Minister’s Column February 2020

Dear Ones:
Our February ministry theme is resilience. Certain questions come to mind. What keeps us resilient when we encounter challenging times in our personal or family life—the death of a loved-one, news of a difficult diagnosis, loss of a job? What keeps us resilient as we encounter and witness the brokenness in our human family stemming from deep-seated oppressions—racism, sexism, homophobia, classism? What keeps us resilient as climate change continues to progress and our leaders seem incapable of taking action to address it? In my view, one of the purposes of a church like UUS:E is to help each of us answer these questions well.
Our Soul Matters resources remind us that resilience comes “from the Latin re ‘back’ and saliens ‘the beginning, the starting point, the heart of the embryo.’ Saliens also holds the suggestion of movement; to leap, to flow, to run, to hurry.” They point out that “one definition of resilience is the ability to return to one’s original shape after it has been unexpectedly jolted, stretched, flattened, bent, etc.” They ask, “Where are you in the journey of resilience? Starting to feel pulled? Already significantly bent? Stretched and worried about snapping? Slowly returning to form? Still trying to figure out what’s causing the kink? Gratefully back? Realizing there’s no going back to that original shape?” I like this line of questioning and I offer it to you for your contemplation during this cold, winter month.
I want to highlight a few things I am looking forward to this month:

First, I am excited to be working with Rabbi Richard Plavin who will be offering a course at UUS:E on the Jewish Liturgical Year. While we discuss various Jewish Holy Days during Sunday morning worship, Rabbi Plavin will provide more depth and explain how it all fits together. Classes take place on Thursdays, Feb. 13, 20 and 27 from 4:00 to 5:30. Sign up in the UUS:E office.

Second, I will be running the UUS:E Chocolate Aauction on Sunday the 16th, following the 11:00 service. Always fun. Do not miss it!

Third, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s “common read” this year is Roxanne Ortiz-Dunbar’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. From the UUA website: “This extraordinary book challenges readers to learn US history through a narrative that centers the story, the experiences, and the perspectives of Indigenous peoples. In 2019, Beacon Press published an adaptation for young people by Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese. Upending myths and misinformation that have been promulgated by leaders and media, it asks readers to reconsider the origin story of the United States taught to every US school child.” Our Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee will be coordinating book discussions in the spring. Now is the time to purchase the book and begin reading!

Finally, as many of you will remember, a year ago our Growth Strategy Team (GST) took a comprehensive survey of all UUS:E members and friends in an effort to discover what keeps people engaged in the life of our congregation. On Saturday, February 29 from 9:00 to 11:00, the GST will present the findings. All are welcome and highly encouraged to join us. On that same day from 11:00 to 1:00, the GST will work with UUS:E leaders and anyone else who is interested on how to respond concretely to the survey results. See our Policy Board Column in this newsletter for more info. I hope you can make it!

With love,
—Rev. Josh

Ministers Column January 2020

Dear Ones:

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a wonderful holiday season and are ready to begin 2020—UUS:E’s 51st year! Sorry, no big anniversary celebrations this year! But now that we’ve spent a year dedicating a good portion of our collective energy to reviewing the past five decades of our existence, it’s time to look forward. UUS:E leaders are beginning to envision a new strategic planning process. This process will be informed by the results of last year’s congregational survey. I am excited for us to now take a very intentional look at the future of our congregation!

Speaking of the new year, I’ve always loved a reading from the 20th-century Christian mystic Howard Thurman called “The Work of Christmas.” It’s #615 in our hymnal. He writes:

When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the [siblings],
to make music in the heart.

This reading says to me: “You’ve celebrated your values. Now that the festivities are over, put your values into action!”

Our ministry theme for January is integrity. Putting one’s values into action, living one’s values—which is what Thurman’s post-Christmas reading is about—is a definition of integrity. Our theme-based ministry resource, Souls Matters, reminds us that “Integrity stems from the Latin word ‘integer’ which means whole and complete. So integrity requires an inner sense of ‘wholeness’ and consistency of character. When you are in integrity, people should be able to visibly see it through your actions, words, decisions, methods, and outcomes. When you are ‘whole’ and consistent, there is only one you. You bring that same you wherever you are, regardless of the circumstance. You don’t leave parts of yourself behind.”

