Minister’s Column September 2019

Dear Ones:

September arrives and our congregational life kicks into high gear. We return (on September 8) to two Sunday services at 9:00 and 11:00 AM. Children’s religious education classes begin later in September, and our program year commences. And that’s just the beginning. Here’s a brief list of some of the major activities we’re anticipating in the coming year:

  • We continue to celebrate UUS:E’s 50th anniversary year. Please mark your calendars now for our Friday, October 4 gala at Georgina’s.
  • We are launching a new partnership with the Verplanck Elementary School in Manchester. Watch for announcements in this newsletter and elsewhere.
  • Our work continues with the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA). Watch for announcements about GHIAA’s Monday, October 28 Public Meeting in Hartford. We are hoping to bring between 85 and 100 UUS:E members and friends to this event.
  • Our Sanctuary Team now switches its focus to preparing Rocky for life beyond UUS:E now that a federal immigration judge has granted him asylum.
  • We look forward to the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly which will take place in Providence, RI in June—we hope for a large contingent from UUS:E to attend.

I hope you can plug into some of these activities in some way. And, as always, if there’s something missing from congregational life that you’d like to see, please don’t hesitate to speak with me.


Our ministry theme for September is expectation. There are many ways to talk about our expectations for our spiritual lives and for our congregation. In reflecting on my own expectations, I notice a tendency to think and speak in terms of an ideal future state. For example, I hold an expectation that, in time, and with much continuing education, I will have learned enough about ministry to arrive at some still-too-abstract level of excellence in ministry. I hold an expectation that, in time, we will achieve our congregational vision. I hold an expectation that, in time, we will become the “beloved community.” I hold an expectation that, in time, we will have contributed to the emergence of a more just and loving society, state, nation, world, etc. My point is that the theme of expectation often leads us to contemplate a future state. What do we expect will be the fruit of our present efforts?

Having said that, I’ve been recognizing during this past summer—perhaps more than ever—that focusing on the future state, though important, can sometimes distract us from the very hard work of the here and now. What is that hard work? Here are a few ideas: 1) doing everything in our power to be as inclusive as possible in our decision-making and programming; 2) centering the voices of those on the margins of congregational life; 3) making sure that when someone says “ouch,” we pause to listen and understand the hurt; 4) making sure that, when we’ve hurt someone, even if our intentions were good, we apologize. That’s a preliminary list. I’ll be focusing on this tension between the future state and the present moment in my preaching in September. I have, as always, great expectations!

I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column July 2019

Dear Ones:

These words from my annual report to the congregation feel appropriate for this final column of the 2018-2019 congregational year: I begin with a heartfelt THANK YOU to the members and friends of UUS:E for your continued support and enthusiasm for my ministry. It is a continuing source of satisfaction for me to know that you genuinely appreciate my work at UUS:E and in the wider community. I want to extend deep gratitude to Rob Stolzman (president) and Kevin Holian-Borgnis (vice president) who have provided excellent leadership to the Policy Board and Program Council. I want to offer a special “thank you” to all the elected and appointed leaders with whom I have the opportunity to imagine, develop and implement the various ministries of our congregation. Finally, I want to thank our wonderful staff for the great job they do. To Gina, Mary, Jane, Annie, Emmy, Jerry and Audrey (our nursery staff person): You work with grace, dignity and a powerful commitment to UUS:E. Thanks for all you do!


In honor of UUS:E’s 50th anniversary, I’d like to propose a common “summer read” for our congregation. UU minister and historian of the African American UU experience, the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, has written a new book on significant events in the Unitarian Universalist Association that took place 50 years ago. The book is called Revisiting the Black Empowerment Controversy: Black Power and Unitarian Universalism. It is available from inSpirit, our denominational bookstore. To purchase the book at a 10% discount, we will be placing a bulk order from the UUS:E office. Please contact Annie Gentile at 860-646-5151 before July 17 to be included in the bulk order. If you’d like to order the book sooner, call 800-215-9076 or order online at If you need financial assistance in purchasing the book, please contact me at Book discussions will take place in the UUS:E chapel on Thursday, September 19. Attend either at 3:00 PM or 7:00 PM.


In early June we held a powerful conversation on Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. There were many people who wanted to participate but couldn’t due to schedule conflicts. Watch for more opportunities this fall to deepen the conversation.


I am very excited to announce that UUS:E has been invited to develop a partnership with Manchester’s Verplanck Elementary School. Members of UUS:E’s Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee and I have assessed our capacity to participate in such a partnership. After meeting with a staff person from the school’s Family Resource Center, we feel we definitely have the capacity. Further, this is a great opportunity in UUS:E’s 50th anniversary year to make a new commitment to the Manchester community. The partnership will support low-income children and their families, many of whom are immigrants. Support includes a holiday gift drive, preparation of Thanksgiving baskets, mentoring, homework help, etc. We can start slowly and adapt to needs in the school community as they emerge. Look for more information in the article in this newsletter.

