From Rev. Jan Nielsen....
In the first days of a new year, we often hear talk of new year’s resolutions. Despite good intentions, though, so many resolutions can end up forgotten in the busyness of life.
When a new year comes, instead of a list of resolutions, I make it my practice to take what I think of as a “spiritual inventory.” I try to take an honest look at myself, and my life. I ask questions like:
How do I want to live in this new year?
What do I need to begin?
What do I need to let go?
What do I want to do more of, or do less of?
How can I be more gentle and more loving, with both others and myself?
Perhaps most of these can be summed up in one question: What do I need to learn?
I believe there is always more to learn in this life. No matter our age, we can always grow, always deepen the wisdom of our souls. When we are open to learning and growth, we stay spiritually awake and alive. When we hold back and close ourselves off from learning and growth, we cease to live; we just go through the motions of life.
Our Unitarian “prophet,” Henry David Thoreau, wrote from Walden Pond:
“I wish to live deliberately . . . .
I wish to learn what life has to teach, and
not, when I come to die,
discover that I have not lived.”
Thoreau’s words point us toward what is perhaps the primary spiritual issue for all humankind, and
that is: time. Time is our worship theme for the month of January here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock. We’ll explore questions about time –what it is, mean it means, how we have lived our time in the past and also how we might hope to live our time, both today, and tomorrow.
Join us for worship in January and be a part of this community that gathers to learn and grow, to serve and to live fully these lives we have been given.
New Year’s blessings to all, Rev. Jan
In these wise words from Albus Dumbledore, the 150-year-old wizard in the Harry Potter series, I hear hope.
Most of us can name something we do well. Some of us are good at organizing things or fixing things. Some of us even may be born singers or athletes or artists. And there may be some things we just don’t seem to have the natural abilities to do as well as we think we should. We can’t clean a closet without procrastination or fix even a simple mechanical
problem without frustration, or at all. Or we can’t sing or throw or paint as well as we might like.
Here’s where we can be pretty hard on ourselves. We may think we just “can’t” do something or judge our abilities as lacking against some “super high” standard, and then never allow ourselves to make the choices that might give us a chance – a choice that might lead us to new possibilities, and to hope.
As a young girl, I was good in school and loved to read, but somewhere around junior high, I decided that I just couldn’t do math. It seemed too hard. I had read something in the newspaper about how girls just naturally weren’t good at math (I kid you not!) and, I’m sorry to say, I took that message as fact. So instead of making the choices to work
harder or to ask for extra help, I just avoided math– and gave up hope. I now know could have done better. I’m not proud of this hole in my education or my choice, but I tell the story as a reminder of the wise wizard’s teaching: it is our choices that show us who, and what, we truly are.
I have learned along the way not to give up hope so easily. I see the spiritual life as a journey of learning how to make choices in response to whatever happens to us or around us, and I see ministry as a way to share this journey with other folks, fellow pilgrims in this life, also learning to do the best we can with what life has give us, learning to look for hope.
I am honored to share this journey with all of you. May we all look for hope for what might be possible through the choices we make.
Love and blessings, Rev. Jan
As we look ahead to
November, we are in the midst of a glorious fall here in Arkansas. As I think about all of you and the life we share together here at our church in this season, some things come to mind:
Soon our clocks will change and nightfall will come sooner. My wish for you is that the longer nights of winter will be a time of rest and renewal. Maybe go offline for a time and read a book... printed on paper. Sort through a closet and see what you can live without and then give it away. We’re just days away from a Presidential Election. As I said last Sunday from our pulpit, I will never tell you how to vote, but I will tell you to vote – and to vote your values. Make your voice heard in the 2016 elections.
When we gather for worship on November 6, we’ll remember and honor our dead with our All Souls Service of Remembrance. For generations,
people all around our world have taken time to remember and to give thanks for the lives of their beloved dead. I hope you will join us as,
together, we remember those we miss. On Sunday, November 20, we’ll gather in the
spirit of Thanksgiving as we prepare for the November 24th holiday, a time for naming, either in silence or aloud, the gifts and blessings of our lives. To whom would you like to send a word of thanks?
