UUS:E Members Support HUSKY for Immigrants

Rev. Josh Pawelek, Monica Van Beusekom, Jim Adams and Al Benford outside the HUSKY for Immigrants press conference

UUS:E members and staff were in attendance at the January 11th launch for this year’s HUSKY for Immigrants Campaign. Read more here.

Art Show: “Bear With Us”

Opening:
February 10th, 2023 6:30-8:30 pm

 

All are Welcome!

Please join Laurel Hennebury for the opening of her photography exhibit at UUS:E, Friday, February 10th, 6:30 to 8:30.  Laurel’s polar bear and grizzly bear photographs from her recent trips to Svalbard Norway and Katmai Alaska will be on display in the UUS:E sanctuary through February.

Refreshments will be served. Feel free to bring friends to view and/or purchase pictures. Proceeds to benefit UUS:E. Feel free to bring children!

Unitarian Universalist Society: East
153 Vernon Street West, Manchester, CT

For more information, contact the UUS:E office at (860) 646-5151

The Chocolate Auction Returns!!

UUS:E Pre-Valentine’s Day Chocolate Auction!!!!
Sunday, February 12th, 12:30 PM
Featuring special guest, Chef Ken Bergeron

Chef Ken Bergeron (former owner of It’s Only Natural Restaurant in Middletown, CT) will discuss baking desserts with vegan chocolate. He will be sharing a recipe from his cookbook Professional Vegetarian Cooking and giving out samples to taste. This event is co-sponsored by the brand new CT Vegan Center

The chocolate auction will follow Chef Ken’s presentation:

When: Sunday afternoon, February 12th, 12:30 PM

Why: Because chocolate is awesome, and a chocolate auction is a great way to raise $$$$ for UUS:E!

How:  Well, it’s pretty simple, actually. We need BAKERS and BIDDERS (and a few volunteers to help out)

All members and friends of UUS:E are invited to create chocolate confections (cookies, brownies, cakes, cupcakes, and any other kind of chocolate dessert you can imagine). Bring your creations to the meeting house on the 12th (include your name and a list of ingredients). Please let Rev. Josh know you are bringing something for the auction at [email protected].

Then, come to the auction at 12:30 on the Feb. 12th and bid on whatever looks best to you! Bring your check book or cash and pay when you collect your confection.

It’s that simple!!!

We need 3-4 volunteers to help out on the 12th. If you’d like to volunteer, please contact Rev. Josh at [email protected] or 860-646-5151!

A Blessed Mixing

To begin, I want to thank all of you again for the wonderful 20th anniversary celebration last Sunday. It was great. It meant the world to me. I still am not sure who all was responsible for the planning, but I know Peggy Webbe did a lot of it, along with Sylvia Ounpuu. Anne Carr, Jackie Heintz and Edie Lacey were helping out in the kitchen. Not sure who else. But please know that I am exceedingly grateful to the planners and the worker bees; and I am also exceedingly grateful to all the members and friends of this congregation over the past 20 years who have trusted me to serve as your minister. Thank you so much.

Right now the message I want you to hear on this Sunday at the beginning of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, this Sunday a few days before the winter solstice, this Sunday a week before Christmas, is that I love the way it all mixes together. I love menorahs mingling with nativity scenes on town greens. I love all the pagan references embedded in the celebration of Christmas—the evergreens, the lights, the ornaments, the wreaths, the elves, the reindeer, and Santa Claus, who has both Christian and pagan origins. I love the solstice bonfires. I love the giving and receiving of gifts, which has pagan roots, which in Europe was historically a more secular New Years tradition, but which has, over time, made its way into Christmas and Hanukkah. And as I said last week, I love the darkness of the season, which is always interacting with the light. It’s a blessed mixing.

