GHIAA Teach-In

UUS:E’s Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee will host a TEACH-IN on the current work of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA).

When: Tuesday Evening, May 30th, 7:00 PM

Where: UUS:E, 153 West Vernon St., Manchester, CT and via ZOOM.(Contact the UUS:E Office for login info at [email protected] or 860-646-5151.)

What: GHIAA’s current issue campaigns include:

  • Affordable Housing
  • Educational Equity
  • Mental Health Care / Husky for Immigrants
  • Environmental Justice  (Closing the MIRA Trash Plant)
  • Gun Violence Prevention

Members of UUS:E’s SJ/AO Committee, GHIAA staff, and Rev. Josh Pawelek will provide updates on the status of each issue campaign, and information on what you can do to help these campaigns succeed as the CT General Assembly’s current session comes to a close.



Rev. Josh Pawelek

I call this sermon “Spiraling.” Spirals are common in nature—the DNA double helix, the fiddlehead fern, the whorl of our fingerprints, the nautilus shell, hurricanes, whirlpools, galaxies. As such they can serve as metaphors for our all the ways we grow, including the ways we grow spiritually. I often say that our lives, including our spiritual lives, move in circles; yet it is more accurate to say our lives spiral. Because are always gaining more experience, whenever we come around to where we’ve been before, we never arrive at exactly the same place. Or we never experience the place in exactly the same way. We’ve grown. Maybe we’re more knowledgeable, more adept, more practiced, more skilled. Perhaps we’re more content, more at peace; perhaps we’re more sad or agitated. As the pagan writer and activist Starhawk says, “a spiral is a dynamic form of a circle. It comes back on itself, but always with a difference. It moves somewhere.”[1] I believe the early 20th-century Unitarian-turned-Anglican poet and playwright, T.S. Eliot, was pointing toward this when he wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration / and the end of all our exploring / will be to arrive where we started / and know the place for the first time.”[2] We come back to where we were, but there’s a difference. Spiraling is a way to talk about how we grow.

Before I say more, I want to thank Ted and Nancy Pappas for purchasing this sermon at last year’s UUS:E Goods and Services Auction. He and Nancy sent me some articles, which I will link to in the online version of this sermon.[3] I have a number of takeaways from these articles:

First, spirals as ubiquitous in nature from the micro to the macro to the galactic: the path of an insect approaching a light source, sunflowers, the flight of a hawk approaching its prey, the snake’s coil, the Milky Way.

Second, the spiral was a sacred and multifaceted symbol for many ancient cultures and religions. While we can’t know for sure what spirals symbolized five thousand years ago, most scholars of ancient religion suggest that they referred to rebirth, regeneration, growth and change.

Third, in ancient cultures the spiral is clearly associated with women and with goddesses, specifically mother goddesses. An article on the website Learn Religions says that “because of its connection with mother goddesses, the spiral is a feminine symbol, representing not only women but also a variety of things traditionally associated with women … lifecycles, fertility … childbirth and intuition.”[4]

Fourth, spirals appear in both sacred and secular architecture, from the Greek Parthenon, to the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq, to the Vatican Museum’s spiral staircase, to a newly constructed, 1,000 foot skyscraper at 66 Hudson Blvd. in Manhattan known as “The Spiral.”

Finally, the articles discuss the mathematics of spirals, the place of spirals in the sacred geometry of ancient Greece, for example, or the Fibonacci number sequence which produces a spiral when graphed. Starhawk describes the Fibonacci sequence as a “formula that says, ‘What is, plus what was, is what will be.’”[5] 2 + 1 = 3. What is, 2, plus what was, 1, is what will be, 3. And then it grows. 3+2= 5; 5+3 = 8; 8+5 = 13, and on and on. What is, plus what was, is what will be. Not a repeating circle but growth spiraling infinitely. In the words of poet Suzy Kassem, Circles  / Of life … / Spiraling / Outwards / For / Infinity.[6] In the words of poet, Jewell Miller, My soul, on its journey, … / by a spiral staircase / Seeks its path to the stars.[7]

So, as a common natural phenomenon, an ancient religious symbol of rebirth associated with women, a representation of the Goddess, an architectural feature, a mathematical formula, how might the spiral relate to Unitarian Universalist spirituality? This was Ted and Nancy’s question. My response is this notion of “spiraling.”

I realize you may be experiencing some dissonance. If we say someone is spiraling, we typically mean they are losing control, losing their grip on reality, descending into greater and greater dysfunction. We often speak of a “downward spiral.” In the second verse of our opening hymn, Dear Weaver of Our Lives’ Design, we appeal to the weaver to “take up the fabric of our lives … and mend our rav’ling souls.”[8] We might say one who is spiraling is unraveling. This is how we commonly use the term. The downward spiral, especially when we use it as shorthand for active mental illness, is real, painful, and scary. I don’t want to lose sight of that. However, I’m mindful that our lives are also always naturally spiraling. They don’t shoot off in a straight line, a rocket into space. They turn with the days, the seasons, the years. They rotate, revolve and process with the Earth as it spirals around the galaxy. We cycle through the stages of our lives, aging through generations, through time. We’re always returning, but never quite to where we were before. What is, plus what was, is what will be. We’re spiraling.

My oldest child just turned 21. My life is not quite the same. What is, plus what was, is what will be.

My father-in-law died this year. My life is not quite the same. What is, plus what was, is what will be.

I graduated from college. I went back to work after a leave of absence. I moved into a new home. I down-sized. I got married. I got divorced. I retired. My life is not quite the same. What is, plus what was, is what will be. I’m growing. We circle back around to the same place, but it’s never quite the same place. We’re spiraling.

Recognizing how today is different from the same day last year or a decade ago or fifty years ago can bring intense emotions. Contemplate for a moment a place you lived during your childhood. Visualize that place, how it appeared from the street, how it felt inside, how it smelled. Who were you then? Who were the people in your life? Who are you now? Where are those people? What was lives on in you. It mixes with what is to produce what will be. That’s what I mean when I say our lives spiral.

A spiral pattern created by Ellen Castaldini’s mother

Spirals have energy. They turn, they spin, they whirl, they flow. Even when depicted in art, when they are essentially static, etched onto a cave wall or a piece of pottery, sculpted on ancient megaliths or captured on canvas, spirals have motion and power. There is similar energy in the spirals of our lives. One way to understand this energy is to think about the difference between who I was the last time I was here vs. who I am now that I’ve returned.  How am I different? What accounts for the difference? What happened to create it? Some movement has happened in me or around me; some power was been exercised, either by me or by some force beyond me. Some energy has been expended. Here’s my question: Are we aware of that energy at work as we spiral? Do we take time to reflect on it? Do we learn from it? Is that energy just carrying us along (which is inevitable if we’re not paying attention); or can we somehow carry it, harness it for the sake of our growth?

Starhawk features prominently in my thinking about how we might access the energy of spirals.  One of her more famous books is The Spiral Dance, first published in 1979, about neopagan beliefs and practices. It’s been 30 years since I read The Spiral Dance. I have it somewhere but couldn’t find it. I don’t remember what she says in that book about the actual dance. But some of you will remember Starhawk lectured and led a spiral dance here at UUS:E on March 7th, 2013.[9] Despite a raging snowstorm, about 80 people attended, travelling from all across southern New England and eastern New York.

The spiral dance is a communal ritual, a modern form of magic, designed to harness the energy of a group. In another of her books, The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature, Starhawk says, “In the spiral dance, we coil in on ourselves, then turn outward to face each person in the group as we pass. When we wind the spiral in, we concentrate energy, eventually releasing it as an upward-spiraling cone of power.” I remember this from our time with her, the whole group moving in toward the center at the end of the dance, raising arms skyward. “In the northern hemisphere,” she says, “the sun moves clockwise across the sky, and water forms a clockwise vortex when it drains down a hole. When we raise power for a positive end, to draw in energies and resources or to create something, we [dance] in a clockwise or sunwise direction.”[10]  That’s what we did when she was with us—we danced clockwise. But you can dance in the other direction to harness energy for other purposes. “When we want to release or undo something,” she says, “we move widdershins, or counterclockwise.”[11]

The spiral dance ritual harnesses the group’s energy to achieve some purpose, either to create something or to release something. We can understand this theologically. The spiral is an ancient symbol of the Goddess, of feminine divinity, which is one and the same with the Earth or Gaia, to use her ancient Greek name. The spiral dance evokes the goddess. Its energy is her energy. The spiral dance also evokes all the ways spirals occur in Nature. Its energy is that of the coiled snake, the soaring hawk, the river vortex, the twisting tree trunk, the whirlwind, the hurricane, all of which is also the energy of the Goddess. Its motion is the motion of stars around the centers of galaxies, all of which is the motion of the Goddess.

I say our lives spiral because as we return to the places we’ve been before, whether in space or in time, we’re never quite the same. Some energy is at work, is flowing, is swirling. There’s a difference. There’s been movement. My child turned 21, my father-in-law died. What is, plus what was, is what I am becoming. Can we give ourselves the space and time to peer below the surface, to let ourselves recognize that in our spiraling we are in fact moving with the rhythms of nature, with Gaia’s patterns? Can we recognize that our Fibonacci 3+5 = 8 is akin to the 3+5 = 8 of the nautilus shell, the fiddlehead fern, the butterfly’s proboscis, the mouse curling in on itself to stay warm while sleeping, the insect approaching light, the lizard’s tail, the tidal whirlpool, the ram’s horn? It’s the same pattern. Can we recognize that the energy at the heart of our spiraling is the same energy at the heart of all nature’s spirals, is the same energy of the Goddess which the ancients represented in spirals on cave walls, baskets, figurines, pottery and ancient tombs?

Can we recognize that life spirals unceasingly, and that we are inescapably part of it? Can we recognize, as the poet suggests, that the circles of our lives spiral outwards for infinity. Can we recognize, as the poet suggests, that our souls, on their journeys, seek their paths to the stars, by a spiral staircase?

The late, radical feminist theologian, Mary Daly, once defined spiraling as “swirling movement …  in harmony with the rhythms of whirlwinds, whirlpools and … galaxies.”[12] For her, spiraling is a practice or a way of being in the world that puts people in touch with Being—her term for divinity, Goddess, Gaia, what she also called Ultimate/Intimate Reality. We are spiraling. The question is do we know it? And as we come to know it, can we harness the energy to release what needs release, and to create what is good and meaningful in the world?