In the coming days, I have a lot of “thank yous” to say and to send, but I want to start right here and offer my heartfelt thanks to each of you for the blessing of serving here alongside you as your minister. You all are among the many reasons I have this November to give thanks.
May the days of November bring you an
abundance of life’s gifts.
Love and blessings, Rev. Jan
What a great time we had in worship last Sunday. I am still remembering the day: our laughter, both at
ourselves and at the absurdities of life; our meditative singing of a
prayer for peace and our spirited singing of a celebration of the light we can share; the sense of hope and possibility that seemed to rise up from among our gathered souls. It was a great day here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock. I am both blessed and honored to serve alongside you as your minister.
We also did something fun. During our “Time All Together,“ all of us, of all ages, were invited to write or draw on a slip of paper our answers to two questions:
- What gifts do you see in our congregation?
- What do you most want our church to share with the world?
As I told our kids (of all ages!), we all have gifts, things we can do that are part of who we are. And we can give those gifts to others by sharing of who we are. When a group of people gathers together, that gathering has gifts that are a part of who the people are when they come
together. And the gathering can give those gifts by sharing of who the people are, together.
Your responses were thoughtful, imaginative... and fun! Your leadership will be working with your words (and your drawings) as we continue to listen together for wisdom about our future together as a congregation. If you weren’t able to be with us on Sunday, September 25, you can still send us your answers to those two big questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or paper mail to the church (1818 Reservoir Rd 72227).
If you missed the sermon, “Time’s A Wastin’: A Sermon about Our Shared Calling,” you can watch or read it now online (links at the end of this article). We want to hear from everyone, so be sure to send in your answers. A
special “thank you” to Rachel Finley, Director of Religious Education, for suggesting this worship activity for all.
We join together each week to explore ways we can better live the gift of these lives we have been given. We bring our joys and our struggles, our questions and our earned
wisdom, our doubts and our yearnings. With our minds and hearts open to new possibilities, we open our lives, and our shared life, to hope. Be a part of what’s happening in our worship. Be a part of the hope we offer to one another and to our world.
Love and blessings, Rev. Jan
Link to “Times a Wastin’” Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3OaAJKgk1g
Link to “Times a Wastin’” Written Format: www.uuclr.org/downloads/sermons/92516_SharedCalling.pdf
If you have difficulty with either format,
please contact the church office for a
copy of the sermon
September is a time for new directions. In my early years, I always loved the start of school and its promise of new things to learn and new people to meet. When Roger and I began our married life
together, we chose a Saturday in September. Our first child arrived on a cool and clear September day and, five years later almost to the day, our youngest joined his two older sisters and made us a family of five. Nearly twenty years ago, I began my divinity school studies on a September day. Each of these milestones marked a response to a calling that shaped my life – the call to learn and to grow, the call to relationship with my life partner, the call to motherhood, the call to ministry. Each of these
callings began with something unnamable that
excited my spirit and would lead me in directions I could not have imagined.
Join us for worship in September and listen for what excites your spirit. Our worship theme for
September is vocation or calling. Starting on
Homecoming Sunday, September 11th, we’ll look at what it means to listen for those callings that might lead us, at all points along our journeys, in new directions. During Sunday worship in
September, we’ll begin to ask also what might be our shared calling as a congregation here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock. I hope you will add your voice to this continuing
conversation as we imagine our future as a
On Homecoming Sunday, we’ll also share in the Water Communion ceremony, a uniquely
Unitarian Universalist ritual that celebrates our shared humanity and the blessings that water can bring to our bodies and to our spirits. You are
invited to bring water, either from someplace special to you or maybe just water from anywhere, to pour together as we celebrate the start of another church year together here at your church.
