Among other adventures this summer, I headed down to Sewanee, Tennessee to attend a reunion retreat. During my sabbatical, I had participated in a five retreat series through the Center on Courage and Renewal with this group of wonderful folks. We had not seen each other for almost four years. A lot had changed, not just in our individual lives, but in our country.
I did not realize until I was there how much I needed a sacred pause. Like most people, I carry my share of worry, anxiety and grief within a busy life and full schedule. Once I had time to pause, I realized how disconnected I felt from God, that larger spirit of Love that I trust holds me and all life in “unity that binds us together across time, death and the space between the stars” (to quote David and Beverly Bumbaugh). I felt lonely, abandoned even. It was a dislocated and frankly scary way to start a retreat.
However, as the retreat work went along and I was invited into conversation with my fellow seekers, with the Holy and with my own soul, I realized that the sense of disconnection could be healed by taking the time to engage in this pause—to be still and listen to what was in my heart, even the sad and difficult fears and emotions. In doing so, I made my way back to gratitude and hope.
When I started to think about this newsletter column and a new church year, I initially intended to write about the beauty of the summer, the joy of coming back together and the possibilities of a new year. Then another natural disaster and another mass shooting appeared on the news. It felt trite to write about such things without acknowledging the pain, violence, and environmental threats that are relentless in their regularity. But as my retreat time reminded me, this is the gift and invitation of our beloved community: to offer time for a sacred pause. Tragedy, violence, pain and loss are real. So are joy, beauty, possibility and wonder. The purpose of religious community, I believe, is to hold all of these and honor the truth of them, to discern together how to live an authentic and examined life in beloved community. The more awareness, intention, compassion and care we bring to our lives and our expressions of faith, the more of gratitude, generosity, hope and grace we can both give and receive. Our worship time each Sunday is an opportunity to pause and to listen to what is happening within our own souls and each other’s—to deepen our awareness of what gives us life and hope, even as we name the realities that give rise to anxiety, fear, and even violence and hate. Hopefully, we can ground ourselves and renew our spirits.
For our opening service on Sunday, we will hold the annual water communion. You may bring water from somewhere special to add to the common bowl, if you wish. We will also have water up front to pour in. In preparation, I invite you to take a pause this week and to listen to what is sacred within and around you. Bring that word as an intention or blessing to pour into the common bowl with your water. We will gather these all together to bless our new church year.
We will also be welcoming two people onto our staff. Jennifer Johnson starts as our intern minister, part-time, for one year. She brings a fresh perspective and voice to our worship and ministry. And Jess Volk will serve as our new permanent building and events coordinator (aka sexton). Many thanks to Walter Cole who served as the interim last year after Leila Pelosi stepped down, after two decades. It is great to have both Jenn and Jess join us!
See you on Sunday!
The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero
As we enter the month of June, we are preparing for transitions into summer and the next church year. This past year has been an amazing one: we started in the fall in a bit of chaos, working around a newly renovated building that was not quite ready for prime time. But eventually, the pieces all came together: the elevator, the bathrooms, the new entrance, the ramp to the vestry, the moving around of the parlor, offices, and meeting rooms. And in May, we celebrated with our dedication service and open house.
We also experienced the many joys and sorrows in the life of our congregation. We grieved the losses of Larry Willette, Tim O’Hara and Ellen Mellen. We said farewell to those who have moved away: Donna Mitchelson, Peter Mellish and Linda Horn, and in June, Betsy Beach. (Phyllis and Glenn King have moved to Plymouth but intend to keep their membership at First Parish and hope to see us when they can.) And we have welcomed lots of new faces and families to our congregation. I love the energy and fresh perspective that our new folks bring. I encourage all of us to welcome and get to know them and I invite our new folks to feel free to ask questions about how things work around here. I realize how easy it is for those of us who have been around for a while to assume that everyone knows the drill and the language. So, I am using this newsletter column as a way to review and/or introduce the practices and changes that happen over the summer.
June serves as our transition month from our regular worship services in the sanctuary and the religious education/faith formation program to our summer services. June 9th, we celebrate our children and youth and their faith formation milestones. June 16th, we honor our graduating seniors with a bridging ceremony and also hold our flower communion. This service is a celebration of friendship and community. I invite everyone to bring a flower that will go in our common bouquet, which we will then share with one another. I will share the story of this ritual on the 16th. June 23rd is the first of our summer services that run through the Sunday of Labor Day. Summer services are more informal and generally led by members of the congregation. They start at 9 am (to avoid the heat) and we meet in the chapel. We do not have nursery care or specific programs for children and youth, although they are welcome to attend the services.
June also marks the transition of our lay leadership. We hold our annual meeting after the service on June 9th, where the members of the congregation will, among other things, vote in the new members who signed the membership book, vote on our operating and cell tower budgets for next year, and vote in the slate of people who will serve in elected positions on the Standing Committee (our Board of Trustees); the Nominating Committee; the Board of Investment (which manages our endowment); our treasurer, assistant treasurer, clerk and collector. I would like to thank everyone who has served in these roles and is stepping down, those who are continuing in their roles, and to welcome those who will be stepping up into elected leadership. I appreciate the commitment of time and talent volunteered by our members that is essential for living into our congregational polity.
I wish everyone a healthy and happy summer.