In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In June we ponder what it means to be a people of blessing. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the lives we wish we would. Blessing is about, and this is our message for the month, Blessing is about the help we need, to do what needs to be done for love.

What Does It Mean to Be A People of Blessing?

A friend once shared, “I guess after plan A fails, I need to remember there's still a whole alphabet out there.” It’s not just our friend who needs help remembering that there’s a whole alphabet out there; it’s all of us. 

We all get stuck in wanting things a certain way. We all, at times, focus so intently on the few things going wrong that we completely miss the dozens of things going right. Tunnel vision too often takes over our days. For Unitarian Universalists, this is the central tragedy of the human condition. We respect those who frame the human problem as sin or twisted wills, but it’s nearsightedness that our religion is most worried about. 

Which is also why blessings are so central to our faith. They are, for us, a way of widening our view. Unlike some of our brother and sister religions, we don’t say a lot of blessings. Instead we point to them. For us, blessings are not something we give to each other as much as they involve us helping each other notice all that’s already been given to us. 

And it’s not just about widening our view to see the gifts themselves; it’s about widening our understanding of life. Pointing to blessings repairs our relationship with life, allowing us to see it as generous not threatening, full of grace-filled surprises not dominated by a cold indifference. And there’s a lot at stake when it comes to this wider view. 

When the world seems stingy to us, we are stingy to others. Those who feel blessed have little trouble passing blessings on. Our tradition takes this calculus seriously. As UU minister, Rev. Don Wheat, puts it, “The religious person is a grateful person, and the grateful person is the generous person.” 

By noticing our blessings, we become a blessing. So, this month the question in front of all of us is not simply “Do you notice the blessings surrounding you?” It’s also, “How are the blessings in your life leading you to bless others?” That “whole alphabet” out there doesn’t just happen on its own; we add to it. Blessings don’t just fill us up; they cause us to overflow. Life spills into us and we spill into others. In other words, blessings don’t just enrich us; they connect us. And maybe that is the greatest blessing of all.

Dear friends as I leave you at the end of June, I take with me your blessing. Thank you for being a blessing to me.

See you in my memories!

Reverend Terry Sweetser

June 3, 2018

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In May we ponder what it means to be a people of creativity. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the lives we wish we could. Creativity is about, and this is our message for the month, creativity is about dreaming into reality what needs to be done for love.

Creativity is our ability to dream things up and make them happen. — Peggy Taylor

We’re all familiar with that part in the quote about dreaming. Conjuring up new ideas and images is what creativity is all about. Using the building blocks of “what is,” we -almost magically- make the “not yet” appear in our minds. But what about that other part? The part about “making them happen.” 

When we talk about creativity, that half of the equation often gets short shrift. We celebrate the fun piece about dreaming and leave off the hard piece of making our imaginings real. And it’s not just the hard part; it’s the scary part too. You have to be brave to try new things and fail. Being creative and unique can cause the crowd to cheer and swoon; it can also lead to being laughed at and excluded from the group. 

Yes, there is joy, beauty and play in creativity, but there is also insecurity, loneliness and self-doubt. Which means that this month is not just about imagination, artistry and self-expression, but also courage. Once that’s in view, it’s clear that we also need to talk about “co-creativity” this month as well.

Something as daring as creativity is dangerous if we try to do it alone. Indeed, where did we get the silly idea that artists and inventors are isolated, independent geniuses? When it comes to myths about creativity, that one tops the list. We need to remind each other that there is no such thing as a “person of creativity,” only “people of creativity.” 

The Bible talks of the Holy Spirit appearing when “two or more are gathered.” The same rule applies to the creative spirit! For instance, new ideas come from the clash of debate. New art emerges only after inspiration from those who’ve gone before. Better forms of community are built on the back of those who have toiled and sacrificed long before we put ourselves on the line. 

Simply put, there are no creators without companions. It’s all a way of reminding us that the secret to creative self-expression is staying connected to each other. Those sacred sources of inspiration inside us – our imagination, unique voice and inner muses – are like wild animals; they are hungry to run free but are also shy and easily scared away. 

They want to come out and play but will only do so when coaxed and cared for by the inspiration and support of others. So, in the end, maybe the most important question this month is not just “What do you want to create?” but also “Who are your partners?” With gratitude for all our sources of creativity – those within us and those all around us – let us begin.


Word Roots: Creativity comes from the Latin term creō: to create, make. Synonyms include: inventiveness, imagination, innovation, innovativeness, originality, individuality; artistry, inspiration, vision; enterprise, initiative, resourcefulness

Wise Words: 

Creativity is intelligence having fun.  George Scialabba

All the arts we practice are apprenticeship. The big art is our life.  M.C. Richards

Remember that you are an artist, regardless of how constantly the world will try to drive it out of you or how a "real job" will try to bury the part of you. Whether it's with food, or building robots, you will know your medium the instant you realize how in love you are with what it brings out of you.  Shane Koyczan

I invented this rule for myself to be applied to every decision I might have to make in the future. I would sort out all the arguments and see which belonged to fear and which to creativeness, and other things being equal I would make the decision which had the larger number of creative reasons on its side. I think it must be a rule something like this that makes jonquils and crocuses come pushing through cold mud.  Katharine Butler Hathaway

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.  Mary Oliver

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.  The Gospel of Thomas

If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.  Shane Koyczan

If we don't find a way to transform our pain, we will always transmit it to those around us or turn it against ourselves… If your religion is not teaching you how to recognize, hold, and transform suffering, it is junk religion.  Fr. Richard Rohr

Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.  Pablo Picasso

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.  Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The war of an artist with [their] society is a lover’s war, and [they] do, at [their] best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to [themselves] and, with that revelation, to make freedom real.  James Baldwin

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.  Maya Angelou


In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In March we ponder what it means to be a people of balance We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Balance is about, and this is my message for the month, Balance is about the invitation to do what needs to be done for love.

When we talk of balance, it’s natural for calm and rest to be the first things that come to mind. There’s no getting around it: many of us are tired. We’re overworked, over-busy, over-committed. Striving and stress have become the badges we wear to prove that we are of worth. We are often so weighed down by responsibility and worry that it only takes one drop of something unexpected to tip us over. So, yes, we long for rest. Yes, we want less to manage and juggle. Yes, we need balance’s reminder that a place of calm and peace is possible.

And yet, pointing us to peace and calm is not all that balance is about. Remembering this is at the center of this month’s work. Indeed, there is no better month than March to help us embrace balance’s many meanings.

For instance, take the religious holidays in March. Lent reminds us that balance is a place of  reassessment, renewal, preparation, and even repentance. It honors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry and the path to the cross. The balance he sought in the desert was not that of restful escape, but that restorative re-centering. Balance got him ready, rather than simply offering him relief. Passover also puts its own spin on balance. It is a time to retell the story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt after centuries of slavery. For it, balance is a matter of remembering, of pausing to put yourself back into a story that connects you with others and anchors you in a counter-cultural narrative. During Passover, the balance one finds is not that of calm but that of reconnection. There’s also Ostara, the Pagan celebration of the Vernal Equinox. It honors the balance of day and night, but more importantly it celebrates the way this balance is a tipping point on the way to Spring. It’s a reminder that stillpoints are rarely still. They are a place of turning, a space where shifts happen and new life emerges. And finally the Hindu holiday of Holi also needs held up, with its ritual of restoring one’s belief in the power of good over evil. It’s a reminder that balance and calm isn’t just found by taking a break from life, but by trusting in its goodness once again.

March is also the month in which we honor many people who gave their lives to the cause of justice. The list is large:

The Selma–Montgomery March happened March 21-25, 1965
James Reeb was murdered on March 11, 1965
Viola Liuzzo was murdered on March 25, 1965
March is Women’s history month with its call to remember the long history and continuing work for Women’s equality.
Susan B. Anthony's death was March 13
Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed on March 24, 1980

These anniversaries remind us that being a “people of balance” is often the opposite of keeping things calm. In order to move toward a balance of justice, we have to upset the current state of things. Oppressive systems need to be challenged and toppled. We need to sacrifice our calm and comfort, and instead “go all in.” Achieving a balance of equality requires us to be purposefully off-balance with our culture, or as Martin Luther King Jr. said, we need people who are “maladjusted.” Being out of sync with “the way things are” is the first step toward a better balance for all.

Add all this up and suddenly “balance” takes on a new meaning. Actually, it takes on many new meanings. The observances of March remind us that balance is not simply a destination, but also a place of invitation. It’s not a static space of peace, as much as a stillpoint on which we pivot and turn to something new. It’s not just about rest, but about resting up for a journey. Yes, balance allows us to catch our breath, but it’s also about finding our center so we can end all our aimless wandering around. It’s fine to think of balance by imagining the Buddha sitting peacefully under a tree, but we can’t let that overshadow the image of a diver balancing way up there on her diving board, pausing to re-gain her composure and courage so she can leap and go “all in.”

Another way to put all this is to ask, “What is your balance for?” Maybe instead of asking each other, “Have you found balance?” we need to ask “Where is your balance taking you?” Yes, balance sometimes can be an end in itself, but this month and its observances remind us that more often balance is a means to a greater end. In other words, maybe balance isn’t the prize but the springboard. Maybe balance isn’t the goal, but the source of strength that gets us where we need to go.

Which means that our most important questions this month might actually be, “Do you know where you’re trying to get to?” and “Which kind of balance will help you along your way?”

See you at worship, Sundays at 10:30!

Reverend Terry Sweetser
UUSWH Interim Senior Minister


Word Roots

From Latin bi (two) and lanx (plate or dish) to balance scales, both sides being equal. Add to this the idea of a still point from stille (at rest) and peuk (which includes the idea to mend).

