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

Minister’s Message: October 2019

Dear Friends,

The beauty of another autumn is upon us and its been good to see many of you gathering back in Sunday School and worship on Sundays.  

Often, during the time between settled ministers, congregations pause to ask themselves some questions.  Questions like:  who are we today? Where are we headed?  Who do we want to call as a minister to help us get there?

Ministerial candidates will be deeply interested in the work you do this year on identity, mission and vision. They’ll have lots of questions for your search committee on these topics and will be interested in knowing how many individuals were involved in coming up with “the answers!”  They will hope it represents a wide swath of the congregation not just a few people on the search committee.  The Transition Team will be offering you opportunities to engage in these discussions and do this work this year.

As I’ve said to you before, and you have said to me, a church at any one point in time, is the people who are gathered there at that particular moment in time.  Yet sometimes, in order to reflect more deeply on “who we are today” it can be helpful for a congregation to go back and consider its roots.  What is the story of its founding?  How did you come to be in the world?  Were there any core values there at the beginning which are still part of your DNA today?  Is there a way that your location in this particular place, the largely agrarian town of Lincoln, has influenced your identity over time?

In order to understand these roots, I’ll be doing a three part sermon series on Unitarian Universalism this fall (Sept 22, October 20 and November 17).  On Sept 29th, Rev. Wendy VanderHart preached on the UCC tradition.  We’re also planning a special service to honor who you are TODAY for November 3rd.  We hope to lift up the story of the merger in 1942 as well as have several lay people speaking who represent the wide spectrum of theological and spiritual diversity of the present-day congregation.

As always, I welcome your phone calls, emails and visits in my office.  I invite you to set up an appointment; there does not need to be any special reason!  I enjoy chatting with you in my office.  I am in the office Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I write my sermon in the library on Friday, Monday is my day off. Please email me at jenny@fplincoln.org to set up an appointment. 

Jenny Rankin

Minister’s Message: September 2019

Dear Friends,
The sunflowers have grown tall in my garden, the sky is a deeper blue, and a hurricane is making its way towards landfall in Florida—it must be September once again! I’ve walked many different paths since last we met, and I imagine you have as well. I’m eager to see you again when we gather in church this coming Sunday September 8th for our Ingathering Sunday!

This fall, we welcome two new staff members to our team at First Parish in Lincoln and I know you’ll join me in extending them a warm welcome.

One is a brand-new staff position, created by the Parish Committee in order to fulfill the recommendations of the Shared Ministry Review. I remember reading the SMR when I arrived a year ago and being so impressed with this good, thorough piece of work. You took a long hard look at yourselves and made some recommendations. This new job is one of the results.

The job title is Community Engagement/Adult Programming Coordinator. We welcome Sarah Klockowski, a new graduate of Union Theological School in NYC.

We also welcome Meredith Jeremiah as our student minister; she graduates from Harvard Divinity School next spring and will be with us half-time this year.

Last year, as I was getting to know you, I heard many stories and perspectives about your experiences here; we tried to do some frank and open talking and listening and we tried to do some healing. This year, we’ll be looking to the future as you articulate your identity (who you are now) and vision (where you want to go from here). This will be important for candidates to hear when they consider serving as your next settled minister.

I love to meet with you in my office or your home so get in touch! The best way to reach me is probably email: jenny@fplincoln.org. It is good to be back and I’m excited to be serving alongside you again this year!

Jenny

Minister’s Message: June 2019

Dear Friends:

It is hard to believe I am writing the last newsletter column of the year! I want to thank you for welcoming me this year and being willing to engage, even a little, in the reflective work of intentional interim ministry. It is not always easy to take a look at ourselves! As individuals in our own private lives or as a community. But we try to do this in an effort to grow and change and become better people and communities.

I see you showing up for one another and for this community you love. I see you actively engaged in the work of trying to repair hurts, establish open lines of dialogue (even on “touchy” topics), share your different “spiritual languages” with one another, seek to understand the roots and history of the community as well as begin to dream about possibilities, yet unseen, that may lie in your future.

This year, you have made progress in beginning to implement the terrific work of the Shared Ministry Review (SMR): you formed a Personnel Committee, a Governance Task Force, an Adult Programs Committee, and brought in an outside consulting group to help you learn how to better engage in difficult dialogues. Next year, I know you will continue to make strides in making the SMR a reality, especially in its recommendations around membership.

You only have to look at the Pew Research Center’s data on religious life in America to know that First Parish in Lincoln is far from alone in confronting shrinking membership on Sundays. (see https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/). Interestingly, many people who do NOT attend church say it is for practical reasons, not for lack of faith (https://www.pewforum.org/2018/08/01/why-americans-go-to-religious-services/).

No doubt about it, it’s a challenging time for the “institutional church;” I am no seer but I’d guess that communities that can be agile, creative and entrepreneurial as they reimagine themselves and their mission will have a better chance of survival than those less adaptive to our changing culture.

This summer, I will be leading a retreat on Iona, walking St. Cuthbert’s Way in southern Scotland, returning to the Outer Hebrides and enjoying family time in Rhode Island. Rev. John Nichols will be on call for pastoral emergencies June 14-July 14. I will be on call July 14 to August 14 and back from vacation on August 15th.

I will be eager to hear where your feet take you in the months to come and eager to resume our work together in the fall!

All best wishes,

Jenny