Reflections November 2016

I have been waking up in the middle of the night, with my stomach in knots about the presidential election. I know that the deep divisions, the emboldening of hate speech, and the propagation of conspiracy theories will make it incredibly difficult for the next president to govern a population so distrustful of their leaders and their fellow citizens. The election will not resolve the conflict, only move it to the next stage. 

To help me get back to sleep, I remind myself of history and all that this country has already survived: a civil war, four presidential assassinations, two impeachments, one resignation, and one contested election brought before the Supreme Court. Somehow, we have managed a peaceful transfer of power (for the most part--the Civil War, not so much). I also remind myself of the trust I have in our Unitarian Universalist values and practices that I believe are stronger than my fears. Here is an excerpt from a sermon I gave a couple of weeks ago:

I listened to a webinar by the Quaker teacher Parker Palmer called, “Healing the Heart of Democracy.” Palmer notes that our forbearers created a system of government that was intended to hold tension, that difference and conflict are not the enemy of social order but the means for creating a better one. The work of democracy is standing in the tension between what is and the realities of that and what is possible, what we hope for most deeply. The true political divide he says is not between the left and the right, between liberals and conservatives but between cynicism and hope. Cynicism is a deep mistrust that drives us to choose to act only for ourselves because we believe there is no hope. Fear and hatred are the tools of cynicism, used to manipulate and divide by those simply seeking power for themselves. Hope is the capacity to look honestly at our brokenness, at what is wrong AND to see underneath a hidden wholeness, the possibility for growth and change. It is not optimism or what Palmer calls irrelevant idealism, where you only see the good. It is bearing witness to the shadow side as well as to the potential in our humanity and yet trusting that we can make progress. We can only make that progress, however, if we are in community, if we are engaged, if we are a  Palmer says more committed to right relationship than we are to being right. The practices of right relationship are simple: welcome the stranger, listen and evoke the stories underneath their values and beliefs, making it less possible to dismiss, despise or demonize them; and engage in acts of simple witness to each other’s humanity. Do not let ourselves be threatened by difference. Instead, create the conditions for us to be uncomfortable, make mistakes and yet remain in conversation. We cannot heal the breach if we refuse to engage it.

No matter the election’s outcome, we are going to keep practicing hope, we are going to keep practicing right relationship, we are going to keep practicing covenantal community.

In faith, 
Rev. Ellen 

Reflections October 2016

First, let me say “YAY JUSTINE!” She successfully passed the Ministerial Fellowship Committee last Saturday with the highest mark and is now a fellowshipped Unitarian Universalist minister. This is no surprise. We have all seenthat she is a compassionate, wise, and skilled minister, even as an intern. I imagine that Justine will share what lies ahead and her hopes for her future in ministry. However, now that she has completed this important step, we can take the rest of her internship with us (through June 2016) to celebrate and enjoy.

My sermon this past Sunday was a reflection on congregational ministry—specifically what I have learned serving here over the last fourteen years. Here is an excerpt from this reflection:

At my ordination in Virginia, the Rev. Bob Whitten, who led the laying on of hands, charged me to carry ministry as a sacred trust. In the first years of ministry, I understood the sacred trust to be grounded in my experience of being called by that larger spirit of love I call God, and going through seminary and all of the steps involved in being accepted and affirmed as a professional in the ministry for the Unitarian Universalist Association. I still do. But walking with you as I have over the last 14 years, I have come to appreciate and hold with a growing sense of awe and love that sacred trust. It has offered me so much more than I ever imagined... Like so many things in congregational life, this sacred trust grows slowly and steadily. As I have tended it with you and given it its seasons, I find it reveals its treasures of grace, of joy, and of deepening connection. Around year eight or nine, I sensed a significant shift in this congregation’s trust of me as your minister. When I have spoken to other colleagues who have been in their ministries as long as I have about this, they say they have had similar experiences. We have walked together long enough now for me to be entrusted with your grief, your struggles, your failings and your doubts. With your hopes, your spiritual growth and your wise and graceful growing older. You have trusted me even when my sermons weren’t the best, when I said the wrong thing or failed to listen as well as I promised, when I have stumbled and not handled something well. You have trusted me twice to go on sabbatical and come back. And I’ve trusted you with the same. I’ve been here long enough now that your losses are my losses also, and I grieve with you in a way that I could not when I started. We understand that we don’t have to see eye-to-eye theologically or spiritually or on the issues of the day to share the same religion. We can honor each other’s different names and understandings for the sacred without having to convince each other who is right. I can speak truth to you in ways that I wouldn’t have presumed a decade ago because I know you know I am trying to speak out of genuine love and respect rather than my need to be the expert. I also trust you to be honest with me in that same way, and you have. This sacred trust grounds my authority in more than my professional training or the office of minister: it grounds it in the honesty, authenticity and humbleness that comes in witnessing to your sacred stories, to the imperfect beauty, and power of your souls.

If I could give Justine one thing as she enters the professional ministry, it would be a congregation that offers and receives from her the same sacred trust. Thank you.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824