Ministerial Reflections

Reflections from the Ministerial Team

December 2, 2020

“The next dozen weeks will be long and painful. But spring is likely to bring highly effective vaccines and a renewed commitment to medical leadership, something that has been missing …” Donald G. McNeil Jr. for the New York Times, 11/30/20.

We enter into the Advent season fully aware - in the words of George Harrison – that it’s going to be a “long and lonely winter.” “Long and painful” as described in the New York Times.

On March 21 my friend Brian sent me this text: “I hope this is over soon. And by soon, I mean 4-6 weeks.”

Well, bless our hopeful – and at the time, naive - hearts.

Nearly nine months later, we’re weary. When asked what folks miss the most, you’ll not be surprised to hear that the overwhelming response is: hugs. We’ll need to wait until spring or summer for the full body embrace of loved ones. A deep pool of patience is required - the capacity to endure the long, lonely, and painful winter despite the ever-present temptation to loosen our commitment to sound public health measures to which we need to say, “Get thee behind me, temptation!” Through the long season ahead remember that you have your faith to lean on.

In addressing vaccine distribution, the same New York Times article points out the significant influence of religious tradition. I continue to be deeply grateful to the Unitarian Universalist Association that back in May of this year strongly recommended that our congregations continue to worship online through to May of 2021. When I shared that recommendation during a service several Souls referred to the response as “the gasp heard around the world." Turns out, it was sound advice. So when inevitably people you love and respect break down and take risks you find questionable at best, lean on your Unitarian Universalist faith whose leaders stared hard at the science and made bold recommendations that have proven to be prophetic.

This time out of time is asking much of us, not the least of which is to care for ourselves and in doing so, care for others. We can do hard things especially when supported by communities of care such as All Souls. Every Sunday at the service’s conclusion, we hold one hand to our hearts and reach out with the other to the community beyond but yet held so close. As the poet said, I’m holding your hearts in my heart. Don’t forget … and keep on.

With Love and blessings in this Advent season,

Carolyn

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

November 18, 2020    -   "Touching Democracy"

I slit open the outer envelope, removed the inner envelope, verified a signature, opened the inner envelope, and removed the yellow ballot. Joining community members (and my spouse) gathered in third floor hearing room at Norwich City Hall, I helped count and tabulate nearly 6,000 mail-in ballots for 14 hours on November 3. Once the ballots were flattened and assembled by precinct, we took turns feeding the ballots into the scanning machines and running tapes of vote totals for the local, state, and national candidates. The day ended, almost ceremoniously, as each of the poll workers signed the tapes verifying the accuracy of the count.

Ballot counting is repetitive and tedious, requiring work of the hands and presence of the mind. Yet, for a brief moment, I held each ballot as if it was an object of reverence, honoring the time and attention individuals spent filling in the little bubbles of their chosen candidates and then signing, inserting, sealing, and dropping off or mailing their ballot to the City Clerk. All the candidates’ ads, texts, mailings, yard signs, slogans, and debates seemed small matters because now I had touched democracy at its most fundamental. As I held the ballots and witnessed the counts firsthand, democracy became tangible in a simple but profound way.

Participation in democracy for me is both a civic and religious duty, especially during the past four years when our democratic values and institutions have been threatened and our religious differences exploited. Democracy encompasses all that makes up our civil religion: Our common values, sense of belonging, shared purpose, mutual regard, commitment to liberty and justice, and sincere patriotism. Democracy also exposes our imperfections, hypocrisies, hubris, and prejudices. Democracy is messy, and sometimes democracy brings forth the sweet fruit of decency, honesty, and compassion. These, too, are things we can touch.

Sincerely,

Reverend David Horst, Affiliate Minister

* * * * * * * * *

November 11, 2020

"This is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine..."

So we sang this past Sunday, and the Sunday before. And so it is for me. It has been painful to watch my country move further and further away from my hopes, my dreams, and all that I consider holy. And such a relief to see the possibility of a new direction.

