Parishioner Story

2018 Pledge Testimonial

Good morning . . . I’m Chris Popov.  Patty and I have been attending First Parish for almost 18 years.  Well before then, before I knew that Patty was raised as a Unitarian Universalist, I mustered the good sense to ask her to lunch in 1991.  Later, a UU minister officiated at our wedding.  And, to my never-ending astonishment and joy, I have been hooked since.  Thank you, Patty, the love of my life, for bringing me and our children here.

It is that time each year for all of us to pledge an amount.  And you all know that something is always better than nothing; more better still.  As you think of that amount, please remember what First Parish means to you.  Yours truly could fill the rest of today’s service with thoughts, most of them you likely share.   But you did not show up today to hear my long list, and I can assure you my recitation would not enhance today’s service.  However, I offer one highlight.

Many of you attended the memorial service for David Grayzel, when First Parish opened it heart and its doors to a grieving family and community.  How First Parish helps at the worst of times reminded me of this institution at its best.  I submit that, while we may never know, First Parish helped, by that service, to save lives.

So, between now and Celebration Sunday on March 4—mark your calendars—please remember that your annual pledge—while it supports: this sanctuary, uplifting music, reassuring services, a good sermon every Sunday, and a lot of friendly faces, among so much more—-also helps   save   lives.    I will be at coffee hour if you would like to talk.    Thank you for listening.

2018 Pledge Testimonial

D: I’m Doug Hardy

R: I’m Roselyn Romberg

D: We moved to Concord in 1996 because we fell in love with First Parish. And we immediately made supporting First Parish part of our household budget.

R: We’re both self-employed, and financially that means we’ve been up and we’ve been down.

D: Up is better.

R: There were years when we were able to pledge a lot of money to the annual campaign.

D: And years when we couldn’t afford anything more than a few dollars in the plate.

R: But whatever the amount of our contribution, First Parish was here for us.

D: About 2009, we quietly told Melissa Gallo that, because of financial reversals, we had to delay our pledge to the reconstruction of the organ. She said, “that’s okay, you do what you can.”

R: We managed to fulfill that pledge two years later, just 10 days before the final deadline.

D: Many of you know we had a tough time adopting and raising three severely traumatized children.  In 2011, we sold our beloved farmhouse on Fairhaven Road. We told most people we were downsizing because the kids were grown. But that was a face-saving story.

R: The truth is, we sold our house to pay off $300,000 in debt we had incurred to therapeutic schools and doctors and lawyers.  In 2011 we suspended most of our contributions. But the First Parish Community didn’t suspend its friendship, patience and support for us. And in the seven years since 2011, we’ve worked our way back to financial health, and back to contributing more.

D: First Parish was there for us because you were there for First Parish. You, and people who are no longer here. Betty King. Val Holt. Gene Brown. Jenny Rankin. Gary Smith. So many others. And years from now, people who haven’t yet walked through those doors will sustain First Parish, so it can be a source of support, education, justice and joy for future generations.

R: So we repeat to you the message we have always heard here at First Parish: Give what you can, and no matter what you give, we will be here for you.

D: And we ask you on Celebration Sunday to think of giving just a little more.

R: Five percent more.

D: Because to the left and right of you today are people who this year can’t give as much. And in front and in back of you are people who can give more. If we all give what we can – what we REALLY can afford – First Parish will be here for us all, and for generations to come.


Music at First Parish – 2018 Pledge Testimonial

I‘d like to share a bit about one of the many things that makes this church special for me.  The Music.  Music has always been the most important part of worship for me.  Some of you know that I took a long and winding path to get here, exploring one religion after another, trying to find what I was looking for.

In all of the many churches I’ve attended through the years, music was always at the center of my experience.

  • I sang in the youth choir in the congregational church where I grew up in Mystic, Connecticut.
  • I played guitar for folk masses at my Catholic high school.
  • I went to an evangelical Christian college and toured the north-east with a band called Kinship
  • And after college I joined the choir in an Episcopal church.

I never stayed in a church longer than a couple of years.  Music always drew me in and filled me up for a little while, but I eventually I always felt the need to move on.