Wise Words

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
E.B. White

There is peaceful
There is wild
I am both at the same time
Nayyirah Waheed

To do two things at once is to do neither.
Publilius Syrus

All of a person’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room.
Blaise Pascal

Work, love and play are the great balance wheels of our being.
Orison Swett Marden

The key to keeping your balance is knowing where you lost it.

Letting go helps us to live in a more peaceful state of mind and helps restore our balance. It allows others to be responsible for themselves and for us to take our hands off situations that do not belong to us.
Melody Bettie

I am trying to remember you
let you go
at the same time.
Nayyirah Waheed

I try to take only as much as I can give.

Balance is not better time-management, but better boundary-management.
Betsy Jacobson

Busy people have goals; productive people have priorities.

Wrap your summer fingers around her wintered soul.
Sub Rosa

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was often times filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Khalil Gibran

The spiritual life is, in part, about seeing our lives as an invitation to the best party in town. Our challenge is to stay awake to that, to continually pull ourselves back from the mindset that our days are simply a series of challenges and responsibilities. It’s all about balance. We are called to look around and see all that must be done.  We are also called to look around and see all that has been given.
Rev. Scott Tayler

It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days… Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me… to throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling.
Aldous Huxley

When I was little my mother put me in several ballet classes in hopes to bring some grace to my stumbling gait. I grew up walking on eggshells, wobbling to keep my balance on a tightrope that never really ended.  My instructor pinched my thighs and shook her bony finger at me every tuesday and thursday for three and a half years. 4 am, I'm still tiptoeing around the creaks in the stairs as if anyone would notice an empty bed. This Christmas I came across the broken remnants of the ballerina ornaments my younger sister used to play with. I never did master the delicate posture I was expected to adopt. My feet fell a bit too heavy, I suppose, on the ice tonight. I'm not cold anymore, just exhausted from attempting to balance the wrong things for too long.
Rebecca Suzanne

Speak the truth, but not to punish.
Thich Nhat Hanh

[Thich Nhat Hanh] looked at me in a quiet, piercing way that stopped my breath, and said slowly: “Speak the truth, but not to punish”… Understanding this koan is a work in progress for me but the more I ponder it, the more it seems to be about balance, speaking up against injustice with courage and passion but with greater awareness of the dangers in becoming overly adversarial and treating those who disagree as foes... We must be willing to stand in the shoes of others if we are to debate controversial issues with equanimity and avoid gridlock… Thich Nhat Hanh’s koan brought me back to his advice to hold our anger with an energy of mindfulness, like the sun shining upon a flower, penetrating deeply until the petals open. Anger can give us the mettle to speak with courage and conviction, but also the venom that blinds us to the views of others.
James Hoggan

Nothing Forced Works
Kay Ryan
Nothing forced works.
The Gordian knot just worsens
if it’s jerked at by a person.
One of the main stations
of the cross is patience.
Another, of course, is impatience.
There is such a thing as
too much tolerance
for unpleasant situations,
a time when the gentle
teasing out of threads
ceases to be pleasing
to a woman born for conquest.
Instead she must assault
the knot or alp or everest
with something sharp
and take upon herself
the moral warp of sudden progress.

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.
Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

One of the truths we know is that we live in an enchanted universe. The up-there and down-here mingle, the earthly and the heavenly mirror each other. We have no choice but to continue to redeem the world, to save the world from our own selves. We are, ironically, the cause of the breaking and just might be the channel of healing. To make the world whole, we ourselves have to become healed, become whole. Our well-being and the world being well are linked together.  To tend to our own inner lives is not selfishness; it is wisdom, it is essential [for the sake of the world].
Omid Safi

Dark and Light, Light and Dark
Jacqui James
“We shape language and we are shaped by it. In our culture, white is esteemed. It is heavenly, sun-like, clean, pure, immaculate, innocent, and beautiful. At the same time, black is evil, wicked, gloomy, depressing, angry, sullen. Ascribing negative and positive values to black and white enhances the institutionalization of this culture's racism.

Let us acknowledge the negative connotations of whiteness. White things can be soft, vulnerable, pallid, and ashen. Light can be blinding, bleaching, enervating. Conversely, we must acknowledge that darkness has a redemptive character, that in darkness there is power and beauty. The dark nurtured and protected us before our birth...

The words black and dark don't need to be destroyed or ignored, only balanced and reclaimed in their wholeness. The words white and light don't need to be destroyed or ignored, only balanced and reclaimed in their wholeness. Imagine a world that had only light—or dark. We need both. Dark and light. Light and dark.”

I Remember Galileo
Gerald Stern
I remember Galileo describing the mind
as a piece of paper blown around by the wind,..
but yesterday I saw the mind was a squirrel caught crossing
Route 80 between the wheels of a giant truck,
dancing back and forth like a thin leaf,..
It was the speed of the squirrel and his lowness to the ground,
his great purpose and the alertness of his dancing,
that showed me the difference between him and paper…
Paper will do in theory, when there is time
to sit back in a metal chair and study shadows;
but for this life I need a squirrel,...

Denel Kessler
Beyond the thoughts
that keep us bound
we will fly
though it be fleeting

we savor
the height
while craving
the ground below
it takes both
to make
a soul

An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.
Charles Bukowski

Charles Barnett 
It's always been like this.
The intellectual and the artist
ripping each other to shreds in my head
like wolves in winter, so desperate to eat.

James Broughton
It's all in your head, the first man said.
It's all in your heart, said another.
It's all in your stars, said the man with scars.It's all in your guts, said his brother.
It's all in your soul, said the man who was slow.
It's all in your balls, said the fast one.
It's all in your things, said the fellow with rings.
It's in no thing at all, said the last one.

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.
Thích Nhất Hạnh

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Equanimity doesn't mean keeping things even; it is the capacity to return to balance in the midst of an alert, responsive life. I don't want to be constantly calm. The cultural context I grew up in and the relational life I live in both call for passionate, engaged response. I laugh and I cry and I'm glad that I do. What I value is the capacity to be balanced between times.
Sylvia Boorstein, from Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

Repair your universe.

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In February we celebrate what it means to be a people of perseverance. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Perseverance is about, and this is my message for the month, Perseverance is about holding on and jumping in to do what needs to be done for love.

What Does It Mean To Be A People of Perseverance?

“People cry not because they are weak. It’s because they’ve been strong too long.” - Shane Koyczan

"I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant… So let's remember the advice of music: Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.” - Michael Moore

So, have you been strong too long? It’s not the usual question when tackling the topic of perseverance. Most often, we’re asked, “Are you ready to be strong?” The standard recipe is well known: Buck up! Grin and bear it! Keep pushing! Keep moving forward! Dig deep; you are stronger than you know!

But maybe Koyczan is right. Maybe this typical roadmap isn’t the path to perseverance; maybe it’s just the path to breakdown. And when we combine Koyczan’s quote with Moore’s invitation to breath, we suddenly see that balance plays a bigger role in perseverance than we often assume.

As a people of perseverance, we are being called not just to grit and strong wills, but to gentleness and self-care. Constantly pushing ourselves without also giving ourselves the gift of pause gets us nowhere. Digging deeper without making time to deepen and fill our wells is a recipe for self-inflicted pain.

All of which is to say that maybe vulnerability is the real secret to perseverance. Maybe admitting you’re tired and asking for help is the real strength that gets us through.

That dominant myth of Sisyphus pushing his rock up that endless hill hasn’t done us any favors. We assume that Sisyphus is suffering because his work is endless, but maybe it’s his isolation and lack of a place to rest that is his true torment.

So, friends, this month, let’s not torment ourselves. We don’t have to give up those pep talks about digging deep and being stronger than we know. But right alongside that, let’s make sure we’re also doing the more tender work of propping each other up and reminding each other to breathe.

Rabbi David Wolf tells a story that we all should carry with us this month: A boy and his father were walking along a road when they came across a large stone. “Do you think if I use all of my strength, I can move this rock?” the child asked. His father answered, “If you use all of your strength, I am sure you can do it.” The boy began to push the rock. Exerting himself as much as he could, he pushed and pushed. The rock did not move. Discouraged, he said to his father, “You were wrong. I can’t do it.” His father put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said, “No son. You didn’t use all your strength – you didn’t ask me to help.”

What a gift to remember that perseverance isn’t a solo act. May that be the gift this month gives us all.

Companion Pieces and Resources for Personal Exploration & Reflection to help get your thinking started, and open you to new ways of thinking about what it means to be part of a people of Perseverance:

Word Roots While perseverance literally comes from Latin per (thoroughly) + severus (severe), we could also turn to sustain, from the Latin roots sub (up from below) + tenere (to hold) or persist per (thoroughly) + sistere (to stand).

Wise Words

To sustain a stay in a dry and barren desert, it is necessary to be about something great enough to be worth a lifetime of unrewarded effort. There are simply some divine cravings in life—the liberation of the poor, the equality of women, the humanity of the entire human race—that are worth striving for, living for, dying for, finished or unfinished, for as long as it takes to achieve them.

No single capital campaign will do the trick. No one speech will change the climate. No single law will undo eons of damage. It will take a million lives dedicated to the long haul and heaped on top of one another. That’s why the Zen saying “O snail, climb Mount Fuji, but slowly, slowly,” is so important.

