Tag Archives: First Parish

Add a seat to your table this Thanksgiving

Almost six months have passed since my last post. I’ve warned readers that my writing schedule would be irregular, and so it is. I could say that I’ve been busy, which is true, but there is more to it. I’ve taken a break not just from blogging, but from social media in general. Maybe, I needed some time to reflect. Nevertheless, I’ve posted on Thanksgiving day the past two years, and I want to continue this emerging tradition.

The first post was a poem written by Rev. Megan Lynes and shared at the Thanksgiving service at First Parish in Bedford on Nov. 24, 2013. I feel a personal connection to Megan because I was a member of the search committee that recommended that she be asked to join our congregation. Her poem captures Thanksgiving’s essence, and is as relevant today as it was two years ago.

The second post was a poem written by Wendell Berry, and read in honor of Ivan Robinson, who died on Aug. 4, 2014. Ivan was my brother-in-law. He survived my sister Joyce, who died in 2006. Ivan and Joyce were proud Atheists who practiced tolerance and hope. As part of their legacy, they left 42 acres of land in a conservation trust. I was the executor of their estate, which is a task that I will complete this year.

I want to again share a message of hope from a personal connection. This year I offer a video featuring Josh Leach, who is the new student minister at First Parish. Josh spoke at the service on Nov. 8, 2015, “Barring the Golden Door” (beginning at time 24:17 on the replay). I recently started my third year on the First Parish Internship Committee, and Josh is the second student that I have worked with. Josh is a young man who, like my own children, has grown up in difficult times. I have witnessed the stressors that are causing rising anxiety levels in this generation. Josh’s words give me hope that our children will overcome the challenges that they will face.

When I listen to a student’s sermon, I am listening for ideas that will give people hope and help them find meaning in their lives. When I visit a traditional Christian church, I know that the minister will achieve this by talking about the idea of God. In my church, where many view God only through a historical lens, the minister must speak to hope and meaning in more creative ways. We experience highly complex issues that cause suffering as part of the human condition. These issues are begging for solutions. The minister is not a scientist, policy analyst, activist or politician. Therefore, I neither expect nor want the minister to articulate comprehensive solutions to problems. What I do expect is that the minister will understand the complexity, acknowledge the difficulty in finding practical solutions, and most importantly shine a light in the direction of hope and justice.

On this Thanksgiving day, I am sharing Josh’s sermon because his wisdom inspires me. He begins with a poem by Warsaw Shire, about the reasons people leave their homes. He then reflects on the struggles of refugees around the world. Listening to him helped me set aside my fears of terrorism, most recently exacerbated by the Paris attacks, and be more understanding of the plight of people in Syria, Central America, and other places besieged with violence. Josh has increased my awareness, and I will strive to view refugees with compassion. Each year we take part in the UUSC Guest at Your Table Program, but this year I will do more. While complete solutions to problems associated to refugees remain elusive, I know the direction to go. I will “welcome others to freedom” and be more free myself.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

Our youth come of age

first parish

First Parish in Bedford

Today my wife, Luanne, who this year began coordinating the Coming of Age program at First Parish in Bedford, read these words to introduce our youth who are entering adult life.

In religious traditions around the world, young people are invited into the adult life of their spiritual communities in many ways. Usually, they participate in lessons, reflections, and formal preparations before being welcomed ceremoniously into adulthood. Here, at First Parish, we offer a Coming of Age program to recognize and honor this rite of passage. We value personal growth and the religious freedom to develop for ourselves a credo that will help guide us through life. We covenant that we are a religious community of individuals committed to independent spiritual paths and a shared religious journey.

This morning we will honor seven youth who have worked all year in First Parish’s formal Coming of Age program. By participating in this program, they learned about Unitarian Universalism through monthly meetings, readings, social action projects, two retreats, and many lively discussions with some of our own Parishioners, as well as people from other churches.

We asked them to consider how our UU principles impact their own behaviors. We asked them to move these words off the printed pages of their RE lessons and into to the actions of their daily lives. We asked them to imagine living a life of meaning as a Unitarian Universalist.

This group has responded. They have reflected on their own evolving beliefs as Unitarian Universalists. They have written down ideas about their faith, hopes for their future, and their responsibilities as members of the community. They have prepared a Credo that they will read to you today.

Their journey through the Coming of Age program is symbolically captured on the necklaces 20150517_124003-CoA Beadsthat they are wearing today. Each bead represents the completion of a specific task within one of the program components, which are worship, community building, social action, learning, leadership, and walking their faith. These necklaces are a symbol of their accomplishments, as well as a symbol of our collective hope. We celebrate their achievements as these youth cross the bridge into adulthood. We feel enriched and rejuvenated by their spirit. We share joy and hope knowing that these youth will be citizens who are empowered to make the world a better place.

Today, at this recognition service, you will hear from this remarkable group of individuals, who are thoughtful, passionate, insightful, and creative. They will share their ideas with you through their artwork displayed in the sanctuary windows, their belief bags, their song choices, their selected opening/closing words, their personal chalice-lighting words, and their own Credo Statements. After the service today, you will have a chance to mingle with them, talk to them, and discover more about their beliefs and ideas. Most importantly, however, we ask that you welcome them into your hearts, and support them on their spiritual journey as peers. On this day, and joined by these young adults, our circle is larger, our hope is stronger, and our future is brighter.

As our world grows every more complex, kids like this, who have open hearts and open minds, give me hope for the future. Congratulations to Bharat, Zach, Eleanor, Briny, Noah, Gus and Kate. Thanks also to the co-leaders and mentors Bob, Peggy and Luanne.