I plan to be outside ready to welcome you to our worship on Homecoming Sunday, a day when we will invite one another to listen for those calls that excite our spirits and to imagine ways to respond with our hearts and minds open to new
Love and Blessings, Rev. Jan
One year ago this week, Roger and I arrived in Arkansas and began the work of making our home here among you. When I wrote in early May, I let you all know that, after nearly a year of looking, we had found our new home. Since our long-awaited move -in date a few weeks ago, we’ve been finding our way through all of those boxes we packed after you all last year called me here to serve among you. And now, as the calendar turns toward July, we have still more boxes to explore!
It is good work, the work of looking at the things we have saved and moved from place to place over the years. Some of our treasures, like my mother’s cookbook and her aviation log books, went with us when we left Van Buren almost twenty years ago and stayed with us in Cambridge and Concord and West Hartford, and are still with us now, back home in Arkansas. Other things, like some of our clothes and books, found new homes along the way or will soon, as we continue to sort and give away. It’s a spiritual practice, a very human endeavor, to look through the stuff of our lives and to decide what to keep and what to pass on. We’re trying to pass on at least a little more than we keep.
Summer has brought bright skies to Arkansas, along with hot days and starlit nights. Summer is a time for sorting, and not just sorting the physical stuff of our lives. It is a time also to sort the less tangible, but still very real, parts of our lives – our thoughts and ideas, our aspirations and hopes. This is a season to ask questions of ourselves: What matters most? For what do I need to make more room in my life? What do I need to let go? What, when my time is done, do I hope to pass on? In the heat of a summer afternoon or beneath a sky full of stars, this is a time to step back and to sort.
I’ll be stepping back over these next weeks to take some time to sort, and to rest and renew. I’ll turn to my hefty stack of summer reading. I’ll write most days. I’ll spend time exploring my home state and visiting friends and family. And I have promised to make time for rest. I’ll also represent our congregation at the Dwight Brown Leadership Experience, which this year will be in Little Rock, August 7 through 12. I’ll be preaching August 14 and 21 and then I’ll take a little more time for study and reflection before we begin our 2016-17 church year when we gather to celebrate Water Communion on Homecoming Sunday, September 11.
During my times away, Sue McDonald, our Caring Coordinator, and her assistant, Karen Walls, will be available to help make sure your caring needs are met and they also will know how to reach me in case of emergency. Whether I am here or away, I give my heart each day to doing what I can to be the best minister I can be for all of you.
I wish for each of you during these summer days time to step back and sort, and time to rest and renew, as you take in all the beauty and blessings of life and love.
Love to all, Rev. Jan
What a great day we shared last Sunday, May 22, when you, the people of this congregation, gathered to install me as your minister. I am grateful for the blessings of our celebration–the music, the flowers, the food, the bright Arkansas spring day, our rich laughter, the sight of quite a few of us proudly wearing purple (a color you all know I love), the presence of so many people (and the words of others from far away) whose love and support have carried me on my journey and, a blessing I will always remember: the loving smiles on your faces and in your eyes as we said our vows to one another. Thank you, each and everyone, for being a part of our day of celebration. Together, we made memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my days.
My heartfelt thanks also for your generous expressions of gratitude for the ministry we share. Your contributions to Heifer International will help communities around our world to end poverty and hunger and to care for our Earth. And your contributions to the Living Tradition Fund of the Unitarian Universalist Association will help support people preparing for our Unitarian Universalist ministry and also ministers in need. I am deeply moved by these gifts in honor of our ministry.
When we spoke our vows to one another, we promised to walk alongside one another in the spirit of love. Wherever our journey may lead, may love guide us, always and forevermore.
Love and blessings, Rev. Jan
It was a year ago this week when you all voted to call me to serve as your minister, a
joyous day for me and the beginning of our journey together. Over these past months, we’ve been getting to know one another as we walk along this path – together we’ve questioned and explored, laughed and cried, sung and sometimes even danced, but always we have walked together in the spirit of love.
