Reflections 11/20/11


As far as the retail world is concerned, Thanksgiving is a small distraction between the frenzy of Halloween and Christmas. Each year, less and less attention is paid to this day, except as the day before a major shopping spree (with the exception of the grocery store: getting there requires a helmet, body armor, and a very, very patient and positive attitude). Thanksgiving doesn’t require “stuff” so it becomes the lonely cousin in all the holiday hubbabaloo.

I personally love Thanksgiving, aware as I am of its complicated mythology. I love a holiday that we celebrate as a nation that honors gratitude as sacred across different religions and ethnicities. I would like to reprint here the words by my colleague, Daniel Schatz, minister of the BuxMont UU Fellowship in Warrington, PA. He noted that the origin of the Thanksgiving holiday is not related to the mythologized feast of plenty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. Rather, it was President Abraham Lincoln who instituted the holiday in 1863, one of the worst years in our country’s history, when it was rent by the Civil War that had already cost the lives of a half-million people, almost 15% of the U.S. population at the time. It was a time of death, of violence, of scarcity and of suffering. Schatz writes: “The real Thanksgiving has its origins not in plenty but in deprivation; not in peace but in hardship. The real spiritual discipline of thanksgiving is not to ignore suffering but to fully acknowledge it, work to alleviate it, and yet still give thanks. It is to find reason for gratitude even in pain or chaos. It is to look deeper into the fabric of our world and see blessings where we thought none could exist. True thanksgiving is born of hardship as much as of joy, for it is in hardship that we realize and appreciate the foundations of our lives—the community and the spirit that keeps us going, the smallest blessings thrown into relief, the tiniest seeds of hope that unfold in us when we thought all hope to have fled. True thanksgiving looks life in its fullness and finds reason for gratitude.”

Our congregation has been blessed by an influx of young ones. A couple of parents have asked me in passing about having their child dedicated. I would like to invite families to consider having their children dedicated at our early Christmas Eve service. Please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 978 256-5555.


-Rev. Ellen

Reflections 11/6/11


I have this idea of writing a reflection on “Occupy Boston” but keep being “overtaken by events”, in this case an October Nor’easter. So, instead, I have found myself reflecting on “Occupy First Parish.” This is not a protest movement but a search for lights, heat, and internet access. In the aftermath of snow, wind, and downed trees, of power outages that extended one, two, three, four or more days, First Parish became a literal sanctuary. I would come into work to find people dispersed around the building, with laptops and cell phones recharging. A community of sorts began to emerge: pots of coffee were made; a pineapple cake, a loaf of bread, crackers, soup, and soda appeared with notes to please eat; people chatted a bit as they worked in shared quarters; music wafted through the halls.  Tom Coffey and I agreed to leave the building open so people could get in and out. It reminded me of the story “Stone Soup” that Russ shared a couple of Sundays ago.

We will discuss in the Standing Committee how our building can serve intentionally as a sanctuary, should an event like this happen again (which, given the preponderance of weird and bad storms we have had in the last year, seems quite likely.) I know too that those with power opened up their homes for those without for a warm shower and a hot meal. As the week went on, the numbers went down as people got their power back and life began to slowly return to normal. But I was struck about our human capacity to create routines that will get us through difficult or unusual times together, to adapt to the discomfort and disruption. We are truly relational creatures, and our ability to survive depends upon hospitality and a spirit of sharing and abundance.

Speaking of which, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. We will have our annual intergenerational Ingathering Service on Sunday November 20th. I plan to focus this service on how we help feed our community. We will, as is our tradition, collect food for the Greater Lowell Open Pantry food bank. Please bring non-perishable food donations, which we will bring to the front of the sanctuary as part of our service.  We will also hear about Community Table and have guest speakers from Table of Plenty.

We also have a couple of special evening services coming up. Our evening service is at 5:30 pm and meets in the chapel. Wonderful music is provided by volunteer musicians from the congregation. Generally, the sermon is the same as the morning service, only given in a smaller, circle worship setting. However, we will have some different evening services. This Sunday, November 13th, we will hold a healing service. We welcome anyone who feels they need support, prayer or healing thoughts. On November 20th, we will have a bread communion service. And on December 18th, we will hold our Longest Night Service, to bring some light to this time of cold and darkness. I hope that you join us.

-Rev. Ellen

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824