Other Perspectives

Ask Me About Sanctuary

By , Published on October 27, 2017
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The Immigrant Ministry is leading an effort for First Parish to vote on becoming a level 2 (supporting) sanctuary.  This means we would organize to support a level 1 sanctuary so that they can host an immigrant in danger of deportation.

As a group, we have met for the past several months to study and reflect upon sanctuary.  Questions we’ve addressed as a group are:

  • Are we spiritually called to sanctuary?
  • What is the history and tradition of sanctuary in Unitarian Universalism?
  • What would it mean for First Parish to be a sanctuary or sanctuary supporting (level 2) congregation?

We are ready, able and enthusiastic to share the answers to those questions, and many more, with you.  In fact, you may have already seen us tabling at social hour or attended a recent meeting about sanctuary, or noticed that our full Sanctuary FAQ is now available on the First Parish website.

Sometimes one-on-one conversations are the best way to get questions answered, or to express concerns and ideas.  In that spirit, we welcome and encouraged you to ask questions to any member of the sanctuary task force of the Immigrant Ministry, including:

  • Becca Malakoff
  • Cathy Livingston
  • Clark Taylor
  • Jeanette Anderson
  • Tabby Rappolt
  • Traci Abbott
  • Will Rico

We are committed to open dialogue and want everyone to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with us.

A popular question has been “why are you recommending level 2 (supporting) status and what would that entail?”  Since this is such a popular question, I’ve excerpted the answer from the Sanctuary FAQ below.


At this time, the Immigrant Ministry recommends that First Parish become a Level 2 Sanctuary Congregation.  By becoming a Level 2 Sanctuary site, we are taking a stand on a critical social justice issue.  This route provides us with the opportunity to contribute and  test our resolve while educating ourselves on what would be required of us if were to choose to become a Level 1 Sanctuary site at a later date.

The above statement would simply acknowledge that First Parish commits to becoming a Level 2 Parish. It would NOT commit us to partnering with a specific congregation that has voted to become a Level 1 Sanctuary. Once First Parish decides if it wants to become a Level 2 Sanctuary Parish, the Immigrant Ministry and the Sanctuary Task Force will monitor Level 1 Sanctuary congregations in our geographic area. The Sanctuary Task Force will meet with members of the Level 1 congregation(s) once the congregation has accepted someone into sanctuary to assess the viability of partnering with one of them as a Level 2 Sanctuary Parish. 

Once the Sanctuary Task Force has identified one or more potential partnerships, materials will be prepared and presented to the Parish Committee (as needed). Sanctuary Task Force will choose Level 1 to pair with (with approval/discretion of Parish Committee). 

Process for Partnering with a specific Level 1 Sanctuary Congregation:

Before declaring support as a Level 2 Sanctuary Parish with a Level 1 congregation with a family or individual in residence, the Parish will engage in the following discernment and decision process:

  • Provide a description of resident(s) living in sanctuary at Level 1 sanctuary congregations within First Parish’s geographic area (This assumes that there may be more than one congregation housing someone in residence.  If there is only one Level 1 congregation with someone in residence, that information will be brought to the Parish.)
  • Provide a list of the volunteer support activities that the Level 1 congregation has listed as needed.
  • Provide information on how many volunteers and/or hours of support are desired by the Level 1 congregation, including as much specificity about time slots available, desired time commitment for each volunteer, minimum hours of support expected of a Level 2 congregation, etc. as we can obtain.
  • Provide an estimate of any expenses that are anticipated in voting on a specific Level 2 commitment, including information on how that money will be raised.

We look forward to answering more questions, and growing in our understanding and spirit together.

Introduction to Sanctuary

By , Published on October 20, 2017

First Parish is currently considering becoming a Sanctuary Level 2 congregation, a role in which we would support a Level 1 congregation housing an immigrant family. Tabby Rappolt recently attended trainings for Sanctuary volunteers. This is her report.

