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

Minister’s Column June 2021

Dear Ones,
Our “Soul Matters” ministry theme for June is play. Although we likely won’t talk about play on a Sunday morning this month, I nevertheless want to commend play to you as a potent spiritual practice. Like prayer, like meditation, like singing, like yoga, like worship, play in its purest form pulls us into the present, focuses our attention, moves us out of our rational minds, moves us into our bodies, and often fills us with joy. Play requires that we set our inhibitions aside, submerge ourselves in the moment, let go of our worries for a time, connect with the child-like aspects of our personality. Play invites us to imagine, to create, to enter worlds of fantasy, to try on different personas, to strategize, to cooperate, to be silly and, again, to be present. As such it is relaxing, rejuvenating, invigorating, uplifting, healing.

I like a quote from the early 20th-century Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga, who said “In play we move below the level of the serious, as the child does; but we can also move above it—in the realm of the beautiful and the sacred.”

How often do you set time aside for play? My own answer is “not enough.” I really do not play enough. My wife and children tell me this quite frequently. “I try to exercise every day,” I often respond. But according to them, exercise doesn’t count. I agree. Exercise is important to health and well-being, and it certainly has a spiritual dimension. But it’s not play.

Our family plays board games or card games every once in a while. We take a trip to the Adventure Park at Storrs a few times a year. We occasionally play bocce in our yard or basketball in our driveway. We occasionally play Dungeons and Dragons. This past Christmas Santa brought us a couple cases of indoor snowballs—very light, very soft, stuffed pieces of white, fluffy fabric. It’s impossible to hurt someone with them, even when throwing very hard at very close range. So now we have indoor snowball fights. I get annoyed when a snowball hits me from out of the blue (especially when I’m trying to work); and I get annoyed when I find snowballs all over the house. But when our lives devolve into full-scale, every-room-in-the-house snowball battles, it’s really fun. We laugh the whole time. We lose ourselves in the moment. That’s when I realize I need more play.

How about you? How do you play? What role does play serve in your life? With whom do you play? When I identify play as a spiritual practice, does that ring true to you? I’d like to know your answers to these questions. Please feel free to share by email at [email protected], or on my home office phone at 860-652-8961.
As a spiritual season, summer offers many opportunities—exploration, growth, relaxation, light, the first harvest. But certainly, summer is a season for play. As summer arrives, I wish for you many, many opportunities to play. May you be pulled into the present, into your body, into your imagination, into your creativity, into new worlds of fantasy, into profound silliness, and even into indoor snowball battles! Amen and blessed be.

With love,
—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column June 2021

Dear Ones,

Our “Soul Matters” ministry theme for June is play. Although we likely won’t talk about play on a Sunday morning this month, I nevertheless want to commend play to you as a potent spiritual practice. Like prayer, like meditation, like singing, like yoga, like worship, play in its purest form pulls us into the present, focuses our attention, moves us out of our rational minds, moves us into our bodies, and often fills us with joy. Play requires that we set our inhibitions aside, submerge ourselves in the moment, let go of our worries for a time, connect with the child-like aspects of our personality. Play invites us to imagine, to create, to enter worlds of fantasy, to try on different personas, to strategize, to cooperate, to be silly and, again, to be present. As such it is relaxing, rejuvenating, invigorating, uplifting, healing.

I like a quote from the early 20th-century Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga, who said “In play we move below the level of the serious, as the child does; but we can also move above it—in the realm of the beautiful and the sacred.”

How often do you set time aside for play? My own answer is “not enough.” I really do not play enough. My wife and children tell me this quite frequently. “I try to exercise every day,” I often respond. But according to them, exercise doesn’t count. I agree. Exercise is important to health and well-being, and it certainly has a spiritual dimension. But it’s not play.

Our family plays board games or card games every once in a while. We take a trip to the Adventure Park at Storrs a few times a year. We occasionally play bocce in our yard or basketball in our driveway. We occasionally play Dungeons and Dragons. This past Christmas Santa brought us a couple cases of indoor snowballs—very light, very soft, stuffed pieces of white, fluffy fabric. It’s impossible to hurt someone with them, even when throwing very hard at very close range. So now we have indoor snowball fights. I get annoyed when a snowball hits me from out of the blue (especially when I’m trying to work); and I get annoyed when I find snowballs all over the house. But when our lives devolve into full-scale, every-room-in-the-house snowball battles, it’s really fun. We laugh the whole time. We lose ourselves in the moment. That’s when I realize I need more play.