After many starts and stops, I stopped going to church all together.   But after Jay and I had our kids, we wanted to join a faith community.  A friend told us about First Parish.  I walked in and heard this wonderful choir and was mesmerized!  We began coming regularly.

When our kids grew up and became a little more independent, I took the step to join the choir.  And wow.  Choir is amazing.  Beth, of course, is a wonderful musician and director.  But she is truly a minister as well.  Beth always explains to us the historical context and message of each piece we sing.  And because of that we feel connected to the music and to the theme of the service.

Jay and I also sing in Gail’s Contemporary Vocal Ensemble.  CVE is a smaller group and we sing in a circle, so we can connect and really hear each other.  Gail, like Beth, reminds us that we are not “performing” in the Sunday service.  It’s not about us as singers…it’s about ministry and connection.  Connecting with each other, and with all of you in the congregation.

I am so blessed to be here.  It is such a huge gift to be able to participate in the music programs here at First Parish.  Beside the fact that I’m basically getting free voice lessons, the music feeds my soul.

Jay and I are increasing our annual pledge this year.   This community is important to us and we have made our pledge a priority.  When we come here we are refreshed.  We are challenged.  We breathe deeply when we sing.  We are home.

First Parish Gives Me Hope – 2018 Pledge Testimonial

I support First Parish because it gives me hope.

This year, I’m a mentor for our 9th graders in their Coming of Age program, I’ve listened to their discussions. I participated in their service trip to Common Cathedral in Boston and their overnight here at the church. This group is thoughtful and caring. They support each other, and they have fun together.

I was describing them to another member at an event recently and he said Oh I had that group for OWL last year. They are a great group.

The thing is, this group didn’t just come out of nowhere. Most of them are very familiar faces at First Parish. You’ve seen them grow up. I think this group and their dynamic represents one of the important outcomes possible at First Parish.

It gives me hope that our Religious Education Program introduces our children to the diversity of cultures and wisdom in the world.

It engages them in the process of determining for themselves what they value. Our church is also a physical space that can hold special memories for them. For my daughter Ava those include

  • Candlelight services at Christmas
  • Knowing the nooks and crannies of this building

I believe these are gifts that will ground our children and broaden their experiences and thinking. In return, I know my future will benefit because there are young people like them going out into the world.

There are plenty of institutions and decision makers in our country and world that make me despair for young people, but not here. First Parish, gives me hope. Your pledge is what makes First Parish possible.

Building Character and Shaping Lives – 2016 Pledge Testimonial

First Parish in Concord has been part of my life story for as long as I can remember. It is a tradition that dates back to the 1940s when both sets of grandparents moved to Concord and became part of the First Parish family. My parents were both raised in this church.

Many of the RE programs we have today look like programs we had when I was a child. Volunteer parents taught the RE classes. We had “the church across the street” that was similar to Neighboring Faiths. Our version of OWL was called AYS – About Your Sexuality. I will never forget the Sunday afternoon when my Dad, who was my AYS teacher, illustrated one birth control method by slipping a condom onto a cucumber. We even had LRY on Sunday nights – “Liberal Religious Youth” which felt a lot like our youth group programs do today.

Fast forward to 1997, when Johanna and I moved back to Concord with our growing family. Johanna came from a staunch Episcopalian background that felt a lot different than RE done UU style. I had an obvious preference for where our children should get their religious education, and when Johanna sat through her first COA service, witnessing (and crying) as an amazing class of 9th graders shared their personal credos, she was sold.

As a child I was unaware of the role First Parish families played in providing the financial fuel that made First Parish run – non-carbon based and socially responsible, of course. But now I do. And that’s why we put First Parish at the top of our annual giving list.

There are so many “good causes” out there, so many good organizations doing all manner of good work. What distinguishes First Parish is that this community is actually building character and shaping lives. It is forming children into people who make the world a better place.

