March Minister’s Column 2021

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for March is commitment, a very appropriate theme for the month in which we conduct our Annual Appeal. Due to the pandemic, we’ll be conducting the appeal differently this year. Everyone will receive a small packet in the mail with the annual appeal materials. As always, we ask you to consider the value UUS:E holds in your life and your family’s life. In particular, what has it meant to you to be connected to UUS:E over the past year of pandemic and civil unrest? You are always welcome to share your answer to that question with me directly at or 860-652-8961. Even if you’ve felt more disconnected during our move to online church, I am always interested to hear from you.

And as always, we ask that you return your pledge form in as timely a manner as possible so the Stewardship Committee can do its work on behalf of the congregation.

The Policy Board’s goals for this year’s appeal are modest. One goal is to insure that we pay our staff in accordance with the UUA’s guidance for our geographic area. A second, stretch goal is to hire, once again, a part-time Membership Coordinator (once we’ve returned to in-person church). While our first attempt with this staff position did not work out, we still feel strongly that a Membership Coordinator can help UUS:E continue to grow—in numbers, in spiritual depth, in participation, in connection. If you have any questions about these goals, please feel free to contact me or any UUS:E board member (listed in the directory.)

It is typical for me to preach an Annual Appeal sermon on the first Sunday in March. This year I will play around with the idea that our faith doesn’t claim to have secret knowledge. We don’t claim to possess some spiritual truth the rest of society doesn’t know. We don’t believe we are favored by God because we confess a certain set of beliefs. We aren’t conspiracy-minded people. Instead, we strive to know and address the world as it is. In an era where fake news, “alternative facts,” opinion masquerading as reporting, and multiple conspiracies abound, a religion that strives to know and address the world as it is holds very high value in my life. I hope and trust it holds such value in your life.

This year, the UUA has created a Stewardship service which we will experiences as a congregation on Sunday morning, March 14. I am very excited for this as one of the service leaders, the Rev. Chris Long, is a dear friend and former mentee of mine. Another service leader, the Rev. Mariela Pérez-Simons, is a former student of mine. Both are fantastic ministers. I can’t wait for all of you to experience their worship ministry.

Once again, please feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about the value UUS:E holds in your life. Thank you for your continued commitment to UUS:E and your generosity toward this year’s annual appeal. We can’t do what we do without you!!


With love,

—Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Minister’s Column February 2021

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for February is beloved community. Upon realizing this, and mindful that February is Black History Month, I found and re-familiarized myself with a book I’d read for a class in seminary, bell hooks’ 1995 Killing Rage: Ending Racism. In the final chapter, called “Beloved Community,” hooks critiques Martin Luther King’s vision of beloved community. King argued that the United States would become a beloved community only when race had been transcended, forgotten, when no one “saw” color anymore. Hooks disagreed. She argued instead that:

Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. To form beloved community we do not surrender ties to precious origins…. The notion that differences of skin color, class background, and cultural heritage must be erased for justice and equality to prevail is a brand of popular false consciousness that helps keep racist thinking and action intact.

Still powerful words.

I think it’s important for us as a congregation to ask, always, whether our UU church culture tends to erase differences or emphasize and celebrate them. If we tend to erase our differences (for the sake of always getting along, reducing conflict, being “like-minded”) then it’s possible that some of us are keeping important pieces of ourselves out of our community. Is it really safe to talk about one’s mental illness? Or about one’s hidden (or visible) disability? Or about what it’s really like to be an elder (or a youth) in U.S. society? Or about what it’s really like to be a person of color (or a white person) in U.S. society? Or about growing up poor (or wealthy)? Or about coming from a conservative political family? Or from a conservative religious family? Obviously, if there are aspects of ourselves we can’t bring fully into congregational life, that’s not good. It may enable us to avoid conflict and difficult conversations, but I think bell hooks is right: it’s not beloved community.

