Why Do we Fear Change?

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Why are people so afraid of change?  It is a natural occurrence in our lives yet when it is happening we often try and resist it. What kind of time and energy do we spend trying to avoid it when we never do stop CHANGE from happening?  I think of aging as a perfect example.  In our society we do everything we can to avoid the aging cycle. “Think facelifts.” We have seen how people become obsessed and we may even become obsessed in trying to avoid the natural progression of aging.   Michael Singer, author of “The Untethered Soul,” believes that this avoidance causes you to lose track of your life’s purpose.

I have to agree when I think of Phoenix Rising UCC.  It came into being because First Congregational Church, Haverhill stopped resisting the CHANGE going on around them.  When they stopped avoiding the inevitable, they found the new path CHANGE had created and rediscovered the purpose of being Church.

Today, I had an interview with Ben Leubsdorf an economics reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Washington, D.C.  Ben is working on a story about the process behind the decisions that some churches have made to create sacred space away from a traditional sanctuary building. How did the congregation reach those decisions – was it a financial issue or an outreach issue? What type of process was involved? These are the questions I addressed in the interview.

Phoenix Rising UCC was born out of the convergent changes in our world today.  American churches have been in the throes of two recessions:  A spiritual recession which seems to have begun in earnest in 2002 and the Great Recession which began sometime in 2007 when the Mortgage bubble burst.   Another major contributing factor has be the telecommunications boom which exploded onto the scene in 1995.    All of these factors have created a sea of CHANGE that has been unavoidable.

Individuals and institutions have tried to avoid these changes and have lost track of their vision and purpose.  My friend and colleague Reverend Ian Lynch preached at my Ordination on October 5th.  He started his sermon by saying, THE CHURCH IS DEAD” he went on to say if it isn’t dead it should be”  His whole point was that the Church is meant to bring Good News and the good news is, When death comes Resurrection follows.    Phoenix Rising is a story of death and resurrection.  It was born out of the chaos and convulsion of change.    The great worshiping oak is where the story of Phoenix Rising began with a few people who gathered under its branches in 1642 to worship. This great Oak has weathered much CHANGE in the city of Haverhill’s storied history. When you walk around the area one can’t help wondering how many of the oak trees that stand nearby are its offspring.  Each of these trees began as a fallen acorn.  Each had to die in order to release its DNA into the soil rising up and out, becoming the very thing it was intended to be.  It is the natural progress of life.

Michael Singer also says, “Life is a natural unfolding of reality. You’re supposed to harmonize and work with it.”  When we resist the very CHANGE our souls are begging for, we suffer disharmony and unrest, distress and fear. This becomes the lens by which we view our circumstances.    When you are feeling pulled towards that new thing do not resist! When you step over the threshold you will begin to experience the wonderful transformation CHANGE can bring.

Its time to go back home to Haverhill!

home-is-where-the-heart-is-art-home-is-where-the-heart-is-with-heartsDear Family and Friends of Phoenix Rising UCC,

I am writing this letter on behalf of myself and the leadership circle. If you on some level you have been a part of the Phoenix Rising UCC experience I hope you will take the time to read on.

Recently Danny said,  “As long as there is an US there is a Church!”.  I think most of us feel this way!  We have thoroughly enjoyed the space and our time at the Riverwalk, with its sweeping views of the river and wildlife and large hall. We were able to make it a place where worship was different, inclusive, fun and new! Hold event a small place would never have allowed. Nevertheless, it is time to move back to Haverhill!!

In our retreat at the end of May, it was made clear that the Riverwalk was nice but it was not our greatest asset.  Those who participated by consensus, showed that our greatest asset has been our ability to make connections. The second truth that bubbled up, was our desire to go back to Haverhill, where we made our connections with each other and where we still are making connections.

Haverhill, is where Phoenix Rising UCC was born. I believe we are supposed to go back to Haverhill, so that we can rise again and give God all the credit?   “As long as there is an US there is a Church” in essence this is who we are. Together we discovered our belonging to God and each other and our purpose.