When it comes to finances, we need to remember First Parish is wholly self-sufficient. There is no secret pool of money to bridge the gap when we fall short of our goals. Johanna and I are grateful for this church, for this staff, for these programs, and for this community. We increased our pledge by 11% this year and encourage you to do the same. There are few charitable organizations where your money will make a bigger impact. Let’s make sure this community has the resources it needs to keep building character and shaping lives. There is no more important work.

2016 Pledge Testimonial

Good Morning. My name is Toby Smith Ropeik.

When I first walked into First Parish, 23 years ago, I admit, I came as a skeptic, having been areligious for 25 years. Well, I felt more at home that first Sunday, than at any other religious place I’d ever been associated with or visited. For me, THAT was a miracle. I began attending every week… just WAITING for something to go wrong. Only, it never did. I integrated my children into RE. My husband joined me, FINALLY! But that’s another story. I made wonderful new friends, worked on committees, taught RE. I became part of a new community.

From youth group, my daughter learned the responsibilities that went with leadership. My quiet and reserved son stood right here delivering his Coming of Age credo. All these were little miracles to me. Now, this is not to say I see First Parish as perfect. More like family – which we all know is never easy. I HAVE found myself angry at times. Disappointed in leadership… or other parishioners. And – here comes my confession – I am deeply embarrassed to admit that in some years, I pulled back — stopped attending… EVEN, I’m ashamed to say, reduced my pledge to make a statement about MY… PERSONAL…frustration.

But NEVER again. Because when I served on the ministerial search team, something changed for me. I FINALLY got it! First Parish is about a lot more than me or MY own family. It’s about ALL of us. SO, NOW, if I’m not personally experiencing a miracle this week…or this year, that’s okay. Because others are. And THAT’s what my annual pledge supports. It’s also why my husband and I have doubled our pledge over the last few years. Because WE, as a congregation, DO sow miracles everyday. We should be PROUD of that. Because each one is priceless to someone sitting among us. So, here’s MY hope for First Parish. That when we pledge, I hope each of us keeps in mind the BIG picture. And pledges as generously as possible. For ALL our sakes. You have the opportunity to participate in the Annual Pledge Campaign right now.

You’ll find pledge cards, envelopes, and pens in the pews. Just place your completed card in the offering plate or drop it off at the church office. If you want some guidance, • The Annual Pledge campaign asks anyone who pledged more than $1,000 per household last year — to increase that pledge at least 5% this year. • If you pledged between $500 and $1,000, please pledge at least $1,000 this year, if you can. • And if you pledged between zero and $500, please consider giving at least $500. MOST OF ALL, we want you to participate in the Annual Pledge Campaign— because every pledge matters, no matter the size. I will be at coffee hour if you would like to speak further. (pause) And, just in case I haven’t talked enough about money, YET, the offering for the good work and witness of this church will now be gratefully received.

2016 Pledge Testimonial

Like some of you, I’ve spent a lot of my life uncomfortable with organized religion and the idea of “church.”

It started in my second grade Congregational Sunday School when the lesson centered on Christ’s infallibility. I asked a logical question: Didn’t Jesus ever spill his milk? From the end of the long table came the reply: Jesus Christ, our Lord, never spilled his milk! Other experiences calcified this feeling that church lacked an honesty and humanity worthy of my Sunday mornings.

Then I discovered the preaching at First Parish. Howard Dana, our Senior Minister, has a deep taproot. His sermons are informed by a childhood enriched by religion in rural Montana, by lots of reading, and by periods of extended solitude and reflection skimming along Adirondack lakes in his kayak. There is a depth of thought and feeling in many of his sermons that helps me “move my rocks.”

I think of my limitations of perspective as rocks in my river. They disrupt the flow and are hard to dislodge. I look to FP and Howard’s sermons to help me move them. His early “getting-to-know-you” sermons revealed his deep life-long love and appreciation of Church. It was clear that he loved the whole business of Church. The particulars of doctrine mattered less than the experience of having a constant faith community in one’s life. I began to look at church differently.

A year ago, Howard delivered a sermon entitled “The Fire Next Time” in which he described Black and White clergy coming together in Harrisburg around the deaths of Black teens in their city. When there was a murder, they would just show up and bear witness. This story of him “just showing up” to stand with Black clergy on a tragic street corner stayed with me over the summer.

