I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

And Now a Word From John

Read this, it is from 1 John 4:7-12

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Maybe it was the excited couple I spent Monday morning with planning their wedding. Maybe it came out of concern for the situation overseas and in the Dark Valleys of poverty and violence in our own country. Maybe it is because Son #2 graduated today from Nursery School and he looked so proud with his portfolio and little rolled-up diploma, both graced with the remains of his celebratory Hoodsie Cup. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking about this passage. I like it.

God loves us, people! It's that simple. God loves all of us and the sooner we recognize that and start loving each other the better. It seems strange to have to point this out, but for the sake of Son #2 and all of those graduating this time of year--each one trying to make their way in an often hostile world--it demands repeating. Love is as much an action as an emotion. It is a way of being (God is love) and being like God! It isn't enough for us to love in our hearts.

Here is what I propose to you as a summer project: Look around you and see what needs loving then go do something about it. Do this every single day. Sometimes it will be your kids. Sometimes your parents, a stranger, the environment, your local government or church institutions will need your active love. Every day is not too much to ask. Also, don't expect to get thanked. This is for your benefit, after all.

Oh yeah, "I love my job" doesn't count unless you can truly say that you wouldn't mind doing it for free. Also, we do plenty of things that we love to do that don't necessarily pay it forward. You can still do those, but take that energy you get from them and hand it off in another act for someone (or something) else. Love is like a circular letter, you can't just address it to yourself.

Good luck and remember that I will be out there, too. So will the rest of humanity because, frankly, we cannot help ourselves as long as there is nothing pushing us down (and if you see people being held down, what's the loving thing to do?). Remember that this a "win-win", too. The more you give, the more you receive. Ain't life grand?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Hey! Its Memorial Day!

I always preach a Memorial Day-themed sermon on Memorial Day Weekend. I did so yesterday as well. I find the whole weekend to be an odd overlapping of sadness, joy, real reflection, and giddy anticipation. I also feel the need to acknowledge those who have died in the wars our country has taken part in. Today I am at work and may not get to any of the special events planned. It is a beautiful day for them. Next year I will make sure we have an American flag at the parsonage and we will fly that too...

I would post my sermon, but my computer broke and I am not willing to risk infecting the office computer on which I am typing right now. Suffice it to say that I talked about how we need to honor our veterans by really giving some serious thought to how we use our armed forces. We need to ask questions when things seem vague and we need to encourage serious debate and discussion. I think that one of the great lessons we can draw from the situation in Iraq is the importance of clarity over rhetoric and reason over emotion (certainly over fear).

The basic thesis was that war represents a failure of vision on the part of some or all of the leaders of humanity. To some extent, it is a failure of humanity, itself. This failure is, in part, because of our tendency to see the Divine in our enemies.

This is something Jesus, of course warns us about. However, my primary text yesterday was from the Song of Deborah. It is in Judges, look it up. Near the end, after describing the battle and the victorious tribes of Israel, we have a haunting image of the mother of the vanquished general, Sisera, waiting to hear the hoofbeats of her son's chariots. Of course, she never hears them. He is dead. The point is, our enemies have families and their lives are more like ours than not. The tragedy is that we cannot seem to realize this in time.

I suggested that we might want to honor the fallen by considering whether or not our current conflicts (and likely future ones) fit the criteria of a just war. We can do that while stuck in traffic towing our boats on I-95, if we must! Here is an explanation of the section of the Roman Catholic Catechism dealing with just war. It is a good place to start and I like to consider them in light of world events more than once a year. Please note that it assumes a defensive posture on the part of the "just' nation.

I also managed to smash my thumb in the car door last night, so Iwill stop typing now. Thanks to everyone who helped to paint the parsonage fence yesterday afternoon. It looks great!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ministry of Organization

I realize that I haven't posted in a while. I have been busy with church and family. Eliot Church is in the home stretch now as we prepare for Children's Sunday and the congregational picnic on June 11. I am trying to make plans for the summer and for the fall. There is much to do with Sunday School Curricula and Social Justice work as well as the plain old communal worship that is--and should be--the central fact and blessing of our church community.

