We are about to begin a new year. As a church, our year ended on a difficult moment with the sad and shocking death of our music director, Sam Henline who brought such wonderful talent and joy into our lives and sanctuary on Sundays. At the time of this writing, there are two planned memorials for Sam. There will be services both in his home town of South Platte, Nebraska on December 28th and here locally later in the year that his family would like to attend if possible. We will of course keep people aware of the dates. I am confident that both services will be well attended and celebrate a truly remarkable life that has had a profound impact on our church.
I want to take a moment as well to talk about the service we learned of Sam’s passing to say how astonished I was at the depth of your commitment to one another and the compassion that I felt in the sanctuary that day. As a congregation, from leadership to worship to choir to folks simply in the pews, you said some profound and loving things and comforted one another in ways revealing the loving community I always knew you to be. I just wanted to repeat how proud I am to lead this congregation.
I know that starting a new year in this manner can be incredibly difficult. Tragedy can crowd out all of the wonderful things that we have been blessed with the whole year through and also diminish the hope that remains. Even in our time of sorrow however, we have also had good fortune. Folks are seeing one another at Sunday services after some breaks and new folks are coming to see what Unitarian Universalism has to offer many communities in Weld County. For myself, I have been quite surprised to see the number of folks coming from Brush. You are quite the hardy people!
As I said in the past year, in the New Year, stepping in our door (again or for the first time) will require acts of courage on their part; inviting people to come and continuing to make space for them at the table will be acts of generosity on ours; maintaining these relationships will be acts of love on everyone’s part. May our faith community’s life be filled with acts of courage, generosity, and love.
The winter solstice is an interesting and difficult time every year and always has been in the human experience. When the days have grown short and the nights are cold, it is important to remember the wisdom that ancient ancestors have come to recognize most characterizes the season: Hope. Hope is there, I promise. You won’t find it among the temptations of nostalgia. Although hope may be rooted in the past, it has well outgrown that place. Hope is somewhere out in front of us in our future. Each day this time of year lengthens a moment at a time. It may be slow, but it is also comfortably steady. No day is shorter than last and if this day was not long enough, tomorrow will be longer. That is why hope most characterizes this season. That is Nature’s lesson for humanity at this time of year.
Emily Dickson once wrote a poem, which, like all her poetry, she kept privately, but we've been blessed to have:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Let’s not keep our "Hope" this time of year private. In the New Year, let us share our hope with one another: our hope for ourselves, our lives and our families, our faith community, and our world. Not reaching back into an idyllic past but forward into a hopeful future. Come to Sunday services to share. Come to ministry meetings to bring your ideas. Come to classes and events to learn more.
I wish you a New Year that grows into your hopes, that deepens you relationships with our church. May our community and our world begin to reflect our hopes and dreams and, as I remind us on most Sundays, through the work of our hearts and hands, in acts of courage, generosity and love.
Yours in Faith and Fellowship,
Rev. Aaron Norris
Ministerial Musings - December 2018
And now we are in the ancient season of Yule! That year went by quickly, didn’t it? I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving. Always an interesting, and in some ways very important, way to kick off the holiday season: ending a harvest of the year, counting the blessings, giving thanks for what we have, and preparing ourselves for a reasonable celebration as we face the longest nights - the Earth (at least here in the northern hemisphere) settling down for her long winter nap. Before she does though, let’s have a few cups of kindness this month, shall we?
Couple of interesting things to think about as the holidays approach: as you probably remember, many of the traditions that we celebrate in this country around this time of year come directly out of the heads of Unitarians, Universalists and Unitarian Universalists, starting with the carols. Next time you’re in a shopping mall and you hear Do You Hear What I Hear? you can thank Unitarian Noel Regney wrote the text as a protest song in 1962 in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. If your visiting family away from Greeley this month and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear comes up, you can point out it was written by the Unitarian minister Rev. Edmund Hamilton Sears. Anybody reading or performing Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol might want to remember it sprung up only after his return visit to America where he met both Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Ellery Channing in Boston, and promptly joined a Unitarian Church back in London. The list goes on, but we’ll have more time to talk this month.
