Reflections 9/2/2012

Welcome Back!

I am looking forward to seeing everyone at our opening Sunday this week. As always, the familiar and the new will greet us and we will see new faces and miss others who have moved on. Dolores Heredia-Wood joins us as our Director of Religious Education. Russ Menk, last year's ministerial intern, has returned to California to complete his studies. Some folks have moved away, and new folks joined us over the summer. Our seniors are off to work or college, but are always welcome back, now as young adults. The most obvious change can be seen in our vestry and kitchen, where the walls have been repainted, the floors redone, and new counters put in. Many thanks to Johan MacKenzie who coordinated and oversaw the renovations, with much help from Ron Cook. Many thanks also to Paul Windt, Fran Guerard, Marisha Rowse, Carlene Merrill, Jeanne Thompson, Joan Coyne and Joan Keane from First Parish, and Table of Plenty's Jim Comeau, Mike Kendrick, Maureen McKeon, Mary Moriarity, Joe Hehn, and TOP guest, Skip, and Open Door Nursery director, Jan Domey, who washed and put away many, many, many dishes. I apologize if I left anyone out. Please know that I appreciate all that everyone did to get the vestry and kitchen ready for the fall.

In keeping with tradition, we will open our regular church year with our Water Communion service. I invite you to bring water from home, or to use the water provided at the service to pour into our common bowl. With this ritual, we mark the beginning of a new year in our religious community.

In his book, From Beginning to End, Unitarian Universalist minister Robert Fulghum writes: "The Propositions: To be human is to be religious. To be religious is to be mindful. To be mindful is to pay attention. To pay attention is to sanctify existence. Rituals are one way in which attention is paid. Rituals arise from the stages and ages of life. Rituals transform the ordinary into the holy...Rituals create sacred time. Sacred time is the dwelling place of the Eternal" (p. 20). The ritual of the Water Communion does ask us to pay attention, to listen to each other pour into a bowl what is precious to us about our religious community, about our Unitarian Universalist faith and tradition, about what has happened to us over the summer, about our hopes and dreams for the coming year. Water has long been the ritual symbol of new life, of purity, of blessing, of change, of divine or sacred presence. When we take this unique symbol of life and bless it with our stories, our prayers, and our listening, we transform the ordinary into the holy, we create together sacred time that invites the Eternal or what we hold as having ultimate meaning to be present within us, between us and beyond us.

Rituals can become empty or meaningless, done just for the sake of "but we have always done it this way," if we are not mindful of their purpose or sacred nature. If we are not mindful of this particular ritual, it can become a "what I did on my summer vacation" recitation. (In fact, several Unitarian Universalist congregations stopped holding water communions because the sharing of exotic vacation spots seemed elitist to many.) For this reason, I always offer a question or thought for you to reflect upon for the Water Communion. This helps focus our words and makes room for everyone to participate. The Water Communion is a ritual of reunion: of coming back together and claiming that this is a sacred thing. An African Proverb say, "Return to old watering holes for more than water—friends and dreams are there to meet you." So, as you pour your water into the bowl, what friends or dreams are there to meet you? What more than water brings you to or back to this place, and makes it sacred for you?
See you on Sunday!
In faith, Ellen

Reflections 5/6/12


Minister Is A Verb, Not A Noun

Two of the founding beliefs of Unitarianism and Universalism are the priesthood of all believers and the prophethood of all believers.  This means that we, as the people of the congregation, need no intermediary between us and the Spirit of Life, and that we have a role and responsibility to speak our own truth, rather than waiting for a priest to say it for us. 

We need no minister to connect with the Divine, and we each have the responsibility to minister.   Of course we need Rev. Ellen, but she's here to provide professional ministry and pastoral care, and most importantly, to empower us to discover and live out our own personal and congregational ministries.

To minister simply means to serve.  We serve our personal ministries in the church when we follow and share our passions with the congregation – for example, for music, gardening or web development we can join one of the choirs or the Music Committee, Grounds Committee, or Website / IT Committee.  When we focus on our commitment to our Covenant and Principles, we realize that our ministry could be larger.  If 'nurturing all souls in their search for truth and the sacred' really speaks to you, the Membership Committee would love to have you, as would the Religious Education program - or you could start a neighborhood religious studies group to get your friends discussing what truth means to them.  If social justice stirs us up, we can work with Table of Plenty, create an organization for social justice groups (Council on Faith in Action), or stretch our comfort zone to speak and act in public about the issues that matter to us as UUs (Public Relations, Publicity, walking in the Pride Parade with the Welcoming Congregation, going to New Orleans with the NOLA group to continue the resurrection after Hurricane Katrina).  If we are passionate about the democratic process, what better way to uphold that than to serve as an elected leader in the church (Nominating Committee, Standing Committee, Treasurer, Collector, Board of Investment, Clerk) - or actually become involved in local or state politics.  If we find solace in nature and the interdependent web, or if we get really angry when we see litter on the ground, we can join the Green Committee or Grounds Committee, or we can lead a clean-up effort in our town or city or spearhead a petition drive to stop a nuclear or coal power plant from coming into our area.         We know our liberal religious voice is important, especially when we're hearing loudly in the media from those with contrasting opinions.  How are we speaking up?  Where are our priorities as individuals and as a congregation?  How do you live out and speak up for our Principles?  How do you minister to those within and outside of the church?     Let this be the start of a conversation and a new perspective.  Let us move from doing “church work” to serving and ministering – in and out of our church.  The Standing Committee, the Committee and Ministry and Rev. Ellen are working toward an all-church retreat (tentatively scheduled for October 18th) during which we'll explore these questions.  As always, your thoughts and ideas are welcome and encouraged before, during and after that event.  Please feel free to contact any Committee on Ministry member or Rev. Ellen.---Committee on Ministry: Carrie Little, Carlene Merrill, Suzanne Wilson, Leslie Yauckoes



(Note From Ellen: The Committee on Ministry meets monthly with me to listen and share feedback with me about my ministry, and to discuss the needs and ministries of the congregation as a whole.  This year, we have discussing what ministry means not only in terms of what I do, but as a part of congregational life. Below is a Guest Column for the 'Reflections' from the Committee on Ministry.)

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824