It was a dark and stormy night. Hot too. No place to park, either. Welcoming light poured from the door of the tiny church where the smiling sanctuary team welcomed a couple hundred people into the modest hall, urging us to help ourselves from the table piled with ice-cream treats “before they melt”. The team told us about meeting at least weekly for several months, the ready support, financial and spiritual, from their denomination, the excitement in the parish. They spoke of connecting with agencies, immigration lawyers, and the level one sanctuary in Cambridge. We introduced ourselves with name, reason for being there, and organization or parish. Wellesley Friends came out in force. There were LOTS of synagogues. There were unions, community social action groups, and several churches. I was the lone UU (embarrassing! I thought we were proud social action leaders).

We were told what it would mean to be a volunteer: 1) individual sign up by email (forms dump into an Excel spreadsheet) for what skills and time we were willing to offer 2) attend a free two-hour evening training by the Massachusetts Communities Action Network – several offered nearby during the summer and more to come throughout the year, and 3) sign the Newton Sanctuary and Solidarity Collaborative Covenant which committed us to following the Collaborative’s guidelines and respecting the procedures, requirements and guidelines of the level one church. The signing was individual only unless you had been authorized to sign on behalf of an organization. I signed for me since I had no authority to sign for First Parish. We were given a tour of the area set aside for the “guests”- two bedrooms with air mattresses and little else so as to emphasize to any town inspector that this was a temporary arrangement, not a violation of zoning law covering tenant housing in a public building, though temporary could mean up to two years. There was a nice eat-in kitchen, a sitting area/playroom, and a bathroom, about to be enhanced with a shower. I spoke to the sanctuary committee, offering my skills in database management for processing the volunteer forms into work schedules. On the way out I visited the cozy sanctuary – half the size of ours. A tiny congregation to take on so much!

A few weeks after joining the Newton Collaborative as a level 3 (individual) volunteer I went to the MCAN training in Brookline. Actual duties are simple. You can sign up on your volunteer email form to: do laundry, shop, drive sanctuary dwellers to appointments, take children to school/pick them up, be a sanctuary presence. The being present is to discourage ICE showing up, documenting what happens if they do, handling requests from the sanctuary dwellers (call a plumber, put an item on the shopper’s list, usually report issue to volunteer coordinator). Presence is always two people for 2-6-hour shifts 24/7. They are near the living quarters, but not in them. They can socialize with the dwellers, or provide some child care if the dwellers want them to.

Mainly the training is about attitude. You are there to support the dwellers, not manage them. No invasive personal questions, no unsolicited dietary or parenting advice. Basically, respect them as you would any other normal adult. That also means respecting their privacy – no gossiping about them, no photos, no contacting media without their permission. In fact, we are encouraged not to identify the people or the sanctuary except in the vaguest terms ( e.g. ”a church in Newton”, “people in sanctuary in Newton”) if we must discuss them to discourage identifying them in ways that will make it hard for them to live normally when they leave. And they will leave. These are always people in process of obtaining permission to reside and work here legally who fear that they may be deported before their case is decided. They are working with an immigration lawyer who has advised them to seek sanctuary. We were told that to date ICE has NEVER come into a church. But if they do show up: Only let them in if they show you a warrant signed by a judge. Move the dwellers into the sanctuary. Call the volunteer coordinator. Take pictures of the arrest in the sanctuary. The immigration lawyer will want those photos. Do not block ICE. Just take pictures.

It was a pretty intense two hours. I was heartened to find other UUs in attendance. The Brookline UU church is a level two supporting the Cambridge level one sanctuary which already has a people in sanctuary.

I have also been to a seminar sponsored by Temple Beth Shalom – Immigration 101 – presented by a local immigration lawyer on the legal aspects of sanctuary and sanctuary volunteers. Bottom line – yes, you are engaging in civil disobedience. No, you aren’t likely to be arrested unless you pepper spray an ICE agent. Presently, I am part of the Needham branch of the Newton Sanctuary collaborative. We meet as needed at Temple Beth Shalom. Beth Pinals heads the group and is our representative to the Needham Collaborative which meets every Monday night. If you want to volunteer at the Newton Sanctuary, she is the person to contact.

