Our Understanding of Ourselves

From The Shooting Star. Copyright 2010, Ellen Rowse Spero. All rights reserved.

A couple of Sundays ago, a group of us met at the request of the Standing Committee to start a conversation about our understanding of ourselves, and our vision for our future as a congregation. This is in part to help us continue the discussion about how to live out our covenant in more depth and also to gather ideas and thoughts to help guide the upcoming conversations with the architect about our needs and wishes with regard to our building.

Tom Wight, Carole Russell and I led the meeting. We asked the group three questions. Below are the questions and their responses. We asked these three because they address the issue that underlies our whole reason for being: for the sake of what are we here? We need to discern our answers to this question so that we can then figure out how best to use our finite resources of time, energy, money, and talent in the areas of our congregational life that will move us forward.

I invite you to add to these lists. I will post flip chart paper in the vestry for the next couple of social hours for you to write your answers to these questions, or to dot the ones that speak to you.

Our hope is that this can help us discern 1) where we are and 2) where we would like to be in the next five years or so. Then we can look at the bridges that will get us from here to there: our programs and ministries within the congregation; our outreach ministries beyond the congregation; and our building. We can then prioritize how we want to strengthen them.

--- Rev. Ellen

Who are we?


well –being

good in crisis


people striving to live their covenant



Historical / have deep roots

open minded





a searching people



try to be welcoming

willing to learn from people we reach out to

inclusive rather exclusive



Who are we called to be/do in the world?

Encourage people to better themselves and the world

to be respectful of each other and the world

live out our covenant & principles

example setters & leaders

open ourselves out to the greater community

showing who we are

Be a light to draw in and cast out rays

provide worship space

practice gratitude

live in harmony with the environment

no further damage

nature and community

use talents for greater good

teach and be taught

nurture creativity – think for yourself, be aware of lines, but also transcend them

nurture self responsibility

lift up and out of the status quo

nurture discomfort

go an extra mile with hospitality

good people

have fun

eat good food

offer a relevant, powerful, meaningful and effective practice/model of religious liberal community

being there for one another

flexible, especially for folks not yet here


Who are our neighbors?

of different religions

people we like and don’t like and vice versa


physically – town center/HDC

a grave yard, sacred ground that

tourists that visit the graveyard and our church

what we do now effects future

regional, community


cc diverse

neighbors to the world

as a people

as a planet


neighbors to other UU congregations

people who use our church/space

each other

Growth Spurt

From The Shooting Star. Copyright 2010, Ellen Rowse Spero. All rights reserved.

I was watching one of the figure skating competitions during the Olympics when I heard a commentator remark that the skater on the ice had been a real prodigy in figure skating and had very early success but then hit a roadblock. The reason: she had a growth spurt and had a difficult time adjusting to her body’s new height and her limbs’ new length. It had taken her awhile to adjust her skills to her growth but she had found her form.

In a way, I find this apt metaphor for some of what we are experiencing as a growing congregation. Some things that once were easy are a little more difficult and do not come as naturally. We have to re-learn and re-examine some areas of our congregational life. And as we take the time to adjust, it can sometimes feel frustrating.

One area is communication. We are big enough that not everyone is part of every conversation and word of mouth is not enough. We are also big enough that there is a diversity of activities and groups happening at the same time. Learning how to be intentional in our communication is very important, to ask ourselves "who needs to know?" and "who are the stakeholders in this?" are good first steps. We are also learning how to use new technologies and that effects our communication. With so many changes, each generation seems to have their own favorite. Some like the good old written page. Others like email. Others use Facebook or texting. I imagine I am missing some others, as I am still in the written page/email group. (Frankly, Facebook overwhelms me.) Trying to be inclusive and yet get the word out in a timely manner can make it difficult to ensure that we have reached everyone.

Communication is a two way street. Just as important as getting the information out is taking the time to keep oneself informed, to read The Shooting Star, our newsletter, and the Sunday Announcements. Committees having representatives at Church Council is also important for communication, as it gives a sense of the whole to those who are most involved in planning. And we do have a website group that is working hard to bring our website up to date. But as is often the case with these things, it takes awhile to get all the groups involved up to speed. I am grateful for the time and talent our volunteers are giving to this.

Another area is inhabiting our limited physical space, particularly on Sundays during worship. Our parking lot is not very large. The piles of snow make it even tighter. We have done a good job parking behind the old Town Hall across the street, and in the Bertucci’s parking lot, for those of us who can easily walk and do not have small children, leaving our parking lot spots for those who have health or mobility issues, small children, or who are visitors. I appreciate this very much, particularly on rainy or snowy days. Sometimes on weeknights, our lot gets packed as we have several events going on at once. The staff tries to keep communication with groups who use our church to help them understand the other parking options as well.

Sometimes both our sanctuary and our narthex (the entry way to the sanctuary) can get backed up on Sunday mornings. We have to accommodate all kinds of different needs on Sunday mornings. Some of us like to socialize. Some of us like to have a time of quiet to settle in to worship. The choirs need time to rehearse, the ushers to set up, and the worship leaders to prepare. Again, we are looking at ways to help us manage our growth and to better the flow on Sunday mornings. Some of this will take time. We have a group working with the architects to see how and if we can use our space better. The Worship Committee and I are looking at how we can make Sunday mornings less rushed at the beginning of worship. We have been experimenting with an evening service and continue to toss around the idea of a second service.

There are other areas as well where our growth has made us a little more awkward and uncertain as we try to dance. But I trust that we will catch up with ourselves and find our form. A couple of things can help us grow into our changing body: 1) communication; 2) patience; 3) a sense of humor; 4) an assumption of good intentions; and 5) remembering why we are here: to nurture and sustain a beloved community that works and worships together in the spirit of our Unitarian Universalist faith and tradition.

More Articles ...

Contact Info

First Parish Church
2 Westford St
Chelmsford MA 01824