RE News January 17, 2020

Dear friends,

It is lovely to hear many of you talking about Rev. Wendy’s sermon about focusing on a word as an intention-setting practice. You may recall that this has been a personal practice of mine for the last 6 years, and that I’ve had a habit of sharing my word with you in my column each year.

I came into 2020 with a desire to nurture my creative side, which seems

to be bursting with ideas and energy. And… well, this is no secret to anyone who’s seen my office… I’m not a big fan of cleaning and organizing. It always seems like such a chore. But the fact was, every time I thought about allowing my creative process to flow, it got stomped out almost immediately. I can’t start that writing project when my desk is so messy, I would think. It became clear very quickly that I needed a new way of looking at cleaning so that doing it would feel less onerous, leaving space clear for creativity.

I thought about words like “Declutter” and “Organize” and “Tidy” and “Clean,” but those words didn’t feel quite right.  I needed my cleaning to be reverent. I need my spaces to be sacred.  So I chose the word HALLOW.  In addition to the bonus Harry Potter reference, Hallow means creating sacred space rather than just ‘cleaning.’  For now it is choosing a space, moving the stuff off it, and re-setting it with objects that create the energy I need (+/- a cat or two, because who doesn’t need a cat between them and the keyboard, am I right?). Once the space is set up, I can maintain it by replacing everything carefully and reverently, and mindfully considering whether any new piece serves the purpose of the space. 

I love my word-of-the-year practice.  I write my word into my planner on monthly and weekly planning pages, and I get a bracelet made from with my word stamped on it each year.  I also check in each month with the group of online friends with whom I started this practice 6 years ago. Having these reminders helps me reset and reframe when I need to do so.

Image: Lauren’s wrist with a bracelet. It is a rose gold washer with the word “HALLOW” stamped on it, and a navy blue macrame band.

The RE program has been following along with our church’s monthly themes.  Last weekend the Dinosaur Airplanes made their own spyglasses, and the older kids began envisioning a project that, in a couple of weeks, we’ll ask all of you to join in!  One of the Visions we hold is that when we all work together, we can make great and powerful things.

In the coming months we’ll be trying new strategies in the sanctuary to help include children and youth and encourage them to participate more deeply. You may have already noticed that on a few select Sundays we have moved the Children’s Worship Table up to the front of the sanctuary. While we will never ever (because of developmental psychology) expect babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and even younger elementary kids to sit perfectly still, moving them to the front lets them see what’s going on in the pulpit — lets them see the musicians, have line of sight with speakers, and for the older kids makes them aware that the minister and DRE are watching them! In addition, it gets them away from the extremely live acoustical spots in the back that project every sound at ten times the volume to the front of the sanctuary.

Another thing we’re going to try, starting this month, is a “Hymn of the Month” during the first hymn slot. Charlyn, Guy, and I have plotted this out for a variety of reasons. Children who can’t read can learn the hymn by rote, and the little ones love to sing when they know the song! Music is a magical order-maintaining device — ask any preschool teacher who knows to pull out “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” when a class gets restless. I once was in a children’s choir of 300 4th-6th graders, and there were three adults in the room — the conductor, the pianist, and one assistant (for a while in high school I was the assistant). All the conductor had to do was get the pianist to play one of the songs we all knew, and suddenly we were all singing. There was no other calling to order, no begging for our attention. The music started, we sang. It works in church too, when the children know the music.

And, I’m going to let Charlyn’s little secret out of the bag, because she also has an ulterior motive… she holds out hope that if adults have heard a song several times, they might put the book down a little and look up and sing with the room a bit more. That’s another magical transformation that happens when people who really know a song sing it together with spirit. It brings people together in a special and spiritual way that just doesn’t happen while we’ve all got our faces buried in the hymnal.

So, this month’s hymn is “When the Heart is in a Holy Place” (1008 in the teal hymnal) and we’ll be singing it downstairs as well as upstairs this month. 

See you around the sanctuary, my friends!


