Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cleaning up after Christmas

By Jessica Gray
Director of Faith Development Ministries

Two days after Christmas, and place looked like it had been hit by a tornado of toys, wrapping paper, and more. Forget spring cleaning. Today was a day of winter cleaning. Now our recycle bin is full of boxes and gift paper, all of the excessive packaging that came with all of Ariana’s new toys. And I’ve learned a few things about myself, my child, and our process.

I usually try to get my cleaning done while Ariana is at school, but as school is out this week, I discovered a new form of parental torture – cleaning with an eager four-year-old helper. As I swept the dirt into a nice pile, she would come behind me with her little broom and move it all around again. As I picked up toys and put them where they belong, she would come behind me and pull them out again. When I tried to control the situation, I got frustrated time and again. But I realized that when I let go of my control, it no longer bothered me as much. It was the essence of impermanence. Sweep, allow for chaos, re-sweep. It reminded me of a Tibetan sand mandala, carefully constructed only to be blown away.

The second thing I learned was patience. Pretty soon Ariana tired of sweeping and moved on to a new toy. This gave me the brief window I needed to sweep up the pile and get it out of the way. I just needed to wait and watch for the right moment. Breathe in, breathe out. Pay attention to the moment. Cultivate consciousness.

Third, I found ways to engage her that worked with her strengths. Sweeping was a problem, but she really enjoyed dusting. I just had to move the breakables out of the way as she did it. She also enjoyed sorting her toys into types, and she even agreed to let go of some broken ones.

Finally, I learned that these are the joyful moments. All too soon my girl will be grown. She might help clean if I insist, but she won’t volunteer to be my helper. Instead of struggling with the challenges, I have an opportunity to really be here now. So we didn’t get the entire apartment clean. We only did two rooms. And several of her toys have already made their way back onto the floor. But we shared the day together, and for this I am grateful.

No matter what age your children are, I wish to gift you with these four things: acceptance of impermanence, patience, an honoring of your kids' unique strengths, and gratitude for the joyful moments. I hope they are as useful to you as they have been to me.

Later this week I’ll likely repeat the process with the other rooms until our apartment is clean. I like to clean just before New Year’s – metaphorically sweeping out the old year to make room for the new. Letting go of the past, so I can look forward to the future. And I wish this for you, my new congregation. May this new year bring blessings we cannot even imagine.

I also hope I see you on Sunday (1/1) for our multigenerational Winter Celebration – I heard it’s going to snow in the sanctuary! Don’t miss it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Little Store gets Big Help from BYKOTA!

by Lesa McWalters, Youth Ministries Coordinator

On December 4th, ten youth and three adults walked over to the old Sha-Booms building on MLK Blvd, knocked on the door, and walked into a phenomenon! Hundreds of “shopping bags” were laid out on the floors of three large rooms, all with a tag with information about a single child, who would otherwise not have a gift to open on Christmas morning. Some shopping bags were filled; others were waiting to be filled. Our job was to sort through huge boxes of donations of toys and clothes, and determine where to place them in age-appropriate boxes. We were challenged with emptying 7 large boxes, each box large enough to fit 10 youth inside! In a matter of two hours, our job was complete.

This year the Little Store will provide gifts to a record breaking number of children: almost 2,000 kids living in Worcester County. All the gifts, mostly toys and clothing – including winter coats – are donated by local churches, schools, and other organizations. Sorting and bagging the items is a big challenge, and BYKOTA met this challenge with enthusiasm! Special thanks to Stacey Hill, Jerry Bellows, and all the kids who helped out with a smile! You all made Christmas a little merrier for the children in your community!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Faith Development Ministries Classes on Sunday, 12/18

I'd also like to give a big shout out to all who helped with the Christmas Pageant last Sunday! It was a beautiful morning, with amazing natural lighting effects. I got so many compliments, but honestly you all did the work (you and Kris Johnson, our fearless pageant director). Thank you for participating. You can see pictures from the pageant here: http://www.firstunitarian.com/christmaspageant2011.cfm

This Sunday (12/18) is all about Hanukkah! All of our Spirit Play classes will be working with Hanukkah stories, and then afterwards is the Hanukkah party in Unity Hall (with help by our BYKOTA kids). Come celebrate this festival of lights with us.

Compass Points (6-7 grades) will have a lesson called "Our Living Tradition." The 8th Grade Coming of Age class will be setting up for the Hanukkah party.

Teachers for this Sunday are:

Red (Pre/K): Tania (S) and Carrie (D)

Orange (Pre/K): Sersia (S) and Jen (D)

Yellow (1st): Kelley (S) and Hope (D)

Green (2nd): Kattia (S) and Amy (D)

Blue (3rd): Laura (S) and Seth (D)

Indigo (4th-5th): Colleen and Henry

Violet (6th-7th): Christy & Mary

White (8th): Christina

I have also elaborated a bit about the upcoming Winter Holiday services from a family perspective. You can find out more here.

I hope to see you on Sunday!

Bright Blessings,

Jessica S. Gray, Ph.D.