On the home front, #3 son continues to get bigger. Now, almost three months after his birth, his lovely mother is returning to work and he is turning to the (milk) bottle. We are digging ourselves out from under a mass of clutter and disorganization which will only grow for a while as we get even more busy! Like most people, we do not have a nanny, after all, and no real affordable childcare. Oh the joy of parenthood! However, also like most families our size, we need two working adults to make ends meet. So back to work she goes. Good luck, Honey!

In the midst of this I have been trying to organize myself in such a way that I do not miss any appointments. "Showing up" is a big part of the ministry and at this time it can be hard to keep track of details. So, after a few near misses (one of which really was a miss), I have bought a Palm Pilot and am trying to use it. I feel a bit out of sorts as I truly am technologically challenged...

Perhaps, in this new seminary we are discussing, there would be a place for a course on the ministry of organization. I could have used one. It wasn't until my internship that it was made clear to me the importance of knowing where you are and where you are supposed to be. There are also sermons and worship services to be organized, paperwork, and committee projects. When we execute them well and keep everyone informed, anxiety goes down. When we do not, we are more stressed. It is a pastoral issue.

Anyway, I must go now. I leave you, however, with a question. What was it that has most surprised you about your job (clergy or otherwise)? What was (or is) your weakness? No need to post necessarily, just some food for thought...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Welcome to Taft

Yes, William Howard Taft Divinity School (variously referred to as "Taft" or "TDS") is my nominee for the name of our new seminary. Sure, PeaceBang's suggestion of Escalade Seminary conributes a certain romance (as well as a lovely image of our clergy surging through the suburbs with reckless abandon). Of course, Enforcer, the Liberal Theological Institute has a certain 19th Century-sounding class which would be hard to get anywhere else. However, please consider the noble contributions of jurist, president and actual active (very active, actually) Unitarian, William Howard Taft.

"What?" you ask. "Has the parson gone insane?" No, I am quite sane most of the time. Taft was a national figure. He was a leader in two branches of our federal government. He was a layman (those are people we ministers are supposed to serve). He was president of the General Conference of Unitarians. That is, he was and actual member of and participant in our movement! This is something that is harder to claim for others when we start our magical list of famous people. So what if he got into fights with John Haynes Holmes? I bet lots of people did!Still, I feel your pain. I know what you are thinking and that is this: Taft...was...a Republican!

Yep, he was. Now, I am not, nor have I ever been a member of any party but that of the Donkey. I truly believe that I will die as I have lived...forever a Democrat. But now I am talking about the good of the Unitarian Universalist movement. Do you want to make a splash? Would you like to make a statement that cannot be ignored by the great mass of our fellow Americans? I know I do. Most of what we do as a movement is, frankly, predictable. Good? Yes. Worthy?Sure. Surprising? Well...no...not really.

I think that it is pretty to safe to say that naming our only seminary after President (or, as he preferred, Justice) Taft would come as a shock in many quarters and not just our own. So lets give it a try!

Think you have a better idea? Maybe you do! Feel free to let us know what you would like to name UUTS. Want to vote for Escalade? Go right ahead...

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I am halfway through reading the proposal to merge Starr King School for the Ministry and Meadville/Lombard Theological School. I am actually quite optimistic. As you are probably aware, the plan is for the two schools to combine many administrative functions at a “central campus” (Meadville/Lombard) and have two other centers. One of these would be Starr King and the other would be in Boston. The Boston campus, however, is planned for continuing education while the other two will grant degrees.

Maybe it is because I am an alum of M/L, but I like the idea of the central campus being in the middle of the country. Also, it looks like there will be actual cost savings. I am a little concerned about the more active role planned for the UUA. I liked attending an independent seminary and, I suspect, the same could be said for SKSM graduates. However, I also understand that the financial realities may require a closer relationship with the association.

