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

Reflections Sabbatical 2016

First, I would like to offer my gratitude and appreciation to this congregation for encouraging and supporting me in taking a sabbatical, my second one. Since I first started serving as your minister in August of 2002, I have been working with the Reverend Dr. Larry Peers as my clergy coach. His constant question to me is “What season of ministry are you and your congregation in?” Over the years, I have walked with you to plant new ideas, new ministries, and a new covenant; to tend to the growth and health within our congregation and to the ministries and programs already planted; to gather in and celebrate the fruit that has been brought forth. And I have stepped back, to rest and renew before beginning again. While we are doing all of these things all the time, usually one season or the other predominates. Sabbatical is a time for this fourth season—of stepping back, of rest and renewal, so you and I can come back to this ministry with new energy and new eyes, perhaps to plant something new, perhaps with a better idea of what needs attention and nurture, or a clearer vision of what fruits and gifts we have gathered and can celebrate. 

I will be on sabbatical from January 1 through March 31st, 2016. During that time, I will be resting, and catching up with family and friends. I will be renewing—taking time to do the reading, writing, and imagining of ministry that I do not often have time to engage in during the day-to-day busyness of church. I will also prepare the soil for what I believe is next. I will be taking a three-day seminar on “Intercultural Competence”, developing the skills to help us engage in conversations and ministry in a multicultural world. I hope to attend a retreat series through the Center for Courage and Renewal entitled, “The Courage to Lead: Living and Leading from Within.” It actually begins before and continues during and after my sabbatical time, but I hope to use the sabbatical to really process what I am learning and discern how to bring it back both to my ministry and the ministries and leadership of the congregation.

 Ministry is a sacred trust, a trust that I take very seriously. It is an honor and a privilege to be called to serve as your minister, to be entrusted with all the ways you share your individual and congregational struggles and hopes, losses and celebrations. Part of deepening this trust is taking the time and the risk to grow. I thank you for giving me the time to do this. And I have full confidence in you to benefit from the fruit of what you tended so well, your care for one another and this church as a whole. 

I look forward to seeing you in worship on April 3rd, 2016!

In Faith,

 Rev Ellen Spero

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824