July Ministers Column

Dear Ones: My Whereabouts

Beginning after the July 4th weekend I will be taking my annual summer vacation and study leave. As always, I will be available throughout the summer in the event of a pastoral emergency. Our UUS:E Office Administrator, Annie Gentile, and our Pastoral Care Committee chair, Gailynn Willet, will know how to contact me during this time if necessary.

A Time of Transition

During the course of the summer and into the fall, UUS:E will be going through a variety of staffing transitions, which I’d like to outline here. First and foremost, we warmly welcome Gina Campellone into the position of Acting Director of Religious Education. Gina will have responsibility for organizing and run¬ning the children’s religious education program in partnership with the Religious Education Committee. Welcome Gina!

Second, Gina will be joined by Mr. Barb Greve, who will be serving as UUS:E’s Interim Religious Education Consultant. The Interim Religious Education Consultant will serve as a change agent, paying spe¬cial attention to UUS:E’s children’s Religious Education program and the quality and growth of UUS:E’s multigenerational community. In short, Barb’s job is to guide UUS:E through the developmental tasks of the interim period. These include reviewing our congregational history with regard to religious education, envi¬sioning a new future for religious education, and making the changes necessary to achieve that new vision. Barb is contracted to work approximately 180 hours for UUS:E through the course of the coming year. He will conduct most of his work through video and conference calls since he will be living in California. How¬ever, he does expect to visit us three to four times in person. I want to thank the Interim DRE Search Com¬mittee for finding and recommending Barb to play this consulting role. (Members of that committee included Walt Willet, Peter Marotto, Clare DiMaiolo, Andrew Clokey, Krystal Kallenberg, Jennie Bernstein, Diana Creamer, Polly Painter, Monica Van Beusekom). We warmly welcome Barb!

Third, since Gina Campellone is leaving her role as Religious Education Assistant, we will be hiring a new staff-member to replace her. At the time of writing this column we have not yet begun advertising for this position. We hope to have the new RE Assistant on board by August 11th.

Fourth, UUS:E is about to launch a search for a Director of Music to succeed Pawel Jura, whose last service will by July 27th. Leaders from the Music and Sunday Services Committees have been putting a search committee together. At this point we do not know when that search will be completed. We expect to take our time and find the right person for the position. So, in the meantime, we are hiring Pamela Adams as our acting pianist and choir director. Pamela is an accomplished musician who some may remember as the final director of the Beethoven Chorus. She will begin providing music for UUS:E services in August. We warmly welcome Pamela!

You can see we are indeed entering a time of transition. While I know such times can produce immense anxiety, I also know that all the people working on these various transitions (through the search committees, the RE, Music and Sunday Services Committees, the interim transition team, the Personnel Committee and the Policy Board) are wonderfully capable of getting us through to the other side.

Wishing you a wonderful summer,

Rev. Josh

June Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for June is family. I’ve been contemplating the ways UUS:E functions like a family. In particular, I’ve been thinking about all the ways we mark milestones and the passage of time. This year June includes a number of annual rituals and events that help us do this; and in so doing, they remind us of the value our UUS:E family holds in our lives. For example, on Sunday, June 1st, we will hold our annual flower communion. Everyone is invited to bring flowers to worship and then, during the ritual, everyone receives a flower that someone else has brought. This ritual, originated by the early 20th-century Czeck Unitarian minister, Norbert Capek, celebrates both our interconnectedness and unity as a congregational family, and also the unique personality, gifts and beauty each of us brings to the family.

On Sunday June 8th, our outgoing Director of Religious Education, Vicki Merriam, will lead one multigenerational worship service at 10:00; and we will follow that service with an all-congregational party in Vicki’s honor. This is an opportunity to say thank you and farewell to one who has been a pillar of our congregational family with love and devotion for more than 30 years. We could call it a ‘retirement’ party—and certainly it is—but it’s much more than that. Vicki isn’t just leaving a job. She’s marking the end of a career in which she pursued a true calling to nurture children, to expand their horizons through spiritual growth, and to promote Unitarian Universalist values in the world. It has been a profound blessing for our congregational family to partner with Vicki as she has pursued her calling over these past three decades—a blessing we will continue to experience for many years to come. In my view, this blessing is what we’ll be celebrating on June 8th. I hope you can make it!

And then on Sunday, June 15th, Father’s Day, we’ll be conducting our annual bridging ceremony to honor our youth who are graduating from high school and going on to pursue new endeavors. Just as families of all kinds celebrate the entry of their youth into adulthood, so our congregational family celebrates our youth who are making this transition. We’ve watched them grow—in some cases from their birth—into talented, competent, hopeful, principled people. We are proud of them and we wish them well.

