Pastor’s Word

Where do you find your strength?

Where do you find your strength?

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
 (Psalm 121:1-2)

Where do you find your strength? We each find ourselves in moments of tiredness and exhaustion. Times when we feel overwhelmed or under-able. Where is it that you turn during those times to find your strength? Your ability to carry on? Your capacity to try one more time? Or why is it that you get up each morning and work your way through another day? As someone said to me last week, “Life isn’t easy.”

There are many areas that we can turn to to find our strength, our energy. Some people find it in their children. I’ve known people whose deep love for their children was what sustained them through all their hardships. They knew that everything they endured made their children’s lives better. So they persevered. Some people find strength in goals and achievements. Have you ever known someone who was driven to succeed, or earn a particular living or lifestyle, and that goal buoys them through the tough times? Others find strength in groups and just being around other people. These people are our extroverts. Just being with other people feeds them energy. Of course, being the introvert I am, I sometimes feel like it is my energy off of which they are feeding!

Another way of looking at this is by asking another question: What fills your bucket?

This is what Elizabeth and I have been talking about lately: what fills each of our buckets? For Elizabeth, one of her sure-fire ways to get her bucket filled is to spend time outside in nature. Going for a walk or hike, seeing birds or other animals, breathing the fresh air. It all helps her feel alive and full of energy. Drawing and being creative also fills her bucket. My nourishing activities are a bit different. I like being creative too, but for me it is often in building or repairing something, completing a project that used my mental and physical skills. Also being out in nature feeds me, but I like doing it in my Jeep, challenging myself and my vehicle to make it through or over obstacles (hopefully without breaking anything!). Lately, we’ve been trying to spend more time intentionally filling our buckets than we have in the past. It’s an intentional part of our goal to make it through the pandemic as best as we can.

Now, I haven’t mentioned faith or church yet. I’d be deeply remiss if I didn’t speak on how faith and church are a powerful source of faith for so many people. That’s probably a reason many of you joined the church to begin with. Something about it fills your bucket, feeds you, and gives you strength! I guess you could be attending solely out of guilt, but that’s not the best reason to participate. Being fed and feeding others are much healthier reasons to be a part of a faith community.

I started this blog off with the scripture verse from Psalm 121. For many people reading the Bible is a great source of strength. As is personal prayer. For me, worship is a great way to be energized and find the stamina to make it through another week. I have really been energized since so many of us returned to in-person worship in September. Of course, being a pastor and leading worship is also very draining. I hear about lots of clergy who nap every Sunday afternoon to recover from the strain of the morning. I get that! But it also fills me up. Being a part of the community, seeing you all, and sharing in common mission is a powerful force.

There is a scripture lesson that I read occasionally at funerals. It is taken from the 40th chapter of Isaiah. It goes, “Even youths will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted, but those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary.” I love that passage, for it gives me hope that even when I am fatigued and struggling God will provide.

How about you? Where do you turn for strength? What fills your bucket. I’m sure you get weary and exhausted. We all do, especially with all the changes we’ve been through over the past few years. And life is hard. But there are countless founts of strength and hope around you. Which feed you? Which lift you up? And how can you make the time you need to experience them? Make the effort, and feel the reward.

Welcome Home

Welcome Home

by Racquel Ray, Acting Assoc. Minister

Welcome Home.

About twenty-five years ago when I began ministry, a family member sent me this wooden church as a Christmas present along with a replica of the Barrington Town Hall. I have since added to my collection with a House of the Seven Gables and a replica of the home of Elizabeth Winslow in Salem, MA.  At the time my husband and I were in the United States Air Force and we were stationed in Mountain Home Idaho. These miniature wooden block buildings reminded me of my home and deep New England roots.

Elizabeth Winslow was a daughter of Governor Edward Winslow of Pilgrim history and inheritor of what is now know as “Witch House” in Salem. The house she inherited was that of her late husband George Corwin, stepson Judge Jonathan Corwin, and step-grandson Sheriff George Corwin of Salem historical fame.

These decorations have been on the shelves of three homes and have traveled across the country with our family as we returned to my roots here in Rhode Island. It wasn’t until I was wandering around the house and praying about what things might I need in my new office at Barrington Congregational Church United Church of Christ did I notice that these objects were prophetic.

As you know from my announcement profile, I have a long history of ministry in the Episcopal church. I am a fairly recent convert to the United Church of Christ. When these wooden blocks were gifted to me, I had no idea where God would lead me decades later. But, it was in these decades when I learned what makes me come alive; what makes me unique, what I am most passionate about, what my gifts and talents are, what my limitations are, how to listen to God’s call and respond to it, and how to respond to the needs of others.