It’s not surprising that we find Jewish, Christian and Pagan resources—songs, readings, decorations—mixed together in our holiday music service. It reminds us that in virtually any Unitarian Universalist congregation, there are pagans worshipping next to Christians (or people of Christian heritage) worshipping next to Jews (or people of Jewish heritage); and of course there are Buddhists, the occasional Muslim. There are so many formers: former Catholics, former evangelicals, former Mormons, sitting next to each other in Unitarian Universalist worship. And folks in any of these categories might be theists, might be atheists. And all of us, I swear, to some degree or another, are religious agnostics. We’re not willing to make definitive statements about any of it because we know there might be more information or data or evidence out there that hasn’t been discovered yet but which might change our hearts and minds regarding what we believe. We know there are experiences we haven’t had yet which might change our hearts and minds regarding what we believe. And we know that when you scratch beneath the surface of any faith tradition, when you peer beneath all the human-made aspects of any faith tradition—if you look to where the tradition is pointing—there’s often more mystery than anything else. So why not honor it all? Why not bring it all in? Why not put it all into the worship pot and mix it around, especially at the holiday season, a blessed mixing.

I am reminded that in the current listing of the sources for our Unitarian Universalist living tradition, we describe a blessed mixing: Direct Experience of awe and wonder; words and deeds of prophetic people; wisdom from all the world’s religions; the love at the heart of our specific Christian/Jewish heritage; humanist teachings; and the wisdom of earth-centered traditions. As many of you know, that source language that we’ve grown used to over the years, along with the seven Unitarian Universalist principles is up for revision. If the proposed revision goes through we’ll no longer have that specific list of sources. But we’ll still have a blessed mixing. The proposed new language refers to our inspirations. It reads: “As Unitarian Universalists, we draw upon, and are inspired by, the full depth and breadth of sacred understandings, as experienced by humanity. Grateful for the religious lineages we inherit and the pluralism which enriches our faith, we are called to ever deepen and expand our wisdom.” I’m going to dedicate a Sunday service in January to offering my reflections on the proposed changes to our sources and principles. Right now what I know is this: whether one likes the old language or the new language, the underlying message is the same. Our faith has many sources, many inspirations, many lineages. Our people individually and collectively draw on many sources, many inspirations, many lineages. To prioritize one would run counter the religious pluralism that resides at the heart of who we are. And who we are is a blessed mixing.

I say, honor it all. Bring it all in. Put it all into the worship pot and mix it around, especially at the holiday season. Receive what you need for your own spiritual flourishing. Enjoy what you like, for the health of your soul. Celebrate all the goodness, diversity, abundance and the love in the world. Be inspired to work toward the future you desire. All this is possible in the midst of this blessed mixing.

Happy holiday!

Amen and blessed be.

 

Darkness Invites Wonder

Meditation

“Early Awakening Reflections”
by Carrie Kocher

Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night. Sometimes, I go outside.

How achingly beautiful it can sometimes be in autumn to feel the first chill temperature of the air, to smell the slight hint of smoke from a wood fire burning in a hearth nearby, to observe the degree of cloud cover (or not), or the moon’s current phase, or to marvel at pinpoints of light finally reaching earth after a journey of billions of miles from many stars and planets and galaxies.

How achingly beautiful the owl’s hoot, the coyote’ whine, a duck or a goose breaking the pre-dawn silence with its sharp call. How pregnant and anticipatory that same silence, when I sit, bundled up, waiting, waiting, and waiting … or walking softly and gently on a path along the pond or through the woods.

Going out at night – especially in the wild country of Northern VT – actually does carry a little danger which, of course, makes it all the more special. It makes one aware of how we are always on the edge between life and death but just aren’t paying attention enough most of the time.

How rare it is to feel as though one really is a part of the natural world; to be open and available; to welcome an encounter with a mouse or a squirrel or chipmunk or rabbit or deer or fox or coyote or even a bear or a cougar or even a mountain lion (honestly, though, I’d prefer to avoid the last two if possible!); to recognize that the night really does belong to the creatures; to allow myself to feel naked and slightly nervous when their eyes pierce me through the darkness. In such moments I realize how little control I really have over life, that we really are just sojourners, guests on our achingly beautiful planet.  In such moments I’m torn between wanting to surrender, which is a kind of death, and wanting to struggle, which is a desire to live. Both have spiritual value. Both emerge from the darkness.

 

Sermon 

“Darkness Invites Wonder”
Rev. Josh Pawelek

Thank you Carrie.