For the dusting of frost and the early nightfall,
For the crunch of leaves and the barn owl’s call.
For the patient hills and the furious winds,
For the torrent of anger that time can rescind…
We give thanks for quiet, and rustle and rain,
We give thanks for forests, the sun and the plains.
For the kindness of strangers whose gifts come for free,
And how in just noticing that, we can be –
More open to others, both living and gone,
More grateful to everyone hither and yon.

The times we are living in can be so stark,
We stumble around in the cold and the dark.
The bills pile up, the chores need to get done,
The news of the world makes all of us numb.
Yet we cannot pretend it’s not happening now,
In Ghaza, the Philippines, here in our town,
The ones who suffer feel empty and small,
Their voices are whispers behind a thick wall,
And we who are able to listen or act,
Must vow to reach out when faced with the fact –
That time does not stop for Love nor for Grief;
It rambles along like a mischievous thief.

’Til one day our “story-in-story” unfolds,
The truth is that humans are frail and bold.
We may be the one behind the thick wall,
or stuck in a marriage or ready to fall,
Yet courage can bloom when we meet eye to eye,
In sisterhood, brotherhood, someone says “why? –
are you thinking that you need to fix this alone?
Your life is a blessing, your presence is home –
to so many around you, who see who you are.
You’re known, and you’re treasured… so don’t you go far.”
Your membership here, is only a start,
Of the great world we live in, humanity’s heart.

All humans and creatures live under one sky;
We live in the beauty of this world so fine.
So though days are short and nights are so long,
And though time is fleeting like notes in a song,
The thing to remember this month of the year,
Is to sidle right up to the ones you hold dear.
Think long on the things that give you great stir,
Perfecting these thanks, then telling that sir, –
or madame or youth, all you want to convey.
Wait not for tomorrow, when subtle thoughts fade.
Tell them specifics, how it felt when you knew,
That they could be trusted; you could tell them the truth.
Tell them you love them, say you won’t shy away,
From caring or solving our fears of the day.
Speak of your love with your whimsey and wit.
Speak of it softly or tell it in bits,
Round a fireplace, cuddled up, in a child’s ear,
Out on a walk, or maybe right here.

We are grateful together this Thanksgiving time,
For the kindness of strangers, and old friends divine.
For spiced apples, and muffins and tea in a cup,
And the windy cold weather that makes us zip up.
We give thanks this morning for all that will come,
Since time stops for no one, not mother or son.
We turn to each other through thick and through thin,
Thanks be for this life, this “Great Room” that we’re in.

Wendell Berry stands before the solar panels on his farm in Henry County, KY. Photo by Guy Mendes

Wendell Berry stands before the solar panels on his farm in Henry County, KY. Photo by Guy Mendes

“Thanksgiving” was written by Rev. Megan Lynes, and she read it on Nov. 24, 2013 at First Parish in Bedford MA as part of the 9:00 AM Thanksgiving Service & Welcoming of New Members. The service, which was a team effort with Revs. John Gibbons, included inspiration and readings from Wendell Berry. Selected sermons are posted here.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

The Circus Comes to Town


“The Circus Comes to Town”

That’s the title of a recent service, which featured belly dancers.  As Rev. John Gibbons says “It’s not like this every Sunday.”  The sermon was inspirational and brought home the point that this is a community with spiritFirst Parish in Bedford was recently featured in a UUWorld article Disco ball and candlelight as a breakthrough community.  It is a little surreal to read about how we built additions, music programs, social responsibility programs, and lots of other stuff that resulted in our doubling our membership in the past 20 years.

This post is intended to give my readers added context about people who influence my point of view, so let me share some personal observations related to this article.  I’ve been a member of this community for almost all of those 20 years, and was one of many, many people who worked to get the community to this point.  When we were all in the thick of it, I’m not sure I fully realized what was happening.  Fundraising and committee meetings have their rewards, but are also time-consuming and at times exhausting.  For me, this article is like a time-lapse video of a flower coming into bloom.  When it talks about all the children who have grown up together, I visualize my three kids in the mix; kids who view this place as an extension of their home.  When it talks about our response to the Iraq war in 2003, I remember being on the Parish Committee at the time and struggling with our choices about how to respond.  When it quotes Rev. Megan Lynes saying “A lot of young adults want to stand in a pew, hold a hymnal, and step into the living stream of ancient religions…” (full quote in article), I think about being part of the ministerial selection committee when we all said “she’s the one.”  It is really cool to look back and see all that has come to pass.

I like being part of a religious community where I don’t have to check my “scientist hat” at the door. I fondly recall learning about astronomy and celebrating Charles Darwin’s birthday.  I’m sure I could find people to teach me about many fields of science. After all, the use of reason is one of our core principles.  What’s even better is that use of reason does not lead to some dire conclusion about life without meaning as some might predict.  It is quite the opposite.  Growing in spirit is as much an exercise of the heart as it is the mind, which is why I enjoy the expression of spirit with dance, music, poetry and other forms.  People from a variety of backgrounds gather, share common principles, and grow in spirit (and finding meaning) in a unique way.  Diversity is the norm, as is freedom of thought.  This spirit transcends each individual by connecting us all into a community that more and more reaches out beyond the walls of the building.  In a time of tragedy, this is the place I would turn.

I think that First Parish will continue to help people of diverse beliefs to find common ground in 21st century.  As the world becomes more integrated, this will be essential.  Beyond finding common ground between faith traditions, First Parish will likely be an epicenter for bridging the gap between scientific and religious thought.  The building is done and the community is strong.  Now it is time to take the next step in our social and spiritual evolution.

My prediction for the close of 2012 is that the circus will be going on tour.

Have a Happy New Year.