We had one of the biggest holiday seasons in recent memory with many new families and individuals visiting the First Church and lots of folks interested in our values as a liberal religious congregation and excited by the renovations we have made to our historic building. We kicked off the holidays with a wonderful concert performed by the Boston Boys Choir as sponsored by the Dickens Society of the North Shore. And the season continued with decorating and wrapping parties, Henny Penny Song FestS as well as Christmas Pageant rehearsals and performances. We then had two huge Christmas services on Sunday and then Christmas Eve.
And now we turn our attention to the New Year. As I take my leave on sabbatical, our community is in very good hands. This seems as good a time as any during my tenure to take some time to recharge and find some renewal. In the meantime, we have scheduled a variety of terrific and interesting guest preachers and speakers. Among other things, I have made an intentional effort to recruit some female voices during my time away. All in all, there are 17 different people scheduled to preach from our pulpit this winter and spring, including a few familiar faces such as (in order of date): Jesse Jaeger, Jim Ognibene, Claire Donaldson and Ellen Brandenburg. I encourage you to come and cheer them on.
I want to thank you, the congregation, for this gift of time to my family and me. I plan to use it to explore, to ruminate, to play (a little), to pray, to read and to find ways to feed my soul.
Musings on Resolving an Edifice Complex
Picture this: two grungy-looking church ladies poking through dusty old footstools down in the boiler room (or is it now storage room #2?) piling the decent-looking ones on antique rolling carts for distribution in the Meeting House. After three or four trips up the elevator we’d freed up enough shelf space to move all the boxes of Christmas decorations from the kitchen into deep storage back in the boiler room. That accomplished, with the help of equally grungy-looking church husbands, we broke down boxes for recycling, sorted vacuum cleaner bags, and tried to bring some order to what looked to me like a big pile of junk.
All this got me to thinking about the meaning of church.
Comparisons with Sigmund Freud aside, I wondered if I was suffering from what some of my colleagues might call an edifice complex: an unhealthy fixation on the church as a building, a desire or irrational need for a larger, more magnificent structure, and perhaps an unholy concern for things made of material. Maybe so, but still…
Look what we have accomplished -- and I’m not talking here about the physical plant! We have a way to go but our “edifice” is beginning to look like we care and like we have hope for the future as well as reverence for the past. More and more people are showing up on Sunday morning – could it be they actually find the space uplifting instead of depressing?
What we’ve been through with our building, and what we continue to go through, has been expensive, disruptive, difficult, and to some, deeply disturbing. But for many of us, the past couple of years has been a time of deepening commitment and a growing sense of community. Our willingness to risk and work side by side with common purpose has been richly rewarding. Church communities grow strong by staying in the struggle.
Now, I hope we can summon the energy to work side by side on other new projects that will speak to our values and transform our lives and the lives of others in positive ways. I would like to be able to spend less time in the boiler room, but I value beyond words the chance to spend that time with First Church friends.
Chair, Sabbatical Committee
Cleaning up after a blizzard is hard to categorize as a pleasant experience – the shoveling, missing work, getting the car uncovered in the driveway, breaking through the snow wall made by the plow at the end of the driveway, turning around for a moment and then having to break through the wall made by the next plow moments after you finished the job – it all leads to a lot of grumbling at the very least. However, there are some surprising benefits to this nature-forced pause in the day to day rush of things.
Winter storm Nemo last month caused school to be cancelled on both Friday and Monday, meaning that we were suddenly faced with an unplanned four day weekend as a family - a forced family vacation. My family spent it making meals together, playing board games together, and even shoveling together (a task made more palatable to the kids by promises of a trip to Forest River Park for some sledding once we were free of the snow banks at
Once the wall of snow was broken and enough was shoveled to see beyond our door, all of the neighbors came into view. These are the people who we live side by side with for years, but can go months without more than a friendly nod as we dash off to separate lives. Each house is its own separate world and though they sit side by side, are isolated from each other in polite proximity.
But because of the storm, suddenly we’re all out at once and it brings out the neighborliness in each of us. We help one another shovel and snowblow. Talk about when the power went out. Compare this snow to what we saw or heard about back in ’76. We cheer one another and ourselves with smiles, overly exaggerated sighs about the burdens of the snow and the sudden interconnectedness we remember we have. We’ve been neighbors all
year, but it’s easy – too easy – in the hustle and bustle of our lives to lose the connection with our own family, let alone our neighbors.
What was once the central organizing system for humans and had been for thousands of years – the community, the village – is a way of congregating that has disappeared almost completely from our modern life. The enforced togetherness and momentary screeching halt that Mother Nature imposed on us can be a wonderful thing in a society normally too fast paced for “community”.
Chair, Standing Committee
Church Lady's Musings
How can I describe the deep joy that I felt on Youth Sunday as I watched, enraptured by the tangible, physical evidence of the worth of our Religious Education program? I am pretty certain that I was not the only person in the Meeting House moved to tears. Why was this service so touching? Why did it make me so happy?
