Reflections 9/2/14

 I hope that everyone had a good summer. I found it to be one of the most beautiful summers in a long time, weather-wise: warm, dry days and cool nights, easy for sleeping. There were the occasional hot and humid or stormy days but overall, it felt like a gift, especially after the long winter.

I cannot believe that I am starting my 12th year serving as your minister. I am excited for the new church year, and seeing everyone again. I would like to welcome Steve Zocchi, our interim music director. Many of you have already met him. He is bringing a lot of talent, enthusiasm and ideas, and I am very glad he has joined our staff.

In June, a large contingent of us from First Parish attended the UUA’s General Assembly in Providence, RI. You will hear more about our adventures, beginning with the worship services on September 14th. A theme emerged for me during GA, and from the debriefing we did afterward: it is time for us to be brave in our Unitarian Universalist faith. The world needs our values and our voices. I fear that if we human beings do not offer a more humane and hospitable approach to one another and our planet, we may very well destroy it all. We are connected in ways both sacred and fragile. To quote Dr. King: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Like many, I have been disturbed and haunted by the images of violence and racial conflict following the killing of Michael Brown, a black youth, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. I recognize that neither Michael Brown nor Darren Wilson is the stereotype of good or evil as portrayed by the extremes on either side of the racial debate. They are both human beings, with all the complexity and uniqueness that involves. There is always more to the story. But at the same time, I remember a very simple truth spoken by Marshall Ganz, a community activist and professor at the Kennedy School: “Racism kills.” The hard and long history of racism in this country set up the dynamics of this violent encounter and its aftermath. My heart breaks for Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother. Like her, I have an eighteen-year old son, ready to go to college. But because my son is white, I do not have to fear the same things that she did, nor what so many mothers of black young men fear or more tragically, experience: the death of their sons by gun violence. And this, of course, is only one of many violent incidents that happens every day. From Gaza to Iraq to Ukraine to Ferguson, violence is committed by one human being against another, justified by dehumanizing and demonizing the other side. Meanwhile, our planet’s climate is in danger, and needs our full cooperation and our care.

What does the fierce urgency of now require of us? What does it mean to stand on the side of Love in the unfolding conundrum of life and history? How can we embrace and engage the power of beauty and joy, gratitude and hospitality to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice? None of this is easy. But the good news always is that we don’t have to do it alone.

We will begin the new church year with our tradition of a water communion. Water is a symbol of life, of blessing, of God or the sacred, and of connection. Like all powerful things, it can be life-giving and healing when treated with care and respect; harmful and destructive when overused and polluted. I found a 3 reflection on the UUA website about the Water Communion not simply as a celebration of the members of a congregation coming together after the summer, but as a witness to the ways we are deeply connected to the whole of humanity, the whole of creation, and all the names we have for the sacred. (To read the full reflection, go to: http://www.uua.org/environment/engagement/287008.shtml)

So, I invite you to bring a little water from somewhere sacred or special to you to pour into our common bowl, and to consider sharing your response to one of these four questions:

  • What do you carry within you that can be a powerful force to sustain life?
  • What do you carry within you that requires respect and care?
  • What do you see in your community that can be a powerful force to sustain life?
  • What do you see around you that requires respect and care?

So, may we lift our voices in song, in blessing, in prayer or meditation, and in witness. May we listen well to those who struggle to have their song and story heard, who are in need of blessing, prayer and witness. And may we help one another be brave in our UU faith.

In faith,
Ellen

Reflections 5/4/14

It doesn’t feel too much like May yet. Things are blooming, but there is still a coolness in the air that suggests March more than May. Perhaps that is why I can’t quite believe that the regular church year is quickly coming to a close. We just had our May Breakfast and are finishing up the stewardship Canvass. This time of year is fun and very full with special services. We will have the Mothers’ Day Walk for Peace this Sunday in Dorchester. Next month, we will have the Coming of Age, RE, Bridging, and Flower Communion services. In addition, we will be saying farewell to Cyndi Bliss, our music director, who is leaving at the end of June. We will be having budget hearings and committees will be preparing annual reports as we get ready for the annual meeting on June 8th. We have a good-sized group preparing to go the UUA’s General Assembly in Providence, at the end of June. The end of year traditions and events are intermingled with sadness as we will be holding a memorial service for Johan MacKenzie on May 18th. I feel like I have been pulled between moments of great sadness and loss and those of excitement and energy. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster.

I would like to share some thank-yous for those of you who have worked so hard on all of the things that have been going on. First, I would like to thank Tom Coffey, Joan Keane, David Blackburn, John Schneider, and Chris Sweetnam for organizing the Next Steps Weekend with UUA consultant Barry Finkelstein, and helping us re-visit and re-energize important conversations around the relationship between our covenant and our physical space. I would like to thank Joan Keane, Cori Rose, and everyone who worked on the May Breakfast, and Ellen Mellen and all the May Basket makers. I would like to thank Jim Curley and the Canvass team for leading the pledge campaign, with a special thank you to Edith Murphy and Theresa Popoloski for running the Canvass Celebration luncheon. I would like to thank the Pastoral Care Team—Carla Corey, Carrie Little, Chris Boucher, Erica Boucher, and Liz Peterson, and the Caring Connection—Suzanne Wilson, Sally Seekings, Mickey O’Connor, and Sandy Johnston (with apologies if I have forgotten anyone) and all their helpers, for supporting folks in the church in need of a listening ear, a home-cooked meal, an inspirational card, or a ride to an appointment. I would like to thank Will Reiter for stepping up on several occasions to provide music when needed. And I would like to thank all of you for being such an amazing and thoughtful Unitarian Universalist community of faith. I brag of you often to my colleagues. I know that it has been a hard year, and you all have stepped up in so many ways. Thank you.

In faith,

Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133