I met with Howard In September to explore ways I could venture across the color barrier as a white woman from Concord, to “just show up.” Here’s what he said: I should attend Union United Methodist Church, a progressive church on Columbus Ave. in Boston. I trusted Howard so I went and was overwhelmed with the welcome I received. Hugs, handshakes, smiles. Each time I’ve gone it’s been the same. In that context, the Christian message of forgiveness and love feels perfectly right and true. I know that a Christian context will never feel like my spiritual home, but the experience at Union United has dislodged that old rock. Howard’s sermon started that.

So, why should you pledge to FP? How many churches can you attend where your minister tells you to go to another church? If you have any rocks that need moving, I hope you’ll do the moving with us!

2016 Pledge Testimonial

My family and I found First Parish while church shopping almost 6 years ago. I was raised in a church, and although my feelings about it were a bit complicated, I knew that I wanted my children to have a spiritual home. I wanted my children to be called to be their best selves. I also wanted to show them a community beyond our demographic; to show them there is a whole world, even within own town, that does not revolve around school and soccer and music together.

I approached church warily; hoping I could find something to provide my children with the religious basis I appreciate without too much religious baggage. Prior to coming to First Parish, I had never heard of Unitarian Universalism; but my kids were drawn to this place and would share interesting tidbits from their time in RE. That seemed like a good start. As a parent, the hour of peace, accompanied by Gary’s “greatest hits” was thoroughly enjoyable.

After only a few visits, the impact of this choice became apparent. Mark and I were having an ideological debate at the dinner table, expressing our contrasting views as a Baptist and a Catholic. My then-kindergartener interrupted… “But Mommy and Daddy- we are Unitarian Universalists with minds that think, hearts that love and hands that are ready to serve”. I was stunned. It was the first time I had heard those words. What may have been the most shocking to me was that it was a recipe for a spiritual life that we all could agree upon. Now, our whole family knows about living by the seven principles.

To me, it is a small miracle that we found a place to nourish our whole family, not only our children. This place and this movement was something I didn’t even know I needed, but I did.

This sentiment is why I am so excited that we are committed to eliminating RE fees this year. I am excited that when a new family crosses our threshold, they will be invited to engage in this community, rather than simply enroll their children. This shift underscores how religious education is different than the myriad of other enriching activities available to our children in the community. It also emphasizes that what we offer is for all ages and it demonstrates that our congregation values children and religious education.

This year, my family increased our pledge by more than 5% that was requested, in anticipation that we will no longer be asked for registration fees. First Parish is important to myself and my family and our pledge reflects that. You also have an opportunity to participate in the Annual Pledge Campaign this morning.

There are pledge cards, envelopes, and pens in the pews. You may place your pledge card in the offering plate or bring it to the church office after the service. I will be at coffee hour if you would like to speak further. The Annual Pledge campaign asks people who pledged more than $1,000 per household last year to increase their pledge at least 5% this year. People who pledged between $500 and $1,000 are asked to give at least $1,000 this year, if they can.

And people who pledged between zero and $500 are asked to give at least $500, if they are able. Mostly we want you to participate in the Annual Pledge Campaign—because every pledge matters, no matter the size.

2016 Pledge Testimonial

We came to First Parish 20 years ago, after “sampling” UU churches around Middlesex County. In fact, we moved to Concord because of First Parish. We found a home here, before we found a house in Concord.

From our earliest days here, we loved hearing the music. Always there was music. Big holidays. Ordinary Sundays. There was really good music. We stayed. We made friends. We volunteered to teach RE. We served bouillon. And then we served on committees. And there was music. Weddings, funerals, child dedications… Always music. That magnificent organ needed to be restored. For two years it was silent, while it was being rebuilt. And still there was music. Adult choir, gospel choir, chalice choir, junior choir. Recitals, concerts, and Friday night sing-alongs. We adopted 3 children from Russia. And they sang in English before they understood English. Gary Smith led services that always included music. Jenny Rankin led services, and always, music. Gary left. Jenny left. And there was music.