I have spent many hours in prayer. Wondering what lay ahead. Wondering what God was trying to teach us.   Our budget over the last five years has been funded by First Congregational Church, Haverhill.  And what a huge blessing it has been!  We would not have become an “US” without this gift!    We have all grown in our understanding of God’s Love and belonging!  Together we have given generously to the best of our ability, whether it was money, sharing our gifts or giving our time.  Praying for each other, supporting each other, growing in our relationships with one another.   Furthermore, we have become an asset to the greater Haverhill community!

It has all been beautiful and good! What price can anyone put on that!   Nevertheless, our funds are not what they used to be grants we applied for did not materialize.  Our financial giving, although generous cannot sustain our current budget. So we need to get creative and be smart moving forward.  In this thought I am asking God to help us focus; help us be aware; help us interact and  help us stay in a place of gratitude rather than the opposite. This posture will continue to help us  keep hope alive, use our imaginations and get creative!

The following things are what we need to do to prepare for our Journey back home to Haverhill.  

  • Our lease ends at the Riverwalk the end of September.
  • I have accepted a position as a Chaplain at Care Dimensions Hospice care. I start August 5th and will be in training for six weeks.
  • We will have our first Worship services In Haverhill beginning September 8th at the Buttonwoods Museum. They are happy to have us back as it brings us full circle where Phoenix Rising UCC Began.  
  • We will be changing the time of worship at the Buttonwoods from 10:00 to 10:30 Am to give us time to set up.
  • The music team will start practicing at my house in September.
  • We are looking for a place where the Phoenix Rising community outreach can meet as well as other small group meetings.
  • I am hoping we can have a home coming/ five-year anniversary event in October (TBA).

The following will be our Church schedule in the coming weeks:

  • August 4th, 11th and 18th We will worship each Sunday at the Riverwalk 10:00 AM.
    • August 18th will be the last Sunday worship at the Riverwalk come help us celebrate the blessing we received there. 
    • August 25th is our Annual Picnic at Kingston State Park. (if you want to be baptized or renew your baptism let me know)
  • To honor all Church volunteers Church is closed on Labor Day week end.
  • Over the next 8 weeks, we will be liquidating some of our physical assets. Keeping what we truly need for our next steps.

“As long as there is an US there is a Church” We know we want regular worship and we want to be able to engage more in the city of Haverhill. This is an exciting time because as we pray we will have the opportunity to see God take our situation and work it all together for Good. May we behold God’s handy work in the coming months.