Coming up in RE:

  • January: Vision & Possibility
  • Hymn: When the Heart is in a Holy Place
  • Story: The Spyglass by Paul Evans
  • Project: Yarn

  • February: Identity & Belonging
  • Project: Embroidery with Susan Lind-Sinanian

  • January 19: Maker Sunday. NO OWL
  • January 26: Teacher Breakfast, RE Classes (Yarn & other projects. OWL 4:30-6:30
  • February 2: RE Classes (Embroidery with Susan & other projects). OWL 4:30-6:30
  • February 9: RE Classes (Embroidery with Susan & other projects). OWL 4:30-6:30

RE News, October 2017

This is the complete version of my column in the Arbella in October 2017.  I had many more thoughts on the subject of forgiveness than I am allowed space in our newsletter, so I invite you to read on!

My dear ones,

This past Sunday our K-2 class, the Flaming Unicorn Fox Owls, had a session entitled The Gift of Forgiveness, and I have been contemplating the lesson and its implications for our lives for the last couple of weeks.

The first thing we do every year in each church school class is write a covenant. We hang our shiny covenant – the embodiment of our highest ideals – on the wall and sign it, and then often… that’s it. We might remember to review it a few times, or maybe we turn to it if some egregious violation happens, but otherwise, that covenant hangs on the wall, looking pretty, looming its inevitably broken promises over our heads, because the thing we don’t talk about nearly enough is what to do when we break covenant.

Here’s the thing: we are going to break covenant with each other. It is inevitable, because we are imperfect humans. We will never be perfect in implementing our ideals, no matter how good our intentions. When we pretend to ourselves that we will always follow our covenants, we start to fear the consequences – the rains will come and the waters will rise! When we get in this mindset about our covenants together, though, we limit their ability to work for and with us.

Last summer I was privileged to witness a ritual in the Ferry Beach RE Week Youth Group. It was a wonderful model of how to re-enter covenant; so often our society doesn’t teach us what to do when we – individually or as a group – are wrong and need to make reparations and ask for forgiveness.

The Youth had been, in what started as good fun, teasing one of their members. It probably didn’t feel like good fun for him for very long, but the teasing kept on well beyond comfort. I don’t know whether he was upset and said something, or whether the adults in the group decided it was not okay, but that night, a trusted outsider was invited to lead a ritual. They did a reading, reviewed their covenant together, reviewed enough of what happened so that everyone who needed to know understood why they were there, and then the floor opened for youth to talk to their friend. No apology was demanded; rather, the leader asked them to focus on what they would do in the future – either to avoid a repeat or to make reparations with the target of the teasing. Many youth spoke, letting the boy know he was valued, sometimes apologizing. At the end, the leader reminded everyone that it was the boy’s prerogative to forgive, or not.

And the boy said nothing – but this wasn’t a bad thing. I think it opened up the option for his friends to check in with him privately, and I would be utterly shocked to learn that not one of them had. Of course there was some eye-rolling from our teenagers at this silly adult-enforced ritual. Duh, everyone knew the young man was fine. But they all really do care about him, and I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that this ritual made his best friends check in with him later. “Are you really okay?” “You know I didn’t mean it, right?” “I love you, man.”

The next night the same young man spoke for his best friend at our bridging ceremony, and he wept, and so did his friend, and so did every last one of us witnessing. Perhaps without the ritual all would have been the same… but I have no doubt that it allowed for any hard feelings to be put aside and for the renewal of and re-commitment to a lifelong friendship.

Our society teaches us to be defensive first when we are accused of wrongdoing. I see it daily on Social Media. John says something he thinks is funny. Jane says, “Hey, that’s racist.” Or sexist or demeaning to a group of people. Jane is angry because she has seen this same statement a hundred times and she didn’t expect it from John. And so she doesn’t temper her words and it sounds like the accusation it is.

The other day I saw such an exchange in which, before John could come back and say “You don’t know me, how dare you say I’m racist,” another friend popped in and affirmed Jane but using a different set of words. “I know you meant to be funny, John. But you should be aware that for certain people, saying what you said is really hurtful, and here’s why.”

And then back came John. “I didn’t think of my words in that light. I’m so sorry what I said could be interpreted that way. I’m deleting my comment and editing it to show that I was wrong.”