Howard Dana became our minister. And at his calling – music. Always we had music. Our children grew up. YOUR children grew up. And the music here grew too. By Your Side Singers. “Chicken Man,” the musical. Missa Gaia. “Choose Your Ancestors”. We got great jobs, and our annual pledge went up. We lost those jobs, and our annual pledge went down. We got new jobs, and our annual pledge went up again. And the music never stopped. I joined the choir. And the bass section got louder. I joined the choir. And the alto section got blonder.

My father was a minister and a professional tenor. My father was a businessman who couldn’t carry a tune in his golf bag. My mother is a voice teacher, and sings in her church’s choir. She loves to come here for the music. Because there is always music. Anderson Manuel has led gospel choir for 12 years. Gail Carey has led children’s choirs for ten years and more, and created today’s amazing Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. Our congregation is blessed with gifted musicians like Rob Castillo, Siri Smedvig, Rob Hamilton, Anna Huckabee Tull, Nancy Ackerman, and so many more, who make music with us and for us all year long.

A gifted pianist and conductor named Grace Choi accompanies choir rehearsals on Wednesday nights. And of course, our gifted organist, Eric Hunneke, plays that beautifully rebuilt organ most Sundays, leading us into song. Here at First Parish, all of us have music to lead us into a new world of heart and spirit.

All this music is here because of Beth Henderson Norton, our Music Director, our Minister of music. For 22 years, Beth has led the music ministry of First Parish. Selecting hymns for each service. Finding anthems to fit each sermon. Rehearsing the choir. Guiding all the different music programs of the church. Leading music ministry at the UUA. Writing liner notes. Conducting. Composing music, like our beautiful Benediction. Beth knows that music gives more than pleasure. For the spiritual it is a doorway to the divine. For the humanist it celebrates the great human achievement of art. Music teaches adult and child the principals of our faith. It leads us toward social justice.

Music doesn’t happen by luck. Great music requires great dedication, great leadership and great support. And you can’t download that free from some web server. We have Beth, and we have music, because we the members of First Parish support music ministry with our pledges.

Next year’s budget, which we will all vote on at our Annual Meeting in June, will include a proposal for a new line item. For the first time in 22 years, we the congregation will vote for First Parish to sponsor a sabbatical for our music director. Long overdue. And richly deserved. Beth plans to use the sabbatical to study, to compose, and to consider new possibilities for music at First Parish. And the music won’t stop, not for a single service. She’s planning that now. Music was here, is here, and will be here because of Beth and her team. And Beth and her team are here because your annual support makes it possible for them to be here.

This year, we are increasing our annual pledge by a thousand dollars, and we’re doing it because of the music. And because of the hundred other ways First Parish supports us all. Whether the music here entertains you, energizes you, educates you, Or just gives you a way to sing out who and what you are, please raise your support as we have. So the music can continue.

Watch Out for the Unitarian Universalists – 2016 Pledge Testimonial

Before we moved to Concord, a friend had us meet her brother. He was living here already.

“It’s a great place,” Michael told us, “but watch out for the Unitarians Universalists! They sit on all the town committees. They spend too much!”

It sounded pretty good to us.

Years followed, first with the children in RE, then in the wider church. A decade ago, when heavy challenges came, what could have been the gates of hell opened to reveal you to us as angels.

Pastoral care for me was first of all the cast of The Laramie Project. There followed more theatricals, music, dinners in the Parish Hall, friends, and ultimately all those committees. We healed.

The children have their own children now. I settled into myself, I fell in love again, and we have been surrounded in this community by joy.
In a few weeks, Howard will marry Caitlin and me. Our children will be with us, as will our families and all those angels – the thespians, the historians, the thinkers, the musicians, the Taizé chanters, the environmentalists, the fellow-travelers who share their vegan plates, the committee members. The angels who put chairs away at the end of a meeting. With us too will be the angels who won’t sit still when there’s work to do for justice, or for peace.

Michael was right all those years ago. Unitarian-Universalists are everywhere. Passover and Easter. Getting on with the Annual Campaign
We are blessed. We are the angels. That’s what we are.