May the love that overcomes all differences,
that heals all wounds,Jessica and Gili
that puts to flight all fears,
that reconciles all who are separated,
Be in us and among us
now and always. Amen.
-Fred Gillis

My daughter, Gili, will turn 1 this week! I have experienced all of the clichés of new parenthood - how quickly this year has gone, how proud I am of this little being, and how much infinite love I am discovering. As Janet talked about on Sunday, loving Gili and wanting her to know how much she is loved reminds me what it means to be human. This powerful love makes me grateful of our interdependence and hopeful about transformation.

Our theme in worship and religious education classes for the month of February is love. With the kids, we will take the opportunity to think about self love, about kindness towards others, and about justice. Many of you are probably familiar with the Cornel West quote, "Justice is what love looks like in public." There are opportunities for people of all ages to learn or take action.

Explore the theme of Love as a family. Talk about what love means to you and all the different ways you see it.  Over dinner, have each person share something(s) they love about themselves one night. On other nights, share what you love about each other.

Take on a love project! Send cards to people you love this month or offer to shovel a neighbor's driveway. As a family, you could think of someone you want to reach out to and make them a meal or do something else that they might appreciate.

"The more I wonder, the more I love." -Alice Walker

Wonder seems like the perfect theme for December, with all of the opportunities to wonder at the frost, the snow, time together with family, the December holidays. It is a time to pause and marvel, a break from the mundane.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to create this nature mandala with you all in the service on November 20 (photo courtesy of Ali Urbano). ItMandala and chancel filled me with wonder to watch it develop as each person came up and added an element, altering the whole in their own way. I had no idea how this would unfold and I loved watching it happen. This is so often the case at USNF -- where collaboration creates something more beautiful and spectacular.

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening it tasted like beets.)
-George Ella Lyon

Where are you from? What are the scents, the stories, and memories of your childhood?

Over this year, I have been interviewing my mother about her life and writing an informal memoir. It is wonderful to get a glimpse into her life, my family, and her values through this process. I am grateful to be able to hold a piece of her (and my) history.

Our theme this month, Holding History, invites us all to reflect on our personal and family histories, as well as the history we have been taught, the legacies of our country and ancestors. These are huge questions!

Find other activities for holding history together here.

As a congregation, we are committed to address painful and unjust histories, moving to center those most impacted. We are looking at the history of People of Color in the United States and in Unitarian Universalism. Our studies of Widening the Circle this month will focus on UU Theology - what is it and who does it include? What is the UU Theology that we want to envision?

As you know, at each service we acknowledge that we are on ancestral lands of the Pocumtuck and Nipmuck people. This month is a great time to learn more about this history. Learn more from the Nolumbeka Project.

Have you noticed this pink petunia that miraculously sprouted in a crack between our building and the driveway on the right side of thePink flower in building crack building? I can't even begin to think where the seed came from, sandwiched between two large buildings. How did it manage to push through stone and asphalt to grow? But there it is - this healthy, beautiful plant. What a powerful reminder that change is possible and can even be beautiful!

In our community, we have the opportunity to comfort each other through changes and encourage one another to spiritual growth.

Here are some questions to explore about change as a family:

  • Share changes you have noticed in each other.
  • What has changed you?
  • How have you changed?
  • What change would you like to see in the world?

Change Project: Think about something in your community or in the world that you would like to change and decide how you might help make that change together.

Art Project: Make a leaf collage as a reminder of how beautiful change can be!

In Gatherings by Rev. Marta I Valentin

...we are stirred
like the leaves of the fall seasonLeaves 3

rustling around sacred trees,
tossed hither and yon
until we come to rest together,
quietly, softly . . .
We come to gather strength from each other.
We come to give strength to each other...

Like the leaves, it does feel like we are coming to rest together, quietly, softly, here in this community after so much tumult from the past year and even the past month of transition and uncertainty. I am looking forward to gathering strength together over this month.