Big Questions Forum: How Do You Live With Uncertainty?

By , Published on October 19, 2017
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These are uncertain times.

Perhaps times have always been uncertain: it’s the nature of being human. We want order, security, control and certainty. How else can we live a rational, orderly life?

Yet in spite of all our progress, are these times not ever more uncertain?

  • Perhaps the stakes are higher.
  • Perhaps we are more hyper-aware of the turbulence of these times.
  • Perhaps now, daily, we are confronted with the fragility of our shared environment.
  • Perhaps this uncertainty brings out greater certainty in others, hardening them to the vulnerability required for relationships of depth

Uncertainty can be described as “A state of having limited knowledge where it is impossible to exactly describe the existing state or future outcome.” And yet, is not uncertainty a prelude to some kind of faith and more authentic living? Does not an over-developed sense of certainty lead to smug indifference?

To thinking people from investors to actuaries, uncertainty is associated with risk. And living in a risky environment creates stress. Life on the edge of a precipice feels precarious.

Yes, these are uncertain times. So in this first Big Question Forum of the year, in the face of this endemic and widespread uncertainty, we’ll ask:

  • How are you doing?
  • What is your direct and visceral experience of uncertainty?
  • Are you burdened by uncertainty, or buoyed by the exhilarating creativity of an undetermined future?
  • What strategies do you use, tacitly or explicitly, to address uncertainty?
  • How has the perceived increase in uncertainty changed you?

The Big Question Forum meets on the 4th Tuesday of most months during the year. This session will take place next Tuesday, Oct. 24rd, at 7:30 in the Parlor.

We hope to see you there!

Voluntary Sanctuary Training

By , Published on October 9, 2017
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This past summer, I attended a two hour training session for sanctuary volunteers at the Eliot Church in Newton.  The training was conducted by a veteran, lay leader whose own church in Cambridge has had guests for two months.  Because of the Syrian refugee crisis, the Muslim ban and other immigration issues, I had been interested in the sanctuary movement and had attended meetings of the Sanctuary Task Force at First Parish.  I was interested in the “do’s and don’ts”  of sanctuary volunteerism, not background information, and that is exactly what we received.  You are not a therapist nor a recreational director.  Above all, we were given the assurance that any questions or issues we felt inadequate to respond to could be referred to the volunteer coordinator.  This training was in preparation for shifts at a nearby Level 1, Newton church, for which I had volunteered,  and which was expecting guests within weeks.  There are many volunteer activities I can no longer perform efficiently, but I can take a sanctuary volunteer shift.  Since that time I have learned that those particular guests chose not to seek refuge, but others are expected shortly.

Presently, at First Parish, the Sanctuary Task Force of the Immigrant Ministry recommends that First Parish become a Level 2 Sanctuary congregation, thereby taking a stand on this critical issue, and enabling First Parish to support a Level 1 church who has adequate space.  I hope this becomes a reality; First Parish, while not a large church makes a loud noise when we band together.

Thanksliving and Thanksloving in a Challenging Time

By , Published on June 30, 2017
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Thanksliving and Thanksloving in a Challenging Time

By Kay and Clark Taylor

Introductory note: The following was given as the sermon on June 25.  It introduces two made up words, which you can see italicized in the title just below, and it seeks to define and enlighten the notion of “Beloved Community,” which Martin Luther King Jr. used to describe what he was working to create.  It is based on a powerful love that transforms enemies into people we can work with to find the way to justice and peace.  In the sermon, we drew on our own spiritual practices and the deeply real sense of community that infuses this church to point out that the Beloved Community that we find in our personal relationships and this church will lead us to work to create it in the wider world.

