The Speck

So it turns out that Jesus was pretty good at his job.

This is perhaps an obvious statement, but because we celebrate and honor a wide variety of prophets, it is really this time of year that we dig into the teachings of Jesus, and every time we do, we are struck by how resonant his teachings are.


In the image to the right, you can see our beloved Office Administrator, Jen with the log from last year’s pageant in her eye. This is from the teaching in which Jesus reminds us to take the log out of our own eye before telling our neighbors to take the speck out of theirs.

As we made the log for the pageant, we invited you all to write down on paper the logs in your own eyes, and those papers were attached to the log. It is a fascinating read, you should come by the office some time and check it out.

And so, this year, in keeping with tradition, we have another story for the pageant, coming up on the 23rd.

We talked about it last week in worship, but for those of you who weren’t there it comes when Jesus is talking with a rich man who asks what he can do to gain eternal life. He is keeping the commandments, but is ready for more.

And Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and give to the poor and to come and follow him. The man leaves saddened because he doesn’t want to give up his things, and Jesus tells the rest of the folks present that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now, as we mentioned on Sunday, this isn’t a categorical condemnation of wealth. The problem with the rich man was not that he had possessions, but that he was unwilling to let them go. He was unwilling to be generous and to help the poor.

And so our reflection, leading up to the pageant, and our invitation to you all, is to reflect on things you might be clinging onto, things in your life onto which you might be grasping.

We are inviting you to write these things anonymously on slips of tan paper which will be incorporated into a camel for the pageant. Some folks have written, “animosity towards people with different beliefs,” and “pleasure from sweet food,” and “having to do it all,” and “the desire to create a beautiful holiday for my family,” and “a condo in downtown Portsmouth,” and so many more.

And on white pieces of paper which will be incorporated into the needle, we are inviting you to write a phrase or word which speaks to a positive experience of letting go which you have had. Some folks have written, “the idea of a perfect family and perfect children,” and “giving away my stuffed animals to New Day Syria,” and “changing careers,” and “giving away the idea that I was in control of my son’s happiness,” and “anger at my ex,” and “forgiving my childhood friend and her mother for their lack of support,” and so many more.

The idea, of course, is the classic truth that clinging and grasping lead to suffering, and that letting go is good for us.

For the next two Sundays you can add your papers to the mix. There will be papers for you to fill out and add to the bulletin board in the social hall at coffee hour. Do come by and read what other folks have read as well. It is fascinating.

And so this is part of our prayer for you all this holiday season, that you let go where you can, that you pay attention to where you might be clinging or grasping, and that you reflect on this teacher, this one of many holy people who have gifted us with rich stories and teachings which can challenge and guide us.

Happy holidays to you all.

Lots of love,



Renovation Update – Oct 1, 2018

We have learning, meeting and gathering spaces in the parish hall.  Hooray!  The new spaces are already being used heavily, which is wonderful.  A few members of the staff were at church on a recent Friday night for an orientation for our Coming of Age program.  That same evening, an AA meeting was taking place in the main space of the parish hall and Seacoast Outright was holding a support group gathering in two of the classroom spaces.  Our rooms are being deployed for the good of the community in service to our mission, which is wonderful.

This time, a few reminders:

~ Acoustic control for the parish hall, permanent gender-inclusive bathroom signage and furniture for the Emerson Sitting Room (at the bottom of the stairs from the sanctuary) are all in process.

~ The meeting spaces get used heavily day and night, all week long.  Please reserve your space early using the online form .  If you would like to pre-set the room in advance of your program, please check with Jennifer Leyden to ensure that no one else has the space scheduled.

~ The congregation is in discernment about how to proceed with the remaining potential projects of the Capital Campaign, including the completion of the renovation at the Meetinghouse (73 Court Street) and necessary upgrades to the roof.  Cottage conversations have been taking place for two months and are now complete.  Feedback from those conversations will be compiled soon and shared with the congregation.  And stay tuned for more information about a special congregational meeting on October 28th, which the Board has arranged as an opportunity to learn and share about our capital improvement projects.

~ Our smallest South Church members will be in the Carson Parlor Sunday mornings for the short term, while repairs are made to the nursery.  Measures are being taken to address a longstanding leakage problem along the west wall of the building.  Plans for this upgrade were already underway when the last vestiges of Hurricane Florence hit the Seacoast.

~ Lastly, a moment of celebration.  The changes to our spaces have been incremental, and it’s easy to forget how much we have accomplished.

Fire suppression systems for the sanctuary and parish hall.  I was especially grateful for the foresight of leadership in prioritizing this part of the project after the devastating losses at the National Museum in Brazil.