Speaking of this month, our Beloved Community is leaving behind the month of Justice in November and exploring a perhaps more intimate theme: Family. Both are themes of love, but as the ancient Greeks explained to us different facets: Agape (Love of Humanity and the World) and Storge (Love of Family and Relations). Our Stone Soup Pageant has been our bridge between themes, from the Stranger to the Family. Over the course of the month, we’ll talk about what families we are born with and what families we make by choice. We’ll examine things we may not have thought of, like why do we have families in the first place and what that says about this one amazing life we have all be graced with? Our explorations will culminate on Christmas Eve this year when we will have a very special service (and I expect one of our gifts will be to see quite a few old and new faces of our church family).
I hope during this busy time, when you are running from event to event, you find some time to share a moment with us this month on Sunday Mornings and at the other times and events. I was especially proud of our congregation coming out to support our neighbors at Beth Israel following the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I heard from Rabbi Sarah how much our time with them meant. Thank you for your efforts. We’ve had really great attendance on Sunday the past few months, even on the snowy days and even on the Sundays that I am not with you. My great gift is to see all your names in the basket on Monday morning as I put your tags back up. Happy Holidays to all of us, every one!
Yours in Faith and Fellowship,
Rev. Aaron Norris
Friends, Well, fall was late and came in in a hurry, didn’t it? I was glad to see from our attendance tally taken by our wonderful host volunteers that it hasn’t dampened our enthusiasm or attendance. Folks even came out in the snow, which was inspiring. Our commitment to gather each week as a community is a really important aspect of keeping our sense of identity and, quite honestly, it is one of the really wonderful gifts that we bring to one another. Knowing that we are there for each other really gets us through, especially those who are struggling with other aspects of their lives. It is good to be together. We’ve had quite a few visitors over the month and I am glad that they are being warmly welcomed. I have had the pleasure of speaking to some. They come in often from invitation and out of curiosity when they hear about us. Getting people to step in the door is an act of courage on their part; making a space for them at the table is an act of generosity on ours; maintaining the relationship is an act of love on everyone’s part. May our faith community’s life be filled with acts of courage, generosity, and love. Our Living Generously program has already done some great work. Weston Edmunds who came to speak to us from the Weld Food Bank related how the bank is able to provide four meals for every dollar contributed and so, between our two services, our church was able to help with over eight hundred meals for folks this year. If you are interested in deepening your commitment, Weston encouraged me to remind you that he has volunteer opportunities to offer at the food bank. Our impact in the community has been even broader as the second half of the month, we were giving our plate to the Refugee and Asylum program at Lutheran Family Services. At the time of this writing, I can only imagine the impact we might have, but I will say that this is one of the programs that means a great deal to me. As many of you know, I worked on several cases as a law student trying to get asylum status for folks who fled really monstrous situations to a land they new very little about. Helping those individuals to acclimate to their new surroundings, as LFS does (and as our church has helped to do), is part of those amazing acts of courage, generosity, and love.
We’ve also been deepening our spirituality this month. Our first sessions of the Build Your Own Theology classes have begun and they will continue through November and early December. Folks have come with very open minds and hearts and the sharing has been tremendous. One thing that has been affirmed for me once again is the creativity of members of our congregation, which I am really impressed with. We’ll continue to find new ways to deepen and expand our programing. I am going to host a Pub Theology drop-in discussion group; the location is yet to be determined, but it will be on the second Monday nights of the month at 6:30 p.m. I’ll bring some discussion prompts on the monthly themes which will follow our worship themes and send reminders to those who indicate they want them. Finally, I want to acknowledge this month that the elections are here. As a nation we are going to make some decisions about who we want to be as a nation, as a state and as a community. I realize that for many in our congregation that this will be the culmination of years of work and for others it will be simply decisions of the day. I hope that everyone does make it to the polls to vote; it is, literally, the least we can do to make our world a better place (and yet I cannot help but acknowledge the hardships our society chooses to put in the way of this small act for many of the most vulnerable). Whether we are disappointed or elated, let us make sure to temper our feelings with the knowledge that the next day, we will be called again to remake our world as it is, less than it ought to be, but with a promise much greater than we have ever been - a world to come through acts of courage, generosity and love. Yours in Faith and Fellowship, Rev. Aaron Norris
Well, that was three services together pretty fast. I hope that you enjoyed coming and sharing Sunday mornings with me as much as I have with you. We’ve had a great start to the church year. The Water Communion was a great beginning - it was wonderful to see so many folks in the sanctuary. We had over forty folks attend which seems great to me. I noticed that some folks were bringing guests which is really wonderful for you to introduce people to Unitarian Universalism in general and our church in particular.
