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

 

April 2022 Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

For this month’s column, I am reaching back to a meditation I wrote about April in the early years of my ministry. This mediation appears in the book, Hear the Earth Call, which Duffy Schade, Sharon Gresk, and I published in 2017. I find it speaks well to our April ministry theme of awakening, and to all the layers of meaning we encounter in spring. It’s called “April Rains and Breezes and Muddies.” Enjoy!

***

April rains and breezes and muddies its way into our New England lives. April’s sun shines on our backs, bringing warmth, bringing moments precious, joyful and serene. We proclaim to strangers, Ah, what wonderful weather, finally, though our hearts long to say even more: I feel so alive! I am full of life. I am filled with life. I am alive all over. I am thankful, thankful, thankful for this gift of life.

Like ritual fire April purifies. Like ritual water April cleanses. April wipes our eyes clear of winter grime and grit, winter sand and salt. April wakes us up fresh and alert. Like Passover, April calls us to leave all our states of bondage, to wander, to embrace the wilderness. Like Easter, April releases us from all our blue tombs, releases us from old, outworn anxieties, leaves behind old selves, looks us forward to our lives in new shapes with new challenges.

April is a proclamation. Hear ye, hear ye! It is time to let go of those old, painful ways, those old, unfounded fears, those tired winter bodies, those touching but untenable childhood dreams, those unworkable situations that no longer serve us well. Let go and live again, a new self, a wiser self, a healed self, a truer self. Let go of that which does not matter, and in the new spaces you create, listen as April rain pours down on hard dark pavement. Listen to the rhythm of rain, the voice of Creation—Nature’s voice—and know the most important things in life—the eternal things—will always be with you through all your times of letting go, through all your times of change and transition. Listen for a moment to April and blend your spirit with the vastness. Listen for a moment to April and know you belong in this universe. Listen for a moment to April, and know you belong to life. Listen for a moment to April and know you are home.

Amen and Blessed Be.

***

As pandemic restrictions and fears continue to recede, as we continue the slow, bumpy transition to post-pandemic life, as spring arrives fully in New England, my prayer for each of you as that you will experience the spiritual potency of this season, that you will awaken. From winter’s rest into spring’s rebirth, may you awaken!

With love,Rev. Joshua Pawelek

Rev. Josh

A Little Support…

For people dealing with aging parents, either at a distance or at home. Let’s come together to talk about how we negotiate the challenges of our parents’ changing abilities. This can affect other family relationships and our own sense of how we want to age. We will gather by Zoom for some informal conversation facilitated by Beth Hankins, who frequently wonders how to help her parents and mother-in-law. Date: Thursday April 21 at 7:00. Please email [email protected] with A Little Support in the subject line and Beth will send you the link.

2022 Spring Cleanup

Fall clean up

Sponsored by Building & Grounds Committee

Where: UUS:E

When:  Saturday, April 30

Time:   9:00 AM – noon

Celebrate spring, reconnect, prep the grounds for summer. An outdoor, active, sociable, family-friendly event. Bring gloves and garden tools (we also have some to lend).

Snacks provided!

Contact Cory Clark or Jane Osborn with questions.

March Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for March is renewing faith, a very appropriate theme for the month in which we conduct our Annual Appeal. Though the omicron wave is receding, we remain cautious, and will be conducting our appeal similarly to last year. Everyone will receive a small packet in the mail with the annual appeal materials. As always, we ask you to consider the value UUS:E holds in your life and your family’s life. Related to our monthly ministry theme, how does your connection to UUS:E inspire faithfulness in you? In what do you have faith? What is your solid ground, your rock? What is ultimately reliable in your life and how does UUS:E help you pay attention to it? I encourage you to share your answers to these questions with me directly at [email protected] or 860-652-8961. I am always interested to hear from you. (Of course, anything you share may end up in a sermon on Sunday morning!!!)

And as always, we ask that you return your pledge form in as timely a manner as possible so the Stewardship Committee can do its work on behalf of the congregation.

The Policy Board’s goals for this year’s appeal are modest. As always, we continue to insure that we compensate our staff in accordance with the UUA’s guidance for our geographic area. Throughout the pandemic our staff has been nothing short of amazing. They have adapted and pivoted in response to changing circumstances. They have been flexible, nimble, patient and compassionate. They have been willing to learn new skills, new ways of working and, more fundamentally, new ways of being. I am truly grateful for them. I hope and trust you are grateful as well. Please take a moment to check out the videos the staff have prepared for the annual appeal. Watch our regular eblasts for links.

Beyond our personnel goals, we are urging a modest increase in our giving so that we can continue to support vibrant programming, such as our March 20 “Creating a Culture of Inclusion” workshop with Paula Cole Jones; or a specialized workshop on trauma later this spring with CB Beal; or re-starting our in-person UUS:E concert series, including a special performance of the New World Trio in early April and a Meeting House concert later this spring at our goods and services auction. There’s so much more to talk about—pastoral care, social justice and anti-oppression work, sustainable living, building relationships in the wider community, growing in our diversity, fulfilling the promise of our faith.