It has always been my hope that being part of the UUS:E community helps each of us to live with integrity—to be whole and consistent, to be fully ourselves. That is also my hope for us as a congregation. Within the context of our UU principles and our congregational covenant, what are our core values and how do we live them out? How do we put them into action? What is the shape of our integrity? How do people in the wider community recognize it? I suspect these will be ongoing, underlying questions for us as we begin taking that intentional look toward our UUS:E future. In the meantime, if you have thoughts about integrity, I’d love to hear them. Please feel free to reach out to me.

Once again, happy new year! Here’s to a great 2020 at UUS:E!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Ministers Column December 2019

Dear Ones:
When I explain Unitarian Universalism to people who have no familiarity with our faith, it is predictable that those who have at least some exposure to Christianity will ask some version of this question: If you do not believe Jesus is the son of God, why do you celebrate Christmas? It might also be this question: If you do not believe in the virgin birth (or the star, or the wise men, etc.,) why do you celebrate Christmas? A corollary question, which is even more difficult to answer: If you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, why do you celebrate Easter?

I am not sure why, but this year, I am finding these kinds of questions frustrating. It is not the people who ask them—they are usually genuinely curious. What is frustrating is the uncritical assumption that a full-on, heartfelt embrace of Christmas requires a very specific set of beliefs. I am frustrated at having to explain (or at anticipating having to explain) that belief is only one pathway into Christmas. So much of what happens at Christmas has nothing to do with belief. It has to do with culture, family traditions, and the survival of ancient pre-Christian rituals. And it has to do with hope. The earth begins tilting its northern latitudes back toward the sun on the winter solstice. For millennia that phenomenon inspired hope in human hearts. Christianity came along relatively recently in the grand scheme of human history and grafted its stories and beliefs onto a more ancient and diffuse set of celebrations.

I do not read the Biblical stories about the birth of Jesus through the lens of belief. I read them as stories of hope—hope for peace on our planet. And that is all I am going to say when people ask me this year. I am a hopeful person. Moreover, our Unitarian Universalist faith is a hopeful faith. We celebrate Christmas—we worship on Christmas Eve—because we are hopeful people. And like everyone else, we hunger for hopeful messages, hopeful stories, hopeful visions. Like everyone else, we need that reminder that love keeps breaking into the world, repeatedly, bringing healing, transformation, and peace.

Yes, that is what I am going to say this year. We are hopeful people. We celebrate Christmas as, among other things, a way to affirm hope, to instill hope in our hearts, and to spread hope into a hurting world.


On another note: A friend of UUS:E is looking for housing, preferably an apartment with one bedroom that can accommodate two twin beds in the Manchester, Vernon or Rockville area, and preferably on or near a bus line. She can afford a maximum of $700. If you know of any leads, please let me know, and I will forward the info.


Friends: I wish you the very best holiday season, a Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year.

With love,

—Rev. Josh


Ministers Column November 2019

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for November is attention. Paying attention is, at its most basic level, a spiritual practice: paying attention to your body, your feelings, your thoughts as they arise and recede; paying attention to whatever is right in front of you, whatever is happening in the present moment; paying attention to the blessings in your life; playing attention to the ugliness and pain in your life; paying attention to beauty; paying attention to evil. Paying attention in any of these ways connects us to something that matters. That’s why I say paying attention, at its most basic level, is a spiritual practice.

In her poem, “Gratitude,” Mary Oliver asks a series of questions that invite us to pay attention. She asks:

What did you notice?

What did you hear?

When did you admire?

What astonished you?

What would you like to see again?

What was most tender?

What was most wonderful?

What did you think was happening?

(By the way, this poem appears online on a number of websites. It’s worth reading. I found it here:

I offer these questions for your contemplation during the month of November. Keep a record of your answers—Daily? Weekly? After a Thanksgiving meal? After the UUS:E holiday fair? After a Sunday service at UUS:E? What do you notice when you pay attention? I’m curious. Feel free to share your answers with me.


