From Rev. Jan Nielsen....
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,