I spent the first two Saturdays in January attending a training on supporting people who had suffered trauma. I have volunteered, along with several other folks from First Parish, to be part of “Can We Talk?”, a monthly support group for people who have suffered trauma in their lives and a need a place to share their stories. It is a new ministry being launched by Reverends Janine and Rodney Dailey, the new pastors at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lowell. “Can We Talk” is a program that was started by Rev. Liz Walker (of WBZ fame) and the members of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church where she serves. She and other members of her congregation led the training.

The goal of the program is simple: to create a safe and sacred place for people who have suffered from trauma to share their stories and be heard. As part of the training, people shared their own stories of trauma. Stories of family members lost to gun violence. Stories of childhood sexual abuse and not being believed. Stories of struggles with addiction, gang violence, homelessness. Stories of how social agencies re-traumatized the people they were supposed to help. But here was the interesting thing. Although the training sessions were intense and heartbreaking in their content, I left feeling more hopeful about our country and our world than I have in a long time. I have been reflecting on why that was.

Rev. Walker talked about the power of abiding with one another. She said that was the whole point of the ministry. While simply listening to people with respect and care doesn’t seem like it changes anything, it actually does. Being seen, being heard, being held can heal the isolation, loneliness, and disconnection that trauma causes. It is a first step. And all it takes is an intention to listen.

Surrounded as we are by the deep divisions and nasty discourse around us, much of it hateful and hate-filled, I can fall into feelings of helplessness and even despair. I can’t change things on a national level, let alone a global one. But at Bethel AME, I have been invited to do what I love to do anyway—listen to people’s stories—and it will help. It will help me and I hope that it will help the people who come as well. This is the work of Beloved Community: abiding with one another. “The person in love with their vision of community will destroy that community. But the person who loves the people they are with will create community wherever they go” to adapt the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. What a wonderful mission statement: to abide with one another, wherever we may be.” I believe this is something we already do at First Parish and do well. And that we can take a faithful risk to do so more intentionally within and beyond our sanctuary.

-- Rev. Ellen


Previous Reflections

Well, another holiday whirlwind is winding up. My deepest thanks to everyone who made our Advents services, Solstice Cookie Communion Service, Christmas Eve Charlie Brown Christmas Pageant, Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols, and Pancakes and Carols joyful and meaningful (and sometimes very yummy!). I love these special services. And I am glad also when we return to our normal schedule!

We are not only on the verge of a new year but of a new decade. It will be an anxious year, I suspect, as our country will be going through another bruising presidential election. It is hard to know when we are in the middle of things how it will all turn out. We will have to wait to see what history says down the road. Meanwhile, we can ground ourselves in the values and ethics that guide us and our understanding of the sacred that calls us to life. That is our purpose as a religious community—to reveal the meaningful and powerful ways we are connected to one another and to the Spirit of Life. I find myself returning again and again to adrienne maree brown’s image of the seven birds. When flying together, the birds cannot possibly connect with each and every other member of the flock. Instead, they work with the seven birds immediately around them and replicate the pattern across the whole flock, so it can travel as one. So much of what is happening in our country is beyond my control. However, I can, with you, sustain and strengthen this community. And we can then replicate that as we reach out.

Covenant is our “flocking” practice: the way that we as Unitarian Universalists bind ourselves to walk together in the ways of love and truth as they are revealed to us. This is true within our congregation and between our congregations. We have witnessed how grounding ourselves in our covenant can be transformative through the accomplishment of our building renovation project. But how do we continue to practice covenant daily? What is calling to us next? And how do we bring the new people who are joining our congregation into covenant?

A team from First Parish has been working with four other New England UU congregations and the New England Regional UUA staff to take a “deeper dive” into exploring covenant together. Our First Parish team (Caroline Snow, Diana Keohane, Carlene Merrill, Brenda Rogers, Ruth Whalen Crockett, Dolores and myself) have been discussing how we might share what we have learned thus far and also how we might do a “deeper dive” into covenant within our congregation. Our worship theme for January is “visions for change”, which seems timely for the New Year and also for looking at “what’s next” when it comes to covenant. I will be preaching about what our team has learned about covenant and where that might take us. We are also looking to hold one or two community conversations after church to hear from you. More information on that will come as we reassemble after the holidays! Stay alert!

Best wishes for the New Year!

 Rev. Ellen