Minister’s Message: April 2020

Dear Friends,

Someone told me recently about the time, right after September 11th, when you were able to throw the doors wide and welcome the community in during that time of national shock and mourning.  You opened the doors.  People came.  You gathered as did people all over this heartbroken land, to gather and grieve, to talk and to listen, to begin to put your own selves back together and consider how to help the world around you.

How I wish we could do that now.  For surely we are shocked and heartbroken in our own way, but we cannot do that basic, primitive human thing.  We cannot come together. 

At least physically.  But humans are an inventive lot and I’ve watched you in these days as you’ve made phone calls, brought groceries to a neighbor, put up prayer flags outside the sanctuary, sat in chairs at noon-time (yes, carefully spaced apart, and yes, carefully wiped down before and after!)  You’ve told me about crafting on Zoom, going to a “virtual” tea party/cocktail party/family dinner/you name it.  You’ve talked about play dates on Zoom and bike rides with kids and walking on forest paths. 

We’re figuring out new ways to be “together” in this new landscape we inhabit. I’m wondering what new ways this community will find, as time passes and we begin to adjust to this strange new reality as best we can. I’m wondering what new creativity will grow out of this community, what inspiration, what beauty, what goodness.  Because, yes, I do believe that will all be born out of this terrible time. I don’t know how and I don’t know when. But I have faith in you, in your heart, in your humanity, in your desire to love one another and to serve this beautiful and broken world.

How to be a “giver of light” in this dark time, how to be a gatherer of people when we are supposed to stay apart, how to model moral courage when we’re supposed to stay home.  I don’t know what will emerge but I trust new things will be born out of loss and fear and grief — a beacon, a lighted lantern.

In the morning, I like to start with coffee!  And some quiet time.  I sit in a favorite chair, book shelf nearby.  And recently, I’ve found myself turning to one book of poetry; it’s Garrison Keilor’s Good Poems for Hard Times. I think it came out after September 11th

I found this poem. It was sent to me in those raw days after September 11 by a parishioner who had clipped it out of the New Yorker, and mailed it to me. May it offer you a certain measure of solace now, as it did to me so many years ago.


“Try to Praise the Mutilated World”
by Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.


In faith,
Jenny Rankin

Message from Rev. Jenny and the Safe Congregations Task Force about COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Dear members and friends,

This week the Parish Committee formed the Safe Congregations Task Force to help plan and prepare as our community responds to the coronavirus. The members of the task force are Andy Clark, Jane O’Rourke, Ray Shepard, Jeani Welsh, Margit Griffith, and Jenny Rankin, with Deanna Laferriere and Sarah Andrysiak consulting.

We are in close consultation with Lincoln town officials, including Trisha McGean, Public Health Nurse, and Superintendent Becky McFall. You can read their respective letters to the Lincoln community here: http://www.lincolntown.org/1169/Coronavirus-Covid-19, and here: https://www.lincnet.org/covid19.

As we work together to keep our community strong, the Safe Congregations Task Force have made the following recommendations, which the Parish Committee voted to approve on Wednesday, March 11:

  • We will not hold “in-person” worship on March 15, 22, and 29. Staff are working to offer a “live stream worship” option on these Sunday mornings. We will re-evaluate after 3 weeks.
  • The Parish House and Sanctuary/Stearns Room will be closed until April 1 for the safety of our community and staff. Staff will work remotely from home.
  • Other classes, workshops, committee meetings, and small group ministry will meet off-site or online at the discretion of their leaders.

We ask for your help in following these recommendations, as we all do our part in working to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our vulnerable friends and members.

However, at First Parish we are concerned with both the physical and emotional safety of our congregation and community. This is an opportunity for us to get creative in thinking of how we can care for one another, connect with one another, and serve the wider world. Being mindful of this we offer the following information and guidance at this time:

  • FPL Phone Tree: We are creating a phone tree for our First Parish community. If you would like to volunteer to make calls, please email the Care Committee at fplcares@fplincoln.org.
  • Deacons Check-In: As part of their mission to provide spiritual care for the community, the deacons are setting up a way they can be a “listening ear” for you during this time of uncertainty and anxiety. They are still working out the details, but they aim to create a phone line which you may call during certain hours to speak to a deacon. You may also email them at deacons@fplincoln.org
  • Social Media: We encourage everyone to stay connected by following the church Facebook page and Instagram account. These are both useful tools to share announcements and encouraging words.

