September 2015 Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

Hmmm. I’ve been noticing changing leaves. Not many, but they’re there. And by the time you read these words, there will be more of them. Red, yellow, gold, orange and brown leaves. Summer is winding down. Autumn is beautiful in New England, and there’s always a part of me that can’t wait for autumn’s cool, crisp mornings, ripe apples, and beautiful changing leaves. But I still want summer to last a bit longer.

First things first. The 13th person who contacts me at will receive lunch—on me, and with me. But there’s a catch. When you contact me at, you must explain to me in writing why the number 13 is important to me—and to UUS:E—at this point in time. This shouldn’t be too difficult. If you need a hint, let me know.

I am looking forward to another awesome year at UUS:E. And what is truly exciting to me at this moment is that we are not searching for new staff members! That was last year. You may remember that last September we were “in search” for a new Music Director, and Gina Campellone was serving as our “Acting” Director of Religious Education. Hiring new staff is a lot of work—not only for me, but for everyone involved. Thanks to the hard work of many dedicated UUS:E members, Mary Bopp has been with UUS:E as our Music Director since February; and since July 1, Gina has been our Director of Religious Education. I love working with both of them and I look forward to the many ways we will collaborate in the coming years. With Jane Osborn as our sexton, Annie Gentile as our Office Administrator, and Grahame Slogesky as our RE Assistant, our staff is in place and ready to work hard to support UUS:E’s mission. Hooray! And I really mean that—HOORAY! UUS:E has a wonderful staff. Please say ‘thanks’ when you get a chance.

Looking forward to the coming congregational year, some of the highlights for me include: Bishop John Selders’ Adult Religious Education course entitled “Revolutionary Conversations,” which will explore theologians whose work undergirds the Black Lives Matter movement; the creation of a small group for theists and all those who want to look more deeply at what it means to believe in God in a secular age; an ArtsMash evening with the Hartford region’s original story-telling organization, “Speak Out;” art shows with UUS:E artists; poetry slams; the work of the UUS:E growth strategy team and the development of our “Growth Through Service” initiative; participation in Moral Monday Connecticut actions in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement; and all the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month interactions with the members and friends of UUS:E. It is going to be a year of amazing ministry. I can’t wait. I hope you can’t wait either.

Now, why is the number 13 so important to me—and to UUS:E—at this moment in time? Let me know at The 13th person to contact me gets lunch, on me, with me.

With love,
Rev. Josh

August 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

I am writing to you on a very, very humid day in mid-July. My family and I have just returned from a week in the Berkshires (where it was much less humid) with my in-laws. We are getting ready for a trip to Washington, DC where we will, among other things, tour the White House! Later on in August we will spend a week on Cape Cod visiting with my parents.

Most years I don’t write an August column, but this year I wanted to take a moment to say “thank you” for what turned out to be a very positive fiscal year for UUS:E. (For the details, please see the message in this newsletter from the Finance Committee.) In short, every Sunday when I introduce our offering, I remind us that “our congregation is supported by the very generous financial giving of members and friends.” I want to underscore here just how true that statement is. The members and friends of UUS:E are extraordinarily generous in their giving to UUS:E. I, for one, deeply appreciate it. While no congregation is free from financial constraints and worries in our times, and while we certainly aren’t in a position to ‘rest on our financial laurels,’ I think it is nevertheless fair to say that UUS:E continues to perform well financially due to the commitment each of you makes. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your generosity.

Looking ahead to the coming year, those of you who attended our annual meeting in May know that we are exploring the feasibility of conducting a limited capital campaign to help reduce our mortgage. Special thanks goes to Stacey Wyatt for chairing this effort! Some of you will be asked to participate in an interview process as part of this feasibility study. If you are asked, I hope you will be able to participate. We will announce the results of the study at a congregational meeting after our Homecoming services on September 13th.

Here’s a quick plug for two upcoming events on Sunday, August 23rd. First, we are blessed to be joined in worship by New York-based violinist, Sharon Gunderson. Accompanied by our Director of Music, Mary Bopp, Sharon will be playing Edvard Grieg’s “Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Minor.” I will offer some reflections on Grieg, who became a Unitarian during his life and expressed a profound commitment to individual religious freedom. Also, on the 23rd at 12:30 we will be conducting a special memorial service for pets and animal companions who have died in recent years. All are welcome. There’s more info in this newsletter.

It’s summer. I am taking my vacation and study leave, but I remain available for pastoral emergencies. If you need to reach me, our office administrator, Annie Gentile, has my contact information. For now, I hope you are enjoying summer.

