I imagine that most of us are ready to say farewell to 2020. It was certainly a tough year and one that will not be forgotten for its disruptive and traumatic nature and the great cost of livelihoods and lives around the country and the world. Yet, it will not all be magically over by turning the page in a calendar. I just hope that the year ahead moves in the direction of restoration and healing, rather than loss and deeper divisions.
While I recognize that there is much work ahead, I wanted to pause to offer my gratitude to this congregation, and our leaders and staff for all that you have done thus far to keep our community together and healthy in mind and spirit. Everyone has been generous and present as fully as you are each able, given the restrictions and fatiguing effects of the pandemic. You have been good stewards of one another, this congregation, and Unitarian Universalism. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the Standing Committee (our governing board) who have been working so hard behind the scenes to keep us safe, connected and healthy—financially, physically and spiritually. This group has met more than monthly to deal with a whole host of issues and concerns, from figuring out new ways to do fundraising to budget planning around the unexpected costs of a pandemic to communicating with our larger community around social justice issues to figuring out policies regarding online worship and a new database. I recognize that people do not join a religious community to work on budgets and policies. Yet, these are essential to our congregational life and when they are grounded in our covenants and mission, they reflect us living into our UU faith. Serving on the Standing Committee (or any committee for that matter) is an act of faith and ministry, as far as I am concerned. So I thank our Standing Committee and everyone who is serving in a leadership, committee or essential function role right now to keep our building, our grounds, our infrastructure, our finances and the wellbeing of every generation and person in our community as healthy and safe as possible. You are all truly laboring in the fields of love.
I would like to thank those who have kept us together every Sunday: our chat hosts, led and organized by Dave Kaffine. The Worship Committee who have recruit and organize our chalice lighters and covenant readers. Jim Curley, who has served as the stage manager-cum-usher in the sanctuary with me almost every Sunday. And Edith Murphy, Ted Markee and Marion Murphy, who have led social hour each week. And of course, everyone who has attended our online services. It is so good to see your names on the participant list and know that you are there with me.
I would also like to express my gratitude to our staff. I was grateful before all this that I am part of a team of true professionals who are deeply committed to their work and to First Parish and who are also just great people. I can trust them to do their work with integrity and flexibility and good humor. I can rely on them to pick up for me when I need a breath. During this pandemic, Dolores, Steve, Cindy and Jess have been even truer to form. They have adapted their jobs to meet ever-changing demands and expectations. They have learned new skills quickly and taken on tasks beyond their remits, most of it behind the scenes and out of sight from most of us. Cindy and Jess have kept the building and the office going. Jess has managed calendars for both online and physical use of our space. Cindy continues to be the rock for us, fielding all kinds of calls, questions and requests that come her way and keeping us connected and communicating. Dolores has not only kept our youth, families and young adults connected and co-led adult faith formation groups with me but has a gift for organizing my big and sometimes slightly crazy ideas into reality. She was the one who worked with the Membership Committee to prepare the Membership Sunday service and the one who planned all the delivery routes for the 15 or so drivers we had for the cookie communion. And Steve has not only kept fully engaged in his role as Music Director, preparing music for every service and rehearsing with the choirs, but also preparing all the video content and running the recorded parts of the service each Sunday. He has also led the Worship Tech Team and recruited bids and put forth the proposal from New England Powersound to get a new livestreaming system in our sanctuary. It is a compliment to both the staff and this congregation that our staff works so hard on our behalf to ensure meaningful worship, faith formation programming and congregational life.
Speaking of our new livestreaming system, this coming Sunday, January 3rd, will be a test run. Jim Curley and I will lead the service live, with John Volpe coming in relief of Steve for a Sunday and play in the sanctuary. I am excited and a little terrified as I face yet another learning curve. I appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we try this out. Hopefully nothing will seem too different on your end. The Zoom link will remain the same.
Here is to 2021!
I know it was different than any of us imagined last year at this time, but I hope that everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Josh, Henry and I had two Thanksgiving Zoom dinners with both sides of our family. And because it was virtual, we were able to be with family members and friends we don’t usually see on Thanksgiving, as they live in other parts of the country. So, it had the feel of a reunion as much as Thanksgiving.
We are in the season of bringing small lights into darkness, of waiting for what we cannot yet see to come into being—Advent and Christmas, the Solstice, Hannukah, Kwanzaa. This feels particularly true this year. While there is hope on the horizon—successful vaccine trials and a new presidential administration—these things are still weeks and months away. Meanwhile, the COVID 19 numbers are surging, with the accompanying increase in hospitalizations and deaths. And the days are getting shorter and colder as we enter into December.
This is a season of tradition. As we have been doing since the pandemic started, we will find creative ways to adapt our traditions to the current circumstances. I would encourage us to keep reaching out to one another within our community and beyond. Check in with a phone call or a card or an email to let me or the members of the Pastoral Care Team and Caring Connection know if you need anything or are having a hard time. Remember that we have a grief support group, Healing Conversations, which meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. If you are interested in attending, please contact me.
I am participating in an online Advent Retreat, led by Jan Richardson, a United Methodist minister, writer and artist. She offered this invocation for the start of our retreat which I would like to share with all of you as we wait on the edge of this particular horizon:
The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before.
It is not possible to keep it from coming, because it will. That’s just how Advent works. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s hindquarters fade in the distance.
So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.
There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing.
For now, stay. Wait.
Something is on the horizon.
May it be so.
Take care, everyone. Stay healthy and safe.
A Note About Christmas Eve: Due to the pandemic we will hold one virtual “Lessons and Carols” service at 7 pm on Christmas Eve. Have your candles ready at home!