Transition: This Time in Our Ministry
Celebrating Our Congregational Life with Reverend Kathleen Hepler
Check out the Party Photo Album, photos kindly shared by Lynne Damianos. Or the slide show!
If you missed the June 2 party in celebration of Reverend Kathleen Hepler and our shared ministry, and would like to see the slide show and gifts, you can view them in this shared file.
With the announcement of Kathleen’s departure, we are entering a time of transition. This is familiar terrain for many, but for some it is new and unsettling. For all, this transition provides a chance for reflection on the ministry we have shared with Kathleen of the last 11 years. It is a time to celebrate her dedicated leadership and to recognize what we have accomplished together during her tenure. We will make space for our sadness, and recognize the strength of our spiritual community.
Over the next eight weeks we invite you to share in a reflection on This Time in Our Ministry. Each week we will focus on a different part of our congregational life. The Sunday “Time for All Ages” will illuminate that area. Kathleen and a lay leader will share a personal reflection, celebrating the fullness and depth of the First Parish community. We will gather your photographs and stories as we build a visual representation of our ministry in Scott Hall. Finally, we hope you will mark your calendar now to save Saturday, June 2 when we host a celebration in Kathleen’s honor on the evening before her last Sunday service and First Parish in Framingham.
Week 1: A Place that Cares for Members and Friends
Reflections from Kathleen Hepler
The most meaningful moments in ministry are the connections with people over time; through pastoral care, small groups, teaching and especially being a companion in the gateway moments of life such as memorial services, weddings and child dedications. What a privilege it is to be with your during these transitions! Thank you for inviting me into these moments.
There is a lot of love here at First Parish in Framingham. It’s part of the systemic DNA. The women and men of Caritas are always ready to help in times of crises with rides, food and visits. The Women’s Alliance provides gracious receptions after a memorial service. Candles during the Sunday Moment of Sharing are often lit for others in celebration, gratitude and grief. People reach out to one another to support and encourage. There are conscious efforts to be inclusive, even when doing so is challenging.You know how to laugh and have fun together at events like Pies on the Common, the Talent Show and the Auction. I am frequently in awe of the generous giving of time, treasure and talent that First Parish members give to the ongoing health of the church.
There are not many places in American culture where people can be together over time doing life-sustaining things, practicing to be good human beings, and learning to love through difference. This community is a gift( and an antidote) to this fast-paced, competitive world. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Reflections from Pat Greeley
First Parish has always been a place for community for me. It is so much more than a home for Sunday worship. It is the place where I developed the deep connections to people who have sustained me through all of life’s changes. It is where Tony and I were truly known. And for Tony especially, it was his personal mission (and still his legacy) that every newcomer should be welcomed and known.
By committing my time in one place over so many years — to the choir, the Church School Council, the Nursery Committee, to Caritas, to Women’s Alliance, to Wellspring Wednesdays, and now to Prison Outreach — I have surrounded myself with people who offer me friendship and support. The people of this community were by my side during Tony’s early illness and recovery, through my own health problems and during Tony’s final years.
Kathleen’s presence with our family through the transitions of life, her particular strength in pastoral care, has provided me support when I needed it the most. Her background in social work and the depth of her understanding of families in all of their complexity, has been an important part of her ministry at First Parish.
In this community I have come to know that all people seek acceptance and understanding. I have experienced those things at First Parish, and I have found so many ways to give them back to others who are hurting, to people in need. To this day, it is the ability to help others, just as I have been helped that gives my life so much meaning.
Week 2: Connection to Our Denomination
Reflections from Kathleen Hepler
First Parish is not alone in its religious endeavor! You are part of the New England Region and the Unitarian Universalist Association. In my 11 years here, I have been proud of all of you who have taken the time and effort to reach out to other UUs to both learn and teach. The congregation has benefited greatly because of it. For instance, former member Janice Knapp-Cordes was on the Board of UU Mass Action (state wide legislative UU advocacy) and currently member Alejandra Duarte is doing the same. Some of you attend their yearly legislative action day. I hope you have pride about the various ways you have been diligent supporters of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. They serve fragile communities international. You send one half of the Christmas Eve offering to them every year, and support fundraising for them through “Guest at Your table” most years.