Be watching for more updates on our website; you will find a link to our latest messages on the homepage. We encourage everyone to be in communication with other members of the community (friends, small groups), and with church leadership.

I (Jenny) need to tell you that I am so heartened and appreciative of the hard work of our staff this week, and the collaboration and partnership of the Deacons and Parish Committee as we worked together to get to this point.

I’m also so appreciative of the close bonds that exist within this community.  I know these are not easy times, but if we reach out and stay connected to one another, I am confident we will join together to help buoy this community through these turbulent waters.

In faith,
Rev. Jenny M. Rankin, Interim Minister 

and 

Safe Congregations Taskforce
Ray Shepard, Jeani Welsh, Jane O’Rourke, Andy Clark, Margit Griffith, Jenny Rankin

Safe Congregations Task Force appointed to address COVID-19

March 11, 2020

Dear friends,

As news continues to evolve on the COVID19 situation, I wanted you to know I’ll be meeting tonight with the Safe Congregations Task Force, appointed by the Parish Committee, to consider next steps.

In addition to decisions on holding worship and other gatherings, we’ll be considering how we can best be a community during a time of uncertainty when we may not always be able to physically gather together. To that end, we are collecting the names of those who would like to make “check in” phone calls to some of our members; please email Kathy Huber or Kim Buell of the Care Committee if you would like to help with that effort: fplcares@fplincoln.org.

We’ll also be considering how best we can serve our wider community during this time and are in active consultation with local schools, health officieals and town departments.

As always, I’d love to know how you and your family are doing. Please email me at: jenny@fplincoln.org.

In faith,

Jenny

Support during COVID-19 concerns

March 5, 2020

Dear Friends,

As we continue to monitor news on the coronavirus, I wanted you to know I’m consulting with staff and lay leaders to consider how we can best support one another in our community as this changing situation evolves. I’m aware that some of you have family and friends in the most affected areas, as do I, and I know you join me in holding them in our hearts.

Common sense health advice is everywhere; as one of you expressed it to me, “Keep calm, and wash your hands.” Gratitude to Gert and Margit for finding hand sanitizer for us; you will find it at the back of the sanctuary, in the Stearns Room, and in all the RE classrooms and public areas of the Parish House.

As always, my door is open, and I’d love to hear from you. Email me at jenny@fplincoln.org. I’m particularly mindful of those who cannot always physically join us on Sunday and ways we can be reaching out by phone. Let me know if you’d like to be part of that effort. 

In faith,
Jenny

Personnel Announcement

Dear First Parish Community:

It is with mixed feelings that we share the news with you that Ms. Gert McDermott will be ending her many years of service to our church in June of this year.

Over the past twenty-three years, there are few parishioners who have not been touched by Gert’s extraordinary administrative skill. As Parish Administrator she has played a key role in the church’s finances, facilities, community engagement, and operations. Budget preparation, Generous Giving, the Lenten Booklet, facilities upkeep, scheduling, communications, Order of Service, special services, UCC/UUA relationships, First Parish history, and the numerous church committees and activities have all relied upon her wisdom, intellect and professionalism. Gert’s gifted ‘Institutional Memory’ has informed the work of our pastors, staff and volunteers who have relied heavily upon her advice in creating and implementing policies and programs. Often the first to receive a call from a family in need or someone with a proposal or a problem, Gert has played a central role in supporting the First Parish community and facilitating its mission. We are all grateful.

Gert will take the next several months to transition to a new phase in her life. She will work with the Personnel Committee to create a successful transition for her successor and the leadership of the Parish. Her competence and grace will be greatly missed and we are happy for her that she has so much to look forward to. There will be an official ‘Thank You’ event in the upcoming months to recognize her service and this transition, but please feel free to join us in thanking Gert for her extraordinary and numerous contributions to First Parish in Lincoln.

