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

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