It was magic. It was people at their best. It was an invitation back into covenant. Because that’s the way we deal with it when the covenant breaks. We don’t yell, we don’t swear, we don’t wring our hands. We invite. “Our covenant says to seek the truth in love. I know you’re seeking truth, but the tone of voice you’re using isn’t in love right now, and it’s making it hard for me to hear. Can we get back into covenant together?” Sometimes it might take a calming down period. Our choices are to join together, or to hold anger and grudges for a very long time. Speaking words of reparation and forgiveness can help mend the path.

I’m so grateful to this curriculum for giving our little ones words to articulate this with now. Perhaps admitting they’re wrong and asking forgiveness won’t be as hard for them as it is for me.

I’m getting better, though. A couple of weeks ago I told a story in church and in it I reinforced the idea that binary gender is normative. I did this even though I do not believe it, even though I try very hard to be an ally and friend to my Trans* and gender-non-binary friends and acquaintances, and to the community. I was gently corrected during the water ceremony by the parent of a Trans child, in a way that was definitely calling in rather than calling out. And instead of shaking my fists and shouting that I am an ally, darn it! I sought her out later and thanked her for pointing out my error. I made our church less comfortable and less welcoming for people who are Transgender and gender-nonconforming, and I am going to try to be more aware of this in the future. I knew I had done it as the words came out of my mouth, but I didn’t know how to correct it gracefully in the moment. But I will think through my storytelling more completely in the future and try to be as inclusive as possible, and I will continue to work for equity in gender in our church and in society. I hope anyone I hurt can forgive me.

In peace,

Digital Signature

RE News, February 2014

Dear friends,

Is everyone ready for the Groundhog coming this month?  Or, if you’re following traditional Celtic traditions, perhaps Brigid will face a stormy day on Imbolc, and therefore won’t have enough firewood for six more weeks of Polar Vortex and spring will come early?

In the meantime, we’ve got lots of things going on to make your February a little brighter.

The Senior Youth Group have just completed their service trip to CityReach in Boston; as anyone who was in church this past Sunday heard, it was a very fun experience—even if it tired our youth out!  Some thanks are due for making this trip possible:

To Matt and Katherine Calabro, who gamely chaperoned.  I never checked to find out if you were able to blow up the air mattress for Katherine… but it was a feat of cold and sleeplessness much appreciated by all the parents and kids.   Our third Youth Advisor Heidi Bedrossian was unable to attend due to her Saturday work schedule, but she was there throughout all the planning and helped with last weekend’s epic sorting party.

ImageSpeaking of the Sorting Party, Jill Shaw and Barbara Farrell get my undying thanks for helping spread the word and providing the bins for the collection of a Youth Room-full of clothes, bags, and other materials.  Michael Collins, Mark Harris, and Andrea Greenwood receive equal thanks for driving to CityReach with the youth and transporting and unloading all this stuff!


And it really couldn’t have happened without Mark making the phone calls to CityReach to arrange the Youth Group’s adventure, and—not to save the best for last or anything, but—Eileen Ryan worked tirelessly to ensure that this trip happened.  It was among the many ideas she brainstormed for the SYG to choose from when considering a service trip; she planned and implemented (with the help of the COA kids) the Equal Exchange fundraiser (which, along with her brilliant Leaf Raking idea last fall, has raised over $900 for the COA class to go to Ferry Beach, and anything left over will go toward paying for the CityReach trip), and she spent time and energy working with the youth and advisors to make sure this trip was successful from start to finish.

Elsewhere in RE:

February 2nd marks the start of the second semester for most of our classes.  On January 26 we held a Teacher Appreciation Breakfast to honor the outgoing teachers who have made the past semester beautifully successful, and to welcome the new set of teachers who start teaching next week!  I can’t say this enough: our church school program is a fun, thoughtful, and exciting place to be for our kids on a Sunday morning.  I know this because of the happy faces and the regular attendance!  But without the people—both the parents (whom we conscript) and the generous other adult volunteers and Youth classroom assistants—who come to the classrooms on Sunday mornings and provide a familiar face and minds that think, hearts that love, and hands that help for our kids ages 1-13, the church school would have a very different atmosphere on Sunday mornings.