Archives for December 2015

January 2016 Minister’s Column

Hallelujah

Dear Ones:

By most accounts, January takes its name from the somewhat obscure, ancient Roman god, Janus. Scholars refer to Janus as the two-headed god, the god of beginnings, the god of transitions, the god of doors and entryways. The Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea once said that the doors of Janus’ shrine were kept open in times of war, and closed in times of peace.

If I have my facts correct, Janus is one of the older gods in the Roman pantheon, and there is little written about him that survives to this day. Thus, much of what scholars and others say about him is speculation. Nevertheless, there he is—at least in the name of our first month—presiding over the transition from one year to the next. One could argue—and many do—there is nothing particularly special about January 1st, that the transition from December 31st to January 1st is no more significant than, say, the transition from March 2nd to March 3rd, or the transition from August 27th to August 28th. There’s an arbitrariness to the assignment of New Year’s Day to January 1st. As the Rev. Kathleen McTigue has said, “The first of January is another day dawning, the sun rising as the sun always rises.” New Year’s Day could have been any day, really.

But maybe that isn’t the point. Maybe the point is that transitions matter whenever they happen. Maybe the point is that we ought to pay special attention to the big transitions in our lives, because they have a spiritual—even sacred—quality to them. Contemplate the major transitions in your life: moving from one location to another, choosing when and how to be educated (or not), choosing a career (or not), getting married (or not), having children (or not), ending a marriage, watching children come of age, watching children leave home (or not), experiencing the death of a loved one, changing one’s world view or values, changing one’s religion. Transitions shake us up, force us to encounter the world differently, wake us up to aspects of reality we may not have noticed before. They require us to grow, sometimes in painful ways—ways we just as soon would rather avoid. We certainly carry ourselves with us across the major thresholds of our lives, but we’re never entirely the same person when we finally arrive on the other side. That change, that growth, that transformation of ourselves is what feels spiritual and sacred to me. So let’s pay attention to how we are changing. It matters.

This puts me in a prayerful mood. Hello January, beginning of the year. Hello Janus, god of beginnings. Hello Janus, god of doorways. Hello Janus, god of transitions. Hello Janus: if nothing else, you are the symbol of all the hopes and fears we attach to the transitions in our lives—those we’ve faced in the past, those we face today, those we know we shall face in the future. Hello Janus: if nothing else, you are a reminder that our lives, as much as we may love them, will not and cannot stay the same forever. As this new year dawns, may we welcome the transitions of our lives with grace and dignity. May we embrace the transitions of our lives with courage and strength. May we enter into the transitions of our lives with faith that though we may be different once we’ve arrived on the other side, we will also be wiser and more compassionate for having crossed. May we transition well.

Amen and blessed be.            Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

Rev. Josh

Excellent Tax News

Excellent Tax News That Can Benefit You and Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Tax Year 2015 (Time is of the essence)

In year-end legislation passed just last weekend, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 finally made permanent charitable distributions (QCDs), also known as Charitable IRA Rollovers, from individual retirement accounts from individuals who are at least 70 1/2 years of age. There is still time to take advantage of this change for 2015 tax purposes, but the transfer must be made properly by Thursday, December 31.

Because QCDs are finally permanent, now’s a good time to review the rules.

Requirements

  • Only individuals who’ve attained age 70½ may make QCDs.
  • The charitable donee must be an organization, such as UUSE, that qualifies for a charitable income tax deduction of an individual other than a private (grant-making) foundation, a donor-advised fund or a supporting organization under Internal Revenue Section Section 509(a)(3).
  • The charity that receives the donation must provide the same contribution acknowledgment needed to claim a charitable income tax deduction. Failure to obtain the acknowledgment will quash the QCD, but UUSE will definitely give you the proper acknowledgment in a timely manner for all your tax filings.
  • QCDs may be made from any IRA, but not from a 401k, 403b, simplified employee pension, a simple retirement account or an inherited IRA. Total such contributions cannot total more than $100,000 in any one tax year.

Some Benefits

  • This will allow you to essentially deduct your QCD charitable contributions on your Connecticut income tax, which is not currently allowed otherwise.
  • If you don’t itemize your tax deductions, QCDs can allow you to make charitable contributions that in effect have the tax benefits of deductions.
  • There are other advantages, too!