I’ve been really glad to be able to meet with some of the existing ministries in the church this month, notably worship and social justice. We even snuck in a meeting of the reconstituted committee on shared ministry before the month was out and I am glad for that. As we grow, I’m sure there will be new leadership roles to take.
We’ve also taken some time to play, specifically go to UNC’s production of She Kills Monsters. If you think of something else social that you’d like our church to participate in as a group, feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com. There will be plenty more time for all of us to get to know one another.
The month of October will also be a time for us to “go back to school” as it were. Hopefully you’ve heard (and there still might be some time if you act quick) that I am teaching a Build Your Own Theology class, for folks to really sit down and contemplate exactly what they have faith in and how they want to express their belief system. Also in October, I will be leading the first of several Pathways to Membership classes that orient folks both on the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greeley specifically and Unitarian Universalism more generally. If you’ve been on the fence about joining, or simply want to see what membership might entail, you are most welcome at the class that follows thirty minutes after the service on October 7th. It should run about an hour and a half and is a great way to get to know other folks who are considering joining.
Some folks have taken advantage of my time in the office and I am glad to have shared some conversation with folks one on one. Although I am part time, I still want to make myself available to members of the congregation as much as I can. I will be at church every week. Monday and Tuesday, I’ll normally be in the office and I can meet in the day or evening, but my office hours will be flexible so I spend more time with congregants and partner organizations than sitting alone at a desk. To that end, I am using an online calendaring service that you can schedule as you need: https://calendly.com/revaaron. If there is a church group or partner organization that has a monthly meeting you want me to be aware of you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the month of October, a month we will explore the theme of responsibility, I will be in the pulpit a couple of times: October 7 and 21. It takes a lot of volunteer hours and effort to pull off Sunday mornings and I am really thankful to everyone who contributes from coffee, to hospitality, to the choir, to A/V and the worship associates. This part of hands on stewardship of our church is really humbling to see. Thank you.
I am excited that we are considering moving away from keeping the service plate and offering it to local non-for-profits, Unitarian Universalist oriented charities and emergency relief groups. When the nomination process begins, I hope that you will consider making a nomination. I believe this act of generosity will not only raise our profile in the community, but it will also come back to us in the form of new interest in being a member of a church with such a unique program. Using our plate in this way will help us to grow of spiritual practice, live more meaningfully, and help heal our world.
Finally, I want to say how excited and appreciative I am to have a donor step forward to help us build on our ongoing financial commitment to the church ministry. As you have likely read elsewhere in the Unifax this month, this is a matching contribution program that means when we as a church collect even more that one dollar more than we did in the previous year, the donor will contribute at a one-for-one matching level. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to grow the church this year, expand our programing potential and amplify our potential voice in the community. I hope you will consider participating.
We are off to a great start this year and exciting stuff is on the horizon. Thank you for contributing your enthusiasm and energy.
Yours in Faith and Fellowship,
Rev. Aaron Norris
A confession to make: I’m not sure this is the best way to start out a new ministry at a church, but I wanted to tell you what I was doing for two weeks week after I got news I was the minister in Greeley this coming year. I would wake up, go to wash my face, look in the bathroom mirror, smile a particularly goofy smile, and, with Julie Andrews full throated in my ear, sing: “Getting to know you Getting to know all about you... Getting to like you Getting to hope you like me” Sorry to put that in your ear for the rest of the day; you can bring it up with me later this month when you find yourself in the checkout line humming The King and I. I put that silly little story out there to explain how genuinely excited I am to be with you this year. Rest assured, this summer I have been doing my homework as well: reading past Unifaxes, pouring over the directory, and starting to monitor the Greeley Tribune. All the while, anxious to get to the real work of ministry which is to greet and walk with the people. All of the work is purely intellectual until we meet this month. I know you have read a bit of my biography, but I’ll share a bit more. I went to high school in Champaign, IL where the University of Illinois is located, so I know a bit about how the towniecollege dynamic in a community works, and what a remarkable time of year this is, with students coming back taking up the good parking spots and freshmen coming in wide eyed and hyperactive, this being their first time away from home. Perhaps a little more: I have spent most of my life in Colorado, in Littleton as a child, in Boulder as an undergrad, Denver as a young adult and on the Western Slope in Grand Junction in my thirties - the urban, suburban and smalltown parts of Colorado. I think this gives me an appreciation for the unique character of every community here and an understanding that Unitarian Universalism, with its congregational nature, looks different, is practiced differently and serves different needs depending on where a congregation is. This is true not only in the West versus the rest of the country, not only in Colorado versus the rest of the Pacific Western Region, but in every Colorado town. While I will continue to live in Boulder due to family commitments I have, I am excited to be focused on life here in Northern Colorado and excited for
