Reflections 3/3/12

Over the past month, I have spent some time people in our congregation who are going through a very rough time. I try to walk with folks struggling to navigate across scary, painful, and unknown terrain in search of more solid ground. I see this part of ministry, pastoral care, as one of the sacred tasks that I called to, and one I feel honored to be entrusted with. It is one of the reasons the congregation calls a minister: to have someone professionally trained in attending to the spiritual and religious needs people experience in moments of crisis available when needed. The word “religion” shares its root with the words “ligament” and “ligature” and at its heart, refers to re-tying or strengthening the sacred bonds that connect us to one another and to the Spirit of Life, to the sacred and the holy. In times of struggle and pain, we need especially to experience these sacred connections, because we often feel alone, even abandoned. Being present, listening, offering prayer and rituals of healing, or spiritual comfort however I can is one way that I can live out this precious call I have, to bear witness through service and minister to you.

On Saturday evening, I attended another part of our congregational life, the Fellowship Dinner, hosted in a very festive and elegant fashion by the Membership Committee. The Fellowship Dinner is an invitation for new people who have been attending First Parish for a while to learn more seriously about our congregational life and what it means to join our Unitarian Universalist religious community. Peggy Stephens-North, chair of the Membership Committee, asked both our newer folks and the committee members to share what about Unitarian Universalism resonates for them, and why they have kept coming back to First Parish. I heard folks talk about the warmth, the sense of community, and having a place for spiritual nurture and to put their values into action. My laugh came up a lot as a reason as well. It was good for me to hear. And also made me think that our newer congregants have only begun to experience what grace and courage all of you in this community offer each other, me, and our larger communities.

Several of you have asked what you can do to help those who are struggling. I would say to keep doing what you are doing: being a welcoming, warm, thoughtful, justice-hoping, generous, and hospitable congregation, with a good sense of humor and fun. Every day, what each of you does to contribute to the larger life of this church creates a sacred place and space for others of you to come and be held in your times of struggle. Together, we make manifest that larger Spirit of Love that I experience as God, but I see has many other names and understandings. Being present, not just as individuals, but as a religious community, is one of the most important things we do. And you do it with such generosity, intentionality, and character that you give me hope and courage.I thank you.

In faith,

Ellen

Reflections 2/3/12

I spent last week at the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association “Institute on Excellence in Ministry” in St. Petersburg, Florida, along with 400+ of my colleagues. Obviously, we all felt a need to get to the beach! While there, I attended a three day seminar, entitled, “Ordained Ministry in the New Millennium”, taught by Rebecca Parker and Susan Ritchie, from the Starr King Theological School in California. I found I have a long way to go before becoming an excellent minister, as I struggled to re-acquaint myself with the vocabulary of seminary: “eschatology”, “ontological”, “post-Modern” and “counter-oppressive”, all used in the same sentence, left me spinning a bit. But despite feeling over my head, I loved the seminar and learned a lot, which, as soon I have better absorbed it all, I will share with you.  I was blessed also to be part of a marvelous small group for the afternoon portion of my seminar, and benefitted greatly from the wisdom of this group of colleagues.


I also had a chance to catch up with some other colleagues, including Barbara McCusick Liscord, former intern here at First Parish; my own intern supervisor, Kenn Hurto; the minister from the church I attended in Virginia before I went to seminary, Rebecca Edmiston-Lange , and a parishioner from the congregation where I served as the assistant minister before coming here, Andy Pakula, who is now in ministry himself. It was fun to be with these folks who had seen me at different times in my ministerial journey.


Every day, I took a walk on the beach, in between the sessions and in the evening. My paternal grandmother used live near where I was staying and I had visited the area as a child. Walking along the beach, I had flashbacks to that time, particularly as I looked at the shells. I used to be an avid shell collector, in love with the range of colors to seen: purples, pinks, peaches, yellows, oranges, creams, and reds, and the shiny rainbow inside some of the larger shells.  I love the delicate whirl in the whelks and trumpets. I was once again in awe of the beauty that nature creates, matching these small shells with the colors of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.


I returned home, to the familiar cold. Sunday evening, we had a lovely vespers service in the chapel, with the theme of tranquility. Between readings by John O’Donohue, Lisa Calvo played the harp. It was truly a refreshing service. While we worshiped, snow continued to fall outside. As we left the church, the snow sparkled on the ground, like bright white diamonds. It stood out against the dark night. It was a perfect landscape to keep with the tranquil mood of the service.


That Nature can weave such varied and constant beauty—in soft and vibrant color or glittery black and white—both humbles and lifts my spirit. Perhaps the Transcendentalists knew of what they wrote, that the Divine constantly reveals  a Universal Soul to us through the ordinary gifts of small shells and tiny snowflakes.

     
In faith,
Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133