Finally, during the last week of June, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly (GA) will take place in Providence, RI. Because of the close proximity of this year’s GA, quite a few UUS:E members will be in attendance. Those of you’ve who’ve attended GA before know this is the annual gathering of the larger Unitarian Universalist family. It’s an opportunity to conduct the business of Unitarian Universalism, to learn about new trends in UU congregational and spiritual life, to imagine new ministries, to see old friends and to make new ones. GA always reminds me that our UUS:E congregational family is tied to more than 1,000 other congregational families, bound together by our shared values and the powerful legacy of the liberal religious spirit. It’s a family I am proud to belong to! I hope you are too.

With love,

Rev. Josh

 

May 2014 Ministers Column

Our ministry theme for May is devotion, and while there are many ways to begin discussing this theme, I want to focus this column on what it might mean to be devoted to one’s spiritual community. And to begin, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to two people who have shown extraordinary devotion to UUS:E in recent years.

First, I am so thankful to Mary Ann Handley for stepping in and serving as our president over the past two years. She served longer than she originally expected to serve, and she has guided our board and our con­gregation through challenging times with grace, clarity, patience and integrity.

Second, I am grateful to Stan McMillen who is ending his second term as chair of the Stewardship Committee. Stan has issued a gentle but persistent call for all of us to practice the virtue of generosity at UUS:E. At a time when congregational giving is declining in the United States, and in the midst of difficult times for the U.S. economy, UUS:E members have by and large maintained or increased their giving. Stan’s leadership has been essential to this trend at 153 West Vernon St.

Mary Ann and Stan: Thanks for your service to our congregation. Thanks for your spirit. Thanks for your love. Thanks for your devotion.

There are many other UUS:E leaders I wish to thank as well, although they are too numerous to men­tion here. At our annual meeting on the evening of Saturday, May 17th, we’ll have an opportunity to thank and honor all our outgoing leaders, as well as welcome those leaders beginning new terms. I hope you’ll plan to attend and stay for the goods and services auction.

Being a congregational leader is one way we can express devotion to our spiritual community. I know not everyone sees themselves as a leader in this way, but if you have any desire whatsoever to lead, UUS:E is a good place to do it. There are many opportunities. If you have any interest in leadership, please do not hesi­tate to let me know. If you aren’t sure you want to lead, but just want to ‘test the waters,’ please consider join­ing a committee. Are you handy and like to tinker? Consider the Building and Grounds committee? Interested in community action? Consider the Social Justice / Antiracism Committee. Whether it’s music, caring for one another, caring for the earth, managing finances, raising money, educating children, working with youth, at­tending to human resources, leading Sunday services, we’ve got a place at UUS:E to put your talents and pas­sions to use. We’ve got a place for you to be devoted.

With love,

Rev. Josh

April 2014 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

It is my sincere hope that by the time you read these words we are no longer pining away for spring, but that it has actually arrived. It is my sincere hope that by now you have felt the first true warmth of spring—warm sun, warm breezes, warm rain. It is my sincere hope that the beauty of spring has begun to set­tle around you—that you have felt it, smelled it, seen it, heard it, tasted it. It is my sincere hope that any win­ter-induced depression that may have set in through February and March is now fading into the returning green. It is my sincere hope that Nature’s steady rebirth inspires your own steady rebirth in these early days of spring.

Our ministry theme for April is reconciliation. I am, at least as I write these words, wondering about the role of reconciliation in our lives. I’m toying with the general idea that reconciliation is a path to personal peace and contentment, whereas a lack of reconciliation can lead to inner struggle, dissonance, turmoil. On one level this is obvious. We ought to seek reconciliation whenever and wherever we can. We ought to seek reconciliation with those we’ve harmed and with those who’ve harmed us. We ought to seek reconciliation in the midst of conflict between those at war. We ought to seek reconciliation with the human condition, with the reality of death. We ought to seek reconciliation with the earth. We ought to seek reconciliation with whatever it is we hold sacred.

And yet we know sometimes reconciliation is not possible. Perhaps the person who harmed us has died. Perhaps the warring parties are beyond anyone’s reach. Perhaps the earth has already suffered too much damage. Perhaps the sacred is too veiled in mystery. What happens when reconciliation is not possible? Is it not true that a state of being unreconciled may be the genesis of remarkable creative energy? Is it not true that a state of being unreconciled – as painful as it may be – may inspire us to achieve in some way, serve in some way, love in some way?

