Minister’s Column March 2023

Dear Ones:

March arrives and, if it hasn’t happened already, our spirits begin anticipating the arrival of spring in earnest. Though it’s been a mild winter to say the least, I am relishing the coming of warmer weather.

March arrives and UUS:E kicks off its Annual Appeal. I trust it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: this year is different. This year we need to dig deeper, to pledge even more generously.

Ever since the completion of our building project in 2010, we’ve been balancing our budget by spending down reserves. During the recent pandemic years, we’ve been balancing our budget using money from our Paycheck Protection Program loan. Back in 2010 we only expected to follow this practice of deficit budgeting for three years. Since we rarely spent as much as we anticipated; and since there always seemed to be unanticipated sources of revenue, we continued with this practice. (This is even true this year, as we aren’t paying what we budgeted for snow removal, the Chocolate auction did much better than expected, and we’ve had a few more rentals than anticipated.) But we were always slowly spending our reserves to the point where we simply no longer have this option. I should point out that one of the major benefits of this practice was that we were able to continue offering our staff the salaries and benefits recommended by the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Church Staff Finances. This has been critically important to us as a congregation. Providing fair compensation to our staff is one of the ways we put our values into action.

A long line of UUS:E Treasurers (and others) kept reminding us, year after year, that this practice of deficit budgeting was unsustainable—that at some point we would have to change our behavior. Furthermore, this year, our Buildings and Grounds Committee, under the leadership of Lynn Dove, has reminded us—with necessary urgency—that various features of our beloved meeting house will be needing maintenance and even replacement in the coming years, and we are not ready. In order to care for our building over the long-run, and in order to not set ourselves up for endless capital campaigns in the coming decades, we need to start funding our building reserves now. There really is no way around this.

This year, no matter what, we will break our habit of deficit budgeting. This is a huge challenge that will require all of us to dig deeply and make the most generous financial pledge possible to our beloved spiritual community. As I write this column, the Policy Board is preparing an “ideal” budget that continues to compensate our staff fairly and which puts $30,000 into our building reserves. Both of these things are possible. Your generosity can make it happen! It is true that we may have to make some very hard decisions before next year’s final budget is presented to the congregation in May. The Policy Board is prepared to make these difficult decisions. But we’re not starting there. We’re starting from a place of abundance, from a place of love for UUS:E—its people and its meeting house—and from a place of profound faith in your generosity.

We have accomplished so much as a congregation, not just over my now 20-year tenure as your settled minister, but since the founding in 1969. Meeting our challenges with tenacity and grace is in our congregational DNA. I am confident we can meet this current challenge as well. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your generous pledge to our congregation, and to the future of our faith.

With love,

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

The Community of Earth

On Saturday March 4, 2-4 PM the congregation is invited to view a new art show collaborative entitled, “The Community of Earth”.  Families are welcome.  Refreshments will be served.

“Mahjabeen” is one of a series of portraits I’m working on of world religious leaders that I met at a conference on Star Island last summer. The conference was on Cross-cultural Conversations, and this resonated with me as an important and necessary component of our Community of Earth. That is what inspired me to coordinate this themed exhibit and to ask all of the artists to express their own interpretation of the Community of Earth.

Jane Penfield

Minister’s Column February 2023

Dear Ones:

Love is our ministry theme for February. As I begin to contemplate this theme, I am immediately drawn to the proposed changes to Article II in the Unitarian Universalist Association’s bylaws. [As a reminder, Article II is the section of the UUA’s bylaws where we find the seven UU principles and the 6 sources of our UU living tradition.] I preached about the proposed changes in January. I am planning to say yet more about the changes in my February 19th sermon. This is entirely in keeping with our ministry theme, since the proposed new Article II places love at the center of our faith. Here’s an excerpt from the proposal:

Love is the enduring force that holds us together. As Unitarian Universalists in religious community, we covenant, congregation-to-congregation and through our association, to support and assist each other in engaging our ministries. We draw from our heritages of freedom and reason, hope and courage, building on the foundation of love. Love inspires and powers the passion with which we embody our values.

