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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