A year ago, Roger and I began the work of moving our household from New England, a place we had grown to love, back to Arkansas, this place that
throughout our years away never stopped being home to our souls. This week, Roger and I are taking another big step toward settling in here among you. Tomorrow, we will purchase a house here in Little Rock. We plan to move sometime in June, to allow the family living currently there to keep their children in place until the end of the school year. In the meantime, we again are living amid stacks of boxes, though quite happily so.
Here at your church, we are getting ready for a celebration. I hope you will join us when we gather on May 22 at 11:00 a.m. for the Installation of your seventh settled minister. My dear friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich, Senior
Minister of the All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City will preach the sermon. There will be wonderful music from our choir and musicians and I’m told that we will share delicious food. The most important part of our worship together on that day though will be the vows we will say to one another, the promises we will make as we step forward together on our journey of ministry. I hope you all will plan to be among the gathering as we mark this special day and honor the values that are at the core of our shared ministry.
Thank you for your trust in me. I am both honored and grateful to serve alongside you in this ministry we share. And thank you for welcoming us back home.
Love and blessings, Rev. Jan
To be inserted
We are on the edge of spring here in Arkansas. All around me, I see the signs: jonquils, tulip trees and forsythia with their blossoms proudly declaring that winter is done. And yet, on this late February day, a cold wind blows.
Spring comes to our part of the Earth not all at once, but instead, day by day. Some days bring air that warms our faces while others can bring winds that chill us to the bone. That is how it is, too, with life: our days may bring warmth and cold, sorrow and joy, despair and delight. Whatever life brings, we are here, I believe, to live and to learn as we go, with our hearts and minds open to the journey of becoming more fully human.
Join us for worship during the month of March when we will explore together what it means to
become more fully human. We’ll ask questions about what gives our lives meaning and explore themes like abundance and scarcity, imperfection and perfection, commitment and apathy, death and rebirth, and more.
Change is coming to our part of the Earth, and to our lives. Spring arrives officially here in our time zone on Saturday, March 19 at 11:30 p.m. We’ll already be experiencing more daylight by then; a week earlier, on Saturday, March 12, we will have set our clocks ahead (our cell phones will do the work for us!). And when we gather on Sunday, March 27, we will honor the tradition of Easter and celebrate the spirit of renewal, both of the land and of the soul. March 2016 will be a time for new
Here at your church, there is good energy in the air. You’ll soon be hearing about more about our celebration of the good spirit among us, our 2016-2017 Annual Fund Drive “Starting a new day,” an opportunity for each of us to support the good work of this gathered community. What a
blessing it is to be a part of good energy, good spirit and good work, and it is a blessing worthy of sharing by giving generously to our church.
I’m looking forward to spring and to seeing you all in church.
Love and blessings, Rev. Jan
Though I’ve only served as your minister for about half a year now, I am sure most of you can recall hearing me speak these words from Mother Teresa:
“For this purpose we were created: to learn to love and to learn to let ourselves be loved.”
- Mother Teresa
I speak these words when I join lives in marriage and when I honor people after their earthly lives have ended. I speak these words in sermons. And I remember these words in my meditations, when I try to step back and examine my own life and ask whether I am using my time to give love and living with my heart open to receiving the gift of love.
The way I see it, love is what the human journey is all about. Learning to love and to let ourselves be loved is a spiritual lesson that can take most of us a lifetime to learn. So much in our world would have us close our hearts. The way of faith, and the core of our Unitarian Universalist tradition, is to live this life with an open heart. I hope you’ll join us for worship in February when our worship theme for the month will be “love.” We’ll look together at what it means to love another and what it means to love ourselves. And we’ll ask what it might mean to live with our hearts open – wide open to life, and to love.
I continue to be comforted and deeply touched by your expressions of care in these days following our family’s loss of my brother, Jack. Thank you for your words and the many ways you have of-fered your support. My family and I are grateful for the love with which you all have surrounded us during a difficult time. This is indeed a commu-nity of love and we are blessed to be here among all of you.
I look forward to welcoming you to church.