I say ‘YES!” I say “AMEN!” I say “HALLELUJAH!”

Of course, assuming our General Assembly accepts the proposed changes, there is much about the current Article II I will miss. I will miss the language of the seven principles, though I feel confident that the new “statement of values” is an excellent replacement. I will likely miss the language of the six sources more. I have always loved the way we name a multiplicity of specific sources for our faith—awe and wonder, prophetic words and deeds, wisdom from the world’s religions, Jewish and Christian teachings, Humanist teachings, Earth-centered teachings. The new language of “inspirations” is fine, but it isn’t nearly as specific. We haven’t lost the concept of multiple, specific sources, we just won’t be naming them in the new Article II.

I say YES to the proposed changes precisely because they put love at the center of our faith. I’m mindful that the seven UU principles make no mention of love. That absence has always created dissonance for me. The principles are excellent expressions of the modern, liberal religious identity and worldview. But for me, the primary purpose of our Unitarian Universalist faith—indeed, the purpose of any faith—is to help people:

  • To feel love in their hearts (for other people, for creatures, for the Earth, for divinity)
  • To feel loved by a community of peers, i.e., a church, a temple, a mosque, etc.
  • To manifest love in the world as justice, compassion and equity.

There are many ways to achieve this purpose of experiencing love and putting love into action. I believe our congregation, and Unitarian Universalism in general, have been pursuing this purpose all throughout our history. And I am excited that we are finally naming love as the central value of our faith. Will this change, assuming it happens, change us in any appreciable way? That’s one of the questions I want to ask in my February 19th sermon. Maybe naming something that’s been with us all along won’t lead to a noticeable change. I suppose time will tell. But for now, please know I am very excited to find out.


With love (genuine, heart-felt, enthusiastic, raucous, boisterous love!),

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Minister’s Column January 2023

Dear Ones:

The numbers 2-0-2-3 feel somewhat inauspicious to me as far as years go. 2023 is no 1999 (“party like it’s…”), 2000 (new century) or 2020 (pandemic, George Floyd, etc.). It certainly doesn’t have the smooth, quarter-century feel of 2025. Nope, 2023 feels like a non-milestone year. Meh. Blah. Ho-hum. Except that for Unitarian Universalism, it’s a big year, in a funky, congregational way. 2023 is the year when the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly (Pittsburgh, third week of June—anyone interested in joining me there?) debates wholesale changes to Article 2 of its by-laws. (Actually, as members of a member institution, they are OUR BYLAWS!) Article 2 is where the 7 UU principles live. Article 2 is where the sources of our living tradition live. And if the new Article 2 proposal passes, both the principles and the source language will disappear.

Our ministry theme for January is Finding Our Center. There are, of course, many ways to approach this theme. In my January 8th sermon, I’ll be talking about the concept of “shared ministry,” which is a critical “center” for our congregation. At our January 15th Sunday service, Gina and I will talk about the 1963 “Children’s Crusade” to end segregation in Birmingham, AL. We will emphasize another important “center” of our congregational life: social justice activism. And in my January 22nd sermon, I will be preaching about the proposed changes to the UUA’s Article 2. Certainly, the seven principles and the sources live at the center of Unitarian Universalism. They have lived there comfortably for many years. We should not give them up lightly. We should feel confident that the new language serves just as well as an enduring and inspiriting center for our faith.

I am persuaded that the proposed new language, if accepted, will indeed serve as such an enduring and inspiring center for our faith. I am most heartened by the way the writers of the Article 2 proposal have put love at the center of Unitarian Universalism. While I am deeply committed to the 7 principles, I’ve always felt that the absence of any reference to love is problematic. To be sure, I have some concerns about the new proposal, which I will discuss in my January 22nd sermon. But my support for the changes far outweighs my concerns.