With love,

Rev. Josh

June 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our June ministry theme is restlessness. For a number of reasons, this theme feels very relevant to me these days. I suppose the most obvious reason is that summer is upon us. As I’ve said many times before, when I contemplate the spiritual characteristics of summer, words like ‘restlessness,’ ‘wandering,’ ‘journeying,’ ‘exploration,’ ‘creativity’ and ‘play’ come to mind! As a spiritual season, summer is an outward time, a time for experimentation, a time for trying new things, a time for transcending boundaries, a time for crossing thresholds. Summer is a season to embrace our restlessness, to follow where it leads. Where might your restlessness be leading you?

Another reason is that I feel restless relates to the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the past year this movement has been growing, building, developing and organizing all across the country. I find myself personally in a restless place in relation to Black Lives Matter. Certainly my restlessness is leading me towards the June 2nd nonviolent civil disobedience training at UUS:E and the June 8th Moral Monday CT action in Hartford (there’s more info about both of these events in this newsletter). Still, I want to do more. I want to make a bigger contribution. But I’m not entirely clear what that means. I know the answers will come. I know I will make my contribution. I know I will find my place. And I know we will find our place as a UU congregation that cares about racial justice in the United States. But until then, I feel restless.

Though it isn’t a comfortable state of being, restlessness can be a good thing. When we embrace it, it can lead us in new directions we might not otherwise pursue. It can help us cross thresholds we might not otherwise cross. It can move us to transcend boundaries we might not otherwise transcend. It’s important to pay attention when we feel restless. It’s important to ask, what’s behind it? What is its source? Why is that source calling to me? What new chapter of my life awaits?

On the other hand, restlessness can be problematic. Perhaps we are restless because there’s too much stress in our lives, or too much anxiety, or too little time. If our restlessness is generated from anxiety, worry, etc., it is likely keeping us awake precisely when we need to sleep. It may be keeping us unfocused precisely when we need to focus. It may not be something we need to embrace but, rather, something we need to soothe, to calm, to tame in order to live a more meaningful life. Our June 7th Sunday service is entitled, “How to Encourage a Restless Soul.” There’s a double-meaning here. Sometimes we want to respond to the call that lies behind our restlessness. Other times, our restlessness is leading nowhere, and we want to engage in those practices that will ease our anxiety and worry. How do we know which kind of restlessness it is?

For the month of June, consider this question: In which direction does your restless soul need encouragement?

With love,

Rev. Josh

May 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our May ministry theme is compassion. I realize I’m not going to be preaching about compassion this month as it is time to preach my auction sermons! (See the worship calendar in this newsletter for brief descriptions of those sermons.) The last time compassion was our ministry theme was November, 2011. At that time, I quoted from the Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: “Please call me by my true names, / so I can wake up, / and so the door of my heart can be left open, / the door of compassion.” These words come from his 1991 book, Peace is Every Step. The story Thich Nhat Hanh gives as background to this quote is still, for me, one of the most powerful descriptions of the source of compassion in human beings I’ve ever encountered. What follows is an excerpt adapted from my sermon on compassion in 2011.

Thich Nhat Hanh received a letter telling a tragic story about a young girl—a boat person, a refugee —who, having been raped by pirates, threw herself into the ocean and drowned. In Peace is Every Step he writes, “When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate…. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we 5/become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.” When Thich Nhat Hanh says “call me by my true names,” he is saying, essentially, not only am I me, I am also the young girl. And not only am I the young girl, I am also the pirate. He asks: “Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other?” Can we look at a tragic situation half-way around the planet and recognize the people in that situation in ourselves?

We are interconnected—with each other, with the entire mass of humanity, past, present and future. Thich Nhat Hanh would add we are each interconnected with all there is, past, present and future. He uses the term “interbeing” to express this fundamental condition of interconnectedness. We have many true names. This is not just something Buddhists teach, nor is it just abstract liberal religious language. It’s a truth claim. We are interconnected. I remind us of this truth in part because it’s easy to forget; because we wake up to it from time to time, but then fall back to sleep; because we learn it but then quickly unlearn it; because even though we know it in our heads, we don’t always live it. I remind us of this truth because our capacity to be compassionate people ultimately depends on our ability to remember it, to wake up to it, to relearn it, to feel it in our hearts. “Please call me by my true names, / so I can wake up, / and so the door of my heart can be left open, / the door of compassion.” 5/we all learn to call each other by our true names!

With love,

Rev. Josh

April 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our April ministry theme is transcendence. I’ve been thinking about what this word means to me. At its most basic it means “to surpass” or “go beyond.” In much of traditional Christian theology, God is said to transcend the world, meaning God is distant, other, unknowable, and inscrutable. Transcendent God is greater than finite reality. I’m reminded of the Biblical God’s challenge to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”(Job 38:4). God’s point here is that God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, one whom mere humans should not question, one whose motives humans cannot fully understand, one whose power humans cannot counter, one whose will humans must obey.

