September 2020: Renewal

Dear Friends,
Greetings on a lovely summer morning! The cicadas are sawing away, katydids and crickets are singing. COVID has forced us into a slower, more grounded pace of life; and it certainly offers ample opportunity for reflection. So, let’s reflect. Does the COVID-induced FPUC diaspora illuminate our fundamental reason for existing as a ‘thing,’ a corporate entity, a community? What can we draw from our current sense of separation and isolation that can carry us forward as a stronger community? Why do Zoom meetings seem flimsy relative to face-to-face congregating in our own physical meeting place?

I do not have a succinct answer to these questions, but they do seem to be a great springboard for contemplation and discussion. Maybe that act unto itself is illuminating: why does it feel good to sit down with other folks to kick around, literally, any topic? Is there something we are looking for (truth), are we trying to resolve some kind of inner uneasiness (certainty)? Maybe, but I think it is just nice to talk with people about our lives and what we find important, funny, amazing, disappointing. Do we force ourselves to do this? Sometimes, but generally it just feels good to share our stories and to listen to other folks. Boring? My kids think so, but they need to have the rich experience of being with other people.

So why are we a ‘church’ and not categorized as some other social organization, like a club? That’s a great question to wrestle with. We are not offering salvation, the only book we have is a bunch of songs, the concept of ‘worshipping’ is fraught. Truth and certainty are comforting in their way, but it is foolish to assume that these will ever be achieved in any person’s life – so why promise these as the primary destinations?  Connection is our central guiding principal, and our values are reflected in behaviors that foster connections on our journey through life – caring, fairness, kindness. We do advocate for a set of moral and ethical behaviors and help one another integrate this into their lives, and that is what makes First Parish more than a social club. 

As COVID wears on, my thoughts wander back to a single word:  Connections. For me this is the underlying concept that holds together my secular humanist world view.  My growing awareness of the connections in my life supports a general sense of gratitude and willingness to advocate for fairness. I can see how disconnection leads to unhappiness, frustration, and stress for me, personally, and for those around me. The UU principles of advocating for fairness, valuing each person’s individuality, and ecological stewardship are the natural result of understanding the importance of connections. For me, this awareness is key to planning for and maintaining a gratifying reality. I suspect it also applies to the broader world as well.

First Parish needs a clear reason to exist for our own well-being as an institution and as an honest representation to the wider community of what we advocate for. In a world where isolation is rampant, we have an important role to play. We cannot wait around for the COVID crisis to abate, we need to stay connected among ourselves and we need to continue our outreach to the broader community. Yes, there are constraints on what we can do, but constraints tend to spark creativity. This is an opportunity, and I think all of us are now more aware of our need for connection than ever before.

Eric Studer
on behalf of the Board of Trustees