If we are to persevere for the long haul, we must not overdrive our souls. We must immerse ourselves in good music, good reading, great beauty and peace so that everything good in us can rise again and lead us on beyond disappointment, beyond boredom, beyond criticism, beyond loss. Then life has vision again; then going on seems both possible and necessary. - Joan Chittister

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended. - Nelson Mandela

Success is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired. - Robert Strauss

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. - The Dalai Lama

She stood in the storm, & when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails. - Elizabeth Edwards

The universe always falls in love with a stubborn heart. - Anon

Big shots are only little shots who kept shooting. - Christopher Morley

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places. - Unknown

Still I Rise Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise…

Maya Angelou turned forty on April 4, 1968. She had planned a big party in Harlem, with many of the day’s black intellectual elite among the guests. History had other ideas; Dr. King’s assassination sent Angelou into a weeks-long depression. It was fellow writer James Baldwin who helped her dig out of it. Angelou recalls Baldwin’s assistance in her book A Song Flung Up to Heaven, where she writes that laughter and ancestral guidance got her through:

“There was very little serious conversation. The times were so solemn and the daily news so somber that we snatched mirth from unlikely places and gave servings of it to one another with both hands... I told Jimmy I was so glad to laugh. Jimmy said, “We survived slavery. . . . You know how we survived? We put surviving into our poems and into our songs. We put it into our folk tales. We danced surviving in Congo Square in New Orleans and put it in our pots when we cooked pinto beans."

 . . . [W]e knew, if we wanted to survive, we had better lift our own spirits. So we laughed whenever we got the chance.” - Kenny Wiley, from Nights Can Be Tough

“Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream, a child lost before their time. Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, a chasm to be carefully looked for and then walked around; the hope is to find a way to place our feet where the elemental forces of life will keep us in the manner to which we want to be accustomed and which will keep us from the losses that all other human beings have experienced without exception since the beginning of conscious time. But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way... If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and even perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, to see it as its own reward. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is a deeper introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something or someone who has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the last letting go.” - David Whyte


More and more I have come to admire resilience. Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side, it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true. But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers, mitochondria, figs -- all this resinous, unretractable earth. -  Jane Hirshfield 

Long-Haul People Rev. Rudy Nemser, UU minister

You find them in churches when you’re lucky;
other places too, though I mostly only know ecclesiastical varieties.

Long haul people upon whose shoulders (and pocketbooks and casseroles and daylight/nighttime hours)a church is built and maintained after the brass is tarnished and cushions need re-stitching.

They pay their pledges full and on time even when the music’s modern;
support each canvass though the sermons aren’t always short;
mow lawns and come to suppers;
teach Sunday School when there’s no one else and they’ll miss the service.

Asked what they think of the minister, or plans for the kitchen renovation, or the choral anthem, or Christmas pageant, or color of the bathroom paint, they’ll reply: individuals and fashions arrive and pass.

 The church—their church—will be here, steady and hale.

 For a long, long time. It will. For long haul people bless a church with a very special blessing.

See you at worship, Sundays at 10:30!

Reverend Terry Sweetser
UUSWH Interim Senior Minister


In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In January, we celebrate what it means to be a people of intention. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Intention is about, and this is my message for the month, intention is about the centering it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done for love.

“Here’s what I discovered. Intention is different from setting goals or resolutions in that it “pulls us into” who we truly are. Goals and resolutions “push us out” into future possibilities. To set intentions, we listen to our inner voice which tells us who we truly are.” Katie Covey

So here we are again, in the month of January with its talk of daring resolutions and its demanding call to “become better.” It’s hard not to buy into it. After all, it seems so well-intended. I mean, who could argue with the goal of self-improvement? And so most of us gladly go along and declare “This is the year I’m going to finally be a better me!”

But are we sure this is what we really want? When you read that quote above about being “pulled in” rather than “pushed out,” what happens in your heart? Do you find yourself still excited about the New Year’s work of striving to become a brand new self? Or do you suddenly notice an internal whisper that says “I long to be pulled in more deeply to the self I already am”?

In other words, maybe our real New Year’s work is not about leaping into self-improvement, but about pausing, stepping back and asking “What hunger really has my heart?”

There is, after all, a big difference between becoming better and becoming ourselves. Self-improvement is not the same as self-alignment. Wanting to get from point A to point B is something quite different from longing to find your inner anchor. Goals and intentions may indeed be more distinct than we have thought.

So this month, maybe our most important work is to make room. All around us, there’s going to be plenty of busy talk about being “a people of goals and resolutions.” We are going to get more than enough advice about how to stay focused on a new future for ourselves. But in the midst of it all, may we, as a people of intention, also carve out a quieter place that keeps our attention closer to the present and who we already are at our center. May we make space for listening before we leap into the striving. And as we do that, maybe we will discover that this isn’t the year of “finally becoming a better me.” Maybe we’ll decide it’s enough to simply “finally be me.”

Here are some resources to help you to lean into intention:

Word Roots From Latin: intentus - to stretch out, lean toward.

In 17th Century English law: "state of mind with respect to intelligent volition."

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are you busy about? Henry David Thoreau

Those who have a why to live for can bear almost any how. Friedrich Nietzsche

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl

Your day is pretty much determined by how you spend your first hour. Anon

"i had every intention of telling you," he claims. "but it's already too late," i say. he replies with the ever so cliché line that is, "it's never too late." i'm not sorry that some things just are. C. Eley

Intention is the difference between those old mustard stains and Jackson Pollock. Anon

Those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it. Rick Warren

Any dead fish can go with the flow — you have to be intentionally alive to swim against the current. Ann Voskamp

Cat: Where are you going? Alice: Which way should I go? Cat: That depends on where you are going. Alice: I don’t know. Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Great minds have purpose, others have wishes. Washington Irving

In any given moment we have two options, to step forward in growth or to step back into safety. Abraham Maslow

Find a purpose to serve, not a lifestyle to live. Criss Jami

With goals, the future is always the focus: Are you going to reach the goal? Will you be happy when you do? What's next? Setting intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are "being" in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present "now" in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values… Goals help you make your place in the world and be an effective person. But being grounded in intention is what provides integrity and unity in your life.. What would it be like if you didn't measure the success of your life just by what you get and don't get, but gave equal or greater priority to how aligned you are with your deepest values? Phillip Moffitt, from The Heart’s Intention

"Sacred space” is another way of saying “with intention.” S. Kelley Harrell

The Intentional Act of Going to Church - Let me tell you why I come to church. I come to church—and would whether I was a preacher or not—because I fall below my own standards and need to be constantly brought back to them. I am afraid of becoming selfish and indulgent, and my church—my church of the free spirit—brings me back to what I want to be. I could easily despair; doubt and dismay could overwhelm me. My church renews my courage and my hope. It is not enough that I should think about the world and its problems at the level of a newspaper report or magazine discussion. It could too soon become too low a level. I must have my conscience sharpened— sharpened until it goads me to the most thorough and responsible thinking of which I am capable. I must feel again the love I owe to others. I must not only hear about it but feel it. In church, I do. I am brought toward my best, in every way toward my best. Rev. A. Powell Davies, Unitarian Minister

You too can be carved anew by the details of your devotion. Mary Oliver

Conscious change is brought about by the two qualities inherent in consciousness – intention and attention… Whatever you put your attention on will grow stronger in your life. Whatever you take your attention away from will wither, disintegrate and disappear. Deepak Chopra

I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard. William Lloyd Garrison

Gratitude is not an emotion that comes upon us without our control. It is not dependent on what happens to us, but on our intention. Like good posture, it is a practice, an attitude that is entirely our choice in every moment… A friend of mine told me once after a particularly lovely day she came home, sat in her easy chair and said out loud, “Thank You.” And she swears she heard a voice say out loud, “You're welcome.” Practice gratitude. For everything. For what you see out the window, for what you hear from your co-workers, say “Thank You.” When your kids walk in the room, when you take a breath, when your spouse tells you how to drive, when to stub your toe, say “Thank You.” Practice gratitude and eventually you will be able to hear the universe say, “You're welcome.” Steve Garnaas-Holmes

See you in worship,

Rev. Terry Sweetser
Interim Senior Minister

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In December we celebrate what it means to be a people of hope. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Hope is about, and this is my message for the month,  hope is about the impatience it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done for love.

Faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in [all of us]. Those who hope...can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. [True hope] means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”
Jürgen Moltmann, Theologian

It’s not always easy to hear well this time of year, especially when it comes to hope. The dominant messages are about hope offering us calm: “The light will come.” “A new day is on its way.” “Justice and joy are growing in the womb and will soon be born.” Hope, from this point of view, is a voice that reassures. It’s a welcomed whisper that says, “Yes, the sky may be dark now. Yes, the road you’re on at this moment may be hard. But trust me, just over that horizon, there’s a new world waiting for us all.”

This soothing message comes to us as a gift. During dark days, we all get tired. The fruits of our efforts are hard to see. We feel alone. The promise that things will change offers us relief. We are released from the burden of believing that “it is all up to me” or that it all must be solved now.

It’s a beautiful and needed message. But, as Moltmann and others remind us, it’s also only half of what hope is trying to say. Hope doesn’t just whisper “It will be different,” it also shouts “It should be different” and “It can be different.” Yes, it speaks soothing words about trusting and waiting, but it also takes the form of a holy impatience that declares, “Enough is enough. The time is now!” As Moltmann puts it, hope is not just that which calms the unquiet heart; it also is the unquiet heart.

Hope doesn’t just promise us that change will come in the future; it also changes who we are in the present. When we believe that a new day is dawning, we don’t just sit down and wait. We get up and go out to meet the light. When hope convinces us that there are unseen forces working for the good, we begin to look around more closely, and in doing so we notice that darkness and pain are not all that is there. When hope’s holy impatience gets into our bones, we start acting as if we deserve that new day now. Which in turn changes others by convincing them that we all have waited long enough.

