October 2022 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones,

In my September 18 sermon on belonging, I spoke about the challenge of learning to ask for help. I quoted a passage from Emergent Strategy, the 2017 book by writer, activist, facilitator, and organizer, adrienne maree brown. In this passage, brown talks about learning to ask for help. It wasn’t easy. It took practice. There were a lot of cultural norms around not sharing that got in her way. But she learned to ask, even when she knew there was no way she could return the favor to the person helping her. It changed her life. She writes: “The result of this experience is that I feel so much more woven into the world. I still anticipate independence, my default can-do self space. But I don’t want to sever any of this connecting fabric between myself and all of the incredible people who held me … saw me, corrected me, held me in my contradictions, met my needs. I want more of my life to feel this interdependent, this of community and humanity.” (I highly recommend this book!)

In a similar vein, I’d like to share with you some words from How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community, by Mia Songbird, another writer, activist, facilitator and organizer. She quotes Amoretta Morris (a wise woman she knows), who wrote: “It’s okay to ask for help. In fact, by doing so, you are taking part in the divine circle of giving and receiving. While we often focus on what the request means for the asker/recipient, we should remember that giving can be transformative for the helper…. By not asking for help when you need it, you are blocking that flow.” Mia Songbird adds: “This is one of the most liberating things I’ve ever read. We have a responsibility to each other to ask for help when we need it. Instead of listening to the fictitious lone wolf in us, we must listen to the wolf in the pack, and tap into the impulse that moves us to co-create opportunities for mutuality, opportunities to care for and be there for one another.” (I highly recommend this book!)

I’m going to continue talking about asking for help, naming our vulnerabilities, addressing our feelings of isolation, etc. As we move more fully into this post-pandemic era, our congregational community will benefit as we learn to ask for, receive, and give help. I suppose this ties in nicely with our ministry theme for October: courage. As I said in my September 18 sermon, asking for help, confessing our vulnerabilities, naming how we don’t feel like we fully belong—these are not our natural inclinations. They require practice. They require intentionality. They require courage. But the benefit, as both adrienne maree brown and Mia Songbird point out, is that we live more fully into interdependence. We feel more secure in the world. And that matters.

For now, if you’re feeling isolated, or if you’re living with vulnerabilities that you have trouble sharing, I encourage you to tell someone at UUS:E. Tell me. Tell a member of the Pastoral Friends Committee (Sally Gifford, Ellen Williams, Sid Soderholm, Sue McMillen, Gene Sestero, Ann Stowe, Peg Darrah, Laurie Semprebon). Tell someone to whom you feel close. It very well may take courage. Indeed, such feelings are often difficult to name openly. But naming them gives others a chance to respond in creative ways. And even if there is no way for us to fully address how you feel, at least someone else will know. You will be seen, held, loved. And that matters. Take courage friends!


With love,

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Job Posting

Greetings from UU Class Conversations!

We are writing to ask that you please share our job posting for a caucus coordinator with those who might be interested in joining us. While for all UUs, this job may be of particular interest to divinity students and community ministers. Our Working Class Caucuses, meeting from January – June 2023 will focus on those who identify as working-class and will generate recommendations for UU congregations and our larger association on ways that their policies and procedures can become more welcoming for people with more limited class advantage. We hope you will share this in your communications with them as well.

Until next time, with hope and faith,

The UU Class Conversations Steering Committee

[email protected]

Sunday Services Committee Survey

We’re looking for fresh talent and ideas! Please take a moment to fill out this short survey to help us make our Sunday services even better!

September 2022 Minister’s Column

Let’s cut right to the chase: I begin my 20th year as UUS:E’s minister this summer, August 15 to be precise. No mincing of words: This is a huge milestone, not only for me, but for all of you. The average length of a parish ministry these days is ridiculously brief, 4 – 5 years. I’m not entirely sure why the average tenure is so short. It may have something to do with all the headwinds facing traditional congregations in our era—headwinds which the pandemic exacerbated. Whatever the cause, it hasn’t impacted UUS:E. Twenty years is indeed a huge milestone, and for that reason I am feeling celebratory! (I’m sure we’ll find time to celebrate at some point.)

As I have been reflecting on twenty years of ministry, two features of my experience at UUS:E stand out to me. First, UUS:E is committed to shared ministry on Sunday mornings. The full-time minister is not a full-time preacher. This means that the congregation hears wisdom and insight not only from me, but from its own members and guest speakers on a very regular basis. I firmly believe (and I’m being completely serious when I say this) my ministry has lasted so long because you don’t hear from me every Sunday. My voice is certainly prominent, but it is one voice among many. There’s a balance, a multiplicity of perspectives and approaches, a very natural and inherent worship democracy. If it were me in the pulpit every single Sunday for twenty years, no matter how much you appreciate me as your minister, there would be no balance, no pulpit diversity. It would be much harder to sustain a long-term parish ministry.