Thank you,

Pastor Donna 

Reverend Donna Spencer Collins


PRUCC Quilt (1)I was on the NAME PROJECT committee at North Shore Community College when we brought panels of the AIDS QUILT to campus in 1998. It is my recollection, The Names Project was not as organized as it is today, so we did not have a choice of whose panels would come. Nevertheless, we got a book filled with thousands of names and it was organized much like an old telephone book. Back then you could put the QUILTS on the ground and walk around them, now they can only be hang.
I remember looking out over the expanse of scultured cloth, wondering if someone had made my friend “Michael M” a Quilt. He had died in 1992.  I wondered if his panel was there.   I went to the podium were the big book sat.  opened square in the middle. As I turned the pages looking for the M’s. There was as sticki-note tab that identified the name of the person, the number quilt and the panel if the indivivdual was there. the process of the search caused me to pause and realize each name represented someone who had died from the disease.
Turning the pages there it was. a tabe next to a name, and that name was “Michael M”. somewhere on the gym floor he was present.
On one hand, I was excited but on the other hand, I was overwhelmed not only by grief but guilt. You see, I had moved to Tulsa Oklahoma to go to Bible School and he died in the Boston area while I lived there. I never did get to say good bye. To be brutly honest, I had accepted what I was taught: AIDS was a curse from God and the (GAYS). I had met Michael at church and the last time I saw him, he told me he just couldn’t pray away the gay. so when I had heard he had AIDS and then heard that he had died at only 28 my grief was conditional predicated on what I believed at the time.  By the time I was in College I had had a drastic change of heart because I was finally able to accept my own Same Gender loving Authenic self.
I wrote down the quilt number and set out to find his panel. When I found it, my knees grew weak, I smiled as tears streaming down my face because whoever had made that panel, captured Michaels love of shoes which spoke volumns about his personality! I felt like he was their with me in spirit as I asked him for forgivness, I felt a warmth come over me as though he was communicating I do forgive you Donna. The experience became yet another stepping stone in how I understand God’s relationship with people like michael and I on the fringe of our Christian Faith.  Michael was a kind, funny compassionate man who loved life and loved God.  That Day in the room  with the QUILTS I reconnected with my friend who was free from the disease and alive with God!
Two Years ago, Phoenix Rising UCC partnered with the O Positive in Haverhill and we brought up six quilts as part of a festival in May of 2016. The event turned out to be so much more than we expected. The Names Project now is able to send Quilts per request and will do what they can to send panels which memorialize people from the area. That year the experience was eye opening to me as I met so many  people who had never heard of the Quilt. then there was hearing the stories from familiy and friends who made appointments to view their loved one’s panel privately. By the end of the exhibit, like my story, their stories made them human and not just a piece of art or a statistic. What had amazed me the most, was that so many people had already fogotten and there were so many young people who never heard about it at all.
In January members of Phoenix Rising UCC started talking about that experience and decided to bring up the AIDS QUILT again this year the month of pride. The truth is HIV and AID are one disease. No symptions =HIV, Symptoms=AIDS. This past winter in the Merrimack Valley there was an up tick in HIV cases. This helped us make the commitment to memorialize the past and educate the future.
I hope you will consider coming to visit. We will be one of only two locations to Visit with remants of the AIDS Quilt in New England this Year
June 2 – 30 Exhibition Saturdays and Sundays 1pm – 6pm
Many people under the age of 40 have no memory of the AIDS epidemic. And yet it triggered a paradigm shift in the way people relate to one another. Victims, especially those in marginalized communities, were dying in such enormous quantities that they became numbers and statistics rather than individuals with lives and loves.
In the United States, since the beginning of the epidemic, the disease has claimed the lives of more than 675,000 people and even today, nearly 13,000 people with the disease die each year. The Quilt is a powerful visual reminder of the toll of AIDS; it is a memorial, a tool for education and the largest community art project in the world.
By revealing the humanity behind the statistics, The NAMES Project Foundation and The Quilt help teach compassion, triumph over taboo, stigma and phobia, and inspire individuals to take direct responsibility for their own well-being. It is a unique creation, uncommon and uplifting response to the tragic loss of human life.
“Phoenix Rising UCC is honored to again host eight 12’x12′ panels of the AIDS Memorial quilt this June as an educational outreach and fundraiser for the Phoenix Rising Community Center. The center was started in 2017 with programs and support groups for the LGBTQIA+.” Erica Lemire Committee Chair.
The exhibit will be presented at Phoenix Rising UCC’s Riverwalk location at 354 Merrimack Street Building 1, Door C 3rd Floor, Suite 332, Lawrence, MA.
It is FREE and open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays in June from 1-6 pm and by appointment throughout the month.
The NAMES Foundation will endeavor to supply panels that are connected to the New England region and will also include panels that honor the well-known personalities: performer Liberace, AIDS activist and MTV Real World star Pedro Zamora, and Elizabeth and Ariel Glaser, the founder and inspiration of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
Everyone is invited to attend a special opening ceremony will begin at 4 pm on June 2.
Please visit Phoenix Rising’s website at Phoenixrisingucc.org for a full listing of additional Quilt related special events.
Through such displays, the NAMES Project Foundation has raised over $3 million for AIDS service organizations throughout North America Support the upcoming exhibit in Lawrence, MA and the Phoenix Rising Community Center, and make donations by going to the Names Project though their website: https://www.aidsquilt.org/ or to make a donation to PRUCC community center: Checks can be made to Phoenix Rising UCC and donate online by text PRUCC to 77977call (978) 891-5799.
Phoenix Rising UCC is a Christ-centered community that celebrates belonging to God and each other. In the spirit of God’s love, we recognize the uniqueness of ALL people and all abilities; all nationalities and all races; all genders and all sexualities; the weak and the strong; the rich and the poor; the stranger and the immigrant; the believer and the doubter. All are welcome here!
FOR MORE INFO of if you would like to volunteer:
CONTACT: Erica LeMire (603) 819-9068 or Donna Spencer Collins (781) 910-0284AIDS QUILT coming to prucc


