Gratitude Is the Heart of Joy, by Sarah Ahrens

Gratitude is the heart of joy, and in this challenging time, I am counting every blessing I can. My appreciation for the love and support of this congregation grows every day. We are a community of caring, both for one another and for our greater world. The Religious Exploration Committee and program volunteers have put in tremendous effort this year to embody our mission of both nurturing spiritual journeys and expanding social justice. I wanted to take this time to celebrate their excellent work and thank everyone involved in the many facets of Religious Exploration. 

The RE Committee this year is led by co-chairs Steve Kaeser and Emerson Scoggins. Andrew Nowick, Mary Beth Healy, Chad Klasna, and Susan Oldroyd comprise the remainder of the committee, with Holly Gordeuk as our Board liaison. The committee worked diligently to implement the shift in programming necessary to ensure a successful move to two full services. They collectively worked on planning and implementing the new Community Connections events as an alternate way of living our mission on a Sunday morning. Trips to explore places of worship and forms spiritual practice, as well as opportunities for community service and engagement in nature, proved to be very well received and enriching to the congregation on the whole. The integration of more multigenerational worship services has enabled our children and youth to worship with their families and be a more integral part of the community. All of these changes will lead to a more sustainable future, especially in these pandemic times. 

This year, the committee restructured itself and revised many of its ongoing goals. This was in response to the adjustments that needed to be made to adapt to two full services. The RE co-chairs were added for further support of the DRE. Additionally, the committee now has liaisons with the Social Justice, Membership, and Pastoral Care committees in order to best carry out the FUUFHC mission among all ages. We have also been working hard on other measures of supporting a multigenerational community, including crafting the Rainbow Principles of Multigenerational Worship.  The committee was just on the verge of rolling out “Worship Works” kits–multisensory activity and engagement kits for use by all ages to enrich the worship experience–before we moved to online services. That will be something nice to look forward to when we are all back together again in person!  

So as we look ahead, it is clear that the adaptations we’ve made because of COVID-19 will change how we ‘do church’ for good. Being required to hold services online has enabled us to broaden the circle and widen the welcome. We have seen new faces in our community, as well as familiar friends who’ve not been able to attend in person for various reasons. Now that we have been pushed to think and worship outside the box, outside the four walls of our beloved Old Stone Church, we have the gift of opportunity to reconsider church for the new(ish) millennium. What would you like that to look like?  As our experience of the pandemic evolves over the next months, and even years, how do we include those who can be with us in person and those who cannot? How are we able to redefine our mission in the spaces that have been created by the physical distancing? I invite you into this conversation, into a true exploration of what all of the possibilities could be. This is a time to brainstorm, to welcome questions, suggestions, and ideas. 

To that end, I am hoping that we can engage this question of ‘what next’ with our congregation during Religious Exploration Sunday on May 17th.  Additionally, we’d love to have folks consider how their spiritual journey and personal religious exploration may have evolved this year amidst all of our transitions. We will share about that in the service itself on the 17th but would love for congregants to share their thoughts in advance also via written messages, photos, or video clips so that we can compile those into our multimedia presentation for that Sunday. Please send all submissions ASAP to dre@hunterdonuu.org

Finally, I would like to end on deep notes of gratitude for the Religious Exploration volunteers this year who have done an absolutely stellar job. Our Youth Group is moderated by Kathleen Cosgrove, Karen Cubberly, and Derek Shannon. Our Coming of Age advisors are Susan Oldroyd, Kate Morgan, Paul Scoggins, and Shane Weber. Our Coming of Age mentors are Kathleen Cosgrove, Karen Cubberly, Rick Alderman, Derek Shannon, Andy VonAulock, and Holly Gordeuk. Our child care givers, led by supervisor Liam Lyons, are Emerson Scoggins, Laura Dixon, Zoe Laffler, and Ben Morris. Please take an opportunity to thank these hardworking volunteers who have done so much for the entire congregation.

 It truly does take a village, but not just to raise a single child. It takes a village to raise us all, to educate and inspire one another, to lift spirits and support life, to elevate our words and deeds and live in accordance with the seven Principles to which we aspire. I am, and will forever be, incredibly appreciative for this particular village and all its inhabitants, near and far, embodied and virtual. Blessings of love, joy, safety, and well-being to you all.