 The early childhood class has been meeting together outside, playing together, creating art, and learning about the first principle of Unitarian Universalism - Each Person is Important (more below). Our middle grade classes are creating an impressive mural with Harriet Diamond's help, exploring the 7th principle - Respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part. As they learn about and paint the web of existence, they are building their web of connection in the class. Meanwhile, our Coming of Age class, Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education program, and Youth Group are all launching, building vital cross generational and peer relationships.

 In October we will focus on Cultivating Relationship, giving opportunities for RE participants to get to know each other better and to build their community. Creating a covenant is an important step now in thinking about how they want to be together, to take care of each other, and to learn and grow together. The RE Council is looking forward to coming together with families on October 10 at Mt. Tom from 1-3 pm for games, pumpkin carving, and a short walk. We hope that our RE programs offer opportunities to gather and give strength. 

IMG 2878"Beauty is that which glistens on the edges of our yearnings and lures us into the depths of things.""
-Patricia Adams Farmer 

What does beauty mean to you? This month, we invite you to nurture beauty. Take the time to notice beauty around you, carry a beautiful poem in your pocket, create art, garden, or....?

In April, our RE programs learned about Easter and Passover, while also baking for the USNF Cathedral in the Night donation. On Easter, they participated in an Easter Can Hunt and donated over 50 pounds of high priority non perishable foods to the Northampton Survival Center. Thank you to everyone who donated!

As we look ahead to next month's theme of nurturing beauty, we will get back to our mural about the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part.

Here are some activities to practice nurturing beauty as a family:

  • Each of you choose something beautiful to carry with you for the month. It could be a beautiful stone, a poem, a picture, etc.
  • Garden together to nurture beauty.
  • Talk about what beauty means to each of you. Explore the difference between cultural and societal ideals about beauty and what you actually perceive as beautiful.
  • Share what you think is beautiful about each other.
  • Take a beauty walk. On a family walk, take turns noticing what is beautiful around you.
  • At the end of the day, share one beautiful thing you saw or experienced.
  • Create something beautiful together: do a family art project!

Here are some questions to explore:

  • What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen or experienced? How did it leave its mark on you?
  • When do you feel beautiful?
    Have you ever found beauty in something that other people might not see as beautiful?

Respect is the act of giving attention or showing care for someone or something. Being respectful takes time, awareness, and thoughtfulness. Consider how you show respect to another person - when they are talking, when they are walking by you, when they might need help. Sometimes the best way to show respect is by listening. Simply listening.

respect is one of the greatest expressions of love miguel angel ruiz quoteAnother important aspect of respect is being open to people -- people who are different from you or people who behave differently than you expect. It can be helpful to be curious about others and try to learn more about them.  As a family, practice intentionally showing respect to each other and sharewhat it feels like -- both for the recipient and the respecter. Brainstorm ways to show respect to a variety of people and situations. One example is to participate in donating a meal for Cathedral in the Night.

We also think about respect with regard to our planet. How do we show respect for the environment? This month, as the snow melts (hopefully), we invite you to show respect for the earth by picking up trash in your neighborhood or nearby natural area and starting seeds inside.

We Hold Hope Close
By Theresa I. Soto
In this community, we hold hope close.IMG 1538
We don’t always know what comes next, but that cannot dissuade us.
We don’t always know just what to do, but that will not mean that we are lost in the wilderness.

Despite all of the changes and adjustments this year, we come together as a community of love and learning, embracing hope and curiosity. Thank you to everyone who helps & supports our RE program and the wonderful students who remind us to hope!

Our RE classes were online this month due to the Omicron surge, but that didn't stop us from having fun, singing songs, experiencing mindfulness, considering intentions, exploring UU Principles and Wisdom Tales from around the world!

Emma, our early childhood educator, and Jessica Q, our youth childcare provider, led family gatherings with songs, stories, activities and reflections about UU principles & the monthly theme: Living with Intention. Our elementary class acted out wisdom tales from faiths and cultures around the world as a way to learn about UU Principles and values. Each participant got an activity bag (pictured above) with stories, supplies for art activities, and fidget tools.

 Hopefully, you had a chance to watch the Coming of Age service on January 16: Be A King. Congratulations to our Coming of Age class for planning and sharing this inspiring service. Up next for COA: mentor matches! A huge thank you to our mentors for this year.

