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.