Part of the beauty of the worship service as a whole was that each age group participated in ways perfectly designed for their skills and talents. There was a near overdose of “adorable”, but that is to be expected. Perhaps what I wasn’t expecting was the poise and assurance with which the children participated. They were obviously so well prepared and sure of their material that they exuded sincerity and confidence. As a person long past kids in RE, I left feeling that I know something about how the children of First Church are experiencing UU values and principles (and I venture to say that they may know more about those things than some of the First Church
adults). The thoughtful sermon written and delivered so articulately by John Newhall shed some light on how we can, as individuals, make social justice a part of our daily actions and relationships.
Youth Sunday was a gift from our children to our community. They shared their knowledge, their talents, their accomplishments, their humor, and their benediction - quite beautifully sung. They accomplished this with the brilliant vision and guidance of RE Director Deb DiGiulio and the loving and dedicated direction of Max and
Valentina Burbank. These adults and many others create a weekly program that is literally inventing the future of our church.
The service was introduced by students nearly ready to leave us for college, and they were eloquent about growing up in First Church. These gifted young adults are such an integral part of our community that they will leave a large hole in the fabric of our congregation next year. As they aged out of the RE programs we have available, these particular teens participated as volunteers to help with the younger kids. So
here is a question for us all: wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute to these young people to find a way to build and fund a Youth Group that would help keep even more of our teens connected to First Church?
“Rapture: a euphoric transcendent state in which somebody is overwhelmed by happiness or delight and is unaware of anything else.” That pretty much describes how I felt about Youth Sunday 2013 at First Church.
I’ve invited you all to this chat in the fervent hope that between us we can find a new word for Stewardship, and allow this principled and venerable old friend a period of well-earned rest. He’s adorned so many letters, post cards, e-mails, morning announcements, and even sermons that he’s become too comfortable, and maybe lost some of that keen spiritual and intellectual edge we’ve always valued. He’s even promising to show up at a number of upcoming, otherwise perfectly sociable events, despite many well placed hints. Let’s take the burden off of his shoulders and let some other of our many best and brightest let their light shine. What do you say?
Okay, to start the brainstorming, let’s see what this thing is we’re trying to describe. Well, its’ about money, right? Yes indeed, but don’t we prefer “funds”? And we need more, ever more, of course, so how about “Fund Raising”? Straight to the point; even our old Yankee friend Stew can appreciate that! And it’s a name tag that any congregation member will recognize on sight at fellowship. Well that was easy!
But wait. I hear a shy new member asking, “So we don’t care where the money comes from, as long as it’s enough, right?” We’re UUs, so of course we have to be democratic and consider this. But why should the source of the funds matter, as long as we can fund the budget? Okay, done, let’s move on, “Fund Raising” it is.
Hold on, I hear some of you saying, “of course it matters! The value of the gift is to the giver as well as the giftee!” And as UUs we believe in the power of giving. So how about “Giving”? Hmmm. Interesting. Silence in the virtual room. Some of you are thinking, well, there are so many ways to give; do we want to appropriate this word for this simple material exercise? Still others are reminding us that we’re all doing “Giving” in our lives outside the church, to WBUR, our alma mater, the United Way…so do we just have to stand in line?
How about some others? Anybody?
“Appeal”? Perhaps too legalistic?
“Drive”? Okay when we build our new hospital.
“Fiscal (something or other)”? No, sorry. Uh-uh.
Alright, guess it’s time to cast a wider net. Maybe we need a Facilitator. Well, we’re UUs, so there’s a really good chance there’s more than one in the room. Please, ladies and gentlemen, go right ahead and lead this exercise. What is it we’re looking for, you ask? “Well, it’s...I think it might be...”, I stammer.
“It’s alignment. What we’re looking for is alignment”, says one of our young adults.
“Good, very good. Say more,” says the Facilitator.
“Well, I’m new to this, but I think that we want is to align our income with our expenses. And we want to align our expenses with our programs. And we want to align our programs with our mission. But probably most of all, we members want to be aligned with what we think is most important.” More silence.
Darn, our RE program is good!
“Anything more?” asks the Facilitator.
“Well, to become a steward (I think that’s what you call it) is an act of alignment, in which you place what you have right next to what is important. So you have to ask yourself: what is important? And then you need to find out: what is needed? And then you need to ask: what can I do? Then you do it, and finally, you feel right about it, because what you are doing is aligned with what’s important. That’s being a steward.”
“Okay. Never mind. Stewardship. Let’s go with it!”
- Steve Palmer, Stewardship Committee
I’m sitting here on Memorial Day Eve hoping several things: that it will warm up soon so I can go down to our boat, that the pollen will subside so I can breathe normally once again, and that Rev. Jeff will have a smooth flight this week back to his family and to his faithful congregation.