Regardless of why I think about feel about the changes, I recognize that this change may be unfathomable to some of you. While a small number of you were Unitarian Universalists before 1985 when the current Article 2 was adopted, the vast majority of you became Unitarian Universalists after 1985, and you have never experienced our faith without the principles and the sources at the center. Hear me: this is a HUGE change. It’s important that we pay attention to and, where possible, participate in the Article 2 conversation in the larger UU community.

I’ll leave you with a reminder about the nature of liberal religion. As liberal religious people, we recognize the reality of change. We recognize that change is inherent in the natural order. We agree that “change alone is unchanging.” We do not preach an unchanging theology. We allow our theology to change in response to changes in society, culture and the natural world. The UUA’s Article 2 is written with the assumption that it will change over time, precisely so that our center can continue to respond to our times. And that is the question I leave for you as we search for our center. Does the proposed language for Article 2 respond more effectively to our times than the current language? As we move through this month and through the first half of the year toward the General Assembly in Pittsburgh, I invite you to share your thoughts with me. How do you answer this question?

With love,

Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

Coffeehouse Returns!

Musicians, Poets, Raconteurs, and Bagpipers! The UUS:E Coffeehouse and Open Mic returns Saturday, January 7. Signups start at 6:00 with 12 timeslots, 3 songs/10 minutes each. Family friendly performances start at 7:00. Bring your own food, snacks, beverages and friends. We’ll supply the coffee. Voluntary donations support UUS:E. This event will not be live streamed.

December Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for December is wonder. Most of us recognize that the stories, imagery, decorations, and lights associated with the holiday season are designed to fill us not only with a sense of wonder, but also with joy, awe, peace, and the desire to be good people, to be kind to others. My hunch is that, for many of us, our sense of wonder during the holiday season is linked to positive childhood experiences. It is indeed in the nature of children to experience wonder in this cheerful time. And that experience doesn’t end when we graduate from high school. It journeys with us into adulthood. As adults, the holiday stories, imagery, decorations, and especially the lights, easily take us back to that often unexamined childhood mix of holiday wonder, awe, joy, peace and anticipation.

Except this isn’t the case for everyone. Holiday-inspired wonder is not universal. Not everyone can reflect back on positive holiday experiences in childhood. Not everyone welcomes the holidays as a time of joy, let alone wonder and awe. We sometimes refer to this as “Blue Christmas.” I am grateful to Beth Hudson Hankins and Vivian Carlson, members of our Sunday Services Committee, who will offer a special vespers service on Tuesday, December 13 at 7:30 PM, to address those for whom the holiday season is not a wondrous time. Are you grieving the death of a loved one? Are you estranged from family in some way? Are you someone for whom the holidays just create more stress? Are you someone whose family of origin didn’t—or couldn’t—muster cheer in the holiday season? If so, our December 13 vespers service may be for you. Please watch our weekly eblast for more information.

Finally, many of you know that I often try to look beyond the stories, imagery, decorations and lights of the holiday season, and to peer into the darkness. Indeed, I try to welcome the December darkness and discern what it has to teach. We light lights in the midst of the darkness, but I sometimes feel we focus too much on the significance of light, and not enough on the equally powerful significance of darkness. For my December 11 sermon, I will be reflecting on how we experience wonder in the darkness. It’s a different species of wonder. It’s not the wonder associated with the birth of a savior, or the advent of peace on earth and good will to all. It’s not the wonder associated with Santa Claus, Christmas trees, gifts, caroling, hot chocolate and Frosty the Snowman. It’s not the wonder of a guiding star. Indeed, the wonder that comes with darkness is mysterious. There are fewer words to name it. In fact, in trying to name it we often miss its essence. It defies naming. It’s a response to absence more than to presence. It is an apprehension not of what is, but of what isn’t. It is an affirmation of empty space, a silencing of the impulse to fill it up with color and sound. It is the vast backdrop for the light; and to experience it we must be very intentional about how we look. We must be willing to sit outside of the light, sometimes in the chilly late Autumn air. We must be willing to sit with unknowing. We must be patient. There is wonder in the darkness, and it will come if we are patient.

