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 revpawelek@sbcglobal.net 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

October 2014 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for October is atonement. This is a direct nod to the Jewish High Holy Days, which begin this year with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) on the evening of September 26th, and conclude with Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) on October 4th. It has become somewhat of a cliché at this time of year for UU ministers to acknowledge that our liberal religious tradition has no formal ritual of atonement. That is, we don’t have an explicit spiritual practice of apologizing to those we’ve harmed, whether human or divine. We don’t have a formal ritual for confession of sins. And we don’t have a formal ritual for offering forgiveness to those who’ve harmed us. Well, I decided a few months ago that I don’t want to preach “that” sermon this year. I don’t want to spend time in the pulpit lamenting the fact that we UUs don’t have rituals that bring us back into right relationship with our fellow humans and with the Holy, however we understand it. Let’s face it, we’re not big on ritual, period.

Having said that, I hope and trust all of us know that not having a formal ritual of atonement does not in any way mean we aren’t responsible for seeking forgiveness from those we’ve harmed or offering forgiveness to those who’ve harmed us. That’s why I don’t want to preach “that” sermon. I think we know this. I think we know that, ritual or no, we are responsible for forgiveness.

This applies not only to forgiveness in relation to others, but in relation to ourselves as well. The Yom Kippur rituals enable atonement for wrongs committed against other people and against God. As far as I know, Yom Kippur does not address the harms we do to ourselves. I’m thinking about the ways in which we second guess ourselves, hold ourselves to impossible standards, put enormous pressure on ourselves to succeed, succumb to fear, fail to listen to our instincts, “beat ourselves up” for making mistakes, fail to trust ourselves, engage in destructive behaviors, etc. The list goes on and on. There are so many ways in which we can and do harm ourselves. Given this, I feel called this month to focus some of my attention on what it means to forgive ourselves, to make amends, to start again with a renewed focus on our own health and well-being. What are the kinds of situations that require forgiveness of the self? What might a ritual of self-forgiveness look like? This is the sermon I want to preach this year – a sermon about how we forgive ourselves.

There’s a poem in our hymnal by Mary Oliver which starts with the words, “You do not have to be good. / You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.” At least for now, I’m reading these words as a challenge to be kind to ourselves; to take it easy on ourselves; to not put so much pressure on ourselves; and, when necessary, to forgive ourselves.

I’ll leave you with these questions: Is there some harm, great or small, you have done to yourself? And, if so, what words can you say in order to forgive yourself?

With love, Rev. Josh

September 2014 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

As I sit down to compose this column I’ve just returned with my sons from a local orchard. We picked peaches and our first batch of apples (Ginger Golds and Paula Reds). Before that we attended Mason’s middle school orientation. He starts school on August 27th, Max on the 28th. I’ve been easing my way back into full-time ministry, planning September services, especially our September 7th homecoming service. There is still more than a month of summer remaining, but today feels like one of those ‘end of summer’ days. It’s a bittersweet feeling.

I’ve written before of my fondness for the times of transition between seasons. Transitions are potent spiritual moments. Whether we’re talking about the seasons of the year or the seasons of our lives, in those moments when we come to the edge of one season and begin preparing to enter the next, we have an opportunity for spiritual growth. For me that growth comes as I reflect on the season that is passing away: What have I learned during this season? What has been good about this season? What will I miss about this season? How am I different because of this season? And then, full of thoughts and feelings about the waning season, I can begin to contemplate how I want to live and what I want to experience in the coming season. By intentionally reflecting on the changing of seasons, I find I feel more grounded, more relaxed, more connected, more whole.

Yes, summer is still with us for a few more weeks, but already I am missing the relative freedom and spontaneity of summer—a lighter schedule, going barefoot, grilling, long, warm, sunny days, laying in the hammock, picking berries, days at the beach, ice cream, visiting with family, native tomatoes and corn, more time for games, more time for reading and creative writing, hiking, more opportunities to exercise. But this season cannot go on. And as it winds down, I recognize I am rested, refreshed, renewed.

As much as I will miss summer, I am also excited and ready to get back to the work of full-time ministry in autumn, to get back to the practice and the discipline of preaching and pastoring, to get back to the more structured routines of work, family life, and parenting. And I am definitely excited to be back in the midst of our congregation, to be with you, to be present to your joys and sorrows, to be present to your life transitions, and to do my part as we continue to grow our beloved multi-generational spiritual community.

I hope your transition from summer to fall is a good one. I hope you can say a good ‘goodbye’ to the season that is passing away, and make yourself ready to embrace the season that is coming with all the grace and dignity you can muster.

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