Carrie is describing an ongoing encounter with the natural world in the dark, pre-dawn hours. In response to her awareness of non-human creatures in her midst she says: “In such moments I realize how little control I really have over life, that we really are just sojourners, guests on our achingly beautiful planet.  In such moments I’m torn between wanting to surrender, which is a kind of death, and wanting to struggle, which is a desire to live. Both have spiritual value. Both emerge from the darkness.”

Our ministry theme for December is wonder. The title of this sermon is “Darkness Invites Wonder.” I want to weave a number of threads together for you and thereby commend to you what is for me a late autumn / early winter spiritual practice of wondering in the midst of darkness, Carrie’s meditation being one example.

I offer this practice as distinct from—though certainly kin to—the spirituality Alan Ayers shared with us last Sunday. Alan told us about the wonder and curiosity that took center stage in his life as a child. He would wonder, how does turning the door knob unlatch the door? He would wonder, how can I clean the dessert sand out of my bicycle gears? And, much to the chagrin of his parents, he would take things apart, study them, learn how they worked, and sometimes escape from his room when they weren’t paying attention. He would recognize there was a puzzle or a problem in his midst that he didn’t understand—the door knob, the bike gears. He could see it; it was right there in front of him. He would wonder about it. He would act in response to that wonder. He would experiment, test, evaluate results. He would take logical steps. He would discover the answer, or at least an answer. He talked to us about how this basic practice of wondering continued in his professional life as a successful battery scientist, project manager and leader of multi-disciplinary teams. He linked this practice to his liberal religious, Unitarian Universalist faith. In short—and these are my words, not his—when religion provides all the answers, it diminishes our capacity for wonder. When religion encourages us to ask questions, it catalyzes our capacity for wonder. If nothing else, ours is a questioning, curious, wondering faith.

Alan brought the answers he sought into the light of day, but what happens when it’s dark? And by dark I don’t only mean night-time or mid-winter, or the physical absence of light, say in a cave or a room with no windows, though these are certainly sources of darkness. By dark I also mean there may be a puzzle or a problem in front of us, but we have no idea what it is. There’s no door knob mechanism to figure out, no bicycle gears to disassemble, no solid, concrete thing to analyze, no logical steps to follow. We sense the puzzle is there in the darkness, but we can’t see it, we can’t touch it, we can’t manipulate it. Maybe there’s a set of pale, yellow eyes staring at us from a distance, from within the underbrush, or on a branch above us, but we dare not approach lest we invite more danger than we can handle. Maybe we hear the night chorus, something rustling at the edge of the stream bed, something foraging, something hunting. It’s ominous. Is says, come no closer, this isn’t for you, at least not yet. So we sit, we listen, we wonder … and we wait for what may emerge. That’s the practice. That’s the wonder darkness invites.

This darkness may come to us as a feeling—a persistent feeling we can’t quite shake and can’t quite name, maybe a dull fear at the margins of our awareness. Or is it anxiety, grief, discontent? It’s hard to tell. No word quite captures it. Is it longing, hoping, wishing? Some mixture of these? It may even by a species of joy, excitement, expectation—the sense that something good is coming—yet we still aren’t entirely sure of its source. Where is it coming from? Why is it trying to poke through to consciousness now, in this moment?

Maybe, for whatever reason, we’re simply trying to shed the past and stop ruminating about the future so we can be more fully present in this moment, and our instincts tells us to seek the dark. For some it’s easier to become present in darkness, eyes closed, fewer distractions.

Maybe we are slowly coming to terms with how little control we have, slowly and painstakingly becoming aware of something larger than ourselves to which we must surrender; which, Carrie says, is a kind of death; so of course we approach it haltingly, tucking it away by day, but finding it returns, seeking an audience, in the wee hours of the night, whispering, let go, let go, let go.

Maybe there’s a buried part of us that knows exactly what we have to do with our lives, but what we have to do requires struggle. It will be hard, difficult, challenging. In the bright light of day we keep it buried, because we feel we don’t have the time or the space or the capacity for the vulnerability it requires. But it comes to us in the darkness, slowly showing us the way forward, helping us find our resolve, tapping gently into those hidden reservoirs of strength and capacity and resilience in us, saying to us, yes, struggle for this thing you know means everything to you. Struggle, which Carrie reminds us, is a desire to live.

Finding the inner resolve to let go, finding the inner resolve to struggle: both emerge from the wondering darkness invites.