Making The Contribution

To make a contribution, contact UUSE or your intended charity to determine the exact payee name for the check (in UUSE’s case it’s Unitarian Universalist Society: East). Then, using that name, instruct your IRA trustee, administrator or custodian to make a transfer from the IRA directly to the charity. Many trustees and custodians already have forms and procedures in place to make this transfer. It won’t qualify if the trustee or custodian makes the mistake of putting IRA money in a non-IRA account of yours as an intermediate step. It won’t qualify if the check is made out to you. The law doesn’t provide a way to correct mistakes. The Internal Revenue Service hasn’t said whether the check may be made payable to the charity but mailed to you so that you may deliver it to the charity yourself. For the transfer to qualify for 2015, it must be out of your IRA account and on its way to the organization on or before Thursday, December 31, 2015.

For more information, please contact the church office or Hal Reed, of the Finance and Stewardship Committees, at 860-648-0898 or 860-967-9408 (cell).

Thank you for considering this excellent, now permanent, giving possibility – and Happy Holidays!

AN OPPORTUNITY TO HELP OUR NEIGHBOR.

Unitarian Universalist Society: East is buying its Christmas tree this year from the Steele farm on Vernon street in Manchester. Lynn and Arthor Steele started the farm in 1985. But because her husband died this year, Lynn who has multiple sclerosis, was unable to sell the trees. So the Manchester police department stepped in and is selling the trees for her.Tree farm sign

The story can be viewed here:

http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Police-Help-Christmas-Tree-Farm-Stay-Open-360868371.html

Please consider helping our neighbor by purchasing your Christmas tree from Steel farm this year. The police department will be selling the trees for $50 from 10 AM to 4 PM, Saturday, November 12 and 19, at Steele Farms on 683 Vernon St, Manchester, CT 06042.

You will get a great tree, help a local business, help our neighborhood stay strong, and help a grieving member of our Manchester community.

Filled: Part-Time Job Opportunity – Administrative Assistant

Position has been filled. Thank you.
December 8, 2015
Unitarian Universalist Society: East is seeking an Administrative Assistant to the Director of Religious Education. This position provides administrative support to the Director of Religious Education (DRE), the RE Team, and UUS:E families, children, and youth participating in our RE programs. Applicants should enjoy working with children and adults, be able to work independently and reliably, and have computer skills.
This is a paid position ($12/hr) and requires approximately 10-12 hours per week, year round, with some flexibility in scheduling, particularly in the summer. This position requires working Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., with additional hours during the week to be agreed upon.
Interested candidates should submit a resume, by Tuesday, December, 15th, 2015 to: Annie Gentile at Unitarian Universalist Society: East, 153 Vernon Street West, Manchester, CT 06042 or uuse153@sbcglobal.net. Questions about this position may be directed to Gina Campellone at UUSE.REdir@sbcglobal.net.
The position will be contingent upon the completion of a successful background check.
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER.

December 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

As I write these words just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the weather has finally turned cold (or at least nippy) and we’ve had a few gray days after weeks and weeks of beautiful though unseasonably warm, sunny weather. The landscape has grown barren and windswept, the empty fields now await the first snows. As many of you know, I like the gray days. I like the barren landscape. For me, these late autumn days in New England offer an invitation. It’s an invitation to look inward, to reflect, to ponder. It’s an invitation to find solitude, to be quiet and still.

There’s an invitation here. It’s an invitation to let our inner landscape become barren for a time—no rushing, no activity, no lights, no stress. It’s an invitation to burrow down into the cold, brown earth and let the nurturing darkness heal whatever hurts the long year has given us.