Once again, I encourage you to reach out to me if you want to talk about the value UUS:E holds in your life and how it informs your sense of faith. Thank you for your continued commitment to UUS:E and your generosity toward this year’s annual appeal. We can’t do what we do without you!!

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

Rev. Josh

February Minister’s Column

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for February is “Widening the Circle.” This language comes explicitly from the 2020 report from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Commission on Institutional Change (COIC), entitled Widening the Circle of Concern. COIC, which convened in 2017, was charged with “supporting long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism.” The work of the commission included conducting an audit of the power structures within Unitarian Universalism in an attempt to understand how they perpetuate systemic racism and white supremacy culture. A group of about 15 UUS:E members and friends is studying the COIC report during the first half of 2022. If you would like to join that group, the invitation is open. (See the announcement in this newsletter.)

I know it sometimes feels like all we talk about is racism and white supremacy culture. We spent a year educating ourselves in advance of passing a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We spent a year educating ourselves to become a Sanctuary congregation. We promote antiracism workshops and build partnerships with antiracist organizations such as Power Up, Moral Monday CT, the Domestic Worker Justice Campaign and Recovery for All. We are beginning to build relationships with indigenous groups in CT, such as UConn’s Native American student organization. Soon we will be exploring whether or not to adopt the proposed 8th UU principle, which asserts that we will conduct the life of our congregation in antiracist, anti-oppressive ways. That’s a lot! Trust me, I know people don’t necessarily come to church to have this conversation. I know it is sometimes a very uncomfortable conversation. I know the conversation can grow tiring, not only for White people but for People of Color as well.

There is an existential reason the Unitarian Universalist Association is focusing so much time and energy on antiracist and anti-oppressive transformation in our congregations. The writing is on the wall, so to speak. Racial demographics are changing rapidly in the United States. If our congregations don’t figure out how to move beyond a White, European-centered culture, we won’t stay relevant. In fact, we won’t survive. I don’t say that to be dramatic. I say it because it’s true. We owe it to future generations of Unitarian Universalists to engage in antiracism work now.

There’s also a spiritual reason for this focus. When we consider our current racial demographics, it becomes obvious that Unitarian Universalism is failing to extend its good news, its free faith, its liberating message to all but a handful of Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Somehow we aren’t advancing the promise of our principles. The truth is, we do have good news! We do have a free faith! We do have a liberating message. We owe it to the world to figure out how to extend that message in culturally relevant ways. I don’t claim to have the answers. But I know we have to be in the conversation—in multiple ways, often, even when it is tiring, even when we’d rather just sink into the comfort of our community as it currently is. Widening the circle is a spiritual imperative. So we continue, as best we can, in faith and with love.

If you have thoughts or instincts about ways in which you’d like to participate in the work of widening the circle at UUS:E, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or 860-652-8961.

 

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column January 2022

Dear Ones:

Our Ministry theme for January is living with intention. I was struck by a quote from Katie Covey, who serves as Director of Religious Education for Soul Matters. (Soul Matters is the independent UU resource center that provides theme-based worship and religious education materials.) She said that living with intention is different from setting goals or resolutions. Living with intention “pulls us into” who we truly are. Goals and resolutions “push us out” into future possibilities. While I’m not sure this distinction works in all cases, I find it very helpful. Do we want to change some aspect of who we are? Do we want, in essence, to be different from our current self? Do we want to fix something we don’t like about ourselves? If so, then let’s set a goal or make a resolution. And, with discipline, let’s work to achieve it. That’s how I understand the point of the traditional New Year’s resolution.

However, if our longing is to become more fully who we are—if we want to hone or deepen dimensions of our self that we like, dimensions that give us a sense of meaning and purpose, then let’s practice living with intention.

The poet David Whyte tells the story of a visit to a remote monastery high in the Himalayas. In the darkness, while waiting for one of his traveling companions to find a flashlight, he bumped into a carved statue, smiling, beaming with compassion, a temple guardian or Vajrapani. There were easily 100 of them in that dark hall. The encounter was very moving, an invitation to vulnerability. In response he wrote the poem, “The Faces at Braga.” Here’s an excerpt:

If only our own faces / would allow the inevitable carver’s hand / to bring the deep grain of love to the surface,

If only we knew / as the carver knew, how the flaws / in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,

We would smile too / and not need faces immobilized / by fear and the weight of things undone….

If only we could give ourselves / to the blows of the carver’s hands, / the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers,

Feeding the sea / where voices meet, praising the features / of the mountain and the cloud and the sky.

Perhaps living with intention is like this—allowing the carver to bring the deep grains of love to the surface. Not trying to overcome or master our flaws, but allowing them to teach us self-acceptance and love for who we truly are. It’s not setting a goal to become someone different. Rather, this living with intention is more a process of listening inwardly, looking inwardly, discovering our core, and, over time, letting it manifest outwardly.

What grains of love might the carver bring to the surface of you? And if the lines in your face traced rivers feeding the sea where voices meet, what features would they praise? What features of you matter most to you? I invite you to ponder these questions as we embark on 2022. In doing so, may you live with intention.