Nick Covino, Chair

for the Parish Committee

Rev. Jenny Rankin, Interim Minister

Minister’s Message: March 2020

Dear Friends,

The field was muddy this morning when I walked my dog. Given the non-winter we have had, I’m wondering what March will bring us. I always think of what Philip Simmons wrote about “mud season.” Simmons was a talented writer, a contributor to the UU World magazine, who died far too young of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Our town (in New Hampshire) is a rumpled bed of stone scoured clean by glaciers that withdrew only ten thousand years ago….after the melt, life took hold, and eventually trees, but a hundred centuries of death and resurrection have yielded only a meager soil, laid like a thin sponge over that unyielding granite bed. With the March thaw, that sponge sops full: streams gush, swamps rise, bogs flush, forest hollows fill with vernal pools.” “For several weeks, with snow still knee-deep in shadowed woods….we live in a between time, neither winter nor spring. …. It’s a time of neither here nor there, a non-season when, as T. S. Eliot wrote ‘between melting and freezing/the soul’s sap quivers…Mostly, it’s the season of mud.’”

I have been your interim minister for about a year and a half, the mid-point in these three years of interim ministry. So truly, we are in a “between time.” I thank you for your continued patience, engagement, and caring for this community even during a time of change.

Thank you for showing up on Sunday, at Food for Thought, at meditation, for the choir, leading Winter Workshops, on the Generous Giving committee or all of the myriad ways you say, with your time, your presence, your gifts, loud and clear “this community matters to me, and I want to help keep it strong for others who may one day walk through these doors, as I did.”

A little over a year ago, some of us gathered in the Stearns Room on an afternoon in February to share reactions to the YouTube video that Manish had published. On Sunday March 15th at 4 pm, we’ll gather in the Stearns Room; I’d like to hear your thoughts and feelings on where you are at with the video and all the discussions that have arisen from it.

Please drop me a line if you’d like to set up a time to talk, one on one. Email is a good way to reach me to set up (jenny@fplincoln.org).

Lent reminds me of the “pilgrimage” aspect of these journeys we share; I continue to enjoy walking this stretch of the pilgrim road with you.In faith,

Jenny Rankin

Minister’s Message: February 2020

Dear Friends,

It has been lovely to see the auditorium filled with life in the last weeks and months.

I think of the happy buzz and bustle of the Touch of Christmas Fair, the room thronged with familiar faces, visitors and children.

I think of the vibrant gathering at the Wednesday “Food for Thought” dinners each month, where the wider community is welcomed, delicious food is shared, and conversations often go deeper than maybe we expected.

I think of the 120 people who filled the room for a home-cooked lunch from local farms on Climate Sunday, thoughtful reflections and workshops that followed.

And finally, last week, the 60 plus people who gathered on a wintry dark January night to dig deeper into the “Spirituality Snapshot Survey” which you all faithfully filled out this fall.

Over 190 people returned the survey, an astounding example of participation in itself. On top of that, there were more than 600 written comments that you contributed. I am so appreciative of this kind of deep engagement. And then, to show up on a cold winter’s night to talk more about it! It gives an indication of the deep interest in matters spiritual which abides here in this community.

For me, as your interim minister, this is a sign of vitality and health which is good to see. Heartening to see. Thank you for filling out the survey. For showing up to talk about it. For coming on Sunday morning, for turning out for programs like “Sip, Talk, Learn” or “Spirituality Autobiography” or “Climate Sunday.”

I’ll be meeting with staff members to discuss how some questions and themes that emerged from the Spirituality Survey may spark sermons or workshops or classes here (“what is prayer?” What different meaning do words like God, Jesus, or truth hold for each of us? When I say “spirit of Jesus” in the covenant, what does that mean to me, and is it different from what it means to you?”)

If you have ideas for classes you’d like to see or sermons you’d like to hear, write to me (jenny@fplincoln.org) and let me know. No promises! But I’m always glad to hear what is on your mind. We want the programs here to reflect your interests and passions and what you think might be a gift and a service to the wider community of Lincoln.

In Faith,

Jenny Rankin

Minister’s Message: January 2020

Dear Friends,

There are all sorts of reasons we set out on the road.

It may be a choice we make, an inward call that comes to us, prompting us to set out on a journey, take a new direction, switch course.

It may be a star in the sky that beckons to us—as in the story of ancient travelers scanning the skies and finding a new star that surprised them. An inspiration which calls us to take to the road.

Sometimes, we are dragged forth, kicking and screaming, the way Toni Morrison describes she was dragged when she had the first inkling of a new book waiting inside her to be born. She didn’t want to write Beloved, didn’t want to enter the painful territory of slavery in the United States. But it was almost as if she had no choice.

C.S. Lewis describes a similar experience when he recounts his conversion from atheist to Christian, describing a reluctance so powerful that “being dragged kicking and screaming” would just about cover it.

