So, there’s this soup….

So there’s this soup.

It’s the soup in the picture below and it is amazing for a number of reasons.

soup

The first reason is that it is hot outside and this is a cold soup and as such, thinking about this soup and writing about this soup I feel like will possibly be a cooling experience for me.

You see, it is a gazpacho. But unlike many gazpachos which are all blended into a big mess of flavor (sometimes delicious, yes, but I have always sensed something of unmet potential, of almost-ness in most gazpachos.)

And this is the genius of this soup. It comes in two parts. The puree comes in a little urn and in the bowl is a mix of delicious bits. This particular day’s blend had cucumbers, radishes, cherry tomatoes and peaches, all arranged over some very creamy goat cheese.

And you pour the mixed soup into your bowl and the soup mingles wit

 

h the large ingredients and every bite is something different and special. Flavors burst in the mouth, held in the larger mix of the soup. It was a singular joy, this soup. And infinitely re-creatable. Please do make it and let me know.

But even this is not the most amazing thing about this soup. (“Surely not!” I am sure you say to your screen, “Surely yes!” I say back.)

By far the most amazing thing about this soup is that it lingers in my mind and heart as a testament to love. This soup stands like a fencepost in time, reaching out to me, reminding me of my beloved.

 

You see, we had this soup on our tenth anniversary trip last year. We had this soup in the midst of a few days of uninterrupted time with just each other. We had this soup in the midst of some of the sweetest and most beautiful love that we have shared.

And I mention this to you now to say, as these summer weeks stretch out ahead of us, as you make your plans and crunch the competing needs of family and friends and craft complicated travel plans, make a point to seek out some love soup.

If you love and are beloved of someone, let them know. Go the extra mile. If you are stuck in some petulant, ridiculous argument, assume you are wrong, let it go and make some delicious gazpacho separated in an urn with a bowl full of delicious accent adventure flavors.

 

Know that this life is brief, that these might be the best days you have left and live them and love them well. Sometimes life is such a crush that we take for granted the beloved before us.

And quite beyond romantic love, think of those most precious to your heart. Your friends, family, those whose heart you carry. Think of them bless them in this same way. Think of what kinds of sweetness and joy you can bring to those you love and do it. Bring that sweetness, bring that love.

 

And if you are running low on ideas, I can give you the address of the restaurant in which the magic love soup is made. It’s a bit of a trek, but well worth it.

So much love to you all and happy summer,

Chris

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Polaroids and Holy Water

polaroidsIt’s kind of a classic question.

If you could only grab a few things on your way out, what would you grab?

What is most important?

For me this came just a week or so ago, just as we came back from sabbatical. As you might have heard, we moved the church offices down to our new building at 73 Court St. as renovation on the bottom floor of our main building has begun.

We had the help of movers, and so they could pack and move the vast majority of our offices, but we all had the chance to grab what we wanted to be sure got there safe, what was most important to us.

And I grabbed you all.

Some of you might remember that in my office a while ago, I had a large wall with pictures of so many of you. Polaroids that we first took when we came to interview for the job of serving you all eight years ago. To help learn your names and to hear about your hopes and dreams for South Church, we took pictures of you and then had them displayed up on a mantle in the house in which we were staying.

And then in subsequent years, we continued to take pictures of our new members and their children, adding more and more faces, more and more hopes and dreams to the wall.

In this transitional time, the pictures have lived in a box in my office, and it is one of the things I took with me.

Also our holy water. It is in a large glass jar labeled “Sugar” to trick holy water thieves and/or vampires who might come across it. (also because it was the only empty jar I found in the kitchen eight years ago) This is the water that we gather every fall, and have been adding to now for years, water from so many people, from so many holy places, this, too I took up in my arms.

Nestling these most important things into my car, I thought of you all. And I realized that this is all we need. Each other.

Lauren and I are so grateful for the gift of time we have received from you all, this gift of sabbatical. We are so grateful for all the leaders who stepped up and served with conviction and compassion and care. We are so grateful for our hardworking staff, for their tirelessness and vision, for their warmth and flexibility.

It was a beautiful time for Lauren and I and we will be reporting back on it in so many ways for these many weeks and months and years to come.

It is good to be back. We missed you. We are so excited to get back into the swing of church life, to catch back up with you all and your lives, to grieve with you and to celebrate with you. You all are my favorite part of this vast thing which is ministry, and I knew it so clearly holding your water, holding your pictures.

I got to visit a bunch of churches during sabbatical, and I saw all over again that this is a precious thing we are holding together, this thriving moment in the long life of South Church. So much is possible with this particular alchemy of you all and Lauren and I and the rest of our staff, so much is possible when we pour ourselves into this moment, when we bring the deepest and the best of who we are and we strive to reach the fullness of what together we can become.

