Dear Members and Friends of First Parish Church:
Today is my final day as your minister. I write to say goodbye and offer a few closing reflections on our time together and the congregation. I write with immense gratitude for my year with the First Parish Church of Ashby. We accomplished a lot during our brief period together. We celebrated the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the town and of the congregation. We organized meaningful social justice and service work, including a March for Our Lives event that was attended by over a hundred people and an Earth Day trash pick-up. We held services to deepen our religious life together and reflect on how best to respond, as Unitarian Universalists, to the crises that we face in this country and as a human species. We achieved Welcoming Congregation status with the Unitarian Universalist Association. We brought in new members. We saw an increase in congregational pledging. And most importantly, we sang together, worshipped together, talked together, shared food, were present to each other, and had fun! It is no wonder that I will miss you!
The Parish Committee asked me to offer some final reflections on the future work of the congregation. I have a few pieces of advice. First, remember that First Parish Church is one of the most important institutions in Ashby. It isn’t yours to maintain alone. In the next years, as you consider how best to preserve the historic building, I encourage you to reach out to the rest of the town. If you decide to undertake a capital campaign think about how you can invite people from beyond the congregation to participate. Everyone in Ashby benefits by having a beautiful church on the village green.
Second, recognize that you can accomplish a lot when you focus on what you want to do. One reason why I think we had such a good year was that we set a series of small achievable goals and then we stuck to them. Consider undertaking a similar process every year.
Third, don’t be afraid to think bigger. Sometime in the near future the congregation will be receiving an increase in rent on the cell tower. I know the temptation will be to use most of this money to maintain the building. What if the congregation were to spend it on ministry or programming instead? What could First Parish Church do with a half-time minister? What kind of programs could you provide to Ashby? What kind of difference could you make in the world?
So, that is my final, solicited, advice. It is up to you, as congregation, to decide what you wish to do with it. Whatever you choose, know that I will carry you in my heart always.
Before I go I must write something about the practice of ministerial leave taking. After I cease being your minister the guidelines of Unitarian Universalist Minister Association tell me that I must refrain from contact with members of First Parish Church for two years. This includes contact over social media. This is done so that you will develop a relationship with your next minister without my interference. I know it can feel harsh or unnecessary. It is difficult for me as well. However, long experience within our tradition has taught that it is best to respect this boundary. Doing so is one way to help congregations thrive.
And so, with those words, I leave you with much love and a final poem. It too is a piece of advice. It comes from one of my favorite poets, Joy Harjo.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.