Parishioner Story

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.

I Belong – 2015 Pledge Testimonial

I grew up here in Concord, on Elm St, across from Trinity Episcopal Church. My family was staunchly atheist. So I would watch with curiosity as my neighbors filed into church every Sunday morning and I wondered what the heck they did in there.

I left Concord when I was 18 and moved to the UK. Shortly after that, I started to ask people about why they were religious. And I would say, “I’d like to maybe be part of a religious community, but since I don’t believe in god, I wouldn’t be comfortable being part of a religion that required me to believe a particular doctrine. I’d like to explore lots of religions and I’d like to be in a church community without an expectation that we all believe the same thing.” And people would look at me like I had two heads, and they would say, “I don’t know what that is, but it’s not a church. It’s certainly not my church. I think you’re looking for some kind of social club.” And I would say, “I don’t think I am, but…well…ok…thank you.”

And I had many conversations like this over the course of about 20 years, until one day, I was visiting an old friend of mine – her name is Patty Popov – and I described this thing that I had in mind, and she said, “Oh, you’re a Unitarian Universalist. You should come to my church.” So I did, and I listened to Pam’s children’s message and I listened to the choir and I listened to Gary’s sermon, and tears began to stream down my face. This thing that I had invented in my head and looked for for nearly two decades was real, and it was right here in my hometown, a mile from where I grew up. It was quite the Dorothy moment.

So I convinced my family to move here and I jumped in full force. I joined everything: choirs, shows, women’s retreats; I joined just about every committee that would have me. I organized potlucks, and square dances and story telling nights. And what I’ve come to realize over the past 8 years is that what feeds me is connection. The work that I am most drawn to do as a volunteer is invariably about connecting to others and helping others to connect to each other, striving to create a place where each of us can say, “I belong.” Taking part in building community has come to be a spiritual practice for me.

So why do I pledge? I pledge not as an indicator of how much or how little I agree with the choices made by our church leaders – sometimes I spectacularly disagree with how things come to happen here, but that has no impact on how I personally choose to pledge. My perspective may not be a popular one, but I share it with you from my heart, and you can do with it what you will. I see pledging as my duty as a citizen of this congregation. Like paying taxes. If I don’t like how Congress operates, I may shout at my radio a lot, but I still pay my taxes, because I like having roads and schools and a police force. It’s what I signed up for when I chose to move back to this country. I chose to increase my pledge by 18% this year because my church called upon me to do so; because the work that we do here – work that I value and respect and want to be part of and want my children to emulate – costs actual money. I looked for this place for half my life and I intend to treasure it for the rest of my life. I honor the work of this community by simply paying my share.
When I signed the membership book, I felt as if I had linked arms with every person who had ever lived and died in this parish, and every person who will walk through those doors after I am gone. A chain of human lives, each link connected.

I close by co-opting a little bit of a Pete Seeger song we sang last week:
Guard well our human chain. Watch well you keep it strong…For now, I’m yours. And you are also mine.

First Parish Gives Me Family – 2015 Pledge Testimonial

Hi, I’m Edye, and I’ve worked downstairs in little RE for three years now. When I think about reasons why it is important to support First Parish, I immediately think of all the times that this church has been there for me. I was talking about giving a testimonial with one of the girls I babysit and when she asked what First Parish did for me, I told her that it gave me a family. It has, and that family has been there for me – you have been there for me – more than I could ever imagine. You’ve watched me grow, you’ve welcomed me so openly into your lives, and the love that I feel for you – and that I feel from you – is what makes this church so important to participate in and to support.
The religious education program contributes a lot to the lives of everyone involved – parents, kids, and teachers alike. And it’s you, the congregation, that makes all of these wonderful connections and experiences possible. Because of you, we can run the RE program. We can host family events like the Christmas fair, and potlucks, and rock ‘n’ roll bingo, and everything that strengthens the social connections and special relationships that I attribute to my membership at First Parish.

My job in RE means the world to me. We have such an amazing time and I’ve honestly created beautiful memories with the people I’ve met here. Having the resources to continue the program and to support everything that we do in childcare is incredibly important. Not only to me, but to you. I want to make sure that everyone gets the same opportunities that I am honored to have. To ensure that this can happen, it’s up to all of us to give to the church. This community has a wonderful give-and-take: I know how much I receive in response to what I give, and the same goes for every member of First Parish. We support each other, which enables us to have so many phenomenal experiences.
Thank you for everything you’ve done, and thank you for your continued financial and emotional support. I would not be who I am today without this congregation.

First Parish Isn’t Just My Church; It Is My Community – 2015 Pledge Testimonial

Jay and I started coming to First Parish about 12 years ago, when our kids were young. Over the years I have had the opportunity the experience many aspects of First Parish. I was very involved in RE when the kids were young. As most parents do, I taught classes for several years. I led the Coming of Age program for two years. I worked at First Parish for about five years, both in RE and in the business office. I’ve sung in the adult and contemporary choirs with Beth and Gail, and attended the women’s retreats. I’ve made many friends here and have always felt very connected to this church.

Even though I had been here for several years, at the end of 2013 I experienced First Parish in a completely new way. My father in law Jack Barnes died in November. Jack had suffered with Alzheimer’s for several years, so his death was not a surprise. We had been saying goodbye to Jack for a long time. But Jay had been very close to his dad and it was a very difficult time. Many of you called us to ask how you could help. Howard immediately agreed to do the memorial service for us, even though we barely knew him and he had never met Jack. The staff at First Parish jumped in to help with all of the details. Cassy created and printed out orders of service, and Nicole Miller Sheehan coordinated the entire reception for us so we could spend time with our family. We had our first experience with the Pastoral Care group. Dianne Clapp spoke with Jay in the days preceding Jack’s death as well as after. Knowing she was just a phone call away was very reassuring. Several choir members came to the funeral to help lead hymns and others gave me a big hug during Wednesday night’s rehearsal.

The night of the memorial service we had a dinner in the Parish Hall for family and friends who had come from out of State. It started to snow heavily in the afternoon and we were all concerned about the roads. Despite the horrible weather, Barry Copp came to First Parish to be our Sexton for the night. Barry was a generous and comforting presence and never once complained about staying late and having to drive home in the snow.

We were blown away by the number of cards and notes we received. Even people we didn’t know reached out to with caring words, simply because we belong to this community. Jay even received a note from one of you a year later, on the anniversary of his dad’s death. During this time was when I realized that First Parish isn’t just my church; it is my community. A community of loving, caring people to celebrate with and to comfort each other in hard times. I am very thankful for all of you and for this wonderful congregation and community.