K: How do we — any of us — deal with life “in a challenging time”?  Clark, you and I struggled early in our marriage to have a family and came through it with one wonderful biological son and two wonderful adopted daughters.  That was a challenging time for us, for sure.  During that time we found ourselves agonized over the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, which was a different form of challenge to make sense of.  And there have been many other challenges along the way.  But now both of us find that, given our health and aging issues, this time stands out as particularly challenging.  As all of us sit here this morning, each of us can think about the challenges we have faced and are currently facing in our own lives.  And most of us can probably agree that as we currently experience life as citizens of our nation, with our cherished democracy hanging in the balance, this is a challenging time indeed.  

C: The two of us experience this church as a warm and loving community of people that is helping us in a powerful way to meet both the personal and societal challenges of our lives.  And we have become aware of the ideal of the Beloved Community, which the UUA has taken as a central part of its belief system.  Three years ago, 21of us heard Meck Groot, an official of the UUA, speak in this church about Beloved Community, including its use by Martin Luther King Jr.  It is based, she said, on the belief that love is the greatest force in the world, which is to be expressed through right relationships of love and respect.  At times, she said, the love of Beloved Community is confrontational, bringing to mind the recent huge demonstrations that have been organized to resist the negative, backward-looking policies of our President and the efforts of the rich powerful oppressors to become ever more rich and powerful.  But underlying the resistance and protest is a disciplined love, respect, and iron will that is determined to stop the oppressors in their tracks.  The goal is to make their oppression too expensive for them and too much getting in the way of what they are intent on doing.  At that point, they may find it necessary to sit down to work out a constructive solution based in our mutual humanity.  Martin Luther King said about it: “It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.… It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

K: Beloved Community, in other words, is not based in a spineless weakness, but in tough love and strength. Within that framework it provides plenty of room for respectful tenderness and love. At this point in our 59 years of married life together we also experience our own love as an expression of Beloved Community.  And we also find that our church community participates in it, as well.  Our deep love and this church community are imperfect expressions of it, to be sure, but the vision of it inspires and guides us.  Because I know I am loved, I have strengths and energy to reach out to each of you and the world beyond.

C: Let’s start logically with thanksliving in our personal lives in the context of our church.  We think of thanksliving as an outward impulse.  It reaches out from us for this or that good experience, friend, family member, or aspect of our lives.  The two of us have spoken before of our practice of lighting a chalice in our home every day when we are first together in the morning.  Regardless of the kind of sleep we have had or the various pains in our bodies, we start with a simple candle of thanks that, in effect, lights a fire within us.   We are first of all thankful for a precious new day as a gift of life and love to share with each other and with others.  We used to just take a new day for granted.

K: Then we are thankful for the particulars that come to mind, including family, church friends, and the challenges that are before us in that day.  The hope is to set a pattern for the day to make the whole time we are awake lived in a thanksliving way.  Realistically, it never lasts through all parts of the day—especially when we are deeply frustrated by some problem in our lives. You can fill in the blanks of points in your day when you lose all sight of living thankfully.  But the challenge is there to find ways of centering ourselves to recover the fire of the thanksliving spirit.  And this church helps us do it.

C: Science itself is supportive in this endeavor to live thankfully and names amazing multiple benefits that come from thanksliving.  A Newsweek article quotes a psychologist from the University of Birmingham, who noted in 2013 that the “list of potential benefits [of living thankfully] is almost endless: fewer intellectual biases, more effective learning strategies, more helpfulness towards others, raised self-confidence, better work attitude, strengthened resiliency, less physical pain, improved health, and longevity.”  The author goes on to name five more specific ones, all scientifically demonstrated.  What’s not to like about thankful living?  You can be sure that the two of us are listening to ourselves even as we speak, to find a way more deeply into the benefits.  

K: Thanksloving can be singled out as a profound form of thanksliving.  It is relational at its core.  As human beings we find it difficult to impossible to love ourselves if we do not experience others reaching out to us in a loving way.  You may point to one person in your growing up life who inspired you with the will and confidence to live in a productive way.  For some it is a teacher, a grandparent, or a special caregiver.  We may well have several such people in our lives.  Thankful living, thus, incorporates thankful loving, but the loving aspect is worth focusing on in itself because of its profound importance in our relationship with others and, ultimately, with how we love ourselves.  