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Starhawk, The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature (New York: Harper One, 2005) p. 191.

[2] Eliot, T.S., excerpt from The Four Quartets, in Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: UUA and Beacon Press, 1993) #685.

[3] Woolfe, Sam “Why Do Spirals Exist Everywhere in Nature,” May 30, 2014 (blog post): Beyer, Catherine, “Ancient Spirals,” May 4th, 2018 (on the Learn Religions website): D’Silva, Beverly, “Ancient Symbols that Still Resonate Today,” March 20, 2022 (on the BBC’s “The Collection” website):

[4] Beyer, Catherine, “Ancient Spirals,” May 4th, 2018 (on the Learn Religions website):

[5] Starhawk, The Earth Path, p, 192.

[6] Kassem, Suzy, “Circles of Life.” See:

[7] Miller, Jewell, “Spirals.” See:

[8] Dorian, Nancy, “Dear Weaver of Our Lives’ Design,” in Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: UUA and Beacon Press, 1993) #22.

[9] Fine, Pam, “Earth Spirit, Earth Justice, Talk by Starhawk,” in the Patch, Feb. 13, 2013. See–earth-spirit-earth-justice-talk-by-skyhawk.

[10] Starhawk, The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature (New York: Harper One, 2005) p. 192.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Daly, Mary, Websters’ First Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (Boston: Beason Press, 1987) p. 167.

If All Life is Sacred, How Shall We Live?

Rev. Josh Pawelek

A UUS:E visitor

“How precious it is to be together in spiritual community. How precious it is to learn what is on each other’s hearts and minds; to hold and care for each other in times of sorrow and grief; to smile, clap and cheer for each other in times of joy and success. How precious it is to be reminded: each of our lives tells a story worth knowing, each of our lives harbors deep and abiding truths, each of our lives is sacred; and then to know by extension—to know, to trust, to believe—all life is sacred. All life is sacred.”[1]

Familiar words to the members and friends of this congregation—words I’ve developed over the last 20 years, words I say every Sunday I’m in this pulpit, words I would miss if I did not say them, words that land on a uniquely challenging, even unsettling notion: all life is sacred.

I suspect you typically don’t feel challenged or unsettled when you hear these words. I suspect you typically experience these words as a kind of affirmation: yes, of course all life is sacred, all life has value, all life carries a divine spark. That’s what we believe. That’s what we mean when we talk about the interdependent web. That’s what we mean when we talk about universalism. All life. As I say these words, I don’t typically feel challenged or unsettled. I say them as an affirmation, not a challenge. I say them with the intent to calm, to sooth, not to unsettle. Yet I am keenly aware there is a challenging and even unsettling question waiting in their wake. If all life is sacred, how shall we live?

For me this question has always been central to Unitarian Universalism. Ours is not a faith focused on life after death, on future rewards and punishments. Ours is not a faith filled with elaborate metaphysics. Our Unitarian Universalist faith is primarily—not exclusively, but primarily—focused on this life, a faith for here, a faith for now. We’re concerned less with the question, “What shall we believe?” and more with how we shall live.

I sense it is true for most people—I know it is true for me—that as we take stock of our living, our day-to-day routines and patterns, our eating, our spending, our decision-making, how we pass our time—when we genuinely reflect, examine, probe our living—we find we’re not always living as if all life is sacred. We believe it, but the belief hasn’t changed our lives. A simple (though actually quite daunting) example: we know greenhouse gasses contribute to the climate crisis, yet we still drive cars that produce greenhouse gasses. Our living doesn’t always—and sometimes can’t—align with our most deeply held values. So what would it mean to more intentionally let this belief challenge and unsettle us, to ask the question more regularly and forthrightly, “how shall we live?”

Credit where credit is due: Julia Caruk purchased this sermon at last year’s Goods and Services Auction. When she and I started talking about this service, she said, essentially, that she was struggling with this notion that all life is sacred—not with whether or not it is true, but with how to respond. If the lives of not only humans, but animals, fish, insects, trees are sacred, how can we honor that sacredness with our life choices? She recognized that our living does at times cause harm. In fact, causing some harm is unavoidable. So how can we minimize that harm? She recognized that the natural world provides some guidance, yet in the natural world there is considerable violence and killing. Creatures survive by eating other creatures. One can’t witness this violence and easily draw the conclusion that nature respects all life, or that nature regards all life as sacred, at least not in the ways human beings typically define concepts like ‘respect’ and ‘sacred.’ Witnessing nature informs us that “How shall we live?” is not an easy question to answer. Exploring the question is a trek through trade-offs, compromises, gray areas, temporary answers, a lot of unknowns, and doing our best to do the least amount of harm. This is my understanding of the tension that lives at the heart of Julia’s struggle.

I think we all live with this tension, but we don’t always call the question. We don’t always let our belief in the sacredness of all life challenge and unsettle us.

Thank you Julia, for inviting us to consider this question this morning. Thanks for purchasing this sermon. I remind all of you that at least one sermon, possibly two, will be up for bid at the Goods and Services auction scheduled for next Saturday at 2:00 PM. We hope to see you there!

I asked Julia to share with me her answers to the question. If all life is sacred, how shall we live? I want to share her answers with you. One caveat: though she thought deeply about her response, I’m not sure she was completely satisfied with it. But given all the grey areas, the complexities, the reality of the food chain, I’m pretty sure complete satisfaction is impossible. Most of our responses to this question will be contingent and will evolve as we gain new learning, insights and awareness. About her response Julia said “the more I think about it, the more I feel that empathy is really the key: always striving to learn to see different perspectives.” I note her emphasis on “always striving.” This is an ongoing question in our lives, whether we ask it or not. It never leaves us. We are always striving, not to find final answers, but to find the endlessly evolving best answers given the realities of our lives.

Julia divided her response into two categories: “Activism” and “Daily Choices/Lifestyle.” Underlying her activism, she says, is the belief “that other beings exist for their own reasons and not to provide anything for me.” Activism means “Standing up for social justice,” which for Julia includes: women’s rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, animal rights. There are many ways to pursue activism. Julia identifies voting and being politically active and informed; learning true history rather than white-washed history; consuming media written by and centering women, people of color and and LGBTQIA people; going to demonstrations; and donating money (with a focus on women, people of color, and LGBTQIA-led organizations).

For daily choices and lifestyle, Julia’s list is extensive. She’s looking for the ways her life intersects with non-human life and asking, given the sacredness of this non-human life, how can I live in a way that causes the least amount of harm? In those words I spoke at the beginning of the service from the naturalist Sy Montgomery, her tool of inquiry is not just her intellect, but her heart.

First, Being Vegan. Not eating anything that came from an animal. Buying toiletries that were not tested on animals and do not contain animal ingredients. Not wearing fur, leather, wool, down, angora, or any other animal skin, feathers, or fur. Related to veganism, she adds avoiding palm oil and purchasing fair trade coffee, chocolate, and bananas.

Second, Caring for the Planet. Installing solar panels and heat pumps. Driving a hybrid car. Reducing plastic use and overall consumption. Joining the UUS:E Sustainable Living Committee and co-leading an environmental group at work. Mowing as little as possible and not using chemicals on my property. Making my property wildlife friendly.

Third, Adopting Rescue Animals. Never buying a pet and rescuing as many as possible. She says, “I spay and neuter them, but not without qualms about how this violates their rights. I try to see the world from their perspective to make their life as good as possible.”

Fourth, Rethinking “Pests.” Are they invading my space or did I invade theirs? Not killing critters in my house or on my property. Taking bugs outside rather than killing them. Note: I make exceptions for blood suckers like ticks, fleas, and mosquitos, but not without qualms.

Fifth, Valuing Trees and Wild Spaces. She didn’t elaborate on what this might entail, but when we spoke, she was wrestling with the idea of sentience, the capacity for perception and feeling. That is, when we say “all life is sacred,” perhaps we mean “all sentient life is sacred.” But she quickly realized sentience is too limiting. What about trees, producing oxygen, sequestering carbon, providing habitat for countless species? What about algae, fungi, mosses, ferns, all the flora in any ecosystem? It’s all part of the interdependent web and contributes to the whole. Surely it is sacred and deserves our respect. Julia didn’t say this, but given the significant data showing that trees communicate with each other, who are we to say they aren’t sentient?

Julia concluded by pointing out there is always more to do and learn. “It is a journey,” she said, “and none of us is perfect.” Thank you Julia!

I’ve been thinking about my response to the question. Given that all life is sacred, it is important to me to be as present, attentive and supportive as possible when people in my various circles are struggling and suffering. This includes family members, friends, neighbors, parishioners, co-workers and colleagues.

Like Julia, activism matters to me. I understand my activism as building power to change systems and institutions so that their outcomes are more fair, equitable and just. Essential to building power is building relationships. I spend considerable time building relationships not only with people in this congregation, but with faith leaders, labor leaders, nonprofit leaders, issue campaign leaders, elected officials, government workers, and a variety of activists across the region.

Like Julia, caring for the Earth matters to me. We don’t have solar panels on our roof at home, but we’re getting closer. We conserve energy, recycle, compost, limit food waste. We never use chemicals on our lawn. We mow as little as possible. We live in complete harmony with 100 chipmunks, 20 rabbits, 10 squirrels, a few woodpeckers, owls, hawks, foxes, coyotes, opossums, raccoons, and bobcats. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to adopt veganism, but we do conscientiously limit our weekly intake of meat. Like Julia, I take bugs out of the house. I let spiders stay in the house (unless they’re really, really big). If there’s an infestation, say of carpenter ants, I have to address it. In the end I use ant-traps in an effort to protect the integrity of the property. It’s a trade-off. I have qualms. When it comes to caring for the Earth, I have never felt that the way I live is sufficient given the magnitude of the crisis we face. For that matter, I’ve never felt that my presence when people are suffering, or my participation in efforts to build power for social justice have been sufficient. Yes, I feel like I’m doing the right thing, like I’m living as I ought to live, yet it never quite feels sufficient.