Second, over twenty years, it is possible to develop strong personal relationships with many members of the congregation. I know you. I know your stories. I know your struggles. I know your joys. I know your children, especially if they grew up at UUS:E. And not only do I know you, I know the wider community. I have strong personal relationships with clergy from many faiths, leaders from community organizations, town and state workers, activists, politicians, labor leaders, social workers, teachers, therapists, medical providers, nursing homes, funeral homes, and more. These relationships are a natural outcome of serving as a minister in one place for twenty years. They are assets one simply cannot develop in a 5-year ministry.

Along those lines, “relationship-building” and “community-building” are going to be important themes for me this year. During my study leave hours I’ve been reading writers who focus on these themes as responses to the challenges of White Supremacy culture, patriarchy, and hyper-capitalism: Mia Songbird (How We Show Up), Adrienne Marie Brown (Emergent Strategy), Alexis Pauline Gumbs (Particle and Wave and M Archive: After the Fall of the World). I was drawn to these and other resources because it is clear to me that as we slowly move from COVID as pandemic to COVID as endemic, the possibility for isolation is strong. COVID has changed our ways of interacting; and while some people are thriving in terms of community engagement, others are feeling more isolated than ever, more lost, more forgotten. It is important to me that UUS:E does everything it can to address that risk and potential for isolation within our congregation and in the wider community. You can expect to hear much more from me on this topic. As I begin my twentieth year as your minister, I am excited for the transformative ministries that we have yet to build. I hope and trust you are excited as well.


With love,

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Gong Journeys

Into the Sacred Heart

Friday, September 9, 6:45 PM

Neuro-acoustic sound therapist and gong teacher Ed Cleveland is back by popular demand. Ed will create a meditative, healing sound-bath (using gongs and other instruments) that facilitates a shift from beta brainwaves to theta and delta, or deep meditative states of consciousness.

This profound shift, facilitated by the gongs, gently signals the nervous system and vagus nerve to move from the sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) response to the parasympathetic (rest and digest). The result is relief from stress, deep relaxation, renewed health, and a sense of well-being.

Bring your own folding gravity chair, yoga mat, blankets, pillows, etc. Dress for comfort. Doors open at 6:45 to get settled. Gong bath starts at 7 PM.

Suggested donation: $25. No one will be turned away.

From My Piano Bench

A Live Concert by Dorothy Bognar

Sunday, October 2, 2022

3:00 PM

Unitarian Universalist Society: East


“From My Piano Bench” features a selection of pieces from Dorothy Bognar’s repertoire, featuring a variety of styles and moods, all intended to lift the spirits.

This concert is generously being offered by Dorothy as part of our 2022 Goods & Services Auction.

Seats are $15 each. You may attend in-person or via Zoom.

To Buy Tickets:

Call Annie in the UUS:E Office at 860-646-5151 or stop by the table in the lobby on Sunday mornings.

There is a maximum of 60 in-person attendees and unlimited Zoom attendees. Invite your friends!

July 2020 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

The following reading appears in Hear the Earth Call, a collection of prayers and sermon excerpts that Duffy Schade, Sharon Gresk and I produced a number of years ago. It’s called “Digging in the Dirt,” and it strikes me as important advice for engaging with summer:

My younger son, Max, who is eighteen months old, likes digging in dirt. Over the past few months, whenever we go outside, Max grabs a plastic shovel from his shelf in the garage and enthusiastically bobs and waddles over to the three small pine trees lining our driveway. He squats at the base of the middle tree and digs in the dirt. He puts his shovel in the ground and loosens a scoop of brown, sandy earth. He lifts it slowly; he studies the scoop intently—his gaze pierces; and then very slowly he slides the dirt off the shovel back onto the ground—again and again and again. Peter Mayer has given me words for what Max is doing. He is memorizing “the pages of gravity.”

I don’t know what question Max’s young mind is really asking as he conducts this almost daily ritual, but he’s clearly asking one. His stare is so fixed, as if he’s looking for something—not something in the dirt—not a worm or a mole or an acorn or some other buried treasure. It’s as if he’s looking for the nature of dirt itself. I’ve seen him touch it, smell it, taste it, share it with others—but it’s that intense gaze which says, “I need to know what this stuff is. It’s hard and solid underfoot, but in my shovel it becomes a billion tiny pieces that flow like water. How does it do that?”

I hear it said a lot, “young children are sponges.” They are learning the world around them, taking in vast amounts of data and integrating it into their knowing. Their quest for information is very natural, very much a part of who they are. They are open, quizzical, experimental, self-directed, uninhibited, compulsive, and at times obsessive. They are firm believers in the notion there are no bad questions. They love to ask “why?” “what?” and “how?” They are sponges. We might also say they are searchers.

When it comes to adult spiritual searching, I contend the most important model we have may be that of young children learning the world for the first time. And this is good news. In some way or another, we’ve all been there before. Our bodies remember. Do you remember digging in dirt?


Between early July and mid-late August I will be taking approximately 6 weeks of vacation and study-leave. Stephany and I have no big plans this summer, but I certainly am looking forward to some much-needed down-time. During the summer Ellen Williams will be serving as the chairperson for the Pastoral Friends Committee. (Her contact info is in the UUS:E directory or at the UUS:E office.) You can contact her for pastoral needs. She will be in touch with me as necessary.