So, again, thank you. For the precise and precious thing that you bring to South Church. Thank you for everything you have brought in these last many years or months or days, however long you have been among us, and especially thank you for all that is about to be. 2This is an exciting time we are reaching out into. With this constellation of people, with each of us, all together, joined in common mission, pointed in the same direction, so much is possible.

During sabbatical, I was blessed by so many poems, by so many good books. In one of those poems, I came across these words, by Robert Bly,

“I love you with what in me is unfinished,
I love you with what in me is still changing”

And I share these with you as we embark on this next phase of our ministry together, because we are all unfinished. Now, six years into our time together we have all learned so much. Lauren and I continue to grow and learn and deepen our service to you all and to the mission of South Church. You all continue to grow and learn and deepen. And with the love which is at our center as our guide, with this shared desire to serve the mission of South Church, and with these changing, growing, deepening selves, there is so much that we can do, so much good work ahead of us together.

So thank you. For this precious gift of time with my beloved, with my sweet family, with myself and with this world. Thank you for this beautiful ministry, which is the deepest honor I have ever known. Thank you for your service, for your passion, for all that you give in service of this thing we are building together.

So much love to you all,

Chris

Changing and Moving Forward

 

Hanley

My oldest daughter returned from her first year of college last week.  Along with her came overflowing red tubs and black garbage bags filled with freshman year “necessities”, a dusty salmon colored rug, and lots and lots of laundry.  She arrived home late with tired eyes and skin cool from the night air.  She fell into my arms – full body weight – the way we reunite after a separation.  I am so grateful for this vestige of her toddler years.  Afterwards, we sat at our kitchen counter and talked, all of us, happy that

 

our family was together under one roof again – for a while.  Even our dog nudged her way into the conversation dancing and smiling.

Letting go is not easy for me. Of course, there were many years of preparation that got us to freshman orien

tation, but the months before, they were full.  They were full of “lasts” like our last April vacation road trip, full of advice on adulting (debit cards 101) and lots and lots of shopping – most of this done to bind my anxiety. Our family prepared mindfully, each of us having time alone with her for adventures and talks. All of us had wonderful family vacations. Then before we knew it, we had a brave and warm good-bye.  And we drove home without her.

We were each and all sad and somewhat lost.  Besides missing her, which was no small thing, there was a strangeness and awkwardness in our home.  Many of our typical ways of doing things had to be adjusted.  The way we sat at the dinner table didn’t make sense. Chores had to be redistributed.  Space had opened up in our tight knit little family and it didn’t feel comfortable. As we attempted to fill the space with new routines and activities, I felt a little guilty. We all did.  Going to the beach, watching a new or much-loved movie, visiting with family and friends all were bittersweet.  Yet as the time passed our sadness and awkwardne

ss softened.

We developed new routines and ways to relish time together. Pottery classes, road trips to art shows, and new tv series interwoven with new rituals for visits home shaped a new “Us”.  The space that was created has become part of the fabric of who we are today.  And now, joyfully, she is home for the summer sharing her experiences, hard learned lessons, and dreams. And again, awkwardly, we adjust, make room, weave a new fabric and a new “Us”.

It seems the space opened up and there was a yearning and a grieving for what was and then an adjusting and mo

ving towards in creation and again, a newness, an awkward trying and testing and an exhale…. comfort and…. now we begin again.

I can’t help but see the parallels between my family’s journey this year and our South Church Community’s journey.  I am so grateful to South Church leadership for their painstaking preparations for and oversight of our minister’s sabbatical. And I know I share with many, sadness around Rev. Lauren’s and Rev. Chris’s absence from our “everyday” lives and important ritu

als.  I especially miss Rev. Chris’s warm greeting on Sunday mornings and Rev. Lauren’s understated wisdom at the pulpit.  I have also rejoiced in seeing the space that was opened in their absence be filled by staff and congregants willing to hold our Commun

ity steady and close in times of tremendous change. This communal effort has contributed to the creation of new connections and growth for and within our community.  I am eager to share our changes and stories with our Ministers and to hear about their growth while on sabbatical.  Soon, we’ll begin again…    I can’t wait to see who we will be together!

Submitted by Tricia Hanley – Sabbatical Committee

 

A Good Fit

As with a nuTerese Blogmber of members and attenders, I came from a Roman Catholic tradition – a church that was a lifesaver for my Polish parents during and following the war; however, it never quite felt right to me – I always felt like there was an undercurrent of “guilty until proven otherwise.”

The Newman Center on the campus at Illinois State was different – very politically active but hard to replicate away from a university.  I knew I wanted to be part of a faith community, one that continued that socio-political activity and provided a sense of community.