This feeling of insufficiency may be the result of perfectionism, but there’s more to it. I also experience is as the ongoing presence in my life of the question, “given that all life is sacred, how shall we live?” I experience as the ongoing invitation to probe more deeply, to ask: Is there more I can do? Is there a better, more effective way to do it, a more reasonable and sane way to do it? Are there ways I am still living that don’t align with my values? Can I let them go, make more room for how I ought to live? What am I learning? Am I integrating new knowledge into my living?  In short, I don’t let this feeling of insufficiency become a negative self-critique. I receive it as an invitation to keep asking the question. As Julia said, “there is always more to do and learn. It is a journey, and none of us is perfect.”

I leave you with the invitation to contemplate your response to the question, if all life is sacred, how shall we live? Your answers won’t be the same as Julia’s or mine. They won’t be perfect. They may come with trade-offs and compromises. They may come with costs, some beyond your ability to pay. Most will live in that gray space between black and white. Your attempts to live your answers may still leave you feeling unsatisfied. The good news is that the question—how shall we live?—is always with us. It certainly resides at the heart of our Unitarian Universalist faith. My prayer is that when we encounter the notion that all life is sacred, we will choose to be challenged and unsettled, and we will ask the question, how shall we live?

Amen and blessed be.

[1] For those not familiar with the worship services I lead at UUS:E, I say these words at the conclusion of our weekly sharing of joys and concerns.

Dottie’s Clothing Swap & Drive

Here’s a message/idea from Dottie Reiss which we’re going to experiment with for a few months.

Dottie writes:

Folks have told me they’re enjoying the book-swap idea. I’d like to propose a NEW/LIKE-NEW clothing swap. During the months of May and June, feel free to drop new/like-new clothing in the large box in the UUS:E coat room. If there’s anything in the box that catches your eye, it’s yours for the taking!

How many of us outgrow clothing before we use it, or receive the wrong size when ordering online? Or maybe you’ve been given a gift that doesn’t fit right and you’d like to re-gift it. Or maybe it would be fun to alter something you find attractive and don’t have to pay for. Let’s try this during the months of May and June. I will bring any excess to Saver’s approximately every three weeks.

Questions? Contact me at [email protected] or (860)335-1293.

With love,
Dottie Reiss

The Necessary Flames

Photo Credit: Neal Thomassen

Rev. Josh Pawelek

Our ministry theme for April is resistance. I recognized early on in the planning for this morning’s service that it would be very easy for me to preach to you about the ways we resist unjust systems and institutions, the ways we resist abuses of social, economic and political power, the ways we resist as participants in movements for social justice, environmental justice, racial justice, gender justice, worker justice, GLBTQIA justice, justice for people with disabilities, justice for immigrants—you know the list.

I note there’s a whole heap of resistance happening in Tennessee right now. It started as a demand from ordinary citizens that the state legislature strengthen gun control statutes in response to the March 28th mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. It escalated when three legislators added their voices, with bullhorns, disrupting legislative business as usual—an action which looked very much to me like nonviolent, civil disobedience. Two of those legislators, both young black men, were expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives on April 6th by a vote of their colleagues. The third, a white woman, kept her seat by one vote. So much has happened. So much resistance.

Incidentally, last Sunday, the expelled Memphis state representative, Justin Pearson, did indeed preach the Easter sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the River in Memphis. If I have my facts correct, Rep. Pearson’s father, the Rev. Jason Pearson, leads a church that is in the process of moving into the Church of the River and worshipping there on Sunday afternoons. The two congregations are building a close relationship. They had already planned to worship together on Easter Sunday. After the junior Pearson was expelled from the legislature, the elder Pearson suggested to Church of the River’s minister, Rev. Sam Teitel, that his son would be a wise choice to preach at their joint Easter service. It’s a powerful sermon.[1]

It’s no overstatement to say that resistance to injustice has been a central dimension of our shared ministry during the twenty years I have served as your minister. Of course, resistance for resistance’s sake has never been the point. Working towards a shared vision of a kinder, more fair, just, liberated and loving society is the point. Resistance is a tool, a method, a tactic we use in the service of that shared vision. Resistance is the fire that clears away those aspects of society that wound, oppress, exclude, detain, underfund, under-educate, under-employ, under-house, incarcerate, pollute, and kill; the fire that, in its aftermath, leaves space for the emergence of new structures, new social, economic and political arrangements, new laws, new cultural norms that better serve and sustain all people and, indeed, all life on the planet. 

That’s the easy sermon!

Not that this kind of resistance is easy. It’s not. I’m remembering the first time I stepped into a street to block traffic in June of 2015 with Moral Monday CT, calling attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, MO. That was resistance in the form of nonviolent civil disobedience, which is used specifically to create tension in the public sphere. Martin Luther King, Jr. writes about this in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I understood it. I was excited. I was proud. And, once we were in the street, once we had stopped traffic, once drivers were clearly angry at what we were doing, once the police arrived, the tension overwhelmed me. My body started resisting me. I started feeling sick—dizzy, mostly. I almost left the action, but ultimately stayed and was glad I did. I realized later, this was my body’s way of telling me it did not like the tension, even though my mind thought it was the right action, the right way to advance the Movement for Black Lives in our state.

That’s the sermon I really want to preach this morning. I want to name the way our bodies resist what we know is right. This resistance lives very naturally in us. If we give into it, it can prevent us from growing, maturing, creating and changing. If we give into it, it can prevent us from becoming the next best version of ourselves.

At the beginning of our service I shared with you a poem from James Crews entitled “After the Fire.” He writes:

Let me endure whatever fires must pass through here, must scorch my skin. And if I have to feel the heat, let me also trust that like the lodgepole pine, the fire will open the parts of me that are still closed tight, releasing seeds I’ve been clinging to, hoarding for years. Let me thrive in this new clearing made at the center of my life, seeing now how the necessary flames melted away my resistance, revealing all that once lay hidden, asleep inside me.

This poem reminds me we humans are creatures of habit. We grow very attached to our daily routines and patterns, our favorite foods, our level of activity, the medicines we take, the shows we watch. They become sources of stability, familiarity and comfort in our lives. We don’t let them go easily. Even when we live with a variety of discomforts and we know we need to make changes, our bodies resist—sometimes before we have a chance to think about changing. I suppose the most obvious examples have to do with the ways we do or don’t take care of ourselves. Are we willing and able to change our diet to live more healthily? Are we willing and able to cut back on alcohol, on caffeine for the sake of our health? Are we willing to follow our doctor’s good advice? Our therapist’s good advice? Our minister’s (occasionally) good advice? Even when we know intellectually that we need to change our ways, something in us resists. We are creatures of habit.

The prospect of any big life change engenders a certain amount of resistance. We might resist leaving a job that doesn’t suit us because we’re attached to the salary, the benefits, the co-workers, the familiarity. We might resist retiring, even when we should have retired a long time ago, because so much of our identity is tied to our work. Think about the big life changes you’ve experienced. How often was it smooth sailing all the way through? How much internal resistance did you need to overcome before you were able to make the change?

Sometimes we resist because there’s something we need to say or do, and we know it’s going to create tension. We know it’s going to cause conflict. I gave the example of conducting nonviolent civil disobedience, but it could just as easily be realizing that a special, prized relationship is breaking down and the breakdown needs to be addressed if there is to be any chance of repair and reconciliation; or realizing that a friend is an addict and the addiction needs to be addressed; or realizing that a relationship is abusive and it needs to end; or realizing, as we were naming a few weeks ago, “I am struggling, and I need to ask for help.” My point is not that we don’t speak our truths when we need to. And in fact I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that some people are very comfortable with the tension their truths create. My point is that, for most of us, it is natural to resist saying and doing things that will create tension and conflict. I suspect many of you have had the experience of needing to say something hard to a loved one, yet you don’t want to say it. It feels too disruptive. It will create too much tension. It will rock the boat. We know we have to speak our truth, but something in us resists. It can make you sick.

I also want to name that at times we resist the things we are most passionate about. There’s something we want to pursue, but we don’t pursue it because we’re not sure how to make space for it in our lives. We fear our pursuit may interrupt our regular routines and  patterns, that it may seem selfish to start something new. We fear we may not have the necessary skills or talents to paint, to sculpt, to dance, to write, to speak, to preach, to coach, to train, to run for office, to lead. We fear people won’t take us seriously. So again, something in us resists. We set the passion aside for the time being.  

James Crews reminds us there is much that lays hidden, asleep inside us—our truths, our passions, our recognition that we need to live differently for the sake of our health.

I’m reminded of another poet who said something similar, though he used far more grandiose language. Walt Whitman, the 19th-century American poet, a student of the Transcendentalist movement, one wrote: Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)[2] This is from Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself, 51.” I haven’t studied it. I can’t speak to what he meant by these words, but it makes sense to me that the thing we’re resisting feels like a contradiction. It goes against our grain, our habits, the patterns to which we are accustomed. Whitman cheers us on. Very well then I contradict myself. I contain multitudes. In order to access them, in order to liberate them, in order to let them live, I must contradict myself. I somehow need to overcome this resistance.

I contain multitudes. You contain multitudes. We contain multitudes. There is a vastness within us, an expansiveness, a generosity, even—though it must be said with humility–a greatness in us; and we resist it.

It’s not just the poets who name this. It’s the scientists too. I read to you earlier from the late molecular biologist Darryl Reanney who reminds us that we are kin to the stars, that the hydrogen atoms in our bodies are continuous with the hydrogen atoms that first emerged in the moments following the big bang, what he calls the Genesis event. These bones, this hand /star-ash. Though he writes poetically, and his words at times sound metaphorical, this is not metaphor. We are literally star stuff. Reanney says our true age is not 24 or 43 or 56 or 81, but 15 billion years. Indeed, we contain multitudes. Yet, we resist. And there is so much that lays hidden, asleep inside us.

Back on the street in 2015, feeling sick and dizzy, I went to talk to the medic on our team. He did his best to assess me. He had no idea what was wrong with me. He said, “You seem fine, you’re probably just nervous. It’s up to you whether you want to go back out there.” I did want to go. I had trained for this. I had done my spiritual purification. I thought about how bad I would feel if I didn’t finish the action. So I went back out in the street and took my arrest. Sitting in the police van I sudden felt relaxed and peaceful. My resistance had burned away.

