Ingathering Service

Opening Words:

I say GENKI and you say…SPARK!  Remember?  GENKI!…GENKI!…GENKI !

And as our old Afghan friend, the poet Rumi, said:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Take down a keyboard!
Take down a Steinway piano!
Take down a bagpipe!
Take down a guitar!
Take down a saxophone!
Take down a kazoo!
Take down a ?????
Take down  a TAIKO DRUM!!!

Rumi said,  “Let the beauty we love be what we do.
 There are hundreds of ways to  kneel and kiss the ground.”

Join with me please, call-and-response, in our Unison Affirmation:

Love is the spirit of this church.
And service is its law.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace.
To seek the truth in love.
And to help one another.


May it be so and amen!

Welcome!  Gathered in 1729, welcome to the 284th continuous season of the First Parish in Bedford!  Welcome, everybody – whether you are here for the first time today or you have been here for 284 years.  Welcome whatever your identity, whatever your theology, whatever your age, sex, race, class, political, social and sexual orientation and expression, musical ability, musical disability, whatever’s working or not working in your life.  Welcome as you are and as you would become.

Welcome as well the jazz stylings of Bob and Fran Tyler!

Welcome special guests GENKI SPARK!  Genki is Japanese for “enthusiastic, energetic, lively” and they are no mere performers: they are teachers and activists and everything they do is to raise awareness, break down barriers, and create energetic environments where people grow.  They are a multi-generational Asian women’s performance troupe that uses taiko drumming, martial arts, spoken word, dance, and personal stories to inspire creativity, build community, and promote cultural pride to further a world of respect for all.”

These are all things that we also stand for and we feel so fortunate that you can be with us again this morning.

Welcome to our good Iraqi friends from the Babylon Restaurant in Lowell who have brought food to share and food to take home and eat.

If you’re new and want to stay in touch with First Parish, please visit the Welcome Table and fill out a blue connection card where you can take your sexy smartphone and zap our sexy QR code and visit our sexy website.  Or you can take a pen or a pencil or a crayon and let us know who you are and we can begin to introduce ourselves to one another, which – like the bumper sticker says – is the most radical thing you can do.  Take a yellow card and OUT some of your friends so we can send them a special invitation to check us out.

Families – visit the religious education table and update your information and enroll your kids.

Welcome organizers of our September 28 Apple Fest!

Next Sunday – we’ll be indoors at 9am and at 11am and at both services I’ll share the sermon with Reverend Aron Barabas, minister of our beloved partner village in Abasfalva, Transylvania.  Brush up your Hungarian!

And now please welcome…and hold your wild applause till the end of this long list…and stand as your name is called) Parish Minister Megan Lynes, Religious Education Director Lisa Rubin, brand new/first time on this  stage…Ministerial Intern Laura Fell Scholten, Music Director Brad Conner, Youth Music Director Janet Welby, Volunteer Coordinator Sandy Boczenowski.  I am senior minister John E. Gibbons…and now your hosts and bagel-and-cream cheese servers…Board members Sandi Currier, Kristina Philipson, Margaret Jackson, Bob Johnson, D.J. Prowell, Dan Bostwick, and the President of the First Parish in Bedford, Unitarian Universalist, Dee Russell!  Give it up for all of them!

Madam President! (Dee Russell speaks.)

Welcome to this year’s In-Gathering. I am proud to have been elected to be your Parish Board President. I am humbled by the responsibility. I promise to work diligently to serve you as best I can.

I want you to know that the Board will be having its fall retreat in less than two weeks. We will be assessing where we are per our strategic plan and the outcomes that we agreed to in 2010. Those outcomes, if you remember, specified what we wanted to be able to say about ourselves in 2015.

We as a congregation have accomplished so much since that agreement was made. But what is left to do? Personally I am continually amazed and delighted by the vibrancy of this congregation. The question is: How do we ensure that this community continues to thrive?

I urge you re-read the strategic plan, which is on the First Parish website. At least look at the first page summary. Reflect on all the programs and activities our members participate in. If you have thoughts on what action we as a congregation should take to continue to flourish, tell one of the board members or send us an email.

As the board continues this process, we will ensure you are kept informed.  We will continue to ask for your input in both formal and informal formats. We look forward to working not only for you but with you throughout this year.

Lisa, Brad, Janet… (Lisa, Brad, and Janet speak.)

Laura Fell Scholten is a native of Carlisle, Massachusetts, a student at the Harvard Divinity School,  and she spent the summer doing Clinical Pastoral Education at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, and doing farmwork in Haverhill, and getting engaged to a fellow farmer.  Please welcome Laura!

(Laura speaks)

Welcome and Introduction of Water Ceremony (Megan speaks.)

