It was more challenging than usual, and I am grateful to them and to all the folks who led worship, provided music, and attended these services.

Last spring, the Worship Committee and I discussed coming up with our own monthly themes for worship, instead of relying on journals like Touchstones or Soul Matters. We had a great time last June brainstorming themes and their accompanying practices. This is an experiment, another new thing to try out, and we will see how it goes. So, for the month of September, we have chosen the theme of Home. It seemed very appropriate as we re-gather together after a summer apart; as we come back to a new building; and as we prepare to welcome new and returning individuals and families.

So, we will start our exploration and reflection on the theme of Home in the sanctuary at our Intergenerational Ingathering Service and Water Communion on September 9th, at 10 am. If you would like to participate in the communion, please bring a little bit of water to pour into the common bowl. As we are gathering in our home made new, I invite you to think about what make First Parish home, what connects you to this community and what we offer to those seeking a home.

I am so looking forward to seeing you all on September 9, if not before!

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

And so, it is REALLY HAPPENING! Our building renovation to make it accessible for people with disabilities and just generally more user friendly. It has taken a lot of effort, a lot of commitment and a lot of time for us to get here. I hope that you are as proud as I am. It is going to be a bit chaotic for the next five or six months. As the staff keeps saying to one another: “Flexibility and patience; flexibility and patience” as our watchwords for months ahead. We are going to have to be creative and adapt around a few obstacles. Two be aware of right off are that our old elevator gave up the ghost, and given the cost to repair it for the short time we would need it, we have decided not. So, we will stream the last couple of regular church services in the vestry for those who cannot or do not want to tackle the stairs. Also, after demolition starts (target date, Monday June 4), we will not have indoor bathrooms. There will be a porta-potty. This is not ideal, we know, but it is only for two Sundays.

We start our summer services, moving the worship time to 9 am, on June 24th. We have been able to rent space at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts across the street for June 24, July 8, July 15 and July 22. July 1, we will be back at First Parish. And we will return here permanently July 29. Hopefully, by then, we will have indoor plumbing back. If you have not already, please sign up for the First Parish events list. Things may change over the summer, and we may have to cancel or move a summer service. If you want to be kept up to date, please, please join this list.

To mark the start of the building renovation, we will hold a groundbreaking service during worship next Sunday. It will be an opportunity to appreciate the people who have led, organized and continue to manage this project; to acknowledge our contractor, Walter, and architect, Jay; and to celebrate what we have accomplished. It should be a lot of fun.

Finally, I want to share excerpts from my sermon this past Sunday, where I talked about the “Geography of Grace.” I chose a reading from a book by Peter Wohlleben called The Hidden Life of Trees: A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old.

And here is my reflection on his words: Wohlleben demonstrates how trees live together in community—connecting and communicating through their roots systems, through fungi that grows underground, through their leaves in the wind. When I think of the geography of grace of this place, I think of the forest community he describes. Deeply rooted through the generations in the tenets of our tradition: in covenant with reverence for the sacred ties that bind us to one another, to the creation, to the many names of the holy, the Spirit of Life; gratitude and hospitality; memory and hope; freedom and love, we stand solidly and we grow, helping one another withstand the wind and rain, dry, hot summers and cold winters. Yes, like trees, we lose branches and limbs; and like trees, we die—sometimes too young, sometimes after a long, long time. But still, the forest remains. Together we do what we cannot on our own: create a local climate, an ecosystem to help one another through the generations stay rooted and growing in gratitude and grace, moderating and healing the extremes of pain and loss, harm and cruelty. To expand on the words of Theodore Parker: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” I would add “It bends toward gratitude. It bends toward grace.”

In faith,
Rev. Ellen