The poet writes: Let me thrive in this new clearing made at the center of my life, seeing now how the necessary flames melted away my resistance, revealing all that once lay hidden, asleep inside me.

I don’t know what power burns away our resistance to doing what is right, saying what is true, living well. Maybe the fire comes when we pray for it to come. Maybe the fire comes unbidden, grace bestowed by a loving divinity we never asked. Maybe the fire comes because we finally brace ourselves, clench our fists, and work up the nerve to do what we have to do. Maybe the fire comes because we recognize our current routine is unsustainable, and we no longer have any choice.  

Here’s what I believe: in those moments when resistance rises up in us, the necessary flames are always there, ready to burn, ready to open the parts of us that are closed tight, ready to clear a space for growth, creativity, maturation, for the next version of our best self; ready to clear a space for the multitudes to come forth. The flames are there. Our task—and I say it’s a spiritual task—is figuring out how to let them burn. If you’re concerned about that task, remember that we know something about fire. Remember that we are kin to the stars. Remember that the atoms within us are consistent with the atoms that emerged as that primordial explosion began to cool. The most ancient parts of ourselves know what it means to come through fire. Surely, we can endure whatever fires must pass through here, must scorch our skin. Surely all that lays hidden, asleep inside us, can be revealed.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Watch the entire Church of the River Easter service at

[2] Whitman, Walk, “Song of Myself, 51.” See:

UUA Article 2 Forums

UUA Article II Discussion Sessions

Thursday, May 11th, 1 PM(in person and online — watch our Wednesday eblast for login info!)

As many of UUS:E members and friends are aware, at this years Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) General Assembly (GA), delegates will be voting on a revision to Article II in the UUA Bylaws. Article II is to be reviewed every 15 years, and that time is upon us. Article II includes a list of our 7 Principles,  a listing of the 6 sources for our living tradition, a statement on the purposes of the UUA, a statement on ‘inclusion,’ and a statement on ‘freedom of belief.’   The proposed Article II will make significant changes in ALL of these sections.  Below are links to information about these changes, including a sermon from a congregation in TN, a side-by-side comparison, and a more detailed pro & con analysis. We encourage you to take a look at the proposed changes as they would have a significant impact on Unitarian Universalism and, by extension, our UUS:E community.

Forum Agenda:

Welcome (UUS:E Denominational Affairs Chair, Carrie Kocher)

Purpose of Forum (Carrie Kocher)

Acknowledgement of Disagreement (Rev. Josh Pawelek)

UUS:E Covenant (Rev. Josh Pawelek)

Article 2 Commission Video (Josh)

Presentation from Judi Durham and Lorry King

Comments / Questions (Carrie Kocher)

General Resources

Read Article 2 as it currently appears in the UUA bylaws.

Read the Report from the UUA’s Article 2 Commission, which includes the proposal for the new Article 2.

Watch the Article 2 Commission’s statement to the UUA Board of Trustees on its final report.

Read the UUA’s Frequently Asked Questions Document.

Listen to “Whew, My Brain is Tired: Article 2 Project,” a helpful Sermon on the proposed Article II changes by the Rev. Beth Lefever, minister of the Neshoba UU Church (outside Memphis, TN) from Sunday April 2, 2023.

There is more helpful information about the pros and cons of the proposed changes to Article 2 at the Saving the Seven Principles website. Specifically, download a Side by Side comparison here

And read a pro and con comparison here.

Read a reflection in the UU World magazine on the changes to Article 2 that happened in the 1980s, and thoughts about why it’s time to revise Article 2 again here.

You can also review Rev. Josh Pawelek’s sermons on the proposed changes to Article 2 on the UUS:E website:
Have We No Priniciples?, January 22, 2023
Towards a Spiritual Discipline of Love, February 19, 2023

More Resources (added here April 24th)

The following information attempts to provide an overview of  various critiques of the proposed Article 2 changes, grouped by category.  This is a small fraction of available information, but hopefully representative of the major concerns.   Judi Durham and Lorry King have curated these resources. If you would like to receive further resources from them, please feel free to contact them. 

Please know that none of the resources listed below represent in any way an official position at UUS:E by the Policy Board, elected leaders, staff, or the congregation as a whole.

Also, Please know that Rev. Josh offers a brief, different perspective on the Article 2 controversy at the end of this resource list. 

Loss of our Principles?

The UUA Article 2 Study Commission has never made a convincing (or any) case for why the complete rewriting of the principles into values is necessary.  The charge to the Article II Study Commission was to make the principles “more poetic”, but again, no reason was cited for this change.  Importantly, there was no widespread survey of congregants regarding such a radical change of what has come to be known as embodying the spiritual core of Unitarian Universalism through, our Principles.

The Save the 7 Principles website was developed by a group of concerned UU members and associates who came together from around the country for what they felt was a radical overhaul of our faith, beginning with the loss of our principles. There are numerous documents and videos on this website that explore this issue.

The summary document of their concerns is here.

Read a brief commentary by Kenneth Ing here.

A third detailed comparison and with associated meaning of the wording changes in the proposed Article II by Lincoln Baxter  is here.

Don’t be guilted into Giving up the Seven Principles
Dr. Kenneth Christiansen, Nov. 2022

Are we becoming an Anti-racism Collective accountable to UUA?

This video by Ken Ing explains some of the history of the move toward becoming exclusively an Antiracist Collective accountable to UUA.  Ken is a UU and a retired IT professional, who he has had a long interest in liberal social change.

Concerns about UUA’s Progressive AntiRacism Activism;
Are we a Free and Liberal Religion?

 There has been increasing concern with, and resistance to, the type of progressive antiracism activism that UUA has been promoting. Some of the resistance comes from UUA labeling Unitarian Universalism a White Supremacy Culture. But some of the concern is more specific to tactics of the ARAOMC (AntiRacism AntiOppression Multiculturalism) efforts.  The shift appears to have evolved (~2017) when the previous antiracism efforts,  Journeying Toward Wholeness, were seemingly unsuccessful at significantly increasing the number of People of Color (POC) within UU congregations. The following articles will provide a small spectrum of opinions on this subject.

 This first article briefly describes the differences between an “asset based” approach to antiracism and what the author (Rev. Dr. Kenneth Christainsen, a former UU minister and Professor of religion) describes as a “guilt based” antiracism, as currently being promoted by the UUA.

The second article, also by Dr Christainsen explores what works best, “policy based antiracism” or “consciousness raising” antiracism.

This article, Standing on the Side of Power, is by Rev Munro Sickafoose. He received his M.Div. from Starr King School. In this article he begins by describing the turmoil at Starr King, the “coup” in UUA that resulted in Rev Peter Morales’resignation, and Rev. Munro’s eventual loss of trust in UUA and their orthodox version of antiracism.


Is UUA a Democratic Organization? How did we get here?

The following article describes how UUA’s efforts to streamline their cumbersome decision-making process and shift to a Policy Based Governance ultimately made UUA’s governance less democratic, and more centrally located, and ultimately more ingrown. “Our Unitarian Universalist Association adopted a new form of governance in 2010 that has vested power in the hands of a small, self-selected group of insiders who now exercise control of the denomination by the manufacture of consent.”   How The UUA Manufactures Consent, by Rev. Gary Kowalski, Co-Minister, Unitarian Congregation, Taos, NM., Minister Emeritus, First UU Society of Burlington, VT.


Dis-fellowshipping and Censuring of Ministers

Rev. Todd Eklof was the first of several ministers who have been dis-fellowshipped or censured by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (UMF) for expressing views questioning or opposing the direction of UUA. If you look at this link to the page on the UUA website, you will see a decided change in the reasons cited for ministers being disfellowshipped.  Procedures in the UU Ministers Association( UUMA) and the UMF, including the Ministers Ethical Code of Conduct have recently been altered to facilitate these actions.

Rev Todd was disfellowshipped for handing out his book at the 2019 General Assembly.  (The Gadfly Papers: A critique of the illiberal trends in UUism, 2019) Rev. Todd states the book was written to open discussion of the increasing ‘illiberalism’ and ‘political correctness’ he had observed in the UUA.  Here is a sermon he delivered on Sunday, January 16, 2022, in Spokane, WA, describing the events.

What the Media is saying about Us!

 How The Unitarian Universalist Church Melted Down, by Katie Herzog, a freelance journalist and podcaster living in Seattle, WA.

Episode 159: Blocked and Reported, podcast. Edited for segment relating to UU


Note from Rev. Josh on these resources:

First, I wish to thank Judi Durham and Lorry King for researching and sharing the above resources. I am aware these articles, videos and podcasts are generating significant dialogue among us. In fact, I dare say I have never seen so many UUS:E members and friends interested in what’s happening at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) or the General Assembly. It’s refreshing!

I think it’s important to identify, at least at a high level, my perspective on these articles. I note they are uniformly critical of efforts at the national UUA–critical not only of the proposed changes to the language of Article 2 in its bylaws, but also critical of the UUA’s longstanding (40+ year) efforts to develop antiracist, anti-oppressive, multicultural identity and practice throughout the association (national offices, congregations, and affiliated organizations.) I personally am disappointed with some of the proposed changes to Article 2. I am very excited about others. As always, I am happy to discuss my disappoinment and my excitement with anyone who is interested to learn my perspective.

Having said this, please know that I am solidly in favor of the UUA’s efforts when it comes to antiracism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism, and I do not share the opinions and analysis presented in the articles above.  I am aware of the UUA’s many failures over the years in relation to this work. It has made mistakes and will likely continue to make mistakes. However, I am also aware of the UUA’s many successes in relation to this work. It is my perspective that the writers of many of the resources above do not fully know this history, and they at times mis-characterize the UUA’s efforts in their writing. This is unfortunate, because I believe some of the mischaracterizations will generate unnecessary fear about the future of the UUA. I urge UUS:E members and friends to read the UUA’s Frequently Asked Questions document for a more balanced understanding of why we are proposing changes to Article 2 at this time. The UUA’s antiracism, anti-oppression, multicultural work has always been multi-faceted, developmental, and innovative, not the one-size-fits-all, guilt-based, ideological approach about which these writers are so concerned (though certainly the guilt-based approach has been in the mix at times, and certainly the work feels ideological to some who experience it).  My commitment to the work of antiracism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism at the congregational level remains as strong as ever. I have the impression that the members and friends of UUS:E have always supported me in this commitment, have taken this commitment to heart, and will continue to do so (hopefully long after I am gone)!