One of the most powerful aspects of the United Church of Christ that drew me toward this denomination was the openness to listen to a ‘Still Speaking God’. The theology of listening to God resonates with me personally; that still small voice, the message in silence, the change of heart through listening to others, formation and re-formation through experiential learning, co-creative and innovative ministries, NEW ideas, and daily renewal and revival. I see the beauty of creation and life all around us as God is still speaking. And we are direct beneficiaries of that daily gift. And even sometimes God calls us into something new.

Author Parker Palmer writes in Let Your Life Speak, Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Palmer, 2000) that the signs of our life’s vocational calling, the work that God has uniquely designed each of us to do, are sprinkled throughout our life’s experiences. When we look back at our lives we can reflect on experiences that were foretelling of what God may have for each of us to do. Many of my seminary friends shared stories of lining up their stuffed animals as kids and serving make believe Communion to their teddy bear friends. How many teachers spent childhood afternoons playing school? How many doctors started with the Operation game? Was it music and pretending you were on stage? Did anyone love to play office using the stapler, tape, glue, hole punch, sticky notes, markers, pens, and (my personal favorite) the rubber stamps and stamp pads with PAID or PAST DUE or the rotating DATE option? Those moments in our lives that can leave visceral and happy memories can be moments that lead to our life’s purpose.

As I was gathering books from my library and objects to enrich my church office, I was reminded of the journey to this call. The Congregational church that has been sitting on my shelf for two and a half decades was not a decoration but a prophetic foretelling of where God would one day send me. A library full of books on guiding congregations through trauma, leading Youth Ministry, healing, preaching, history of New England, self-care, leading worship and liturgy, and a full theological library and commentary library are not  reflections of my history but a view into my future.

Our challenge and call as a community is to discern how we join our futures together. How can I help you? What books are on YOUR bookshelf? What games did you love to play in your youth? What courses spoke most deeply to you in schools? When or where are you happiest? What is your passion? What is your dream? What makes you come alive? And how can I help you use your God gifted passions to grow your community?

Howard Thurman theologian, activist, and visionary said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I Wish I Knew

I Wish I Knew

by Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

That’s the answer.

I wish I knew.

The question is, “What’s this up-and-coming year going to be like?”

As your church staff and lay leaders have been hard at work over the past month preparing for the start of a new program year at BCCUCC, we’ve all been wondering this. No one (that I know of, at least) expected the pandemic to carry on “from a few weeks to a few months,” to “six months to a year,” to where we find ourselves now. The ongoing delta variant certainly threw things into a bit of chaos. Last spring we were planning on having all restrictions gradually removed through the summer and a return to more typical reality by this point. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case.

Fortunately, Rhode Island has not seen the tremendous upswing in cases and hospitalizations that many areas around the country have seen. Yesterday, there were nearly 211,000 new cases across the country with over 1900 deaths. Those numbers is being repeated every day and they are still climbing! Again, we are fortunate that Rhode Island is on the better side of those numbers, thanks to our proactive guidelines.

But this still leaves the question as to what church will be like as the pandemic continues to ebb and flow. We are opening up so many of our ministries and seeking to return to being the active community of faith we have always been. Yet as we do this, we are enacting new guidelines to keep us (and our communities) safe. This remains difficult for everyone.

I have recently heard of some folks who are choosing to stay home because they find wearing masks uncomfortable or problematic. Meanwhile, others are choosing to stay home because they are not yet comfortable being in large groups and confined spaces with those they don’t know well. This adds to the uncertainty about what church will be like over this coming year. Not only do we have a still-shifting health landscape to cope with, but we have so many different ideas on how we should handle it and what each of us are comfortable with.

I support each of you as you make the necessary decisions to for your own comfort and family safety. Saying that, I also ask you to respect the church’s decisions regarding mask wearing and other COVID precautions. These are difficult decisions, and your elected lay leaders (all volunteers) are putting in a lot of time, prayer, and energy into every decision they make.

I started off by stating, “I wish I knew”. I’m sure most of us do. A lot of us are tired of living with the unknowns and the shifting sands of pandemic life. It is tiring and draining on us all. Yet, it is also an adventure, a journey. It is life. We don’t ever know what it going to happen to us from one day to the next, from one moment to the next. We often (during non-pandemic times) slip into a regular pattern of assuming things will continue as we expect and that we can make plans and carry them out. But as we all know, that does not always work out the way we intend. God, or life, has a way jerking us back to the reality of the unknown. To remind us that we cannot take today, even with all it’s problems, for granted. We need to embrace it and celebrate it while we can.