How might you respond to this invitation? If you’re not sure, I’ve discovered a wonderful prompt for inner reflection at this time of year. A small group met in November to plan our bi-annual Mental Health Ministry summit, which will take place on December 12th from 9:00 to noon at UUS:E (all are welcome, of course). We latched onto the idea of using Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as a prompt for reflection. I trust most of you know the story, in which Ebenezer Scrooge receives visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. With these visits, Scrooge has the opportunity to reflect on his life and make choices about how he wants to live the rest of it. We’ll be offering these questions for discussion at the Mental Health Ministry Summit, but I enjoy them so much I’d like to offer them to everyone: If the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future were to visit you, what would they say? And how might you resolve to live differently as a result? Whether or not one identifies with Christmas in some way (not every UU does), I hope you find this a useful exercise.

And even if this prompt doesn’t work for you, perhaps the landscape will. Take a moment before the holidays come blaring into your life; pause and ponder the leafless trees, the empty fields, the dry grasses, the shuttered barns, the grey skies, the dark nights. Pause and ponder: where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going?

leaves 2

May this be a season of deep and meaningful reflection, before the season of cheer.

With love, Rev. Josh

Your Money and Your Values

The Finance Committee and its Sub-Committee on Endowments and Investments is presenting a seminar on Sunday, December 6, at 1 PM in the Meeting Room. It’s called “Your Money and Your Values” and will be a discussion of how individuals can be involved in socially responsible investing in their personal investments and accounts. In addition, information about the tax deductibility and other benefits of charitable giving and bequests will be discussed, including how a charitable gift can provide regular income (mostly tax-free) for the remainder of one’s life. Hal Reed, Unitarian Universalist Society: East member and former head of planned giving at the UConn Foundation, will lead the seminar, which will conclude around 2:30. Malcolm Barlow, UUS:E member and local estate planning attorney, will be the resource person.  There will be plenty of opportunity for questions. “Your Money and Your Values” is at no cost and reservations are not required. Light refreshments will be available.

Living in Shades of Gray

Rev. Josh Pawelek

Late November sun shines dimly on cold gray mornings, on leafless gray branches, on still gray ponds. After autumn’s beauty has shown forth, after its grandeur has lifted spirits, after its fanfare has inspired, it all finally gives way to gray skies, empty trees, barren fields, and windswept hills.

In this pre-solstice season, this advent season, this strangely quiet season the gray landscape offers a blank slate on which our racing hearts, our focused minds, our hurried spirits can wander in peace for a time. Stripped of its color and its crops, its farmland lying fallow, the pale sky peering through its empty woodland canopies, the gray world opens around us in all directions, invites us to apprehend its features in new ways, beckons us to notice what isn’t always visible or touchable, but is always present.

DSC_0097In this in-between season before the sun’s return, the gray landscape gives us permission to move off our well-worn paths; gives us permission to  move back from the assumptions and beliefs and truths we hold tightly and close, sometimes without thought or examination; gives us permission to review our familiar patterns from different angles, from different directions, to recognize when they no longer serve us and, if need be, to let them go, to let the late November wind sweep them out across the empty, gray fields, over the empty gray hills, across the frozen gray ponds.

If we open our hearts and minds and spirits to it, this neither-black-nor-white season, this shades-upon-shades-of-gray season will show us new ways that had previously been hidden in the blooming spring; will reveal to us new paths previously covered in summer’s green underbrush; will offer many truths previously concealed in autumn’s rich, splendid color.

DSC_1942In this season may we practice living in shades of gray, hearing different stories, singing different songs, discerning different truths; living in shades, imagining new possibilities, new futures. May we practice living in shades of gray, withholding judgement, embracing humanity in its fullness; living in shades of gray, learning to forgive, learning to be forgiven; living in shades of gray, slowly remembering and naming all those false aspects of ourselves, those pieces of us imposed from beyond us, those boxes and labels that keep us from being our true selves, that keep us from being fully human; living in shades of gray, slowly remembering and naming those histories of genocide and war, those unjust systems, those economic inequalities, those assaults upon the land, those enduring sources of violence that keep all of us from being the beloved community; living in shades of gray, slowly remembering all of it, naming all of it, and
beginning to cast it away, so that when the light returns—and when the gray that has turned to dark finally turns back to green—we will be ready with new selves to create a more compassionate, just and peaceful future.

Before winter snows weigh down trees, bends branches and pile up along driveways and sidewalks, obscuring everything that is open to us now, let us live for a season in shades of gray.

Amen and blessed be.