Jessica, our Director of Faith Development and Community Engagement, is on maternity leave but you will still get a response if you email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“Forgiveness shakes loose the calcification that accumulates around our hearts.” -Frank Ostaseski

Studies have found that young people who know how to forgive are generally happier, have stronger relationships, and even do better in heart school! The good news is that we can teach forgiveness.

An important foundation for learning about forgiveness is understanding the inherent worth and dignity of all people (UU principle 1) and the importance of kindness and respect (principle 2).

For young children, it is helpful to start learning about apologies and forgiveness with stories and scenarios. There are book suggestions on the padlet. You will find 2 characters to re-create situations with and practice. Using stories and scenarios, you can start to introduce forgiveness: when people forgive, they are kind to those who are not kind to them. When people forgive, they try to show respect to those who have not shown respect to them. It is also important to make it clear that there is harm that needs to be reported to a trusted adult.

Once your child begins to understand about forgiveness, you can start to apply it to personal situations and explore what it might look like.

For people of all ages, there are steps you can follow:

  • Acknowledging the feelings of pain: anger, frustration, sadness, etc.
  • Deciding that you are ready to forgive and realizing that it will cause less suffering for you.
  • Working through the idea of forgiving the person, even if you can’t heal the harm. For this step, it is helpful to remember the 1st principle of UUism - the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Empathy is really important in this step.
  • Noticing the impacts of forgiveness -- how it can be helpful & healing.

Questions to Explore

  • What is an apology? What does it sound like? What does it look like?
  • What is forgiveness? What does it sound like? What does it look like?
  • What are some examples of situations when you should get help from an adult?
  • Why is forgiveness important?

“Every day, I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.Reid Cards
It was what I was born for – to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world – to instruct myself over and over in joy and acclamation.” 
-Mary Oliver

I have been delighted to spend this fall outside with our RE classes. It is wonderful to see each other in person, to collaborate, to share laughter and insights, and to witness our progress as we add to a mural about the interdependent web of life each week (here we are at work in this picture). I look forward to more opportunities to connect and share joy both in person and on Zoom in December as we focus on the theme Opening to Joy.

When 19 people in the congregation, from a baby through adults of all ages, assembled to rake leaves for others in November, it felt like we were opening to joy together. It was astounding to see how much we could accomplish in a short time -- and how enjoyable it is to do yard work with others! 

How do you Open to Joy? As a family, how can you support each other in noticing and experiencing joy? Set an intention for the month to cultivate joy together. Here are some ideas: over dinner, share about a joyful moment from the day. Make it a point to take photos of joy over the course of the month. At the end of the month, put all of the photos together and reflect on the experience of seeking out images of joy.

Our Winter care package contains activities, crafts, mindfulness, music and stories about this theme. Here are some questions and prompts about Opening to Joy: What brings you joy? What does joy feel like? Who helps you to feel joy? How do you bring joy to others? Share a favorite joke. What is the relationship between joy and sadness?  Create a joy project together!

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” -Mary Olivertijana drndarski KFOyQtJSZq8 unsplash

In the dark of winter, we find ourselves with a theme that reminds us of the dark and loneliness. Our tendency is to avoid the feelings of desolation, but feeling those feelings is also important. We have been looking for consolation from this pandemic for almost a year now. I am hopeful that it will come, but until then we need to find consolation elsewhere - in walks outside, Zoom interactions, good books. What is providing consolation for you these days? How do you console each other in your family?

Tonglen is an ancient Buddhist meditation practice. Tonglen means giving and taking or sending and receiving. You can practice this breath meditation sitting down or even in the moment in your life. When you breath in, you can imagine breathing in hard things, suffering, or desolation. When you breath out, you can imagine breathing out consolation, love, or good feelings. This practice helps develop compassion and it also helps you slow down and take in all that is around you mindfully.  Find a guided meditation here: https://padlet.com/dre21/janpackage.

  • What does desolation feel like?
  • What causes desolation in you?
  • What does consolation feel like?
  • What consoles you?
  • How can you offer consolation to each other?
  • What are you learning? How are you growing? (4th principle)
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