How about you? How do you play? What role does play serve in your life? With whom do you play? When I identify play as a spiritual practice, does that ring true to you? I’d like to know your answers to these questions. Please feel free to share by email at [email protected], or on my home office phone at 860-652-8961.

As a spiritual season, summer offers many opportunities—exploration, growth, relaxation, light, the first harvest. But certainly summer is a season for play. As summer arrives, I wish for you many, many opportunities to play. May you be pulled into the present, into your body, into your imagination, into your creativity, into new worlds of fantasy, into profound silliness, and even into indoor snowball battles! Amen and blessed be.

 

         Rev. Joshua Pawelek

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column May 2021

Dear Ones,

When is UUS:E going to reopen? I’m hearing this question from UUS:E members and friends with increasing frequency. Given that more and more people are getting vaccinated and, thus, feeling safer with in-person gatherings; and given that the state has granted houses of worship significant leeway to reopen for worship and other activities, the question is completely understandable. When are we going to reopen?

At this moment, I don’t have a solid answer to the question, other than to say we are diligently working on it. (Unsatisfying, I know!) Who is working on it? The primary entity within UUS:E that is tracking pandemic data, researching safety measures, studying the UUA guidance, studying the state guidance, and making recommendations to the Policy Board, is our Emergency Preparedness Team or EPT. Cressy Goodwin facilitates this team. EPT members include Sue McMillen, Bill Graver, Christina Bailey, Peter Marotto, Annie Gentile, Jane Osborn, Gina Campellone, and myself. Like virtually all UUS:E committees, anyone can participate. If interested, please feel free to contact me. Since late February we’ve been meeting on an almost weekly basis to formulate a reopening plan. I can assure you that creating a safe, data-driven plan grounded in our UU principles is no easy task.

Most recently, the EPT drafted a revision of the UUS:E policy on outdoor gatherings on church grounds. In short, we recommended allowing gatherings up to 75 people (with masks and social distancing). The Policy Board adopted this revision at its April 8 meeting. You can read the revised policy near the end of this document: Revised Policy for Holding Outdoor Gatherings

What about indoor gatherings? Here’s what we know:

First, science. We will base the timing of our return to indoor gatherings on five statewide public health metrics. These metrics include: the percent of the population that is fully vaccinated; the ratio of new COVID cases each day per 100,000 people; the infection rate; the test positivity rate; and the percentage of hospital ICU beds occupied by COVID patients. Our primary source for tracking these metrics is the Covid Act Now website (covidactnow.org). As I write in mid-April, we have not yet determined levels for these metrics that will be acceptable for us, nor the relative weight we will attach to each one. We do expect to make a recommendation on acceptable levels and the relative importance of each metric to the Policy Board at its May 13 meeting.

Second, physical plant. We now know that the ventilation in our meeting house is insufficient to prevent easy transmission of airborne pathogens. This is especially evident in our garden level classrooms and small office spaces. Currently, the UUS:E Buildings and Grounds Committee is researching options for improving ventilation. The EPT will likely recommend that full reopening must wait until upgrades are completed. We will share a project timeline as soon as we have one.

Third, inclusivity. Although many members of our congregation have received vaccinations and are feeling more comfortable in public spaces, children under 16 do not yet have access to any vaccine and likely won’t until the fall of 2021 or later. Yes, many of them are attending school in person despite not being vaccinated, but there are also a variety of risks associated with such attendance. Furthermore, UUS:E’s religious education program for children cannot be easily compared to the typical public school. We don’t have adequate space to maintain social distancing during class time, and the majority of our educational activities emphasize group work. While we may not wait to reopen until all children can be vaccinated, we definitely will not reopen without a clear understanding of, and plan to mitigate, the risks associated with the lack of vaccines for children.