The Summer You Learned  to Swim

(For Lea) by Michael Simms  

The summer you learned to swim
was the summer I learned to be at peace with myself.
In May you were afraid to put your face in the water
But by August, I was standing in the pool once more
when you dove in, then retreated to the wall saying
You forgot to say Sugar! So I said Come on Sugar, you can do it
and you pushed off and swam to me and held  on
laughing, your hair stuck to your cheeks”
you hiccupped with joy and swam off again.

And I dove in too, trying new things.
I tried not giving advice. I tried waking early to pray. I tried
not rising in anger.  Watching you I grew stronger
your courage washed away my fear.

All day I worked hard thinking of you.
In the evening I walked the long hill home.
You were at the top, waving your small arms,
pittering down the slope to me and I lifted you high
so high to the moon. That summer all the world
was soul and water, light glancing off peaks.
You learned the turtle, the cannonball, the froggy, and the flutter
And I learned to stand and wait for you to swim to me.

This morning we arrived here carrying in abundant bagels, unruly lawn chairs, and gorgeous gargantuan drums.  It’s so good to be back together again.  We hug long time companions, and settle down beside a new expectant face.  Amid bouncy babies and bobbing balloons we find ourselves standing to recite the words of our covenant, declaring once again, for all to hear, that “Love is the spirit of this church.”

Our bright yellow sign on the side of the Church reads “Standing on the Side of Love,” and this is the mantra and platform upon which our denomination organizes and fights for, (among other things,) immigrant rights, marriage equality, and fair wages for all.  “Love is the spirit of this church” we say, and we know that it is up to us to live these words into truth.  “This is our great covenant,” we say, “to help one another.”  These are words of mutual compassion and support, reminding us that no one is free when others are oppressed.  We need one another, for companionship and fortitude, and also because it serves no greater good to feel superior or inferior to anyone else.  Our worth is inherent.  It seems only fitting that we are on the Bedford Common today, to cheer and drum and publicly celebrate this spirit of radical inclusivity.  (Genki… Spark!)

So we’ve come here this morning carrying banners and bagels, but we bring other things with us too: courage and insight, resilience and exhilaration.  Summer somehow invites change.  We are not who we were when we last gathered as one community in June.  Like the father in the poem who has watched his little girl learn to swim, every month can mark a milestone.  Sometimes coming to church can be a time to stand back and wait, and acknowledge, and take stock of our lives.

It’s September.  Maybe you just waved goodbye to your teenager at college, or you’ve moved to a retirement home.  You’re taking on a second job, or you’re starting 2nd grade.  You got married or remarried, you’re now widowed or divorced.  You’re seeing someone new.  You buried a friend.  Maybe you welcomed a soldier home, wrote your living will, spoke up against racism, went to summer school, had chemo, replaced a knee or hiked the Whites.  Or you stayed clean for three long months, sat still in the sun, did frankly absolutely nothing, or finally took that salsa class.

Not all of who we are can be seen at first glance, and the stories and experiences we carry within, are present with us today as well.  Know that all of who you are is welcome here.  Your particular life history, and the specific way you are different, or feel alone… that matters.  You matter.  You are an integral part of a greater whole.  Take stock of who you are.  Bring your whole self to church.  Make sure we know the real you.  And as you seek to know others, you can trust that unseen walls are tumbling down.

There are so many boundaries that are human-made, keeping us separated by one demographic or another, by precinct or political party, by town or country borders.   Church is a good place to mix things up.  Not long ago, in preparation for our water communion this morning, I took a walk around Walden Pond, to gather some water from a favorite place.  I stood still with my feet in the water, thinking about another new war on the horizon and all that is at stake.  I thought also of the Jewish Days of Awe which invite reflection, atonement, and renewed connections.  The sun cast long shadows of my shape into the reeds and I looked up to see a silent blue heron watching me carefully.  Her head was tipped to the side.  “You’re copying me,” she seemed to be saying.  I thought how all the boundaries and separations we humans create are not natural ones.  The earth divides things completely differently.  I scooped my water gently, as a heron might, thinking suddenly, of all things, about watersheds.

A watershed is an area of land that drains to a river, lake, or ocean. Hills organize the land into different watersheds. When rainwater hits the ground, mountain and hill ridges channel runoff water and groundwater into water bodies, such as streams and rivers.  Because all water will eventually flow somewhere, every land surface is part of a watershed.  Everywhere we go, we are in a watershed for a river, stream, lake, or pond.  The earth does have dividing lines, but they are not as we create them to be.  There are 28 watersheds in MA.  Looking at a map of them, their boundaries are nothing like our town lines.  If you pour water on the dividing line between two watersheds it will actually slowly head in two different directions.  Bedford is part of two watersheds, the Shawsheen and the Concord River watershed.  Both ultimately send their water to combine at the Merrimack river, which then winds and flows to meet the Atlantic ocean.

