Reflections March 2017

Last Sunday afternoon, I attended an open house hosted by the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell. They wished to thank members of the surrounding communities who had offered calls and emails of support, following the election and President Trump’s executive order, banning Muslims from seven countries from entering the United States. I listened to one member share with the audience a story about attending the protest in Boston the Sunday after the ban was enacted (and before the courts overturned it). He recounted that the last protest he had attended was at the United Nations, against the atrocities happening during the war in Bosnia. There were a couple hundred protestors, all Muslim. He was not surprised, for after all, it was a Muslim issue. He expected the same when he headed into Boston, and was amazed and deeply moved to see thousands of people, the majority non-Muslim, to protest the ban. He saw a sign that read, “I am a Jew. I am gay. I oppose the Muslim ban” and said that sign summarized the whole experience for him, shifting his fear that America was lost to him to hope that it is his country still. I knew that among those thousands he saw there, several were members from First Parish, so the story carried a particular resonance for me.

Our Universalists ancestors, in their faith of God’s unconditional love for each and every person, believed that we could create the reign of God’s peace and love (shalom) on earth by responding to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Today, we call this the work of Beloved Community. As I shared in my sermon on Sunday, the work of Beloved Community calls us to step away from the practices of individualism and exceptionalism toward practices of generosity, pluralism, and imagination (see Fred Muir’s essays in Turning Point: Essays for a New Unitarian Universalism for a deeper discussion). As such, it is difficult, messy, risky, and at times, awkward. It requires us to risk being vulnerable, uncomfortable and sometimes wrong about what we believe we know. I also think this is a revolutionary response to what is happening in our country right now—a revolution that happens in community conversations and gatherings at a grassroots level. I also believe our Unitarian Universalist tradition equips us for this ministry of beloved revolution.

On a different topic, I would like to express my gratitude again to the Capital Campaign Team: Jim Curley, John Schneider, Maura Snow, Edith Murphy, Rosemary McMullin and Caroline McMullin, with support from Deb Grad. They have done a fantastic job working with Brian Raiche from Cornerstone Fundraising on our capital campaign for the building accessibility project. I am also deeply grateful to this congregation for your incredible generosity. Before the service on Sunday, we were at about $390,000 in pledges toward our $500,000 goal. After the service, we were at $430,000. It feels more real every moment. I hope that everyone gets to see the display of the plans and the timeline on the wall across from the restrooms. My thanks to Heather Bigler, Kim Gist, and Cindy Gist for putting it together. It is amazing what we can do together.

In Faith,
Rev. Ellen

Reflections February 2017

Over the last couple of weeks, I have attended three of the Accessibility Building Project capital campaign receptions. I am full of gratitude for the generosity of this congregation and your willingness to support what is an important expression of our commitment to our Unitarian Universalist values for the long run although an expensive and disruptive enterprise, in the short term. I have shared the following words by Kenneth Patton (#444 in Singing the Living Tradition) as a chalice lighting at a couple of these receptions. Patton, a Universalist minister, was a naturalistic humanist and a gifted worship leader who believed in bringing beauty through art, music, and poetry from all the world’s religions and the natural world into the sanctuary.
"This House”
This house is for the ingathering of nature and human nature.
It is a house of friendships, a haven in trouble, an open room for the encouragement of our struggle.
It is a house of freedom, guarding the dignity and worth of every person.
It offers a platform for the free voice, for declaring, both in times of security and danger, the full and undivided conflict of opinion.
It is a house of truth-seeking, where scientists can encourage devotion to their quest, where mystics can abide in a community of searchers.
It is a house of art, adorning its celebrations with melodies and handiworks.
It is a house of prophecy, outrunning times past and times present in visions of growth and progress. This house is a cradle for our dreams, the workshop of our common endeavor.
I have seen many of these things play out over the last month. I know this to be a house where a family was welcomed and supported in mourning the death of their father, brother, uncle, and friend. I know this to be a house where our youth felt empowered to share their beliefs and experiences, not just with one another but with adults who listen and take them seriously. I know this to be a house where people, moved by the call for justice, equity and compassion for human relations and care for the earth, empowered and accompanied one another to bear witness for justice and peace in the streets. I know this to be a house where when people are ill or injured in body or spirit, they held in an embrace embodied by meals, calls, cards, and prayer shawls. I know this to be a house where music and melodies lift our spirits. I know this to be a house to be the workshop where we practice our best intentions to live into beloved community, knowing that because we are human, we will fail and yet, that this common endeavor is worth our commitment to keep at it.
It is a difficult time in our country. Many people feel that their freedoms and even their lives are at risk. Our house has become even more important to me for all the reasons Patton lists. It is our sanctuary, the place where we can gather to be renewed in mind, body and spirit and recalled to our deepest purpose, our sacred why.

Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824