For me Memorial Day has always marked the beginning of summer just as Labor Day marks the end. Forget about the solstices and equinoxes as markers – they just don’t seem to happen at the right time. And being a numbers geek I always have fun figuring out that there are exactly fourteen glorious weeks between these two holidays (except when June 1 falls on a Monday, which happens every seven years or so, and then there are fifteen weeks!).
What are you planning to do with those fourteen weeks of summer? Of course most of you will have to work, but at least you won’t be leaving home and coming back in the dark. And maybe you can take Friday or Monday off and spend a long weekends at the beach or a lake. Hopefully you’ll also have more time to so some of the following: happily tend your garden, take the kids swimming every day the sun is out, spend some time swinging in a hammock, read some good books you’ve been saving, pack up and go see how your relatives are doing, or just take it easy and enjoy evenings where the sun sets around 8pm. I’m sure for most of us summer is a combination of many pleasures.
Even though we are retired, Ellen and I always look forward to summer. Not having to worry about coats and not feeling so stiff in the morning is a good start. But for us summer is also a time of spending more time with those we love. This June we’ll make a ten-day, three-state jaunt out west to see friends, cousins, siblings, and kids. And in August we’ll spend time on our sailboat exploring the islands and bays of the Maine coast and visiting friends along the way. When we moved to Salem not so many years ago, it was clear that there was sailing in our
future, and it is now something that we’ve both come to love.
At the end of July we’ll make our annual pilgrimage to Star Island, the UU conference and retreat center off the coast of New Hampshire, where we attend International Affairs week. There we’ll see long time friends, sit in rocking chairs looking out over the harbor, educate ourselves a bit, and attend chapel each day in the stone building on top of the hill. It’s out sincerest hope that other First Church people will have the opportunity to discover Star and spend time there (like the Hannahs did last year)!
And then the fourteen weeks of summer will be over. But a new church year will begin – a year when we won’t have to think about renovations or sabbaticals! I’m looking forward to having Rev Jeff back and to carrying on with our excellent church programs. I also hope we’ll be trying out some new things. What would you like to see happen: church wide dinners in Willson Hall, more music and drama, increased focus on issues such as the environment and human rights,…? Committed people can make new ideas a reality!
However, this church year still has a month to go starting this coming Sunday with Jeff’s return and our annual picnic, and ending on June 30 with the completion of our Stewardship campaign for next year. So Memorial Day will be behind us but don’t go away just yet – we need your ongoing support!
Standing Committee Chair 2013-14
...All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
As I write these words, we are amidst a very competitive World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Saint Louis Cardinals. The five games already played have been gripping, with surprising calls and record making plays. Obviously I am rooting for the Red Sox even as I admire the skills on display by the Cardinals' ballclub. A Red Sox win would be the ultimate achievement for this team but also a powerful statement for Boston after a very difficult six months.
As we all know the season began with the tragic events of April 15, the day of the Boston Marathon. With two homemade bombs exploding near the finish line and killing three people and injuring 264 others, life in Boston took an unexpected and very sad turn. Perhaps because of where Fenway Park is situated, the Red Sox seemed to set the tone in the aftermath. The team expressed their remorse and declared that Boston would not be cowed or intimidated into changing our way of life in response to an act of terror. The awful events of that day seemed to catalyze a resolve in the players and the fans to truly enjoy "America's pastime." "Boston Strong" was literally carved into the grass of the outfield. The players and the staff of the Red Sox found a new mission.
And these guys have gone out each day this season and played their hearts out. Regardless of what happens in the next few days, the players on this ball team can hold their heads high. The guys on this 2013 team have been remarkable this year for simply being a team. They clearly are not a collection of separate individuals but rather a group, a team, unified in purpose and passion!
Many of us realize that this something of a departure from the last few years. The 2013 Boston Red Sox team does not seem worried about contract salaries and who gets the credit in print publications. There are no players speaking poorly about one another or going off on their own to play video games and eat fried chicken. Rather they seem fired up and happy just to be able to show up and play ball, knowing how fortunate they are just to be there. One of the players, Johnny Gomes, remarked this fall that the players feel blessed because “...they are grown men who get to play a child’s game for a living.”
What I am most struck by is the Red Sox organization's seeming humility. There are no superstars on this team, with the exception of “Big Papi” (who is having a "hall of fame" post season). Amazingly, their collective batting average during this World Series is slightly lower than their opponents’. Even so, they are finding ways to win by encouraging each member to try their best and then hoping that one of them gets a base hit or makes a key catch. Add some great pitching to this mix and it is an inspiration to watch these guys. Amidst the money and ego that seems to pervade professional sports these days, we are seeing the rewards and spirit of true camaraderie - beards and teamwork and all.
Like baseball, the life is best approached with humility, excitement and appreciation. In our lives we find a few hits and suffer more than a few strikeouts, but we are at least "in the game," all with the goal of going home. Regardless of what happens in the next few days, I would say that the Red Sox and Boston have won already, at least in terms of what really matters.
November kicks off with a variety of events and programs. I hope you can join us as we prepare for the season of giving thanks.