Have a great summer!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column June 2019

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for June is beauty. I find myself struggling with this theme. I struggle because there is so much ugliness in the world. So much hatred. So much corruption. So much suffering. So much exclusion. So much inequity. So much environmental degradation. So much apathy and indifference. I struggle because a central pillar of my call to ministry is naming and confronting the ugliness. That’s why I dedicate a significant amount of my time as a minister engaged in community and interfaith organizing, antiracism work, social justice work and legislative advocacy. I have found these to be the best vehicles for “naming” and “confronting.” But there’s got to be room for beauty as well.

I don’t feel comfortable remaining silent in the face of what I’m calling ugliness. (I also call it evil.) Silence really does equal complicity. When I pause to consider how the Unitarian Universalist principles inform my ministry, well, they don’t allow for silence either. Along with so many of my colleagues in ministry, I interpret the principles as a call for us to name and confront violence, oppression, injustice and hatred—all those forces that suppress the inherent worth and dignity of people, that reduce justice, equity and compassion in human relations, that prevent the emergence of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We are indeed called to name and confront the ugliness in the world. But there’s got to be room for beauty as well.

We cannot go about our lives as if the ugliness isn’t there. We cannot live in denial. It isn’t a spiritually sound way to live. But neither can we go about our lives as if beauty isn’t real. Neither can we live in denial of the beauty all around us. That isn’t spiritually sound either.

So, I need some help. I want to preach a sermon called “O, the Beauty in the World.” That’s a riff off hymn #182 in our hymnal, Bishop Toribio Quimada’s “O, the Beauty in a Life.” Please write to me at and tell me about the beauty in the world. What do you find beautiful? It could be a natural phenomenon, a person, a piece of music, a painting, a town or city, a vacation spot, a room in your home, a mountain, a river, a tree. It could be an act of creativity. It could even be the act of naming and confronting evil.

Tell me what you experience as beautiful. I will compile your comments into a reading in the June 30 Sunday service.

This isn’t an idle exercise. Naming and reveling in the beauty of the world has the power to carry us through difficult times. Naming and reveling in the beauty of the world has the power to generate joy in the midst of despair. Naming and reveling in the beauty of the world has the power to inspire us when we are feeling lost and directionless. Naming and reveling in the beauty of the world may be exactly what we need to ground us and sustain us in the struggle for justice.

So, please let me know what you experience as beautiful.

With love and many blessings for a wonderful summer.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column May 2019

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for May is curiosity. We’ve considered this theme before. As I have preached, the human quality of being curious aligns very naturally with Unitarian Universalism. Our fourth principle, “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” implies that curiosity lives at the heart of our faith. We search because, at some level, we are curious about something we don’t know. Our emphasis on questioning conventional wisdom, questioning traditional theologies, questioning God, questioning authority, questioning the uses of power, questioning religious doctrine and dogma, questioning either/or, black/white, binary conceptions of the world—all of it implies that our liberal faith requires, even demands, a curious spirit.

As a parish minister, it has always been critical to me that the people I serve are curious about each other. Can we approach each other with a spirit of curiosity, with a sense of wonder? After all, that is the best way to build strong relationships within the congregation. I found this list of “curious questions” in a sermon I preached a few years ago. I commend them to you now as ways to get to know each other better. Consider these questions as tools for taking a conversation to a deeper level:

I’m interested. Can you tell me…?

I’m fascinated. How did you…?

I’m intrigued. How old were you when you decided…?

May I ask you about…?

I heard your sharing in Joys and Concerns. Can you tell me more about…?

Where are you from originally?

Who are your people?

Were you scared?

How did you get through it?

What have you learned?

You had this same operation. What can you tell me about it?

“One day at a time”—what does that really mean to you?

Do you miss her?

Do you miss him/her/them?

What’s next for you?

I’m curious. Tell me about yourself.

I’m curious. Tell me what you’re passionate about.

I’m curious. Tell me your story.

And as my colleague, the Rev. Marta Valentin asks, “How is your heart?”

Obviously, a person has to want to share, has to feel safe enough to share, must be willing to risk being vulnerable in that moment—our stories are so precious, our hurts so tender, our fears so raw. It may not be the right time to share. But I ask you to contemplate the difference in experience between a person who is invited to share some piece of their story and a person who never receives such an invitation. The former knows their story matters to someone, even if they can’t share. The latter cannot be sure, and may suspect they don’t matter.

