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a beautiful story

Marina Abramovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again…

At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed the brilliant piece ‘The Artist Is Present’, a 736-hour and 30-minute static, silent piece, in which she sat immobile in the museum’s atrium, while spectators were invited to take turns sitting opposite her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened.

I post this for my own Ulay.

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Newsletter column of introduction


KaleidoscopE (December 2012)
From the desk of Rev. Kathleen Ellis, Assistant Minister

In this column of introduction let me first say that I am so pleased to be here at First Unitarian, right in the Museum District, and in collaboration with ministers and staff from Copperfield and Stafford-Thoreau. What an exciting venture!

My portfolio here has four major areas: membership, pastoral care, social justice, and worship. These Teams are already in place, so I have stepped onto a moving sidewalk and have needed to step lively to get up to speed! I will also assist the Rev. Daniel O’Connell, Senior Minister, as needs arise.

Now for some personal history: My first husband and I lived in the Houston area for 15 years (1978-92) and raised two sons as members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands. Before going to seminary I worked as a Resident Advocate at the Montgomery County Women’s Center Shelter and also served as a volunteer at Northwoods. The combination of congregational service and shelter work ultimately merged into a call to ministry.

I attended Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and enjoyed a student ministry in Arlington as well as regular guest preaching opportunities in many locations. I earned a Master of Divinity degree, completed other requirements for UU ministry, and was ordained by Northwoods in 1993. Part of my training included a summer chaplaincy at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in 1990 and an internship at Emerson Unitarian Church in 1992 under the supervision of the Rev. Jan Knost.

I have served congregations in Waco, College Station, and Austin; started Young Adult groups in College Station and Austin; and have been active in the Southwestern Conference and the larger UU Association. I have visited Unitarian churches in England, in Transylvania (Romania), and in the Khasi Hills of India.

Meanwhile, sons Rob (and his wife Lin) and Fred Nugen have grown up and live in Tokyo and Austin, respectively. Rob is a computer programmer who also develops applications for iPhones. Fred is a Ph.D. candidate in engineering, doing biomedical research. My husband Jon Montgomery continues to live and work in Austin. We enjoy our “visits” back and forth between Houston and Austin—they keep our relationship stimulating!

Thank you for your warm welcome as I become acquainted with you. To reach me, call 713-526-5200 (extension 210) or email


Tapestry Singers rock!


Tapestry Singers had a wonderful concert on the 3rd and made a special point of inviting former singers to join us for the encore to celebrate our 25th anniversary. The encore “Wise Mother” was written by former director Nell Manycats as an alternative to the Lord’s Prayer. Nell was there to sing with us! We have grown in numbers over the years from 14 to over 70. What a difference in the sound!

Wise Mother, whose love surrounds us, all you make is sacred.

This world is you, your voice speaks through it … to those who choose to listen.

This day is a gift in which to grow.

Please be patient with me, for I have been known to forget that.

And send me those blessings … to make me strong and honest in loving,

so that my inner light … reflects your spirit on all around me

like … a … blessing … / like … a … blessing … /  like … a … blessing.

Singing with this chorus has been a spiritual practice for me. Regular attendance at our weekly rehearsals, practice in between, memorization, and supporting the chorus through volunteer opportunities. It’s like the title of one of our songs, “This Is the Sound of One Voice” by Ruth Moody. Even though we sang in harmony we were all in synch, making the differences among us fall away.



There’s more to an annual reunion than a collection of activities.We now live in Willis, Houston, Dallas, and Austin, so finding a weekend date is the biggest challenge.

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It is a journey through time that makes the miles between us incidental.

1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989: In ones and twos we joined the Montgomery County Women’s Center in various capacities. We worked at the shelter for battered women and their children; we worked with volunteers; we worked with the community; we educated ourselves and others about domestic violence.

It’s easy to understand that hitting a family member even once is not okay, much less battering over and over as some of our clients experienced. Usually it starts fairly small, with put-downs, insults, complaints, and control. I say “small,” but the effect is much greater. The person you love(d?) and who expressed love to you has special power to make you feel bad even if you have done nothing wrong. Mostly it’s blamed on a dreadful day or an appalling upbringing or frustration about money, sex, religion, or power.

Anyway, we worked at the Shelter for several years then went our separate ways. One year former staff and volunteers received an invitation to the grand opening of the new shelter. What a fine facility! Security, private quarters, food preparation, children’s services, and support for the women give them such an opportunity to make decisions for their lives. They even have transitional housing and a resale shop now!

