Rev. Ellen's Reflections, February 2019

The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero

“Embracing Change.” That has been the theme of our children and youth’s RE Faith Formation this year, as Dolores, Emma, and the RE Council have guided them through new and rearranged spaces within the building. Change, or impermanence as Hindu and Buddhist religions teach us, is a constant human experience. Sometimes we meet it with joy, sometimes with grief, sometimes with anxiety, sometimes with hope. And sometimes we don’t even notice and just take it in stride.

I meet regularly with two trusted colleagues: Rev. Elea Kemler who serves First Parish in Groton, and Rev. Carolyn Paternio, who serves All Souls in New London, CT. When we were in the middle of construction, Carolyn, who has walked her congregation through a significant building project, told me that it would take a year to eighteen months for us to adjust fully to our new space. I have shared this wisdom with everyone a couple of times but as we enter into the halfway point of the church year, I am seeing how true it is. And how it is not just the adjustment to the physical space, but managing change around time and energy and routine. I see this year as a “pause year”, as we take time to evaluate and celebrate what we have accomplished together. We are planning a celebration and open house for Saturday, May 4th. More to come as those plans take shape.

I wanted to update you about a couple of changes that are part of the ripple effect of the renovation project. The first you may have already noticed is the Parlor. Not only did the Parlor move upstairs to my old office, it has been furnished with new chairs, carpeting, and pictures. Carole Russell and I met with the members of the Women’s Alliance to discuss the realities facing both the Parlor and the Women’s Alliance. The Alliance has a long and cherished history in our congregation’s life, and it no longer has a large enough membership to function the way it once did. We had some heartfelt and emotional conversations about this truth and I am grateful to Rosemary, Caroline, Sandy, Deirdre, Junaynne and Nancy for their honesty and openness as we walked through the need to make some changes. We agreed that the Parlor would now become the responsibility of the congregation as a whole, rather than the Alliance; that we would make it a space flexible to accommodate small group meetings; small social gatherings, and families preparing for a funeral or wedding. We agreed that we needed new furnishings to replace furniture that was beloved but also fragile and uncomfortable for most. We agreed that the legacy of the Alliance would have a presence in the Parlor. The beautiful table with the new chairs around it and the dishes in the kitchenette are among the pieces we are keeping in honor of these women. The remaining members of the Alliance will need to discern for themselves the future of the group. Meanwhile, they are working on a plaque to hang in the Parlor in honor of the women of the Alliance, and we will celebrate the Alliance and their story in a worship service on March 31st. And I offer my thanks to Elizabeth Valentine, Dolores Heredia-wood, Caroline McMullin and Sandy Johnston, with support from Cornelia Kirkpatrick, who did a fantastic job furnishing the new Church Parlor.

Another change is more a result of the need to pause. For the last decade, a group of adults and youth have gone a service trip down to Louisiana, working first in New Orleans, and more recently, in Baton Rouge. This past August, we learned that the Annunciation Church, our home away from home, decided to close their volunteer hospitality program. While we were sad to hear this, it is also a good sign that the recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina have reached the point where the need for volunteers is much less and that the city is ready to move on. With Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Florence, we have plenty of opportunities to volunteer with SBP, the organization we have been working with to do rebuilding work. However, with all that was happening here and losing our home in New Orleans, Aggie, Joan and I decided to take a pause year on service trips until next year. Having to research new places to stay as well as new places to go takes time and energy. Taking this pause will allow us to see where the energy bubbles up for the next service project (or ten!).

Last Saturday, I got to spend lunch with participants in our “New UU” course. It was delightful to get to know some of the new folks finding a home at First Parish, and feel the energy and excitement they bring. As I said to them, our congregation is generous, caring, and fun. And it is a bunch of smaller congregations in the larger one, based on the years of belonging, the groups, committees and ministries they are involved in; the stages of life, and so on. It was a reminder to me that our congregation is always changing, as the comings and goings, the changes and losses in our individual lives weave in and out of the larger life of our community. I invited our newer parishioners to feel free to ask me about the people and stories that they may hear about in Joys and Sorrows or in my sermons or read in the newsletter. As I learned through the building project, accessibility is not just about entrances, elevators, and furniture. It is a way of being in community together, and in moments of change, finding ways to live more deeply into our covenant and our faith.

Finally, as most of you know, Carole Russell, our Standing Committee Chair and long-time member, has had to step down as she has been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive stage 4 cancer. As she undergoes treatment, we will do all we can to support her, Beth, Ethan and Bryce. Brenda Rogers, the Vice-Chair, is serving as acting chair until the Standing Committee can vote at their next meeting on February 12. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. Meanwhile, we continue to hold Carole, Beth and their boys in our thoughts and prayers.

 --Rev Ellen

Rev. Ellen's Reflections, January 2019

The Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero

I love Christmas Eve at First Parish. I love the two services and the wonderful music and storytelling. I love seeing the young adults returning home for the holidays and people bringing their extended families to join us in telling an ancient sacred tale. I love the candle lighting and the soft light it creates in our sanctuary. This year, in particular, I loved watching as those same young adults who had grown up at First Parish and had not yet seen the building renovation walk in and stand in awe of the changes. I cherished their delight in the new entrance and the new elevator and the new bathrooms on both floors! I love watching the little ones in our congregation with their excitement about the night and their glow sticks ready to go for Sllent Night. I imagine them in ten or fifteen years, coming back to First Parish as young adults, going from room to room, “Do you remember when? Do you remember?”

I love the story we tell on Christmas Eve of Jesus’ birth, and all those who attended it in wonder and in hope. As I said in my meditation at the 8 pm service:

Tenderness: this is the quality that I feel underlies the whole Advent and Christmas story. The tenderness of Mary for her new baby. Joseph’s tenderness for Mary and the child who is and is not his. The shepherds tending their sheep against the dangers of the night. The tenderness of the angels “bending near the earth” with their love song for a weary world that cannot hear it; and the tenderness of the person this child would become: Jesus, who embodied God’s love for every human being, and called for us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The world is not a tender place right now. It never is—as there is always conflict and war; violence and hatred; poverty and injustice; loss and sorrow somewhere. But it feels meaner and colder now. We live in a time not just of deep divisions but of the demonizing of our neighbors. I imagine that if Jesus had a say in all this, he would ask to pay less attention to the story of his birth, and more attention to his words and his ministry—the way he treated the people who came to him for healing and for hope, who wished to be touched by Love. As Howard Thurman reminds us, the real work of Christmas is not in this story; it is in the Beatitudes, the blessings Jesus offered in his Sermon on the Mount:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers (and sisters),
To make music in the heart.

I hope in the coming year, this tenderness bursts forth to help heal our world.

--Rev Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824