This brings me back to this up-and-coming year. We have so many activities planned, so many hopes and expectations. We don’t know if you will be coming along and joining us or not. We don’t know if come Open Doors Sunday on September 12, we will have full church or if many people will continue to choose to worship online. All we can do is prepare, open our doors, and say, “Welcome!”

I encourage you to come back to church. Whether for you that means being here in person or attending online is up to you. I encourage you to participate in our children’s programs, adult education programs, fellowship opportunities, and community outreach. I have no idea how they will shift or change through the year, but I hope you will join me in participating in person or virtually as you are able.

One thing I do know, God isn’t through with us yet. God is working in and through each of us and our church. And God will be with us through this coming year. Let’s hold onto that and onto our love for each other and our church. Amen!

Inscribed on the Palms of God’s Hands

Inscribed on the Palms of God’s Hands

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister

It’s hard to believe, but this will be my last blog for the Barrington Congregational Church. I had never written blogs before. And in fact, when asked during interviews with churches if I would be blogging, my usual response was “No, I don’t think I’ll be doing that.” However, as the saying goes – “Never say ‘never.’” During the pandemic this past year, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to connect with you through my monthly blog. I’ve especially appreciated this forum as a means of offering support and hope, with a little bit of laughter sprinkled in for good measure.

As I thought about what I would write as I close out my time here at Barrington, I came back to one of my favorite Bible verses from the Prophet Isaiah. In the following verse, the prophet we know as Second Isaiah is speaking God’s word to the people of Israel who are still living in exile in Babylon. They are feeling abandoned, wondering if God has somehow forgotten them and their plight. In response to this, God offers the following reassurance, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion to the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16a NRSV)

Why this Bible verse for my last blog? Well, as I am leaving I am encountering questions about remembering my time here, remembering all of you and what we have shared this past year and a half. If we are of a certain age, we’re aware that memories sometimes fade over time. Memories can also shift a little – we may remember things slightly differently than they actually occurred. In her later years, my mother recalled fondly the many times we would sit and knit together in the evenings. I always found this rather amusing because I only knitted for a short time when I was about nine and taking knitting classes (at her behest) at Sears. As the piece I was knitting began to grow, and I realized that if I finished it I would have to wear the Kermit green sweater I was making, I quickly lost interest and never picked it up again!

Unlike our own memories, which may shift or fade, God assures the people (and us) that God’s memory of us is unfailing. After all, we are “inscribed on the palms of God’s hands.” How much closer could we be to God! Not only are we inscribed there for God to see always, but we are held there as well. When you think about all the ways we show how much we care for each other, it’s often through our hands – holding hands, hugging with our arms and hands, waving hello and goodbye, kneading dough, making nourishing food. Of course, these are only a few examples. You can probably come up with many more ideas about how you use your hands to show others how much you care.

I must admit that I hadn’t thought so deeply about this until I was looking for pictures for this blog. As some of you may have realized, I gather the photos from Unsplash.com, which has a plethora of images of just about everything imaginable. For this blog, I simply put “hands” into the search tool and an abundance of images came up. As I was browsing those, I was struck by what our hands reveal about ourselves – hands calloused by hard work, hands wrinkled by age and experience, big hands gently holding little hands, and hands stretched out or clasped in prayer. Some of these images are included in this blog, but there are many more, and if you are so inclined, I invite you to check them out.

Searching through the variety of photos made me even more aware of why God chose this image to reassure the people of Israel. Using the image of hands is a tangible way of communicating how God cares for us. In the tender ways we reach out to each other, we can see God’s tender love for us. In the callouses of hands roughed up by years of hard work, we can see God’s continuous care and efforts for us. In the lines etched on each palm, we can see our very names and lives etched on God’s own palms, held out for us to see and believe. It is this last one that reassures me that each one of us is known and remembered by the One who truly matters.

It also reassures me that all the experiences we have shared during my time here at Barrington can never be lost for they have become a part of me and part of what I will take with me into my next ministry. God, who holds our very lives, keeps those memories for us and tenderly calls us to remember the very best parts of our shared experiences that these may help us grow more fully into the people God knows us to be. Because of this, we can look forward with hope and optimism to what is to come.

If the way be clear…

If the way be clear…

by Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

Last week I was sitting in a meeting with various leaders in Barrington discussing this year’s upcoming Barrington Day of Caring. (It’s going to be held on October 11th, by the way.) Like everyone else these days, we were discussing how to manage the Day of Caring during the pandemic, especially taking into account the rise of the Delta variant. The first question was, “Are we going to hold it?” quickly followed by “How are we going to hold it in a way that is safe for everyone?” As is common these days, the conversation bogged down with all the unknowns. Will there be vaccines for our kids who participate? Will things start to shut down again if the delta variant continues to surge? Can we make plans at this time without knowing what things will be like 10 weeks from now? We all felt we wanted to move forward with the day and that we needed to begin planning now, we just weren’t sure how to proceed. That’s when Patrick spoke up.