The effort to change Article 2 of the UUA bylaws may succeed. The effort may fail. My expectation and my hope is that through the General Assembly’s democratic process (admittedly as flawed as any other democratic process) the effort to change Article 2 will result in a revision that retains the best elements of the current version and enthusiastically welcomes the best elements of the proposed new version. Either way, the work of building antiracist, anti-oppressive, multicultural identity and practice ought to continue at the UUA national offices, in our congregations, and in our affiliated organizations.

If you wish to discuss my perspective with me further, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected] or (860) 652-8961. 




On the Moral Obligation to Ask for Help

Rev. Josh Pawelek

I want to say a few words about something most children do exceedingly well: asking for help. It makes sense. When we’re born, we don’t know how to do anything, except sleep, drink, cry and poop. That’s about it. Eventually we learn to smile, giggle, eat mush, then eat solid foods, talk, crawl, walk, run, jump, dance, etc. Children figure out many things on their own. For example, children learn to talk by listening to their parents or care-givers talk, and then copying what they do. However, when we’re young, there’s just so much we don’t know how to do how to do. We don’t have enough years under our belts. We don’t have enough life experience. We need help. Of course, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, teachers and paraeducators, doctors and nurses, friends and neighbors all have things they want to teach children, whether children ask for help or now. But even so, along the way, there are all sorts of things children want to do that they don’t know how to do. There are all sorts of things children want to learn. So they ask for help. It’s very natural.

The baby’s cry is a way of asking for help:

“Help, I’m hungry, I need something to eat.”

“Help, my diaper is wet.”

“Help, I’m all alone in this crib and I want to snuggle.”

And it evolves from there:

“Help: pick me up!”

“Help: my tummy hurts.”

“Help: how do you catch a ball?”

“Help: I can’t sleep, there’s a monster under my bed. Can you scare it away?”

“Help: show me how to do a somersault.”

“Help: I can’t get my shoe tied, my button buttoned or my zipper zipped.”

“Help: I’m having trouble with my homework.”

“Help: How do you spell dinosaur?”

“Help: What does this word mean?”

“Help: How do you build a tree house?

“Help: Can you drive me to the mall?”

“Help: When can I learn to drive?”

My point is that children ask for help all the time, and their asking is very natural. Help me understand how the world works, how my body works, how to make friends, etc.

But as we age, something very odd happens. We ask for help less. In fact, many people stop asking for help entirely. We get to a certain point in our lives when we’re adults, and suddenly, if we don’t know how to do something, we’re embarrassed to ask for help. We feel like we should know how to do a certain thing, and we don’t want people to know we don’t know how to do it, so we don’t ask. Or worse, we pretend we know how to do it, even though we don’t. We want to appear competent, skilled and knowledgeable. We want to appear as if we have it all together and we don’t need help. So we don’t ask.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone. Some adults are very good at asking for help when they need it. But in my almost quarter-century of experience as a minister, I find that more often than not, adults (at least in the United States, and especially in New England) don’t like asking for help. A simple example in my life is things with motors. I don’t know anything about things with motors. A lot of people assume that men of a certain age know about cars, lawnmowers, tractors, leaf blowers, snow blowers, power tools in general, and kitchen appliances. If it runs on gas or electricity, I know virtually nothing. I’ve learned how to do a few things over the years by reading manuals or watching videos online, but I really know very little, and when something breaks, I am more likely to make it worse than better. I will ask for help, because I have to, but there’s always a tinge of embarrassment. I feel an impulse to resist revealing that I don’t know how to do something.

That’s just one example. In my experience it’s even harder to ask for help when there are more serious life challenges. When we’re used to always being in control of our lives, but something gets in the way of that, like not having enough money to pay bills, or not being able to drive, it’s often difficult to admit what’s going on. Remember our ministry theme for March is vulnerability. When we feel vulnerable, at risk in some way, it can be very difficult to ask for help. I’m speaking in generalities here, but many of us feel that if we need help, it somehow reflects poorly on us. It somehow suggests that we don’t measure up to some standard of what makes a good person, and we’re very tentative about asking, or we just won’t ask at all.

Mia Songbird is a writer, scholar, activist and organizer based in Oakland, CA who says: “So many of us have a deep aversion to asking for help. The idea of asking for help makes us feel like a failure, makes us feel weak. We often think of needing help as a burden. But that is toxic individualism talking! It’s telling us that we should be able to do it on our own, that if we were strong enough, good enough, capable enough, we wouldn’t need help.”[1] Think about this. We come into this world knowing instinctively how to ask for help. And yet somehow asking for help becomes problematic as we mature. We educate, train, socialize ourselves out of something that is instinctual and necessary.

Mia Songbird reminds us that human beings “long to give and receive support.” She refers to a friend of hers named Amoretta Morris who says we inhabit a “divine circle of giving and receiving.” I think it is divine. Or sacred. Or holy. She says that while we often focus on what asking for help means for the person who receives the help, we often forget that giving help can be transformative for the giver. There’s a flow to giving and receiving help. When we don’t ask for help, we block that flow.[2]

Mia Songbird says learning about this flow was liberating for her. Asking for help is as important as providing help. She writes: “We have a responsibility to each other to ask for help when we need it,” so that people around us can fulfill their very natural longing to help.[3] I take it one step further. Given that human beings have a deep longing to both give and receive support, I say we actually have a moral obligation to ask for help when we need it. As I hear myself say those words, I recognize that they sound strange. We typically think of helping others in need as the moral thing to do—the compassionate, loving thing to do. We don’t typically think of asking for help as the moral thing to do. I’m saying it is the moral thing to do, precisely because it creates opportunities for others to fulfill their purpose.

My message for all the kids is this: when it comes to asking for help, you keep doing what you already do so well, what you do very naturally: ask for help when you need it. And hope throughout your lives you will never feel like you can’t ask for help. That is, I hope you will never unlearn how to ask for help.

My message for adults: We actually know how to ask for help. We were children once. We were natural seekers of help from our caregivers and teachers. We can regain this capacity to seek help when we need it. But asking for help is more than this. It really is a moral obligation. It gives the people around us an opportunity to fulfill their longing to be of service, to be of support. And it thereby strengthens the bonds of community.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Songbird, Mia, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community (New York: Hachette Books, 2020) p. 16.

[2] Ibid., p. 17.

[3] Ibid., p. 17.

That’s How We Learned to Get Through This

Rev. Josh Pawelek

Om Namah Shivaya, shivaya namah om. Salutations benevolent one. Or salutations Lord Shiva. Ancient words. Perhaps one of the most well-known mantras in Hinduism. Thanks again to Janet Fall for guiding us in these various chants this morning.

Om Namah Shivaya, shivaya namah om is a prayer, a meditation on divine love, a contemplation of oneness, of all-in-all. It may have a calming effect. It may bring spiritual insight. Even if it doesn’t, one may enjoy the physical act of vocalizing, the repetition of the words, or the way the chant sounds.

I call this sermon “That’s How We Learned to Get Through This.” In our lives, what have we learned about getting through difficult times, through pain, through loss, through anxiety and panic attacks—getting through what some may rightly call the end of the world? Om Namah Shivaya, shivaya namah om is one among many answers to these questions. More broadly, spiritual practice—prayer, meditation, being still, being quiet, slowing down, finding calm, finding peace, letting go, gaining perspective; and then adapting, evolving, transforming—spiritual practice helps us get through hard times. Any methods we have for grounding ourselves, centering ourselves, connecting ourselves to others help us navigate through hard times, help us “get through this.”

As a reminder, our ministry theme for March is vulnerability. Last Sunday Anne Vogel introduced us to this theme. She asked the question: is vulnerability a weakness or a strength? Of course, it’s always a bit of both. However, Anne rightly emphasized the positive role vulnerability can play in our lives. When we’re willing to be vulnerable, willing to be seen for who we truly are; encountered with our blemishes, imperfections, faults and flaws; encountered in our pain and suffering; encountered in the midst of our greatest need; when we’re willing to ask for help; when we’re willing to trust that others will catch us as we fall; therein lies our capacity, and the capacity of others, to learn, to grow, to give and receive love, to give and receive compassion, to find joy, and thereby to persist, to endure, to “get through this.” So here, at the Unitarian Universalist Society: East, at this liberal religious spiritual community, this beloved community, we welcome vulnerability—your vulnerability, our collective vulnerability. We recognize vulnerability as a gift, as an opening for growth, learning, creativity, compassion, joy and love.

Having said that, I also wonder if we sometimes make it sound easier than it really is. “Come, be vulnerable, share your pain. It’s a gift. It’s a pathway to growth and love.” I don’t want to romanticize it and lose sight of how difficult it can be to share one’s vulnerability, especially in a public setting. Our larger society doesn’t look kindly on vulnerability. Most of us are socialized to some degree to hide our vulnerability. Most of us don’t easily share it. It takes practice, which is why I point to the necessity of spiritual practices as instrumental in helping us “get through this.”

I’ve also been wondering about and struggling with the tension between recognizing vulnerability as a universal human condition vs. recognizing the vulnerability of particular people or groups of people. Not all vulnerabilities are equal.

On one hand, it is true that human beings are inherently vulnerable. None of us can survive after birth without extensive and long-term care from parents or guardians. Throughout our lives, none of us escapes the pain of illness, injury, heartbreak, loss, decline and ultimately death, all of which produce fear and anxiety, sometimes low-level, under the surface fear and anxiety, sometimes full-blown and overwhelming fear and anxiety. There are many things we can do to manage our fears and anxieties. Healthy relationships, financial stability, safe neighborhoods, good schools for our children, meaningful work, friendships, spiritual communities, not to mention access to shelter, nutritious food, and clean water: all help lessen the fear and anxiety that arise from our inherent vulnerability. Which brings me to the other hand: the less access one has to these things, the more vulnerable they are, the harder it is to “get through this.”

