Some Things Will Change — UUS:E Worship, February 13, 2022

“Change, This God”
a meditation by Rev. Josh Pawelek

In the words of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed: The Books of the Living:

All that you touch / You change. /  All that you Change / Changes you. / The only lasting truth / Is Change. / God is change….

February wears on, offering spring-like moments here and there, the long, slow transition out of winter, reminding us, sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently: the only lasting truth is change.

Change, this God, can be cruel, clearly plays no favorites, lifts up no chosen ones, sends no saviors, answers no prayers, rarely offers comfort. Change, this God, follows rules, yes, yet in time even the rules change. What we thought was solid and reliable fades into something new.

Often we resist Change, this God, settled in our lives as we are, comfortable, used to our patterns, our routines. Our resistance makes sense: Change brings, in Butler’s words, confusion, pain, loss. But our resistance, more often than not, is misguided. It prevents us from tasting the fruits of Change:  surprise, delight, discovery, opportunity, and growth.

 And in the end, if the only lasting truth is Change, what choice do we have, but to relinquish, to let go, to surrender our lives as they were, to fall forward, trusting that no matter how hard we land, we will find some purpose in this Change, some coherence in this Change, some meaning in this Change, some new soft place, some kindness to ease the Change, some Love to quiet our fears, and then some action we can take, some impact we can have, some agency we can claim, some legacy we can leave! All that you touch you change.

 As February, wears on, offering spring-like moments here and there, may we find the courage, the resolve, the presence of heart and mind, to embrace Change, this God, however it is manifesting in our lives: to play with this God, to sing with this God, to dance with this God, to live as best with can with this God.

Amen and blessed be.

Some Things Will Change
Rev. Josh Pawelek

On June 8th, 2015, a crowd of approximately 300 people gathered near the Old State House in Hartford at 3:00 PM. Eventually, a smaller group of 17 stepped into the street and blocked traffic for an hour. This was the first of a series of Black Lives Matter protests in Hartford, organized by Moral Monday CT. Many of you will recall I and a few other UUS:E members were among the “Hartford 17” who were arrested and sentenced to three days of community service. The officers ferried us to the Hartford Public Safety Complex for processing. Ae we exited the long, white vans into a large underground garage, I had a momentary and very potent spiritual experience, an experience of beloved community. There we were: Black, Latinx, White, young, middle-aged and elder adults, gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, able-bodied people, people with disabilities, urban and suburban, working class, middle class and wealthy people, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, hard-core atheists, agnostics, theists—a wonderfully diverse group. We were happy, joy-filled, high on life. We had just put our convictions into action, making a statement that is still reverberating through the region today. Passionate about this cause, we had let our passion sing.

I wanted that moment to last. I wanted others to experience it. I wanted all of you to experience it—not the ‘getting arrested’ part, the beloved community part. I wanted everyone to experience being part of a diverse, multicultural, antiracist beloved community with people from all walks of life, people of many, varied identities, people united in common purpose, passionate, joy-filled. I firmly believe this is how our lives can be on a regular basis. I hope you believe it too, even if it seems elusive. This belief that beloved community is possible—this conviction, this faith, this vision—lives at the heart of my ministry.

Our February ministry theme is widening the circle. It points to that perennial question in Unitarian Universalism, and in so many of the mainline Protestant religious traditions, and frankly in institutions of all kinds across the country—private and public, non-profit and for-profit—a question we have been faithfully asking here at UUS:E for many years: how do our historically White identity congregations grow in their racial, cultural and ethnic diversity? Of course, race isn’t the only dimension of the question when it comes to widening the circle within Unitarian Universalism. While we’ve made significant progress in welcoming, empowering and ordaining to ministry gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people and queer people in all the ways it is possible to be queer, that work is not over and we would be foolish to believe it is. While we were one of the first denominations to ordain women into the ministry, and one of the first denominations to reach gender parity in the ministry, our work on gender and sexism is not over and we would be foolish to believe it is. We can widen the circle around disability. We can widen the circle around class, around age (where are all the 30 year olds?), around politics (where are the liberal religious Republicans?), around theology (where are all the liberal theists who are apparently leaving the evangelical churches in droves?). There are many ways to widen the circle. Race, culture and ethnicity loom very large in this conversation.