I hope the distinction between the spirituality Alan described last Sunday and this wondering in the dark makes sense. Alan was talking about wonder in response to a known puzzle or problem—the door knob, the bike gears. We might call that “wondering in the light,” or “Wondering by day.” With such wondering, we can typically figure out steps to take, experiments to run; or we can figure out whom to ask. The path is relatively clear, even if challenging. The operative spiritual qualities when we wonder by day are intellect, reason, creativity, action.

“Wondering in the dark” takes a different form. We sense the puzzle is there, but we don’t know what it is or how to proceed. Wondering by night requires that we be still, be quiet, wait attentively. Something may eventually emerge—an answer, a pathway, a decision—but we can’t make it happen. We must wait. The spiritual qualities operative here are patience, receptivity, presence, grace.

This takes me back to my seminary days. I loved taking courses on the mystics. In so many of these courses the professor would start out by explaining that a mystic is one who, through contemplation, meditation, prayer, surrender, seeks union with God, divinity, the holy, the source. And inevitably the professor would instruct us to look in the mystics’ writings for two basic forms of theological content: cataphatic theology and apophatic theology (terms of ancient Greek origin). Cataphatic theology is positive and affirmative in the sense that it refers to what we know (or think we know) about God, what we can affirm about God, the attributes of God, how we can praise God, how God manifests to us in creation, in the natural world; God as touchable, physical, sensual, and most importantly, knowable. God in the light.

Apophatic theology is negative. As the British theologian Andrew Louth once put it,  “apophatic theology is concerned with our understanding of God, when, in the presence of God, speech and thought fail us and we are reduced to silence.”[1] Some apophatic titles that still stick in my mind a quarter century later are Dark Night of the Soul, by the 16th-century Spanish mystic and poet St. John of the Cross, and The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous mystical work written in Middle English in the late 14th century. God is in the darkness. Silence, stillness, speechlessness bring the mystic not out of the darkness, but deeper into it where an ultimately unknowable God resides. Again, the operative spiritual qualities are patience, receptivity, presence, grace.

Wondering in the light of day: cataphatic. Wondering in the darkness: apophatic

More recently I’ve been reading a work about a kind of apophatic wondering entitled Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village, by the Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes.[2] She is a former seminary president and now a spiritual teacher and writer who focuses on African American spirituality, mysticism, cosmology and culture. Holmes writes about the impact of crises on communities, specifically black and brown communities—climate catastrophes (New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria), the Covid 19 pandemic, the pandemic of racism. The trauma unleashed by such crises can change everything, can leave people feeling unmoored, unclear about what social structures are still reliable, unsure about where to place their faith. She’s describing a kind of darkness, where the stakes are quite high and the suffering can be extraordinary. I want to be clear, as Holmes is: unlike the mystics who seek out the darkness, nobody chooses the darkness of crisis for themselves or their communities. People enter it involuntarily. But if one must be there, what might happen?

In the midst of crisis, the unknowing, the coming undone, the darkness, Holmes offers the practice of crisis contemplation. I want to quote a few passages from her book, because for me crisis contemplation feels like a form of what I’m calling wondering in the darkness. As I share these words, I urge you not to engage cognitively in an attempt to know how the practice works.  Imagine there’s a puzzle or a problem in your presence, but you don’t know fully what it is. Don’t try to understand. Take these words in as you would poetry. Feel them. Let them wash over you. And then note what emerges for you.

She writes: When the ordinary isn’t ordinary anymore and the crisis is upon us, the self can center in this refuge that I am calling “crisis contemplation,” a space that is neither the result of spiritual seeking nor the voluntary entry into meditative spaces. It is a cracking open, the rupture and shattering of self, community expectations and presumptions about how the world works….[3]

It happens so slowly, / it happens so suddenly, / it is safe and then it is not. / When it happens, we are certain / about everything, / and then the fall / strips us of knowing / and doing, / and leaves us with / being. / Together we fall, / sweaty, shattered, / and gulping the darkness….[4]

Thank goodness for the darkness that blankets our freefall through the crisis and into the rich loam of contemplative potential. I am grateful that when we are at our lowest point, a portal opens that beckons us toward healing and restoration. In the midst of crisis, we are given the opportunity to shed simplified versions of reality for multi-dimensional mystical spaces…[5].