And why do some people or groups of people tend to have less of these things? Why are some more vulnerable than others? We know we inherit and live within political and economic systems that by design make some people and some groups of people more vulnerable than others. Poor people are more vulnerable than wealthy people. People of color are more vulnerable than white people. Women are more vulnerable than men. People with disabilities are more vulnerable than able-bodied people. Elders are more vulnerable than middle-aged adults. Right now my heart is with transgender and gender non-conforming people who are daily becoming more vulnerable to political violence and what some are calling “eliminationism.” In statehouses around the country there are approximately 370 anti-trans bills under consideration. A March 6th message from the Unitarian Universalist Association described it this way:

“We are experiencing the outright political targeting of transgender and nonbinary+ children and adults…. This policy violence and dehumanizing rhetoric creates an environment that can provoke physical violence and further discrimination. We are also witnessing efforts to criminalize reproductive healthcare, comprehensive education about race, Black history, and gender, and numerous issues of human rights that are spreading across countless states nationally. These attacks cut right to the heart of our fundamental religious belief in the inherent worth and dignity of each person, a fundamental right of conscience, and the values of personal agency that give us all the opportunity to live fully into our whole selves.[1]

I deeply appreciate that the UUA has put out this message in support of trans and non-binary people and their families in this moment of heightened vulnerability. I appreciate that the UUA is offering programming on how congregations can organize against anti-trans legislation, as well as celebrating Trans Day of Visibility on Friday, March 31st. I hope our congregation can continue to do everything in our power to support trans people, their families and everyone who loves them in this time of heightened vulnerability.

The bottom line for me is that what makes our congregation a beloved community is that we can acknowledge and respond to the common vulnerability all human beings share and simultaneously acknowledge and respond to the specific, heightened vulnerability certain people or groups of people face because of who they are. All people live with vulnerability, so we respond. Some people live with more vulnerability, so we respond.

How do we respond?

My title, “That’s How We Learned to Get Through This,” comes directly from the poet, independent scholar, and activist (who has been described elsewhere as a queer black troublemaker and black feminist love evangelist) Alexis Pauline Gumbs. The quote is from her 2018 book, also a poem, entitled M Archive: After the End of the World.[2] Gumbs calls this poem “speculative documentary,” “written from and with the perspective of a researcher,” what she also calls “a post-scientist sorting artifacts after the end of the world.”[3] This researcher lives many generations from now among the descendants of those who survived the end of the world and evolved in response to it. The researcher is uncovering evidence of the impacts of late capitalism, antiblackness, and environmental crisis which, we know in our time, are taking an immense toll on the planet.[4] The quote I shared earlier stood out to me as a powerful recognition of an existential vulnerability, along with an enduring question, how do we live with it? How do we respond to it? How do we get through it? Here’s the quote again:

“they dug in their memories for the one day. for some of them it was a couple of days per month. rock-bottom days. The days in their lives when the world had already ended. They thought back. And asked:

What did we each do then? On the day that everything went wrong, when transportation and communication technologies conspired against us individually. When we personally couldn’t get out of bed, dehydrated with crying. When we didn’t ask for help. When we hurt the people we loved. When the sun died. When we lost everything. When we lost exactly who we needed to save. When we knew there would be no tomorrow. What did we each do then? How did we keep breathing past it (because we are the ones that did). They dug for those memories and stacked them in a row.

That’s how. That’s how we learned to get through this.”[5]

This fictional (yet not so fictional) researcher has uncovered a critical spiritual practice. Survivors of the end of the world looked back on their hardest days, and remembered what they did to get through it. They dug for those memories and stacked them in a row. I’d like to respectfully adapt this practice for our exploration of vulnerability. I’d like to invite you to recall a hard time in your life: an illness, the death of someone close to you, the dissolution of a cherished relationship, an attempt to get sober, an incapacitating period of mental illness, the loss of physical ability, the loss of a job, financial challenges, being bullied, being targeted due to gender identity, due to race, due to disability, due to something about you over which you have no control. You may even recall your experience of the world ending, as certainly there are days when it feels that way. In the midst of your vulnerability, how did you learn to get through it? What memories can you stack in a row and use in the future?

If I may, I’d like to name some stacked memories, which I’ve accumulated over the years, which emerge from my experience of alcoholism in my family of origin, of having a child born with a serious medical condition, and of losing my father and my father-in-law.

I remember taking small steps, short steps, tentative steps, one or two each day, and sometimes stepping back if necessary.  

I remember making lists and checking off the boxes.

I remember learning to wait, being patient, trusting that the fear and anxiety would ease in time.

I remember worrying less—or not at all—about what others thought.

I remember learning what it means to be enough.

I remember letting go of the need to be perfect,

giving up control,

embracing and living with uncertainty,


I remember taking deep, cleansing breaths.

I remember asking for help.

I remember opening up to the love of family, community and congregation.

I remember building an altar and praying. I can’t tell you all these years later what words came out of my mouth, but I suspect all the words we pray in the midst of our vulnerability are some version of what the ancients prayed: Om Namah Shivaya, Shivaya namah om. Our father who art in Heaven. Baruch Atah Adonai. Salutations benevolent one. I suspect all words we pray in the midst of our vulnerability are some version of Om, the sound of creation, the beginning sound, the sacred sound of the universe.

There is a common, human vulnerability. And some are more vulnerable than others. What have you learned about how to get through this? What memories will you stack for next time?

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Read the UUA’s entire March 6th message, “UUA Responds to Growing Legislative Attacks Against Trans and Nonbinary+ Kids and the LGBTQIA+ Community” at

[2] Gumbs, Alexis Pauline, M Archive: After the End of the World  (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018).

[3] Ibid., p. xi.

[4] I want to add that M Archive is conceived as a poetic companion piece to professor M. Jacqui Alexander’s 2005 Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. At one time Gumbs served as a research assistant to Alexander. I realized early into my first reading of M Archive that familiarity with Alexander’s work would greatly benefit my understanding of Gumbs’ project. M. Jacqui Alexander is an Afro-Caribbean writer, teacher, and activist. She is both a Professor Emeritus at the Women and Gender Studies Department of the University of Toronto as well as the creator and director of the Tobago Centre “for the study and practice of indigenous spirituality.” I am adding Pedagogies of Crossing to my reading list.

[5] Ibid., p.49.

Former Sanctuary Guest No Longer Permitted on UUS:E Property

Dear UUS:E Members and Friends:

This is a difficult, though necessary message.

Those of you who were involved in UUSE’s congregational life in the two years prior to the pandemic will remember the challenges we encountered in hosting a sanctuary guest, known to us as Rocky, from October of 2018 to October of 2019. Rocky’s time with us created a painful conflict among members of the congregation. A report on the sanctuary conflict was released to the congregation in June of 2021. If you would like to read the report, please feel free to contact Rev. Josh at [email protected].

This past May, Rocky was arrested in New York City on multiple charges related to a sexual assault on an adult. He ultimately pled guilty to a felony sexual assault and was incarcerated for over six months on Rikers Island. During his incarceration he periodically called the UUS:E office. During his final month in prison he called the office frequently. Given Rocky’s behavior during his time at UUS:E; given that he pled guilty to felony sexual assault; given that he doesn’t appear to show understanding of why his actions were wrong; and given that he appears to take no responsibility for his role in the conflict that swirled around him during and after his stay at UUS:E, the UUS:E Policy Board, with six voting members present at a special meeting on March 6th, voted unanimously to bar him from access to UUS:E property and events. Please note that as we present this situation to the congregation, we have endeavored to be as accurate as possible and to avoid speculation about any events. We request that the congregation do likewise.

Here is the Policy Board’s motion from March 6th:

Our former sanctuary guest, known to us as Rocky, is not permitted on UUS:E property, or at any UUS:E-sponsored event, including online events. We will attempt to notify Rocky of this decision, ideally in writing. We will also notify the congregation. If Rocky does come onto UUS:E’s property or attempts to attend a UUS:E-sponsored event, we will ask him to leave. If he refuses to leave, we will ask him to leave a second time. If he refuses to leave again, we will contact police for assistance.

The Policy Board also agreed that we would notify our regular renters of this decision.

It appears that Rocky was released from prison on Friday, March 3rd. We had asked him to call the UUS:E office on Tuesday, March 7th at 3:00 PM to communicate the Policy Board’s decision to him. He did not call. We will do everything in our power to communicate our decision to him as soon as we have contact information for him.

In the meantime, while we believe it is highly unlikely Rocky will come to Manchester, we really have no idea what his intentions are. In the event that he calls the UUS:E office and asks for contact information for UUS:E members or friends, we will not share information with him. In the event that he contacts UUS:E members and friends, we respectfully ask that no contact information for any other UUS:E members or friends be shared with him, and that you report any contact to Rev. Josh or the UUS:E office. 

Please know that the Manchester Police Department has been made aware of this situation and we are currently seeking their advice on how to best handle it should it arise. Also, the Policy Board is currently developing a more elaborate set of protocols to respond to Rocky should he choose to visit UUS:E. These protocols are based on the “disruptive person” section of our Safe Congregation policy and our emergency response protocol for “unarmed, disturbed person.” These protocols will be distributed to UUS:E leaders, and anyone else who requests them, once they are completed. 

If you have any concerns about this situation or the content of this message, please do not hesitate to contact one of us for further discussion.

With love and care,

Rev. Josh Pawelek, Minister               Peggy Webbe, President         Anne Carr, Vice President


Congregational Meeting January 8, 2023: Record of Feedback

COST REDUCTION- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (1a) Is it possible to achieve a half of an FTE expense by changing building manager to half-time with some responsibilities reassigned to other staff (e.g., office manager)?   

Lynn Dove, B & G Chair: No. Since the pandemic the property manager has taken on the lead for the tech team which has increased her job responsibilities significantly.  To achieve this, some responsibilities have been shifted to Annie.  Volunteers have also stepped forward to assist in the cleaning and maintenance that Jane previously did.  A congregant has also paid for a cleaning service to assist in the weekly cleaning.  We have recently evaluated each of the property managers responsibilities and prioritized which need to be completed by the property manager and which could be completed by volunteers.  Without a significant increase of volunteers who could commit for a long term, we depend on the property manager handling projects that require a significant learning curve such as learning the various building system components and learning the technology to run hybrid services.  

