Reflections 4/7/13

Last month, I facilitated a book group discussion on The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan—an amazing historical and theological study of the last week of Jesus’ life as chronicled in the Gospel of Mark. In one chapter, Borg and Crossan discussed the prophetic tradition, begun by the Hebrew Prophets and embraced by Jesus, that emphasized how worship should reflect and commit us to God’s call for justice, rather than individual piety or salvation. The famous quote by Micah sums this up best:

“Will the HOLY ONE be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?

Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 The Holy One has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the HOLY ONE require of you?

To do justice and to love kindness

and to walk humbly (or attentively) with your God.”

Worship invites us through liturgy—song, prayer and meditation, chalice lighting, sermon, offertory—to lift up and name what has ultimate worth and meaning to us, what is worthy of our attention and our commitment. As Unitarian Universalists, our worship hopefully lifts up, names, and reflects our covenants, our Purposes and our Principles. Our worship should connect us deeply to our call to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and communities grounded in peace, liberty and justice for all.

On May 12th, I would like to invite us to hold our Sunday morning service at the Mothers’ Day Walk for Peace. Carla Corey and Jayne Boissonneault are organizing a team from First Parish to participate in the walk, in Dorchester, on Mothers’ Day. The Walk is sponsored by the Louis D. Brown Peace Center, which provides educational programs on peace and nonviolence to local schools, and support to families and communities who have lost loved ones to gun violence. The shooting spree in Newtown, Connecticut left many of us reeling, wondering how to respond to such violence and destruction. For many families, the reality of such violence is a regular occurrence, one they live with in their neighborhoods and streets. We can respond by going where such violence and such loss are not aberrations, but part of the daily reality. We can bear witness through worship for justice and peace, by taking our service out of our sanctuary, and walking attentively with our neighbors, as well as the Spirit of Life.

There will be a worship service at First Parish for those who cannot go on the walk, and Dolores will be providing alternative programming for the Religious Education program. But I would encourage as many of us who can go, even if you can only walk a little bit of it, to sign up with Carla and Jayne, so we can walk as a congregation. There will be many other congregations there (including several Unitarian Universalist ones) and an interfaith service at the end, with an interfaith choir. The Director of the Peace Institute, Tina Chery, will be speaking at our worship service here on April 28th, and will have more details on the events of the day.

I am very excited about this opportunity to bend the moral arc of the universe a little bit more toward justice, to give and receive more love, more hope, more peace, and more joy not just somewhere, but where it is needed, where it matters.

In faith,

Ellen

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

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824

978-256-5133