We had a wonderful Holiday Fair this past Saturday—the unofficial kick-off to our Christmas/Winter Holiday season. Our doors and our sanctuary are beautifully decorated with greens and the scent of donuts lingers in the halls. I would like to thank Bonnie Rankin for chairing the event, ably supported by a wonderful leadership crew including Joanna Paulsen Carlene Merrill, Joan Keane, and Jane Collins to name a few. (I apologize for any folks I forgot.) I would also like to thank all of you who baked, crafted, made donuts, volunteered, played, sang, and shopped at this important community fundraiser. It was fun to see some new First Parishers volunteering at the Fair.
December is a month of special services. For the morning service on December 19th we will hold our annual pageant. This year, it will be an intergenerational play, “The Tailor of Gloucester” by Unitarian and well-known children’s author, Beatrix Potter. The December 19th evening service will be a Longest Night Service, a time of quiet reflection during this busy season. On December 24th, we will have our two traditional Christmas Eve candle lighting services at 5:00 and 8:00 pm. This year, we will do “Lessons and Carols” for both services. For the 5:00 service, I am asking for 4th through 8th grade volunteers to do the readings with me. They will read the traditional biblical passages and I will re-tell the Christmas story for all ages. For the 8:00 pm service, I need readers for both the traditional biblical readings and the modern reflections on the Christmas story. We will have wonderful music from our choirs, and favorite carols to sing together. And of course, we will recess with our candles to “Silent Night.” I hope you will join us as we celebrate the story of the birth of Jesus and the Spirit of Love. Please note that we have moved the second service to 8 pm so that all the choirs have a chance to warm up and so those who are working at both services have enough time to eat dinner.
We will have church on December 26th only in the morning. The service will be in the vestry: a pancake breakfast with music provided by Erika Taylor, Matthew Bliss and, of course, all of us there.
And finally, I offer you this prayer, if you wish it, to consider as you go through these pre-holiday weeks. It is from Night Visions by Jan L. Richardson, a book of prayers, reflections, and art for Advent:
From her reflections on “Hope’s Disguises”
We see signs but cannot always divine their meanings.
You call us to move forward not always knowing whether what we grasp in our hands will prove to be a seed of hope or a thorn in our flesh.
Train our fingers, that what brings life we may with persistence hold, and that which wastes our souls, we may with grace release.”
From The Shooting Star. Copyright 2010, Ellen Rowse Spero. All rights reserved.
I came across this poem by Mary Oliver entitled, "Philip's Birthday" in her new book, Evidence:
to a friend that I care for deeply,
something that I loved.
It was only small
extremely shapely bone
that came from the ear
of a whale.
It hurt a little
to give it away.
The next morning
I went out, as usual,
and there, in the harbor,
was a swan.
I don't know
what he or she was doing there,
but the beauty of it
Do you see what I mean?
You give, and you are given.
I particularly love the last line: "You give and you are given." She is right: giving, particularly giving something precious is hard, whether it is our toys, our space, our time, or our energy. We struggle to learn to share from our childhood onward. And yet, I believe that we do give, we find that we are given. We might be given a deeper connection with someone or someones. We might be given a chance to learn something we hadn't known before. We might be given unexpected beauty. We might be given an encounter with the sacred and the holy that heals or transforms us in some way.
I am often asked to explain what Unitarian Universalists believe. It is not as hard as we make it. I have a couple of one or two sentence answers that are easy to remember. In this Thanksgiving season, I offer this version: As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in (or practice, as I prefer) gratitude, saying thank you to the earth or to God or to the Spirit of Life, or the universe, for Life. And in hospitality or saying, "you are welcome here" to all who need a place to call their religious home.
I will see you all on December 5th!