Finally: The darkness to which I refer is not a space of fear. It is an involuntary centering in a reality that is not always available to us when our egos are lit. Crises open portals of deeper knowing. When the crisis occurs, the only way out is through, so we take a cue from nature and relax into the stillness, depending upon one another and the breath of life![6]

What strikes me so powerfully about crisis contemplation is that darkness, for Holmes, isn’t the crisis. Darkness is a refuge from the crisis. Darkness is a refuge from the glaring, obscuring light. Darkness is a refuge from the insanity of the world. Darkness is a refuge from suffering. Darkness is a refuge from oppression. But it isn’t a place where answers are known, especially not in any immediate sense. It isn’t a place where reason and logic are the primary tools. It isn’t a place where we hear a call to action. In the darkness is stillness. In the darkness is quiet. In the darkness people wait, attentively. Sometimes together. Breathing in, breathing out, until whatever is waiting to be born arrives—a new self, a new community, a new faith, a new peace, a new world, a new love.

My prayer for each of us, as we move more deeply into this dark season, is that we may have our moments of quiet stillness, that we may have the patience to wait attentively, that we finally come to understand what pieces of ourselves we can let go, and the pieces of ourselves for which we must struggle.

The light will come my friends. But now is the dark season. Be mindful, as Barbara Holmes says, we grow toward the light fed by the darkness. I invite you to wait well, and wonder often.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Louth, Andrew, The Origins or the Christian Mystical Tradition: from Plato to Denys (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980) p. 165.

[2] Holmes, Rev. Barbara A. Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village (Albuquereque: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021).

[3] Ibid., p. 44.

[4] Ibid., p. 47-48.

[5] Ibid., p. 53.

[6] Ibid., p. 57.

For So the Children Come

I hope my surprise departure from the service to volunteer in the children’s ministry program wasn’t too alarming to you. Gina was worried you would be alarmed. I promise you: this was not her idea. Desiree and I cooked it up—a bit of worship theater. I hope and trust the message is clear. We always need adults to volunteer in our children’s ministry on Sunday mornings and at other times. Children’s ministry has always had, and I suspect will always have, the largest need for volunteers of any ministry we offer at UUS:E. Mindful that these needs are great, Gina and the Religious Education Committee have done a lot in recent years to actually scale back the number of volunteers we need, and to reduce the amount of time volunteers have to put in. Even so, this ministry has always had, and I suspect will always have, the largest need for volunteers of any ministry we offer. And that’s a good thing, because volunteering to work with our children and youth is the most reliable way for us to build relationships and community across the generations here at 153 West Vernon St.

For the record, most of you will remember that at the end of September we began messaging the congregation that we needed more volunteers for the children’s ministry. We emphasized something that Desiree said earlier: we’re trying to design programming for the kids that directly utilizes your gifts. This is a shift in our children’s ministry culture. Instead of asking who knows how to make stained glass? Or who knows how to set up an obstacle course? Or who would like to teach a song? Or who can lead a nature hike around the grounds? Or who is willing to be the lead teacher for the elementary-aged kids? Instead of that approach, we’re asking each of you to identify a skill, a gift, an area of expertise, a passion you can bring to the children’s ministry. You identify the gift. Gina and her team will turn it into a spiritual lesson for the children.

If you know how to set up a bike rodeo, let us know. We’ll turn that knowledge into a spiritual lesson for the kids. If you are passionate about gardening, we’ll turn that passion into a spiritual lesson for the kids. If you can lead yoga or tai chi or modern dance, we’ll turn your ability into a spiritual lesson for the kids. We’ll match your gift to the ministry theme for the month. Painting, water-coloring, cooking, exercising, gardening, story-telling, worship-leading, crafting of any sort, teaching a foreign language, playing games (especially obscure games), reading poetry, writing poetry, writing prose, listening to music, sharing your musical prowess, or lack thereof, demonstrating your musical instrument, designing service projects, designing social justice projects, and anything to do with animals. All you engineers—surely you have some knowledge or skill to bring to the children. All you social workers and therapists—surely you have some knowledge or skill to bring to the children. All you nurses and medical staff—surely you have some knowledge or skill to being to the children. Small business owners? Lawyers? IT specialists? Surely you have something we can adapt for our children’s ministry.