Such a transcendent God has never appealed to me. I’ve always preferred to imagine God as immanent—not far away, but close by; not separate from the earth but infused into it; not cold and distant, but warm, nurturing and present; not a solo act but a partner, a co-creator, a team player. On Sunday, April 12th I will preach on the tension between transcendence and immanence—a good, old-fashioned sermon on theology!

Of course, transcendence can refer to aspects of our lives that aren’t immediately theological. I’m thinking about how we meet challenges and overcome obstacles, how we rise above difficult situations, how we move beyond our old selves in order to welcome new selves more suited to the conditions of our lives. In short, there are many moments in our lives when we are called to transcend. In such moments we often call in turn on our spiritual reserves to stay strong, to stay persistent, to stay courageous, faithful, hopeful, and loving. I plan to preach on his meaning of transcendence on April 26th. If you have transcended a difficult or challenging situation and would like to share your story, I may have a place for you in that service. Please contact me and let me know.


On another note, please mark your calendars: On April 26th at 4:00 PM, UUS:E will host the ordination service for Andrew Moeller. It is a special time in the life of any congregation when we get to confer upon a minister the title of “Reverend.” That’s what we’ll be doing, along with the congregation of the First Parish Church of Northborough, MA on April 26th. UUS:E holds a special place in Drew’s heart, and he holds a special place in ours. Please join us for this milestone event in Drew’s ministerial formation.Reverend Joshua Mason Pawelek, Parish Minister, Unitarian Universalist Society: East

With love,

Rev. Josh

March 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

I write from the warmth of my office in mid-February. Three feet of snow still cover the ground, and it is unspeakably cold outside! I suspect even the cold weather lovers among you are warming to the idea of spring! I am hopeful that by the time you read these words in early March there will be some glimmer of warmer days on the horizon!

Later in March we will launch our 2015 Annual Appeal. For those of you who are new to UUS:E, the Annual Appeal is our opportunity to reflect on the value of UUS:E in our lives and to make a corresponding financial pledge for the coming fiscal year. Because the vast majority of our operating funds come from the financial gifts of members and friends, this is the most significant fundraiser in the life of our congregation. I urge all of you to begin thinking about the role UUS:E plays in your life. Then, if you haven’t done so already, please sign up for one of the Annual Appeal potluck dinners. (Sign-up sheets will be available following Sunday services in March.) And as always, if a steward contacts you to meet about your pledge, please respond to them as soon as possible. They are volunteers and we deeply appreciate their work on behalf of our congregation’s financial health.

The twenty-fifth person who sends me a note at or leaves me a message at (860) 652-8961 and tells me three things they love about UUS:E will get a breakfast, lunch or dinner on me!

Many things about UUS:E excite me as a minister: opportunities to preach, to teach, to provide a pastoral presence to people in crisis, to engage in social justice organizing and actions, to conduct rituals to honor life’s milestones, and much more. But two things stand out to me right now which make me feel overjoyed about UUS:E’s future. First, although we are beginning to wind down our interim religious education year, we are still just beginning to implement ideas to strengthen our religious education program for children and to build a more cohesive and life-giving multigenerational community. I am convinced that as we more fully integrate people of all ages into all our activities, we will benefit as a community. Our children will benefit from having greater access to the wisdom and life experience of adults of all ages. Our adults will benefit from having greater access to the energy, creativity and passion of our children. Having such a multigenerational community in my life is of immense value to me and my family.

Second, while our new Music Director, Mary Bopp, has only been with us three weeks at the time of writing this column, I can already see that she will help us continue to build a vibrant and inspiring music program at UUS:E. Mary’s knowledge of music, her willingness to take musical risks, her desire to work with people of all ages and abilities, and her skill as a pianist make her a joy to work with. Having Mary join our staff to guide us through the next era of music programming at UUS:E is very exciting to me. Having a vibrant and inspirational music program is of immense value to me and my family.

These are two of the reasons I plan to make a generous pledge to UUS:E in the coming Annual Appeal. I hope you will pledge generously as well!

With love,

Rev. Josh

February 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our February ministry theme is brokenness. We’ll take time this month in worship and in other contexts to ask ourselves what it means to say that we human beings can be “broken.” Some religions begin with the premise that people are somehow broken and need to be made whole. Other religions begin with the premise that brokenness is an illusion we must learn to see through. We more or less understand a broken leg, a broken heart, a broken relationship, a broken political or economic system. But is there something in our human spirit that can actually break, such that we lose our capacity for hope, faith, love? And if there is, once it breaks, what can we do to mend it?