Above all - listening fully to hope, makes you dangerous, not just soothed! It doesn’t relieve us of duty as much as it reminds us that wind is at our back and unseen reinforcements are at our side. Yes, hope reassures, but it also emboldens. It doesn’t just offer us a promise; it gives us a push.

But all of this only happens if we listen fully. So maybe the most important question this month is: “Are we listening to everything hope has to say?”

Here is a spiritual exercise to try this month: Spreading Our Stories of Hope!

Spend some time remembering how you’ve been saved by hope. And then bring that story of hope to one of your holiday gathering.

Hope rarely descends or magically appears. Most often, it’s passed on. It comes to us as a gift. We don’t find it, as much as we receive it. And almost always, that gift comes in the form of a story.  Hearing tales of others finding their way through the dark helps us trust that light is waiting at the end our tunnels as well. Listening to others talk about their sources of hope helps us notice the many resources available to us. Simply put, hope can’t spread without our stories. Light doesn’t travel through the dark on its own. It hitchhikes on the tales we tell each other.

So this month, let’s give each other the gift of hope by sharing the gift of our stories. We all have them. Some of us will talk about that person whose belief in us enabled us to believe in ourselves. Others will talk about how we held on through depression for the sake of kids. More than one of us will name that moment when we realized that the darkness was not our enemy but actually contained a gift. At least one of us will likely talk about the magic of “faking it until we made it.” Still others may share their experience of stumbling upon one of those beautiful “It Gets Better” videos.  In the end, the details of the stories are less important than the act of bringing them all into the room. Surrounded by each other’s stories, a gathering can’t help but become lit up.

Blessings and see you in church!

Reverend Terry


In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In November we celebrate what it means to be a people of abundance. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Abundance is about, and this is my message for the month, abundance is about the generosity it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done for love.

When it comes to abundance, our culture and our religion are clearly at odds. Our culture cries, “Accumulate!” Our religion counsels “Appreciate!” The mantras couldn’t be more different: The commercials tell us to “Go out and get what you want!” The pulpits plea with us to “learn to want what you have.”

So, yes, appreciation is central to this month. Noticing the abundance around us is clearly the work we are called to do. But one wonders if that’s enough. It all depends on what you do after the noticing is done. Sometimes there’s a passivity to appreciation that leaves nothing changed.

There’s a big difference between appreciating the blessing of family and committing to sitting down together for dinner at least three or four times a week. It’s one thing to notice the beauty that fills your own backyard; it’s quite another to pull yourself out of the rat race so you have time to enjoy it. It helps to have a sermon remind us that our spouse or parent is doing the best they can, but that insight rarely sticks without a commitment to action that helps us truly let go of all the things we wish they were and embrace the limited but wonderful abundance of what they are.

In short, appreciation only gets us part of the way there. Noticing places abundance in view, but only new commitments put it within reach. Without a decision to change our lives, noticing becomes nothing more than nostalgia. So, what needs to change? Maybe that’s the real question this month. What needs altered so you can dance with what is plentiful rather than worrying about what is scarce? What clutter finally needs cleaned up so there is room for new abundance to enter in? What changes will free you from the urgent and allow in the important? Yes, people of abundance make time for noticing, but they also make tough choices. Choices that, after they are made, don’t really feel tough at all.

Spiritual abundance is waiting for us friends. May this be the month we choose it.

Here are two spiritual exercise to help each of us make the choice:

Find It By Giving It Away

A student went to his master and said, “I am very discouraged. What should I do?” The Zen Master replied, “Encourage others.” Nakagawa Roshi

When we are feeling the poorest, that’s time to give a gift.” Dhyani Ywahoo

It’s a great spiritual truth: We find abundance when we give ours away. Jesus put this insight at the heart of his ministry: “You must lose your life to find it.” We lift it up every time we say “To give is to receive.”

If you are struggling with a lack of personal abundance right now, turn this truth into your spiritual exercise this month. Don’t try to find encouragement; give it to others. Don’t tackle your problem head on; look for others with the same struggle and find a way to offer them help. If you are feeling “poor,” figure out a gift you can give. In short, address others’ needs for more abundance and see what you end up with in return.

The Abundance of Clutter Abundance gets in the way of abundance.

Sounds silly but it’s true. Too much stuff leaves us trapped. An over-packed schedule leaves us feeling empty. Clutter -material or spiritual - acts like a cage, leaving us little room to move, or breath.

There’s no better month than November to take on this clutter in our lives. Fall trees shed their leaves, inviting us to do some of the same. The holidays are right around the corner, with their yearly attempt to get us to pack even more into our lives. So find a few ways this fall to “declutter.”

Of course, you will first need to figure out what that means to you. Often it is material clutter we need to tackle. Just as often it is spiritual clutter that needs addressed. Truth is, most of the time, it’s hard to separate the two. Whatever you decide to focus on, choose at least one strategy to address it. And remember that not all clutter is junk. Our work is not simply to throw the clutter out, but to sort through it. Almost always, there are gems buried in the mess.

Here’s some inspiration and guidance to help you along the way: Thirty tips to unclutter your life

The ten-item wardrobe | Jennifer L. Scott | TEDxStGeorge 3

The less you own, the more you have | Angela Horn | TEDxCapeTown

Is your stuff stopping you? | Elizabeth Dulemba | TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh

Getting rid of 1000 things | Liz Wright | TEDxBedford

The Art of Letting Go | The Minimalists | TEDxFargo

A Secular Sabbath - Pico Iyer

The art of stillness | Pico Iyer

Blessings and see you in church!

Reverend Terry

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In October we celebrate what it means to be a community embodying courage. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Courage is about, and this is my message for the month,  Courage is about what it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done for love and those we love.

Courageous people change the world. There are so many examples of that this month. October is LGBTQ history month and reminds us of the many who bravely moved (and continue to move) our world toward greater acceptance and affirmation. The revolutionary prophet of peace, Mohandas Gandhi, was born on October 2. Our Christian friends celebrate Reformation Day and Martin Luther’s courage that changed how we all think about religious authority. We rightly honor such giants. The problem is most of us aren’t that tall.

Or are we? Here’s what we have to help each other remember: In addition to the heroic acts that alter history, there are also the daily choices that prevent history from altering us. Battling evil and bending the arc of the universe toward justice deserves praise, but there’s also the ordinary work of integrity and not allowing yourself to be bent. This needs to be noticed as well. There’s the bravery of embracing your beauty even when it doesn’t fit the air-brushed images surrounding you. There’s the courage of calling out the micro-aggressions that happen almost every day at work. And what about resisting the persistent seduction of status and stuff? The list is long: Turning down that drink one day at a time. Making yourself get out of bed when the depression tells you to stay there. Holding your partner’s hand in public. Make no mistake, there are dozens of ordinary acts of bravery we rise up to everyday!

Or maybe we should say there are dozens of ordinary acts of bravery we help each other rise up to every day. Courage is not only noble; it’s contagious. The bravery that makes it into the history books may save the world, but our ordinary courage keeps each other going. Watching someone else make it through another day helps us endure. Witnessing someone else confront bigotry allows us to bravely be more open about who we are. They say that courage is found by digging deep, but most often it is passed on.

So don’t worry so much if you haven’t changed the world yet. And certainly let’s stop comparing ourselves with those giants. Our work rests less in looking up to them and more in looking over at and gaining strength from each other. And remembering that others are looking over at and needing strength from us.

Here’s a spiritual exercise to help each of us move courageously out of our comfort zone.

We rarely give ordinary courage the honor it is due. On a daily basis, the threats we face are not the dramatic dangers of burning buildings but the insidious hazards of our comfort zones. This reminds us that the enemy of courage is often not fear but safety and routine. Sometimes those routines support and structure our lives; sometimes they stifle and shrink them. So this month, you are invited to pursue the practice of ordinary risk and adventure. Your instructions are simple: Pick an activity that pulls you out of your comfort zone. Here’s some inspiration and guidance from Lori Thayer who helps busy “mompreneurs” learn how to be more efficient, more fulfilled and find balance when they optimize their lives:

Enrich your life when you step out of the comfort zone. Tackling a new skill or taking an adventure that scares you a little helps you grow and makes you happier.

Most of us have a desire to be comfortable and play it safe. Trying something new can seem scary and not worth the effort. However, full enjoyment and fulfillment comes in those moments we step out of the comfort zone.

Think back to the most meaningful, amazing moments of your life. When you examine them you will find that they had you stepping out of your comfort zone. Trying something new and unfamiliar brings extra excitement and emotion to the event. These highs leave us with a greater sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that simply doing the same thing every day.

Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t have to be a death-defying adventure. It could be something as simple as traveling to a new place. One example is taking a photography challenge where you have to photograph 100 strangers, getting their name and a little bit about each one of them. For those of us who are not gregarious extroverts this is a huge step out of the comfort zone.

Often, the things that are scariest bring the greatest rewards.  That being said, it may be easier to start with things that are closer to your comfort zone. As you gain a bit more confidence in yourself branch out into greater leaps.

Some ideas for getting out of your comfort zone are listed below. The size of the steps may be the same or different for you. These are just to give you an idea of in how to stretch yourself.

Small steps out of the comfort zone:

●      Call a friend or relative you’ve lost contact with. Sign up for a blog challenge that stretches you.

●      Speak in front of a group about a subject you are passionate about.

●      Learn a new skill.

●      Get up in the middle of the night to see a meteor show or hike to an amazing spot.

●      Volunteer. If you’ve never worked with your hands volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and start to learn about building while helping others.

