Reflections 01/04/2015

Happy New Year, and welcome to 2015! I hope that everyone had a good holiday. After a month of specials services and special events, things are returning to as normal as they get at First Parish.

I have a couple of different things to share in my reflections for this month. First, a warm welcome and enthusiastic congratulations to Steve Zocchi, who is now our permanent music director! Many thanks to the Music Director Search Team (Will Reiter, Carlene Merrill, Dave Kaffine, Sam Morse, Dee Halzack and Jane Collins) for a thoughtful survey and leading of cottage meetings that led to their recommendation that the Standing Committee hire Steve. We have a lot to look forward to with music in worship. It is always nice when things turn out to be quicker and easier than planned!

Second, I have been thinking a lot about the discourse and discord on race and racism in our country, after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the "Black Lives Matter" protests that followed. The political landscape has become even more charged, as other black youth and men died due to police violence and two police officers (neither of them white) were shot in cold blood by a black man in apparent response to the other deaths. I am receiving a steady stream of invitations to attend protest rallies, workshops, and other events. A couple of you have already committed to attending the workshop series on Race, Violence and Peace sponsored by the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Others of you have attended rallies in support of "Black Lives Matter". Here are two more, hosted by fellow Unitarian Universalist congregations: On Wednesday, January 21st, from 7 pm to 8:30, the First Church Unitarian of Littleton is sponsoring a panel discussion with police chiefs from area towns (hopefully, Littleton, Acton, Groton, Ayer, and Westford)about their thinking and responses to what is happening nationally. We are all invited. Also, Andrea Long passed on an invitation to all of us from her friend, Nancy Kates, from the First Parish Church of Groton to attend a meeting of their Justice Working Group on Sunday, January 25th at 11:30. Several of you attended a vigil for "Black Lives Matter" on Christmas Eve afternoon with me at First Parish in Groton. This is their follow up to that vigil. This is the text of their invitation: As a part of a newly forming Justice Working Group at FPCOG of interested people, we are intent on learning the best way to use our talents, strengths and passion to effect change and protect all human life. Our goals are developing a dialog with other churches, helping each other with program ideas, and in general working together to make sure we use our privileged status to be a positive influence only... please pass this on to a like-minded group in Chelmsford or invite interested people to join our group. I would like to offer an invitation of my own for those of you who are interested in brainstorming with me what we can do to connect with the larger UU responses to the realities of institutional racism in our country, to learn more about intercultural competency as a practice to live in our increasingly multicultural, multiracial society, and to share questions or concerns about the growing polarization around whose lives matter. This is the work of years and not one meeting, but we need to begin somewhere. So, join me if you can, Sunday, January 18th after the morning service. More details to follow as I figure them out!

Finally, I am planning to take a three-month sabbatical, beginning in mid-January 2016. Sabbatical time is part of my letter of call with the congregation, offered to me as a way to support the health and energy of my continued ministry with you by giving me an intentional time for rest, renewal, and reflection. This will be my second sabbatical, so we have been through the experience before. The time to start preparing is now. I have been talking with the Committee on Ministry and the Standing Committee, and will be putting together a sabbatical committee, to plan coverage in my absence and discuss how both I and the congregation can use this time. If you are interested in this, please let me know. Also, feel free to ask me any questions or share any concerns you have.
Rev. Ellen

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 

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824