Rev. Ellen's Reflections, September 2017

Frankly, I am not sure which newsletter column to write: the semi-apocalyptic “everything is going to hell in a hand basket” one, that comes from reading the news or spending too much time on Facebook?  Or the more chipper, “I can’t wait for the new church year and all the possibilities of what we can do together” one? Of course, it is not an either/or but a both/and.

Turmoil, conflict, and some just plain awful things are happening on a seemingly daily basis in our country. I experience it all as a kind of emotional whiplash. Will this be a “pit in my stomach” kind of day? A helpless anger kind of day? A breath of hope kind of day?

And, I am excited about a new church year. I am looking forward as I always do to our opening Sunday service, to see how the kids have grown, and to hear about everyone’s summer adventures; to engage in the work of our beloved Unitarian Universalist community as we walk together in witness and support of one another lives and our larger community. Being with you makes me feel more hopeful about humanity and the world, and better equipped to deal with it all, something I need more of right now.

I have been reflecting a lot on the heart of Unitarian Universalism and what it offers as a sacred grounding for meeting both the anger and anxiety of our current culture and the day to day living we bring to our shared congregational life—the joys and sorrows of being human. If every person has an inherent worth and dignity, is a beloved child of God or the Spirit of Life, what practices does that call us to? How do we practice welcome and hospitality in an inhospitable atmosphere? Are there boundaries to our welcome? If this life and this earth matter, what practices does this call us to? How do we remember to practice gratitude and joy when we are anxious, angry or scared? How does this call us to heal our relationships with others and with the earth? If revelation is not sealed, what practices does this call us to? How do we bear witness to each other’s stories and weave them together with our own? Are we called to do this with people whose stories are radically different and even in conflict with our own? How do we listen, and stay in conversation when we feel uncomfortable, angry or even ashamed by what we hear in another’s story?

Over the summer, I have been reading and re-reading Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett, a reflection on the many interviews she has done over the years with scientists, artists, poets, activists, leaders, teachers, and theologians from all different places and points of view. There is much in this book, more than I could ever cover in a year’s worth of sermons. But two quotes have stayed with me and will probably make themselves felt in my sermons to come. The first is by a young Evangelical named Shane Claiborne, paraphrasing the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed as a traitor as part of the German resistance against Hitler: “The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy the community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community wherever they go.” (P. 224). The other comes from Tippett in reflecting on her conversation Frances Kissling, an advocate for reproductive justice who also engaged in dialogue with people on the other side of the abortion debate: “The crack in the middle where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see the other as evil—that is where I want to live and where I want to widen.” (p. 35).

Unitarian Universalism talks a lot about creating and living into Beloved Community. If we understand and speak of this as the vision of a perfect community we are trying to reach, we will fail, as no human community ever will be this. Revelation is not sealed and we can only continue to grow into it in fits and starts, with plenty of missteps and losing of our way, finding unexpected places of meaning and beauty as well. If we are to trust our Universalist ancestors, we have already been blessed: we have already been given this life, this creation and one another. We already have been given Beloved Community, messy and human as it is. Maybe Beloved Community is the crack in the middle we need to live into and widen.

Welcome back.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

ALL-CONGREGATIONAL RETREAT: Saturday September 30th from 9 am to 3:30 pm. The Standing Committee, the Committee on Ministry and I invite, encourage and request that everyone who can attend this retreat, facilitated by the Rev. Dr. Larry Peers. Larry facilitated two retreats with us about 10 years ago that led to our current First Parish Covenant. It is time to look it again as a congregation and see where we are. The
specific goals are of the retreat are to:

1. Explore what we have learned from our congregation’s story of living this covenant.

2. Listen deeply to one another and to what calls to us now in our congregation and the local areas we serve as well as the changing world around us.

3. Determine what we need to carry into the future and what we may need to do differently moving forward.

4. Discern some ways for moving forward into our immediate future as a Parish.  You will be hearing much more about this and how to RSVP very, very soon.

Reflections May 2017

We seem to have two “busy seasons” at First Parish: the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and the now through June 18th, our last regular service before we go on our summer schedule. During both, we have lots of special services and special events. For our spring season, we will have celebrations of our children and youth, the musical life of our congregation and close our church year with a flower communion. We also have our traditional events like the May Breakfast on May 6th (please come to volunteer and/or eat!) and the Mothers’ Day Walk for Peace on May 14th (  if you wish to register to walk or donate, you can do so at the Mother's Day Walk for Peace site).

 The busyness of this particular spring is increased as we prepare for the installation of a new elevator and bathrooms and reconfiguring of offices and classrooms in the RE wing. The Building Accessibility Task Force and members of the Department of the Interior have been meeting with lay leaders and staff to help prepare us for the upcoming renovations. This summer and fall will be steeped in practices of adaptability, patience, and lots of deep breaths. It will be amazing when it is all done to see what our discernment about our building and our UU values and covenant have created.

 It was about ten years ago that we held an all-congregational retreat facilitated by the Rev. Larry Peers. At this retreat, we reflected on our congregation’s story and helped bring new people (like me!) into our shared narrative. From it, we also developed our First Parish covenant, which played a role in discerning the decision to go ahead with renovations to make our building more handicapped accessible. As we prepare to finish this particular chapter in our congregational story, it seems a good time to pause and reflect—on what we have accomplished and where we go from here. The Standing Committee, the Committee on Ministry and I are planning another all-congregational retreat with Larry in the fall to do this reflecting, to invite our new members and friends to listen and contribute to our congregational story and touch base with our covenant. We have scheduled it for all-day Saturday, September 30th. Please hold the date, with details to come.

 In the coming weeks, we will also be preparing to say farewell to Justine, our intern minister. I cannot begin to thank Justine for all she has shared with us. It has been an honor for me to be her teaching pastor. I learned so much from her that “teaching pastor” feels like a misnomer. She has been my colleague in ministry these past two  years, and I will miss sharing the ministry of this congregation I love so much with her.

 

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133