Medium sized steps out of the comfort zone:

●      Travel on your own for vacation.

●      Take a class in something you don’t think you have any talent for.

●      Take a whitewater rafting trip.

●      Write a book.

●      Learn how to swim, if this is a skill you don’t have it can seem very daunting.

●      Attend an event where you don’t know anyone. Don’t just be a wallflower either, talk to at least 5 people.

●      Be the first to say, I love you.

●      Quit your full-time, safe, job to start your dream job.

Huge steps out of the comfort zone:

●      Fly in a very small plane piloted by a crazy friend.

●      Hike the grand canyon.

●      Visit a country where few of the residents speak English.

●      Backcountry camping in Yellowstone, with the bears.

●      Call up experts in your industry and ask for an interview or endorsement.

When you try new things and stretch your limits you will find they aren’t where you thought they were. You are capable of so much more than you ever believed.

And of course: Go to Church!

See you there,

Reverend Terry Sweetser

In the Interim: September 2017

Reverend Terry Sweetser, Interim Senior Minister and
Lise Olney, Chair of the UUSWH Standing Committee

We decided that Karen Quigley’s reflection from the September 3rd worship service expresses the challenges and opportunities ahead better than either us could.

Reflection on New Beginnings:


Sitting on my kitchen countertop right now is a Transformational Miracle. We have a beautiful, bright-green chrysalis which just 2 weeks ago was our caterpillar pet, named Chomp. She or he (who would know?) began life in our kitchen by munching leaves in preparation for the biggest transition of her life.  In the next few weeks, Chomp will transform inside her chrysalis and emerge as a gorgeous, swallowtail butterfly. As I said, a Transformational Miracle.

Those of us whose life cycles don’t include a chrysalis, don’t always find transitions quite so beautiful, exciting, or miraculous.  Rather, our Human new beginnings or transformations, especially the major ones, are more likely to come with pain, hardship, and unanticipated and perhaps unwanted, soul-searching.

 Sixteen years ago this summer, I had just started over again.  After many long years of education and work, I was denied tenure at my university.  In essence, I was fired.  I was angry, and hurt, and bewildered about what to do next.  I spent many weeks depressed and angry. In an uncharacteristic fit, I smashed a mug emblazoned with my university’s logo on my patio – it was very satisfying in the moment, but only until I realized that it just meant that I had one more mess in my life to clean up.  I was wonderfully supported by my family, by my UU friends, and by many of my university colleagues. After many rant sessions, tears, and glasses of wine, I was ready to start again.  Moving forward meant a new job, a move to a new state, a new home, and to many new friends and new experiences. Amazingly enough, I still have an academic career, and eventually I landed on my feet.  It wasn’t easy, and the path I ended up taking was not the path I had envisioned. But from the long rearview mirror, I can see that my life is better and fuller because of this major detour than it would have been on my previous path.

 New beginnings are not easy.  They mean letting go, sometimes of things we are ready to get rid of, but just as often, of things we really want to keep.  But we really can “keep” almost nothing, because life moves onward, and standing still is simply not a viable option.  In science, the idea that things are always changing is called entropy…the ever expanding pull of the universe toward disorder.  And sometimes we need more than a slow inexorable slide to make us sit up and take notice that things are changing and that we need to change too. Within lives of slow change, almost everyone also has to deal with a few explosions. Sometimes that disruptive force is just what is called for, shaking us from our complacency, and jolting us to the awareness that we have to move on, especially when our status quo is not working or holding us back.  Although we cannot ‘keep’ what we’ve had, we can cherish the earlier part of the journey, ensuring that our history serves as a firm, supportive Launchpad even in times of uncertainty.

Starting over is hard, but we all have to do it.  From being fired, to starting school each year, to starting a new job, to starting retirement, to grieving a loss, each new beginning gives us an opportunity to Hit the Reset button, to stop and do things differently, to forge a new path.  And each time we do this, even when it is painful, we can reinvent ourselves and begin a new chapter.



Searching for a new minister will require that we, as a congregation of individual UUs, think in new ways about how best to write the next chapter of our history.  The Standing Committee that we elected to represent and lead us, has some bold new ideas for the coming year that will pull us in new directions and allow us to shake off some cobwebs that are impeding our progress.  These changes are designed to help us as a congregation to Hit the Reset Button; to shake us from old habits, and begin to think boldly and creatively about where we want to go together so that we can find the best person to lead us forward.



I am very excited to see where this journey takes us.  I think we have the talent and energy to move our congregation forward in a new direction as long as we trust one another’s intentions, speak honestly but also with kindness, and that we remember that new beginnings although sometimes painful, are the only way to truly grow and thrive.  I am excited to contemplate where we will be 5 years from now, when we can reminisce about this time in our congregation’s history as the ‘launchpad’ for a new chapter; a time when we transformed and then climbed out of our chrysalis, reborn and ready to think that this particular New Beginning was indeed a Transformational Miracle in the life of this congregation.  Most importantly, though I look forward to making that new chapter with all of you.

 See you in church!

Terry and Lise


 Chomp broke out of her chrysalis and was released into Needham's Town Forest. 


In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

UU religious community is a precious gift.  Within it, we find values and questions that are rarely encountered elsewhere in our lives.  Values and issues that push us, ground us and remind us who we most deeply are.  Together we ask: What do we find when we gather?  And what can we share with the world?

As former UUSWH minister, James Luther Adams, often pointed out, “Church is where we go to find our better selves. From church we take our better selves out to change the world.”  Our UU community is not a social club, a debating society, or mutual support group.  It is a place to be called to our perfectibility and urged out into a world that needs us.

Faith in the possibility of human perfectibility and the power of humanity to bend the arc of the universe toward justice is the core of Unitarian Universalism.

That faith is what I serve and why I’m here.

Welcome back to your church on Sunday, September 10th for our multigenerational Water Communion.  Please bring some water with you to share in our common pool.  Water is a gift of our summer—symbols of the water that we have been present with, and which has been present to us.

In our next church year we explore the question, “What does it mean to be a people of ...”  Together we will ask what values and issues push us, ground us and remind us who we most deeply are?

2017-2018 Themes:

What does it mean to be a people of…

• September: Welcome

• October: Courage

• November: Abundance

• December: Hope

• January: Intention

• February: Perseverance

• March: Balance

• April: Emergence

• May: Creativity

• June: Blessing

September theme: What Does It Mean To Be A People of Welcome?

Welcoming is most often associated with “bigness.”  We speak about “expanding the circle” and making more room.  We talk about making ourselves larger through the practice of welcoming in new experiences and new ideas.  But there is also the work of becoming smaller.  And sometimes that is the even more important work.

For instance, those of us who are white are learning that true welcoming of diversity just can’t happen until we shrink and de-center our voices.  We also know that expanding community and welcoming newcomers requires right-sizing our needs and putting our preferences second. Welcoming regularly involves the smallness of humility and willingness to listen and learn.  The great spiritual teachers remind us that the key to feeling at home in the universe is seeing ourselves as a tiny but precious part of a greater whole, rather than believing that the whole world revolves around us.  Downsizing and living simply allows us to welcome in more experience, adventure, and peace.  And, of course, there’s also the work of downsizing our egos enough to admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness and welcome in the work of repair.

Bottom line: There is a deep spiritual connection between the smallness of self and the expansiveness of relationship.  It’s a curious and wonderful truth: the road to widening the circle often starts with limiting our own size.  By becoming “smaller,” we paradoxically are better able to welcome in and receive the gift of “more.”

See you in church!

Reverend Terry

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

Thank you for the honor of serving this historic congregation. Thank you for your loving work to sustain it. Thank you for daring to try and sometimes fail along with me. Thank you for seeking to find what really needs to be done and trying to do it.

Here’s what I know:
●     We have a dedicated core of members and friends who can and do pull off amazing feats: Rummage - Comedy Night, Carnival - on a scale beyond the imagination of much larger congregations.
●     We have committed leaders on the standing committee yes, but also in every nook and cranny of need - rentals, Sunday morning team leaders, fund raising, adult education, Camp Starfish, campus maintenance, and even into the corners of the kitchen on rotted tiles.
●     We have a talented staff - a remarkable music director who makes the organ thrill, the choirs swell and the minister look good; an engaging administrator who knows your name, helps you succeed and loves us toward wholeness; a willing sexton who battles snow, irons wax from carpets and does what needs to be done with a smile.

Here’s what I think:
●     We need more people to sustain us into the future.
●     We need to attract young families to have a critical mass for children and youth programming.
●     We need to continue innovative worship to make Sunday services more attractive.
●     We need to get the good word out more broadly about why we love this congregation.
●     We need to be more sticky with our visitors (find more ways to help them stick around).

Here’s what we’ve done:
●     Managed a significant staff reduction (loss of a full time religious professional).
●     Improved staff morale.
●     Increased Sunday staff support by have the administrator and Sexton present and supporting our Sunday programming.
●     Increased giving and reversed a downward trend in financial commitment.
●     Expanded social media outreach exponentially (doubled Facebook likes and reached 50,000+ people in a 3 mile radius of UUSWH).
●     Created a complete video archive of all Sunday Services for the church year (
●     Installed high speed wifi internet access throughout the campus.
●     Launched an acclaimed Ministerial Search Committee.
●     Embraced theme oriented worship that celebrates our unique community.
●     And so much more.

Here is a partial “To Do” List for Church Year 2017-2018:
●     Establish a data base
●     Call a new minister
●     Launch a new half time religious educator
●     And more!

Here are some interesting factoids about 2016-2017
●     Attendance has been relatively constant.

●     The demographics of our zip code are weighted toward our target audience.