“Widening the Circle” also refers to the June 2020 report from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Commission on Institutional Change, entitled Widening the Circle of Concern.[1] The UUA Board of Trustees convened the Commission in the spring of 2017 after allegations of racist hiring patterns at our denominational headquarters led to a series of high-profile resignations. The Commission’s charge was to “[support] long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism.” The commission conducted an audit of the power structures within Unitarian Universalism in an attempt to understand how they perpetuate systemic racism and white supremacy culture. The report presents the results of that audit along with a series of recommendations. We are currently running a Widening the Circle of Concern study group with the ultimate purpose of bringing some of those recommendations back to the congregation. Our study extends through June and is open to all. If you’d like to join us, please contact me. We’re happy to welcome you to the discussion.

If we want to widen the circle—I hope and trust we do—some things must change. Some things must endure—and I will talk about that in my February 27th sermon—but today I’m focusing on what must change, slowly but surely, as we widen the circle. I’m going to ask you to imagine some different ways of being church, different ways of operating, different ways of having a congregational culture.

Imagine if it were our disciplined, spiritual practice—when we meet in committees and other groups—to intentionally ask Who isn’t here? What kinds of human experiences are missing from our congregational life? What world-views, what perspectives, what identities are missing form our decision-making? What backgrounds are missing from our foreground? Imagine, once we start asking that question, we begin to be curious about this absence, we begin to wonder about it. And then, instead of coming up with our own answers—which is what we often do—instead of speculating, instead of inserting our own answers on behalf of those who are absent, imagine that we develop a practice of reaching out and simply asking them: What might we do differently?

Imagine that one reason certain people aren’t here where we are, is because we aren’t there where they are. Imagine that they’ve actually been inviting us and we haven’t recognized it. Imagine that we begin to accept more invitations, that our people show up and care about and participate in the things, activities, causes and culture that they who are absent actually care about. And then imagine, maybe slowly, we begin to bring that care and participation here. As an example, our Land Acknowledgement group originally convened with the purpose of crafting a land acknowledgment statement so that we could be more explicit in honoring the Podunk and Wangunk people who lived on and stewarded these lands when the period of settler colonialism began. We’ve come to understand now, that a Land Acknowledgment statement will be much more authentic and powerful if it grows out of relationships with indigenous people. So our Land Acknowledgement group has been asking the question, how can we develop genuine relationships with indigenous people in our state. And wouldn’t you know it? We’ve received an invitation to participate in UCONN’s Native American Cultural Program powwow in late April. Imagine that? An invitation. We’d better accept!

Imagine, in the meantime, while we’re trying to accept invitations and build relationships in the wider community, that back here at our meeting house, we’re asking yet another question, also a disciplined, spiritual practice: Whose voices are we centering? How well are we centering the voices of those not present? Are we inviting them to speak, read poetry, play music, give lectures, present visual art? Are we budgeting sufficient funds to reimburse them for presentations? Imagine Sunday to Sunday, month to month, year to year an amazingly diverse array of voices.

I shared words from the late, grandmother of Afrofuturism, Octavia Butler, at the beginning of the service, words from her Earthseed scripture in her Parable series. I almost didn’t include her words today. When I’ve preached on change in the past, I’ve typically used a reading from the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, “Change Alone is Unchanging.” Those words occurred to me immediately for this service. But then I asked myself: who’s voices am I centering? Of course, it’s important to weave in classical knowledge and wisdom from time to time. We’re not cancelling Heraclitus or any other ancient voice. But in response to the question, I chose words from Octavia Butler, a Black woman writer who is enjoying an incredible renaissance these days—much greater popularity now than when she was alive. She offers a provocative understanding of God as change—very different from the God of Christianity, the God of the Black church, the God of the evangelical church—not a comforting, personal God, but a God consistent with the patterns of nature, the patterns of the universe—possibly a very compelling God for agnostic and atheistic Unitarian Universalists, as well as spiritual naturalists and some pagans.  Imagine that as we center more voices from historically marginalized communities and identities, we gain more resources for growth in our spiritual lives. If you’re not familiar with Butler’s body of work, perhaps your interest is now piqued. Perhaps you will engage with her writing and come to understand all the ways she is influencing a new generation of people of color science fiction writers. Imagine we start an Octavia Butler book club. Imagine it catches the attention of people who know her work but don’t know Unitarian Universalism. Imagine they become curious about our faith as we become curious about an author they adore. Whose voices are we centering? This question matters if our goal is to widen the circle.

