What does poverty look like | October mUUsings

For several weeks, a banner stood on the south lawn of the church declaring, “250,000 people die every year from poverty and inequality in the U.S. / Lift from the bottom up and everybody rises.”

The banner was there to bring awareness to the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls this past June as well as to the plight of the millions of people living in poverty in our nation, including in our own neighborhoods and communities.

I was taking the banner down the day after I returned from the march. It was a Monday which is the day our church hands out free meals through the Everyone Eats program. Someone who was there to pick up a meal saw what I was doing and asked, “So, did we fix it?”

Of course, one march didn’t end poverty. And, the person asking the question knew this. We both stood quietly for a moment in silent acknowledgement of this truth. Poverty and inequality continue to take lives.

The phone in my church office rang one morning this past August. The person on the line said that they were working with a group of youth on a film project about poverty, and they were hoping to speak to someone from one of the local churches. Was I available?

I had just come inside after talking with a community member who was currently homeless. They had shared with me some of their story, and we were also trying to figure out how the church might be helpful in temporarily storing some of their belongings so they didn’t get stolen off the porch where they had been sleeping the past few nights.

The timing of this phone call was serendipitous, and just a few moments later I found myself talking with these youth filmmakers about poverty in our community.

Poverty is not an inevitability. Do we have the courage to challenge the systems and policies that make it seem so?

A Welcome Message for the Unitarian Church of Montpelier~ September 2022

This message was shared the week before our Ingathering Sunday on September 11th. You are welcome back to our sanctuary, or to newly arrive, at any time!

Dear UCM members and friends,

In just a few days, the doors to this sanctuary will be open once again. What a joy it will be to welcome you back here and to begin a new church year as a spiritual community!

As we start this new year together, I hold in my heart the deep need for us to reconnect as a community. We have each experienced the past two-and-a-half years of the pandemic, and of pandemic church life, differently. Moving forward together, we will need to commit to reconnecting and to strengthening the bonds of our relationships with one another. 

We have new members who have yet to meet other church members in person! We have long-time members and friends who didn’t find online church satisfying and will be attending a worship service for the first time in a long time this fall! We have children who were born just before or during the last two years of the pandemic who have never been to the nursery or the Children’s Chapel! 

And, we also have members who have shown up all throughout this time to check on the building, to put up the flags, to call and check on other church members, to hand out meals, to lead small groups over Zoom, to lead worship to an empty sanctuary, to offer hospitality through Zoom chat messages, to operate cameras and the sound board, to lend a listening ear to a church friend.

Each and every one of you – no matter if and how you engaged with our UCM community over the past two years – is an essential part of this congregation. Your passions, your questions, and your hopes and dreams make us who we are. And, it is only with your engagement and energy that we can continue to be a force for love and hope for one another and for our broader community.

So, I invite you to return once again to the life of this Unitarian Universalist congregation this fall. 

It may be with some trepidation that you return. It may be with some uncertainty or unease with being with a large group of people once again. It may be that you return with unfettered joy and excitement!

All of these emotions are accepted and welcome here. All of you is accepted and welcome here. The Love that holds us is vast and all-inclusive.

I look forward to being with you once again in just a few days! I am excited for this year ahead in which we will share in our ministry of welcome and love, of learning and growth, and of service and stewardship together.

See you soon!

Rev. Joan

Midsummer mUUsings

August has arrived, and I am treasuring this summer season. Like many of you, I have immersed myself in time outside, time with loved ones, and time with a good book (and more). It has been a balm to my spirit to reconnect in so many ways.

In mid-June, I headed to Washington, DC with 90+ Vermonters, including 3 of our UCM high schoolers and the High School Youth Group advisors, for the Mass Poor People’s and Low-wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington and to the Polls. It was a powerful event with thousands of people – and hundreds of UUs – gathered to declare that we won’t be silent anymore. The hours-long event featured testimonials by poor and low-income people of all races, genders, and abilities as well as soul-stirring music. You can find the entire live stream video here.

In early July, my family and I joined a hearty group of UCM adults, children, and youth for the now-revived Annual Camping Trip at Kettle Pond. I loved hearing and seeing the loons, climbing boulders, and gazing up into the trees. Our outdoor worship service focused on “trees,” and some of our children created an original song that was a part of the service!