Our curiosity about each other’s stories is a sign of our willingness to know, to hold, to love. Our curiosity about each other’s stories is the foundation of a caring congregation. It is also builds the relationships that provide the the foundation for our social and environmental justice work.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column April 2019

Dear Ones:

I’m preparing my newsletter materials as spring 2019 arrives. It is cold and wet outside, a reminder that early spring can be messy, muddy and raw. I found a meditation I wrote years ago that addresses this point in the new season. It’s called, “May We Rise to Meet the Wet.” (Duffy Schade and I included it in our book, Hear the Earth Call.)

Now come spring drizzles, spring rains, spring thunder and lighting, spring mud and muck, spring dew on morning grass, on spider webs, on bare feet. May we rise to meet the wet. May we not shy away from the mud and the muck. May spring moisten us. May spring’s wet mornings point us, guide us, lead us to that moistness of spirit so many of us long to experience and express. May spring’s wet mornings point us, guide us, lead us to deep feeling, to intuition, to insight, to apprehension of the holy sacred meaning of our lives, to apprehension of the holy sacred person each of us is called to be, to apprehension of our place on this holy sacred planet in this holy sacred universe. And may spring’s wet mornings instill in us a longing to engage in holy sacred actions in the service of peace, justice, love and compassion.

May we rise to meet the wet.

Our ministry theme for April is wholeness. Sometimes when we talk about wholeness in a spiritual context, we talk about achieving a state of peace, tranquility, serenity. Or we might talk about achieving a healthy balance between heart, mind and spirit. Or we might talk about achieving a mixture of fulfilling work, meaningful relationships, moments of rest and relaxation, joy, and the capacity to help others in need or to participate in social and environmental justice struggles. All these are valid ways of talking about wholeness. But I notice we rarely talk about the cold, wet days—the raw times in our lives; the times when we feel caught in the mud and the muck.

We cannot escape the cold, wet days, the raw weather, the mud and muck. Being in it, accepting it, embracing the way it challenges us must be part of our wholeness too. [Now, if you’ve read this far, please know that the 8th person to contact me either by phone or email and correctly state the language of the proposed 8th UU principle will get lunch on me later this spring!] I dare say we need the cold, wet, raw, muddy days. They teach us patience. They teach us endurance. They teach us that life is inherently messy. They teach us to hang on just a little bit longer before the truly beautiful days of spring arrive. Let’s not resist these cold, wet, raw days of early spring. Let’s lean into them instead. I suspect they made lead us to sources of resilience and power within ourselves—a moistness of spirit, as the meditation says. Deep feeling, intuition, insight, apprehension of the holy, sacred meaning of our lives. I say lean into these cold, wet, raw days of early spring. Lean in and learn what they have to offer.

It’s April already! Spring is here. The holy weeks of Easter and Passover arrive soon. Beautiful days are coming. For now, may we rise to meet the wet!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column March 2019

Dear Ones:

March begins; and so does our UUS:E Annual Appeal. This is an important moment in the life of the congregation every year. Not only do members and friends make their annual financial pledge to the congregation, but each of us also has an opportunity to reflect on the meaning and value of UUS:E in our lives. You will be able to meet with other UUS:E members and friends in peoples’ homes, break bread together, talk about what UUS:E means to you, and make your financial pledge for the coming fiscal year. Those of you who cannot participate in any of the ‘pledging potlucks’ will be able to meet with an Annual Appeal steward in a one-on-one meeting.

As is the case every year, operating costs continue to increase. However, this year the Policy Board has set some ambitious Annual Appeal goals in relation to our staff. You might say “Staffing for Growth” is our overarching goal. First, we have created a new staff position, the Membership Coordinator. After a number of years of discernment, we have identified this position as critical to helping us grow UUS:E in a variety of ways, including overall number of members, depth of connections within the congregation, and growth of participation in congregational programs. In the current year’s budget we have funded the Membership Coordinator for half a year. Now we need to fund it for a full year.

Second, likewise after a number of years of discernment, we have made a commitment to expanding our music program at UUS:E, including a professionally administered concert series and an ongoing music salon. This program expansion will necessarily increase our Music Director’s hours. We are proposing minimally a two-hour increase in the coming year.

Finally, we have realized that we are under-paying our Sexton. For many years, we have used guidelines from the Unitarian Universalist Association based on compensation for a custodian. However, our Sexton is truly a building manager and we need to pay her accordingly. It is a matter of fairness.

Sustaining the Membership Coordinator position, expanding the Music Director position, and providing fair compensation to our Sexton. These are the goals driving the major increases in next year’s budget. We hope you will be excited about these goals. Why? Because they are the signs of a thriving congregation, a growing congregation, a vibrant congregation, a congregation that is here to stay!