So, I have two questions so far. First, will this relationship create too narrow a focus? It seems to me that there has been a healthy conversation going on for decades about whether or not Unitarian Universalism is, itself, a religion. I tend to think that it is not. I tend to see the UUA as a coalition of theologically diverse religious liberals (and liberal congregations) who have come together, in part, because they do disagree and that--through the discussion this disagreement causes--find that their continued relationship possesses great potential for spiritual growth. Will an institution that attempts to teach “Unitarian Universalism” allow for this kind tradition? I don’t know.

The other question has to do with the name. In the document the new seminary is called “Unitarian Universalist Theological School”. All I can say is “please, no“. The authors of the proposal also make it clear that there is some room for negotiation here. So let us give this some thought people!

The problem I see with “UUTS” is that it is rather bland. “Yep, that is what we are, why not come here?” Particularly when this new endeavor starts out, it might make sense to insert a wee bit of romance into the proceedings. Would people by the Escalade if it was called “The Gigantic Car That No One Needs And Is Killing Us But Makes Us Feel Rugged”? Would I be more inclined to shop at the Food Lion if it was merely called “Grocery Store”? I don’t think so. I want a name that tells me something and that is fun to say. I am a graduate of Meadville/Lombard. There is history there. Quite a bit, actually.

We could name it after a famous minister or layperson. There are plenty of Eliots and Ballous to choose from. How about “Ballou/Channing“ for example? Olympia Brown( “Yeah, I went to Brown...Olympia Brown, that is!”)? Name it after William Howard Taft! There may be other options as well.

I know that there is someone out there thinking “Chalice Seminary” right now. Stop it. No, no, no....

I think the name should also leave us open to other options later. What if there are liberal Christians of other traditions who might wish to attend? They do have money, ya know. Meadville was originally a partnership between the Unitarians and the Christian Connection. Yes, that was a long time ago, but why limit ourselves now?

Anyway, that is all for now, but I would like to see a discussion about this, somewhere. What we call this new school is, in part, what will help to define the movement in the future...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Annual Meeting and Other Thoughts

I have been thinking, lately, about my job and hoping that I am doing it well. Certainly, when I think of all the time and effort our volunteers put into making Eliot Church run (WITHOUT BEING PAID!) this minister can only hope that he even comes close to approaching what this congregation deserves. Annual Meeting was yesterday, and I find myself in agreement with PeaceBang. I am impressed with the church and how it works.

As part of my preparation for (and reflection of) yesterday's meeting, I have been checking out old Minister's Reports. These, too have made me reflect on how I do my job. Also, Dad went to William Sloane Coffin's funeral and mailed me material he picked up there. Again, reading those things has been a humbling experience. Well, there is much for me to work on, of course, and I shall...

Here is a copy of my sermon delivered right before Annual Meeting. I should also note (at the risk of shocking some people and risking my curmudgeonly veneer) that we used our new Singing the Living Tradition hymnbooks for the second time and for the first time with me in the pulpit (Larry Lamond preached last week)! This, of course, is in addition to the Pilgrim Hymnal that we have used here for many years...

Walking Together
April 30, 2006
Eliot Church
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

I realize that many of you here today
(Less than an hour before
The beginning of our Annual Meeting)
Are well aware of the fact
That there is much about church life
That revolves around what we could--
For lack of a better word--call business
We, after all, have a budget, we have programs, too
We have bills and we have income

Actually, it requires great attention to detail
On the part of many of us
To keep things running smoothly
So, thanks to all of you who have made today’s meeting possible
There has been and will be a lot to do
And to get to this day requires hard work and dedication
So much hard work, in fact, that we can forget at times
That there is an actual reason why we do these things
And the reason is
That they are a necessary part of our walking together

The Bible scholar James Muilenburg once wrote
About the imagery in the Old Testament
The way of a man was the course he followed through life, the direction of his going and the manner of his walking...it was drawn from the vicissitudes of daily life, from a land of many roads and paths...it involved the beginning and end and the intention which prompted the journey.