Improved egress at the front and rear of the sanctuary.  These changes beautify our space and increase safety in the event of an emergency.  The new stairwell linking the church entry to the parish hall is beautiful and functional.  It links the worship and fellowship spaces in the building in ways that strengthen our community.  It’s almost hard to remember the tiny passageways that used to connect the two levels of our church!

Renewal of learning and gathering spaces.  Our meeting and classroom spaces are clean and functional.  Our building still has wheelchair-inaccessible meeting and gathering spaces, but we have reduced their number.

Addressing the massive disrepair at Karnan House.  Karnan had become an eyesore with extensive maintenance issues.  By selling it and purchasing the building at 73 Court Street, we did a substantial upgrade and gained square footage.  We also acquired a building with significant upside in the long-term as a fellowship space and a unique asset in the larger community.  It’s worth driving by Karnan House as a reminder of how far we’ve come!

Renewal of our historic sanctuary.  The crown jewel of our physical space has a fresh coat of paint and repaired plaster.

Asbestos removal.  We removed dangerous building materials from our fellowship and religious education spaces.

There’s more, but that’s enough for now.  I am so proud of this congregation and all we have done together.  We have and continue to do our part as stewards of this enduring institution.  The work continues, but this is an appropriate time to pause, reflect and celebrate.

See you in church!

Leave It Messy

Nuus“No, no, no, no” she said.

“Leave it messy.” And I did.

As many of you know, our family is now in a fascinating scheduling vortex in which our three kids are in three different schools. Ben just started middle school, Jack is in third grade in the elementary school across the street from where we live, and Aliyah just started preschool.

It makes for three hours of kids leaving the house every morning, one at a time, a bit of a slog, but a sweet slog with some sweet snippets of time focused on each of them.

And because she is last, and because the preschool is right near my favorite coffee shop, many of my mornings begin with a coffee date with the littlest Jablonski.

I usually opt for a small latte, and she usually chooses a hot chocolate with whip cream which she dives right into.

It’s been a while since I lodged my face into a pile of whipped cream, truth be told I should have given it a whirl as background research for this article, but it does look fun.

But it’s what happens next which I wanted to share with you. Part of my job as the adult member of the outing is to keep us clean…ish. And so I am ready with my napkins to tuck in here and to wipe up there. But especially after her initial dive into the cocoa and it’s mountain of whipped goodness, especially then, she stops me cold in my tracks when I am reaching for her mouth with her words, “No, no, no. Leave it messy.”

And it’s not forever. She doesn’t go to school with whipped mess on her face, but there, in that moment, in the beginning, in the glory, in the deep dive, she wants to be in the full mess of it. The full, glorious, imperfect and super fun mess of it.

Interestingly, I heard echoes of this from the pulpit last Sunday as Bryan Campbell welcomed us officially into this year’s Annual Budget Campaign. He reminded us that churches are messy, that this many wise, driven, passionate, committed, occasionally opinionated folks all coming together to serve our shared mission, this work, this holy work we are about at South Church is messy. And it is good. So deeply good.

Your hard working Annual Budget Campaign team will be at coffee hour for the next many Sundays. You can get your pledge forms there or also one will be coming in the mail.

Thank you so much to all of you who have already completed your pledge forms for the coming year, and thank you in advance for the rest of you who will. This all is made possible through your generosity and for that I am so deeply grateful.

I am so proud of this thriving thing we are building together. There is so much good which is being realized through this moment in the long life of South Church, so thank you. Thank you for your part in this moment. For your generosity. For your exuberant mess. For your tidying hands. For the whole glorious impossibly complicated and just as impossibly beautiful thing which is South Church.

When our coffee date is done, Aliyah begrudgingly allows me to tidy her up. “Oooooookaaaay” she sighs as I wipe the very ends of the whipped cream. And even though the mess is clean, what is left is so much love. I hoist her onto my shoulders and drop her off to school. The last of my three children, all beginning their days. And I head into work, to our buildings, to our staff team, to the hundreds of committed and committee-ed of you who are working with so much passion and commitment to serve our shared mission.

I take up this sometimes messy, sometimes glorious work again with you all and I am so very grateful.

So much love to you all,


Being With The Rain

I rerain2 (002)alized my mistake at about the first lap.
It was raining, I knew that, but it seemed, perhaps that it was letting up a bit, and so I thought that perhaps just an umbrella was sufficient to the task. As I walked in silence, in prayer, in contemplation, and I felt my elbow getting wet, then getting soaked, I realized I was wrong. So very wrong.

