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,

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



Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824