Reflections 06/01/2015

As you may know, I have worked with Larry Peers as my clergy coach since I started at First Parish twelve years ago. He is very good at listening, asking good questions, and helping me discern how to serve as your minister as authentically and faithfully as I can. Last week, he sent me a blog post he had written about the latest Pew Research study on the trends in religion in the United States. It has many clergy and denominations anxious, for it shows a continuing decline amongst those who affiliate with Christianity (mainly in the Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations) and a continuing increase amongst those who do not identify with any religious affiliation, often called the "spiritual but not religious" or the "nones." I sometimes share in that anxiety, especially after I have left a workshop or a conference where I feel that I should be leading worship in a congregation disguised as a café, a rock concert, or a spa in order to attract those put off by "traditional" religion. Then I take a few deep breaths and tell myself to stop it.

Larry writes: I always invite us to sit in the challenges so that we can feel their impact, so that we can identify our uncertainties or our feelings of being overwhelmed...naming the situation is an essential step to any move forward.

There is a lot of conversation right now about the Pew Research study recently released on the Changing U.S. Religious Landscape, including the decline of Christianity and diminishing participation in congregations across generations. I believe that those of us who are engaged in stewarding the religious life and institutions need to sit in these conversations a little longer and listen deeply. At the same time, I also think that we need to add to those conversations another essential element...(and)...ask, "What are the possibilities that are emerging as well?" This is as important a conversation as that about the challenges since we often see some of the possibilities even in the challenges... In her exquisite book, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Margaret Wheatley reminds us that:

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. Ask, 'What's possible?' not 'What's wrong?' Keep asking.... Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.

It isn't about creating religious community that is fashionable. It is about creating religious community that matters—that addresses our human need to belong and to make meaning out of living in world that is at once terribly unfair and full of beauty and wonder. That helps us discern not just what is wrong but what is possible. We are very much involved in conversations around what we care about. It may look like we are talking about budgets or committee tasks or the undertaking of a capital campaign or a building project. But underneath we are discerning what we care about and what we are willing to commit ourselves to. Asking what is possible widens our vision and challenges us to trust in who we are and who we are striving to be: a Unitarian Universalist religious community, walking together in the promises of our covenants.

 On to more practical matters, we are winding down our regular church year. June is a month of intergenerational celebrations. On June 7th, we will honor our Coming of Age participants. On June 14th, as part of a larger service celebrating our community, I would like to offer a service of child dedication for families who wish to have their children blessed and welcomed into the congregation as their spiritual and religious home. We can do this blessing for all children, from infants through high school. Please let me know by June 10th if you would like your child(ren) dedicated. Our intern for the next 2 church years, Justine Sullivan, plans to attend this service. June 21st will be our Flower Communion. Please bring a flower to share.

Our summer services begin June 28th, at 9 am in the chapel and run through August 30th. We will start the new church year on Sunday, September 6th (the Sunday BEFORE Labor Day) with our water communion at our NEW start time of 10 am.

While things do slow down over the summer, I am generally around and available for pastoral care, meetings, and other church related things. I will be on vacation July 25th through August 22nd. Coverage information will be on my office answering machine, 978 256-5555.

--Rev. Ellen

Reflections 04/04/15

Amazingly, it is Easter Week! I feel like it kind of snuck up on me. Perhaps it is the piles of snow that belie the other signs of spring. But I do hear birds in the morning (they are obviously ready!) and I have seen pictures of people's snowdrops,
blooming in the shelter of melted spots on their lawn. While the siege of winter is very slowly receding, it is receding. The Passover and Easter celebrations of liberation, new life, and resurrection seem especially apropos. We will honor this holy week with our Tenebrae Service on Thursday evening at 7 pm and an intergenerational celebration of Spring, Passover, and Easter on Sunday, with all the choirs!
A couple of notes as we enter what has become an increasingly busy season of celebrations, both at church and in our lives. First, Commit2Respond, a coalition of Unitarian Universalist organizations and congregations and other communities of faith have joined together to educate and advocate for climate justice. Commit2Respond grew out of the desire to do more from the UUs who attended the People's Climate March in September (which several folks from First Parish attended). With the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the UUA, and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers' Association, Commit2Respond has declared March 22 to April 22 "Climate Justice Month" and has asked UU congregations to raise awareness not only about climate change but about climate justice—not just focusing on environmentalism but the impact of climate change on vulnerable human and species populations and seeking to build community-based, relationship based solutions and responses that don't just change things on an individual level but contribute to real and meaningful shifts in our relationships with each other and the earth. Commit2Respond offers all kinds of resources for worship, study, and social action. Joan Coyne, chair of our Faith in Action Council, has been sending out information from Commit2Respond to those on the Faith in Action email list and posting on our Twitter account and Facebook page. Dolores and Cori Rose have been working with our children and youth to explore environmental justice in the religious education program, complete with a field trip to area wetlands this past Sunday. And you may have been asked to sign a pledge to lower your carbon footprint in
social hour by one of our RE participants. Dolores, Steve, and I are planning an intergenerational service for Climate Justice Month on April 12th where we will explore with our different senses the four elements and commit ourselves to care for the earth. The UU School of Rock will play. (By the way, this is an example of faith formation—where we as a community are learning together across different ages and groups how to live out our UU faith and principles.) For more information, you can to go or
Also, on a totally different subject, I was finally able to gather and meet the group of folks who have volunteered to serve on the Sabbatical Committee for my sabbatical next winter. At our first meeting, we discussed the purpose and work of the committee. Their primary role is communication—preparing materials and information in advance of the sabbatical to let members know who to talk with about what in my absence; to listen to concerns or questions from members of the congregation about the sabbatical; and to be the "go-to" folks for questions while I am on sabbatical. They will also be working with me, the Worship Committee, the Pastoral Care Team and our intern to figure out coverage for worship and pastoral care. I have also asked them to think about what sabbatical time can be for the congregation. Are there ways for all of us to "step back and breathe"? What roles do the sabbatical create for folks in the congregation to step up and try on? Who are other voices in our own and our larger UU communities to bring to the pulpit? Our congregation has been through two ministerial sabbaticals before, including one with me, and we have lots of experience. The Sabbatical Committee has a couple of seasoned veterans from past committees. I imagine everything will be fine. If you do have questions or concerns though, feel free to ask me, or to reach out to members of the Sabbatical Committee: Jayne Boissonneault, Carla Corey, Sandy Johnston, Sarah Manning, Donna Mitchelson, Suzanne Wilson and Leslie Yaukoes

Rumor has it will be 65 degrees on Friday.
–Rev Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824