Through its connection to the UUA, First Parish will find both an interim minister and a more permanent called minister. The UUA credentials new ministers and provides a process within which congregations and ministers choose each other. The UU Minister’s Association care for ethical standards and collegiality among its members. For five years I served my colleagues as a “Good Officer,” offering consultation and support during difficult professional situations.
Over the years, First Parish members have attended many UUA workshops, connected with another congregation to consider growth strategies (Leap of Faith), and received consultation on long range planning (Vision 20/20). Finally our congregation is recognized as an excellent place for aspiring ministers to do their ministerial internships, In my time, there have been three: Michelle LaGrave, Michael Hall and Johanna Murphy. We ordained both Michelle and Michael here, and Johanna’s ordination is on June 16th.
In these, and so many other ways, you live the truth that “Together, UUs are stronger!”
Reflections from Janice Knapp-Cordes
To be a minister is to undertake serious responsibility to care for the spiritual lives on their congregants, and the congregation as a whole. For Unitarian Universalists, part of this includes contributing to and learning from the larger denomination. Over the years, Kathleen has kept us in touch with the New England Region and the UUA in Boston. She invited Teresa Cooley and Sue Philips from the region to conduct workshops and discernment session for us, helping individuals to grow and helping our leaders to envision our future.
Kathleen had many forward-looking ideas that just needed a bit of funding which couldn’t be squeezed out of the budget, so she applied for grants from the Chalice Lighters. I particularly remember the Leap of Faith program, where Kathleen led a First Parish delegation to St. Paul to meet with UUA staff and partner with a congregation in Fairfax, Virginia that had successfully adopted policy governance. First Parish lay leaders learned a great deal from the members in Fairfax and there was sharing going the other way too.
In recent years, First parish has built a particularly strong connection with UU Urban Ministry, committed to social justice and community outreach in Boston. Kathleen was always supportive of this work. UU Mass Action, the statewide network of UUs working for social justice, also always received Kathleen’s support. Finally, there is that grand finale to the church year, the UU General Assembly, to which Kathleen traveled many times. First parish members, including our youth, have also traveled to GA in recent years. The experience offers not only personal renewal, but also insight and ideas that are relevant for First Parish as a whole. Ministers are consummate and dedicated professional, committed to their holy work, and First Parish has been blessed to have had Kathleen Hepler as our minister.
Week 3: Caring for the Earth
Before I arrived, a former member, Judy Perry, led the creation of the labyrinth on the grounds here. Have you walked the labyrinth? It is a beautiful and ancient symbol; a design of curving paths that lead into the center and out again. There is only one entrance. You can’t get lost, but sometimes you are unsure where you are going! I like that its presence aligns us with ancient earth religions whose worship was embedded in the ways of nature.
Since that time, our current members of the Climate Action Team have tenaciously and joyfully made it their business to inspire others to care about the fate of the earth and its creatures. As happens to me so often around here, I am in awe of this mall band of people led by Larry Decker who keep abreast of current relevant legislation, educate about it, and encourage others to make their voice known. They led us through a process of “greening” the physical plant here and we were certified ” Green Sanctuary” status by the UUA. They have hosted groups like 350.org, Transition Framingham, and Mass Interfaith Power and Light. First Parish has solar panels because of their persistence.
I have heard that to stay on the path towards reversing climate change, it is important to savor what we are trying to save. How wonderful it is to see the color and bounty of the garden plots here in the growing season. I like to sit down there and drink the beauty in. How meaningful it has been to gather at the labyrinth on the solstice and equinox to celebrate our relationship with the earth. Have you take the path into the woods on the property? To see the children learning about living more sustainably and caring about nature brings a poignant awareness to me. It is for them and the seventh generation beyond them that we do this work. Thank you all for the high consciousness you have about these issues. It gives me hope.