Thematic Worship:

The Worship Concept for UUSWH in 2016-2017: has been: “A community of…”

UU religious community is a precious gift. Within it, we find values and questions that are rarely encountered elsewhere in our lives. Values and issues that push us, ground us and remind us who we most deeply are. Together we have asked: What do we find when we gather? And what can we share with the world?

Our monthly themes have been:

A community of…
September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In our next church year we explore the question, “What does it mean to be a people of ...” Together we will ask what values and issues push us, ground us and remind us who we most deeply are?

2017-2018 Themes:

What does it mean to be a people of…
• September: Welcome
• October: Courage
• November: Abundance
• December: Hope
• January: Intention
• February: Perseverance
• March: Balance
• April: Emergence
• May: Creativity
• June: Blessing

September: Welcome
Relevant Dates: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Fall Equinox, Homecoming Sunday, Water Communion, Labor Day, 9/11 Anniversary, National Hispanic Heritage Month, start of school for many
Lectionary Highlights: Binding of Isaac, creation, jacob’s dream
Related Themes to weave in: diversity, belonging (welcome)

October: Courage
Relevant Dates: LGBT History Month, National Coming Out Day, Indigenous People's Day, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Halloween, Samhain, United Nations Day, AIDS Awareness Month, Autumn Equinox, Michael Servetus’ birthday.
Lectionary Highlights: Samuel, God’s manna, “I am” and the courage to hear God’s voice, Related Themes to weave in: sanctuary, calling, strength (dare)

November: Abundance
Relevant Dates: All Saints/Souls Day, Election Day (US), Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, World Kindness Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Adoption Awareness Month , Native American Heritage month, Alzheimer's Awareness Month
Lectionary Highlights: God speaks into the silence, Amos-”let justice roll”,
Related Themes to weave in: gratitude, sight, perception (feast)

December: Hope

Relevant Dates: Advent, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, World AIDS Day, Human Rights Day,
Lectionary Highlights: dry bones, fiery furnace, Xmas
Related Themes to weave in: renewal, possibility, anticipation (hope)

January: Intention
Relevant Dates: New Year's, Martin Luther King Day, Epiphany, Rowe v. Wade Anniversary, 30 Days of Love campaign of Standing on the Side of Love,
Lectionary Highlights: Nicodemus, Jesus cleanses the temple, water to wine, baptism of Jesus
Related Themes to weave in: attention, awareness, discernment, preparation, renewal, resolve, witness, (plan, prepare, commit)

February: Perseverance
Relevant Dates : Black History Month, Valentine's Day, 30 Days of Love campaign of Standing on the Side of Love , Ash Wednesday, Lent, Random Acts of Kindness Week, Groundhog Day, Lectionary Highlights: lazarus rising from the dead, man born blind, women at the well, transfiguration, foot washing
Related Themes to weave in: (keep going, persist)

March: Balance
Relevant Dates: Women's History Month, Lent, Spring Equinox, Purim, Passover
Lectionary Highlights: Pilate, Maundy Thursday, Peter’s denial
Related Themes to weave in: wholeness, humility (balance)

April : Emergence
Relevant Dates: Easter, Passover, Earth Day, Arab American Heritage Month, Siblings Day, Stress Awareness Month
Lectionary Highlights: easter, empty tomb, Paul’s conversion
Related Themes to weave in: (arise, bloom)

May: Creativity
Relevant Dates: Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Ramadan begins, Beltane, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, Jewish American Heritage Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, high school and college graduations
Lectionary Highlights: pentecost, ascension, paul in prison,
Related Themes to weave in: (create)

June: Blessing
Relevant Dates: Father's Day, Summer Solstice, Flower Communion, Ramadan ends, LGBT Pride Month, month of weddings and camps
Lectionary Highlights:
Related Themes to weave in: (bless)

See you in church!

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

“Where is our holy church? We are standing on the side of love.” - Rev. Fred Small

This church year we look at our Unitarian Universalist community in Wellesley Hills through the lens of love. Have we always been loving? No. But we have been steadfast in looking for love and possibility in every situation. Speaking for myself, I admit to having some unloving thoughts and have found occasion to vent them! Yet, unpredictably but reliably there has been one of you to call me back to my better self, to finding enough love to do what needs to be done.

At it’s core Unitarian Universalism is about love. I believe my friend Fred Small has it right when he says, “Many Unitarian Universalists suffer from a chronic identity crisis. People ask us, what do Unitarian Universalists believe? And—we freeze! We don’t know what to say, because UUs believe so many things, so many different things. We are priests of paradox, apostles of ambiguity, nattering nabobs of nuance.

And so the Unitarian Universalist Association produces seven principles and six sources and countless pamphlets and little wallet cards all to remind us what we kinda sorta believe. We are exhorted to compose elevator speeches, summations of Unitarian Universalism so pithy they might be recited on an elevator in its fleeting passage between floors.

Do we believe in God? Question—simple. Answer—impossible.

Define “God.”

Define “believe.”

Define “we.”

Define “in.”

Whatever God is or is not, I don’t think God cares what we believe. I don’t think Jesus cares what we believe. And I know the Buddha doesn’t care what we believe.

The important question is not what we believe, it’s where we stand.

I want to be standing on the side of love.

Of course when I say “standing” I’m not talking about a physical posture. Rosa Parks stood on the side of love by remaining seated.

I’m talking about a moral stance not just assumed privately in our hearts but witnessed boldly in our families and schools and workplaces and communities, at the State House, in the halls of Congress. I’m talking about faith in action.

I’m not talking about sanctimony. I’m talking about intentionality. Understanding that our practice will be imperfect as each of us is imperfect, what is our purpose? What is our aspiration? What is our commitment?

Standing on the side of love.”

This month as our theme turns to embodiment, we look for ways to embody love, audaciously, purposefully, and yes, imperfectly. Our Sunday celebrations are focused on what it take to stand on the side of love.

May 7th we welcome Dr. Ejaz Ali, to get a sense of the Muslim experience in Wellesley and the love it takes to live it.

May 14th two people from our congregation share their experience living on the side of love: Lelia Elliston, the LGBT experience, and Brenda Ross, the African-American experience.

May 21st for the love of beasts! We will stand on the side of love with a blessing for the beasts that love us. Bring your live animal, your photo of a beloved animal or stuffed beast of love and bless them to the world.

May 28th Joe Senecal from our congregation stands on the side of love with the handicapped experience.

“Where is our holy church? We are standing on the side of love.” See you there.

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

 “I am here to see that my singular life is a gateway to countless possibilities. When I change, the world changes.” - Ma Theresa Gustilo Gallardo

After living March on the edge: the edge of our first Comedy Night, our financial Stewardship Drive, our annual RUMMAGE sale, April challenges us with the consequences of our daring. Comedy night was a profitable, joyous success. The Stewardship drive still needs pledges. And Rummage set financial and fantastic records.

Are we changed? We learned we could try new ways: a risky stand-up comedy fundraiser, Video pitches for the Stewardship drive and the running of the rummagers for Rummage!

Are we changing? We are bolder, freer and uncertain. Changing means our congregational life is less predictable and ironically more sustainable in turbulent times.

Welcome to transformation!

For Sunday Worship we use a thematic approach. This year we are focusing on the precious gift of our UUSWH community. Within it, are the values and questions we rarely encounter elsewhere in our lives. What do we find when we gather? And what can we share with the world? Each month we will explore a different aspect of building and fortifying people and possibilities in this beloved community.

September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In April we consider what it means to be a community of Transformation.

Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for an unknown God. -Henri-Frederic Ariel

Make a bit of room. Leave a little space. That may not sound like anything radical or revolutionary. But it turns out that it is one of Life’s favorite ways to make us into something new. Be cautious with those cultural messages about aggressively tilling and turning up your whole soil. Watch out for all the heroic talk about striving and perfecting, struggle and control.

Much of the time, transformation is a much subtler art. It’s about stillness, listening and waiting to be led, not fighting with yourself and others to make sure you are in the lead. In short, when it comes to transformation, the message of spirituality is “Be careful with what you’ve been taught and told because much of it takes us in exactly the wrong direction.”

Our challenge as a community of transformation is to remind each other to take a different tack.

More often than not, it’s about breathing rather than becoming better; patience not perfection; depth not dominance; attention not improvement. That part about attention instead of improvement is especially important. It’s so easy to get transformation mixed up with fixing. And fixing is transformation’s biggest foe.

Trying to purify or prove ourselves is the surest way to stay stuck. The pursuit of purity focuses us on our inadequacy and inferiority, causing us to overlook those unexpected guests that Henri-Frederic speaks of. And, friends, we don’t want to miss those unexpected guests! Those seeds brought by the wind and those passing birds are the partners that make transformation possible. They help us notice new paths. They invite us to walk with a new step. They awaken in us new songs. They remind us that transformation is not something we do alone. They assure us that transformation doesn’t have to be a long and lonely struggle, but instead can be more like learning a new dance with a new friend.

All we have to do is trust, take the hand of that “unknown God” and follow its lead. So, friends, this month, leave some room on that dance floor of yours. Keep your eyes peeled. And when that unexpected guest reaches out its hand, don’t be afraid.

Oh and if you want to try some interesting personal transformation, Patricia Ryan Madson, drama professor and author, suggests this:

 “This is going to sound crazy. Say yes to everything. Accept all offers. Go along with the plan. Support someone else's dream. Say: yes”; “right”; “sure”; “I will”; “okay”; “of course”; “YES!” Cultivate all the ways you can imagine to express affirmation. When the answer to all questions is yes, you enter a new world, a world of action, possibility, and adventure… It is undoubtedly an exaggeration to suggest that we can say yes to everything that comes up, but we can all say yes to more than we normally do. Once you become aware that you can, you will see how often we use the technique of blocking in personal relationships simply out of habit. Turning this around can bring positive and unexpected results… Try substituting “yes and” for “yes but” — this will get the ball rolling.” Keep it simple.