For those who don’t know, Patrick Knotley is the pastor at Barrington Presbyterian Church and serves with me on the Barrington Day of Caring board. He said, “We have this saying in the Presbyterian Church, ‘If the way be clear.’ Generally it means that we will do our best to make our plans assuming that we are doing God’s will. And if the way ends up working out the way we planned, great. If not, clearly we were on the wrong path and we make adjustments as necessary.”

I was struck by this saying and mindset. It is so easy to get bogged down and caught up in all the “what ifs” and “unknowns” that we can keep waiting and never do anything. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times over the last 18 months that I’ve said, “Well, when we meet again in two weeks [or next month] we’ll know a lot more than we do now.” Invariably, that hasn’t been the case. With each new understanding we’ve gained, new questions and unknowns have arisen. I also can’t tell you the number of times I have thought to myself, “Well, by [insert date here] things will look a lot more normal than they do now.” This just hasn’t been the case! It feels like the goalposts are always moving.

I share all this because it is fall planning time. Late July and August is when we, as the staff, begin to make a lot of concrete plans for the coming year. Our official start date, Open Doors Sunday, is only five weeks away! Will we be singing still? Will we need to wear masks? Will our children be vaccinated? Will we have a choir? How many people will choose to attend worship in person vs. virtually? Will we have church school? A nursery? Will parents want to leave their children? Will the education building be open? What cleaning protocols will need to be in place in each of our buildings? Will committees want to meet in person and can we host them in the education building in safe way? What will the added expenses of all the protocols be?

The questions go on and on.

This is why Patrick’s statement touched me. We don’t know all the questions or have all the answers. We can only do the best we can do and see “if the way be clear.” Later today the Moving Forward Team is meeting for the first time since early summer. I have no idea what recommendations they will make regarding our fall planning. Once they make their recommendations, I have no idea what the Church Council will decide on how we ought to proceed. But we will do our best. We will set up guidelines and recommendations that are as consistent with the CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health as we can at this time and then see how things pan out. Everything we do and every decision we have made over the past 18 months has been like playing with a moving target. We make our best decisions and then hope that they are consistent with God’s will and the realities that arise.

So what does all this mean? Make plans. Set goals. Begin to lay foundations for what your ministry will look like in the coming year. The church staff and other lay leaders will also be doing the same. But hold onto them loosely being prepared to adjust and shift as God’s word, the pandemic, and world around us becomes more clear. In the end, it will all work out. Blessings to you and may God bless our ministry together.

Make a Joyful Noise

Make a Joyful Noise

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister

It’s so wonderful to be back together once again in our beautiful sanctuary on Sunday mornings as we gather to worship. We’ve been so grateful for the technology that has allowed us to remain connected and worshipping together over these past many months, but it is a delight to see and talk with one another again in person. Of course, things are not quite the same as they were – we’re sitting a little further apart from one another and we haven’t been singing, not yet. As we follow the CDC guidance for gathering and keep up-to-date with the state requirements as well as guidance from the scientific and medical communities, we know the specifics we’re following will evolve and change. And one of the things we’re looking into is the possibility for resuming singing in our worship services. As we explore this possibility, we’d like your feedback.

As we’re all probably aware, singing was at the top of the list for the ways Covid was spread at the height of the pandemic. The deep breathing required for singing as well as the forceful outbreath made singing a notable method for the virus to spread. To safeguard congregations, churches began to meet virtually and, even as they have begun to regather, singing often has been put on hold. Now, with the increase in vaccination rates (especially here in the Northeast), many churches have not only resumed in-person worship, but have tested the water with regard to congregational singing.

A cursory scan of what churches are doing indicates that some churches have made the decision to have the congregation sing only two verses of hymns while wearing masks. Some churches have made the decision to have the congregation sing only the last hymn, provided everyone leaves the sanctuary immediately after the worship service, thereby limiting everyone’s exposure to any airborne particles. Some churches have made the decision to have singing, but only at outdoor worship services where the risk of infection is much lower. As with many of the questions we still have as we are exiting the worst of the pandemic (at least in our area), there are no “cut and dry” answers to whether or not to return to congregational singing.