I say all this because so often we are not aware of the very earth upon which we stand.  And there are more ways to think of our connections than the ones that first meet the eye.  There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Every year at Ingathering our tradition is to create a water communion together.  Many of us have brought water from places we’ve been this summer, near and far, from the Pacific to a city park.  The water symbolizes the separate streams we’ve each traveled while we were apart, and how we are gathering and mingling again into one ocean of united community once more.  Together, our individual stories and lives flow into a common pool.  And we are grateful for the larger story of our gathered Congregation.  We are varied, but we are one.

In a minute, you are invited to come forward to add your water into the bowl, then you can walk to the easel and write down where your water came from.  If you are hearing of this tradition for the first time, or you forgot your water, don’t worry, there is water in the pitchers for you to use.  Later on, the collected water will be strained and boiled, and we’ll use it for child dedications in the coming year.

And now, for the next five minutes or so, as friends bring forward their water, and Bob Tyler plays, I invite you to turn and greet your neighbor.  Tell them your summer story, ask them where their water came from, tell them welcome home.

Further Reflection

That old poet Rumi said, “Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened.”  Ain’t that the truth?  Lately I’ve been waking up because my dreams have been driving me nuts.  The other night I was in a strange city and my luggage was in a strange hotel where I did not have a room and…I did not have any clothes.  Well, I had a shirt.  Nothing else.  And there was nothing else for me to do but walk around the strange streets with my shirt just flapping in the breeze.  I was embarrassed!

That was a dream, but not far from the truth because, in June, when I went to our General Assembly in Louisville, I got to my hotel room and carefully unpacked…my shirts, my sport jacket, my ties, my socks, my shoes, my underwear, my toiletries…only to discover that…I had forgotten to bring my pants!  I had no pants!  My pants were back in Boston.  Yes, I had the shorts I wore on the plane…but no pants.  (Laura is starting to have second thoughts about this internship.)

I recall it was one of you who said, “Don’t worry about packing; they sell….pants…whatever it is you need…pretty much wherever you’re going.  And, indeed, they do sell pants in Louisville.  Figuring in the cab ride to the mall about a half hour away, my new pants are the most expensive pants I’ve ever owned…but I did not have to walk the streets of Louisville flapping in the breeze.

Most of us really do wake up empty and frightened…not always but sometimes, maybe a lot.  Don’t open the door to the study and start reading.  Well books aren’t all bad ‘cause last June at our Plant Fair, knowing that Genki Spark would be with us, I bought this book at our book table and it’s title is Enthusiasm. And I figured this would be just my ticket for today but it turned out to be a really heavy dense book with lots of tedious theological history and detail about montanists and Jansenism and the convulsionaries of Saint-Medard…but I did learn that an enthusiast was originally understood to be someone possessed by a god or by a spirit.  And then I skipped to the very last page and paragraph where it says, brilliantly, “If we are content with the humdrum, the second-best, the hand-over-hand, it will not be forgiven us.  All through the writing of this book (the author says) I have been haunted by a long-remembered echo of La Princesse lointaine:  And then, annoyingly, right at the end, the author switches to French:

L’inertie est le seul vice.  Et la seule vertu est…

(Once after a single sermon, parishioners corrected my pronunciation of 5 words in 5 different languages, including English!)

But that French translates to:

Inertia is the only vice.  And the only virtue is…what?—enthusiasm!

Synonyms for enthusiasm:  eagerness, keenness, ardor, fervor, passion, zeal, zest, gusto, energy, verve, vigor, vehemence, whole-heartedness, fire, spirit, avidity…GENKI!

And enthusiasm’s antonyms, its opposites: apathy, inertia, half-heartedness.  Ungenki?

Often we wake up empty and frightened and sometimes it’s a bad dream or anxieties about our lives, our families, our health, our jobs, school, the stuff we’re supposed to do, our love lives…and then we read the paper or turn on the news and pretty soon we’ve really got some things to be afraid of.

This week our nation and our world face daunting choices.  I am not an enthusiast of war but inertia is a vice.  I do not presume we are of one mind.

I recall Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Amidst our fears and anxieties, in our beautiful but imperiled world, we gather here to recover our enthusiasm for life.  GENKI!  We gather to kindle our spirits, to seek justice, and to build a world community of all sentient beings.  May we be possessed by gods or spirits.  May we be aroused from inertia.  May we be re-enchanted by enthusiasm.

May we not be content with the humdrum, the second-best, the hand-over hand, for it will not be forgiven us.  No humdrum.  Taiko drum!  GENKI! May we be drum-majors for spirit, justice, and community.

Nothing else matters much, we sometimes say: not wealth, not education, not even health…without this gift.  This is the final deposit and distillation of every faith and every creed: that somehow – somehow! – we keep zest in living….we keep genki and l’enthusiasme in living.

Stand, as you are able, and join hands.

“Some see things as they are and say why.

We dream things that never were and say why not.”

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to

kneel and kiss the ground.”


Say amen, somebody.