Ministers Column December 2018

Star of wonder, star of light, star, with royal beauty bright, westward leading, still proceeding, guide us through this prefect night.

Our theme for December is mystery. My thoughts go immediately to the barren December landscape—the leafless trees, the empty fields, the brownish lawns, the slowly-freezing lakes and ponds, and, perhaps most significant, the long, dark nights. There’s something utterly mysterious about a dark, pre-winter sky, dotted with star light and perhaps a silver sliver of moon. It’s not surprising to me that the birth story of Jesus features a night sky and a shining star (though I’m mindful that we should not equate winter in ancient Israel with winter in 21st-century New England).

I love the long, dark nights at this time of year. To behold the late autumn night sky makes me feel infinitely small and impossibly large at the same time. It makes me feel completely insignificant and also informs me that my life matters. It makes me feel alone, apart, isolated and entirely related to the whole of life. These sets of dual feelings—these both/ands—are part of the mystery of this season. In response, all I can do is pause and wonder.

I choose that word ‘wonder’ very intentionally. Wonder is, I believe, the appropriate response to mystery. Wonder is the appropriate response to phenomena and experiences we cannot explain rationally. Wonder is the appropriate response to profound—and at times profoundly mixed—feelings in the presence of the inexplicable. Wonder is the appropriate response to beauty that takes our breath away. Wonder is the appropriate response to mythical stories that cannot possibly be true, yet which nevertheless contain truth.

In the response to mystery, we have choices. We can choose to downplay or deny the depth of our feelings. I could say, “It’s just night-time. There’s nothing else going on. If I’m feeling something profound, it’s just some chemical reaction in my body making me feel that way.” Or, we can offer supernatural explanations: “God wants me to feel this way.” However, both of these responses, by providing explanations, undercut the power that comes with just letting the mystery be mysterious!

I prefer to wonder. What does it mean that I feel this way—big and small, significant and insignificant, alone and connected? How is it that I can contain all these feelings at once? What does the immense darkness mean to me? What do the stars mean to me? Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it awesome? What if there were a God (goddess, spirit, energy, source) that created all this? What kind of being would that be? What might they expect of me? Of us?

Moreover, when it comes to miraculous Christmas stories of virgin births, angels singing to shepherds and magi following stars, of course, we can explain it all away as mythology. But what if explaining it away wasn’t our first response? What if we simply let our hearts and minds wonder about the meaning of the stories?

When we respond to mystery with hard and fast explanations, we lose something. However, when we respond with wonder, we gain. Wonder creates space for questioning. Wonder allows the mind to traverse paths it may not otherwise traverse. Wonder allows for creative thinking. Wonder allows for an assessment of one’s feelings.

As we enter into the holiday season, mysteries abound. Let us not explain them away too quickly. Let us meet them with wonder.


With best wishes for a wonderful holiday season,

—Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Ministers Column Novermber 2018

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for November is Memory. Like so many of our themes, memory is a vast topic. So where to begin?

The first words that came to mind for me are from a reading in our hymnal by the Rev. Bill Schulz. It’s an invitation to worship: “Come into this place of memory / and let its history warm your soul.” Given that 2019 is our congregation’s 50th anniversary year, we’re going to be reflecting on our UUS:E and our Unitarian Universalist history. We’ll be peering back, remembering where we’ve been, where we’ve come from. We’ll be recalling our founding generations. We’ll be celebrating their commitment to our liberal faith, and to our specific religious home at 153 West Vernon St. in Manchester. I am confident this remembering will warm our souls, as Schulz suggests.


All good worship leads to remembering. We live in the midst of a dominant culture that is toxic to memory, a dominant culture that wants us to forget what has happened and what is happening around us; a dominant culture that wants us to squirrel ourselves away in front of screens, wants us to focus exclusively on our material lives, wants us to drift apart from our neighbors. Good worship counters these dynamics by reminding us of our highest values, our most passionate aspirations, our deepest commitments, and how we are connected. Good worship reminds us of what matters most in our lives. We need such reminders to meet the challenges presented to us by the dominant culture.


I found this quote posted on the UU resources site, “Soul Matters:”

The space of memory is elusive. Mysterious. Seemingly beyond our grasp. Who can really say “where” it is? But here’s what we do know: it is in the space of memory that we are somehow held together, and also re-assembled. As we remember, we are re-membered. In that space, memories become these self-animated threads that weave the pieces and parts of us into this more complete thing we call “me” and “you.”

These words remind me of much of the research on how people heal from trauma. Healing often requires that the survivor remembers what happened, and is then able to express the memory to therapists, family, friends, religious community, etc.—people who are able to listen, support, and honor their experience. Such remembering is difficult for the survivor. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. It is difficult for the community that holds them. Sometimes the community turns away. But this remembering and naming is a path to healing.

In late September it was painful to witness the national turmoil over Christine Blasey Ford’s memories of sexual assault at the hands of now Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. The situation forced many people to relive painful memories of sexual violence and trauma. Mindful of how difficult this national moment was for so many people, I plan to preach about it on November 11. I say, let’s be part of the healing!