Fourth, accessibility. The Unitarian Universalist Association strongly recommends that all congregations transition to a congregational life model known as “multi-platform” or “hybrid” church. In short, this means that every program we offer ought to be accessible in both in-person and virtual formats. This recommendation isn’t surprising, but to implement it well, we will need to invest in new technologies and training. Since we’re not entirely sure what technology we need to conduct hybrid church, we certainly won’t hold up reopening based on a lack of sufficient technology. However, we will do our best to make the necessary investments as soon as possible, so that we can be as inclusive and accessible as possible once we begin reopening.

Finally, patience. Whenever and however we reopen, we know it will be a slow process with many “baby steps.” We will not all come back at once. We will be strict, especially at first, in our protocols around wearing masks, social distancing, and hand washing. We will likely tie our loosening of restrictions to ongoing improvement in the public health metrics I cited above. I realize that for some of you—especially those who are ready for church in person—this is not the column you wanted to read. You have been extraordinarily patient with, and supportive of, your staff and volunteer leadership through the course of the pandemic. I am now asking for that patience and support to continue as we craft our plans for a reopening that is guided by science, safe, and inclusive. As always, if you wish to speak more about this, you are welcome to contact me or any member of the UUS:E Emergency Preparedness Team.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Rev. Joshua Pawelek

Minister’s Column April 2021

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for April is becoming. I can’t imagine a better theme for this springtime moment. As we slowly begin to emerge from pandemic restrictions, as we slowly begin to contemplate how we can start sharing congregational life in person, I urge us to contemplate who and what we are becoming.

I assume the pandemic has changed us. Our congregational life won’t return to exactly the way it was prior to COVID-19. That is, some aspects of congregational life will be pretty much the same as before; some will be different. We need to prepare ourselves for both. And the best way to begin that preparation is to contemplate, together, who and what we are becoming.

As a way into this contemplation, I’d like to share a set of questions from the nationally recognized church consultant, Susan Beaumont. (Special thanks to Gina Campellone for bringing these questions to my attention!) Beaumont divides her questions into three categories. First, she asks about loss. For so many of us there has been extraordinary loss during the pandemic. We need to grieve our losses before we can enter fully and authentically into the next stage of our life—before we can become! What has our congregation lost? Let’s try to name it. Consider these questions:

  • What were we on the verge of discovering or accomplishing before the onset of the pandemic? What needs to move forward in different ways now?
  • What was possible before that may not be possible for some time—if ever?
  • What seemed important before that feels superfluous now?

Second, Beaumont asks about our assumptions. The pandemic has likely undercut the power of at least some of our assumptions about congregational life. What assumptions have lost their power? Consider these questions:

  • What was undervalued before that may hold greater value now?
  • What mattered about geography before that no longer matters?
  • What new abundance are we experiencing now? Where are we experiencing scarcity now that was not evident before?

Third, what is emerging? The pandemic has not only forced us to adapt and innovate in the short-term, but also to welcome new ways of being in the long-term. Consider these questions:

  • What is our greatest asset now?
  • What relationships will we need to build on or strengthen in the months ahead?
  • What unique role might our congregation play in local, national, and even global recovery?
  • What long term changes in the bigger picture would we like to be part of bringing to fruition?

I urge each of you to spend some time with these questions. I invite you to share your responses with me, either by email, phone, Zoom meeting, or outdoor in-person meeting. Let’s get together! Then, in the coming weeks, I hope to organize a series of group conversations (virtual and in-person) to gather and hone your collective responses. Watch the regular eblasts for times and locations. We are in a mode of becoming, and it is wise for us to articulate.

With love,Rev. Joshua Pawelek

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column March 2021

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for March is commitment, a very appropriate theme for the month in which we conduct our Annual Appeal. Due to the pandemic, we’ll be conducting the appeal differently this year. Everyone will receive a small packet in the mail with the annual appeal materials. As always, we ask you to consider the value UUS:E holds in your life and your family’s life. In particular, what has it meant to you to be connected to UUS:E over the past year of pandemic and civil unrest? You are always welcome to share your answer to that question with me directly at [email protected] or 860-652-8961. Even if you’ve felt more disconnected during our move to online church, I am always interested to hear from you.

