Minister’s Column July 2021

Dear Ones,

As most of you are aware, my father died suddenly of a heart attack on Memorial Day, just three weeks from the time I am writing these words—though it feels much longer than that. I am so grateful to the UUS:E community for your support and love during this very difficult time. Your cards, flowers, little gifts, kind words and hugs have been an immeasurable blessing. I am particularly grateful to our (outgoing) president, Rob Stolzman, and our Personnel Committee chair, Vivian Carlson, who were very clear that I should be taking whatever leave from my duties I need in order to attend to family members and begin a healthy grieving process.

When my father died, I knew something about what I would be going through. I knew it all too well. Over the years I have served as UUS:E’s minister, I’ve had the honor of accompanying many of you through this very same experience, the death of a parent. I know all about contacting the funeral home, arranging for cremation and burial, writing an obituary, obtaining death certificates, worrying (in this case) about the surviving parent, and cycling through a range of feelings: numb, empty, strange, incredulous, sad, confused, angry, joyful. But I also knew it would not be the same. I was not my father’s minister. I am not my family’s minister. I am certainly not my own minister. I would not and could not minister my way through this. When I arrived at the emergency room the night of his death, the social worker who came out to greet me said, “I hear you’re a minister.” My response: “Not tonight.” This is my loss, not somebody else’s.

My instinct is to attempt to say something profound about losing a parent. But those words aren’t coming to me. I have no big “universals” to share. I’m just remembering my very “particular” father. He was complicated. A Yale School of Medicine research scientist with highly unorthodox methods; a mystic who spoke with trees; an athlete who stopped playing college sports in order to sing in the choir; a musician who could bang out honky-tonk piano jams in any setting with no inhibitions, yet who became paralyzed with stage fright anytime he was playing the cello in front of people; a recovering alcoholic who quit AA as soon as he got sober and stayed the course solo for almost thirty years; a caring colleague who, multiple times, helped scientists escape countries with oppressive regimes to pursue careers in the United States. Never a fan of attending the theater, he loved acting in and directing plays and musicals at this church. He loved his grandchildren and assumed everything they did was genius. No doubt about it, he was self-absorbed. Especially in his later years, it was hard for him to hear anything about my life. Our conversations were largely about him. Still, for a self-absorbed person, I’m pretty sure I’ve never met anyone as generous or kind to others. How did he pull that off?

Prepare yourselves. I suspect part of my grieving process will include sharing stories about dad in sermons and in other contexts. More to come…

Summer is upon us. It’s been a long pandemic year, a long and very different congregational year, a long community organizing year. I am going to take real vacation and study leave time this summer (last year that didn’t really happen)—although I will be preaching a few times here and there. I wish for you a glorious summer; I wish for you a healthy and safe return to post-pandemic life. I wish for you meaning and purpose, joy and laughter, comfort and peace.

  Rev. Joshua Pawelek



With love,

—Rev. Josh