Reflections from Larry Decker
When Kathleen arrived 11 years ago. Our environmentalist group was know as Framingham Recycling Action Team (FRAC). It was instrumental in establishing a comprehensive recycling program in the town of Framingham. We were exited to have a new minister who care deeply about the environment. With Kathleen’s support we applied to the UU Ministry for the Earth Program to be recognized as a Green Sanctuary church. over three years wo worked to reach our twelve sustainability goals and then received our certification. Kathleen’s previous church had installed solar panels and that renewed our interest in pursuing solar panels for our Parish House. We further reduced our carbon footprint by installing high efficiency furnaces in the Parish House and adopting an aggressive First Parish recycling program.
Our group is now referred to as the Climate Action team. Each year since Kathleen has been here, she has highlighted the need for climate action with a variety of Earth Dat Sunday services. We now network with local environmental groups–350.org MA, Sustainable Framingham, UU Mass Action — to advocate for local, state and national progress in addressing climate change. We have held many engagements in Scott Hall over the last 11 years with Kathleen participating in several key events.
We have a strong nucleus of members who continuously make the effort enjoyable for me. We all have our different reasons for keeping up the fight. I personally hate to see a planet with an unstable climate and rising sea levels passed on to our children and grandchildren. Everyone needs to keep speaking, writing and advocating for change to make it eventually happen. Each person’s personal commitment to reducing their carbon footprint can make a big difference.
Week 4: Stewardship: Caring for Our Campus
The campus here is beautiful and soulful. the buildings are sacred and useful spaces that have been well-used for good purpose for a long time:
- The Meeting House, place of worship weddings, memorials and music for 90 years.
- 11 Edgell Road, home of part of the MetroWest Free Medical Program, Learning English for Adults Program (LEAP) and Our Whole Lives (OWL) program for our youth.
- The Parish House is the hub of activity all week long.
- Likewise, the seeding, weeding, plowing, raking and paving of the grounds is all part of stewardship of this place where UU values are lived.
It must be said that managing the expense of all of this is challenging. In the past 11 years, leaders here have implemented two capital improvement drives. Thanks to them and to all who contributed! Special kudos to Church Administrator, Sara Morrison Neil, who finds ways to manage, and the Maintenance Council (Dicker Rader, Ed Uftring, Ed Clarke, Robin Hegvik, Russ Greve and Larry Bassett).
I celebrate the goodness that emanates from these rooms and spaces.
Reflections from Russ Greve
To me, the word Stewardship has two meanings. One implies hierarchy and the need to grow wealth–like the obligation of a servant to further the financial interests of a master. The other implies community and the need to care for what is entrusted to us–like the planets earth, Gaia.
Here are First Parish, Stewardship has a communal significance. It is understood and practiced in ways both tangible and intangible. Our buildings and grounds–our communal assets–require maintenance and the financial resources to perform it. Each of us contributes those financial resources to sustain our religious community. In return, we have a place to gathers and gain the elusive sense of belonging that is under pressure in our twenty-first century culture.
Maintaining, repairing and adapting–best described as “tinkering”–are things that have been with me since childhood. So it seemed natural to join the Maintenance Council here. With Alma and Bob Gould as leaders and mentors, I formed a long association with brass polish, candles, wax, wood and wool. As an altar boy, I had already mastered the proper handling of the candle lighter. I now consider myself an unofficial Chancel Chandler. However, I am only one of many worker bees keeping up appearances here.
Spiritual nourishment, the intangible aspect of Stewardship, is provided not only by the professional guidance and inspiration of our minister, director of religious exploration and the music directors, but by laity as well. The wonderful dynamic created here is that lay people with their ideas, energies and talents are empowered to create programs for implementing their vision of a richer church life and a better world.
I see Stewardship at First Parish as a balance between the tangible and intangible. It enables us to create a place where we come together, where good things happen, and we leave feeling better for being part of it. I hope that is your vision too!
Week 5: Lay Leadership
Reflections from Reverend Kathleen Hepler
Lay Leaders are the hub of congregational health and evolution. I have learned more from my relationships with lay leaders in my 11 years here than from anything else. Those who have been most joyful about their service to First Parish are those who understand leadership as a spiritual practice. My deep appreciation goes to all these people who have blessed my life.