We have cause to celebrate - both the presidential election and some remarkable down-ballot victories: the first Black woman elected to congress in Missouri, the first transgender state senator in Delaware, a new state flag in Mississippi, measures to protect the electoral process in many states, and more. I’ve been celebrating, and I hope you have, too.

And, as Rev Carolyn preached last Sunday, we also have much more work to do. To quote my son on Saturday, “This was Helms Deep. If we didn’t win, it would have been all over. But we’ve still got to win Pellenor Fields and throw the ring in the fire.”

It’s true. There are still threats to our democracy, an out-of-control pandemic, racism, climate change and other big problems that aren’t going away any time soon. The struggle goes on.

But don’t cut short the celebration. We need it, along with every other spiritual resource we can muster. Living our Unitarian Universalist values, and holding elected officials accountable to those values, is a long-term project. Some motivation can come from righteous anger, but to sustain ourselves for the long haul we also need to care for ourselves, and maintain our connection to what is good and beautiful, and what inspires joy.

So celebrate. Get some rest, if you can. Steer clear of doomscrolling. Give your body something it needs.

And make space for whatever helps you to pay attention to the wonders and joys of this world. Not out of denial, but because you are committed to being part of the solution tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf
and pine; but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are
everywhere as blue as mine. O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

May it be so.
Ann Kadlecek
Ministerial Intern

* * * * * * * * * 

October 28, 2020 - Vote Love

By next week at this time, Election Day will have passed.

Two of the seven UU principles invite us to covenant to affirm and promote “the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large” and “the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” I’ve been deeply moved by the work so many in the congregation have done through UU the Vote – specifically, writing postcards and letters to fellow Americans encouraging every recipient to vote. Some Souls are active with the League of Women Voters. (Remember when representatives from the League came to one of our services – now it seems like years ago – to make sure we all had the information we needed to register and to vote?) We got fired up at our October 4 service when we learned more about what we each can do to live out our values and “Vote Love.”

I participated in one of UU the Vote’s phone banks, the one to voters in Pennsylvania. It was the second time I’ve done so, the first was to voters in Wisconsin. I’ll share just one story.

Her name is Marilyn. She is in her 80s and she’s never missed casting her vote. She is voting in person this time because, “It’s the only way [she] trusts.” She lamented that it’s come to this in our country, the divisiveness, the cruelty. “I’ve never been scared before.” She’s scared that generations-long commitments like the peaceful transfer of power may not hold this time. We talked for about five minutes but that’s all it took for this voter to so openly share the content of her heart to the stranger on the other end of the line. I continued on to my next call with my own heart feeling lighter. There are many good people out there.

When you drop your ballot in the drop box or walk into your polling station, hold this truth close: there are good people out there and we’re all voting so that love will protect each and every one of them and each and every one of us.

Vote Love, dear Souls. And thank you for all you’ve done, inspired by your faith, to uphold the democratic process.

Rev. Carolyn

 

October 14, 2020  

In 2019 Naomi Shulman published a book entitled, Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place! 125 Kind Things to Say & Do. The book gets high marks on Goodreads. She also wrote a children’s book called, I Daven Every Day. From the looks of it, Shulman seems like a nice, Jewish woman.

Which brings us to “nice.” Women especially get tied up in knots over “nice” although it’s certainly not a gender-specific knot. That said, I vividly remember when at 28 years-old I finally reckoned with the tyranny of “nice." I advocated for myself in a way that was deeply honest but not classically “nice." It was a turning point.

When the president recently revealed that he tested positive for Covid-19, there were clergy who were flummoxed about what to say. There were people of faith – some of them committed to honoring the “inherent worth and dignity of all people” (ahem) – who drew a blank. We want to be nice.

Which brings us to Naomi Shulman who had something to say about the matter of “nice." Her something to say flew around social media:

“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mother grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly, and focused on happier things than ‘politics.’ They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resistors.”