Here at Barrington, we have chosen to wait a little longer before stepping back into congregational singing. This hasn’t meant that we have gone without music or our beloved hymns. In fact, we have been so blessed to have a video archive of music to choose from each Sunday. Because of the technological tutelage and experience of our own Erik Ela, members of our quarantine choir created many wonderful pieces which enhanced not only our virtual services, but which continue to lift our spirits each week. Music has always been and continues to be an important part of our worship experience here at Barrington.

Looking back over our video archive recently, I was surprised to see just how many pieces our choir recorded over the past year and a half – 55 hymns and 42 anthems! And this doesn’t count the several other videos highlighting the musical gifts of our members and friends. What I see in this vast archive is how important music is to our communal worship experience, and how very creative our community is as we continue to seek ways to “make a joyful noise unto God.”

The question now is whether it’s time to re-engage in congregational singing here in our sanctuary. As Dale and I have been talking about this possibility, we have also been aware that our members and friends who attend Sunday worship are at different places in their comfort level in social gatherings. So we would like your input on this question. We are considering trying this out the first Sunday of August. We would still strongly request that everyone continue to wear masks for the safety of our children who are not vaccinated yet and for the safety of those members of our community who are still vulnerable. Because of this, we would sing while wearing masks.

For any individuals who are not comfortable with in-person gatherings just yet and for those living at a distance, we are grateful that we can continue to livestream our worship services. As Dale noted in his last blog, we have certainly had some growing pains as we’ve begun to learn the new technology that allows us to do this. But we’re getting better at it. We surely weren’t perfect in the beginning of our virtual services last year, but in a short time we got better at that until we almost became proficient at it – with a few hiccups here and there to remind us that we are human after all!

Being together again, we are reminded of the many ways we support and care for one another. I am reminded of this each Sunday as we lift up our prayers, sharing our concerns and joys with each other. Sharing those things we carry with others who care about us makes those concerns a little less heavy and those joys a little more joyful. It is a reminder that we are a community of faith where each one of us is important. It’s because of this that we welcome your feedback about resuming congregational singing in August. In particular, we would like to know if congregational singing will prevent you from feeling comfortable in attending worship. If so, please let us know. Reach out to me or to Dale with your feedback. We want to hear from you!

Riding in the Back of the Bus

Riding in the Back of the Bus

by Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

I remember sitting in the back of the bus on the way to elementary school. Of course, I didn’t get to do this in my earliest years because only the cool kids sat in the back of the bus. And I was not one of them. But by the time I was in fifth or sixth grade, I had graduated to being able to sit in the back. In fact, in sixth grade I sat in the very last seat. I had really moved up in the world! The reason this mattered to us, though, was only partly for social status. The real reason was that the back of the bus was the most fun.

I don’t know if you recall driving in old school busses or if you were one of the ones forced to “walk two miles to school uphill both ways in the snow.” If you were a bus rider, you undoubtedly recall that they were bumpy, especially if you sat behind the rear wheels. That’s where the real bouncy action was. Just driving through the hilly back roads of my small Connecticut town could send you flying through the air and leave you with bruises on your tush. And for a kid, at least for this 10 or 11 year-old boy, this was fun!

Of course, there were also those who didn’t enjoy it. Those who easily got car sick or were carrying  something delicate to school like a diorama or poster you made for homework. Those fragile projects tended to get destroyed by the rambunctious bouncing and no one wanted to start a school day feeling green with an upset stomach. But for me, I remember bouncing around and laughing and shouting out loud to “get ready!” when you knew one of the big bumps was coming up.

Ah, those were the days?

Why do I take you down memory lane in this month’s blog? Because the last few weeks of worship have been a lot like riding in the back of the bus. It has been bumpy! And for some, it’s probably been fun. While for others, they would have preferred to be sitting in a place where things were a little bit calmer and more predictable.

We knew that beginning a multi-platform worship experience would be rough. We had March and April from a year ago as a test case. That was when we were first experiencing the lockdown and had to transition to an all virtual worship platform. If you recall, it was rough. There were a lot of bumps and bruises along the way until we found out what worked and who we needed to help make it happen. But after a few months, things became quite smooth…for the most part.

Although returning to in-person worship sounds like it ought to be a smoother transition, Many of us guessed it wouldn’t be. This was because we were once again introducing new technology into the mix as we were now choosing to offer both in-person and online worship. Those who went through this transition 16 months ago suspected that this one would be just as rough. And, it turns out, they were right.