We are not beginners when it comes to being a beloved community. I can think of many Sunday services, programs, committee meetings and small group meetings over the years when we’ve dug deeply into our differences; when we’ve tried to emphasize and celebrate different perspectives, different cultural backgrounds, different racial identities, different understandings of gender and sexuality, different life experiences. And, of course, we can and must continue to grow in this critical aspect of congregational life. I want UUS:E to be a place where no part of ourselves is left out. Furthermore, I hope we can learn to anticipate the kinds of human differences (different languages, for example) that aren’t currently present at UUS:E. How can we prepare to welcome people whose differences may be keeping them away? (That’s the topic of our February 28 Sunday service with C.B. Beal: “Preemptive Radical Inclusion.”)

No, we’re not beginners when it comes to being a beloved community. But we don’t want to become complacent either. Let’s not underestimate the power of our differences to deepen and strengthen our community. Thanks for the reminder bell hooks!

With love,

—Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Minister’s Column January 2021

Dear Ones,

Our January ministry theme is imagination. From late December to late January, we will have the opportunity to imagine what it means to be one among many Unitarian Universalist congregations in Connecticut. As we did this past August, we’ll be visiting the services of other congregations (Hartford on 12/27, Hamden on 1/3, New London on 1/10, and West Hartford on 1/31.), and they will all be visiting us on 1/24. Not only will this sharing of services provide a wonderful opportunity for us to hear other ministers preach and to experience how other congregations conduct online worship; it will also provide the staff in each of the congregations a much-needed, post-holiday break.

All services will be at 10:00 AM. Login information will be provided in our regular eblasts. On some Sundays we will be logging into our regular UUS:E Virtual Sunday Service Zoom room and watching from there. On other Sundays we will join the host congregation in their Zoom room. We will attempt to be as clear as possible with instructions.


Speaking of imagination… As we enter into 2021, I’m wondering how you imagine life will be different as the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic begin to subside. Of course, we can’t say with complete certainty that things will improve. However, with the arrival of multiple vaccines, and a new administration in Washington, DC that will be much more unified with public health experts in its approach to fighting the virus, it is reasonable to assume that the worst impacts of the virus will be behind us by late spring or early summer. (Geez, that still feels so far away!)

So I’m curious: how will life be different for you? We’ve said many times that “we can’t go back to the old normal.” For me, that statement refers primarily to social, economic and racial conditions in the larger society. The new normal must address fundamental, systemic injustice. Too many lives are at stake. But for the purposes of this column, I’m wondering what you imagine will be different for you specifically? For example, are there new life patterns or rituals you’ve developed during the pandemic that you plan to continue as it subsides? Are there insights you’ve had over the last nine

months—about yourself, your family, your work, your down-time, your spiritual life—that suggest new ways of living once the pandemic winds down? The pressure to return to life as it was will surely be intense. How do we resist that pressure and live our best new normal?

When I say I’m curious, I really mean it. I am inviting each of you to share with me your imagining of how life will be different for you because of something you’ve realized during the pandemic. Send me an email at Or leave a message on my home office phone, 860-652-8961. I look forward to hearing from you.

And lest I forget to say it, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Given how awful 2020 was, I think it’s safe to imagine that 2021 will be better on all fronts! Or here’s another way to look at it: If the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine data are accurate, then 2021 will be at least 94.5% better than 2020! I like those odds.

Amen and blessed be.

With love,

—Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

A Virtual Tour of the Bahá’í House of Worship

Bahai House of WorshipThe Connecticut Council for Interreligious Understanding is pleased to present…

A Virtual Tour of the Bahá’í House of Worship

Steve Sarowitz will guide us on a 40-minute exploration of the Bahá’í Temple and Faith.


JOIN US ON Monday, February 8, 2021 at 5:00-6:30 P.M. EST.

REGISTER AT: The Connecticut Council for Interreligious Understanding
WWW.CCFIU.ORG by February 5, 2020.

Wellness Webinar: Eating for Personal & Planetary Health

Mary Lawrence Welness Webinar

Sunday, January 3, 1:00-2:00 PM

Have you made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier or reduce your impact on the environment? You can do both by switching to a plant-based diet! Join Mary in her kitchen (virtually!) as she shares cooking tips and demonstrates how to make some delicious, quick & easy recipes: Cauliflower Fritters with Sauteed Kale, Roasted Herbed Chickpeas, and Tahini Dijon Dressing. RSVP:

The Fight Don’t Stop: Open Mic Poetry Night

Saturday, January 9th, 6:30 PM

What: A virtual open mic to start 2021 with a commitment to social justice! Tickets on our Evenbrite Page.