With love,  Rev. Josh

March 2014 Ministers Column

 

Dear Ones:

In our Feb 2nd service I shared a meditation from the Rev. Elizabeth Tarbox in which she said, “Creation gives us snow.” Well, that may be true, but I am also very hopeful that by the time you read this message, we will be well beyond the worst of this winter’s snow. Right now, writing in mid-February, I’m looking out my window at somewhere in the vicinity of two feet of snow on the ground, and much higher piles that have resulted from my seemingly endless shoveling and snow blowing. I feel, at times, that I’m losing track of days because so many events have been cancelled and re-scheduled, and the kids have had so much time off from school. With heart-felt apologies to any skiers and winter-sports lovers in the congregation, I’m ready for an end to this year’s winter weather.

Creation gives us snow—especially here in New England—but it also gives us seasons. Not just winter, spring, summer and fall—though those are important and beautiful, each in their own way—but seasons of our lives. While transitions between the seasons of the year happen very naturally and usually right on schedule, I’ve observed that the seasons of our lives can come with a little more difficulty. It may be a cliché, but I think it’s worth naming from time to time: we don’t always transition gracefully from life season to life season.

Our March ministry theme is surrender. This has been one of my favorite sermon themes over the years, and I’m looking forward to raising questions about the place of surrender in our spiritual lives. Creation gives us snow, but winter inevitably surrenders to spring’s thaw, which in turn surrenders to summer’s heat, and on and on. It strikes me that any transition we make in our lives involves a certain amount of surrender. I suppose we are always at some level surrendering certain aspects of our prior years in order to live more grace­fully in the coming years. For example, watching one’s children come into adulthood requires a parent to sur­render their role as primary caregiver. I know no parent who has gone through this process and not encoun­tered some internal challenge surrendering their old life to make room for the new one.

Part of what it means to be wise is having an understanding of what is and isn’t possible. We gain wis­dom as we surrender our attachments to dreams that, it turns out, weren’t practical. I’m not suggesting that we abandon all our impractical dreams, especially if they still call to us. Certainly the world needs dreamers of impractical dreams. But I am suggesting that as we look back over our lives, we will likely see that we have made choices along the way. And often those choices involved surrendering some earlier dream of what our lives could be. I think about my own adolescent and young adult dream of becoming a rock star. (By the way, before that it was becoming a professional baseball player; and for a few brief moments in college I dreamed of becoming a politician.) Somewhere along the way I chose a different path. Somewhere along the way I sur­rendered. I feel sad recalling this. But I also know there was wisdom in surrendering.

With love,

Rev. Josh

 

February 2014 Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

“Love will guide us.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can   do that.”

“There is more love somewhere”

“If music be the food of love, play on.”

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you your  age.”

“Love is blind, and lovers cannot see, the pretty follies that themselves commit.”

“Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move his aides, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never   doubt I love.”

“You love me. Real or not real?” I tell him, “Real.”

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

“Love stinks!”

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever.”

“Love, love me do.”

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people   by halves, it is not my nature.”

“Love me tender, love me sweet.”

“Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures   of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”

“What’s love got to do with it?”

So much has, is and will be said about love. The risk is always that we lose sight of what love is. Of course, love is more than one thing. And because it is rooted in those places in us that so often lie beyond words—and often beyond understanding—it is difficult to say with real precision what love is. But I’d like to try. Our ministry theme for February is love. I’m mindful of a poem from WH Auden, “So Tell Me the Truth About Love.” Well, that’s what I’d like us all to do this month. Let’s explore what we mean in those instances when we use the word. Let’s try to tell the truth about love.

With deep and abiding love (which I will try to name),

Rev. Josh

January 2014 Minister’s Column

Hallelujah!

Dear Ones:

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a peaceful and restful holiday season. Winter is here. Cold, snow

and ice are here. Snow-blowing, shoveling, sanding and salting are here. Freezing and shivering are here. Hats, mittens, gloves, heavy coats and boots are here. Frozen car batteries are here. The dark season continues, though we know longer days are slowly returning. I hope and pray that this winter treats you well. I hope and pray that 2014 treats you well.

