Reflections 9/1/13

Usually, when I write this column, I have a theme that has emerged in which to ground my ministry for the coming year. This summer, the theme has been slow and stubborn to reveal itself. Instead, I have been presented with an image. I have attended a couple of retreats where I have taken different kinds of group inventories. At each debrief of the results—whether on working styles, learning styles, or cultural norms and expectations—the presenter has put up a picture of iceberg. This image reminds us that when it comes to dealing with our fellow human beings, what we see is only the tip of what is going.  Our own behaviors and our interpretations of the behaviors of others are grounded in experiences, assumptions, learning styles, personality, family, generation, culture, and a whole lot of other things that we cannot possibly know about the other in the few seconds we engage to respond. At first, I found this all very troubling. I had this image of ministry as steering a Titanic-like ship, around these icebergs, while hopefully keeping everyone on board safe. But, I realize that actually, there is a deeper and more meaningful opportunity here if I dare: to dive below and explore, to learn more about what makes us each who we are, and to reveal more of our humanity, to acknowledge and risk what divides us, and reconnect what binds us more honestly and more clearly than before. The purpose of religion, by definition, is to reveal, reaffirm and retie what binds us to what matters most, to what is sacred and demanding of our ultimate loyalty and commitment—whether we use the language of spirit and divine calling, the language of ethics and principles, the language of community and relationship, or, as I find helpful, some combination of all of the above. In religious community, we make meaning out of life as we experience it, the world as we live in it. So, it seems to me that making deep and thoughtful meaning, grounded in trust, risk, and exploration reflects the heart of our Unitarian Universalist tradition and faith.  So, I see that I do have a theme for the year, as well as the work of a lifetime.

I am also aware that we cannot spend all of our time diving into deep and cold waters. Such work requires careful preparation, time, and guidance in and back up. We also need to attend to the practical, day-to-day stuff that meets us. So encountering icebergs also involves learning to skillfully traverse the surface around them, with awareness of and adaptability to what is below, rather than just plowing through, unconcerned and unaware. I hope to explore this year both the practices of risking the deeper experiences and traversing the surface with greater adaptability and awareness.
I will extend and end this metaphor with a quote by my colleague, the Reverend Vanessa Rush Southern, from a sermon she gave at this past UUA General Assembly in June about the future of Unitarian Universalism in this postmodern, multicultural, globally connected, social media savvy world: “Before you dive, the instructor tells you there are two things you have to remember, only two. The first is just to remember to breathe. Breath-- that word so close to spirit, that which ties you to life and its call. The second thing to remember, he says, is never to dive alone. Once you're in, you can take my hand, he tells you. So you reach up to secure your mask. You walk to the edge, and you do that crazy leap they tell you you must. When you land, he reaches out and takes your hand. And breath and that hand will be what makes the scary possible. And so the adventure begins. And the rest, the rest is still unwritten.”


I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

In faith,

Ellen

Reflections 6/2/12

My younger son, Henry, will turn ten years old this month. I cannot believe how quickly the time has passed. I remember during my second or third month here as your new minister nervously standing before you to share the news of my (unexpected) pregnancy, and the warmth and joy with which you received it, as well as the care and love you have since shared with me and my family.

If Henry is turning ten, then it must mean that I am finishing up my tenth year as your parish minister. In the same way, I cannot believe how quickly the time has passed. I continue to be grateful and honored to serve my call here at First Parish.

Larry Peers, my clergy coach, asked me at our meeting this past week what now, ten years in, is the “generative work” of my ministry. When I first came, my main work was listening: listening to your hopes and dreams; listening to where we needed to do work of healing and work of celebrating. Then, we worked together on articulating a congregational covenant: naming the ways we wanted to walk together as a Unitarian Universalist community of faith: honoring and celebrating, nurturing, caring and being present, bearing witness through service, and being good stewards. Now I see the generative work of my ministry as walking with you in discerning what it means to intentionally be Unitarian Universalist: as individuals and as a congregation. To embrace, to celebrate, and to take seriously Unitarian Universalism not only as a religion that can and does make a difference for good in our world but as a religious identity that we can deepen and grow into in meaningful and powerful ways. This theme has underlay much of what I have witnessed this year: conversations in various committees about their work, particularly in the Standing Committee, the RE Council and the Membership Committee; conversations about our building and how it serves us and hinders us in living out our UU covenants; reflections from folks on their experiences in New Orleans, the Mothers’ Day Walk for Peace, the Pride Parade, and other moments of bearing witness; deep caring for one another in a year of many pastoral crises—embodied by the rides given, the visits made, the meals delivered, the cards sent, the prayer shawls woven, blessed and given out; in your generous response to the pledge canvass and the dedication of the canvass team; and the piloting of the “Intentional UU” program, offering new members mentoring by long term ones.

As we prepare to close out our “regular” church year and begin our summer worship schedule, I look forward to continuing to listen and engage with you about being intentional about our Unitarian Universalist faith; how we can live it more deeply and meaningfully. With plenty of fun and joy, as well as thought and commitment. And I thank you again for another wonderful year, with gratitude for the last ten, and hope and anticipation for the ones to come.

In faith,

Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133