by Carlton E. Smith
What we call the beginning is often the end
and to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
– from Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot
(#685 in Singing the Living Tradition)
At the end of my last blog, I was a day’s drive from arrival in Portland, Oregon, my new temporary home, after nine years in my hometown in North Mississippi. Now, as we enter the Fourth of July weekend, I’m at the end of my four-month sabbatical, looking back on our UUA’s 2022 General Assembly, and looking forward to reconnecting with the congregations, leaders and staff of the Pacific Western Region.
Going into my sabbatical at the beginning of March, I had a sense it would pass very quickly, and that perception held true. I have covered many miles since then, which in some ways reminded me of what life was like before the pandemic. Back then, work as a member of the UUA Southern Region staff required me and my colleagues to be on the road two or more weeks out of the month. While I wasn’t obligated to be in motion throughout the sabbatical, connecting with family and friends added to the richness of my time away from UUA/PWR responsibilities.
Among UUA staff and religious professionals, a sabbatical isn’t a vacation as much as it is an opportunity to reflect on one’s journey, restore energies that have been spent down, and fulfill on interests and projects that have waited in the wings. My sabbatical project was the completion of my first book, Try My Jesus: Daily Reflections to Free Your Mind, Deepen Your Faith, and Invite Universal Love Into Your Life. While I had begun writing it in the winter of 2021 and intended to begin actively promoting it at the beginning of the sabbatical, the editing, proofreading, revising and uploading processes took a bit longer. I’m grateful that it’s available now wherever books are sold.
I’m so glad to have seen some of you during General Assembly last week. It was the first time we had so many members of the PWR staff together in person, which was also a gift. I’m grateful for our new General Assembly structure and schedule, which together allow for more online participation, optimize our time together in General Session, and support self-care for staff, delegates and volunteers alike.
On the morning of Friday, June 24, we of course got the news that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade. That afternoon, many of us GA attendees joined in a protest in Downtown Portland where Rev. Dr. Susan Frederick-Gray spoke on behalf of our UUA’s ongoing support for reproductive justice and bodily autonomy. While we were aware that the formal announcement of the decision was imminent, the reality of it was and is still severe. Here is a link to resources and ways to be in action.
I’m glad to be back at work as of July 5, as well as for the faithful work of the PWR team in my absence and the support of other members of UUA Congregational Life staff, especially Congregational Life Director Jessica York and all the other Regional Leads. Thank you all in advance, friends, for your patience as I come back up to speed. It’s an honor to be in this role, and I’m grateful for you!
As my sabbatical ends, I am at the beginning of life as a published author and as a resident of the Pacific Western Region. Now that my residence in Mississippi has ended, I open myself to new experiences and adventures in parts of the country that are new to me. May all of our endings and beginnings guide us to greater appreciation of our blessings and of each other, as the journey continues to unfold.