In 2007, a group of First Parish leaders wanted to open an extension of the Sudbury Free Medical Program here. They met and discussed how it might unfold. They hatched a plan and included the congregation in conversation about it. Since 2008, over 2,000 people who are under-insured have received medical care.
That same year, another group of First Parish leaders led us through the process of becoming a site for Family Promise MetroWest. This work is still going strong! I could point to all the outreach programs here and behind their strength and goodness are lay leaders.
I have worked side-by-side with ten board chairs over the years and about 33 different board members. They have crafted budgets, championed a visioning process, dealt with conflict, made learning a habit, crafted policies given up so much personal time, and supported the many programs and happenings here. They lived their faith by taking a turn at being a leader. Nothing humbles me more about church life than these people.
Lay people have led two big capital drives in the past 11 years. I thank them for leading our generous congregation to sustain our beautiful buildings. Likewise, I thank those who have led our Auction and Pies on the Common and other fundraising efforts these many years.
I have had the great privilege of working with many people on the Worship and Arts Council over the years. They have secured guest speakers, discussed worship elements and their effectiveness, and so much more
I have not named names. This list of contributions is partial. You now who you are. I won’t forget you.
Reflections from Greg Wells
I first came to First Parish in 1985 because I wanted a place to belong. I had an empty place in my life that I was looking to fill, and my initial experience here was like coming home. I first liked Sunday sermons and the friendship share at coffee hour, and soon I started participating with the idea of doing my share. My first year, I approached the canvass leaser and pledged the amount that if everyone pledged , the budget would be met. Since I was so grateful for the ability to work with competent people and accomplish real goals, I was walking with giants, learning things and doing things unavailable to me before. Soon Fist parish was my church, the members here, my congregation.
Participation opportunities come in different ways. In 2010, Kathleen asked me to be part of the 20/20 team, imagining the next five years at First Parish, which led to facilitating a Journey Group. This was my first experience where the only purpose was to share and learn about each other on a personal level. Sometimes I was asked to participate, to fill an opening like the role of Moderator. Sometime I would simply inquire and volunteer. There are so many things to do here at First parish. You do not need to be the committee chair or to speak in front of the congregation, but you can do these things is you choose. A lay leader is someone who loves the church and works to keep it as the oasis we first found and that kept us coming back,.
As a youth leader, I learned that the best group was where everyone was a leader. I see that ever time I come to church. A task needs someone, and someone steps forward. I have been a member for over thirty years, Most of the people who first inspired me are no longer here, but others have stepped up and I am inspired again. It takes many hands to build a community like First Parish. I found what I was looking for back in 1985. I learned what “belonging to” means. Be involved, participate, add your voice. Give your support and accomplish something that takes many hands to accomplish. Everyone can be a leader.
Week 6: Nurturing Our Children and Youth
Reflections from Reverend Kathleen Hepler
When I first saw the packets of materials from First Parish, I knew this was a place that respected children and youth. Sam Greeley, a high school senior at the time, was a member of the Search Committee! Over the years, working with our DREs and RE Council members, First Parish has become increasingly multi-generational. Children now join us for a Sunday “Time for All Ages’ and we have added another multi-generational service. Inclusive programs have been added, like Advent Saturdays, Mystery Friends and the talent Show. I have appreciated the commitment to children and youth here from the beginning. I carry that good wisdom with me.
First Parish has one of the strongest YRUU program I have seen. Kudos to the many adults who help guide the junior and senior youth groups! And, your young people are always reaching out beyond our walls to serve others, an ethic that is in the DNA here. I will never forget the trip (led by former DRE Julie Porter) that my daughter and I took with some of you to New Orleans to support rebuilding efforts. “Deeds not creeds!” Thank you to the youth for being so unified in your differences! Thank you for serving at the Auction every year, acting as Acolytes on Christmas Eve, and delivering the most popular worship service of the year–Youth Sunday! Thank you for the yard work you do to raise funds for First Parish! It has been great seeing you grow into the great people you are!