For now, I wish for you a wonderful summer. I wish for you many good questions—Why? What? How? I wish for you many opportunities for digging in the dirt, for returning to your spongey, childhood self, your searching self, the self that has never fully disappeared. I pray you can encounter that self this summer


With love,

Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek



June 2020 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for June is celebrating blessings. For so many reasons, this is a critical theme for us to reflect on. We ought to take time to celebrate our blessings, lest we forget the good things in our lives! But having said that, I must confess I am not feeling particularly celebratory. Like many of you, I am dreading the demise of Roe v. Wade and the coming loss, in so many states, of women’s freedom to make decisions about their own bodies. And I am dreading what will likely be attempts at the national level in future years to curtail or end those freedoms in states where they still exist. I am not feeling celebratory. I am preparing emotionally and spiritually for a long struggle. Maybe the blessing I and we need to celebrate is our capacity to know what matters most, and to do whatever is in our power to protect it. Certainly women’s freedom to make choices about what happens to their own bodies matters most. Certainly women’s health care matters most. Certainly resources for family planning, pre-and post-natal care, and a robust social safety net matter most. Yes, I can celebrate that blessing.

I am deeply saddened, enraged and fearful, in response to the May 14 White supremacist mass shooting in Buffalo. I am in touch with so many colleagues—ministers, rabbis, and imams who are similarly saddened, enraged and fearful. For weeks now, the interfaith clergy conversations have not been about mission, vision, justice, compassion and service as they usually are. The conversation has been about building security, especially for Black churches, synagogues and mosques. In the days following the Buffalo shooting, I had the privilege of helping to write a response on behalf of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance. That statement is included in this newsletter. It features a link where you can donate to Black led organizations in Buffalo who are holding their community together in the wake of this atrocity. Maybe the blessing I and we need to celebrate is our many relationships in the wider community, relationships that serve as a source of strength and mutual aid in difficult times; relationships in which we hold others, and others hold us. Yes, I can celebrate that blessing.

I am not surprised that we’ve already had 100-degree days in May. I know a few record-breaking heat waves aren’t proof that the planet is warming, but we have the proof 1,000 times over. At the time of writing this column, I am about to meet with my UU clergy study group (our first in-person meeting since the fall of 2019). For this session, we are studying faith-based responses to the climate crisis. I am looking forward to being with colleagues, but I am dreading (there’s that word again) that feeling of overwhelm that arises when we learn just how bad the crisis is. Maybe the blessing I and we need to celebrate is that we humans, who have caused this crisis, do still have the capacity to reduce the severity of its inevitable impacts, if we can find the collective, global will. And maybe that is a blessing worth celebrating. There is something in the human spirit that can do this! Yes, I can celebrate that blessing. But it comes with a prayer: may our celebration lead to concerted, sustained, faithful action. There is much at stake.


With love and care,

Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

Tree of Hope

Congregants made pledges at our 2022 Earth Day service.

May 2022 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

First: Annual Meeting! I want to remind everyone that our Annual Meeting takes place after the second service on May 15th. The meeting should be relatively short, as we are only voting on the proposed budget and slate of officers, board members and committee chairs. All voting members should have received the call to the meeting in late April. If you are a voting member and you didn’t receive the call, please contact our office.

Second: the 8th UU Principle. It had been our plan to vote at the Annual Meeting on whether or not to adopt the 8th UU principle as a congregation. However, after careful consideration, the Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee has recommended that we postpone the vote minimally until the fall. In March we had a wonderful 8th Principle workshop with Paula Cole Jones, but the workshop helped us recognize that May 15th is too soon to hold a meaningful vote. Indeed, a vote this momentous requires that we have many opportunities for study, questioning, learning and debate.

In the interest of generating understanding of and enthusiasm for the 8th Principle, the Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee will be offering a variety of avenues for learning. On May 1, following the second Sunday service, they will host a viewing of portions of Paula Cole Jones’ March workshop. They will also provide monthly columns in this newsletter on “Why the 8th Principle Matters to Me,” as well as links to helpful resources in our weekly eblasts.

The 8th Principle calls us to address all the ways various forms of oppression—racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, etc.—live in our institution, and to truly center the work of confronting oppression in all aspects of our congregational life. This is a challenging but liberating call. But that is also true of the call implicit in the current seven UU principles! I hope you will take the time over the next six months to learn about the 8th Principle and why so many other congregations have adopted it.


Finally, our May ministry theme: Nurturing Beauty. I likely won’t be preaching directly on this theme, so I want to take a moment here to urge you to contemplate that which is beautiful in your life, to surround yourself with that beauty, and to revel, unapologetically, in that beauty. It goes without saying that life has been difficult these past few years, and there is likely more difficulty in the future. But difficulty is not, and never has been, an excuse to deprive ourselves of beauty. Wherever you encounter beauty—in nature, in a meal well-prepared, in the arts, in music, in worship, in meaningful relationships, in community, in a good book, in a unique experience—my prayer for you at the beginning of May, is that you may encounter it in abundance, that it will feed your soul, and strengthen you for whatever difficulties lay ahead.

And if you have a spare minute, please send me a note about beauty at [email protected]. I’d love to learn about the beauty that surrounds you!


With love,

Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek