Reflections 12/01/14

And suddenly we are in the midst of the Winter holiday season, which for me, began with our intergenerational Thanksgiving Service and will go through the Sunday after Christmas. I love this time of year, and the traditions that go along with it. Specific to First Parish, we start with the Holiday Fair this coming Saturday. We have a series of special worship services coming up at the evening service (5:30 in the chapel). On December 7th, Steve Zocchi and I will lead a Taizé vespers service. December 14th will be the Touchstones service, with reflections offered by congregation members on the theme of God. December 21st will be the annual Longest Night Service, a time to acknowledge that the long, cold nights can represent very difficult time of year for folks dealing with loss and loneliness.

We also will have a special intergenerational Winter Solstice service at the morning service on December 21st. We will have our two candle-lighting services on Christmas Eve: a 5 pm with a child-focused Christmas story pageant and an 8 pm Lessons and Carols. And we will of course end with Pancakes and Carols on the morning of December 28th. Whew!

While I do love the all the lights, celebration, and bustle of the season, I also enjoy its reflective nature. The stories of this time of year speak of the sacred nature of vulnerability. The Winter Solstice reminds us of human vulnerability—how our ancestors met the cold and darkness of winter with some fear and trepidation, but also with as much light, sweetness, and warmth as they could muster. Winter meant trusting in Nature to follow its traditional cycles of seasons and to hope that the dark and cold time would not be too severe. My family and I certainly had a taste of it this past Wednesday when we drove out to Stockbridge for Thanksgiving, and got caught in the snowstorm. The last 20 miles of the drive was harrowing. Our dinner was punctuated by the sound of very large tree limbs falling to the ground and ended with the loss of electricity that had us returning home a day sooner than expected!

The Christian story tells of the vulnerability of God, of the incarnation of holy love. I know that many UU’s want to step away from our Christian heritage. However, when it comes to our understanding of justice as “Standing on the Side of Love,” I see a direct connection back to Jesus who preached justice not as fairness in a court of law but as special attention and care to those on the margins: the poor, the homeless, women and children, those with physical and mental illness, ethnic minorities, and refugees—in other words, those made most vulnerable by circumstances beyond their control, those for whom justice had been denied. The idea that God would take on this kind of vulnerability as an act of love is a very powerful story. We do not have to take it literally to find meaning and beauty in such holy vulnerability nor to witness to the power of love to do the work of justice.

On a more practical, less theological note with regard to justice, I have been called for jury duty beginning December 10th. Obviously, I do not yet know if I will need to serve or for how long. I will certainly let everyone know how things turn out but wanted to give a head’s up that my schedule is somewhat up in the air for the next week or so.

Rev. Ellen 

Reflections 10/5/14

Discernment is one of those words I learned in seminary—difficult to define but very powerful in its practice. It is a form of listening for what is most sacred, what is at the heart of things, what--underneath all our individual concerns, fears, and desires--connects us to what matters most and calls upon us to live out our vision, our hope, our values, and our faith.

Discernment is definitely something for us to consider as we wrestle with questions big and small regarding our resources, our time, and our commitments. These questions can be about specific things: for example, the building, staffing, programs, or outreach. But they are connected to one another in ways we might not see at first glance. The Reverend Sue Phillips, the Lead for the New England Regional UUA Field Staff, created a set of questions for discernment around programs and projects.

MISSION: to what extent does this effort align with our mission? Does it help us do what we say we are about? Does it lead us in the direction we feel called to move?

CAPACITY: To what extent do we have the capacity (time, money, space, personnel, equipment, etc.) to pull off this effort?

WILL: Given who we expect will be involved, do we have the will we need to pull this off? If no one really feels like doing it, it will not happen.

COMPETENCE: Do we have the skills/training/expertise to pull this off? Do we need to find training/support to give us the skills to make this possible? Do we have the time to do it?

IMPACT: How likely are we to make a meaningful mission by taking on this effort? How do we measure the impact? How great/broad/deep an impact is required to say yes?

It is so easy to want to do everything, or to think that we should do everything, whether as a congregation or within a committee or group. Taking time to listen to what emerges from these questions can help discern how what we want to do aligns with what we actually can do, and how reflective it is of who we are and the values we claim.

In faith,

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824