Incidentally: while I don’t typically leave in the middle of the service to volunteer for the children’s ministry, from what I’ve been able to glean from conversations with colleagues, I spend far more time working with our kids than most clergy. I understand it as part of my ministry. I am not just the minister for adults. I am the minister to the children and youth. I’ve led children’s worship once already this year. I’ve led a session for the Affirmation class. I think I’m scheduled to do a “Breakfast with TED” session in February. I love it. The reason I am able to dedicate this time is because of our shared worship ministry. On the Sundays when lay-people are leading worship, you quite often will hear, “Our minister, the Rev. Josh Pawelek, is working with the kids this morning.”

On the subject of volunteers, there’s good news. Gina reports that some of you have responded to the message, have offered your gifts to the children’s ministry, and we’ve already been able to work you in for a Sunday program. Anne Carr offered baking. She baked brownies with the kids for the holiday fair. This activity served as an opportunity to explore important concepts with the kids, such as institutional stewardship, the various ways we support the congregation, the importance of community, understanding that children can contribute and make a difference, and the fun of working together on a project.

Ben Elzerman shared his music. He demonstrated the bagpipes and led the kids in a percussion circle. They used this activity to explore November’s ministry theme of change. One instrument makes a pleasant sound by itself, but what happens when we add additional instruments and sounds to the mix? They talked about creating change in community.

Louisa Graver has offered to lead a workshop on making a peace quilt with the junior youth group. That’s going to happen in January. Sandy Karosi, Shirley Schiumo and Priscilla Meehan, who is a newcomer to UUS:E, have all volunteered to work in the nursery with our staff-person Molly Vigeant. This is a different structure than we’ve used in the past. We used to ask volunteers to teach a class three or four Sundays a month throughout the congregational year. Now we’re asking you to name what you can bring one time. Our culture is slowly starting to shift. That’s good news. Keep it up! Keep the ideas coming! Keep the gifts and knowledge and skills and passions flowing!

Having said all this, I want to remind us I’m talking about far more than volunteering with the children’s ministry. Yes, we absolutely want you to volunteer, because we want the ministry to be successful. But larger than that, deeper than that, more essential than that, we have been, and we continue, to build a vibrant, thriving, liberating, multigenerational spiritual community. We were very clear about that as a congregation when we hired Gina Campellone as our Director of Religious Education. We didn’t just want a successful children’s ministry hidden away in its own silo. We wanted children to be present in many aspects of congregational life. I went back to a sermon I preached on building multigenerational community in the fall of 2013. Some of you will remember that at that time, some in the Unitarian Universalist Association were talking about the “death of Sunday School.” Congregations in many denominations were facing challenges in sustaining children’s ministries. In increasing numbers, adults with young children generally no longer saw church as a significant part of their children’s lives. And one of our regional staff members, Wren Bellevance-Grace, use to talk about the demise of Sunday morning as sacred time. Sports leagues, karate schools, dance studios and on and on were scheduling children’s programming on Sunday mornings, and families were often forced to choose. Wren used to say, “the battle for Sunday morning is over, and we’ve lost.” Remember that?

We heard that message. We took it seriously. But we didn’t give up on our children’s ministry. Our guiding vision was this: children and youth don’t want to come to church just to take religious education classes. Even if they can’t fully articulate it, they want to come to church because they feel part of a multigenerational community that cares about them and their families. Here’s what I said a decade ago:

Let’s ask how we can connect across generations, and then do it. And this is my hope: After a few years of experimenting and creating, making mistakes and coming to some dead ends, learning together and building relationships, we will transform our congregation. At that point we won’t ask, “How can our children be more integrated into the life of our congregation?” We’ll say, “Wow, the children are really integrated into the life of our congregation!” And not only the children, but elders and young adults too! Our children will be more fully integrated into the lives of our elders. And our elders will be more fully integrated into the lives of our youth. And our youth will have input into more of our Sunday services. And we’ll know what music they’re listening to. And all of our adults will be discerning their passions and figuring out how to share them with people of all ages. And they’ll also be volunteering in the nursery. And if the youth group is walking against hunger, the elders will go with them. And if the social justice committee is organizing an action against mass incarceration, the children will go with them. And if the elders are organizing a game night, the youth and young adults will join them. And if the religious education director needs volunteers to help teach a 5th and 6th grade class, twelve people will raise their hand and beg to be given this opportunity. We will have a beautiful, blessed mixing, week in and week out, holding us, teaching us, challenging us, inspiring us. That’s what a vibrant, liberating, loving multigenerational community looks like to me. We will figure it out. And we will thrive.

