When I meet with the senior youth group and the Coming of Age class to support them in planning their annual worship services, I always remind them that Sunday worship is a sacred container. Worship contains our faith community’s spiritual beliefs, ethical convictions, covenantal promises, joys and concerns, and hopes and inspiration for a better world. I tell our young people that there is a comfortable rhythm to worship – such as beginning with music, welcome, and the chalice, and concluding with song and a benediction – but that within the container, there’s a lot of room to play and experiment. The sacred container gives us structure and a connection to our tradition and history, yet also allows for innovation and risk-taking. Both our senior youth group and Coming of Age teens offer us thoughtfulness, creativity, and wisdom each and every year within that sacred container.
The whole of our First Parish church is a sacred container, just as our worship services are. There is a comfortable rhythm to our weeks together (Lyceums, music rehearsals, religious exploration, and support groups on Sundays; committee meetings, small groups, and other continuing ed during the weekdays; the occasional justice project, Homegrown Coffeehouse, or fellowship event on Saturdays; etc.). And, within this congregational cycle, we have room to be thoughtful, creative, and wise together – we can experiment and play.
This time last year, we were in a period of great change – some planned, and some a total surprise. We introduced the Worship Café, which has grown to host about twenty participants each week. We changed the children’s RE teaching schedule and moved Coming of Age to ninth grade. We launched a new planned giving program to align with the UUA’s Wake Now Our Visionchallenge. And, we voted to become a Level 2 sanctuary-supporting congregation, later formally partnering with a Level 1 congregation in Newton serving an undocumented family.
As we look into the 2018-2019 church year, we will welcome in two new staff members (interim DLRE Roberta Altamari and intern student minister Sally Fritsche); anticipate the birth of two more “staff babies” from Alexis and Hulki and Kate and Rich; deepen our Level 2 sanctuary and other justice commitments; evaluate and revitalize our lifespan religious exploration program; and, engage in marketing to make the First Parish name and mission better known in the MetroWest community, in the hope of growing our membership. Each year, we focus on new challenges, dreams, and transformations that will bring our congregation forward toward the achievement of our mission to “create a welcoming, diverse, and compassionate religious community that celebrates the sacredness of all living things, nurtures lifelong spiritual and ethical growth, and works for social and environmental justice locally and throughout the world.”
In her poem Instructions for the Journey, Euro-American Massachusetts poet Pat Schneider writes,
“The self you leave behind
is only a skin you have outgrown.
Don’t grieve for it.
Look to the wet, raw, unfinished
self, the one you are becoming.
The world, too, sheds its skin:
politicians, cataclysms, ordinary days.
It’s easy to lose this tenderly
unfolding moment. Look for it
as if it were the first green blade
after a long winter. Listen for it
as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.”
Whatever twists and turns our communal journey takes, let us remember that we are still ourselves, the congregation at First Parish in Needham – yet, we are also on a lifelong journey of becoming our new selves, individually and together, as new blades of grass jutting up from old, stable roots. Onwards we go, yet we strive to leave no one behind. May this year of reflection, action, and transformation be a blessing to us and to our wider community!