From Rev. Jan Nielsen....
Dear Friends, 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,
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January 7, 2016
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,
November 22, 2015
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,