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

The Policy Board’s goals for this year’s appeal are modest. One goal is to insure that we pay our staff in accordance with the UUA’s guidance for our geographic area. A second, stretch goal is to hire, once again, a part-time Membership Coordinator (once we’ve returned to in-person church). While our first attempt with this staff position did not work out, we still feel strongly that a Membership Coordinator can help UUS:E continue to grow—in numbers, in spiritual depth, in participation, in connection. If you have any questions about these goals, please feel free to contact me or any UUS:E board member (listed in the directory.)

It is typical for me to preach an Annual Appeal sermon on the first Sunday in March. This year I will play around with the idea that our faith doesn’t claim to have secret knowledge. We don’t claim to possess some spiritual truth the rest of society doesn’t know. We don’t believe we are favored by God because we confess a certain set of beliefs. We aren’t conspiracy-minded people. Instead, we strive to know and address the world as it is. In an era where fake news, “alternative facts,” opinion masquerading as reporting, and multiple conspiracies abound, a religion that strives to know and address the world as it is holds very high value in my life. I hope and trust it holds such value in your life.

This year, the UUA has created a Stewardship service which we will experiences as a congregation on Sunday morning, March 14. I am very excited for this as one of the service leaders, the Rev. Chris Long, is a dear friend and former mentee of mine. Another service leader, the Rev. Mariela Pérez-Simons, is a former student of mine. Both are fantastic ministers. I can’t wait for all of you to experience their worship ministry.

Once again, please feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about the value UUS:E holds in your life. Thank you for your continued commitment to UUS:E and your generosity toward this year’s annual appeal. We can’t do what we do without you!!

 

With love,

—Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Minister’s Column February 2021

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for February is beloved community. Upon realizing this, and mindful that February is Black History Month, I found and re-familiarized myself with a book I’d read for a class in seminary, bell hooks’ 1995 Killing Rage: Ending Racism. In the final chapter, called “Beloved Community,” hooks critiques Martin Luther King’s vision of beloved community. King argued that the United States would become a beloved community only when race had been transcended, forgotten, when no one “saw” color anymore. Hooks disagreed. She argued instead that:

Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world. To form beloved community we do not surrender ties to precious origins…. The notion that differences of skin color, class background, and cultural heritage must be erased for justice and equality to prevail is a brand of popular false consciousness that helps keep racist thinking and action intact.

Still powerful words.

I think it’s important for us as a congregation to ask, always, whether our UU church culture tends to erase differences or emphasize and celebrate them. If we tend to erase our differences (for the sake of always getting along, reducing conflict, being “like-minded”) then it’s possible that some of us are keeping important pieces of ourselves out of our community. Is it really safe to talk about one’s mental illness? Or about one’s hidden (or visible) disability? Or about what it’s really like to be an elder (or a youth) in U.S. society? Or about what it’s really like to be a person of color (or a white person) in U.S. society? Or about growing up poor (or wealthy)? Or about coming from a conservative political family? Or from a conservative religious family? Obviously, if there are aspects of ourselves we can’t bring fully into congregational life, that’s not good. It may enable us to avoid conflict and difficult conversations, but I think bell hooks is right: it’s not beloved community.

We are not beginners when it comes to being a beloved community. I can think of many Sunday services, programs, committee meetings and small group meetings over the years when we’ve dug deeply into our differences; when we’ve tried to emphasize and celebrate different perspectives, different cultural backgrounds, different racial identities, different understandings of gender and sexuality, different life experiences. And, of course, we can and must continue to grow in this critical aspect of congregational life. I want UUS:E to be a place where no part of ourselves is left out. Furthermore, I hope we can learn to anticipate the kinds of human differences (different languages, for example) that aren’t currently present at UUS:E. How can we prepare to welcome people whose differences may be keeping them away? (That’s the topic of our February 28 Sunday service with C.B. Beal: “Preemptive Radical Inclusion.”)

No, we’re not beginners when it comes to being a beloved community. But we don’t want to become complacent either. Let’s not underestimate the power of our differences to deepen and strengthen our community. Thanks for the reminder bell hooks!