We’ve had two multi-platform services already. The first one, on June 27th, was rough for everyone (both in-person and online). Many of our online viewers were eventually able to finally find the worship feed about 15 minutes late as it was on YouTube (and in time, the website) but not on Facebook. But even in the sanctuary things were rough. The new video system was not playing nice with our old audio system. The microphones were working one moment and not the next. The whole service started 5 minutes late. On and on. The second service was much better for those in-person, but we still struggled online. We were a bit late getting started and then we had trouble posting the Facebook Live feed to the website. It eventually worked…as it started playing the feed live in the sanctuary as well, right in the middle of my sermon!

I have to say thank you to our Tech Team who has been working overtime for a long time now to keep addressing the ongoing changes that we have been through. Thanks folks! You rock!

It is also worth noting that technology hasn’t caused the only bumps in the road. The ushers seem to have forgotten to light the altar candles (I have done it). The deacons forgot to bring bread and juice to supplement communion. Linda and I have both had moments of “Oh yeah, that’s the way we do it!?!” AND, we have yet to remember to ring the bells before worship.

Yup, it’s been a bumpy ride these last few weeks. But, it’s also been fun! It’s great to be back in-person and trying out new things. It’s great to offer our services for those who aren’t able to come or are choosing to stay home. I do want to apologize to those who have been trying to watch services online and have not been able to find us. We are working on it and believe that we have a bead on the few lingering issues. They ought be resolved soon.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience and for your willingness to come along on this bumpy ride with us!

Blessings to you!

Change…Again

Change…Again

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister

I was reminded this past week of the Buddhist saying that the only constant is change. How true that has been this past year and a half. So much changed. And we have talked about that a lot, perhaps to the point that we just don’t want to think about it anymore. But now we come to a new phase as we begin to emerge from all those changes, and we find that things are changing once again. I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a rather grey area these days as I go about my errands – do I wear a mask in this business, or not? Some have signs requesting me to wear a mask, and some leave that decision up to me. I follow the signs, although I must admit that I tend to err on the side of caution and wear my mask in most places. Perhaps I’ve just become accustomed to what had initially felt so strange.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent my week of vacation on the Cape. I was hoping it would be cooler there, although I had booked my reservation before I knew the weather report. Unfortunately, it was as hot on the Cape as it was here in Barrington, so I didn’t escape the heat wave. But it was nice to get away; something I hadn’t done since the pandemic began. Like many of you, I had been spending my vacation time at home – doing the “staycation” thing. So, I was looking forward to getting away, seeing something new, and revisiting familiar haunts.

I found that many of the familiar places are still there. The ocean doesn’t change, although the beaches have changed over the fifteen years that I’ve been going to the Cape. Most years, I’ve been able to walk the beach at Nauset (at the “elbow” of the Cape) and collect small flat stones worn smooth by the waves. But one year, after a particularly strong winter Nor’easter, the beach was noticeably narrower and covered in clumps of dark seaweed and large, jagged rocks. No matter how I’ve found the beach, though, I always feel a sense of peace looking out over the expanse of the ocean. It makes me realize just how large and amazing creation is, and it makes me feel grateful to be a part of it all.

This year, the beach was filled with soft sand, and I did find a few smooth stones. However, when I sought out familiar places in town, I found that not everything has remained as I remember it. A few shops in Orleans that I had enjoyed browsing either have closed or morphed into something else. One shop is now half the size it used to be. Another has been converted into an insurance company. Yet another has become a pub. None of these changes dramatically affected my ability to enjoy Orleans again, but they did make me a little sad because I was anticipating the Orleans I remembered from previous trips. I was looking forward to finding it exactly the way I had left it – perhaps looking for that constant in the sea of change we’ve all been through this past year.

Of course, we don’t have to travel away from home to find that things have changed in recent years. Just this past year, my favorite consignment shop in Bristol closed and some restaurants have either shortened their hours or closed up. This probably won’t change how we give directions in Rhode Island, though. How many of us have given newcomers directions in some iteration of “turn left where the Benny’s used to be.” When I first moved here in 1997, I remember being so confused when someone told me to turn where the ALMACS used to be. I didn’t even know what an ALMACS was. And now I find myself doing much the same thing, and laughing at myself as I do it!

So, now we’re coming to a new change here at the Barrington church. We’re returning to in-person worship in our sanctuary after a year and a half of virtual worship services. This is a change we’ve been looking forward to ever since mid-March 2020 when we thought we’d only be closed for about a month. We’ve missed seeing each other. We’ve missed sharing our joys and concerns in person. We’ve missed the sense of being home in a space that’s so familiar and welcoming to us. And now, we will be back! This is a good change. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. But you also will notice some changes, especially in the beginning.