Our ministry theme for January is evil. A number of you have already told me you’re not clear on why

we’ve chosen this theme. I’ve had to confess that I lobbied pretty hard to include it this year. Certainly evil is one of those haunting religious words that many liberal religious people find little value in discussing. “It’s something religious conservatives talk about, but not us.” I get that. But evil is used commonly in both religious and secular contexts, and it feels important to me that we name what we mean if and when we use it. So, here are a few of my preliminary thoughts about what evil is and isn’t:

  • Evil is not the result of the machinations of some divine entity or fallen angel. There is no so-called “prince of darkness.”
  • Natural disasters may cause much suffering, but they are not evil, nor do they originate from the wrath of a divine entity.
  • Evil is not in any way inherent in the world, nature, or human beings, though human beings and human institutions certainly have the capacity to act in evil ways.
  • In attempting to identify what evil is, I begin with human behavior and ask questions like these: What kinds of behaviors destroy the human spirit? What kinds of behaviors diminish human dignity? What kinds of behaviors prevent human freedom and agency? What kinds of behaviors cause physical and emotional damage among human beings?
  • It is possible for good people to participate (wittingly and unwittingly) in the evil of human systems and institutions. For example, if we agree that the current fossil-fuel-based global energy system is destroying the planet, and if we agree that this destruction is a form of evil, then what are we to make of our own participation in this system? And, if we can identify racism operating in various systems and institutions in our country, and if we agree that racism is a form of evil, then what are we to make of our own participation in those systems and institutions?
  • I don’t expect agreement (anywhere) on a single definition of evil. I expect a wide variety of views and a large grey area. However, the absence of agreement should not lead to the absence of action. Whether we use the term evil or not, there are atrocities that require our faithful response.

Evil is not an easy or pleasant theme to explore. But I do think it behooves us to explore it with intention from time to time. That’s my goal this month—an exploration. I hope you find this exploration meaning meaningful.

With love,

Rev. Josh

December 2013 Ministers Column

I love the way the natural world presents itself to us at this time of year. Daylight hours are short. The trees have let go of their leaves. Cold wind sweeping across now-barren yards and fields invites an inward turn—a turn towards rest and reflection, a turn towards silence, a turn towards peace. I suppose those invita­tions are always with us, but somehow I recognize them more in this season.

I love the glitz and the glam of the holiday season as well—I’ve said this many times before. The lights, the rushing around, the shopping and general air of festivity energize me as well. Still,  I feel most “at home” in this season when the sun sets early, the stars come out, and that cold pre-winter wind starts sweeping across the now-barren land. I’m never quite sure why I feel this way. Perhaps it’s because I finally feel I have permission to look inward for a time, permission to rest for a time, permission to slow down. Perhaps it’s con­nected to pleasant associations from my childhood. I’m never quite sure. But I know I feel at home in this sea­son.

Having said that, I am aware from conversations with many of you over the years that this is the part of the season you like the least. Many of you, quite frankly, can’t stand the darkness, or the cold, or the wind. And for others, the holiday season is challenging for different reasons: remembering loved ones now gone; dis­appointment with the commercialization of the season; the general stress of preparing for family visits, shop­ping, fighting the traffic, etc. For all these reasons and more, many people report feeling blue during and after the holidays. The term “Blue Christmas” has become common. For the first time in my ministry I will offer a “Blue Christmas” service this year (Dec. 15). It seems important. Our ministry theme for the month is joy— and I really want to acknowledge and honor all of us who struggle to find real, authentic joy in this season.

Of course, I don’t want to lose sight of joy either. There is much joy to be found in the midst of the holiday season. There is joy to be found in songs of light and gladness, in opportunities for connection, in fes­tivity, in moments of quiet, solitude, rest and peace, and even in the mad rush of shopping, cooking, decorating and visiting. There is much joy to be found.

My prayer for us is thus twofold. First, I pray that in the midst of all our Blue Christmas times, we may find the support and comfort of people who understand what we’re going through and are willing simply to be with us in whatever sadness or pain we may feel. I hope UUS:E can be one source of such people in your life. Second, I pray there will be moments of joy for each of us, perhaps in unexpected places and at unexpected times. I hope UUS:E can be one source of joy in your life during this holiday season. May it be so.

With love,  Rev. Josh

November 2013 Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

This is the month when, among many other things, we’ll celebrate the 10-year anniversary of my call to serve as UUS:E’s minister. I’m excited to have one of my important mentors, the Rev. Mel Hoover, joining us for this occasion and preaching on November 10th. Mel will talk about the journey of Unitarian Universalism as he has encountered it in recent decades. And on November 17th I will preach about the next leg of our jour­ney together at UUS:E: hiring a new Director of Religious Education and implementing a new vision for the future of religious education at UUS:E. With the 10th anniversary celebration, the Holiday Fair, Thanksgiving, Transgender Day of Remembrance and much more, it’s going to be an exciting month!

