Reflections 1/5/14

As I said in my sermon on Sunday, this year, in our congregation, we have been walking each other through some very painful times: death, illness and other endings, losses and traumas. As I help people walk through some terrible truths and terrible pain, I have wished for a magic wand—that answer which will make everything make sense, or that promise of a miracle to make everything better. As UU theologian Paul Rasor wrote, Unitarian Universalism is a faith without certainty—at least the certainty of heaven, cosmic fairness or a god who knows all and will make it come out okay in the wash. I sometimes wonder if it would be better if I could offer that kind of certainty. But I realize that the reason we are Unitarian Universalists is because we don’t believe this. We bring our own experiences, questions, doubts, and ideas to the table and share them in covenant with one another--promising to honor and celebrate, to nurture, to care and be present, to bear witness, and to be good stewards of each other and the lives we have been given to share.

So, as hard as this year as been for so many of us, I have been touched and inspired by how you all live out our Unitarian Universalist faith. I appreciate the many ways you have taken care of one another and the strangers who have entered our doors, looking for care and comfort. I appreciate the honesty and courage with which you have faced loss and heartbreak, held each other in thoughts and prayer, in meals made and delivered, in prayer shawls blessed and shared, in simply being present and bearing witness. I appreciate how so many of you have stepped up when one or another of you has had to step away to grieve or take care of a loved one, or deal with a personal problem or loss. You have embodied so well our Unitarian Universalist faith, grounded in the practices of gratitude and hospitality, with such grace and love that you constantly strengthen and reaffirm mine, so I can, in turn, be present to those who need it.

In faith,

Rev. Ellen

Reflections 12/1/13

The Christian Christmas story tells of God incarnate, of the Divine taking human form and living among humanity. It is an ancient story, not unique to Christianity. But in most traditions, God Incarnate is a king, a warrior, a great leader, a god among women and men. In this telling, God is born a helpless child to a Jewish peasant girl, in the backwaters of a conquered land, a small, if troublesome, piece of the great Roman Empire. God’s power lies not in power itself, but in love and care for the most vulnerable.

The power of sacred stories is not in their factual accuracy. It is their power to relay an eternal truth, to open a place for us to enter in with our own lives and our own stories, and weave in our own particular experiences of truth, of beauty, of joy, of suffering, of doubt, of yearning, of hope—all that makes us human, all that makes our lives sacred.

I know that for many Unitarian Universalists, the idea of an incarnational faith is one they have left behind. In the season of its telling, I invite us to enter in to this story again, with new eyes, or rather with the eyes of our tradition. William Ellery Channing, the founder of Unitarian Christianity, wrote in his 1828 treatise “Likeness to God: “God becomes a real being to us, in proportion as his own nature is unfolded within us. To a man who is growing in the likeness of God, faith begins even here to change into vision.” Theist, atheist, or agnostic, we can live an embodied or incarnational faith—striving to live our lives as acts of kindness, justice, beauty, wonder, hope, hospitality, and gratitude. Jesus embodied God or a spirit of love that spoke so deeply and with such healing power to so many people, so as to transcend his own living and dying. I enter the story here: a model for ministry, a model for hospitality and gratitude, a model for seeking and creating peace on earth, a model for finding the holy and the sacred in the here and now, within us and among us. I also see a responsibility to change this faith into vision by living it out as I can.

This January, we will be piloting a new adult religious exploration program called, “The Soul of a Leader” which will invite participants to consider what it means to embody one’s faith as a Unitarian Universalist. This is not a skills-based training, or a how-to class. It is not just for people in leadership positions in the congregation, although hopefully it will help us feel more comfortable there. It is open to everyone and anyone who wants to explore what it means to lead a life grounded in one’s Unitarian Universalist faith or commitments. The class will be facilitated by John Schneider and myself and will begin with a day-long retreat scheduled for January 25th. We will meet monthly on a Sunday evening for a year, with a break in the summer. If you are interested, please let me know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or 978 256-5555. (If you have told me you are interested on a Sunday before or after church, I urge you to email me a reminder. I just turned 50, and my memory does not serve me as well as it used to!).

As we enter into this season of long nights and hopeful light, I wish you the best however you celebrate it—Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year!

In faith,

Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824