As you may have read in the email that was sent out last week, we will be observing some physical distancing by sitting in every other pew and staggering the pews in use across the aisles. Hymnals and Bibles won’t be in the pew racks, and we won’t be singing as a congregation just yet, although we will have music and hymns that our choir has recorded over the past year. We won’t have coffee hour just yet either, but you are certainly invited to catch up with friends after worship outside in the parking lot. These changes aren’t the way we’ve always done things, but they are necessary for the time being to ensure that we can welcome everyone back in the safest way possible.

There will also be some new additions to the sanctuary as we prepare to offer multi-platform worship services. These new additions will allow us to continue to provide online worship for individuals who may not be able to attend in-person worship. We foresee that these new additions will serve us well now and in the future. So, you will notice some changes in the sanctuary – some are temporary, some are permanent. Some may feel comfortable to you, some may not. But above all, the reasons we gather together in our sanctuary haven’t changed. Over the 200+ years that our congregation has been worshipping in this sanctuary, we have always gathered together to worship our God, to support each other, and to share our lives in this community of faith. This remains our constant in a sea of change, and it will continue to chart our course into the future. We look forward to welcoming you back this Sunday as we enter a new chapter in the life of our church.

My Brain is Mush

My Brain is Mush

by Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister

I think the heat has melted my brain.

Either that, or it is the pandemic.

I sit here today having spent the last half hour pretty much starring at this screen. I’m writing a blog. Actually, I haven’t been writing a blog, I’ve been staring at the screen trying to decide what to write about. I’m tired of writing about, talking about, and thinking about the pandemic and what it means to be “coming out of it.” I think you are tired of reading about it, or hearing about it, too.

I want to write about something else.

I thought about writing about a recent political issue, but after the last four years, I’m tired of politics.

Faith? Eh, I preach on that every week.

Relationships? That brings me back to the pandemic.

Community? The same.

So that’s it. My brain is mush.

My uncle was a big fan of porridge. He would cook oatmeal for breakfast, but it wasn’t your typical oatmeal. He cooked it for so long the spoon had to stand up straight in it. It couldn’t lean or move. It had to stand there, perfect forever.

That’s my brain, a big bowl of porridge with a spoon stuck in it.

Perhaps it is good that Elizabeth and I are taking some time off next week. I hope it provides me an opportunity to relax. To stop thinking for a little while. And to stop making decisions. I’m tired of making decisions about what we can do, how we can do it, and when it can happen. See, there I go again with the pandemic talk.

I don’t bring this up so you can feel sorry for me. You can if you want, but it likely won’t change anything. I bring it up so you can look in the mirror. Are you experiencing something similar? Are you exhausted? Burned out? Tired? Worn out?

Don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest you take on any self-care techniques. I’m tired of all that too. Deciding if I’m going to go for a run today, or practice yoga, or eat healthy are all some of those decisions I’m tired of making.

How about you? How are you holding up these days? Are you living large, enjoying life, and feeling finally free following 16 months of pandemic life? Or are you feeling it too? Are you finding that making decisions is still hard, you still feel lonely, you’re still tired of adjusting to another new way of doing things?

If that’s you, where do you find peace and comfort? Where are you finding support? Where are you going to “get away” from it all?

I realized recently (not for the first time) that one of the areas I’m finding peace is in my morning “Peaceful Pause & Prayer.” There’s currently only a handful of us who participate and, under that measurement, it may not be considered “worth my time”. But I know how much I get out of it. Just taking 30 minutes twice a week to relax, read a brief scripture passage, sit in silence with it, and reflect does wonders for me. It doesn’t cure everything – case in point being my mushed brain right now – but it does seem to help me find focus and “get away”.

I also have enjoyed taking the dog for a walk, by myself or with Elizabeth. That is until this heat wave. Now, it’s just miserable. But last week I found myself getting out from behind my desk (and this screen) and taking a short stroll around the neighborhood before coming back for more work. How beautiful those afternoon walks were?

And then there is “veg time”. It’s probably aptly named because it does turn me into a bit of a vegetable. This is when I’m watching TV, reading, or playing computer games. Yup, it’s all pretty mindless, but we need to take some time off and escape from time to time. I’ve come to realize that I like these activities because I feel like I accomplish something with them. The worlds of TV, books, and computer games, fictional as they are, are made better through the actions of the protagonist or me. I don’t always get that feeling in the real world, especially during the pandemic. It often feels like we do a lot of work, and nothing ever changes. That’s wearing. It’s also probably not true. Lots of things change, just perhaps on a smaller scale that I may like! (Think of the story of the starfishes on the beach.)

So, what are you doing? How are you coping with your brain mush these days? Does it help to know you are not alone? Have you found ways to welcome peace, get away, or make a difference? Or is there something else you are holding onto as your anchor? I pray that you find some way of touching God’s blessings and peace for you. You need it. Like me.