Friends, I am convinced this is a major piece of our journey as a congregation in the coming years. It must be. Too many forces in society drive the generations apart, preventing each from receiving the gifts the others offer. Too many forces direct people away from living fully in neighborhoods, from knowing and caring about their actual neighbors. Too many forces drive wedges into what I call sacred family time, including family meal time, family leisure time, family prayer time, family reading time, family art time and, with the death of Sunday morning, family worship time. Too many forces deprive us of the benefits of multigenerational community: the wonder, awe and innocence of children; the questioning, testing, sometimes rebellious spirit of youth; the idealism, creativity and energy of young adults; the experience, skills and leadership of middle-aged adults; the wisdom, memory and depth of elders. The church can and must be that force in society that says no to all that drives us apart. The church can and must be that force in society that says yes to vibrant, liberating, loving, multi-generational community; yes to responsible, accepting, courageous, justice-seeking multigenerational community; yes to being together across generations, caring for one another, listening deeply to each other, honoring each other, playing together, working together, singing together, dancing together, breaking bread together, baking bread together, [breaking and baking gluten-free bread together,] making art together, struggling for a more just and fair world together, struggling for the world together across the generations. In my experience, outside of families that manage to keep some semblance of togetherness—not all do—there is no other institution in society that has more capacity to bring generations together than the church. We may very well be the last refuge of multigenerational community. If that’s true, then I, for one, feel a deep moral obligation to build and sustain vibrant, multigenerational community here at UUS:E. I hope and trust you do too.

We’re not there yet, but we’ve made considerable progress. We are much further along in our evolution than we were when I first preached those words.

I’ll leave you with this idea: The presence of children—high school, middle school, elementary, kindergarten, toddlers, infants—is the most reliable indicator that a congregation has a bright future; that our liberal religious values will endure, will be passed on to the next generation. The presence of children is the most reliable indicator that there will be people ready to receive, carry on, and adapt the spiritual legacy of those who are here now; just as those who are here now receive, carry on, and adapt the spiritual legacies of those who founded this congregation in 1969; just as we all receive, carry on and adapt the spiritual legacies of those who established the Unitarian and Universalist denominations in the United States more than two centuries ago; just as those founders received, carried on and adapted the legacies of religious free-thinkers, rationalists, heretics, protestors, prophets and lovers of humanity and the Earth extending back through the tens of thousands of years of human religious and spiritual history.

When you volunteer for the children’s ministry; or even when you just hear the children engaged in activities outdoors when the windows are open during worship in warm months; or when you join us for one of our all-congregation activities; or when the children and adults are worshipping together and the children come just as they are, they make a little noise, they squirm, they move around—they produce that blessed holy hubbub—remember all the liberal religious and spiritual legacies that have made this place possible. Remember that our children will, in their time, become the holders, the carriers, the adapters, the speakers, the singers, the teachers of these great legacies. Remember that, and love them fiercely.

 Amen and blessed be.

Financial Challenges at UUS:E

November   14, 2022

Dear UUS:E Members and Friends:

We are writing to share information and concerns regarding financial challenges currently facing UUS:E.

Over the last decade, we have planned for yearly budget shortfalls and drawn down reserves to cover gaps. In typical years, our actual shortfalls have always been significantly smaller than budgeted. However, this year, for the first time in over a decade, we anticipate our budget shortfall will be larger than anticipated. There are multiple reasons for this situation. Furthermore, in addition to a larger than anticipated deficit in the current year, we are now learning that we have a significant shortfall in reserves for future building maintenance and repair costs.