Here’s what your minister has to say about “nice:" Now is no time to cast yourself as victim to the tyranny of “nice.” Your righteous – if not “nice” – voice is needed to blow back the forces fanning the flames of violence, cruelty, and injustice. Democracy – a cornerstone of Unitarian Universalist values – is teetering on the edge of collapse. At the October 4 service, you heard the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray say that “Now is not the time for a casual faith.” To which your minister would add, “Now is not the time for ‘nice’.” It is the time for a deep and centered righteousness.

This moment is a turning point. Resist complacency. Resist “nice.” Bless the world with righteousness.

With Love, Carolyn

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

 

October 7, 2020

Let the crisp air energize you!

In our recent zoom meeting of Caring Team and Pastoral Visitor volunteers, I shared at check-in about some dread that I feel with the coming of colder weather. It worries me that there will be fewer safe options for this extrovert to be among people. A Soul at the meeting reminded me of the Scandinavian saying that “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Okay, I can take that on board and work with it, yes. And others at the meeting shared that the crisper air of the fall is always energizing to them. They’ve gotten things done that had sat all summer long. Okay, I can take that on board, too.

The crisp air coupled with the high stakes of our political climate do have me feeling alert and fired up. I believe it is up to us to shape the country we want to live in. Rev. Cathy Rion-Starr shared in Sunday’s “UU the Vote” service that a honey bee only makes 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime. I had no idea! She urged us to “make our small bit of honey so that together, we as Unitarian Universalists can make gallons and gallons of impact.” We rest in the power of a collective, and we are accountable to a collective. Join me in breathing in the crisp air and letting it energize you for the work to be done.

Love and good wishes,
Caitlin


September 30, 2020                                      Ministerial Intern Ann Kadlecek offers this reflection: How shall we lament?

I’ve been thinking about lament lately. It started when I realized that my most recent worship reflection[1] had become a lament, even though that’s not what I set out to write. They say that we write the sermons we need to hear, and that seems to have been true for me. And judging from the responses I received, it’s what many of you needed, too.

Lament is both something we do (a heartfelt expression of grief or anguish) and how we do it. Humans have been doing this for a very long time - lament is a key theme in the Hebrew bible, and many of the beautiful poems (which were probably songs) in the book of Psalms are laments. These laments have been part of individual devotion and communal worship for millennia, expressing fear, loss and grief that transcend time, while also connecting present suffering to the ancestors and a faith in something greater.

A recent UU World article notes another role of lament - helping us name and acknowledge the injustices in our world, which is a necessary step toward addressing them. A failure to lament, the author says, results in “docility and submissiveness.”[2]

In Unitarian Universalist (and most American Protestant) culture, we’ve moved away from ritualized lament. American Unitarianism and Universalism have always been optimistic faiths that set aside the psalms of our heritage; we’ve lost the language, practice and rituals.

What we haven’t lost is the need. In fact, collectively, the need is greater now than at any time I can remember. We need lament, and we’re going to continue to need it.

So, how shall we lament?
This community may hold many different answers to that question. We might, however, start with some of the Psalms of our heritage that have stood the test of time. The language might, or might not, be language you would choose, but our heart’s yearning runs deeper than our imperfect words.

Here’s one to get us started, Psalm 13:

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

This lament has a traditional biblical structure: A heartfelt crying out in need, followed by a recommitment to what is trusted and an expression of gratitude or praise. If those words don’t work for you, consider trying your own language - name your suffering in as much detail as you like, and then remember what you place your trust in and what you are grateful for.