On a personal note, I am grateful to have traveled to southern California for the pandemic-postponed wedding of a cousin on my mom’s side. I reconnected with many family members who I hadn’t seen in several years. Much of my family lives in California where there are large communities of Filipinos all across the state. My cousin’s wedding included a few of the traditional Filipino wedding rituals as well as a huge feast (including the roasted pig, aka lechón) that are customary for these kinds of communal celebrations. My kiddo also enjoyed splashing around in the big waves of the Pacific Ocean.

On the church front, I have been working behind the scenes with many UCM committees, teams, and staff to get ready for the coming church year. We are preparing the building to welcome you and working hard to fill key staff positions. Committees and leadership teams are gathering for retreats to set goals and plan for the year ahead.

Thankfully, the summer isn’t over yet. There are more preparations to tend to and still more adventures to enjoy. Stay tuned for further updates and mUUsings to come.

I look forward to reconnecting with all of you in September!

~ Rev. Joan

A Thanksgiving Message

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

The time of Thanksgiving comes around again. We hold the history of the creation of this holiday in the United States around a mythical story of encounter between the Pilgrims of England and the Wampanoag people. We hold the complexity of the full history in which harm and harmony lived side by side. We hold the pain of the enduring narrative of erasure which keeps the truth hidden even today. 

The time of Thanksgiving comes around again. We hold the history of giving thanks to the Earth and giving thanks for community which has been fostered by native cultures and traditions over millenia. We hold the wisdom of living in harmony with the natural world. We hold the grace of a bountiful harvest from an Earth that provides and supports life.

However you may be marking and celebrating the holiday this year, may you cultivate an abundance of gratitude. May you name and give thanks for the ways the Earth has sustained you and that community has supported you. May you name and give thanks for this life, tender and tenuous as it is. 

May grace fill your heart.

Listen to Rev. Joan read this message.

Commitments to Myself: march mUUsings

For the past three years or so, I have been setting my alarm to go off at 5:30AM every weekday morning. I am a morning person, and this is early even for me. My intention when the alarm goes off is to wake up before anyone else in my household is stirring, get out of bed, and head to my meditation cushion. I sit in quiet for 20 minutes or so. Sometimes, I journal. Sometimes, I add in a few light stretches. I listen to the traffic go by. As spring approaches, I listen to the birds singing and calling to one another. As the days lengthen, I bask in the sunlight that begins to spill over the North Street hill to the east from where I sit.

There are definitely days when I hit snooze several times. There are also days when I feel too preoccupied to sit still and instead dive into leftover tasks from the day before.

Setting the alarm reminds me of the commitment I have made to myself – a commitment to give priority to self-care and spiritual practice. The commitment has formed a routine, and while the routine doesn’t always look the same each and every day, it has become a lodged comfortably in my muscle memory. If I begin to stay too far afield from the commitment, my body, mind, and heart know it.

What are the commitments that you have made to yourself? How do you remind yourself of these commitments?

This month, I encourage you to reflect on your commitments, especially the ones that have become habit or routine. Consider letting go of ones that no longer suit your spiritual needs and adopting new ones that are more in alignment with the direction you’d like to go in the days ahead.

And, feel free to let me know how it’s going in the comments below.

With love,

Rev. Joan

PS – As a bonus, you might enjoy reading this poem by Laura Mancuso.

Love Signals: February mUUsings

This coming February 14th will be my sixth Valentine’s Day living in Montpelier. The first time I witnessed the entire downtown plastered with red hearts I was surprised and delighted. I didn’t yet know about this annual tradition, and I was caught with such unexpected joy at the infusion of love – by way of big red hearts – on storefront windows and doors.

I soon learned that a “phantom” team made possible this magical transformation that brings such cheer in the deep winter season. This fact makes it all the more special when each February 14th the town is once again filled with these emblematic hearts.

This month our worship theme is “Beloved Community,” and as Valentine’s Day once again approaches I am thinking about the role of love in binding us together in community. To me, the beauty of those red hearts plastered all over town is that they overtly and unabashedly speak to the presence of love in our community.

Love that cheers the spirit.
Love that brings healing amidst brokenness.
Love that reaches out.