return to meMany people would say, that’s the day people go to church and come out with black smudges on their forehead or hand.   But they only know what they see; they do not know the why and the reason.  Unfortunately, many Christians do it because they are supposed to do it without knowing the meaning and purpose.  Nevertheless, for all who come, the simple act of coming and receiving the imposition of ashes is an act of faith. imagine if you knew you were coming because God was beckoning you: “return to me with all your heart” With this in mind you come not because you have to because you can because you are a Child of God and do not fully realize it.

It is NOT a symbol of humiliation or punishment but a sign that you have heard  God’s whispering your name, “Come to me if you carry burdens and I will help carry them. Come not because you must  but because you may. I believe when one intentionally carves out a portion of their day it expresses a desire to be in relationship with God. We come  with the hope God’s desire is to be in relationship us.

Ash Wednesday begins the forty days of Lent which symbolize the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness; overcoming and enduring temptations all humanity struggles with. Traditionally, Christians during the Lenten season have given up meat on Friday’s for fish.  Individuals often choose to give up something they love or desire.  However, these rituals are empty unless the fast is motivated is to set aside time with the intention to bond with God.

The purpose of receiving the sign of ashes prompts us to consider our mortality; from dust we came from dust we shall return.  Yes, we are mortal and one day we all will pass from this world into the next. We remember Jesus who loved us and gave his life for us. He died once for all.  When we take pause and acknowledge our hurts, habits and hang ups, We open up our hearts giving ourselves a vantage point we seldom allow ourselves to awaken to God’s presence all around us: we place ourselves in a position to witness and personally experience the love, goodness and grace of God.  What we see it, GRACE coming alive!  One no longer shrinks back from God because of inadequacies but rather moves towards God despite them.

The following are lyrics to songs written by people who discovered this great truth.

  1. “He gives me beauty for ashes, the oil of Joy for mourning, a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness….
  2. “Something beautiful, something good, All my confusion, God understood, all I have to offer Him is brokenness and strife but he made something beautify of my life.”
  3. “Shackled by a heavy burden, neath a load of guilt and shame, then the hand of Jesus touched me and now I am no longer the same. “ He touched me, Oh He touched me, And Oh what joy that floods my soul…Something Happened and now I know He touched me and made me whole.

Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of a journey towards Easter, 40 day’s and 6 Sunday’s.  To come and receive the mark, you are acknowledging your humanity and are conscious of God’s desire to be in relationship with you. So go to a church near you to receive yours.   I would also invite you to join us as we journey with Jesus through the Gospel of John leading up to Easter.

I Leave you with this thought and prayer:

“You are not loved because you are good but because God is good and that Goodness is beautiful, it is the oil of joy, it is a garment of praise.”

May your Lenten prayer be as simple as the song from Godspell:

Day by Day, Day by Day, O dear Lord three things I pray,

To see they more clearly, follow they more nearly, Love the more dear Day by Day.

