Reflections June 2016

I would like to thank all of you who pledged and who increased your pledge to make it possible for us to meet our financial goal for next year’s budget of almost $250,000. Reaching this goal means that we can continue to engage in all the ministries we do, and we can support increases in pay for staff, and in hours for our music director. I would also like to thank Jim Curley and his Canvass Team for their dedication and determination. It is not easy to talk about money, let alone ask for it. That said, to be a free church means that we must sustain ourselves. That does require a lot of time, talent and treasure.

On Sunday, I gave a sermon on the Soul Matters question, “What Does It Mean to be a People of Blessing?”. It was a really, really big topic to address in one sermon. There were so many paths of thought to follow. One of the paths I did not have time to go down in the sermon touched on the idea of “self-blessing.” This was a topic for discussion at my third seasonal retreat with the Center for Courage and Renewal in Sewanee, Tennessee. The theme of this retreat was “Spring: Finding New Life and New Possibilities.” We read poems about doorways, jailbreaks, sprouting plants, hope, Easter, and new beginnings. I liked them, but none really touched me the way that the poems and readings at the previous retreats had. I had spent a lot of time during this retreat on the phone, talking with folks about pastoral concerns, including the impending loss of two beloved parishioners, Mildred and Tracy. It was hard to get excited about spring.

On our last day, though, we read “St. Francis and the Sow” by Galway Kinnell and this one did grab me: “The bud/stands for all things/even for those things that don’t flower/for everything flowers, from within, of selfblessing; though sometimes it is necessary/to reteach a thing its loveliness/to put a hand on its brow/of the flower/and retell it in words and in touch/it is lovely/until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing/as Saint Francis/put his hand on the creased forehead/of the sow, and told her in word and in touch/blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow/began remembering down all her thick length,/from the earthen snout all the way/through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail”. It seems to me that part of living out our first principle, “to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person” has something to do with this teaching each other the power and wonder of knowing our own loveliness, especially when the world seems to tell us otherwise.

This power of self-blessing is not just an individual thing. We can be self-blessing as a community. Choosing to commit to who and what we are as a community of faith is re-teaching ourselves to trust in our loveliness, our capacity to bring joy, beauty, and hope to the world, and to bless ourselves for it. Through your generosity, we do that very thing.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Reflections May 2016

Well, I am back from sabbatical. Part of me feels like I never left. And part of me feels like there is so much for me to catch up with. In just the month I have been back, so much has happened, including the losses of Mildred Gordon and Tracy Clifford. Even when we know people are ill or fragile, something in us does not expect death to come as quickly and as surely as it does.

 I met with the Sabbatical Committee on Sunday to debrief both my and the congregation’s experiences of the sabbatical time. I will reiterate what I said at my first sermon when I came back: how grateful I am for the gift of the time you gave me. It was precious. It offered me space to step back, to look at the big picture of my ministry with all of you, and to consider how to walk with you intentionally in ministry in the years to come. I love serving as your minister: that was very clear to me. I have some ideas about things I would like to explore: how to engage in theology, or talking about what is sacred, as a community as well as individuals. How to offer worship that grounds us in what is most important and gives us what we need of hope, courage, commitment, healing, and resilience to live in a society that is very divided and a world that is fragile. What do we want to be a people of in this time and this world? I also would like to continue to grow in my intercultural competence—the capacity to understand culture and the differences that make a difference through the eyes of others, rather than just my own

or people like me. I learned over sabbatical that this work is complex, for it requires risk, vulnerability and the willingness to sit with very uncomfortable feelings and stories. My experience at the Whitney Plantation Slave Museum in Wallace, Louisiana gave me a taste of this. I will speak more about it in a sermon later this month.

 All this, however, is on hold as we take time to mourn Mildred and Tracy. I would like to offer my gratitude to all of you for walking so compassionately and thoughtfully with them and their families. Some of us simply sent cards or offered our thoughts and prayers in Joys and Sorrows. Others offered a great deal of time and companionship to Mildred, Tracy and Tracy’s daughters, Erica and Erin. It all matters, what each of us gives of our time and our energy. This congregation’s capacity to walk with one another is something special to behold. 

 Even as we mourn the loss of these two souls, whom we love, I am aware of the new life and new people that are coming into our sanctuary. It has been fun to see a couple new babies, and some to come soon. One of the things I am attempting to catch up with as I return from sabbatical is the many new faces I have seen. I hope that those of you new to First Parish feel welcomed by the warmth and open-heartedness of this congregation.

 As I observe all these things, I want to thank Jim Curley and the Canvass Committee for their tenacious pledge drive. I believe it is essential that this congregation is here: for Mildred, for Tracy and their families. For all of us who have lost someone we love and who need a place to grieve and heal. I believe that it is essential that this congregation is here: to bear witness to the power of love in a society that is increasingly preaching fear and divisiveness—around race, around sexual orientation and gender, around religious and ethnic differences. I believe that it matters that we are here. I thank you for giving so much to make this true.

--In Faith, Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824