Three years ago, the sense of Valentine’s Day festivity was marred by the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. As I learned about this devastating act of violence, the pervasiveness of Valentine’s Day hearts at first felt coldly ironic rather than comforting – a reminder of the bitterness and grief that so often accompany the joy and delight of life.

As young people in Florida and around the country galvanized and mobilized for meaningful gun reform, the hearts remained taped to windows and doors – persistently signaling that love was still present.

With this past year that has been filled with so much heartache, I can already feel the longing for the silent eruption of love onto our streets. I know that, even though it will not be a surprise, I need these signals of love taking over the cityscape, especially in the absence of handshakes and hugs from friends and loved ones. I need this annual reminder that love is indeed all around us and that it is in and with community – even socially distanced – that love is made stronger.

‘Tis the Season: Winter Wellness

For the past several months, we have each been learning how to live in new and adapted ways. You have celebrated wedding anniversaries with honk-and-wave’s. You have had masked graveside funerals to bury loved ones. You have had Zoom birthday parties and holiday feasts. In our church community at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, we have welcomed new members virtually and with masked signing ceremonies. We have blessed children remotely. 

We have continued this endeavor of being human – marking our losses and sharing our joys – in the ways we can, often with amazing creativity and also with profound grief.

These next few months are likely to be challenging ones as the coronavirus continues to spread and we await the roll out of effective vaccines and a light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel.

As we head into these winter months, let us continue to care for ourselves and one another. I have prepared a video with some suggestions for winter wellness which you can view below.

Be safe. Be well. Reach out to ask for help when you need it. And, know that you are held in a Love beyond measure.

Here I share some suggestions for keeping well this winter

A Very Unusual Holiday Season: Grief and Healing through Rituals

The holiday season is usually a very full time of year for me and my family. We have the run of Thanksgiving into Christmas with multiple family birthdays sandwiched in between. It is usually the time of year when we are juggling visits with family who live in other parts of the country. We have actually developed an elaborate system of alternating in person holiday gatherings between Vermont, Chicago, and Los Angeles on a three-year rotation to accommodate the family diaspora that has transpired over the years.

Of course, the holiday season in 2020 is going to look and feel very different for my family with all of us staying put through the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

I am sad to be missing out on some of our treasured family traditions this year and feeling the loss of time with my parents, brothers, nieces and nephew, Titas, Titos, cousins. I will especially miss eating and smelling the foods of my childhood, lovingly prepared by my mother or grandmother, which are just not as available here in Vermont.

The loss of some of these traditions this year, however, also feels like a forced adaptation that could hold some blessing. Our family trio has already started thinking about new or adapted traditions we could adopt this year. I really appreciated this recent article in KidsVT / Seven Days that gave us some great ideas.

Below is a photo of our Gratitude Tree which is mentioned in the article. We will write our gratitudes on the leaves and add them to the tree. Stones placed in a bowl can be used to signify the grief that is being held alongside the gratitude.

DIY Cardboard Gratitude Tree

This will probably also be a year when I make much more of an effort to cook up some of the Filipino recipes I have been reluctant to try because Nanay’s version is just so much better!

The losses present this holiday season help me remember how important rituals are in our lives. Rituals give rhythm to our lives as individuals and in community. Rituals help us to bring forth and sometimes release emotions. Rituals help us make meaning of circumstances that are sometimes challenging and confounding. Rituals give space to healing.

I hope that this holiday season you are able to give yourself space to grieve the temporary loss of treasured traditions as well as to lean into your creativity in developing new rituals that will help you stay connected with loved ones.

Please share in the comments the traditions you will be missing this year and the new rituals you’ll be trying out.

With love and care,
Rev. Joan

PS – If you’re looking for a way to connect with others over the Thanksgiving holiday, join in a day-after-Thanksgiving gathering from 4-5:15PM. Check our UCM e-news for more details.

Listening transforms hearts | October mUUsings

The month of October usually speaks to me of apple orchards and pumpkins, of vibrant hillsides and crunchy leaves underfoot, of sweaters and cups of steaming tea. This October, many of those comforts are still present. Yet, I also live with the heightened anxiety of the upcoming election and all that is at stake for people I know whose lives, marriages, and health care lay in the balance as well as people I do not know personally but whose everyday circumstances hinge upon the policies and rhetoric of those in high office. I am weary, as I know many of you are, and I long for the slowing down of noise and activity to be able to truly listen with compassion to the world around me and to my most inner voice and wisdom.