When: Saturday, June 9th, 6:30 to 8:30 PM.

Who: All are welcome to attend. All are welcome to perform. To reserve a performance slot, contact Rhona Cohen at Please limit your performance to three minutes.

To Attend: purchase a ticket here. Suggested donation is $10, though you are welcome to donate any amount. All proceeds go to Power Up Manchester. A Zoom link will be emailed to you after you purchase a ticket .

Parents Please Note: While children are welcome, so of the content may be unsuitable for younger children. Poets will provide content warnings prior to performing. Questions: Contact Rev. Josh Pawelek at

Yule Ritual

Yule Ritual at Unitarian Universalist Society: East

Join the Unitarian Universalist Society: East Pagan Study Group
Sunday, December 20th, 6:00 p.m. via Zoom
All are Welcome!

Please join the UUS:E Pagan Study Group as we celebrate Yule. We will celebrate the winter equinox – the return of the sun and light, via Zoom. Peggy Gagne will host by casting a circle at her own altar and include in her circle all who wish to join the celebration as the Wheel of the Year turns. We will have a little history & lore, along with an opportunity to make wishes of light for ourselves and the world.

Please plan on having a small snack and drink of some kind on hand so we can all share in cakes and ale.

Also, plan on having on hand at least 2 small candles per person to participate in the ritual. And – if children are attending, please let Peggy know at so she can send you Yule activity pages for the kids!

Please contact the office for the Zoom link at 860-646-5151 or

Unitarian Universalist Society: East Holiday Party

A Celebration of the Season

Tuesday, December 22, 7:00 PM

Join us for a virtual UUS:E Holiday Party, Tuesday evening, December 22 at 7:00 PM. Zoom login info will be available in the regular eblasts. Bring some holiday food and beverages to this virtual party, decorate your space for holiday cheer. We’ll share holiday traditions and fond memories, maybe some special music, and maybe some surprise guests! Questions: Contact Rev. Josh.

Minister’s Column December 2020

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for December is stillness. I can’t imagine a more essential theme for us in this beautifully dark season in this extraordinarily difficult year. A pandemic rages around us. Our safety—and the safety of our communities—depends on our staying home as much as possible, staying isolated as much as possible, and restricting our movements in the wider community as much as possible. Our safety depends on our capacity to remain still.

As we commenced our congregational year back in September, I was fairly confident the coronavirus would come surging back in New England with the arrival of colder weather. I wasn’t confident because I had some special knowledge or inside information. Every infectious disease specialist in the country, along with doctors, nurses, and public health officials were predicting we’d be here now. This was public knowledge. And the experts were telling us what to do to limit the worst-case scenarios: wear masks, avoid large indoor gatherings, stay socially distant, wash hands often. My goal here is not to lay blame for this largely avoidable public health crisis. Laying blame won’t change reality at this point. What’s done is done. We are where we are as a nation. Our challenge is to stay safe, vigilant, resilient, patient … and still.

In a meditation entitled, “There is a Time to Let Go,” my colleague, the Rev. Gretchen Haley, counsels us to “study stillness and joy.” I like the way Rev. Haley links these two states of being—stillness and joy—as if one lives within the other, and vice versa. So often stillness and joy feel like two separate experiences of the holiday season. We typically encounter holiday joy in gatherings of family and friends, in holiday parties, in singing in the holiday choir, in our holiday music and Christmas Eve services—in being together. We encounter stillness when the sun sets at 4:00 PM, when the snow falls gently on newly frozen ground, when we wake early into the darkness of the pre-dawn, when Christmas lights around the neighborhood touch that ancestral knowledge deep in us—that knowledge that the sun returns, that our working toward a better world is not in vain.

