Reflections 07/01/2015

Wow, the last two weeks or so have been so very full of both sorrow and joy, despair and celebration, horror and hope. From Charleston, South Carolina and the terrible, terrorist killings of nine African Americans by a young white man, who had joined them for Bible study before murdering them, to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the right of same sex couples to marry and receive equal treatment under the law of the land. It is a lot to take in.

Neither of these events stands alone. Both are a part of years of history and struggle, of stories told and untold. We never know what part of the story is going to tip the balance of things. Twenty or thirty years ago, it was hard to imagine that the Supreme Court would ever uphold equal marriage. Even ten years ago, when Massachusetts legalized equal marriage, I wasn’t sure that it would ever gain much ground beyond our tiny, liberal island.

Going back to last August 9th, the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—an event too common in our society to be noticed most of the time—proved a tipping point to lifting up again the truth that racism is very much a reality and that we still have not reached the vision of racial equality we would like to believe. The killings in Charleston are another watershed moment in our country’s struggle to come to terms with this truth. Last August, I never imagined a Southern Republican governor saying that it was time to put the Confederate flag in a museum. I grieve that it took such a horrifying event to get her and others to understand this. I suspect that our nation is in for a turbulent time as we wrestle with the conflicts before us.

I came across this quote by Dr. King: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” It is easier to do this when we don’t have to do it alone. Being part of a Unitarian Universalist community of faith gives me the courage and the hope to take these first steps toward advocating for human dignity for all, witnessing to the work of justice and peace, and listening attentively and compassionately to the stories of others whose lives are different from mine and to a larger Love, the source of “... the unity that makes us one and binds us forever together in spite of time, death and the space between the stars” (David and Beverly Bumbaugh). We never know what step it is that brings us close enough to see our hope become reality. And some of us may not live long enough to do so. But it doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen. These past two weeks have been testimony to this truth—both in their despair and their celebration.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

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

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824