Love and blessings,
I know many of you may have heard that my younger brother, Jack Nielsen, died in Fort Smith on New Year's Day. His obituary appeared in the Little Rock and Fort Smith papers on January 4. When I offered the eulogy at his memorial service, I told the large gathering of our family and friends that it was the hardest day of my life. I never expected to bury my little brother. My heart is hurting, not only for my own loss, but also for our children, who adored their Uncle Jack, and will miss him always.
I am deeply grateful for the support and care my family and I have received from our church family in Little Rock. We thank you all for the gift of the beautiful basket of plants from the congregation, a reminder to us that our care for another is a gift that brings healing and hope, even in the hardest of times.
Some of you know that Jack, who was only 53, had been hospitalized on December 20th after having what his doctors called Sudden Cardiac Death. Though he hadn't been expected to survive, after several days on a ventilator, none of us were sure what he could do or if he would be able to talk. Jack surprised us all when he emerged full of life and joy, with all of his memory, and his great sense of humor. Jack and I shared conversations I will never forget in those few days before his heart stopped again and he took his final breath. I would trade nothing for that precious time with Jack.
As I look back on these past days, I am remembering the sight of your faces held by the light of the candles we raised together at the end of our gathering on Christmas Eve, a time when we joined together to raise our hopes for a world lit by the light of love. Though I was deeply concerned about Jack that night, I knew he would want me to be with all of you and, in my heart, I had dedicated our service to him.
I will see all of you again very soon, and I plan to be in my office at church early next week. Until we meet again, know that your love and support mean the world to me and I am grateful to you all.
Love and blessings,
In last Sunday's sermon, More Good Than We May Ever Know, I shared my story of how I found Unitarian Universalism and also how I discovered not long ago that my connection with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock reaches back much farther than I had known. It turns out that our lives, yours and mine, were intertwined long before I became a minister and long before I ever imagined that one day I might serve alongside you in the ministry of our church. Years ago, this congregation welcomed and made a place for someone who made a difference in my life and whose influence would lead me to this faith and later, to our Unitarian Universalist ministry.
In this season of Thanksgiving, I count among my blessings all of you, the people of this church, and all of the good people of this congregation who came before us. "Thank you," I told the folks gathered here on Sunday, "thanks to all whose vision all those years ago brought this church into being, thanks to all whose faith through the years kept this church going, thanks to all of you here now who give of who you are and what you have so that each Sunday, our doors are open here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Little Rock, ready to welcome anyone with our message of love for all humankind."
When we open our doors each Sunday, we offer anyone who steps inside both our welcome and also a place to worship among us. If you've been around this fall, you know that nearly every Sunday we've been filling our sanctuary. It feels so good and so right, to have so many of us here. As we welcome faces both familiar and new to our gathered community, we want to make sure that whoever comes through our doors receives both our welcome and also a place - a place to sit. We don't want anyone to come here and feel that because our sanctuary is so full, we have no place for them.
Your church leadership is committed to upholding our tradition of welcome and to making room for all who wish to gather with us on Sunday mornings. Your church board decided unanimously to hold our Sunday worship services in Thomson Hall beginning December 13.
Your board is also calling together a group of wise and capable leaders to help guide us through this time of transition. This Sunday Service Task Force will look at all aspects of the question of how we can best welcome and make room for all of us and also people who may not yet have found us, including whether our congregation would be best served by offering two worship services each Sunday. In the meantime, your leadership wants to make room for more people and also to keep our congregation worshipping as one community, and gathering together on Sundays in Thomson Hall allows us to do both. Wherever we gather, the spirit of love will guide us.
Our Unitarian Universalist message is needed in our world now more than ever. The news this week from Paris is heartbreaking. Now more than ever, we need one another and we need to be together. All around our world and here in our land, fear threatens to divide us. Now more than ever, we need to make room for those who are looking for a place of sanctuary, hungry for our message of love for all humankind.
This next Sunday, we will join in songs of thanksgiving and prepare our hearts to give thanks. I look forward to seeing you in church!
With gratitude and love,