And now I’m going to go eat some porridge! (not really, it’s too darn hot!)

New Beginnings

New Beginnings

by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister

Spring is such a hopeful time of year. The trees are now out in full leaf. Annuals and perennials are blooming. Garden centers are filled with plants that promise bountiful baskets of tomatoes, peppers, beans, and strawberries come the warmer days of summer. Even those of us who lack a true “green thumb” share in the optimism that our efforts will amply be rewarded come August.

Spring is also a hopeful time of year because of all the high school and college graduations. It’s time to celebrate, especially after almost two full academic years affected by the pandemic. Graduation is a significant milestone in life and one that we remember for a lifetime. At BCCUCC, we’re looking forward to celebrating our high school graduates during our June 6th Baccalaureate worship service when we can extend our heartfelt congratulations to all who are graduating this year and moving on to college or new jobs.

This Spring once again, is a time of looking forward to all the new beginnings that lay before us – whether we are graduating, or tending our gardens, or starting to think about delayed vacations. It’s a time of renewed hope that is particularly welcome this year.

We are excited for the new. And yet, we may also be feeling some sense of trepidation because, by its very nature, “the new” contains within it the unknown. For our high school graduates going on to college, there may be questions about what it will be like as they meet new people, navigate dorm life, or find the financial resources to make all of this possible. For graduates entering the job market, there may be questions about navigating the search process, and/or finding an affordable place to live. And it seems like all transitions such as these involve concerns about meeting new expectations and getting along with people we’ve never met before.

I don’t want to overemphasize the sense of trepidation or anxiety we may feel during times of transition because these are also times when we have opportunities to grow. We have opportunities to learn more about who we are and what we’re capable of doing. Stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zones can be both enriching and rewarding as we develop new skills and see more clearly our strengths and abilities. During such times of transition, we may also be more aware of the ways that God is working in us and with us to help us grow. We may become more aware of the ways that God is supporting us as we navigate “the new.”

Scripture writers often used the image of God as a parent bird, even an eagle to convey this assurance, such as in Psalm 91 where we find the promise that “God will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:4). And we have the image of God providing us with the strength of eagles in Isaiah, where we are assured that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Is 40:31). And in the book of Exodus, we have the following image of God as a strong protector as God directs Moses to reassure the people who have just crossed the Red Sea: “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex. 19:3-4).

When I was in seminary, my Old Testament professor was talking one day about this last passage, and to elucidate the text she described how eagles teach their young to fly. As she explained it, the mama eagle coaxes her young one out of the nest and then flies under her eaglet to provide it with the security of knowing that should the little one falter, it will not fall very far because mama will catch it on her back and carry it to safety. It was a beautiful image and a wonderful metaphor for God’s protection that as we try new things – as we stretch our wings and take off into new horizons – not only is God with us to encourage us, but God is also with us to ensure that we won’t fall.

I was so taken with this imagery that I decided to use it to illustrate a pastoral prayer a few years ago. And it was a wonderful metaphor for my prayer of assurance that God is always with us. It’s a beautiful image. Unfortunately, it’s not accurate. A doctor sitting in church that day pointed this out to me. It seems that eagles teach their little ones to fly like most other birds do. They don’t force their young ones out of the nest, but they start bringing food to nearby branches, and the eaglets then test their wings as they “hop” to these branches for the food. They hop first to the closest branches and then, as the parent birds extend the distance by bringing food to further branches, the eaglets hop and flutter further. They do this until their wings are strong enough to get them airborne. Then they learn to hunt with the adults and will leave the nest for good once they become adept at this.

Of course, this is still a nice image of a caring parent teaching their young how to navigate the world beyond the safety and security of home. And it’s a good metaphor for how God is at work in us, nudging us into new beginnings where we too can exercise our gifts in the world. It’s a good metaphor for how God stays with us as we learn more about our strengths and the gifts God has given us. It’s also a good metaphor for all the ways God knows us and what we are capable of doing, even if we’re not so sure just yet.

It’s a nice image, and a good metaphor. But, I still prefer the image my professor painted in class that day. And, even if it’s not accurate, I think it’s valuable because we do know that parent eagles soar with their young. They do keep an eye on them as they take to a first flight. They don’t leave their little ones alone in the world should they falter and fall. So, maybe there is something to the image that corresponds to God’s description of bearing the people of Israel on “eagles’ wings.” Whatever new beginning you are entering this Spring, may you feel the assurance that God is with you, keeping you safe while encouraging you to soar on your own eagles’ wings.