What might your lament look like in this moment? If you give it a try, consider sharing, as we all relearn how to lament.
In faith, love, and lament,
Ann
__________________________________

[1] “Made for These Times,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8s3w5ftkzdI

[2] https://www.uuworld.org/articles/lament-ritual


A MESSAGE FROM REVEREND CAROLYN

September 16, 2020  Rev. Carolyn offers this mid-week reflection:

“The sin of respectable people reveals itself in flight from responsibility.” Eberhard Bethage (From the introduction of Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

All around us there is free-floating anxiety. Our collective lungs and pounding hearts feel it daily. My current outrage-turned-anxiety-turned pounding heart concerns the revelation that many women who are detained at the southern border of our country have been involuntarily sterilized. We know this only because a brave whistleblower had a strong enough moral compass to come forward thereby risking their livelihood and career to do what was right.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of sacrifice of late. It’s not a concept Unitarian Universalists discuss often. When there is discussion it’s likely to be fraught. Yet, sacrifice is precisely what is called for in this terrible time – such as the sacrifice the aforementioned whistleblower exhibited; sacrifice such as the kind offered by the firefighters working in western states; sacrifice by those who have at least enough food, money, and opportunity for those who have precious little of each and all; the sacrifice of comfort we all make in wearing masks so that all of us may be safer.

Each week when the offering is taken up at All Souls we specifically say in response, “For all that you have shared and all that you have sacrificed, thank you.” We do so with intention, respectful of sacrifice’s meaning. We know that for many Souls, financially supporting the congregation comes at a cost that is thought worthy: sacrifice bolsters the greater good.

The greater good. More than anything right now, let’s hold the greater good in the center of our pounding hearts. Let’s sacrifice time, treasure, comfort, and privilege to see that our country’s wrongs are righted. There are women at the border – and so many others – counting on the willingness of “respectable people” to fly toward responsibility – even if it means sacrifice.

With Love and faith in your goodness,

Carolyn
 

***************************

September 2, 2020
Dear Souls,

This reflection is going to sound vaguely familiar. In his lovely homily shared a few weeks ago, Mark Robel – a bona fide gardener – shared some garden wisdom. I am not a gardener but I did recently glean some wisdom a little patch of dirt generously shared.

Kate is the gardener of the family. Every year she turns our little back yard into a kind of secret garden. It’s remarkable – remarkable to me, that is. Those of you who are gardeners, who happily put your hands in the dirt are probably amazed on some level but not, like me, amazed that anything resembling a garden is possible in the little bit of earth that I am lucky enough to call, “home.”

All this said, Kate does ask that I take responsibility for the little bed that stretches beneath our living room window. It’s barely ten feet wide and a foot across. Every year I go to Smith’s Acres in Niantic and have a good old time. I fill up my wagon with colors – because colors are all I know about gardening – that I think will “pop” alongside our bright red front door and the pink rocking chair that sits in front of that red door. This year I went for muted colors and the reliable coleus. And then I got distracted. Benign neglect ensued. It has not been pretty. Early in the summer, my daughter said that my little garden bed looked like a child’s stick drawing.

Then something interesting happened. Volunteer weeds began to pop up. (I’m choosing to call them “volunteers.”) And guess what? The “weeds” are prettier and more abundant than the fancy Smith's Acres flowers. I’m letting them be and delighting in the dirt’s wisdom.

So let that be a lesson to you and to me: chill out. Sometimes the best laid gardens - and plans - don’t quite bloom but being “in the weeds” doesn’t necessary mean that you’re lost. Sometimes it means that something more beautiful has been found.

Reverend Carolyn Patierno

**********************

August 26, 2020
The weekly reflection this week is offered by All Souls' associate minister Rev. Caitlin O'Brien.

Dear Souls,

There is an element of surrender to most spiritual traditions, an invitation to acknowledge the undeniable truth that we are not in charge. Today I need not remind you that we are neither in charge of the virus trying to replicate itself among us, nor in charge of a competent public health response to this threat. Yes, we have our part to play, but mostly we’ve just had to watch as our country’s Corona-virus death rate has become 6 times the global average. I trust that you share in my disgust with this fact, and that you are informing yourself, and taking a stand when and where you can.