Ash Wednesday is MARCH 6th I will be imposing ashes 11:30 -5;30 Drop in to THE OFFICE THEN  we will have an Ash Wednesday service at the church hall at 6:30PM

Phoenix Rising UCC Office at the Riverwalk 354 Merrimack Street building 1 door C third floor suite 332  Lawrence, MA 01843   for more information

email: Churchoffice@phoenixrisingucc.org


Ambassador of God’s LOVE

AmbassadorI remember being a new Christian and realizing it wasn’t a good idea for me to read the Bible because the more I read what God expects from me, the more I JUDGED OTHERS who WHERE NOT what my wonderful self was doing!

In other words, instead of showing them God’s love and letting the Holy Spirit help them to re-imagine what life would be like free from guilt, shame and fear and walk! I judged them for their actions born out of those things.  Instead of allowing my life to speak of God Love and Grace. The very love and grace that changed my life.  I should have been telling how I discovered that God wanted to bond with me like a good parent and child bond. That God shows up all the time but we struggle to see or believe that to be true.

Instead I urged them to become a believer and behave.  Back then it meant don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t swear don’t (add your own)….etc.. ” HOW IN THE WORLD IS THAT GOOD NEWS.

I thought I was supposed to SCARE THE HELL out of people so they would go to Heaven! Over time I began to realize Jesus invited us to be ambassadors of LOVE! A GOD KIND OF LOVE That reshapes ones understanding that they are God’s beloved. This LOVE once understood, beckons us to tell others of this great and wonderful reality: God does not see us as we are but as we shall be! Jesus’ invitation to believe in Him in John 3:16-17. is clear in these words. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

I believe multitudes in our  world are  completely unaware of the depths and riches of Jesus’ Life Death and Resurrection.   When I discovered my full worth, that my identity is completely realized in all that Jesus showed us and did.  I can’t really can’t  stop talking about Jesus and  living my life as an Ambassador of God’s Love.   I keep falling in Love with God over and over again. year after year because God (Jesus) keeps giving me more and more glimpses of who I am and who He is.  I know in my heart of hearts that Jesus is alive!  I tell you this from experience.  I can assure you , when you  discover your beloved-ness, and believe it to be true you will not be the same because you will bond with God more and more and more, day after day year , year after Year!  Your life will change and people will notice and ask questions because God has given them glimpses too!  some will make fun of you, but others will be drawn to the light that has sparked in you by the Holy Spirit!

Jesus didn’t come to condemn us but to demonstrate the kind of Love that shines when innocence is condemned to death. How foolish we are to offer check lists of good behaviors and call that worshiping God. INSTEAD OF BEING THE FINGER POINTING BEHAVIOR POLICE: WE ARE TO EXTEND OUR HAND OF COMPASSION AS AMBASSADORS OF GOD’S LOVE.


Want to learn more Join us Sunday’s at 10 AM Phoenix Rising UCC                                            The Riverwalk 354 Merrimack Street Lawrence MA 01843 Building 1 Door C third floor follow signs to church hall.

Gratitude: turning what we have into enough

il_340x270-678965637_qbjpWe have so much to be grateful for. Yet often so much comes at us on a daily basis that it is difficult to actually see the good things and the blessings that surround us. It is true some of us face insurmountable odds in our life. It could be living paycheck to paycheck and the stress that causes. It could be trying to figure out how your going to get your children through college,   It could be job loss, It could be illness that you are dealing with or that of a love one you now need to care for.

It could be addiction that enslaves you. Maybe you are not the one who suffers from addiction but you have suffered because of the collateral damage it causes.  Or maybe it is a failed relationship, the end of a marriage. It is so hard to count blessings when this is what consumes  your thinking.  Nevertheless, these are just events. a blip on your timeline. A Event that does not have to define you.

Gratitude is like a boat that meanders down the long winding river of life. When we begin to realize gratitude is a vehicle that surrounds us and protects us from the elements. That it is what keeps us  buoyant when the waves come and the tempest looms.  Fear dread and hopelessness takes a back seat.