And to the littlest here in the community, those who not even born when I arrived here…how blessed I have been to have your hugs, your wonder, and your help on Sunday mornings with chalices lightings! I shall miss you! We often hear that children and youth are our future. Well, of course, that is true. But, for me, they are essential ingredients in the present, right here and now. I know you will continue to make room for all ages to bless each other!
Reflections from Jennifer Walton
My mom and I first came to First Parish looking for a place for our unique family to spend quality time together and be in community with like-minded people. I wanted a place where my daughter could take the time to find and follow her own voice, and a place where pressure to look and sound like her peers would take a backseat to celebrating her contributions to the community. The Religious Exploration programs did so much more than that for all of us.
I’ve been involved in RE as a teacher, council member, and youth group adviser. I intended to give back and stay engaged, but found it fed by soul and aided my spiritual growth. I’ve met more lifelong friends in RE than I can count. Some of my favorite memories are from multi-generational events like Mystery Friends, Halloween Parties, UnBirthday Parties, UnPlugged Christmas and Soup & games Nights. Growing up, many of my daughter’s favorite church friends were teachers and parishioners, not just classmates, relationships forged during these RE events.
I’ve had the privilege of guiding our middle and high school aged youth groups for many years– I can’t imagine church life without them. They bring vibrancy and energy that cannot be forced, and is both expected and unexpected. In our plugged in world of constant contact, First parish plays an important role to provide a safe space for youth to come as they are and just be.
Throughout Kathleen’s tenure, I’ve been impressed the value she places on RE programs. I’ve watched the careful work of crafting RE in to what it currently is. The truth is that RE, as it was 11 years ago, would not best serve children and families today. I am very grateful for Kathleen’s RE program guidance over these years–what a wonderful legacy!
Week 7: Worship
Reflections from Reverend Kathleen Hepler
I am often asked how UUs know what to focus on in worship without a creed of sacred text to follow. Of course, there is never a lack of things to find worthy as a Sunday theme. I often highlight social issues, spirituality and psychology, UU identity and institutional understanding. Together we have accomplished unity within our diversity.
You shine a light on and care for Sunday visitors with the red mug/blue mug practice and a clear commitment to a verbal welcoming in the ‘words of welcome.’ This is awesome! And, having Sara Morrison Neil on the steps with welcoming words and information is such a boon. Feel proud!
Together we have made changes to worship over the years, among them: the way we share joys and concerns, a word change in our opening covenant, the presence of children at each service, the opening water communion, the addition of a multi-generational service and the move to one service instead of two. Of course not everyone likes every change, but each has been made through our democratic process. Change is inevitable as a congregation adapts to generational needs, remaining grounded in the present social sphere, and flexible of heart and mind. There will always be a dance between what to keep from the past and when to innovate.
Recently, there has been a renewal of our Worship Associates program. Thank you to all who have stepped forward. I have enjoyed the freedom to periodically deviate from a standard order of service for the sake of vitality and novelty. Many of you joined me to share your perspectives in these services–such as on climate change, mysticism, and the afterlife. This has added richness and thought provocation. Thank you!
Finally, kudos to so many who have participated in the creation of worship as Worship and Arts Council members, ushers, summer service coordinators and leaders, chancel decorators, Christmas Eve youth acolytes, Time for All ages creators and participants, chalice lighters, candle lighters and more. So much common work foes into the making of any one worship service. Beloveds, you do a very good job in supporting the “bones” of worship in your spiritual community. It has been a blessing!
Reflections from Maggie Dabrush
The worship of my youth rested on rituals and words memorized by rote, long sermons I did not understand or enjoy and music sung by an exclusive choir. My experience during Kathleen’s time here has been so much different. I am honored to have been a part of the Worship and Arts Council and various inclusive choirs. I appreciate now the tireless work, energy and reflection required creating meaningful services. Kathleen has created a welcoming place to worship, and framed worship in the image of our Unitarian Universalist ideals. This is challenging and amazing work.
Kathleen asks the Worship and Arts Council–What should a worship service be? What should it do? These are the simple but essential questions each Sunday, just as we did when she posed them to the council. Some answers arose repeatedly: worship needs a frame of familiarity; it should offer a place to recharge; it should include as many people as possible. and it should promote discussion or inspiration.