While in NC, I found my way to and eventually joined a Quaker Meeting – quite the contrast to the traditional service, creed, and hymns, as it was an un-programmed (no minister or formal service).  It was a silent Meeting for Worship.

I returned to this area in 2001 as it was time to return to NH/Maine, and did so without a job.  I knew I would not have any trouble finding work as an itinerant pediatric/school psychologist and poured my time into developing that practice.  While I always wanted to have an independent, non-office based practice, I had not factored in the sense of isolation that I would feel – working for myself, living out in the woods in Eliot, and consulting to about 6 different school districts and traveling around New England.  I knew of South Church and attended a few times, but was not sure I could settle back into a church with music and sermons having been away from one for over 30 years.  The pull for connection, and community involvement eventually overrode that discomfort and I have not looked back.  Not only not looked back but found that after joining, I wanted to get to know members.  As the Journey to Membership class wrapped up, the call for applicants to committees went out (that “right time”) … and within a month I found myself on the Pastoral Associates committee – the behind the scenes support committee.  It was a great way for me to ease in and get to learn about the workings of this and other committees and to meet other members … little did I know that within a month I would be asked to be convener – EEEK..the support from Rev. Lauren and former PAs was there – all would be well.

As I think about the “good fit” aspect of South Church, it has many places for everyone to “fit in” at a pace and level that is “just right.”  You don’t have time for committee work — help with yard clean-up in fall or spring, or garden sit (the Pocket Garden committee will love you for it!); or add yourself to the Wider Network of Care and signup to make a meal, give a ride to someone, or help with memorial receptions.  You want to be part of an ongoing group, to get to know and interact with the same folks on a range of topics?  Sign up for the Small Group Ministry sessions that come around again in October – and there are enough to accommodate your location, best time of day/day of week – some of my closest connections started here.  Can’t commit to twice a month but still want that connection/intimate discussion – try the drop-in group, or maybe the book club.  Moving into another chapter in life – try the aging with grace group…I could go on and on — I know that this is the best fit, at the right time, and that I’m in the right place!

Submitted by Terese Pawletko, Convener of the Pastoral Associates

Arnold Arboretum

ArboretumA few weeks ago, on an encouragingly spring-like Saturday, my family and I went down to Boston intending to go the Museum of Fine Art to see an exhibit of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. I was feeling energized by this little getaway, the sunny day and the prospect of looking at art. But as any of us who have driven in Boston know, driving in Boston is a killjoy. And Boston was buzzing and parking spaces hard to find. We wound our way around the labyrinth-like roads near the MFA with no luck as the afternoon got shorter. Seeing the long line out the door of the museum was the final kicker. We needed a new plan. And then we remembered the Arnold Arboretum. The first and last time we had been there was for my brother-in-law’s wedding on a much warmer day in July a few years back. Now on this equally lovely day, we joined others in the arboretum who had come to rejoice in spring emerging in hopeful bursts of color—the scattering of white crocuses, the carpet of blue scilla, the thicket of yellow forsythia, and the isolated riots of pink azalea. And then there were trees—glorious in their variety and close to “coming into leaf/Like something almost being said,” as the poet Philip Larkin described. At least I got to see tree art, I said to my husband as we left the park. I felt pleased that things had turned out as they had.

Creativity is our South Church worship theme for May. “Begin afresh, afresh, afresh,” ends Larkin’s poem about trees. How often are we asked to do this: To look at something in a new way. To try a new approach. To find our way out of a dead end. This is the reminder of spring and the invitation of creativity.

I am a writing teacher, so I know all too well how writers struggle with revision. But what I love about revision is the idea of re-visioning, of re-seeing. The difficulty, often, is in letting go of the first draft—or the first plan, as was the case with the MFA—the one that got me to where I am now but may not serve me any longer. And the challenge is to open myself to a new possibility when I maybe feeling attached to what I have known. Revising “drafts” has been a part of my growth experience at South Church. And this makes sense since this a community of our making (and remaking) and because we create rather than are handed spiritual meaning. I hope I continue to see the gifts in this creative process just as I was able to recognize that the trees in the Arnold Arboretum are just another kind of art.

Submitted by Rebecca Webb, Fellowship Associate Convener

An Interesting 2016

2016 was a very interesting year.

My oldest son had spent a majority of his time so far in 2016 in a hospital.  Then my house burned down on April 15th.

But it is also one of the best years of my life. Life isn’t that tidy.

My wife and children had been attending South Church for years and I was a bit of a bystander – giving financially but not meaningfully otherwise.  I have an irrational fear and scorn for organized religion – to some degree I will admit it is wrong, based, what I always told myself, on historical empiricism.  I am also an introvert and am exhausted by social interactions, no matter how positive.