With love,

—Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Minister’s Column January 2021

Dear Ones,

Our January ministry theme is imagination. From late December to late January, we will have the opportunity to imagine what it means to be one among many Unitarian Universalist congregations in Connecticut. As we did this past August, we’ll be visiting the services of other congregations (Hartford on 12/27, Hamden on 1/3, New London on 1/10, and West Hartford on 1/31.), and they will all be visiting us on 1/24. Not only will this sharing of services provide a wonderful opportunity for us to hear other ministers preach and to experience how other congregations conduct online worship; it will also provide the staff in each of the congregations a much-needed, post-holiday break.

All services will be at 10:00 AM. Login information will be provided in our regular eblasts. On some Sundays we will be logging into our regular UUS:E Virtual Sunday Service Zoom room and watching from there. On other Sundays we will join the host congregation in their Zoom room. We will attempt to be as clear as possible with instructions.

****

Speaking of imagination… As we enter into 2021, I’m wondering how you imagine life will be different as the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic begin to subside. Of course, we can’t say with complete certainty that things will improve. However, with the arrival of multiple vaccines, and a new administration in Washington, DC that will be much more unified with public health experts in its approach to fighting the virus, it is reasonable to assume that the worst impacts of the virus will be behind us by late spring or early summer. (Geez, that still feels so far away!)

So I’m curious: how will life be different for you? We’ve said many times that “we can’t go back to the old normal.” For me, that statement refers primarily to social, economic and racial conditions in the larger society. The new normal must address fundamental, systemic injustice. Too many lives are at stake. But for the purposes of this column, I’m wondering what you imagine will be different for you specifically? For example, are there new life patterns or rituals you’ve developed during the pandemic that you plan to continue as it subsides? Are there insights you’ve had over the last nine

months—about yourself, your family, your work, your down-time, your spiritual life—that suggest new ways of living once the pandemic winds down? The pressure to return to life as it was will surely be intense. How do we resist that pressure and live our best new normal?

When I say I’m curious, I really mean it. I am inviting each of you to share with me your imagining of how life will be different for you because of something you’ve realized during the pandemic. Send me an email at [email protected]. Or leave a message on my home office phone, 860-652-8961. I look forward to hearing from you.

And lest I forget to say it, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Given how awful 2020 was, I think it’s safe to imagine that 2021 will be better on all fronts! Or here’s another way to look at it: If the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine data are accurate, then 2021 will be at least 94.5% better than 2020! I like those odds.

Amen and blessed be.

With love,

—Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek

Minister’s Column December 2020

Dear Ones,

Our ministry theme for December is stillness. I can’t imagine a more essential theme for us in this beautifully dark season in this extraordinarily difficult year. A pandemic rages around us. Our safety—and the safety of our communities—depends on our staying home as much as possible, staying isolated as much as possible, and restricting our movements in the wider community as much as possible. Our safety depends on our capacity to remain still.

As we commenced our congregational year back in September, I was fairly confident the coronavirus would come surging back in New England with the arrival of colder weather. I wasn’t confident because I had some special knowledge or inside information. Every infectious disease specialist in the country, along with doctors, nurses, and public health officials were predicting we’d be here now. This was public knowledge. And the experts were telling us what to do to limit the worst-case scenarios: wear masks, avoid large indoor gatherings, stay socially distant, wash hands often. My goal here is not to lay blame for this largely avoidable public health crisis. Laying blame won’t change reality at this point. What’s done is done. We are where we are as a nation. Our challenge is to stay safe, vigilant, resilient, patient … and still.

In a meditation entitled, “There is a Time to Let Go,” my colleague, the Rev. Gretchen Haley, counsels us to “study stillness and joy.” I like the way Rev. Haley links these two states of being—stillness and joy—as if one lives within the other, and vice versa. So often stillness and joy feel like two separate experiences of the holiday season. We typically encounter holiday joy in gatherings of family and friends, in holiday parties, in singing in the holiday choir, in our holiday music and Christmas Eve services—in being together. We encounter stillness when the sun sets at 4:00 PM, when the snow falls gently on newly frozen ground, when we wake early into the darkness of the pre-dawn, when Christmas lights around the neighborhood touch that ancestral knowledge deep in us—that knowledge that the sun returns, that our working toward a better world is not in vain.