This was just the other day at the ICE headquarters in Manchester. I was helping to lead the Jericho Walk, the twice monthly service of meditative witness. We gather and sing and pray, and then the group walks around the federal building seven times. I was leading the short service and the walk with one of my heroes, the Rev. Sandra Pontoh, the minister of an Indonesian church in Madbury. Over the last many years and especially the last many months, fifty of her congregants have been facing the threat of deportation and she has been a powerful, patient, loving, indomitable presence. She has done such incredible work.
And so I was so happy to see her and walk with her.

But it was raining. And the rain just picked up. This was the remnants of the hurricane which ravaged our friends and neighbors to the south, and as we walked, it grew in intensity.

But the beauty of the walk, the beauty of any walking meditation is just being with what is. The steadily dampening clothes, large puddles which helped me to realize that there were holes in my once waterproof boots. The passing thoughts of the warm car ride home. The deep appreciation for the stalwart group of Catholic nuns and Quakers and UUs who came in the rain to witness, these wonderful committed souls I was walking with.

And then, around the third lap, Rev. Sandra started to sing. At first quietly, and then gaining steam. The song was “Siyahamba” a South African folk song that many of our choirs have sung. And the four people closest to me in the front of the line all started singing. And I sang, too, and started to laugh.

We sang first in Zulu and then the English. “We are marching in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God.”
And the rain poured down. And the soaking wet was now on my back and both arms. The ridiculous little umbrella I realized which was a good foot too small on both sides to truly cover me, but this warmth within me and around me as we sang, soaking wet, that we are marching in the light of God.

As the walk ended, as we completed the seven circles, we gathered for a closing song. Rev. Sandra had brought the translated lyrics to Amazing Grace, and one of the members of her church sang the lyrics in English and the all the walkers sang in Indonesian.

It was beautiful. We are in touch with Rev. Sandra and will be collaborating with her church, especially in these next two years as our Social Justice Associates have chosen “Immigration and How It Effects Our Neighbors” as it’s focus for the next two years along with the last year of Racial Justice.

After our closing prayer, after some wet hugs and some exchanges of emails, I got back into my car for the warm ride home. And I knew that it wasn’t just the warmth of the car, of course. It was the songs, the lingering warmth of the songs sung in the rain, sung with those folks, on that walk.
And we will return. These walks will continue on the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Stay tuned for more information and invitations. And even though the love and the songs are powerful and warm, if it’s raining, bring a raincoat and some sturdy boots.

So much love to you all,


Builded Up and Knocked Down

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, Turn and face the strain.

That’s the wisdom of Dbaby-mustache-0avid Bowie, and it’s good counsel.
Life has been beautiful but demanding lately.  There are big transitions underfoot in Chris’s and my ministry, in family life, in the country and in our own spirits.  The ground shifts underfoot, and we do our best to remember the wisdom of the great Buddhist teachers:  Stop trying to get ground under your feet, they say.  Instead, make friends with groundlessness.  Learn to accept that everything is always in flux.  Place your faith in the proposition that, when you surrender, peace can be found in the midst of the flow.

More easily said than done, but luckily I have good teachers closer to home.

Back when Ben was in pre-school, he knocked me out with some toddler wisdom from his car seat as we drove down the Spaulding Turnpike.

“Mommy,” he said, “Things get builded up and knocked down again and builded up and knocked down again and that’s just the way it is.”  I recall that I shifted my gaze from the road to the rear view mirror where I caught his eye.  I exhaled.  At the time, he had a hard time with transitions.  He hated it when good things ended or his block towers crumbled, but he still had a bead on the nature of things.

Just last week, he did it again.  Dover schools started last Wednesday.  We live across the street from the kids’ elementary school, which makes for a great commute.  The boys could walk out the door at 8:05 and be in their seats by 8:10.  This year, though, Ben has to be at the bus stop by 6:50 so the school bus can take him to Dover Middle School.  Pretty different.
On the evening of their first day, we sat down to family dinner and talked about their day.  Ben said, “I saw a kid with a mustache in the hall.”  We paused, then howled with laughter.  Somehow it captured the strangeness of this wild new world we are entering as a family, all the awkwardness and beauty of growth and change.  It feels like five minutes ago that we walked Ben across the street for his first day of kindergarten, yet here we are:  “I saw a kid with a mustache in the hall today.”  Crazy.  Lovely.

We are at a watershed moment in the life of the church and the life of our nation, too.  So much is in flux and it can be disorienting at times, but there is much beauty and life in these days.  There is humor and tenderness, if we’re open to them.  It’s a joy to return to our church spaces, especially as we anticipate the re-opening of the parish hall.  It’s thrilling to enter into election season–for me, at least–and exciting to be on the threshold of a new wheel-turn in the country’s political life.  There is so much possibility in this time, and so much good.
Let us take up these days together, cultivating ease in ourselves and with one another, cultivating gentleness and good humor with the world as it evolves around us.