Further, on November 20, we are invited to participate in Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) at the Metropolitan Community Church in Hartford (see the announcement in this newsletter). TDOR is a global observance that remembers transgender people who’ve been murdered because of their gender identity or expression. It is a solemn occasion, yet one filled with hope for a more just and humane future. This is yet another way people of faith use memory in the service of healing.

With love,Rev. Joshua Pawelek

—Rev. Josh

Emergency Preparedness – Everyone Evacuate the Building!

A Message from the UUS:E Emergency Management Team 

“Everyone evacuate the building!” Hearing this during a Sunday Service, you will know the Emergency Response Plan has been activated. But what do you do? If it happens during a Sunday service:

  • You must leave the building, using both exits out to the parking lot.
  • Go to your car and remain in your car.
  • If you have a child on the garden level, you may assemble at a safe distance from the front of the building so that your child can brought to you.
  • If you are on the Garden Level when the alarm is sounded, RE children and staff are to exit the building at the nearest exit and assemble at a safe distance from the building.
  • Adult RE leaders will bring small groups of children at intervals around to the front of the building to be reunited with their parents.

Very important: fire apparatus must come down the exit ramp—STAY IN YOUR CARS AND DON’T DRIVE OUT, CLOGGING THE WAY FOR RESPONDERS! Wait for fire officials to let you know you can leave.

PS—a fire drill is coming soon to a Sunday Service near you. Be ready!!!

Ministers Column October 2018

Dear Ones:

Our October ministry theme is sanctuary. We’ve been talking a lot about sanctuary as the peace of mind and physical protection we expect to offer to people seeking to avoid deportation—and, of course, we will continue to talk about it that way. But I also think it’s important to explore sanctuary in all its meanings. I’m mindful that we often refer to our main meeting hall at UUS:E as “the sanctuary.” I’m mindful that we sometimes refer to those “joys and sorrows that remain unspoken in the sanctuaries of our hearts.” I’m mindful that for so many members and friends of UUS:E, our meetinghouse and our congregational community offer sanctuary from the stresses of a chaotic nation and world, from the rush and crush of busy lives, from the everyday anxieties we carry with us. A sanctuary is a place of safety and protection, a place of retreat and reflection, a place of beauty and creation.

UUS:E is a sanctuary for all of us.

My colleague, the Rev. Angela Herrera, writes: “All that you need / for a deep and comforting peace to grow / lies within you. / Once it is in your heart / let it spread into your life, / let it pour from your life into the world – / and once it is in the world, / let it shine upon all beings.” These words appear in Rev. Herrera’s 2012 meditation manual, Reaching for the Sun. They speak to me about the value of a sanctuary like UUS:E. Indeed, I think of UUS:E as a place where each of us can peer within and find what we need for a “deep and comforting peace to grow.” (Find that place in you, where you may go, when you yearn for peace.) And I think of UUS:E as a place that encourages us to pour the peace in our hearts out into the world—to “let it shine on all beings.” (That place from which you reach out to others who are suffering.)

How has UUS:E been a sanctuary for you? Has it provided refuge at a time in your life when you were vulnerable? Has it offered direction at a time in your life when you felt aimless? Has it offered solidarity at a time when you needed to not face life alone? In a culture whose values skew toward the material, the technological and the crass, has UUS:E helped you raise your children to value spirituality, human connection and love? I’m not just asking a rhetorical question. I really want to know your answers. Please share with me how you’ve experienced UUS:E as a sanctuary. You can email me at or call at 860-652-8961.

And then there is the question many of you have asked: When will UUS:E provide sanctuary to a person seeking to avoid deportation? The truth is, we don’t know. We’ve been “on alert” three times since we voted to become a sanctuary congregation in May. But in each case, the person or family in question was able to resolve their legal issues and remain in the United States. Still, we know from news reports that people are being deported in record numbers. While we actually shouldn’t want to ever have to offer this kind of sanctuary, now that we’ve made it known we are ready, it’s only a matter of time before someone in profound need will accept our offer. I wish we didn’t live in a world where congregations had to make such offers. But since we do live in such a world, I am proud that we are ready.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Membership Coordinator Job Announcement

Open. Posted September 27, 2018

Unitarian Universalist Society: East, an open and welcoming liberal religious community is seeking a Membership Coordinator. This position fosters the engagement of and provides support to visitors, friends, and members in collaboration with the membership committee. Applicants should have excellent interpersonal skills, and effective written and oral communication skills and time management strategies. This is a 20 hour per week year-round position. The timing of hours varies including most Sundays, planning meetings with the minister and other staff members and evenings, weekends and some religious holidays as needed.

Candidates are required to submit a resume and letter of intent by December 1, 2018, to Annie Gentile at Unitarian Universalist Society: East, 153 Vernon Street West, Manchester, CT 06040

The position will be contingent upon the completion of a successful background check.