Maybe brokenness isn’t a useful concept. Maybe we’re perfect and beautiful just the way we are, and inquiring about brokenness simply distracts us from recognizing this truth. I tend to believe this. But I still wonder about brokenness, mainly because there have been many people in my life who experience themselves as broken in some way – people living with post-traumatic stress disorder, survivors of abuse, people living with life-threatening illnesses, people who’ve been beaten down by poverty, racism or homophobia. It doesn’t seem fair or pastoral to inform them that their experience is an illusion, that they are perfect and beautiful just the way they are. They don’t feel that way. Who am I to tell them otherwise? Who am I to deny their experience of themselves?

So, though I don’t believe we are somehow inherently broken, I do believe we can break under certain circumstances. But if we can break, then I also believe we must be able to heal. This month you may hear me recite a meditation from the late spiritual writer and UU minister, Nancy Shaffer, entitled “Mending.” In it she asks, How shall we mend you, sweet Soul? / What shall we use, and how is it / in the first place you’ve come to be torn? / Come sit. Come tell me. / We will find a way to mend you.

She continues: I would offer you, sweet Soul, / this chair by the window, this sunlight / on the floor and the cat asleep in it. / I would offer you my silence, / my presence, all this love I have, / and my sorrow you’ve become torn.

Whether or not one finds “brokenness” to be a useful term, there are times when we break. And the question that matters to me is how we respond to brokenness in ourselves and others. How do we heal? How do we help others to heal? How do we mend? How do we help others to mend? I often think asking and answering these questions is the essence of being a Unitarian Universalist and a person of faith. For this month, and for all the days to come, may we stay focused on healing and mending the brokenness in the world. When we get underneath all the verbiage and by-laws, is that not the essence of our mission as a congregation? I think it is. I’ll be curious to know what you think.

With love,

Rev. Josh

January 2015 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

First, HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope and pray that 2015 will be a good year for you. And no matter what challenges you face in this new year, I hope and trust you will find at UUS:E a place to lay your burdens down – to let others hold them for a while, so that you may regain the energy and strength you need to move through life with integrity and grace.

Now, here are a few things I am looking forward to in the new year:

First, welcoming our new Music Director, Mary Bopp, to UUS:E on February 1st. Mary brings a wonderfully creative spirit, a willingness and desire to take bold, musical risks, and remarkable musical skills and knowledge. A brief introduction of Mary can be found in this newsletter and on the UUS:E website.

Second, working for racial justice. I think regardless of how anyone feels about the high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men and boys in Ferguson, MO, Staten Island, NY, and Cleveland, OH – not to mention the tasering of Luis Anglero in Hartford – there is a new opening in the nation to advance the cause of racial justice. With our Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee, I am expecting to work not only for better relations between communities of color and local police forces, but also on deeper, systemic issues confronting communities of color such as mass incarceration and unjust drug laws. Please let me know if you’d like to join in this work.

Third, implementing “full-week faith.” Though much has been said about full-week faith, we (and every UU congregation) are still trying to figure out exactly what it looks like in practice as we attempt to strengthen the multigenerational nature of our congregation. I like the idea of meeting our children and families “where they are,” out in the world: track meets, lacrosse games, plays, recitals, debates, Pokemon tournaments, movies, robot design competitions, disc golf, and much, much more!

Fourth, hosting the Chocolate Auction, Sunday, Feb 8th. No explanation necessary.

Finally, being present as UUS:E ordains Drew Moeller. For those who don’t know Drew, he’s a long-time member of UUS:E who left us a few years ago to complete his ministerial studies and begin working in congregations in New Hampshire. By now, all voting members of the congregation should have received a letter from the Policy Board asking them to vote on January 11th to ordain Drew to the Unitarian Universalist ministry. On the Unitarian side of our UU tradition, congregations have the authority to ordain ministers. Ordination is a sacred and longstanding practice – one that extends back to the first days of the congregational tradition in Christianity. Assuming the congregation votes to ordain Drew, the actual ceremony will take place on Sunday afternoon, April 26.Reverend Joshua Mason Pawelek, Parish Minister, Unitarian Universalist Society: East

That’s a little bit of me. I’d also like to know: What are you looking forward to in 2015!