On April 15th, 2016 all of us were at the Cinemagic in Portsmouth watching a Bollywood action movie.  My phone was buzzing incessantly (on vibrate) so I glanced at it. It was an instant message from my neighbor two doors down.  “Come home.  Your house is on fire.  No joke.” So we briskly walked out of the theater, ran to our car and cried all the way home because our fourth child, our dog, Sachi was at home.  When we arrived, our house was on fire, flames shooting out the windows.  My dog was in an ambulance, his radiant white coat grey and an oxygen mask over his little nose.

What I experienced was profound relief that my dog was alive.  The rest, I couldn’t really process.  I was in a complete state of shock.  I had to go to work.  I had to function.  I had to put on a mask of optimism and functionality to show my children what it is to persevere.  Almost every possession, everything I owned was gone.  My father’s fountain pen that he wrote his books with.  My mother’s art.  My grandmother’s hand knit blankets.  My grandfather’s paintbrushes.  Decades of artwork I did prior to the fire.  My home.   Buddhism, which I spent a couple of decades studying, teaches impermanence.  Yes, I got that — academically.

Then meals arrived.  And phone calls.   What do you need?  Clothing?  Food?  A place to stay?  Are you okay?  In times of crisis, I tend to go in overdrive.  The colors I see get grayer, the sunsets unnoticed, the small variations in my surroundings ignored.  Due to my pugnaciousness and introvertedness I had made few inroads into establishing meaningful relationships within the South Church community, but the outpouring of support, warmth, love and genuine care physically startled me from myself and my walking dream.

The South Church community allowed me to grieve properly, which gave me the space to process.  South Church allowed me to get on my feet with my family.  This showed me what unconditional love was in a community – something I had never experienced before.  If my house hadn’t burnt down I would never have been held by so many.  Turns out I have appreciation and gratitude for my house burning up with our possessions.  Without the fire my life would have been poorer, less textured and less meaningful.  I got over my loss of stuff.  No downsizing in my seventies for me! The one thing I’ll never get over is the warmth and love of the community in South Church.

Submitted by Eric Katzman

Hands

Getting what you want – April 1, 2018

Sometimes getting what you wish for isn’t a bad thing at all.  That’s exactly what happened to my late wife Mary and me when we landed intentionally on the doorstep of South Church in the Fall of 2013

Years earlier we had almost made the move from Utica in Upstate New York to the New Hampshire Seacoast, but neither one of us was quite ready to commit.  We kept our eye on the Seacoast, visiting occasionally,  and around 2012 hit on the South Church website – dynamic, progressive, welcoming. We fell in love.

When we felt the time was right, we wrapped up our affairs Upstate and moved to our forever home in Dover, NH.
We hit the deck running.  Our first order of business was to check out South Church in the flesh.  It was everything our pre-move research had suggested it would be.  To a person, everyone we met was an embodiment of what it means to be a welcoming congregation.  Jim Verscheuren and Carlo Nittoli took us under their welcoming wings and quickly showed us the ropes.  Mary and I joined South Church choir [as we had at the other UU churches we had attended since the early 80s].

But, here’s the point of this brief paean of praise to South Church – we found Dover Small Group Ministry led that year by Kate Harris Thut.  We were instantly hooked.  The topics discussed were stimulating.  There was enough time for each participant to have a say without interruption in a safe, confidential environment.  The discussions that followed revealed a wide spectrum of beliefs we shared and some we did not.  Most wonderfully of all, everyone spoke straight from the heart and was respectful of what the rest of us had to say no matter how different from our perception of reality.

Mary and I were so taken by the deep sense of community that developed within our group, we did not hesitate to volunteer to become co-conveners for the following year.

Tragically, Mary died after only a year and a half.  The members of our group were unflinchingly supportive.  From their spirit of continuing solidarity, I drew inspiration and the strength to continue our exploration of keeping our hearts open to each other.

I am still convening three years later and continuing to find spiritual nourishment from being exposed to ever more surprising revelations shared freely and in confidence every time we meet.

Of all the activities I’ve volunteered for at South Church, I can say with complete confidence and no sense of hesitation, convening and participating in SGM has formed the core of my spiritual existence at South Church.  I’ve seen the embodiment of beloved community unfold before my eyes every time our group has met.  As the years have gone by, many people have found our group, some have moved on to others, and new members always come aboard each year.

I have no way of knowing what your spiritual home is [unless you are in the Dover SGM!], but I am certain your chance of finding it challenged and re-enforced are exceedingly great as an SGM member.

If you are looking for closer ties to the broader context of our beloved South Church community, I can recommend joining a Small Group in the fall when registration for the new SGM “year” will begin.  It could be a game changer.

May you find Peace, Joy, Blessing, and Love in your days ahead whether or not you join SGM!

With love
Dave Drucker