We have had three Sundays now of “Zoom Church.” Figuring out how to do congregational life online in the face of a pandemic is more a learning mountain than a learning curve. On the one hand, things change very quickly and we have to adapt accordingly. On the other, we will be in this for the long haul—weeks, not days and maybe even months. We can’t do everything at once. I am trying to pace our congregational work and ministries, adding one or two bricks at a time, as we rebuild them in this new way. I start with the essentials and go from there.
As we say in our welcome each Sunday, we are a covenantal community gathered for worship, mutual care and in service to the common good. This is our basic mission. Steve, Jennifer and I are continuing to learn how to plan and lead worship online. Once I feel more confident in the technology, I hope to bring more voices into worship. Right now, though, the goal is to offer something to bring us together each Sunday morning that I hope inspires and refreshes our souls and reminds us that we are not alone, that we are connected in profoundly sacred ways, and that as overwhelming and terrifying as this pandemic is, it is not the whole story. We can still rely our Unitarian Universalist values and faith to guide our living.
Serving the common good begins by attending to the health and wellbeing of the congregation as a whole. Reaching out and caring for individuals within and beyond our First Parish community is important. But we also have a responsibility to care for First Parish. Our congregation has been in existence for 365 years. This means that First Parish has witnessed revolution, civil war, and two world wars—just to name a few. It has survived previous pandemics, economic booms and recessions, religious and social upheaval and even schisms. There are times when our community has flourished and grown, and others when it has struggled to get by. But still, we are here, serving our larger world and serving our Unitarian Universalist values and faith, as we have always tried to do, even as our faith and our world have evolved. I have been talking with Brenda Rogers, our Chair, and members of the Standing Committee, with our Canvass team and with other lay leaders about how to nurture and sustain our beloved community for the long run. We have moved our services online, we have made it possible to donate through our website and have re-thought the stewardship drive. These are just a couple of examples of how our lay leaders are responding creatively and thoughtfully to the stewardship of our congregation. I am also meeting with my local UU colleagues, and interfaith colleagues in Chelmsford and Lowell to learn more about how we can share resources and information and work together to serve the common good of our larger Unitarian Universalist and Chelmsford and Lowell communities. We will do our best to share the opportunities to volunteer in our larger community as they arise.
There is a reading in our hymnal by Edward Everett Hale:
I am only one
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
(#457 in Singing the Living Tradition)
We can’t do everything. We cannot save the world. But we can each do our one thing—as individuals and as First Parish of Chelmsford each day, step by step, piece by piece, to gather for worship, offer mutual care, and serve the common good.
I am so grateful for each of you and for this congregation as a whole.
-- Rev. Ellen
Signs of spring are beginning to appear: longer days, warmer (slightly) sunshine and the start of our annual stewardship canvass! March is the month we kick off our pledge drive so we can plan our budget for next year. Once again, I would like to thank Doug Aker and Frans Janssen for their willing and able leadership of our canvass. As I say most Sunday mornings, ours is a free church and what we are able to do for one another, for our community and for our larger world is a direct result of what each of us is able to give of our time, talent, and treasure. Our budget is not just a financial document but an expression of how we put our faith and values into action through stewardship.
First Parish is a generous congregation. I am constantly moved at how abundantly you give of your time, talent, and treasure, especially when there is a specific cause or reason. This congregation has stepped up over and over again to support each other and our neighbors: to care for grieving families; to keep our building and our grounds in good shape; to provide spiritual nurture through worship, music and faith formation; to bear witness through service by providing meals or rebuilding after disasters, participating in the Pride Parade or holding the Transgender Day of Remembrance Service. We also share our treasure through the Faith in Action grant program, where we donate a portion of our income from our cell tower funds to support non-profit groups or social action projects and through our monthly “Split the Plate” offering. Of course, we raised the money to renovate our building and made it accessible and welcoming.
While responding to specific events and concerns is important, the more essential and deeper commitment lies in the mundane task of keeping the institution of First Parish up and running, so we can be there when we are needed. So much of what we do is about nurturing and building community, being present to one another in our joys and sorrows and working to make the world a kinder and more just place. It can be easy to forget that we have important responsibilities as an institution. We are employers who are committed to paying our staff fair wages and benefits. This is the largest part of our budget. We are blessed to have a great staff who are gifted in their work, love their jobs, love working with one another, and love serving this congregation. Speaking as supervisor of staff, I know that they are grateful for the generosity of this congregation and very appreciative of the steps we are taking to fund healthcare and meet the UUA standards for salaries and benefits. We are also property owners, caring for an historic building that must kept in shape and up to code. We are a congregation in covenant with the other Unitarian Universalist congregations to support and fund our national Unitarian Universalist Association. And we need to fund the programs we run that bring and keep people here—all our choirs, our faith formation programs for children, youth, young adults and adults; our committees and ministries.
The Standing Committee (our governing board) made a special effort this year to get a preliminary budget ready for review and feedback in time for the start of this year’s canvass. I encourage everyone to read it through to get a sense of what is required to keep First Parish as an institution solvent and functional so we can be here as a community when we are needed. Ours is an economically diverse congregation and we don’t require specific dues to be part of First Parish. We ask that everyone consider what they can pledge generously within their means, understanding that for some of us, that pledge will be as time and talent. So, look for the canvass materials to come in the next couple of weeks. Pledge early and as generously as you can. Together, we can do this.
-- Rev. Ellen