you to show me the flavor of Unitarian Universalism here in Greeley. As we begin a new year, I’m excited to help working on the projects to grow the church and stabilize the finances, but I’m also hoping to build on our educational and social justice programing and expand our church’s voice in the community. I’m excited to hear the plans of our church leaders and learn of the efforts and experiences of our staff. Finally, I am looking forward to creating some really great Sunday services that are both comforting and challenging to current members of the church, welcoming and intriguing to newcomers, and energizing and inspiring to all before the week of work and life that follows every service. Although I am part time, I want to make myself available to members of the congregation as much as I can. I will be at church every week, but my office hours will be flexible so I spend more time with congregants and partner organizations than sitting alone at a desk. To that end, I am using an online calendaring service that you can schedule as you need: https://calendly.com/revaaron. If there is a church group or partner organization that has a monthly meeting you want me to be aware of you can email me at email@example.com. My first official service will be the ingathering and water communion on September 9th. I hope you can make it. Water communion is a beautiful metaphor and a wonderfully endearing ritual for coming back together and pledging ourselves to our joint work. It isn’t a bad moment to bring that friend you’ve thought about inviting either. Yours in Faith and Fellowship, Reverend Aaron Norris
Introducing Rev. Aaron Norris
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, it is my pleasure to notify you that the contract has been signed and we will be welcoming Reverend Aaron Norris to the pulpit in September. During the interview process, Reverend Norris impressed the board with his organizational skills, sincerity, and enthusiasm about UUCG and its future. Of course, you will learn a lot more about Aaron from him when he arrives, but until then, here is a bit about him. Aaron completed his Master of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He completed a clinical pastoral externship at the University of Colorado Hospital where he served primarily the rehabilitation, orthopedic, and burn units. For the last three years he has served the First Universalist Church of Denver, initially as an intern, and later as a ministerial resident and finally as the assistant minister. He is excited to walk in companionship with the congregation at the Unitarian Universalist church of Greeley.
Aaron comes to ministry from a previous career in law, where he served as a deputy district attorney and owned a law firm practicing mainly criminal defense. He served in the Peace Corps in Mali. He holds a law degree and a Master’s in International Relations from the University of Denver and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder in Creative Writing.
He was born in Houston, Texas and moved to Littleton, Colorado when he was four years of age. He went to high school in Champaign, Illinois. His interests include exploration of popular culture, the Colorado Buffaloes teams (UNC Bear fans, please do not hold this against him!), and making home movies. For those of you who may be supporting us from afar or for those of you who may not have had the opportunity to attend the Congregational Meeting, you can view one of Aaron's ceremonies here: https://vimeo.com/176105318
Well, this is my last time to write to you in this way. I will be leading the services on June 3 and June 17, then will officially end my time as your minister on June 30. As I said at the Congregational Meeting, there is both deep sadness and a sense of joy that I am experiencing. The sadness is daily now as I begin ending my time with you. These two years have been filled with the satisfaction of growing relationships with many of you, leading services that brought, I hope, spiritual depth, and getting to know Greeley and its challenges. Good stuff all. The joy comes from knowing that it is time for me to slow down and shift priorities. I will not, again, serve as the minister of a church. I will still be a guest minister when asked and fill in for a short time if there is a need in a UU church. I plan to do some volunteer work as a hospice chaplain. I also want to participate in a local school program where volunteers do storytelling and reading to little kids. Working with those from each end of life’s journey feels just right for me now.
As I did at the Congregational Meeting, I do want to apologize to all of you for my limited energy and capacity during these two years. I do not have the vitality I once did. I am recovering. I walk at least a couple of miles every day and do the exercises the physical therapists gave me for my knee. My sight is better but is still quite limiting. As a result, I have not been able to do all of what you and I would expect me to do if I were fully living out my ministry with you. So, I apologize for things I didn’t do, as a result of things which happened to me over which I had no control.
