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Lonesome No More!

The other day, I had a conversation with one of you about family. We started out talking about where we grew up, and realized that we have something in common: both of us are now living and raising families far away from our own parents, siblings, and extended family network. This is a very common story in our nation (and with the rise of globalization, it is becoming more and more common all over the world): we grow up, we set out to begin lives and perhaps families of our own, and in order to pursue a dream or a job or a lover, we leave the home of our childhood behind. The family and friends and neighbors who, in previous eras we might have lived among for most of our lives are now set apart from us by a great distance – connected by phone lines and heartstrings, of course, but still set apart. Some of us may have lost members of our network of support to time and to death. Others of us might have lost such folks not physically, but emotionally, the connection broken by what wasn’t done, and should have been, or by what should never have been done, but was. As many of us – not all, but many – make our lives without frequent connections with family and long-time friends, our nation is growing lonelier and lonelier.

Robert Putnam published a book several years ago on the shrinking social circles of American life called Bowling Alone. (The title highlights the decline of bowling leagues – replaced by folks bowling in smaller, more homogenous groups – as a symbol of narrowing social networks.) Fifteen years later, the nation is in a different place than he could have fully anticipated – for many of us vast webs of interconnection have been created by the internet and related technologies. But the root problem he was pointing out still remains: deep interactions between people, particularly people of differing opinions and outlooks, have become unfortunately rare.

In his novel, Slapstick, Kurt Vonnegut describes a future in which the United States has elected its last President, who ran on a single-issue platform, with the slogan, “Lonesome No More!” The candidate’s promise was to relieve each person of their growing sense of isolation by giving them a new group of people to act as their surrogate extended family. In the book, each person in the U.S. is assigned a randomly generated middle name, and those with the same middle name – people of all ages, races and walks of life – begin to group together and look out for one another. It is an intentionally bizarre idea, but it keys into a real human need: the need to know others, and to be known by them.

Spiritual communities such as our own exist, in part, to serve this need. It’s a need we experience whether or not we have large, local, tightly knit networks of family and friends. (And for those of you who have lived your whole lives in the same area surrounded by close relations, chances are you need a place where you can go to get a break from those people every now and then.) We come together to share in a sense of connection and of common good, which does not overwhelm or erase our differences, but which endures and helps us to better appreciate them. As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, but to experience that worth, and to appreciate that dignity – in others, and in ourselves – requires relationship. Our coming together to know and be known is among the most basic and the most important expressions of our faith.

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


Office Hours: T-F, 9-1

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