The UUS:E Policy Board and Finance Committee are currently studying this situation in detail, and our plan is to candidly share reliable information with members and friends once the study is completed. We will hold an informational session for the congregation on Sunday, January 8th after the 11:00 AM service. Please mark your calendars! That meeting will focus on UUS:E’s financial status and may also include a “special ask” related either to closing this year’s deficit or to the need for increasing our capital reserves for building and grounds repair and maintenance.

It is important that everyone knows about the financial shortfall as part of the pledging process and making judgments about spending at UUS:E.

We thank you for being part of our welcoming, liberal religious community.  It is through our members and friends that we are able to strive for a just and caring world.

With love,

Peggy J Webbe, President            Glenn Campellone, Acting Treasurer                   Rev. Josh Pawelek, Minister

 

Reflecting Pool

“Spoken Word Artist”
by Coryn Clark

He’s a spoken word artist
poet, prophet, performer
poet, prophet, performer
He’s a word warrior
not road warrior
but world traveler
citing his words to jazz
reciting poems with pizzazz
with pizzazz yeah
I like that word
says the word warrior
and I am warmed
to the core
because he is cool
his groove’s smooth
he’s no fool
at spoken word school

He’s a spoken word artist
poet, prophet, performer
poet, prophet, performer
At the open mike
his poetry is spiked
with raw life
and urban strife
the words punch the air
punch air from the gut
sucker punch the air
staccato jabs rapid fire
semi-automatic firearm
fire thoughts into the crowd
disperse the crowd
crowd emotions
into consonant commotion
promotion of poetry out loud
so loud a shout
too loud to block out
too fast to follow

He’s a spoken word artist
poet, prophet, performer
poet, prophet, performer
He’s a word warrior
wearing war paint
shaking his words
high in the air
but I protest
sounds too angry
slow down quieter
do me a lullaby
or gentle goodbye
I am a written word artist
painter of words on the page
disciple of Monet
points of color placed
precisely for the mind’s space
turn turmoil and travail
into a painting to read
in a quiet moment
with a cup of tea
and bring a soft smile of irony
to your lips

 

“Encampment”
by Coryn Clark
9/4/2022, Manchester, CT

Embracing the tale of rebellion and righteousness

with all the vigor of victors,

Living on borrowed time and stolen land

in an enclave of trailers hoisted on concrete blocks,

Now cancelling birdsong with cranked country music,

gunned car engines, burst fireworks,

Patriotic swagger and the pop-swoosh of opened beer cans,

yelling, “I love this f-n’ country, man!”

Dogs standing their ground, baring teeth,

straining at leashes, harshly barking,

While the barefoot Sheriff and his posse in a golf cart

circle the perimeter of RVs once, twice…five times,

Unfurling two flags, the call to arms of their troops,

pointedly glaring at this wayfarer’s lone tent.

At twilight twenty Canada geese silently glide

the canal in a quest for open water

under the very noses and noises of man and dog,

escaping the fictitious vicious hold of ownership

with all the cunning and courage of Harriet Tubman.

*****

For a welcome and instructions on submitting original writing to Reflecting Pool, click here.

 

 

Courageous, Part II — Profiles in Courage

We were/are so happy to have the Rev. Dr. Alvan N. Johnson, Jr. join us for worship on October 16, 2022.

A Message About CT’s Early Voting Referendum

From the UUS:E Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee

The UUS:E SJ/AO Committee is part of a coalition of other UU congregations and community organizations trying to get the word out about Connecticut’s early voting referendum on the November ballot.

Currently, Connecticut is one of only 4 U.S. states that does not allow early in-person voting.  In order to increase access to the ballot in Connecticut through early voting, the state Constitution must be amended. Thus, the referendum question asks: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?” A ‘Yes’ vote supports amending the constitution. A ‘no’ vote rejects amending the constitution.

Research shows the key benefits of allowing early voting are:

  • Reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day
  • Shorter lines on Election Day
  • Improved poll worker performance
  • Early identification and correction of registration errors and voting system glitches
  • Greater access to voting and increased voter satisfaction.

When you go to the polls on November 8, look for the referendum question and be sure to vote on it. In some towns, it may appear on the back of the ballot.

For more information, visit the League of Women Voters CT Chapter. Or visit Ballotpedia.org.

Thanks for paying attention to this very important matter!

Maureen Flanagan and Jim Adams, SJ/AO Committee co-chairs.