The Stewardship Committee’s theme for this year’s Annual Appeal is “Honoring our Past; Building Our Future.” It is the right theme for our 50th anniversary year. What better way to honor our past than to make a significant pledge to help us meet goals that build a bright future for UUS:E! For your generosity, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column February 2019

To all UUS:E Members:

Our ministry theme for February is trust. In reflecting on this theme, I realize trust occupies a different location within Unitarian Universalism than it does in other faiths. Ours is a this-worldly, covenantal and relational faith. We gather around a set of behavioral principles—guidelines for how we are going to be together, how we are going to treat each other. We purposefully do not gather around a particular theology or doctrine. What does this mean? It means that we place our primary trust in each other. Our trust is horizontal. It extends from person to person within the congregation and out into the wider community.

In doctrinal faiths, people gather around a theological idea or, more simply, a collective belief. Thus they place their primary trust in God or whatever metaphysical reality lies at the heart of their faith. Their trust is vertical, extending “up” to God. This does not mean that they don’t trust their fellow-parishioners or that they don’t have behavioral covenants—they do. But by definition that kind of horizontal, person-to-person trust is secondary to trust in God.

In doctrinal faiths, the conversation about trust is necessarily grounded in belief. In relational faiths, the conversation about trust is grounded in relationships.

Of course, within any Unitarian Universalist congregation there is a wonderful array of spiritual sensibilities, spiritual orientations, spiritual identities, and spiritual beliefs. In worship an atheist might be sitting next to a naturalistic theist, who might be sitting next to a Christian, who might be sitting next to a completely different kind of Christian, who might be sitting next to a Pagan, who might be sitting next to a completely different kind of Pagan, who might be sitting next to an Agnostic, who might be sitting next to a Buddhist, and so on. Our beliefs clearly do not unite us. But our UU principles and our UUS:E covenant call us into relationships with our fellow congregants, with people in general, with non-human creatures and, ultimately, with the planet. And not just any relationships. No, we are called into relationships that have dignity, justice, compassion, a sense of interconnection, and love at their core. As Unitarian Universalists, we agree that such relationships here and now, in this life, in this world, matter immensely. That’s what unites us!

In order to cultivate such relationships, we must trust each other. We must trust that each of us enters into congregational life (however we do so) with a desire to treat each other with dignity, justice, compassion and love. The more I think about this, the more I realize how truly precious it is to be part of a relational faith. Especially in this era of bitterness, conflict, polarization and fear—when trust is so, so, so difficult—it is precious beyond measure to have a relational faith. Sustaining such a faith is hard work. But in my view, it is righteous work! And it’s the work we’ve all signed up for. I hope that gets an “Amen!”

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column January 2019

To all UUS:E Members:

I wish to offer you my deep and heartfelt congratulations on reaching your fiftieth anniversary year. This is an awesome milestone. I am so pleased to be serving as your minister as we “enter, rejoice, and come in” to our semicentennial!

Our ministry theme for January is possibility. For me, this suggests a look toward the future. But I don’t want to think about it quite that way, at least not at the beginning of this celebratory year. Instead, I invite each of us to recognize that fifty years ago, the founders of our congregation were looking toward the future. They imagined a liberal religious, Unitarian Universalist congregation east of the Connecticut River, committed to spiritual freedom, reason in religion, and the search for truth and meaning. They imagined possibility after possibility. We, today, are the fruit of their imagining. We are the possibility they helped bring into reality. In truth, we may not be exactly what they imagined at the time. But that’s OK. Approximately 2600 Sunday mornings later, approximately 600 board meetings later (not to mention 50 Christmas Eves, 50 Homecoming services, fifty annual meetings, 4 settled ministers, hundreds and hundreds of people elected to leadership positions, and countless potluck meals), we are the fulfillment of their dreams!

I want to give a special shout-out and thanks to Anne Carr, a Member at Large on the UUS:E Policy Board, who graciously volunteered to lead the coordination of our celebration efforts. She has put together a great team of volunteers who are planning various events, Sunday services, a carnival in June, a gala celebration in September, and much more.

Over the course of the coming year, there will be a variety of Sunday Services that look back over the decades, that try to tease out the various legacies of those who’ve been part of this congregation. We will consider the big themes that have defined UUS:E, such as covenant, shared ministry, beloved community, sustainability, generosity, and caring. And come next fall, we will be taking our own look at the future. What possibilities do we imagine, and how do we start turning those possibilities into realities, such that those who are here fifty years from now will be the fulfillment of our dreams?

Happy New Year!Rev. Joshua Pawelek

Happy Fiftieth Anniversary Year!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

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