Here, music is an indispensable part of worship. Our bell choir, multi-generational chalice choirs and the (mostly) adult choir embrace inclusion, inspire many, allow people to recharge and provide familiarity. Some of our favorite guest worship leaders are musicians, and our music service is a treasured part of the worship year. The guests in our pulpit offer new perspectives, push us beyond the familiar, and challenge us to be better members of society. the familiar structure of our services provides room for inclusion, recharging, discussion and inspiration.
Our holiday, multi-generational and youth service allows for many among us to participate in worship.They create space for those of all ages to lead portions of our spiritual gatherings. Worship Associates help frame familiar rituals and have been nurtured by Kathleen to allow deeper opportunity for lay leadership. All of this contributes to making a comfortable place to worship. Over her 11 years at First Parish, Kathleen has helped us to live the truth that no matter where we are on our spiritual journey, what we believe, who we love, or who we aspire to be–ALL are welcome here.
Reflections from Kathleen Hepler
I believe that the way to judge the efficacy of a religion is in the way it treats its neighbors; the ways it cares about the wider world. Unitarian Universalism has a long and strong history of living its religion out beyond the walls of its churches. This is certainly true of First parish in Framingham, and one of the reasons I have been so proud to be the minister here over the past 11 years.
From the RE curriculum focus on serving others, to the monthly “Share the Plate,” to the many outreach programs that thrive here it makes a difference to the world that our members are present in it. I well remember the small group of people who wished to become part of the MetroWest Free Medical Program 11 years ago. They did the footwork and the rest of the congregation got behind them and 110 Edgell has been a place of healing and health ever since. Other working groups have been started because someone felt called toward something and worked to make it happen: participation in Family Promise, support for a village in Guatemala, Prison Outreach, support for the UU Urban Ministry, the MetroWest Immigrant Solidarity Network, ESL classes, the Diaper Project, the food bank and work on climate change. Through the years many of you have marched near and far, written letters and witnessed on the front lawn here for important causes, and some have been active in legislative change.
I say, “Good work!” to you who work quietly and humbly year after year, week after week, day after day in service to others. Whatever else that can be said about the last 11 years here at First Parish, the life and the love that you have breathed into the world we all share is notable and laudable and magnificent.
Reflections from Eve Benda
My life has been incredibly enriched through involvement in the many outreach efforts of First Parish. During Kathleen’s time with us I have worked to establish four new programs to benefit our community:
- The MetroWest Free Medical Program women’s health and vision programs just celebrated 10 years at First parish. Each month about 15 low income individuals with no or limited insurance reclaim their vision and receive specialized eye care here.
- The ESL program was founded 7 years ago. About 60 adult each year are enrolled in a weekly beginner or intermediate English class taught by First Parish and community member volunteers.
- For more than two years, I coordinated Family Services Coalition, a community-wide response to support homeless families placed in local motels. We provided food,transportation, onsite adult English language instruction, homework assistance and tutoring for children, connections to school vacation programs, holiday activities, offsite recreation and social programs, and access to local, state and regional resources.
- For the last three years, I have coordinated the Diaper Project. First Parish volunteers reach out to preschools, faith-based and youth organizations, nonprofits and businesses to host diaper drives. Diapers are distributed to families referred through a A Place to Turn, a Natick food pantry serving MetroWest. In 2017, we distributed 80,902 diapers to 1,152 families.
There are so many ways we work together to meet the needs of our neighbors. The Warm Coats Committee provides coats to local homeless and domestic violence shelters. Family Promise MetroWest hosts four homeless families three times a years. The Prison Re-entry and Support Working Group supports incarcerated and pre-release Framingham women. We collect and donate food to Hope Food Pantry in Framingham. The UU Urban ministry supports Renewal House, an emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence. And each month, a charity is a recipient of the Share the Plate Sunday offering.
Together, First Parish community outreach efforts form a rich mosaic of programs and services that benefit thousands of people each year in the greater Framingham community and beyond. This is how we live the truth of our Opening Words–“service is our prayer.”