Reflections 11/4/12

 Tumultuous Times

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for our country with Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 election sweeping through, creating much confusion and costing more money than any of us can comprehend. I am writing this before the results of the election are known, and with lawyers poised at the ready to challenge any close results, we may still not know by the time you read this. I hope otherwise, and that we are ready to move on.
Sandy and the election have some things in common: T.V. personalities with a tendency toward hype and drama; a high price tag in the billions of dollars; and consequences that will be with us for many years to come. The differences are significant too: Sandy brought people together and united the country in helping their fellow citizens. She cost much in lives and property, and revealed how fragile our lives can be in the face of Mother Nature. So powerful, she gave us a brief respite from election wrangling while our leaders attended to the business of helping their people get back on their feet.
Right now, attention and resources are focused on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast shoreline. Already, New Jersey and New York are ahead of where New Orleans, St. Bernard's Parish, and Plaqueman's Parish found themselves after Katrina, as their public officials did a much better job of preparing their people, evacuating the areas of impact, while the federal government did a much better job of responding immediately and fully. I hope that this is because of lessons learned from Katrina.
I know from my trips to New Orleans and St. Bernard's Parish to help with the rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina that the work of restoring what was destroyed by Sandy may take years. I suspect that the rebuilding efforts from Sandy will not rely quite so much on volunteers, and therefore may move faster, but we will see.
We will also need a rebuilding effort after the election, as politics has deeply divided this nation. Unlike Hurricane Sandy, the election has not brought us together as a people to work for what is best for the common good. Much of the election rhetoric has focused on creating fear and mistrust around what divides us: money, race, gender. Struggles for racial and gender equality that I thought were long over are being fought again. However the election turns out, I hope that the President elected focuses on helping our country move forward together, but I am not sure that politics will allow it. The consequences of this election will also be felt for years to come, in ways that we may not yet realize.
There are some things we can do to contribute to moving forward in both these events. Obviously, for the election, we can vote. And we can keep fighting for the right of all our eligible fellow citizens to vote and have their vote counted. For Sandy, we can give something of our treasure now, and maybe our time and talent in the future (yes, Joan Coyne and I are already thinking about rebuilding work in New Jersey...). This coming Sunday, November 11th, we will take up a special collection for the Central East Regional Group of the UUA Disaster Relief Fund, a Unitarian Universalist group focused on both relief efforts, and preparing for the clean up and rebuilding work to come. If you want to donate on your own, you can visit the website, or send a check to CERG-UUA

100 W. 10th Street

Suite 1008

Wilmington, DE 19801. Please make the check out to CERG with "Disaster Relief Fund" on the memo line.
While Sandy has drawn our attention to the plight of those left homeless by the storm, hunger and homelessness are a daily reality for many of our fellow citizens. As is our tradition on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we will hold our Intergenerational Ingathering Service on November 18th where we will collect food and monetary donations for the Greater Lowell Food Pantry. Please bring your donations with you to the service (morning or evening) as we prepare to "gather in" a harvest for others as part of our worship.
Thank you in advance for your generosity in these areas, and in so many others, and for your gifts of time and talent, as well as treasure. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

In faith, Ellen

Reflections 10/7/12

A Culture of Worship

In September, I gave a sermon about creating a culture for worship. In that sermon, I said, "Remember, we are a covenantal religion. We are about promises and relationships and agreements rather than beliefs and creeds and rules. We are about being responsible for and accountable to ourselves, one another, our congregation, and our larger Unitarian Universalist tradition.

So, we do not need rules and regulations for worship so much as we need to discern how to weave this mutual accountability and responsibility into a culture of worship....I believe the first essential practice for worship is hospitality. Hospitality is more than being welcoming and saying how glad we are that you are joining us today. It is making our service as accessible as possible for all who need or want to share in our Unitarian Universalist worship. I believe this is how we give shape in worship to our first principle of affirming and honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person, of acknowledging that every person is a beloved child of the spirit of life, God or the universe, and that somehow all of us in all of our various shapes, forms and ways of being in the world, are a reflection of the divine or the sacred.

The second practice: paying attention to the sacred nature of this time and space. This is part of hospitality for sure, but it goes a little deeper. What do I mean by paying attention? Being engaged and aware of what is happening in worship or, if it is not your thing, intentionally giving space for those who need it. Remembering that we are all responsible for creating and nurturing this sacred time and space for each other, as well as for what we name as sacred and holy."

The Worship Committee and I then held listening circles after the morning service and during the evening service to help us listen to each other about what we might need to promise each other in worship. The circles were small, but those who participated said some beautiful, beautiful things. I began by asking, "Why do we worship?" Responses included, "Gratitude and to give back," "Opening myself to a greater self-understanding," "To increase awareness of the common good and to live that way," "A powerful place to be together alone,", "a reminder that we swim in mystery, something we can easily forget." Comments about what we need to offer one another to create a culture for worship included, "To be cognizant and courteous of others," "to respect each other's spiritual practices," "to create room for respectful demonstrations of 'the Spirit' or spiritual emotions," and "sharing and honoring each other's stories."

These are not easy things to offer each other, as simple and nice as they are. We may have different ideas of what "cognizant and courteous" or "respectful demonstrations" look like. We may have different levels of comfort in sharing and listening to one another's stories. And only a few people attended these listening circles. So, I hope that this conversation will be ongoing. In the meantime, may we help each other make our worship together accessible, meaningful, hospitable, and sacred.

In faith,

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824