Director of Faith Development Ministries

First Unitarian Church of Worcester, MA


Holidays at First Unitarian

‘Tis the season to be busy, right? There is so much going on at this time of year. Parties and shopping and baking, oh my! In the midst of the craziness, take a deep breath. Remember that the season is meant to be about family and togetherness. And, if you’re wondering whether or not you bought the right presents, just remember this list of the 5 Best Toys of All Time. :)

I do hope you will take the time to join us for some of our many worship celebrations this month and next. Many of these are specifically family oriented. (Note: this listing includes more information about some of the services than the listing in the newsletter, so it's worth the read.)

Mandala Dance Solstice Ritual, Thursday December 22, 6-7:30 PM
The Winter Solstice is the most personal winter holiday for me. On the darkest day of the year, we await the return of the light. It is a beautiful reminder that the cycles of life continue. We will honor the return of the light through a simple earth-centered ritual led by Jessica and Rhye Gray. Join us to celebrate the season in meditation, movement and song. All are welcome (including older children and youth). The Solstice Ritual will be held in the chapel, and childcare will be available for younger children who don’t want to participate.

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011-3:30 PM
I am really looking forward to the Sing-A-Long Holiday Service on Christmas Eve. I will offer a Winter Solstice blessing, a participatory “Living Menorah” for Hanukkah, and a special Christmas story. Join us for an hour of music-making with guest director Jim Scott. Lots of singing, new songs, traditional songs, Hanukkah Song, solstice songs, Christmas carols and more, many with a Latin flavor. We will end with the traditional candle-lit Silent Night. A great occasion for the whole family.

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2011-5:30 PM
Our later service will be more traditional, though it will still have family-oriented moments, including one of the stories I am telling in the early service. This is First Unitarian's traditional Candlelight Lessons and Carols Service led by Rev. Tom Schade and First Unitarian's Music Director Will Sherwood. The ancient nativity story told once again in scripture, poetry and music, ending with the traditional candle-lit Silent Night.

There will be no childcare offered for either Christmas Eve service, but children are welcome in either service.

Christmas Day, December 25, 2011-10:30 AM
My family and I are new in Worcester. I actually offered to lead the service on Christmas morning for several reasons. I do have a young child, but she will be finished opening presents pretty early. We don't have family in the area, so we have nowhere to go and no one to see. I figured that there are likely other small families and singles in our congregation who may be in the same situation. This is an opportunity for us to spend Christmas with others. We will join together in the Bancroft Room for a short, informal worship, including stories and songs. There will be no childcare or classes offered. After the service, we will share in a potluck Christmas lunch.

New Year's Day, January 1, 2012-10:30 AM
New Year's Day will be a full worship service in the sanctuary. This is the continuation of our four seasonal services we began in autumn, “A Winter Community Celebration,” with Jim Scott as our musical guest, magic snow, and lots of other fun things. Kate Popinchalk and Amelia Nadeau-DaCruz will help me enact the story “The Weight of a Snowflake” (which a lot of kids know from their Spirit Play classes). The snowflakes kids made during pageant rehearsals will be displayed. We will have a special “sharing of snow,” and every child who attends will get some magic snow to take home. We do have nursery that day, but no classes. It will be a holiday service to remember!

And looking ahead…

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 15, 2012 – 10:30 AM
“Oh Freedom!” A couple of our YRU2 Senior High youth will read several interviews of people who were intimately involved in the Civil Rights movement. These stories are powerful and poignant. Lesa McWalters, our Youth Ministries Coordinator, will offer a reflection. Our third grade class will lead other children in a “protest” during the service. And we will sing the songs of freedom. This service will be a powerful reminder that “We Shall Overcome.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This Sunday (12/4) in Faith Development classes for children and youth

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! We begin pageant rehearsals this weekend, and the Jingle Bells Choir will have their final rehearsal on Sunday. To simplify things a bit, the classes will not meet any earlier than usual. After the first 15 minutes in the service (10:45), they will be led by Carrie West in a short rehearsal in the Bancroft Room before they go their classes. They will be released at the usual time (11:45).

Kids can also pick up their Advent calendar kits this Sunday (we will mail them after Sunday).

This Sunday all of our Spirit Play classes will be sharing in Christmas stories. Our youngest two classes (Orange and Red) will explore "The Miraculously Ordinary Baby," while our older three classes (yellow, green and blue) will explore "Advent."

Teachers in Spirit Play this Sunday are:

Red: Lou (S) and Audrey (D)

Orange: Jody (S) and Jen (D)

Yellow: Katherine (S) and Gina (D)

Green: Amy (S) and Phil (D)

Blue: Gina (S) and Jen (D)

This Sunday our Bibleodeon class will have a lesson on "Christmas" with Marilyn and Alison as teachers. Our Compass Points class will have a lesson called "United by Diversity," led by Mary and Gerri. And I will be the special guest in Coming of Age for a lesson called "Spirituality in Movement," with teacher Richard Laprade and assistant Rhye Gray.

See you on Sunday!

Also, a note from 3rd grade teacher Seth Popinchalk about their class on 11/18:

"Sunday we baked bread. I did make a batch of dough before class, and we pulled a TV style switcheroo so the kids could get the experience of kneading the bread, baking AND mixing the ingredients. We made Naan using this recipe, but I left out the Garlic.


It was a great class, and the kids reported it was the best bread they ever tasted."

Thanks, Seth, for going above and beyond to give the 3rd grade advanced Spirit Play class a great experience.