As we reflect on the theme of “Deep Listening” this month, I invite you to reflect on the conditions that make your own deep listening possible. What is it that helps you to listen more deeply to yourself and to those around you?

Recently, I found myself in a conversation for which I wasn’t totally prepared to deeply listen. Someone had made an appointment to see me to prepare for a memorial service for their loved one. They were very late for the appointment and I still had a few errands to do before returning home for an evening with my family. Time felt short.

Yet, as we talked, I realized this person had much more to share than had been apparent in our brief communications by phone and email ahead of meeting. This person was holding some profound and complicated grief around the circumstances of their loved one’s death. I had to make a choice in that moment to deeply listen. I mentally set aside my to-do list. I took a deep breath. I focused my attention on the person before me and the moment we were sharing together as best I could.

Though the story was a painful one, I knew that my heart was changed by being willing to listen and leaving open space for this person’s grief to emerge and to be witnessed.

This month, I invite you to notice when you might be called to listen more deeply. When is someone else’s pain, delight, or truth beckoning to be heard? (Or, perhaps, your own.) And, how might you offer your deep listening?

I leave you with this beautiful recording of “Blackbird.” Often, we must listen more deeply when something seems to be beyond our understanding for what is true and beautiful.

May deep listening transform your heart this month.

With love,

Rev. Joan

Students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School in Eskasoni, Cape Breton recorded Paul McCartney’s Blackbird in their native Mi’kmaq language

Drifting and Staying Afloat Together | A Message at the Start of the Church Year

Listen to Rev. Joan read this message to the congregation.

Dear UCM members and friends,

As we return to our shared life of spiritual community to begin this 2020-2021 church year, our lives are marked by uncertainty and this coming year will be like any other this community has shared. There is no getting around this. But, there is getting through it.

We are all part of a long line of ancestors who have gotten through and made meaning with one another in this basic human endeavor of living through the joys and sorrows of our days – sometimes through very difficult days.

As we get through these days of turmoil and uncertainty, we bind together yet again in a community of shared commitments and values. We reach out for connection and deepening of relationship. We encourage one another in the practices that keep us grounded and centered and that can anchor us when most everything feels adrift.

A few days ago, I was sent a recording of our congregation singing together “Blue Boat Home” at last year’s Ingathering Sunday service. I brought my laptop up to the sanctuary and sat in its emptiness listening to your voice, our voices filling the space. I grieve the loss of sharing in worship together in our sanctuary. And, I find solace knowing that we are drifting together as kindred and companions guided by our shared mission as a spiritual community and the light we cast out to find our way.

This year, the Governing Board has identified three major priorities for us as a congregation: 1) Holding our UCM community together, 2) Widening our circle of concern, and 3) Deepening our service. The ministries and programs of our church for this year will all be connected to these broad goals.

While this church year will be unlike any other in any of our recent memories, I believe that it also holds the same invitation of other years. Each of you is invited to be part of something bigger than yourself. Each of you is invited to reflect on what truly matters. Each of you is invited to be loved and cared for and to offer love and care in turn. Each of you is invited to live your values with commitment. These things we do together.

Know that however, wherever, and whenever you can engage in the life of this community is okay. Some of you may need to really focus inwards and stay off virtual platforms to get through. Some of you may need to turn your attention outwards and to a broader scope of activism and engagement. Some of you may be ready to dive headlong into church life and join some new committees. All of you, in whatever ways you are choosing to show up in this community now, is welcomed.

Despite it all and because of it all, I am so grateful to be serving as your minister, and I hope to be a resource to you as we journey together this year. I will be resuming my daily phone messages, “Words for the Day” on Monday, September 14th. Call (802) 552-8544, Monday through Friday, to listen to a brief recording of poems, prayers, and words of meditation for spiritual sustenance.

Please don’t hesitate to be in touch to share with me your ups and downs and your ideas as we navigate these uncharted waters together.

With love and gratitude,

Revered Joan