Response from Personnel Chair/ Wayne Starkey:  The Building Manager has assumed other significant duties due to Covid and continues to work on technology and audio/visual tasks associated with online services.  Due to this expansion of her tasks, some of her duties have already been transferred to the church administrator.

  1. (1b) Do other churches employ a full-time building manager? Can we share one with another church? 

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey:  Due to the busy building schedule that UUSE experiences weekly,  sharing a Building Manager would be difficult and cumbersome with little benefit. 

Response from Rev. Josh: There are many models for how  this is done. Many churches of our size and larger employ a full-time building manager with various responsibilities. Other churches our size and smaller will sometimes cobble together a number of part-time jobs that add up to one full-time job. Or they have a mix of volunteer and paid-staff whose work adds up to an FTE. One of the reasons UUS:E moved to a full time building manager (sexton) 15 years ago was because we were having trouble finding a sufficient volunteer base to complete all the tasks that needed doing.

  1. (7a) Are all the employees actually working as much as we pay them for? We should not cut hours for employees who work hard, but it doesn’t seem that they all do. The employees are not all the same.

Response from Personnel Chair/ Wayne Starkey:  Josh and committee chairs meet with employees semi-annually to review work performance, schedules and goals.  Employees in professional positions, DRE and MD,  perform a great deal of their work tasks at home and very little time at the church. 

Response from Rev. Josh: Yes, in my view, all the employees are working as much as we pay them for. On the whole, the staff tend to work more hours than what we pay them for.  

  1. (11a) Decrease building costs by decreasing hours the building is open.

Building and Grounds Chair/Lynn Dove:   Many of the major building expenses continue whether the building is open or not, such as the roof, parking lot, heating systems.  We could save some on electricity by limiting hours that the building is open but this would mean we wouldn’t have someone answering phones, receiving packages, and would be asking Annie to work from home.  It would limit times when rehearsals could be done, when groups could gather.  

  1. (11b) Last resort is to decrease staff.
  2. (13a) Insurance costs are high for a small number of people. Any possibility of pooling with others? Wayne: Dental and life insurance are through the UUA. Current health insurance rate beats exchange plans. Stan: Broker provides many plans each year; try to keep increase to 10%.

Response from Personnel Chair/ Wayne Starkey:  

Our dental, life, and LTD insurance is currently in a pool with other UU churches nationwide through the UUA. The Health Insurance offered by the UUA is also in a UUA pool, but continues to be more expensive than insurance policies we purchase directly using an insurance broker, sometimes through the CT exchange.  By using a local vender we can

offer less expensive and more beneficial high-deductible plans with an HRA. The Personnel Committee searches annually for the best benefits at the least cost for our staff and the church. We begin our search in April and usually contract in May.

  1. (31a) Is $28,000 to UUA negotiable?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We can negotiate, but we’ve gotten much valuable help recently and in the past.
  • The UUA has already asked UUSE for $2,000 less this year than last year.
  1. (35) Regardless of what amount of money comes in for the next year (plus) from any source, I would like to see UUSE to do all the cost cutting that it possibly can and start it in January. If we are serious about turning things around and changing our behavior, then some difficult choices are ahead.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We can and will identify and implement areas of savings this year where possible.
  1. (35) Reduce our contributions to the UUA by at least 50% and start today. I would think the UUA would fully support not receiving funds from congregations who need to engage in deficit spending and are about to run out of reserves.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We already paid them 75% of what is due this year. Also see #7 above.
  1. (35) Do all or most of the cost cutting noted on the Personnel possible reductions slide provided by Wayne.

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey:  The cost cutting measures presented in the personnel slides on Jan 8th were drastic and will have a significant impact on our employees and the operation of our church.  Some or all of these cuts would only be made as a last resort and would result in a very different UUSE. 

  1. (35) Reduce Music budget.

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey: Reducing the music program would directly affect our “music ministry”  which speaks to our members with particular music interests.  It would reduce or eliminate our choir and special music services,  reduce or eliminate our concerts and other musician activities, and could reduce or eliminate music for Sunday services.

  1. (35) Quite often there is an unhelpful emotional component to discussing personnel and benefits which quickly shuts down any real examination of the personnel budget and options. As an example, during the Jan 8th meeting, people were shouting ‘NO’ during Wayne’s presentation of Personnel’s brainstormed list without listening or understanding the implications.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  Personally I agree with you as calling out from the floor tends to intimidate those with differing views.  In a democratic process, everyone should have the opportunity to speak, but not to make others hesitate to share their opinions.

  1. (35) Our organization with five employees cannot fairly be compared to others who employ many more people or churches who have many more members. Benefits are not in line with what most people within our Society have. A comparison of benefits with organizations with five employees
    would be more equitable, rather than for example, using the State of CT’s benefits as a guide.

Response from Personnel Chair/Wayne Starkey:  UUSE hires professional and non-professional employees with the education and experience needed to fulfill the job duties of their positions.   The number of employees seems appropriate for the size of our congregation,  one minister, one 32 hour DRE, one 32 hour Music Director, one Office administrator, one Building Manager, and a 12 hour RE asst.  They provide the music and structure for our mission and worship services.  Our benefits do not reflect those offered by the State of Connecticut,  but rather are parallel to those offered by other UU churches nationwide and reflect our values and principles.

  1. (35) I am not saying this is good, however, the reality is that benefits everywhere have become much less generous over the last 10-15 years. This large employer contributes 2% to the employees 401k which serves as the pension contribution – not 10% as UUSE is doing. They offer only high deductible medical insurance (including $6000-$8000 deductible plans) and the company contributes $1000 to the HSA for each employee. The employee medical premium contribution is 40%, and the company pays 60%.
  2. (36) Identify discretionary spending and consider freezing immediately, until expense savings are identified for this year.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • We are closely monitoring our expenses as our current fiscal year draws to a close and will implement areas of savings this year where and when necessary.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:

We are wondering if you have something particular in mind when referring to “discretionary spending”.  Also, if desired, we can identify what the Policy Board deems to be discretionary.

  1. (36) Identify and implement expense cuts effective by March 1st or earlier, because delaying will just make the later cuts larger and more painful.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  

  • See response to #15 above.
  1. (37) Add to the appropriate chair and employee (e.g., Building Manager) job descriptions – to shop periodically for lower cost providers/products, listing the various services for each (e.g., Finance – P&C insurance, B&G – snow removal, elevator service, etc.) 

Response from Lynn Dove B&G Chair – We already shop around for providers and products that we purchase considering cost, quality, and local and minority run businesses.  

  1. (36) B&G Contracts: snow plowing, elevator service, etc. Is it time to shop around to see if we can find lower cost providers for these services? For the larger contracts is, UUSE doing an RFP or RFQ?  

Response from Lynn Dove B&G Chair – B&G does shop around yearly to get the best contracts considering cost, reliability, and minority run business.  

  1. (36) Insurance (Property & Liability): does UUS:E, or an agent we work with, shop for lower cost providers that meet our coverage needs, every couple of years? A few years back, we overpaid approximately $5,000 in one year because we did not shop this insurance on a timely basis.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Our current policies run from August 2022 to July 2023. Similar to how we done in the past, we will commit to looking at other insurers
  1. (36) UUA Annual Dues: we may have no choice but to reduce our dues paid until we can balance our budget and actuals, without reserve transfers. Have we had to do this in the past?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • No, we have not reduced our contributions in the past. Also, the UUA has already asked UUSE for $2,000 less this year than last year. Also see #7 above.

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (22a) Church budget is talked about once a year at the annual meeting. We need to hear info from the Board more frequently.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • We are now including a link to the monthly financial report in the newsletter and e-blast, and we are also posting them in a publicly accessible section of Basecamp.
  1. (23 a and b) … is opposed to a Constitutional amendment not allowing deficit spending and would like to see more building rentals and expanded programming.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  The constitutional amendment would be written with words that allow some flexibility to address extenuating circumstances that UUS:E may encounter. 

  1. (25a) Many churches have 1% of income from endowment.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • If necessary, we plan to do this year. Up to $10K is in the current budget.
  • The 2023-2024 budget as currently proposed has $18K, representing 5% of the 12 quarter rolling average of the Endowment balance.
  • If we draw down the Endowment, it always will come from the income portion only.
  1. (35) Do not utilize the generous bequest that is coming for the operating budget or mortgage, put it into the endowment. This is a more respectful way to honor the donor as the funds would live in the Endowment in perpetuity and produce earnings for UUSE’s use each year going forward (rather than chopping up the amount to apply as a band aid cover for the past years of deficit spending).

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  We are very aware of the importance of honoring Cliff Pelletier with UUS:E’s use of his bequest.  We have already sought advice from those who knew him best about uses of the funds that will honor him and we do believe that financial responsibility with his bequest is important. We agree that a significant donation to the endowment is proper.  At the same time, the bequest came without restrictions. The Board believes that paying off the mortgage is very important and has already voted in favor of the payoff when funds are available.   

  1. (36) Transfers from endowment may be appropriate, provided that the resulting endowment balance does not fall below the principal (sum of contributions), adjusted for inflation.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • See #3 in “Financial Management” above
  1. (36) Build a revised budget by March 1st, with the latest income and expense projections, including new information and expense cuts and income improvements that can be implemented this year.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • We are in the process of casting the 2023-2024 budget, and as part of that process we have been reviewing spending trends covering the 2019-2022 fiscal year through the current fiscal year. We have identified areas where we have not spent all of our budget on a consistent basis and reflected a lower amount in the new draft budget. In addition, we are closely monitoring our expenses as our current fiscal year draws to a close and will implement areas of savings this year where necessary.
  1. (36) Ensure that the 2023-2024 budget that is built for the annual appeal reflects identified expense savings and income improvements known at that time.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Proposed budget already has savings and income improvements built in (for example, increased interest revenue – see #12 below)
  1. (36) Add to our By-Laws, requirements for a balanced budget and ending the year without a deficit (without reserve transfers).

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  The constitution revision would call for a balanced budget but would also permit flexibility to address extenuating circumstances that UUS:E might encounter.