 

 

With love,

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

Rev. Josh

 

Minister’s Column December 2021

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for December is joy. I thought it might be interesting to review my newsletter column the last time I wrote about joy, which was five years ago, December of 2016.

I said that joy was “not high on my emotional list these days.” That comment was a response to the 2016 presidential election. I don’t like to admit it, but after nearly 2 years of pandemic living, and after every demoralizing, painful, unnerving, frightening thing that has happened since December of 2016, that comment remains true and, if possible, is more true. Joy—real, genuine, heart-felt JOY—is hard to come by. In 2016 I urged us to cultivate joy in the midst of our blues. I said “cultivating joy is essential … not only as a foundation for engagement in the wider world, but [for sustaining] our health and well-being … our sense of confidence … our sense of self-worth, and our capacity for hope.” Then I shared my responses to the question “What brings joy to my life?”

Some of the answers I gave then have not really been available during the pandemic, like “playing the drums in worship,” “hearing people laugh when I’m preaching,” and “a good night’s sleep.” But for the most part, my sources of joy continue to bless my life. In that list I included:

  • Working with the UUS:E staff.
  • Yard work, as long as everyone’s willing to help.
  • A day off.
  • A meaningful pastoral visit.
  • Watching my sons do something creative I don’t expect them to do.
  • Watching leaves fall.
  • The darkness of this late autumn/early winter season.
  • My wife’s rock-solidness—mind, soul, body.
  • A good book.
  • Great colleagues, UU and non-UU alike.
  • 153 West Vernon St. on Elm Hill in Manchester, East of the Connecticut River.

There were more items on the list, but these stand out to me from five years ago.

I wondered if living through the pandemic has brought different kinds of joy to my life. I don’t think it has. But certainly there are new sources of joy—most importantly, the joy of watching my kids slowly become adults. The older one is discerning who he is after high school, finding his place on a college campus and figuring out his academic major. The other is challenging himself to succeed in a number of sports, making new friends, and participating in the Affirmation class at UUS:E. Watching them mature brings me joy. Perhaps this joy is more intense because of the pandemic, but I suspect I would have experienced it even if there’d never been a pandemic.

Let me ask you: What brings joy to your life? Send me a note. Give me a call. I’d like to hear your answer to this question. And more than that, as we are entering the “season of joy,” can you bring your answers into the forefront of your living in this season and beyond? I really do believe cultivating joy is essential for our health and well-being, our confidence and self-worth, and our capacity for hope.

My prayer for each of us this holiday season is that we may experience abundant, unbridled joy!

With love,

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

Rev. Josh

 

 

Minister’s Column November 2021

Dear Ones:

I hope you are well as we enter into the heart of autumn in New England, 2021. As I write in mid-October, the Connecticut COVID data is spiking. Maybe it’s an anomaly, but who knows? During the period between September 15 and October 15 the data had been hovering just above the “low risk” zone on covidactnow.org. We had been looking forward to re-starting our soft re-opening as early as mid-November. But given this new, late October spike in the infection rate and in new cases per 100,000 residents, I don’t see that happening. As I write, I frankly have no idea what to expect, as it is difficult to identify any reliable trends after this current spike. I am left with frustration, sadness, anger, tiredness. I know you feel all these things too.

Thank you for your ongoing patience. Thank you for understanding our “covid cautiousness” at UUS:E. Thank you for helping the staff and our leaders prioritize safety for all members of our community, and for the wider community. Thank you for sticking with us! And if you have the opportunity, please take a moment to tell our staff—Gina, Jane, Annie, Mary and Heather—how much you appreciate everything they are doing to keep UUS:E running during the pandemic. I don’t have words to name just how hard they are working, day-in and day-out, on our behalf. But please trust me when I say, they are doing an incredible job!

*****

Our ministry theme for November is holding history. I see this as an invitation to wrestle with Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving is not a specifically religious holiday, it resonates with all the spiritual descendants of the Puritans, who settled in (some say invaded) Turtle Island in the 1620s. Those descendants include the congregational churches of New England; and of course, Unitarian Universalists still practice a version of that “congregational way.” In short, we are among those descendants. So, what do we do with that history, that traditional Thanksgiving narrative that speaks of a mutual respect between the indigenous people and the settlers? What do we do when we know the traditional narrative hides a bloodier, deadlier truth? I’ll be digging into this question (with a little help from some of you) in our 11/14 and 11/21 Sunday services.

Indeed, as liberal people of faith in the United States, what do we do with painful historical truths? What do we do when public school teachers address the reality of oppression in US history, and critics accuse them of “indoctrinating” our children? What do we do when politicians claim it is un-American to name the reality of oppression in US history, because the naming contradicts their sense of innocence and purity? What do we do with the painful truths in the history of our own faith?

I say, with conviction, care and love, let us strive to always speak the truth about our history. And in response to the truth, let us strive to improve our communities—church, neighborhood, town, state and nation—so that the pain of the past is not extended into the future. This is, of course, challenging. I believe we have always been, and will continue to be, up to the challenge.

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

Rev. Josh