See you at worship!

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

“The edge is where I want to be,” writes poet Lisa Martinovic. She continues, “It’s the trailhead to the road not taken.”

Living on the edge is risky and unpredictable. So, March is just right for testing our edgy side. That’s why we dare to go all in this month and why we kick off our annual Stewardship Drive on the weekend of March 12th. Imagine the audacity of having Stewardship Sunday on the morning daylight savings kicks in!

I think it’s time to for our congregation to find it’s edgy ground again. The place where we can love more change into the world. The cliff where we can freefall into standing up, speaking out and doing what needs to be done. It’s time to forsake the mealy middle for hard edge of faith outside the the googleable universe to where we don’t twitter, we THUNDER!

Welcome to exciting times!

For Sunday Worship we use a thematic approach. This year we are focusing on the precious gift of our UUSWH community. Within it, are the values and questions we rarely encounter elsewhere in our lives. What do we find when we gather? And what can we share with the world? Each month we will explore a different aspect of building and fortifying people and possibilities in this beloved community.

September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In March we consider what it means to be a community of RISK.  We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other to commitment, to living in the zone. Risk is about, and this is my message for the month, Risk is about loving enough to jump in, be faithful and do what needs to be done.

To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. ~James Baldwin

Risk is usually associated with the dare devils and thrill seekers. The real danger, we’re told, is a life of boredom. The battle is between the bland and the bold.

Yet, as James Baldwin reminds us, it’s not quite that simple. He places commitment, not thrills, at the center of the game. For him, the ones to be admired are not so much the dare devils as the dedicated ones. And that Holy Grail? Well, he suggests, maybe it’s not “the exciting life’ as we’ve been told. Maybe it’s the faithful life. And that turns everything wonderfully on its head.

From this perspective, the important question about risk (and about life) is not “Are you willing to jump off?” but “Are you willing to jump in?” Not “Are you willing to put yourself in danger?” but “Are you willing to give yourself to something bigger?” Not “Will you be daring?” but “Will you stay true?”

And the message changes too. Suddenly, it’s not “Run to what’s thrilling!” but “Don’t run away!” It’s all about remembering not to let the thrilling trump the faithful. As exciting as roller coasters and jumping out of planes might be, let’s remember to remind each other that the most deeply rewarding risks are the ones that involve jumping into causes and putting our hearts in the hands of others.

As the poet David Whyte puts it: “We are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world. We are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right person, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds.”

Bob Marley’s take is equally compelling. He writes, “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” And here’s the twist: It’s not just Baldwin’s dangers, Whyte’s hazards and Marley’s suffering that come at us when we take the risk of living faithfully. Grace and gifts slip in there too!

As the Scottish writer W.H. Murray explains, “Concerning all acts of creation, there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no one could have dreamt would have come their way.” How thrilling is that?!

See you at worship!

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

Welcome to exciting times! For a few weeks, we have stumbled through political upheaval and spiritual angst. We wonder who we are. As social critic, Courtney Martin points out, “It’s never been more asked of us to show up as only slices of ourselves.” The risk of this, of course, is that if we live too long only in our “slices,” they become all that we are.

That’s why I have been paying more and ever more attention to our singers and their director, Suzie Cartreine.

When I came to our church six months ago, the other newcomer was Suzie. In our initial conversations, she told me about creating a “sound.” I think she meant a unique choral blend of voices.

If you think of a choir as a group of individual voices, slices of tone each looking for a solo, then it must be difficult to create a “sound.” When I first heard our chorus of soloists, I couldn’t imagine how Suzie would create a unified tone, a signature UUSWH Choir.

As the months have passed all of us have heard the transformation of our choir from solo slices to singing sound. How did that happen? I think Suzie has given the time, patience and discipline needed to help the slices become a gourmet sandwich.

To thieve in these exciting times, we could learn a lot from Suzie and the choir.

For Sunday Worship, we use a thematic approach. This year we are focusing on the precious gift of our UUSWH community. Within it, are the values and questions we rarely encounter elsewhere in our lives. What do we find when we gather? And what can we share with the world? Each month we will explore a different aspect of building and fortifying people and possibilities in this beloved community.

September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In February, we consider what it means to be a community of identity.  We ask ourselves who we are and how we can help each other to wholeness. Identity is about, and this is my message for the month, Identity is about loving enough to do what needs doing.

Identity work isn’t a game or a pastime. It’s unquestionably life and death stuff. And here’s the kicker: our faith wants you to stop hiding and live fully, not just for your sake, but for our sakes as well.

We are all struggling to escape our slices and connect to our hidden wholeness. Seeing you be real gives us permission to be let our true selves out of the closet! Your brave honesty about your contradictions, allows us to live boldly in our multitudes! We save each other by being true to ourselves. We save each other by loving enough to do what needs doing.

See you at worship!

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

“The Greatest Show in Church” - what a way to start the new year! We were thrilled by Acrobat Morgan from the Boston Circus Guild who taught and told us about what it takes to overcome the tyranny of fear. Morgan explained that when her dancing career tanked, she upped her game by switching to circus acrobatics and flying. Morgan’s motto is, "Life is a balance of holding on and letting go."-Rumi. To see this inspiring young woman “bring it” in our sanctuary click here

Thinking about how Morgan moved on from her dancing career made me wonder how we can move on from our disappointments of 2016. Reverend Robbie Walsh has this advice “The meaning of a life is not contained within one act, or one day, or one year. As long as you are alive the story of your life is still being told, and the meaning is still open. As long as there is life in the world, the story of the world is still being told. What is done is done, but nothing is settled.

“And if nothing is settled, then everything matters. Every choice, every act in the new year matters. Every word, every deed is making the meaning of your life and telling the story of the world. Everything matters in the year coming, and, more importantly, everything matters today.”

I love that phrase, “What’s done is done, but nothing is settled.” It’s prophetic in the sense that prophecy should wake us up to the truths that surround us. Morgan’s dancing might be done, but nothing was settled about her future. To move on she had to wake up to the reality that everything matters now. The presidential election is done, but nothing is settled about the future of our democracy. We must wake up to the reality that everything matters now.

For Sunday Worship we use a thematic approach. This year we are focusing on the precious gift of our UUSWH community. Within it, we find values and questions rarely encountered elsewhere in our lives. What do we find when we gather? And what can we share with the world? Each month we will explore a different aspect of building and fortifying people and possibilities in this beloved community.

September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In January we consider what it means to be a community of prophecy. Prophecy is a tocsin, a call to attention and awareness. I believe, and this is my message: to live the lives we wish we could in the just world we dream of, we must be AWAKE. On January 1st  we celebrated the tocsin given by acrobatics and wondered about their power for transforming people and possibilities. "Life is a balance of holding on and letting go."-Rumi

As the month goes on we listen to voices of the Prophets and we recall the deeds of our UU forebears. We call them prophets for their vision and truth. Prophets are not soothsayers, but visionaries. Prophets are called—and call others—to justice, community, and action. They call us to new ways of being human.

See you at worship!

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

November was quite a month! The election left many of us reeling. As I asked on the Sunday after, “What’s going to happen now? Short answer: We could thrive - if we turn the terrible truths into stories of hope by continuing to co-create a world of love and justice.” Slowly that hard work is beginning in our congregation with renewed commitments to LGBTQ issues, refugees and climate change. I believe we will not only survive, but thrive.

This month we say goodbye to Mick Hirsch. For a year and a half he has worked among us to help, hold and heal. In my short time among you, Mick has been one of my guides to the congregation, an inspirational co-creator of worship and a faithful colleague. Like many of you, I will miss him. Godspeed Mick and thanks for your service.

For Sunday Worship we use a thematic approach. This year we are focusing on the precious gift of our UUSWH community. Within it, we find values and questions rarely encountered elsewhere in our lives. What do we find when we gather? And what can we share with the world? Each month we will explore a different aspect of building and fortifying people and possibilities in this beloved community.

September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In December we consider presence and specifically, what does it mean to be a Community of Presence?

Spiritually, presence can be two radically different things. On the one hand, contemplatives talk of “being present.” Presence from this perspective is all about awareness and remembering to “live in the moment.”

On the other hand, theologians tend to come at presence from the perspective of “otherness.” Their concern is not just that we pay attention to the present moment, but that we notice a transcendent Presence that is woven through all moments.

Attentiveness or otherness? Must we choose? Isn’t it true that, more often than not, they dance together more than they compete? Isn’t it true that when we are most present, a powerful presence emerges? Pay attention to the flow of your breathing or the flow of the ocean and something bigger than yourself enters the scene. Look for a long time at a blade of grass and eventually it presents itself to you as a world in and unto itself.

The world is full of unnoticed gifts and grace. It’s a message perfectly fit for this month that so often celebrates presents over presence. In the face of commercials and billboards that tell us our lives will finally be complete if we stuff them with a few more shiny objects or plastic gadgets, our spiritual traditions come along and remind us that our lives are already complete.

As Dr. Seuss says through the Grinch, “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

The greatest gift of the holidays is noticing the many gifts that have been sitting there all along. So how will you engage this dance? What powerful and meaningful presence is waiting for you to be present to it? What gift is waiting and wanting to emerge? What will your awareness bring into being this month?

To be a community of presence we must learn again that the world is full of unnoticed gifts and grace. We would thrive if we could notice the gifts and grace that surround us and thereby co-create a world of love and justice.