With love,

Rev. Josh

December 2014 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

I’ve been preparing for our December ministry theme, hope. Of course, this is an appropriate theme for December, the “darkest” month, the month in which so many festivals of light take place, the month in which so many lights symbolize hope at the darkest time of the year. I suspect there is something deep in our cultural DNA that yearns for light in the midst of darkness. I suspect our ancient human ancestors – especially those in the northern latitudes – experienced winter as a difficult time, a time of hunger, a time of worry – will we survive? The return of the sun at the Winter Solstice must have been a powerful and inspiring moment, one that generated profound hope in human hearts – the days are getting longer; we’re going to make it!

I sense this deeper, ancient yearning at the heart of the Biblical Christmas story. I sense it at the heart of the Hanukah story. I sense it at the heart of the Christmas tree ritual – admittedly a pagan ritual – the placing of an evergreen inside the home, decorating it, lighting it – an enduring symbol of hope at the darkest time of the year.

Yet I also recognize that many people don’t feel hopeful, regardless of the season. For so many reasons, hope is difficult to find. I suppose there have always been and always will be some of us who have difficulty finding hope and feeling hopeful. And I also suspect there are challenges to hope that are unique to our era: the specter of climate change, the “endless” wars our government wages, the pervasiveness of poverty. So, I’ve been wondering: are there techniques for cultivating hope in an era of increasing hopelessness? There are. In her 2010 book, The Gifts of Imperfection, the popular researcher/social worker/storyteller, Brené Brown, says “I was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. Emotions play a supporting role, but hope is really a thought process made up of [a] trilogy of goals, pathways, and agency.” She says hope happens when “1) we have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go); 2) we are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes (I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again); and 3) we believe in ourselves (I can do this!).” This may seem obvious to many of us, but there’s an important reminder here: hope can be learned! I like that.

If you are among those who find it difficult to feel hopeful – and even if you aren’t – I have a threefold prayer for you. First, may the hope of this season wash over you, lift your spirits, connect you to that ancient experience of witnessing the sun’s return. Second, in this dark season may you step back from the busyness of everyday life, engage in self-reflection, and discern where it is you want to go and how to get there. Third, may you believe in yourself.

Or perhaps I can sum up this prayer in one short sentence: May you hope!Reverend Joshua Mason Pawelek, Parish Minister, Unitarian Universalist Society: East

With love, Rev. Josh

November 2014 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for November is faith. For years I have been referring to Unitarian Universalists as “people of faith,” and I continue to stand by my use of the term. However, I am aware that many UUs also continue to be somewhat squeamish about using the term. This makes sense. We UUs generally don’t identify as having a faith in the traditional sense. We tend to identify ourselves theologically as agnostics and atheists; and those of us who believe in God often (not always) have difficulty finding the right words to articulate how we understand God. The net result is that we UUs don’t speak about our faith in the way we typically hear Christians, Jews, and Muslims speak about faith. And some of us prefer not to use the word at all. I alluded to this in my September 28th sermon, ‘Taking Your Faith to Work,’ which you can find on the UUS:E website.

By the way, I’m conducting a test. Just to see who’s reading this column, I will buy lunch for the tenth person to contact me (by phone, email, Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook or – my favorite – face-to-face).

Even though we don’t think of ourselves as “people of faith” in a traditional sense, I still experience us as profoundly faithful people. Why? Well, because we do have faith. We have faith in humanity, in creativity, in compassion, in nature, and in love. We have faith in science, in democracy, in community, in fairness, and in humility. We have faith in the inevitability of change, in the mystery at the edges of our knowing, in tomorrow, in each other, and in gratitude. We have faith in ourselves, in our children, in education, in diversity, and in the earth. We have faith in the seasons, in the tides, in the warmth of the sun and the darkness of night. We have faith in our neighbors, in our UU principles, in our interfaith friends and partners, and in the words and deeds of prophetic people of all eras. We have faith in modern medicine, in the ancient healing arts, in the comforting assurance of friends, and in the kindness of strangers. We have faith in our UU tradition, in reason, in the power of speaking the truth, and in honesty. Some of us have faith in God – and it is a deep and sustaining faith. And, oh yeah, did I mention love? We put our faith in love.

I’m not interested in reclaiming the word faith from more traditional religions. Some words we may have to reclaim (redemption and salvation come to mind), but not faith. This word belongs to us as much as it does to any other religion. And I hope that those of you who don’t feel comfortable with the word can give it a second chance. Ask yourself: What is it that you find most reliable in the universe? What is it that feeds your soul? What are the values that most clearly guide your living? I contend that if you have answers to such questions, then surely you are a “person of faith.” So, please, ask yourself these questions during this month. And feel free to share your answers with me. I’d love to hear more about your faith

Reverend Joshua Mason Pawelek, Parish Minister, Unitarian Universalist Society: EastWith love, Rev. Josh