This year, of course, the usual sources of seasonal joy are limited, mostly to Zoom. Our usual opportunities for hugs, touch, eye contact, cooking together, sharing meals, giving gifts, and singing are actually dangerous this year. We need to find joy through other avenues. It’s time to study stillness and joy.

Can you find joy in the stillness? I hope you can. I hope you can study stillness and joy, as Rev. Haley advises. I hope you can discover how stillness and joy live within each other. In the absence of physical connection and togetherness, I hope you can find the peace and contentment that come with being still. I hope you can encounter the many ways the sacred speaks through silence. I hope you can experience how the darkness holds, consoles, and nurtures us. And within all of it, I hope you find joy.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukah, a blessed solstice, and a happy New Year. Through it all, I encourage you to study stillness. And I pray that you find joy in that stillness.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column November 2020

As we approach the 2020 elections on November 3rd, life in the United States, no matter who you are, is disorienting and painful. Each day seems to bring with it a new cut, a new bruise, a new indignity, a new insult, a new threat to democracy, a new broken norm, a new spike in positive tests, a new largest fire, most damaging flood, strongest hurricane. Of course, different people are impacted differently by each new thing, but the little traumas accumulate in everyone. The loneliness of isolation grows in everyone. Patience runs thin at times in everyone.

Our ministry theme for November is healing. As I sit down to write these words in mid-October, I confess I am finding it challenging to contemplate healing. Healing from what? The list is long: healing from all the interrelated health, economic, educational and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic; from our nation’s foundational sin of racism; from persistent and pervasive sexism that has also become glaringly visible during the pandemic (most notably in the Labor Department’s early October report that women have lost work at four times the rate of men since March); healing from profound ideological polarization in our nation, from vitriolic campaign rhetoric and misinformation campaigns; from blatant abuses of political power; from all the ways our democratic systems and institutions have been harmed by attacks on voting rights, the census, and the postal service, just to name a few; from natural disasters with heightened severity clearly due to human-caused climate change on planet earth.

Ughhh. You know this list. I trust you understand why I am finding it challenging to contemplate healing at this moment. Where is one to even begin?

Maybe healing begins with us. With our community. With our principles. With our covenant. Maybe healing begins with us being available to each other for simple connection and conversation. Available to hear each other’s frustration and anger; to witness each other’s tears without shying away; to offer virtual hugs, because so many of us miss physical touch so much. Maybe healing begins with us being present to each other as we each search for our sources of inward calm, peace, strength, resolve—our inner voice.

I’m contemplating ways we can be more connected. Three thoughts:

First, I encourage every one of you—every UUS:E member and friend—to reach out to me for connection and conversation. While it isn’t always easy—or wise—to meet in person; and while Zoom or the phone are inevitably poor substitutes for face-to-face engagement, there is immense value in meeting however we can. I’ve spoken to many of you in person, by Zoom or by phone since the pandemic began, but certainly not all of you. I mean this from the bottom of my heart: I want to hear from you! You don’t have to be in crisis to contact me. You don’t need to have anything pressing or urgent in order to reach out to me (even conversation about the mundane events of our lives is a good thing in these trying times). You certainly won’t be bothering me if you reach out for conversation! I am available!

Second, because the election is upon us, and because we have no idea what will happen on and immediately after November 3rd, we are organizing two, virtual post-election vigils on November 5th—the first at 1:00, the second at 7:00. Watch the eblast for login information. No matter what happens, we will have a space to be together as a spiritual community in the wake of this very high-stakes election.

Finally, one of the things I love about UUS:E is that so many of you are in touch with each other. So many of you are watching out for each other, listening to each other, caring for each other. When I hear stories about the kinds of support you offer to each other, it warms my heart. It reminds me of the many strengths of our congregation. Keep doing that! Do it even more. Connect with people you may only know a little bit. Get to know them better.

We have much healing ahead of us – as people, as members of local communities, as citizens and residents of a nation, as members of the global community. Our capacity to heal begins with strong relationships. No matter what happens in the world around us, and no matter what other activities call for our attention, let’s take the coming months to focus on our UUS:E relationships. Reach out. Connect. And when the time is right, heal.

Amen and blessed be.

With love, —Rev. Josh