ReflectionsIt’s June, which means another church year is winding down as summer approaches. But it has not been just another church year—as if the pandemic was not enough, we also had a contentious and tense election, a continuing struggle for racial justice, and an insurrection at the Capitol. Wow. I am often grateful that I serve such a wonderful, generous and dedicated congregation of people but never more so than this year. I know from conversations I have attended with colleagues just how blessed I am. You all have been tremendous through all this. So, first, let me say thank you.

I do feel like I have a bit of pandemic whiplash. Just six weeks ago, the number of cases still looked concerning. The COVID Task Force was putting together a comprehensive phased re-opening plan and then—suddenly—the CDC said that masks were no longer necessary for those who are vaccinated and the governor announced that most COVID restrictions would be lifted May 30th. So, that plan was overtaken by events. We came up with a simpler set of guidelines for now, as we get used to this “new normal” (another phrase that has started to lose its meaning). They were sent out just over a week ago via our events list and are reprinted in this newsletter. 

This is usually the time of year when people begin to prepare for summer, to slow down and step away from the busyness of everything, including congregational life. I sense it even more this year, in part I think because we did not get that chance last summer. A lot of us are just plain tired. With the lifting of restrictions happening at the same time that we are shifting into summer mode, it is important to remember that we don’t need to figure it all out at once. At the beginning of this, I said that we are in a liminal season, which means we are learning as we go to adapt to the realities of a changing landscape. That is still true. Come the fall, we are going to have to function as a hybrid or multiplatform congregation—a mix of in-person and online. 

In order to keep us safe and connected while also moving at a sustainable learning pace for congregants, lay leaders and staff, we are taking it slow with worship. Summer services will be online. We just don’t have the capacity to run hybrid services over the summer and keeping them online is the simplest way to keep them the most accessible. Steve, Dolores, Neil Harmon and I are attending a workshop on preparing these services as we plan to open in September in person and online for worship. 

While many of us are ready to come back to the building, others of us are not yet and/or are still at risk. As we plan for the fall, we need to get a sense of where we all are, what we want and need, and to help each other begin to process the experiences of the last year. Dolores and I will hold a series of listening circles to get a sense of people’s expectations and concerns. We will hold three circles in person: June 11th at 7 pm and June 12 and 13th at 6 pm. We will hold two online sessions: one on June 19th and one on June 20th at 6 pm. If needed, we can schedule more in July. We will also send the questions out through an online survey. You can attend the circles, fill out the survey or both! 

A couple more notes about the days and weeks to come. First, I will be off this coming Sunday, June 6th. Henry is graduating high school and Sam is coming home for a week. My colleague, Rev. Jackie Clement will lead worship in my absence. Second, during the summer, we generally have lay led services, at 9 am. The Worship Committee is working on putting together the schedule, but we may not have enough volunteers. If we have Sundays with no worship leader, we will share links to attend services at another UU congregation (an advantage of online church!). Third, I will be around most of the summer for pastoral care and also to prepare for the fall. But I am taking some time off. I will be attending a writing workshop June 20th through June 26th and I will be on vacation July 24th through August 7th. I will also be away over the July 4th weekend but will be available by phone. You can reach me by email, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone/text: 978 500-2531. I will share information on pastoral care coverage for when I am away. 

Again, I thank you for all you have each done to keep First Parish going, even thriving, during this hard, hard year. 

I hope everyone has a great summer!

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

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Boston Globe sports writer Dan Shaughnessy occasionally writes columns containing a bunch of disparate ideas when there are too many things going on to focus on just one. As we are in the home stretch of our congregational year during a pandemic, there is a lot happening. So here is my “random thoughts” column.

The Canvass: Doug Aker and Frans Janssen are doing a great job running our annual canvass, or stewardship campaign. It is hard to talk about money and the fact that we need money to keep First Parish up and running. It is even harder to talk about it during a stressful time when we can’t even be in the building together. I appreciate Doug and Frans’ consistent communications about why all our pledges matter and how we are doing to reach our goals. Money is a currency we can use in service of our values. Our budget is not just a financial document. It is an expression of our values, our covenant. If you have already pledged, I thank you. And if you have not yet but are thinking about it, I thank you in advance. As May approaches, our treasurer, Diana Keohane and our Standing Committee (aka our governing board) will be sharing a draft budget for next year, based on large part by what we have all pledged to donate financially. Pledging is that: a promise based on our best guess of what we can donate over a whole year. We know that things can change and that some of us who thought we could pledge more will find down the road we cannot and some of us may find we can give more. It is always a dance. We just ask that you consider giving as generously and thoughtfully as you can. Together, we will sustain and strengthen our beloved First Parish community.

COVID, Summer Worship and Beyond: It has been heartening to hear how many people are getting vaccinated and that the number of COVID cases is (slowly) trending downward (funny how that works…). We can look forward to some form of in-person congregational life in the near future. You are probably tired of hearing me say this but I will again: re-entry is a lot more complicated than shut-down. I am taking to heart the latest recommendations from Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association who offered the following spiritual grounding for re-entry: 1) ground our decisions in the values of inclusion and consent; 2) follow the science; 3) be flexible and patient; and 4) be humane with ourselves and one another. The Worship Committee has decided to hold our summer services online again this year. In order to keep our services as accessible and inclusive as possible and so as not to overtax our volunteers, this seems the best way forward. This will also give me, the COVID Task Force, the staff and other lay leaders in the congregation more time to prepare for the fall.

The Derek Chauvin Verdict, Racial Justice and the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute: The news this past week was full of reaction and analysis in the wake of the guilty verdict for police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. Many others have responded much more eloquently and with deeper understanding than I can. As many of you know, we have participated in the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace for several years now—a fundraiser for the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute in Dorchester, which provides support for families who have lost people to homicide, teaches restorative justice and peaceful alternatives to violence, and educates community members and organizations (including police) about the trauma of violence. I am a big admirer and supported of the Peace Institute and its founder, Tina Chery, who lost her son, Louis D. Brown to murder. I share with you the statement they released as I found it powerful in speaking truth to love and to power: On Tuesday evening, April 20, 2021, we sat together as an organization virtually, holding our breaths, crossing our fingers and praying as we awaited the verdict in the case of the State of Minnesota v. Derek Michael Chauvin - a verdict that defined a four-century-long battle for justice. When the news spread that Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder on all counts, we released sighs of relief. We released for the family of George Floyd, for the accountability that was finally served and for a victory in the long standing fight against systemic racism and police brutality. The work for justice is heavy and the injustice is even heavier. Though we take this moment to celebrate, we cannot neglect the exhaustion that comes from witnessing murders of black and brown bodies to systemic oppression and the energy it takes to fight against it. We can not forget the victims or the families in our Commonwealth of Massachusetts whose loved ones were killed at the hands of police. To the survivor community, we see you, we hear you and we feel with you the re-traumatization that occurs as we all watch this play out. It is important to take the space you need to process, feel and heal. You are not alone and the LDBPI is here and will continue to serve as a refuge and a Center of Healing, Teaching and Learning for families and communities impacted.

I am so glad that we have continued to support the Peace Institute’s healing work, a ministry for sure. They can do what they do to accompany and heal and promote the work of peace in part because we do our part to support them and recognize the truth of their words and their experiences.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

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