There are all sorts of reasons we set out on the road. It takes courage to follow an inward call, welcome or not. It takes vision to find a new star, or idea, or life direction, where none has been before.

Thankfully, we acknowledge that we do not travel alone. We walk with one another, with the spirit of those who have come before us in this place, and with a Spirit of Love or Presence that some name as God and others choose to give no name, bowing in silence to the mystery of the ineffable.

Wherever Life finds you, as we walk into the new year together, I am grateful to have your company for this stretch of the pilgrim road we walk together.In faith,

Jenny Rankin

Minister’s Message: December 2019

Dear Friends,

It is two days before Thanksgiving and already, my laptop screen is peppered with “Early Black Friday” deals popping up here and there.  I click on a few, I admit it.  Soon, I’m drawn into comparing this or that gizmo, things I hadn’t even realized existed, many of them, never mind contemplating purchasing one.  I sift through “Holiday Guides for 2019” and start making lists.

I take a deep breath, shut down all the different open windows, and set the tablet aside.  Time to take a step away.

The season of Advent begins on Sunday, December 1.  Like the High Holy Days of the Jewish tradition that come in the fall, these days before Christmas are a time to take a “step back” at least here and there, now and then.  As the pace of the “outer world” escalates with events, shopping, parties, demands, it’s a season to try and have the discipline or self-composure to make space for some “inward time.”  Time for silence.  Time for thinking.  Writing. Music. Prayer.  However, it is that you “center down” as the Quakers say and begin to refind yourself a little in all that swirls around you.  What helps bring you back to, well, “you,” and some divine or holy other?

From the time I was a little girl and loved opening the Advent calendar and making Christmas crafts in our “Santa’s work room,” I’ve always loved Advent.  To me, it’s an invitation.  To make a little space for the sacred in our lives.  Dedicate a tiny slice of the day to letting my spirit or soul or whatever word I can find to describe the deepest place inside of me, to let that try to breathe, to stretch and move around a little, or sometimes, simply to rest.

Advent is the four weeks before Christmas.  A gift of time when we are invited to consider the life of the spirit in new ways. I look forward to seeing you at the Fair, at the Advent workshop on Dec 14th and on all the Sundays when we light the Advent wreath, sing the traditional songs of this Advent season, and let Advent wisdom light the way.In faith,

Jenny Rankin

Minister’s Message: November 2019

Dear Friends,

As twilight comes earlier and the trees glow with red and gold against these rainy days, my thoughts turn to All Saints and All Souls and this time of the year when the ancient Celts believed that the veil between the spiritual and the physical world grew very thin. John O’Donahue talks about growing up on the west coast of Ireland and the barren limestone landscape of the Burren. It was a magical, enchanted place he said, and he had a sense of the sacred as always intertwined with his physical everyday life. The holy was not something far away but immanent. Touchable. Real.

I love this time of year even though I know the days are growing shorter. It encourages me to learn from Scandinavian traditions which elevate the “cozy” (Meredith and Margit will be giving a workshop on this, stay tuned!), to light candles in the kitchen, and pick up my crochet hook or needle for cozy craft projects that are good indoors on a chilly night, and gather together with friends and family.

At church, we honor our ancestors at this time of year, All Saints and All Souls and remember that in our Universalist tradition, every soul was cherished by a God who was neither punitive nor judging but the embodiment of Love beyond love.

This fall, I’ve enjoyed digging into your “roots.” We’ve explored your earliest origins as well as the UCC and UUA traditions out of which this congregation was born in 1942. Soon, we’ll move on to conversations about your spiritual identity (individual and collective), core values and where you want to go next. There will be a “spiritual identity survey” you can take (on paper or online).

Next spring, when you elect a search committee, they will take all this good work you are doing and show it to ministerial candidates who will be delighted, let me assure you, to see how intentional and reflective you have been about articulating your identity, mission and purpose. In order for them to consider moving here and settling down, they really want to dig in to who you are, what you care about, what you hold most dear, what troubles you, what gets your energy stirring. They will be attracted to a congregation with vitality, one that is not sitting around “waiting for a new minister” but active and engaged in the world, and inviting others to join them in this revitalizing, world-building work.

As always, I hope you’ll drop me a line to let me know what’s on your mind. Invite me to your place or come and see me here at the office!

In faith,

Jenny Rankin