There are some events I’m really excited about coming up this month. These are all worth paying attention to! First, on Tuesday the 5th at 7:00 PM, Pamela and Bishop John Selders of Moral Monday, CT will be at UUS:E to talk about the state of the

  • Black Lives Matter movement. UUS:E has made a congregational commitment to BLM—please come out for this informative event.
  • On Sunday the 10th in the afternoon, the CT Council for Interreligious Understanding will host an event at UUS:E, “To Love Your Neighbor, Get to Know Your Neighbor.” We will have guests from a variety of local faith communities speaking to us about their traditions.
  • On Wednesday the 20th, the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford will host Transgender Day of Remembrance. (See the announcement in this newsletter). This is a very important event for demonstrating our love and support for our transgender and non-binary siblings.
  • Finally, on Sunday the 24th at 4:00 pm at Temple Beth Shalom B’Nai Israel in Manchester, we will participate in an interfaith Thanksgiving Service featuring our good friend Diane Clare-Kearney as keynote speaker. (See announcement in this newsletter.)

I hope you can participate in some of these events, and the many other events happening at UUS:E in November.Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column October 2019


Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for October is belonging. Consider this set of questions from the 20th-century Quaker teacher, Douglas Steere:

The ancient question, “Who am I?” inevitably leads to a deeper one: “Whose am I?”—because there is no identity outside of relationship. You cannot be a person by yourself. To ask “Whose am I” is to extend the question far beyond the little self-absorbed self, and wonder: Who needs you? Who loves you? To whom are you accountable? To whom do you answer? Whose life is altered by your choices? With whose life is your own bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?

Steere’s premise is correct: “You cannot be a person by yourself.” Yet my sense is our larger society invites us more often than not to respond only to the question “Who am I?” as opposed to “Whose am I?” I feel this most poignantly right now as my high school senior goes through the process of applying to colleges. The fundamental question he is invited to answer in this process is “Who am I?” Similarly with any effort to find a job these days: Who am I? What value do I bring to this workplace? And certainly with the rise of social media over the last decade, people have more and more opportunities to broadcast to the world their answer to the question, “Who am I?”—their brand, their unique version of self, etc. Even in Unitarian Universalism we focus on this question. We contend that each person is free to choose their own spiritual path, their own beliefs. We build our own theology. “Who am I?”

To be sure, it is a good thing to know who we are. But if we only focus on knowing who we are, we risk forgetting where we are from, what forces have shaped us, and how various communities hold us, support us, and send us forth into the world. We risk forgetting whose we are. So, I’d like to suggest an exercise for the month of October. Notice how often you are encouraged to answer the question “who am I?” vs. how often you are encouraged to answer the question “whose am I?” “Who am I” questions will have to do with being your best self, or speaking your truth, or sharing what you are passionate about.

“Who am I” questions will have to do with you as a unique individual. But “Whose am I” questions will attempt to understand you as a member of groups—family, neighborhood, town/city, church, etc. These questions will sound more like Steere’s questions: Who needs you? Who loves you? To whom are you accountable? To whom do you answer? Whose life is altered by your choices? With whose life is your own bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?

Please let me know what you learn from engaging in this exercise. I suspect we aren’t invited to answer the “Whose am I” questions enough. That is, we aren’t invited to reflect on and share with others the deeper, interconnected parts of ourselves. And yet we need to be in touch with these parts of ourselves. We need to have the “Whose we are” questions in our lives, because we have no life without them. You cannot be a person by yourself.

As UUs were are well-practiced at asking “Who we are.” But we need to work on “Whose we are.” We do have answers to this question: we belong to the Earth. We belong to Nature. We belong to the divine. We belong to spirit of life. We belong to our wider community. And, perhaps most importantly, we belong to each other. Whose are you?

Rev. Joshua PawelekAmen and blessed be.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column September 2019

Dear Ones:

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

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

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


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

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

I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column July 2019

Dear Ones:

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


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


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


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

Have a great summer!

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column June 2019

Dear Ones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love and many blessings for a wonderful summer.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column May 2019

Dear Ones:

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

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

I’m interested. Can you tell me…?

I’m fascinated. How did you…?

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

May I ask you about…?

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

Where are you from originally?

Who are your people?

Were you scared?

How did you get through it?

What have you learned?

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

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

Do you miss her?

Do you miss him/her/them?

What’s next for you?

I’m curious. Tell me about yourself.

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

I’m curious. Tell me your story.

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

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

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

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column April 2019

Dear Ones:

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

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

May we rise to meet the wet.

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

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

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

With love,

—Rev. Josh