Each of us is also on a journey
A spiritual one, a religious one
We, too are trying to walk on the correct path
And we have, for many reasons, decided to do it
As a congregation
Together, we are trying to find our way
Seeking to discover gems amidst the refuse
For it is as a group that we find we are best able
To find ourselves
The Bible tells us that there are many different paths
Many different roads one can take
And that people do not always choose the right one
2 Kings tells us that
Amon [for example] did what was evil in the sight of God, as his father Manasseh had done. He walked in all the ways in which his father walked, served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them.

The ancient history of Judah
Is full of kings and other leaders like this
Amon was the norm: self-serving, ambitious
A worshipper of Idols
Of the Gods of his own creation
The Bible says he was walking in the ways of his father
And makes it clear that he was walking
On the wrong road

Now, there were fewer kings like Josiah, his son

Josiah was less concerned about following his own will
More interested in following God’s
But he, too, walked down a path made by someone else
The Bible says He walked in the way of his father David;
He did not turn aside to the right or to the left

We all, you see, depend on others
To help us find our way

But we can, if we choose, make one departure from the journeys
Of these ancient kings
Amon and Manasseh and Josiah
Traveled down the paths
That were appointed for them
In our Democratic faith, however,
We do not follow blindly
While we recognize the importance of history

We are not necessarily bound to repeat what has gone before
Our path, determined as it is
Through the explorations and arguments
Of a group of diverse and strong-minded individuals
Is important not just to the congregation as a whole
But to every individual
For participation here changes us
Lifts up our souls and broadens our horizons

Who among us joined the Eliot church
Because they really wanted to go to more committee meetings?
Maybe there are a few
But in the end, there probably aren’t many
However, I am sure that many, if not most of us
Would say that we joined in part
To get a better understanding
Of the Divine, of our own hearts, of our place in this world

And we have chosen to do this
Not by reading self-help books
Or by watching the many television preachers
Available to us on cable
But instead by belonging to a faith community
That makes demands on us

This is not always a convenient choice
Nor is it usually terribly fashionable
But it is the choice we make /to walk together/
In those three abiding principles
That Paul tells us about, in his first letter to the Corinthians
Faith, Hope and Love

Now, of these three, Hope is the easiest one to describe
Coming together gives us hope
We support each other through hard times
We stand Rank By Rank in times of celebration and sorrow
It is the spirit of hope that John writes about
When he says Beloved, we are God’s children now
Hope is a promise for the future
Faith and Love, however, Faith and Love
Are what we practice on our journey

William Sloane Coffin tells us In his reading today
That faith and love are related
And so they are
Faith [he says] is being grasped by the power of love

Love is the glue that binds us together on our walk
And today, more that any other day
(More that Christmas Eve, or Palm Sunday, or Easter)
Today is the day that we celebrate it
We celebrate
With a Baptism, New Member Welcome, and Annual Meeting
Today is about the sacrifices we make for what we love
This institution, The Eliot Church, the people who come here
And consider it their religious home
And, yes, the Divine presence we seek
And that seeks us, too

If our building disappeared, if committees ceased,
If there wasn't any coffee or snacks after the service
Would we still gather here to worship
To walk together?
I believe the answer would be yes
For a congregation is not a building
In the same way that a family is not a house
Neither are we the sum total of our programs
Deep in the center of this (and any other) authentic community of faith
Is Hope for the future
Belief in each other in our common endeavor
And love for all of creation

We do not come here to annual meeting
We do not join this congregation
So that we can pledge or volunteer
We come here to
Walk in the paths of righteousness
And because of this we give
We give to each other and we give to ourselves
There is one more important step
When we choose to participate in a religious community
We also must welcome strangers
And invite them to walk with us
To be strangers no more
For there is no one, no matter how they have lead their lives
No one who is beyond hope
No one who cannot be loved
Paul once wrote to the Corinthians
Remember, my sisters and brothers, not many of you were wise. Not many of you were nobly born. Not many of you had power or influence. But God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that do not exist, to bring to nothing things that are.

And so, on the path
We take together
Let us remember that we were once new
That we once needed a hand
(as every one of us will again)
And that when we go about our business
Giving of our time and our money
It is because we are truly blessed
Blessed to be part of a community
As fresh and vibrant, and healthy
As this one