This is why I can say for certain, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough“. it lifts us up so we do not have to stay, UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES! It raises one to see possibilities rather than what seems impossible.





It Has been an exhilarating year for Phoenix Rising UCC. A year of creativity; faith building and serving as we planned and purposely implemented events and gatherings.  We developed into a Blessing Brigade, blessing people with animals, with boats and with bikes!  We went to North Shore Pride and had a table in the market place sharing our PRUCC story.  We enrolled in the Firemen’s Museum Annual Chile Cook OFF! We helped sponsor an LGBT picnic at Rolling Ridge retreat Center in Andover.  We gathered for Sunday Service once a month at the Worshiping Oak Tree at the Buttonwoods Museum.  We gathered for Prayer and Praise once a month at the Atmosphere Center.  We gathered for Food and Fellowship. We Worshiped together at other UCC Churches. Christmas Eve we joined Belleville Congregational Church UCC.  Joining the choir and I preached alongside Pastor Ross in a Christmas dialog. It was a very moving evening. This past Sunday December 27, 2015 we held our first Worship Gathering at the “Barn” a generous and hospitable gift from the Gifford’s. We met Wednesday nights at Dunkin Donuts and have studied the “Phoenix Affirmations” by Eric Elnes, and currently “LOVE WINS” by Rob Bell.  I have loved  holding office hours twice a week at the Artist Café.   Over all, we have been evolving into a progressive Christian community of the United Church of Christ, Inclusive and intentional in making God’s love and justice real in the spirit of belonging!

For People of the Christian Faith, the New Year begins the First Sunday after Thanksgiving with the four weeks of Advent. Week one: HOPE. Week Two: PEACE, Week: Three JOY and Week Four: LOVE.( You can read  those blogs  here)  the focus of each week helps us understand  what Jesus brings.

When I think of who Jesus is, I consider His entering time from eternity as a vulnerable dependent child, what he did while among us and what was done to him by us his last days before his resurrection.   When I think of Jesus in this way, I am inspired knowing how great a LOVE God has for us.  Four Books tell His story: Matthew, Mark Luke and John. Three of the books cause the reader to ask ,”Who was this man?   It is the Gospel of John we discover WHO JESUS IS!   In the Old Testament, when Moses asked God, “Who should I say you are?” God answers saying, “Tell them, “I AM” has sent you.”  (Exodus 3:14).    In John’s Gospel Jesus refers to himself as, “I AM”.

“You can put him in the desert surrounded by people who are chronically unsatisfied, and Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

You can put him in the midst of people who are confused, people who ask, “Who are you, Jesus? What makes you different from all the other gurus, rabbis, and religious leaders?” And Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (10:7, 9). It is an act of self-definition.

You can put him at graveside, in the midst of grief-stricken people, and Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (11:25).

Or put him in the midst of people who feel disconnected by life’s difficulties, and Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).”[i]

This coming Year it is my prayer that each of us come into a deeper relationship with, “I AM”.  Are you looking for a place to belong, tired of feeling disconnected,  have you been stricken with grief, seeking a sense of balance, authentic relationships and spiritual answer?  We are Phoenix Rising UCC and together we seek to know ‘I AM” Fully and Faithfully with you.

Our Next worship Gathering will be January 17, 2016 at 10 AM at 148 Main Street Plaistow NH.   You can contact me, Pastor Donna at Pastordonnaprucc@gmail.com  if you would like to meet me over a cup of coffee join me at the Artist café 20 Washington Street, Haverhill Ma Tuesday’s or Thursdays  between 9:30 Am  and I:00 PM and stand convinced God has been preparing the way for others to come and join our community.

To learn more about Phoenix Rising United Church of Christ go to: HTTP:www.phoenixrisingucc.org.


[i] Praying For A Whole New World

Gospel Sermons For Advent/Christmas/Epiphany Cycle C, William G. Carter