Let’s embrace the moment we’re in with passion and vision.

Happy fall to you, and don’t forget:

Water Ingathering is this Sunday, 9/9.  There will be one service at 10:00.  Bring water from a place that’s special to you, if you have it.
Starting Sunday 9/16, there will be two services at 9:00 and 11:00.  Mark your calendars!



New Beginnings

20180821_091403 (002)I have always loved beginnings.

I remember with such sweetness looking through the course catalogue in college and then in grad school, thinking of all the possibility. So many options, so many possible ways forward.

Lauren recently mentioned to the boys that there are now just a few weeks left in summer. This news was met with some moans and some wailing. Our little girl Aliyah is starting preschool this year, a transition which is both welcome (due to the general availability of precious time with which to work and be a human in possession of sense, goodwill, clarity and joy) and also has a tinge of melancholy (due to my inability as yet to devise a system of keeping her frozen in time in this sweet moment of three year old lovingkindness and parental appreciation.)

And for our family back to school also means back to church. Ever since we came to South Church now eight years ago, we have been open all year round. Lauren and I are committed to helping to create fifty two Sundays of worship that are each and every one worth your while, and summers have had some of my favorite worship. I think of last summer in the basement, piling in elbow to elbow, setting up extra chairs in the piano room. I remember the sweet, positive, can do attitude with which we all met that exceptional moment.

And this summer, Lauren and I now just merely weeks back from sabbatical. I remember the first Sunday back, being nervous to preach for the first time in a very long time, decades, really. And then getting right back into the swing of our worship creation flow, Lauren and I together along with our amazing team of staff and Worship Associates. It has been a joy to be back in worship with you, to see you all.

And now, here we are. Back to school. Back to church. With this new year and this new cluster of years before us, with this fullness, this possibility, this potential. It is an exciting time in the life of the church.

The image above is of Ben and Jack, our two boys, on Jack’s first day of Kindergarten. As many of you know, our boys are full of life and opinion and sauce. They have a sweet, boisterous, bursting brotherly love for one another and rarely just walk hand in hand. But Ben knows the moment, and his love is often, especially when it most needs to be, so very tender. And he knew his brother was nervous, and so he walked him into the school, holding his hand. The elder statesman second grader knew what it was to walk in on that first day, and he was there for his brother.

I love this picture.

And I share it with you all on this threshold, as we walk and love and plan and worship our way together into this new year. May we hold one another. May we reach out and take a hand if we need one and offer a hand if we can. May we pour ourselves into the work before us, this radiant mission at our core. May we ruthlessly reorient ourselves to the deepest and highest within us. May we be undistractable and singularly focused.

Because South Church is needed right now. You all, we all, are needed right now.

And hand in hand, we will meet this moment in which we are living. Hand in hand, we will show up, right on time, find our classroom, find our desk, and get to work.

So much love to you all,


I am From. I am For.

This is a difficult time.



And it matters that we know who we are, where we are from, and what we are for.

And we are inviting the whole congregation to reflect on where you all are from and what you all are for. Here is some of what I wrote…

I am from apples fresh picked from the tree on a crisp fall day.

I am from my father’s un-ironic, large medallion worn so often over a white, ribbed, too small turtle neck.

I am from my mother’s daisy colored wedding dress with me very present as a large belly underneath it, and her doctoral robe bulging with that same belly, PhD in hand just weeks before.

I am from the haze of the smoky mountains and from


fog pouring down San Francisco streets.

I am from the faith my beloved had in me, and the actions I take to earn that faith day after day.

I am from naked ocean wave running as a toddler with adults in parkas looking on from the shore.

I am from those first moments holding each of my children, singing to them their first song, their first blessing.

And so on.

You list these moments which shaped you, these moments which forged you.

And then you list what you are for.


And I am for the opening eye and the widening heart.

I am for the true self emerging from the haze of habitual living.

I am for waking before dawn with time stretched out before me and fish waking up in the waters.

I am for my sweet children, for the people they are and the people they are becoming.

I am for institutional transformation and maturation, for churches realizing who they are and what they are for.

I am for the people united in vision and purpose.


I am for hard work and hard play, for sand castl


es built with incoming tides and the surprise of the first big waves coming in.

I am for this moment.



And this morning.

And all that yet may be.

So please feel free to write your own sets of “I am from, I am for.” You can send them in to the office written out, or email them to Lauren and I. We will be sharing them out, reminding us of who we all are, reminding us all of what we are for.

So much love to you all,