See you at church!

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

I was so proud to be part of our congregation on October 5th when we welcomed more than 300 people to the Sharps’ War screening and panel discussion. Seeing us all come together to make this major event not just successful but inspiring was awesome. It shows that when the Unitarian Universalists of Wellesley want to make a difference we can!

But we are not only about serious intent, but we are also about light-hearted celebration. Anyone who attended our Sunday of Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse (October 30th), including TWO terrifying haunted houses, knows what I mean. I’m telling everyone I know UUSWH is the place to be on Sunday, why not do the same? And speaking of Sunday.

Sunday Worship: We use a thematic approach to religion. This year we are focusing on the precious gift of our UUSWH community. Within it, we find values and questions rarely encountered elsewhere in our lives. What do we find when we gather? And what can we share with the world? Each month we will explore a different aspect of building and fortifying this beloved community.

September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In November we consider stories and specifically, What Does It Mean to Be a Community of Stories?

Our lives are not just made up of stories; stories also make them. Who of us hasn’t felt controlled by a story, stuck in it? Or hopeless about the way our story will end up? Simply put, stories write us as much as we write them.

For instance, who can’t relate to the friend that tells us that her family “clings to the story about how I’m the clumsy one.” We’ve never seen our friend trip, not once. Or drop a thing, ever. And yet, somehow, when she goes to her parents’ home or back to a family reunion, she spills coffee on at least one outfit, stubs at least one toe and stumbles down at least one step. That's the power of story!

Or think about our current struggles with economic or racial justice. Folks describe the incredible income gap as “natural” or “the result of complex global dynamics over which we have little control.” Similarly, often the same folks tell the story of race in our country with an “entrenched” story arc. Talk about a debilitating way of telling the story.

So let’s tell a new story! Fresh starts and new tales are the core of our faith. We have a choice. Our stories are not predetermined. Remember the old theological dispute our UU ancestors debated with their lives?Some said that God had predestined not just the big story of humanity, but our individual stories too. Some of us go to heaven and others go to hell. God had written the list in ink. Nothing any of us could do about it.

“Well,” said our spiritual ancestors, “that’s a bit harsh, don’t you think!” Forget this final fate driven story, they said. Freedom has a much bigger role than in this. God is not so much the author of the story as she is the magical muse that needles and nags us to put our stamp on the narratives before us. In other words, we come from a long line of spiritual relatives who agreed with Shakespeare that “All the world’s a stage,” but then went on to clarify that it’s an improv show.

So fate and freedom? This month is much more about the tension between these two than one might have thought, leaving us with questions like: Are you an actor conforming to the scripts handed to you? Or have you found your way to becoming a director, a screenwriter, an author? How are you struggling right now to regain control of the storyline of your life? How are you and your friends working to regain ownership of the storyline of our community? Our country?

Or maybe control is not your work. Maybe your spiritual work is about finding a new storyline. Maybe retirement, divorce, illness or the empty-nest has closed the book on one story and is inviting you to leap into a whole new narrative. Does that leave you excited about what’s to come? Scared? A bit of both?

No matter what don’t give the storyline away. That’s the message of our faith. And hopefully the gift of this month.

See you at church!

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

We had a wonderful visitors Sunday on September 25. The Welcoming Committee treated us to an amazing barbecue made even more festive by a talented jazz duo.  People walking down Washington Street paused to enjoy the music and commented on how much fun the people in the church were having. An absolutely splendid event and one I hope we can repeat.

With each passing day I am ever more impressed by what an exciting congregation this is. If I were moving to this area and visited several congregations, this is the one I would pick. I hope you will tell your friends about us.  If you do, please invite them to our website: Your friends may want to know what Sunday morning is like.  They can actually experience parts of our service on YouTube:

Many of you know we are using a thematic approach for worship this year focusing on the precious gift of our UUSWH community. Within it, we find values and questions that are rarely encountered elsewhere in our lives. What is it we find when we gather? And what is it we are asked to share with the world? Each month we will explore a different aspect of building and fortifying this beloved community.

September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

In October we consider healing and specifically, What Does It Mean to Be A Community of Healing?

To be a community of healing requires dedication and a willingness to dig in - to fix what’s been broken, to listen away each other’s pain, to battle the bad guys and gals, to ask forgiveness when we are not the good guys and gals we so want to be. It takes work, yes, but it takes perception and sight as well.

I believe healing always begins with perception and sight. If we really deeply perceive and see the people around us:

Would we more easily call to mind those moments when we were able to see our “enemies” in their wholeness? Those moments when our frames of them as all bad and us as all good gave way to the truth that they are as complex, fragile and flawed as us?

Would we more easily tell the story of when we first realized that we were part of propping up the system? The system that subtly and not so subtly gives some a hand while keeping the hands of others so securely tied behind their back?

Would we more easily remember what happened when we confessed our lie or admitted our addiction? How when we stopped trying to hide it from the sight of others, it somehow loosened its hold on us?

There is a magic in all this looking, seeing and being seen. Remember that? In each case, we learned that healing is not entirely up to us. There was an otherness at work. We just got the ball rolling. We weren’t “the healers”; our wider view simply set the stage. Opened the door. Healing then slowly made its way in and joined us as a partner.

And seeing healing as a partner – rather than solely as a product of our will and work - we were able to be more gentle with ourselves. We realized that manageable steps and doing what we can were just fine; heroics didn’t always have to be the way. We were able to put down the weight of the world for a while, knowing and trusting that healing had a life of its own – that it has the ability to grow and take root even while we rest, maybe even because we took the time to rest.

In the end, maybe that is the most important thing to remember this month: besides always beginning with a wider view, healing also means making room for rest. Too often being a community of healing gets reduced to a matter of work, vigilance and never letting up. So we need these reminders that healing is a partner, not simply a product of our work.

Maybe even trying to partner with us right now…

Reverend Terry Sweetser

In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

It was wonderful to meet so many of you at the homecoming pot luck, September 9, and our first worship service together on September 11. Your energy and excitement being together inspires me. I have high hopes for our time together.

Those who were at the first Service know we are using a thematic approach this year and I want to tell you more about it.

Worship Concept for UUSWH 2016-2017: “A community of…” UU religious community is a precious gift. Within it, we find values and questions that are rarely encountered elsewhere in our lives. Values and questions that push us, ground us and remind us who we most deeply are. So this year our themes honor this gift of community and its role as caretaker of values. Together we will ask: What is it we find when we gather? And what is it we are asked to share with the world?

Our monthly themes related to this concept:

A community of…
September: Covenant
October: Healing
November: Story
December: Presence
January: Prophecy
February: Identity
March: Risk
April: Transformation
May: Embodiment
June: Zest

More detail about September: Covenant: What Does It Mean to Be A Community of Covenant? Covenant is one of those words that sounds stuffy, academic and out-of-date. But when you unpack its meaning and its practices, covenant holds a whole vision for how to live in this complicated, beautiful and broken world. It is a vision that says we are most human when we bind ourselves in relationship. But not just any relationship – relationships of trust, mutual accountability and continual return.

This is not what our culture teaches us. Our culture teaches us that what it means to be human is to be an individual – self-defined, self-determined, separate even. But our UU covenantal theology affirms that being human comes down to the commitments we make to and with each other – the relationships we keep. We become human through our promises to and with each other.

More than that: covenantal theology doesn’t just say that we become human through our promising, but also when we break those promises, and yet somehow find ways to reconnect and begin again – when we repair the relationship because we know we need each other, even when we think the other isn’t doing enough, even when the other is annoying us, or isn’t listening well, or isn’t doing things the way we want them done – even then.  When we realize right then, that we are still connected, and we can’t give up – and so we return, and begin again. This beginning again, says our faith, is when the holy and the human meet.

Sometime in the next year, maybe in the next few minutes, the people you most believe in and care about are going to disappoint you.  Your church is going to disappoint you.  This world is surely going to disappoint you. Like, all the time. We all are walking wounded and weary from the way this world can – and does – break our hearts.

And what our faith asks of us, what our faith imagines for us, is that somehow, right at that moment when our hearts break, we will find our way to see through that heartbreak.  We will stay put – not close off, not run away, not hurt back – but keep on being in relationship, doing what we can to repair the world and each other, keep on opening our hearts with greater love. And, right then, our covenantal faith says – we will feel not only most human, but also most whole and most at home.

On September 11 we talked about “Promises Worth Keeping,” specifically the covenant, the broad promises that hold the fabric of our society together (you can view that sermon at

September 18 we will focus on the question “Whose are We?” Douglas Steer, a Quaker teacher writes, "The ancient question, “Who am I?” inevitable leads to a deeper one: “Whose am I?” – because there is not identity outside of relationship.  You cannot be a person by yourself. To ask “Whose am I” is to extend the question far beyond the little self-absorbed self, and wonder: Who needs you?  Who loves you?  To whom are you accountable?  To whom do you answer?  Whose life is altered by your choices?  With whose life, whose lives is your own all bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?” These are all questions our former minister, Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha, had to answer before daring to “Defy the NAZIS” in 1939.

Finally, on September 25 our attention turns more toward this congregation and the question, “Can I be Fully Human Here?” James Luther Adams, UU Theologian and Social Ethicist (1901-1994) writes, “Human beings, individually and collectively, become human by making commitment, by making promise. The human being as such … is the promise-making, promise-keeping, promise-breaking, promise-renewing creature (” Our congregation can be a crucible of transformation. A beloved community from which we emerge fully human living the lives we wish we could and creating the just world we dream about.

May those of us who are blessed, bless the world!