We “ladies of the eighties” found ourselves around a table to reminisce about the old days. We did everything then. Crisis calls, transportation, intake interviews, supervision, counseling, and even food inventory filled our 12-hour shifts. An occasional batterer disturbed our sleep by pounding on the door and demanding to see someone. We knew the police on the beat, the ones who would help women get their own belongings; we knew the judges who would issue protective orders; we knew about community resources. Often only one of us was on duty at the Shelter, so we did whatever was necessary to maintain safety and a measure of normalcy.

A shared, intense experience forms a strong bond. Since that heady afternoon of remembering, we decided to meet again every year for a weekend. Some of us have been together more often, but for the annual reunion it’s worth a lot of email to find a weekend that works.

Last year was mainly a memorial reunion for one of us, Nancy Harrington, who died in a car accident on September 8, 2011. Shocking news (she was only 58) and a huge loss, but it’s even more important now that the rest of us stay in touch. Jann is the keeper of a photo album. Memories over the years have piled up: restaurants, movies, boat rides, walks and talks, homemade deliciousness. Differences in politics, religion, personality are not even part of the conversation. In fact, we are so different from one another that only the shelter brought us into the same sphere.

Illnesses, deaths, grief and loss, weight loss, job loss, relationship loss …  along with new jobs, relationships, adventures, experiences. After sharing all that it doesn’t much matter how we met. To have the support of friends who are outside your usual circle is just plain rare. Thank you all, Ellen, Gail, Jann, and Vera. Peace at last, Nancy.

A New Neighborhood


I found a Houston apartment last week and have started gathering (lightweight) things with which to turn it into a home. It is a one bedroom unit at Allen House Apartments, close to Allen Parkway and in the area of Montrose, Midtown, and River Oaks. I’m not quite sure if there are specific boundaries to those neighborhoods. At any rate, I’ll be about 3 miles from work at First Unitarian Universalist Church.

Filled with advice from friends and an apartment locator, Jon and I drove to Houston to check them out. We learned quickly that a  nine-month lease is both harder to come by and more expensive than a 12-month lease. We looked at multiple options. One of them was a high-rise with lots of amenities: granite countertops, washer and dryer in every unit, a cyber café, and a personal trainer  who assists residents upon request in the fitness center. For all its pluses, it had an institutional feel–like a fancy hotel instead of a home. There’s not much of a neighborhood; it mostly serves patients and medical staff at the massive medical complex in Houston.

[A side note: I did my chaplaincy in Houston at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center back in 1990 as part of my ministerial education. It was a great experience with many strong memories. My ministerial internship was at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church in 1992. I haven’t lived in the area since then.]

Allen House consists of the remaining apartment complex after ones across the street were demolished for redevelopment. Eventually these will be gone as well. Sigh. Prices fluctuate daily, so I managed to get 850 square feet for less rent than the 714 square foot unit. Big closets and built-in bookshelves are a plus. Gated perimeter and covered parking will help me feel more secure.

The walkable neighborhood is a draw. The Allen House entrance gate opens directly into a lushly planted courtyard with a gazebo and a couple of fountains that add to the ambience. My apartment faces the courtyard (not the pool–yea!) so I will likely open the front windows to hear soothing sounds of water.

I’m on the ground floor although I had hoped for 2nd or 3rd. Wrought iron stairs and railings along the balconies add to a New Orleans feel. Residents include a variety of age, language, and ethnicity. Some have lived there for decades!

Take a peek at the web photos:  Allen House

Jon and I will both commute–he’ll drive to Houston early in the week and I’ll drive to Austin late in the week. We’ve done this before, so I trust the rhythm will soon become familiar and comfortable. For this nine-month run I look forward to change and I expect  surprises everyday. Any advice? I’m all eyes!

Wrap Up


This has been such a busy week that I haven’t had time to write until now, a full week into May!

My sister Madeleine arrived from Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, April 26–right on Jon’s and my 15th wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a nice TexMex dinner on a garden patio. Lovely plants, water features, and fans kept us cool at Vivo. Good food, too!

The weekend was awesome with a fantastic service and sendoff from Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church. Love that congregation! Love the friends and family members who came just for that final service. Some “Loose Threads” and other members of Tapestry Singers came to join the choir in singing “Seasons of Love.” (The one about “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes . . . how do you measure a year in the life . . . how about love?”

Lots of hugs and love from people of all ages. I will miss the children and youth most especially. It is such a blessing to watch them grow up and mature year after year. They are now frozen in time in my mind’s eye. Adults don’t change nearly so rapidly, but they, too, have filled my memory bank for years to come as they are now.

Already the congregation anticipates the arrival of an Interim Minister who will assist with multiple transitions, both personal and congregational, beginning August 1. Meanwhile, lay led teams have been doing wonderful work in preparing to cover the 3 months in between. It’s exciting to imagine the changes going on already!

Now my key ring is lighter and my email has dropped to a manageable level. No complaints there!