That’s just a taste of what I plan to preach about on December 11. For now, I welcome you to the holiday season at UUS:E and in the wider community. In this holiday season I wish for you joy. I wish for you peace. I wish for you opportunities to name pain, sorrow and loss, so that these pieces of you aren’t lost in the midst of holiday cheer. Most of all, I wish for you moments of wonder not only in response to the lights, but also in response to the darkness. May wonder feed your soul.


With love,

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Care Packages

Each fall the High School Youth Group prepares and mails care packages to our congregation’s young adults, as a reminder that they are loved and supported by their church community. We invite you to help with this endeavor by donating items for the packages or making a financial contribution to help offset the cost of postage. (Mailing the packages is actually the biggest expense!) Popular care package items include snacks, candy, cocoa & tea, laundry detergent packs, chap stick, hand sanitizer, and Dunkin gift cards. Fidget toys were a big hit last year!

Options to help:

  • Place purchased items in the labeled bins in the main level or garden level lobbies.
  • Create a brief note or letter as a reminder that UUS:E is thinking of them. All notes will be included in the care packages.
  • Choose an item from our Amazon wish list. Simply follow the link at the bottom, select an item, and when you check out make sure it is sent to the gift registry address.
  • Make a monetary donation to help defray shipping costs. You can place cash or checks in the drop off bin, send a check to the UUS:E office with “Care Packages” in the memo line, or use the donate button on the Sunday services webpage — choose “Other” option and type “Care Packages.”


Please donate by 11/20.

Wishlist link

Questions? Contact Youth Group Advisor Kaitlyn Blesso at [email protected]


November Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for November is change. While there are many ways to talk about change, I want to say a few words about social change. Our UU principles call us to build a more just and loving community. The work of social change is a large part of who we are as a congregation. Thus, as your minister, it’s important for me to periodically name the variety of connections I have to social justice organizations in our region and around the state. Members of the Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee get regular updates from me; but most of you don’t attend those meetings, so don’t necessarily know what I am up to.

I am up to a lot. Our shared worship ministry makes this possible. Many of my colleagues prepare worship liturgies and write sermons every week, a process which takes me an average of 20 hours. But with our shared worship model, I only preach twice a month. This sharing of the worship leadership with lay people affords me time to be involved in the wider community. For this reason I remain exceedingly grateful to UUS:E for its shared worship ministry, and especially to the members of the Sunday Services Committee.

What am I up to? Here’s a list:

  • I serve on the Strategy Team of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Committee (GHIAA). Note elsewhere in this newsletter that GHIAA is planning a huge “Power Summit” on December 7 at Central CT State University. Can you attend?
  • I serve on the Coordinating Committee of Recovery for All, a statewide coalition of labor, community and faith-based organizations dedicated to expanding state revenue so that more investments can be made in critical public services.
  • I serve on the board of a new Connecticut think tank called “A Better Connecticut Institute,” whose mission tracks very closely with Recovery for All.
  • I provide faith-based support to the HUSKY for Immigrants campaign.
  • I provide faith-based support to the Domestic Worker Justice Campaign.
  • I dedicate time and energy as a faith leader/ally to Moral Monday CT, our state’s oldest Black Lives Matter organization.
  • I dedicate time and energy as a faith leader/ally to Power Up CT, a Manchester-based Black Lives Matter organization.
  • I am participating in Equality Connecticut Clergy, the faith-based arm of Equality Connecticut, the new statewide LGBTQ rights organization.

There’s more, but these are the primary organizations and campaigns to which I dedicate time and energy during the course of the year. I am proud of these connections, and proud that UUS:E and UUism are represented in these critical change efforts. To find out more, consider yourself invited to attend meetings of the UUS:E Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee (1st Tuesday of the month at 7:00). Or reach out directly to me to learn more about ways you might participate in any of these efforts.


With love,
Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

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]