In what has become not a sprint, but a marathon, I encourage you to remember to take care of yourself, because that is something that you actually are in charge of. For example, as often as you can, give yourself the chance to laugh out loud. This week, I’m reading a David Sedaris book that has me cackling under the covers at night. It’s good for the soul. And consider the washing of your hands to be an act of both physical and spiritual self-care. Join me, if you wish, in the practice of singing “Spirit of Life” as you wash your hands. I think that Carolyn McDade’s lyrics bring a great deal more meaning to this ritual than the “Happy Birthday” song. Don’t you agree?:

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

In solidarity and in faith,                                                                        
Rev. Caitlin

*************************
 

August 19, 2020 
Our intern minister, Ann Kadlecek, is back! Ann offers this week's reflection, with an invitation to build up our "letting go muscle". 

Hello, Souls!
It is good to be back with you, at the end of a summer that somehow has seemed both too short and too long.

One thing I’ve noticed about myself this summer is an abnormal tidiness. When so many important things seem beyond my control, keeping my books and files and projects organized just feels good.

Controlling something – anything – does feel good, but is it sustaining for the long haul? For this is definitely a long haul. And I encountered a very different perspective in one of my summer zoom groups – a weekly interfaith gathering of religious professionals, mostly chaplains, sharing the spiritual practices that are sustaining them, right now.

One chaplain shared that he used to have a set route for his morning walk, until one day he allowed his dog to choose where they would go. To me, this sounds very brave – I’m pretty sure my dog would lead me on a tour of New London trash bins and squirrels. And this chaplain did report some frustration at first. But his dog-led walk became a daily ritual that he now sees as an opportunity to strengthen his “letting go muscle” – a practice to build his capacity for letting go of bigger things. It is now, he says, his most important spiritual practice.

We’re all carrying a lot these days. We’re going to have to learn to set some of it down. This takes practice – not in big, dramatic ways, but in our everyday moments. Practice can happen when we approach something we’re already doing in a different way, refraining from control, or perhaps just letting our shoulders drop a little, and seeing what happens.

I’m not ready to give up my organized living room. But I’m finding other ways to practice – yesterday it was while driving, today on a call with the cable company (a really excellent opportunity to practice!).

May we each, in our own way, build the “letting go muscle” that we need to sustain us in these perilous times.

Be well, Souls.
Ann, Intern Minister

**************************

August 12, 2020
Affiliate minister Rev. David Horst offers this week's reflection. 

The Persistence of Beauty

On my dark days, all I see is the ugliness pervading everything from city streets to our nation’s capital. I find litter, weeds, and blight in the city — a good metaphor of the corruption and cruelty among the ruling political class in Washington, D.C. Drinkers and smokers drop their empty nips and cigarette packs without a thought. Knee-high bitter dock, knotweed, and prickly lettuce in sidewalks and empty lots, spreading their late-summer seeds, have gone uncut for months. Soiled mattresses and crumbling particle-board furniture lie moldering at curbside. The city and political landscape from here to D.C. is debris-ridden and uncared for. How can I witness this uncaring and neglect and not feel dispirited?

And yet, somehow and someway, beauty persists. I witness the proliferation of Maximilian Sunflowers finding nourishment in the gutter. I praise the hardy Hydrangeas blooming blue and full in the heat of the day. I join local volunteers gathering on Saturday morning to clean up trash and debris from the streets of their city just as I support good-government leaders and citizens promoting honesty, equity, and decency.

By word and action, I resist the seduction of cynicism, the surrender to fear and division, and the wanton spread of ugliness.

Instead, I seek and find the beauty in our diverse cityscape and every human face. I believe that the democratic process and rule of law, like the beauty of the flowers, persists and flourishes.

Now it’s time to pick up the litter, cut the weeds, and clean up the streets — and speak out and vote.

Peace and blessings,
Reverend David Horst
Affiliate Minister