My anniversary is one of the reasons we selected journeys as our ministry theme for November. For me, our partnership in ministry has been an incredible journey. Perhaps the most visible fruits of that journey are our expanded building and its various green energy features. I am still so proud (and suspect I always will be) to take visitors on tours of our meeting house!

When I reflect on the less visible fruits of our journey in ministry together, a number of things come immediately to mind: our small group ministry program, our growing adult religious education program, our presence on the world wide web and the quality of our website, the continuing high quality of our Sunday wor­ship services, the recent growth of our high school youth group, and our role as a faith-based leader in a num­ber of social change efforts in Connecticut: marriage equality, transgender civil rights, the environmental jus­tice law, the “aid in dying” movement, and much more. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

But I’m also mindful that the journey of congregational ministry never ends. We pass it on from one generation to the next. Each generation has its opportunity to shape the ministry. One of the themes I keep reading about in books and articles on ministry is that there comes a time in the life of any congregation when the ways in which previous generations have “gotten things done” no longer work for new generations. For a number of reasons I’m beginning to suspect that our way of “getting things done” at UUS:E may not be as ef­fective as it used to be. We rely on committees to do the work of the congregation; and we rely on individuals to step up and lead committees. But it appears to be getting harder and harder to find people who have the time and energy to serve as leaders on committees. There are many reasons for this, but I want to be clear: the fact that the realities of peoples’ lives make it harder to engage in congregational life in the traditional way does not mean that people aren’t excited about UUS:E’s ministry. I think people are very excited and feel there is potential to do amazing things at UUS:E. But it also means that people want to engage differently. This raises questions for me. Can we figure out new ways for people to engage? Can we adapt to changing times? How can we make it easy and simple for passionate people to pursue the ministries they long to pursue at UUS:E? These are new questions for us. But I think they’re right questions. I think adapting to changing times is part of our journey in the coming years. I, for one, am looking forward to it! I hope you are too!

With love,

Rev. Josh

October 2013 Ministers Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for October is abundance. I’ve been struggling to find my footing with this term. I’m mindful of the notion that abundance is a matter of perspective. That is, if you view life as a competition for scarce resources, or if you assume the world is a place of limits, stringencies, insufficiencies, etc., then you will encounter scarcity everywhere you go. But if you view life as an effort to share the gifts of the earth and all that humanity holds in common, or if you assume the world is more or less able to provide for all its inhabi­tants in a more or less unending way, then you will encounter abundance everywhere you go. It’s a matter of perspective.

I think this notion is way too simple. The person who notices scarcity is not necessarily just imagining it. We know there are many examples of real scarcity in many parts of the world: scarcity of clean drinking wa­ter, of healthy food, of breathable, unpolluted air, of decent educational opportunities, of access to work that pays a living wage. We know that for people who live in poverty in the United States and elsewhere, scarcity is a daily reality. For anyone who lacks access to clean drinking water, scarcity is a daily reality. I don’t think it is fair to say to people living with scarcity that abundance is a matter of perspective, that if you change your view of the world you shall have abundance. It just isn’t true.

Of course, talking about abundance in these terms points to questions of our material existence and relative comfort—wealth, access to shelter, food, water, educational opportunities, work, health care, etc. But what about our spiritual lives? What might it mean to have abundance in our spiritual lives regardless of our material condition? And is that a fair question? I ask because I don’t want to fall into the trap of suggesting that an abundant spiritual life makes material comforts unnecessary. I don’t want to fall into the trap of suggesting that an abundant spiritual life is a fine substitute for social and economic poverty. The meek may inherit the earth, but that doesn’t mean they expect to stay poor.

Having said all of this, I’m also not yet prepared to jettison the notion that abundance is, at least at times, a matter of perspective. I feel there is something valuable worth exploring here. That is, when we talk about abundance, what is the relationship between our material lives and our spiritual lives? I’m only begin­ning to gather my thoughts at the time of writing this column, but somehow an abundant spiritual life ought to lead to balance in our material lives. And here’s my best statement (so far) about what that balance might look like: 1) A desire for sufficient (enough?) material comfort as opposed to a desire to hoard wealth. 2) A willing­ness to work for a world in which all people have access to sufficient economic resources. 3) A generous orien­tation towards others; a willingness to give. 4) A capacity to find joy and value in spiritual things (worship, family, community, learning, growing, spiritual practice, spiritual experience) more than material things, with­out losing sight of the role material comforts play in our lives.

I hope these initial reflections seem worthwhile to you. I look forward to be in dia­logue with you about abundance.

With love,

Rev. Josh