Minister’s Column July 2018

Dear Ones:

As I prepare for my summer vacation and study leave, there’s a part of me that’s already very excited for the next congregational year. As many of you are aware, January 2019 marks UUS:E’s 50th anniversary. The Policy Board, the Sunday Services Committee, the Endowment Committee, the Memorial Garden Trustees, and many others are beginning to think about how we can turn this anniversary into a meaningful, yearlong celebration. To that end, we need a team of people who can oversee work on the details. Who is interested in being part of the 50th Anniversary Team? It will be fun. Please let me or our President, Rob Stolzman, or our incoming Vice President, Kevin Holian-Borgnis, know if you would like to be part of this effort.

While it is always helpful to review the past, a milestone anniversary year really calls us to pause and look back, to honor our founders, to celebrate the generations. Thus, in the coming year, we will tells stories about what UUS:E was like in the different decades. We will definitely hold a big, multigenerational party. I am sure we will do some special fundraising. However, the most important thing we can reflect on is the nature of the impact UUS:E has had on us and on the larger community. What difference have we made in people’s lives? What would we be like—and what would Manchester and Greater Hartford be like—if that dedicated group of individuals had not come together in the late 1960s to found a Unitarian Universalist congregation east of the Connecticut River?

If we can put words to the difference UUS:E has made in our lives and in the life of the larger community, then perhaps we can also imagine having an even greater impact over the next fifty years!

At the very least, you can expect to be asked, in any number of ways, these kinds of questions: What has been the impact of UUS:E on your life? What do you remember most from the time you first started attending Sunday services at UUS:E, whether at 153 W. Vernon St. or one of the earlier locations? What do you wish for the future of UUS:E?


Now, believe it or not, there is another milestone we may need to celebrate next year. April 2019 is the 20th anniversary of my ordination into the Unitarian Universalist Ministry. Thus, I expect I’ll be doing a significant amount of reflecting on where I’ve been, how I’ve grown, and the impact I believe I have had on UUS:E, on our region, and on Unitarian Universalism. I look forward to this period of historical review.


For now, summer is beginning. Please know I will be traveling with my family and my in-laws to Italy for two weeks in early July. I will continue my vacation and study leave when I return. I will be back at UUS:E to preach on August 5th. Then, as always, I will start slowly returning to regular ministry in mid-August. I wish for you a wonderful summer. I wish for you summer rest and relaxation. I wish for you quality time with family and friends. I wish for you adventures—whatever adventures you need to have. And I cannot wait to hear about them in September!

With love,

–Rev. Josh

Emergency Preparedness #8

Emergency Preparedness #8

Temporary Sheltering of Members

Our newly authorized Emergency Operations Plan defines actions to be taken when a critical situation occurs on the property. This “all hazards plan” identifies twelve situations that could risk personal safety or property damage. Each emergency situation is designated as an annex with specific instructions. Let’s look at Annex F: Temporary Sheltering of Members.


…members without power or fuel are able to stay in the building during business hours for cooling in summer or warming in winter?


The following procedures are to be followed:

  1. It is requested a call be made to the office in advance.
  2. It is understood there are no generators, cots, blankets, food or medical supplies available,
  3. Sheltering is possible only as the building has electricity and water supply available.
  4. The kitchen may be used if personal food is brought in.
  5. Before leaving to go home, the individuals will sign out at the administrative office.

Flights of Fancy” A Mixed Media Imaginings by Jeannette LeSure

Saturday, June 9, from 6:30 to 9:00 PMFlights of Fancy - Jeanette LeSure

An opening reception for the art show “Flights of Fancy: Mixed Media Imaginings” by Jeannette LeSure will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Society: East (UUS:E) on Saturday, June 9th, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.  Jeannette’s watercolor collages are inspired by nature, but filtered through dreams and imagination–a celebration of nature in New England. Her muses? Her sister, Jean Ellen, was an artist and taught her to draw, Eric Carle sparked her decision to collage with her painted papers, and the Impressionists in general spoke to her soul.  Jeannette’s mother, however, is the one who launched her spirit and instilled the conviction that magic and miracles lie under every leaf, in every tree, and just over the hill.

Click here for a printable version.

The event is free and refreshments will be served. UUS:E is located at 153 Vernon Street West, Manchester, CT.


Emergency Preparedness: Fire & Smoke Workshop

What Should You Do in the case of FIRE or SMOKE?

Join the Emergency Preparedness Team on Thursday, June 7 at 1:00 PM in the Meeting Room where the team will welcome members of the Manchester Fire Department to discuss fire and smoke training, emergency medical situations, and six of the twelve annexes in the Emergency Preparedness Plan. There will be time to ask questions and to learn more about our important plan.

Know Your Rights


Thursday, June 14 at 3 PM and 5 PM

A “Know Your Rights” workshop led by Cressy Goodwin will be held at Unitarian Universalist Society: East on Thursday, June 14 at 3:00 PM and again at 5:00 PM.

This workshop explores rights and their limitations for immigrants who may be confronted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. It is intended for anyone who has an interest in the subject including immigrants, members and friends of UUS:E now that we are officially a Sanctuary Congregation, and any other members of the community who are concerned about immigration i