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Minister's Column for June

Rev. Josh Pawelek


I am a theistic Unitarian Universalist;  an aspiring antiracist, feminist, queer ally; a liberal, suburban American minister practicing a modern version of New England’s old “congregational way;”  a loving husband and father; and a spiritual leader dedicated to transformative preaching, teaching, healing and social justice ministries. Serving as the parish minister of UUSE has blessed my life in many ways. Most importantly, UUSE has allowed me—and continues to allow me—to serve as a spiritual leader striving to provide excellence in ministry. I am deeply grateful.

Dear Ones:

Our ministry theme for June is renewal. This theme meets us exactly where we are as a congregation: in need of renewal! I say this because many of us are feeling worn down. The wearing down—the tiredness, the exhaustion, the frustration—stems in part from the near-constant cavalcade of grim global news—the impacts of climate change, the wars in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan and elsewhere, political polarization and the rise of authoritarian movements around the planet and in the United States. But many of us are also feeling worn down in response to the conversations we’ve been having about trends within our Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), most notably the pending General Assembly vote on the proposed changes to Article II of the UUA bylaws. And further, many of us are feeling worn down in response to the variety of conversations that led up to our May 19th Annual Meeting. We need renewal.

By many measures, our Annual Meeting was successful. Despite still learning how to manage simultaneous in-person and online voting, the congregation passed: 1) a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year; 2) a new leadership team; 3) revisions to the gifts policy; and 4) a new set of guidelines for governing our endowment. Hooray! However, we were not able to pass any of the proposed changes to our UUSE Constitution. Given the many questions and proposals that surfaced in response to those proposed changes, it very quickly became clear we would not have time or energy in the Annual Meeting to consider them all. We were not ready as a congregation to vote. Tabling changes to a fall congregational meeting made good sense.

Now there is significant work we have to do. Though I am writing this statement before planning for that work begins, I’d like to share my sense of what I think needs to happen and how it all fits together. I am convinced that if we do this work well, it can serve as a source of profound renewal for our congregation at a time when many of us are feeling worn down.

First and foremost, UUSE is long overdue for congregation-wide strategic planning. Our last strategic plan was completed after our 2009-2010 building expansion project. Strategic planning will give us an opportunity to revisit our mission and vision, and then to identify how we will achieve our vision. The Policy Board will establish a strategic planning team to guide us in this effort. A well-designed planning process will enable us to speak with each other about our hopes and dreams for our congregation. Such direct conversation about the future will help renew our spirits!

Second, some of the more controversial constitutional changes pertained to UUSE’s relationship to the UUA. The Policy Board has promised to design a discernment process around that relationship. This process would present all the ways UUSE currently relates to and benefits from the UUA and its New England Regional Office. It would also explore how UUSE may currently be harmed by its relationship with the UUA. Given what we learn, what changes to our relationship with the UUA might make sense at this time, and how might they be reflected in our constitution? A well-designed discernment process will enable us to speak openly and honestly with each other about our concerns, fears, joys and hopes for the future of Unitarian Universalism. My sense is that these conversations will dovetail nicely with the strategic planning conversations and ought to directly inform the strategic planning process.

Finally, there were a number of proposed changes to the constitution that were not particularly controversial, or which only needed slight editing. The Policy Board needs to designate a team to make the relevant edits and to ensure that the good work of the most recent Constitution Task Force comes to the congregation this fall.

What this all means is that we are about to take a very deep, very intentional look at our congregation: our concerns, our frustrations, our excitement, our hope, our vision! Yes, when it comes to making changes to our constitution, or writing a strategic plan, some of the work is very technical. But beneath that technical work is the deeper work of discernment. What inspiring, healing, educating, music-making, justice-seeking, earth-protecting ministries do we want to build? What deeper spiritual impact do we want to have on our members and friends, the surrounding community and the earth? If we can have these conversations with authenticity, honesty, caring and grace, we will be renewed. That is not only my prayer. It is my promise.

With love and care,

Rev. Josh

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