This year, of course, the usual sources of seasonal joy are limited, mostly to Zoom. Our usual opportunities for hugs, touch, eye contact, cooking together, sharing meals, giving gifts, and singing are actually dangerous this year. We need to find joy through other avenues. It’s time to study stillness and joy.

Can you find joy in the stillness? I hope you can. I hope you can study stillness and joy, as Rev. Haley advises. I hope you can discover how stillness and joy live within each other. In the absence of physical connection and togetherness, I hope you can find the peace and contentment that come with being still. I hope you can encounter the many ways the sacred speaks through silence. I hope you can experience how the darkness holds, consoles, and nurtures us. And within all of it, I hope you find joy.

I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukah, a blessed solstice, and a happy New Year. Through it all, I encourage you to study stillness. And I pray that you find joy in that stillness.

With love,

—Rev. Josh

Minister’s Column November 2020

As we approach the 2020 elections on November 3rd, life in the United States, no matter who you are, is disorienting and painful. Each day seems to bring with it a new cut, a new bruise, a new indignity, a new insult, a new threat to democracy, a new broken norm, a new spike in positive tests, a new largest fire, most damaging flood, strongest hurricane. Of course, different people are impacted differently by each new thing, but the little traumas accumulate in everyone. The loneliness of isolation grows in everyone. Patience runs thin at times in everyone.

Our ministry theme for November is healing. As I sit down to write these words in mid-October, I confess I am finding it challenging to contemplate healing. Healing from what? The list is long: healing from all the interrelated health, economic, educational and social impacts of the coronavirus pandemic; from our nation’s foundational sin of racism; from persistent and pervasive sexism that has also become glaringly visible during the pandemic (most notably in the Labor Department’s early October report that women have lost work at four times the rate of men since March); healing from profound ideological polarization in our nation, from vitriolic campaign rhetoric and misinformation campaigns; from blatant abuses of political power; from all the ways our democratic systems and institutions have been harmed by attacks on voting rights, the census, and the postal service, just to name a few; from natural disasters with heightened severity clearly due to human-caused climate change on planet earth.

Ughhh. You know this list. I trust you understand why I am finding it challenging to contemplate healing at this moment. Where is one to even begin?

Maybe healing begins with us. With our community. With our principles. With our covenant. Maybe healing begins with us being available to each other for simple connection and conversation. Available to hear each other’s frustration and anger; to witness each other’s tears without shying away; to offer virtual hugs, because so many of us miss physical touch so much. Maybe healing begins with us being present to each other as we each search for our sources of inward calm, peace, strength, resolve—our inner voice.

I’m contemplating ways we can be more connected. Three thoughts:

First, I encourage every one of you—every UUS:E member and friend—to reach out to me for connection and conversation. While it isn’t always easy—or wise—to meet in person; and while Zoom or the phone are inevitably poor substitutes for face-to-face engagement, there is immense value in meeting however we can. I’ve spoken to many of you in person, by Zoom or by phone since the pandemic began, but certainly not all of you. I mean this from the bottom of my heart: I want to hear from you! You don’t have to be in crisis to contact me. You don’t need to have anything pressing or urgent in order to reach out to me (even conversation about the mundane events of our lives is a good thing in these trying times). You certainly won’t be bothering me if you reach out for conversation! I am available!

Second, because the election is upon us, and because we have no idea what will happen on and immediately after November 3rd, we are organizing two, virtual post-election vigils on November 5th—the first at 1:00, the second at 7:00. Watch the eblast for login information. No matter what happens, we will have a space to be together as a spiritual community in the wake of this very high-stakes election.

Finally, one of the things I love about UUS:E is that so many of you are in touch with each other. So many of you are watching out for each other, listening to each other, caring for each other. When I hear stories about the kinds of support you offer to each other, it warms my heart. It reminds me of the many strengths of our congregation. Keep doing that! Do it even more. Connect with people you may only know a little bit. Get to know them better.

We have much healing ahead of us – as people, as members of local communities, as citizens and residents of a nation, as members of the global community. Our capacity to heal begins with strong relationships. No matter what happens in the world around us, and no matter what other activities call for our attention, let’s take the coming months to focus on our UUS:E relationships. Reach out. Connect. And when the time is right, heal.

Amen and blessed be.

With love, —Rev. Josh