Reflections 1/10/12

The Unitarian Universalist Association is sponsoring a Thirty Days of Love: A Spiritual Journey for Social Justice from January 19th through February 17th. This is part of the Standing on the Side of Love Campaign, started by the UUA in response to the shootings at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, which had been targeted by a gunman because it was a Welcoming Congregation to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and families. Standing on the Side of Love has grown into its own interfaith program, and has extended its work to include anti-oppression education and advocacy across a whole range of issues, such as race, immigration, and handicapping conditions. For more information on this program and the Thirty Days of Love, you can go to the website: Our own congregation’s Welcoming Congregation will be inviting us to participate in several ways, with help from our children and youth.
When we started the Welcoming Congregation process a few years back, one question that was often asked was about why be intentionally welcoming to a specific group of people. Shouldn’t we be welcoming to all? The answer was and remains, “Yes, and...” In other words, becoming a Welcoming Congregation is not an “either/or” proposition, but a “both/and.” There is a difference between being welcoming to everyone, and being intentionally welcoming to folks who must overcome barriers and assumptions invisible to the majority of us. I plan to use the Thirty Days of Love for a sermon series about becoming more intentionally aware of these assumptions and barriers, so that we can become more intentionally welcoming.
Now, often when we engage in these kinds of reflections and conversations, we can get caught up in guilt and blame. I would like us to engage in a different spiritual practice, the practice of holy curiosity. I find curiosity to be a wonderful way to listen and learn because it moves us away from judgment and towards creativity and imagination. As many of you know, I have worked with Larry Peers as my clergy coach for the last ten years, and he is always encouraging in me this practice of curiosity. It has allowed me to take risks and to invite you to take risks as well, in the context of living out our Unitarian Universalist faith, whether it has been around becoming a Welcoming Congregation, or starting an evening service, or going on service trips, doing more outreach in our own community, joining small groups, expanding religious education or writing a congregational covenant.
Thus, curiosity is a practice that invites us to overcome fear: fear of being wrong or found wanting, fear of failure, fear of not being accepted or not living up to the standards that we set for ourselves.  The goal of our Unitarian Universalist faith is not perfection. If we strive for that, we will certainly never get it right. Rather, it is authenticity: a willingness to listen and learn, to enter into relationship and community from where we truly are, with our shortcomings as well as our gifts to share. The beauty of our covenantal tradition is that we can always try again and try anew, to choose love over fear.
In faith,


The Worship Committee and I will be leading another Healing Service at the evening service on Sunday, January 20th at 5:30 pm. We offer rituals and prayers of healing grounded in our UU tradition, to anyone who wishes to come with any hurt of body, heart or spirit. In this service, we understand healing not to be a miracle curing but a sacred listening to each other’s losses and pain, and bringing the blessing of our promise to be present and walk together through each other joys and sorrows. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 978 256-5555, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


In faith, Ellen



A Response

I am horrified and heartbroken that once again, I am writing about shooting and killing at a school: a place where children are supposed to be safe to learn and grow. My initial response was feeling like someone had punched me in the stomach, and I wanted to cry out, "No, not again!"

I stopped my work and just sat, and sent out a prayer. I cannot even begin to imagine the mix of fear, horror, sadness, and disbelief that the children, parents, teachers, and members of the Newtown, CT community are experiencing.

I received a call from a person who also had just heard the news, badly shaken, and was about to walk into a school to work with children and wanted to know how to handle it. I thought I would share my thoughts, in case they are useful to you, either for talking with your own children, or just for yourself.

First, meet children where they are. Some kids will be really shaken up, while others might seem relatively untouched by it all. If your child doesn't seem particularly upset or worried, honor that. If your child is really upset, listen to their fears or concerns. Reassure them that you are there, and that you and the other adults they trust in their lives will do everything possible to keep them safe. Saying a prayer or wish for the families while lighting a candle or a chalice is a nice ritual, reflecting what we do in church with joys and sorrows.

Second, be mindful of the media blitz. Ask yourself if you need to have the radio, T.V. or internet constantly analyzing and commenting, and providing interviews and images from the scene. Watch and listen to stay informed but don't overwhelm yourself or your children with coverage.

Third, trust in routine. The best way to help children feel safe is to keep with what they know. Hold to routines and schedules. If your child needs something more, consider sharing hot cocoa or warm milk while reading a story together on the couch, or whatever you do when your child is not feeling well or is worried about something.

Fourth, whether you have children or not, stand on the side of love, not fear. Be gentle with yourself and with others—family, friends, and strangers. Hug your kids, parents, or significant others. Offer your own prayers, healing energy or loving-kindness meditation to the families in Connecticut. Light a candle. Sing "Spirit of Life" or "For the Beauty of the Earth" or whatever song or hymn gives you hope or comfort.

Remember that Dolores and I are both resources for you, and you are welcome to call, or email me at home if you or your child or youth are having a particularly difficult time. I also offer the following resources shared by Sue Philips, our Clara Barton DistrictExecutive:

For Dolores' installation last week, I read the following quote by Kenneth Patton;
"What is the world, if not a playground for children? What is living for, its labors, if not the season of birth and becoming? Children move from the family into their lives, having determined who they are, having measured the world, having received a face and a name. Civilization is the nurture of the child, its supportive world, or nothing."

May we work to reclaim the world as a playground for our children, and civilization for their nurture.

Amen and Blessed Be.
Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824