C: The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote of contrasting ways of engaging with others, as I-Thou, on the one hand, and I-It on the other.  I-Thou involves treating other people as holy or sacred loving others rather than as things, as “its.”  Every person, whoever we are, has an innate desire to have others care about us in a loving way.  In our defensiveness, we often have developed habits and attitudes that make it difficult for us to be easily loved and accepted by others.  But we can remind ourselves that all of us are alike in that essential way of needing to be lovingly accepted by others.  Quakers speak of “the god in us” and “holding one another in the light,” i.e., with reference to the holy Thou in all of us.  Kay, you and I have developed ways of working through the difficult differences of our lives.

K: I was and am more focused on creativity and beauty, while you have been committed to social change and activism.  Then you took up garden photography as a hobby, which served as a bridge for our interests.  Even with that, I found it hard not to think of your social justice work as more valuable than my focus on artistic beauty.  But I have come around to becoming very supportive of your justice work, which I also believe in. As a result, we have become each other’s cheerleaders. As we have become older and are now heading into some difficult uncertainty on the health front, our thankfulness and love for each other has become deeper and even more emotionally satisfying and life fulfilling.

C: We have been offering a window into our marriage as a kind of case study of how we have worked to become more intentional in our thanksliving and thanksloving.  But as all of us here today seek to become more thankful and loving people, both in our primary relationships, our friendship circles, and in our church, the further truth is that it opens the possibility for us to offer more as citizens in uplifting artistic beauty and the political justice struggles in our world. Another way of saying this is as we work to create the Beloved Community in our church, we are more prepared to work toward the Beloved Community at a grander loving justice scale as we join forces with others in the world around us.  As a church we can see that we are already on that journey:

K: Our church has tackled the challenges of Beloved Community-building in many ways.  To mention a few: by becoming a green congregation, with support for the health of the planet, and a welcoming congregation with an open love for all people, including LGBTQ, transgendered people, and folks of all gender identities. We have taken on the challenge of becoming a more racially just congregation and the cause of helping to release people who have been trafficked and try to support them.  We are in the process of deciding whether to become a sanctuary congregation that would support a faith community that has enough space to house an undocumented immigrant or family.

C: Given these outreach efforts and others, in which many of us have been involved, we can say that this church is engaged in helping to create the Beloved Community in the world around us.  And if we add up every single thing different ones of us are doing as volunteers or in our places of employment to make the world a more just and peaceful place, we would be impressed.  You who are volunteering or working for a just peace at work are unheralded ambassadors of the spirit of this church.  But clearly there is much more to be done.  We invite you to consider what you can do in light of your own spiritual practices to become more of an ambassador for beauty, justice, and peace.  Our hope here in sharing some of our own thanksliving and thanksloving practice is not that you will do what we do, but that you will draw on your own way of building and sharing in Beloved Community.





Big Questions Forum: Why Does Art Move Us?

By , Published on March 23, 2017
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Tuesday, March 28 at 7:30pm in the Parlor

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.”

― George Bernard Shaw

“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart..”

― Pablo Casals

“Art and life are subjective. Not everybody’s gonna dig what I dig, but I reserve the right to dig it.”

― Whoopi Goldberg

What is it about art that has the ability to move us is so many different ways?  Whether we are creators of art, performers of it or consumers of it, art has an important role in our lives.

We experience art in different ways in different times.  Sometimes we are overwhelmed by it, sometimes we are made to think of our place in the universe, sometimes we just want to escape into it.

Art at times seems to have a direct pathway to our inner self.  Have you ever been to a museum or concert where the art is speaking directly to your soul.  For some of us, art is where we get our sense of spirituality.

Our next Big Questions Forum will address how art moves us.  We will discuss what art means to us and our experiences with it.

We hope to see you Tuesday.

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