Our congregation is fairly well-attuned to the realities of oppression—racism, white supremacy culture, settler colonialism. We talk about these realities a lot. This is not something we need to imagine. We are constantly learning as a community just how deep these systems extend into our lives, shape our lives, impact our lives. We have a lot more to learn, but these kinds of conversations are not missing from UUS:E. I’m also mindful they are heavy conversations. We just completed a series of house meetings with the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance. There were many conversations about the different ways oppression operates in our region: necessary conversations, but not uplifting, not fun, not joyful. Heavy. My recent sermon on the Safe Streets movement: necessary, but heavy.

Now imagine, as we explore who isn’t here and why, as we go where they are, as we accept their invitations, as we center their voices, our congregational culture begins to open up, to expand, to breathe, to dance. Imagine space emerging for new and different kinds of expression, creativity, worship, ritual and celebration. Imagine us moving slowly from a monocultural congregational life to a multicultural congregational life, what the Unitarian Universalist antiracism educator and organizer, Paula Cole Jones, refers to as a community of communities.[2]  As we evolve in this way, imagine that we talk about the realities of oppression less. Imagine that the heaviness begins to recede, not because we’ve forgotten it, but as a multicultural congregation we’ve learned how hold ourselves accountable for it; and in its place we find new sources of joy, fun and uplift. We find new love and gratitude for the ancestors, new love and gratitude for the land, new relationships, new connections, new understandings. Imagine, instead of the weight of addressing our white supremacy culture we break through, and in the multicultural space that emerges we find the blues, hip hop, gospel, cumbia, salsa, Reggaeton, soca and calypso, Dia De Meurtos, Watch Night, and Three Kings Day, Spanish, maybe Portuguese, maybe American sign language; new theologies, more avenues to God, to the sacred, more rigorous and diverse forms of atheism, a more elaborated and nuanced theology of liberation, more Black Humanism; all of it resulting in more spirit, more animation, more movement. Imagine a more far-reaching conversation about what excellence in ministry means, emphasizing not perfection but commitment, heart and effort. Imagine an emphasis on both/and thinking with multiple ways to accomplish goals.

Imagine different cultural assumptions bumping into each other, rubbing up against each other, causing misunderstandings, even causing hurt. There’s no escaping a low level of conflict in multicultural congregations, but imagine welcoming interruptions, so that we name the misunderstanding, name the hurt, talk about it, clarify, make amends, then move on more aware, stronger, wiser, our relationships deepened. Imagine a more generous conversation about what care for one another means. Imagine a more probing and honest conversation about what love requires. Some things must and will change. Octavia Butler says All that you touch / You change. /All that you Change / Changes you. [3] She speaks truth, though it is quite possible to resist this truth. Congregations do it all the time. We resist change in our lives all the time. But if our goal is to widen the circle, we must embrace this strange and confounding God, Change. Imagine: We will be change agents as well as changed agents.

These changes I’ve invited you to imagine won’t just come. We have to work at them. We have to practice asking who’s not here. We have to practice accepting their invitations, going to them. We have to practice centering their voices. I have faith these practices will one day result in that potent spiritual experience, that diverse, multicultural, antiracist beloved community experience with people from all walks of life, people of many, varied identities, united in common purpose, passionate, joy-filled, having fun. I want to do this work, engage in these practices. I hope you do too. Imagine.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Read Widening the Circle of Concern online at

[2] See Paula Cole-Jones’ workshop with Renee Ruchotzke on “Creating a Community of Communities” at

[3] Butler, Octavia, excerpts from Earthseed: The Books of the Living in The Parable of the Sower (Boston, NYC; Grand Central Publishing, 1993).