In the big picture, this is such a beautiful spring with green everywhere, I hope we all can enjoy it. It is not always so. And as you do, know that I believe that UUCG is going to be just fine. Aaron seems like a good fit as your new minister. He will bring new initiatives that I hope you will enthusiastically support. It is time that you lead with your better selves and take Unitarian Universalism in Greeley to the place you all want it to be. I will be rooting for you. And prayerfully hoping that your wildest dreams come true!!
Now that there have been a few balmy days it really feels like spring has arrived. Yet, there is always the omnipresent cool/cold breeze or, at times, crashing winds that smack us out of our spring reverie. Then it’s balmy again…. for a day! Springtime in Colorado! Mostly we need the warmth to thaw out our minds, bodies, and spirits. To bring us back to a kind of aliveness that is hard to generate in cold times. I hope that is happening for you all. For the month of May the service theme is creativity. How lovely. It invites us to think/act creatively certainly, and it serves as the “smack” I related above. Because, Creativity can bring awareness, wakefulness, self-knowledge, celebration, and joy. Acts of creativity loosen up our perception, our consciousness of who we are. It can spread our wings. It certainly can dig us out of our ruts, overnight. So, I looked at this as an opportunity to celebrate creativity by getting to know two people who are deeply creative in the services I am leading in May. The first, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning poet, Mary Oliver. The second, Unitarian-Universalist Minister and Author, Robert Fulghum. I don’t know of any more original thinking creative people than these two.
They could hardly be more different. One, a small New England woman who walks the beaches and fields of Cape Cod, MA finding the grist for her poetry mill. The other a robust man, a Westerner, living near or on the Pacific coast. Oliver, a shy introvert. Fulghum more outgoing, or a least seeming like an extrovert, even though we UU minster’s can fool you about that.
Rev. Barry Bloom
April 2018 Reflections
Spring draws us out of our dark hiding places into the light. Protected against the winter winds and, usually, bitter temps, we feel the warm breezes now pulling us out into the sun. And if you cup your ear and listen hard you can almost hear the crack of a baseball coming from Coors Field as the “boys of summer”” once again circle the bases. It is a time of awakening the spirit. Depressions lift, eyes lose their glazed look, life surges anew. The focal point of the new spring is always…. Easter. Known for various reasons it is the holiday that both heralds the spring and celebrates the emergence of Jesus from the tomb. One is celebrated because it simply IS. That is the snow melts, the birds sing, green shoots spurt out of the earth, and a new softness fills the air. The other is joyously celebrated by Christians around the world based on their faith that Jesus was crucified and then rose from the dead three days later. Whether true story or deeply held myth, it can bring hope to all who let in its lessons. How are you doing? Has the winter been kind to you? Are you ready to revel in the sunshine? Do remember that there are kind, loving people who make up the membership of UUCG. If you need support or just need to talk or create opportunities to support others, reach out. Stepping through our introverted nature and reaching out can feel great, both for you and the other person. You can see it as part of your personal Spring coming out party. I am also always available to talk with you about whatever is on your mind or your heart. My contact info is on the order of service each Sunday, and through the web site, or by calling Margaret at the UUCG number.
Look forward to seeing you Easter Sunday, and beyond!
March 2018 Reflections
Warm, warm wind, more wind, cold, snow, more snow, COLD, then warm again. Interesting cycle. Enough to give earthly support to the flu epidemic flooding us here in Colorado. We are always off balance this winter. We prepare ourselves for one weather system, then the other hits us from behind. Sickness follows. Think they’re related? How are you doing? Have you escaped this uncomfortable cycle? Are you well? Or have you been challenged to stay in balance? Balance, as you might guessed from the intro, is the theme for this month. It’s what we seek in life isn’t it have? The golden mean, the middle way. Living out the promises of life in a balanced way. It’s something we are all learning from womb to tomb. And it is always changing. What we lived as a balanced life in our 20’s is not the same as a balanced life in our 40’s and beyond. Our values and needs change from decade to decade.
Staying in balance is part of the work of the church of course. That is, helping each other to do so within the context of spiritual community is a core value.
Then there is the challenge of being in balance within systems. The big pictures. That takes the same love and honesty that our own individual efforts take. This month we will look at balance from a couple of different directions. One as current as this moment, the other a study of ancient ways aimed at this holy grail of human behavior.
“Come, come, whoever you are” and join us.
Rev. Barry Bloom