  1. (36) Add to our President and Treasurer job descriptions, the requirements for a balanced budget and ending the year without a deficit (without reserve transfers).

Response from President/Peggy Webbe and Treasurer/Glenn Campellone:  Okay – but with the acknowledgement that extenuating circumstances may require flexibility.

  1. (36) Add to the Minister’s job description, influence to obtain a balanced budget and ending the year without a deficit (without reserve transfers).

Response from Rev. Josh: I fully support the goal of a yearly balanced budget. I am not convinced a change to my contract is necessary, though it would be easy enough to make the change if people want it. 

  1. (36) May be worth re-visiting the ‘useful life expectancy by item’ that were used for the B&G reserve calculation. Some appear to be too short given that we lightly use our building. For example, if the 10-15-year life of ceiling fans is based on five-day usage per week, we can reasonably expect our ceiling fans to last several more years. Also, I would be surprised if we will have to replace windows, gutters/downspouts in the stated timeframes. Revisiting the expected life of each item would help ensure we have the best estimated reserve needs that we can calculate.

Response from Lynn Dove B & G Chair: We plan to renew the Building Reserve Study on a yearly basis.  This first iteration was done quickly to get a baseline, knowing that we need to do more research to get firmer numbers for some categories.  Likely the estimates are low due to not including labor costs for some items.  We already have had to replace a number of the windows before their stated lifespan due to failing seals.  Some were still under warranty when they failed.  The warranty for the windows has now expired.  

  1. (36) Income:

Anticipated Income- what comprises this line item, which has a $2,000 budget? Perhaps a clarification could be added to this line title. Building Rental – is it time to raise rates? Have we recently surveyed
Manchester area building rental rates for similar uses and for similar space to ours?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Anticipated Income is non-specific and is meant to reflect that reality that our planned fundraisers do better than expected or unplanned fundraisers are held which bring unanticipated income (for example, the Holiday Fair raised $5,500 more than budgeted and the unplanned Chocolate Auction raised $2,700).
  • Bob Knapp, Carrie Kocher and other members of a working group is evaluating our building rental rates

Interest Income:
Based on a review of the Oct. and Nov. balance sheets, there appears to be an opportunity to increase our interest income quickly and significantly. I suggest that FC consider the following:

1) Reduce checking account average monthly balances, which likely earn no interest. Shop for an interest-bearing business (non-profit) checking account (e.g., 2.0% available today) which waives monthly fees for an average balance of around $25k or lower.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • The Finance Committee already reviewed all commercial checking, savings and money market account options that exist at M&T today, and the decision was made to keep the existing accounts. Better options may be available at other banks, but unwinding our relationship with M&T would take an enormous effort.
  • We are watching our checking account balances closely, and we may consider keeping a lower monthly average balance if possible, with an eye towards preserving our liquidity position.

2) Replace the money market account that is paying 0.03%, with one that is currently paying 2.75% or higher. Also, consider replacing the money market account with a savings account, which often pays higher interest (3.0% available today), while offering the same liquidity.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Changes were underway prior to these suggestions.
  • We reduced our Money Market account to the minimum required amount of $10,000 (from $72,000). We may decide to close this account at a future date, but we are leaving it open for now, which will provide liquidity if we should need it in the short term. The $62,000 was invested in Fidelity CDs earning 4.35% and 4.6%. Also see response below.

3) Replace all CDs with higher yielding CDs that correspond to our liquidity needs, perhaps doing a CD ladder. For example: Replace CD 1-23-2024 earning 0.33% with a current available rate of 3.8% for a 1-year Business CD, which has roughly the same maturity date of our current CD. The interest gain will significantly exceed the interest penalty for early withdrawal for existing CDs (assuming typical penalties). Implementing the above changes could increase our average interest rate on our bank deposits from approximately from 0.2% to 3.0%, for an annual increase of roughly $7,000 of interest income. This assumes keeping funds at M&T Bank is not a condition of something like a lower mortgage rate. If that is the case, we can still increase our interest income since M&T currently pays, for example, as much as 3.5% for a one-year CD. Note: for at least Oct and Nov, our total deposits at M&T Bank exceeded the FDIC insurance limit of $250,000, by a few thousand dollars. I recommend that we move enough cash to another bank, to ensure our total at M&T remains below the FDIC cap when factoring in future interest.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Changes were underway prior to these suggestions.
  • We closed the three previous CD accounts and replaced them with two short term CDs earning 4.35% and 4.6% (Fidelity), and one 12 month CD earning 3.0% (M&T). We included a conservative estimate of interest income of about $5,000 in our 2023-2024 proposed budget; however, if the Federal Reserve continues to increase rates we could see an amount close to the $7,000 quoted above.
  • As a result of our investment changes, we have moved over $112,000 to Fidelity and invested in three FDIC insured CDs.
  1. (36) Personnel: What items account for the difference noted below?

Budget for Personnel Expenses (Nov. stmt): $399,700
Personnel Expenses on Slide on Jan 8th:       $361,301
Difference:                                                          $ 38,399

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • Wayne Starkey worked with Bob Knapp to reconcile these differences. No further response is necessary.

Response from Chair/Personnel Committee:  The difference between the total from the Treasurer and the slides from the Personnel Committee is Workman’s Comp,  FICA, HRS contributions, and the 27th payroll in FY 23.

  1. (36) Electricity: will our line budget cover the costs for this year, given the announced increase in rates across CT (from Eversource in January “A customer using 700 kWh per month will see about a 48% or $84.85 increase to your total bill compared to December’s bill.”)? If not, how much does a current projection with the higher rates exceed the budget? Does B&G or FC shop for rates at least annually? If no, consider implementing this practice.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • We are experiencing much higher than expected electricity bills than what was projected in the budget.
  • Response from Stan McMillen: Solar output reduced this winter due to excessive cloudy days.
  • The proposed budget for 2023-2024 includes an amount over twice the amount budgeted this year.

Response from Lynn Dove B&G Chair – We shop for the best rates each time our contract with the electric provider expires.  Our electric contract expired this year and unfortunately had to sign up for a new contract when the rates were high.  We signed for the shortest contract possible in hopes that the next time the rates will be more favorable.  

MARKETING- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (21a) Ramp up publicity, especially social media. Use the town calendar. Use UUS:E lobby to advertise ourselves. Bring friends.
  2. (26a) More active with social media. 

Response from Paul Cocuzzo Communications & Technology: Mary Lawrence offered a workshop so that everyone in congregation can share.

  1. (31a) Increase membership and visibility.

MEMBERSHIP- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (16a) Having information about the costs of running UUS:E is very helpful. We need to increase our base of people, i.e., membership. Stan: New building was to grow our congregation. Hasn’t happened, but we’ve maintained, not increased numbers.
  2. (20a) Increase pledge and membership, we need to talk about it to others; used

Lion’s Club analogy.
3. (21a) Bring friends.
4. (31a) Increase membership and visibility.
5. (32a) Worship outside of Sunday morning? Welcome new people.

PLEDGES- Suggestions and Comments

  1. (9a) Income brackets on pledges do not go low enough. She can afford to increase her pledge by $1 per month and challenged others: What is YOUR dollar?”
  2. (10a) She will increase her pledge by 10%.
  3. (12a) She is unable to increase her yearly pledge. She encourages newer members with larger incomes to increase their baseline pledge.
  4. (14a) High donors have stepped in. Maybe we need a special campaign to contribute beyond pledge.
  5. (20a) Increase pledge and membership, we need to talk about it to others; she used Lion’s Club analogy.
  6. (27 a and b) Capital campaigns have accomplished a lot; pledge increase won’t address building reserves.
  7. (28a) Pledge increases, then capital campaign. We need both.

REVENUE STREAMS-Suggestions and Comments

  1. (2a) Put PayPal QR code on Screen. UUS:E store (once a month)
  2. (3a) Can we rent our facilities out for outside groups? Can we increase it? We NEED to build RESERVES and STOP deficit spending! Endowment campaign.
  3. (4a) Can we rent out the kitchen for events?
  4. (6a) “Co-house” with another congregation that does not have a home so they can share our expenses.
  5. (6b) Consulting fees (e.g., Josh/UUSE model of shared ministry) and/or sale of curriculum.
  6. (6c) Online merchandise, especially message in line with UU values, available for anyone to purchase.
  7. (6d) Rental of our building/grounds as a retreat center. 
  8. (8a) Are there opportunities for building rentals to community groups? Do we get contributions from present community groups? Increased use would partially be offset by greater wear and tear. (Jane raised this question in person).
  9. (15a) Is there income from outside the congregation for building rental?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • $2,100 comes from building rentals. Other smaller amounts are also earned from concerts, equal exchange sales, and gift card sales.

Response from President/Peggy Webbe:  We have a committee that is already working on plans to rent the building for weddings, funerals and perhaps other events.  We are interested in hearing of members/friends ideas and also having volunteers sign on to promote these activities.  We are also interested in establishing a second committee to explore and spearhead implementation of other ideas.

  1. (17a) Building is a great place for neuroscience research training. Response from President/Peggy Webbe: I’m interested in hearing more about this idea.
  2. (19a) Can we apply for grants for programs? Response from Stewardship/Stan McMillen: Need grant writers.
  3. (23b) Would like to see more building rentals and expanded programming.
  4. (24a) Would a 10% increase across the board take care of the deficit?

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • 10% would come close to covering just the deficit, but would not be sufficient to set aside funds for building reserves.
  1. (27a and b) Capital campaigns have accomplished a lot; pledge increase won’t address building reserves.
  2. (29a) UUS:E store once per month selling mugs, t-shirts, coasters, bumper stickers, masks, etc. All should buy Fair Trade coffee, tea & chocolate.
  3. (30a) Book cart offers free books; make a donation to UUS:E.
  4. (33a) Donate for coffee after service.
  5. (34a) Marketing the church for weddings and memorials.
  6. (37) Use PayPal and Venmo to take donations

Response from President, Peggy Webbe: See response above #9 under Revenue Streams.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • This has been in place for a while.
  1. (37) Sell obsolete sound equipment.

Response from Treasurer/Glenn Campellone: 

  • This recommendation was recently approved by the Policy Board and the effort is underway.