Well, winter has decided to come after all! I hope everyone has stayed safe and warm during the snow, ice and cold. Or enjoyed your time away in warmer climes! I do hope that spring comes soon.

Those of you who have been part of First Parish for a while know that as part of my letter of call (the ministerial version of a contract), I earn one month of sabbatical time for each year served for up to six months, to use every seven years or so. My last sabbatical was in 2016 so it is getting to be time again. The Standing Committee has approved me taking a four-month sabbatical beginning in early 2024 (I haven’t worked out the exact dates yet).

The purpose of sabbatical is two-fold. First, it offers me a chance for pause and renewal. I love serving as your minister and part of the reason I have been able to do for two decades is because you have given me this time to breathe, to slow down, and make room to grieve our losses and discern what season of ministry we are in and how best I can serve you. I am grateful for this gift.

Second, sabbatical also offers you time and space for discernment as well. As I talked about in my sermon on Sunday, the congregation
belongs to you and you to the congregation. I am clear that in calling me as your minister, you are not my congregation but the people
whom and with whom I serve. I do provide the professional spiritual, pastoral and ministerial leadership and I am the one who thinks about
and holds the congregation 24/7. But I strive to do so in relationship with you. Sabbatical provides a time for you to step into the full
ministry of the congregation for a manageable period of time and experience more deeply this belonging.

This will be my third sabbatical since I started in August of 2002 so we have been through this together twice already. I will put together a sabbatical team to help plan coverage in my time away, both from within and beyond the congregation. I believe we are in good place for this While we are still dealing with the ramifications of the pandemic, we are out of crisis mode. We have a strong Standing Committee, a strong Pastoral Care and Service Team, and a strong staff team. This is about a year away, so I don’t have more specific information than this but I wanted everyone to know as I start the planning process. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 978 256-5555.

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Faith in Action Grant Report

On January 22nd , I requested a faith in action grant for $1,200 to cover the cost of offering a three hour yoga worship focused on anti-racism entitled, “Making Room for Discomfort”, led by Coach Justice Williams, a trans Black community activist and fitness coach. I followed the process outlined by the Standing Committee and presented the grant request at social hour, where it was approved by the people present. As part of the faith in action process, it is expected that the Standing Committee and congregation will receive a report.

The workshop was held on February 11 from 11 am to 2 pm in our vestry. We had 16 people in attendance. Coach Justice presented materials on socialization, the roots of separation and the 4 “I”s of oppression at the heart of racism, homophobia and other forms of oppression. His partner, Coach Michelle, led us through yoga poses as we learned the material. Coach Justice and Coach Michelle also led us in paired
and small group conversations.

This workshop just scratched the surface and Coach Justice and I are in conversation about how we might continue this work. I will also be talking with the First Parish people who attended to gauge their interest in continuing with this.

In gratitude and respectfully submitted,
Rev. Ellen Rowse Spero

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Previous Reflections

This past Sunday, I shared about the UUA’s Article II Study Commission and their proposal to amend Article II of the UUA’s By-Laws, which includes our UUA covenant, better known among us the Seven Principles. If you would like to read the Commission’s report, here is the link: Article II Study Report. I would also recommend reading UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray’s press release on the Commission’s report: Why Change Principles.

As I said on Sunday, my first reaction to reading this was a big sigh of overwhelm at the thought of having to process this at the same time that all of us at First Parish are working so hard to recover from two years of pandemic church. Although we are moving out of the crisis phase, I think, we are still in a liminal season, needing to rethink and rebuild aspects of our congregational life. Overall, we are doing well. I feel positive energy every Sunday when I step into the pulpit. In addition to seeing some of you that I have not seen in a couple of years, I see new faces and families. And I know that there is a consistent congregation attending on line, for whom I am so grateful. But there are holes and thin places that I bump up against from time to time as we all figure out how to do congregational life in this new landscape.

I sighed because when I read the Commission’s report, the proposed changes to our UUA covenant felt big and I knew that there might be Feelings. The Commission members acknowledge this in their conclusion:

"We recognize the fact the proposed version of Article II we have presented is indeed a significant departure from our current version, just        as  past changes to Article II were significant changes from their predecessors. The 1985 version which first introduced the Principles was a radical change from the Purposes and Objectives of the previous version. We are continuing in the line of proposing changes that fit the times in which we live. We fully expect that one day another Commission will review our work and significantly change it. We are writing this in pencil, not etching it in stone. From the very beginning our goal was to listen to what Unitarian Universalists from all sectors of our faith communities felt and thought about the current Article II and what we should keep, what we should change and what we should add. We knew we were not writing this for ourselves alone, but for our larger community. We also knew that we would never write something that everyone thought was perfect; perfection was not the goal. We knew that no matter what we produced there would be things people wished we had added, things people did not like, and things people appreciated. What we tried, and what we think we succeeded in doing, was to create an Article II that articulated our faith, today and in the near future. Whenever there is change, there is loss, and where there is loss there is grief. We honor the fact that there is a loss in changing what has become so familiar to us. We were also mindful that we need not lose everything. You may have noticed that many of the words and themes of our current principles remain in the new Article II, just in a new format.”

They are right and I appreciate their honesty. And I know that the kind of grief they are talking about has been happening all around us since the pandemic began, not just with regard to our congregational life, but our work lives, our school lives, our social lives—here, there, and everywhere. And with it has also come openings and opportunities to re-think things and make changes.

So, as I think about how we as a member congregation of the UUA participate in this process, I know that individually, we will not all have the same level of interest or energy. Some of you may be really excited about this while others of you may be wondering why the change. Some of you may not be interested at all nor have the time or energy. You may be fine with the UUA’s process. I can work with Dolores, as our Lifespan Faith Formation Director and with Caroline Snow, our Council on Faith in Action Ministries Chair, if there is interest in discussing these proposed changes, to discern the best way to do this. For those of you really interested, I invite you to consider attending the UUA’s annual meeting, known as General Assembly, in June—online or in person in Pittsburgh. You can talk to me or to Caroline about what is involved.

In some ways, this feels like a hard time to have to deal with a big change like this. On the other hand, it may be a good time, as it may provide a way for us to process all that we have been through in the past few years—not just the pandemic but the political and social upheavals as well. Who is our UU faith calling us to be now? Where does our deep joy as UUs meet the world’s deep need?

In faith,
Rev. Ellen

Previous Reflections