This is either my last letter as your senior minister, or my first as your Minister Emeritus.
In either case it’s an opportunity to say thank you in fifty languages; to sing it; to paint it – in the abstract, like a Jackson Pollock, spilling out my chaotic-like, multi-colored feelings of appreciation; or, Whitman-like, to make long lists of the ways you have touched my life.
The closing chapter to our story began on Sunday ,June 9, for my final sermon: Famous Last Words. We had an overflow congregation that filled the sanctuary, the foyer, and spilling out on both sides of the sanctuary outside with folks seated and standing. It wasn’t only the numbers, but it was a congregation overflowing with positive energy and expressions of love.
Then there was the Saturday celebration, produced by Diana Bell and directed by Joann Coviello, with Scott Bryce as master of ceremonies. The evening took off like a 757 with ‘One Singular Sensation,’ and a sensational song-and-dance it was, performed by Ruth Ahlers, Candace Clinger, Jenna Jacobs-Dick, Roberta Russell, Jack Raineault, Tom Hearne, Carl Serbell, and Ted Yang.
Scott presented letters from the First Selectman, Gordon Joseloff, UUA President Peter Morales, and a special congratulatory note from President Barack Obama. Debra Haffner reminded us of things said from the pulpit I occupied for 29 years, and Tom Croarkin presented by poetry booklet compiled and produced by Lynda Bluestein.
Pictures of my final Coming of Age trip to Boston were presented by John Simboli with narration by one of this year’s participants, John’s son Luke.
John Tolley, our first Associate Minister, asked ministers who had been ordained to our UU ministry during my 29 years to stand David Bryce, Debra Haffner, Barbara Fast, Peggy Block, Frances Sink and Marion Visel – each of whom was encouraged and supported by this congregation, as well as by me.
My good friend Rabbi Robert Orkand affirmed the collegiality I have spoken about with you for the past 29 years; for 24 of those years I’ve made reference to the small clergy group that met weekly in Bob’s office at Temple Israel.
Andy Gundell introduced and sang his song ‘Mickey Mantle Hit One Out Today,’ which included a recorded introduction with a loud crack of the bat and game-winning home run. He talked about how I used that to illustrate a ‘direct connection’ between ball and bat as a metaphor for all the connections that together make up our personal religious experience.
Barbara Fast spoke with enthusiasm about our work together as she moved from the pew to the pulpit, with a couple of staff positions between those two poles.
The Transitions Committee, who did the ground work for my Emeritus minister status, as well as raising money for a very generous purse, offered a ritual of installation that conferred the Minister Emeritus on me and you – it is, after all, a two-way street. Now I must find ways to be the best, most appropriate Emeritus I can be, and you and I together will build appropriate boundaries around that ministry.
We need to acknowledge, up front, that this will be a significant challenge, but I’m confident we will do it well. It’s a lot like Goldilocks not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft, not too big, not too small…but just right. The main thing is for me to keep out of the way so a new ministry will emerge here in the days and years ahead.
After Joann’s version of ‘Consider Yourself’, John Simboli presented a sensitive, creative video of A Wedding Poem that I wrote many years ago. Then Ken Lanouette and Sharon Bittenbender bowled me over with an extremely generous gift – money that I will use to pay off the mortgage, with a substantial amount added to retirement savings. I was stunned!
Sam Manandhar, who I’ve watched grow up from a toddler to a mature adult, sang the Steven Schwartz song, ‘The Hardest Part of Love’ (is letting go.) We were brought to our spiritual-emotional knees.
My dear friend, colleague and and partner for all of my 29 years, Ed Thompson spoke movingly about our companionship and collaboration, promising to put it into music in the special service the next day –which he did. (But more about that in a minute.)
I closed the evening with a poem I had been asked to compose for the occasion, in which I made a hop-skip-and-a-jump through the years of my ministry in Westport. I felt almost completely inadequate to the task of putting my deep sense of appreciation into words – but I gave it my best shot.
The evening of celebration, which began with a delicious reception, was generously underwritten by Howard Aibel. When you scan the names included above, and reflect on all the behind-the-scenes help from dozens of folks, you’re reminded that ‘it takes a village.’
The special Sunday service yesterday capped off a most amazing week of celebrating our shared ministry. The service opened with a brand new piece of music composed and arranged by our own Len Handler, sung by the special projects choir, directed by Ed Thompson, who fulfilled the promises he made the night before.
The service was conducted by Debra Haffner and John Tolley, with a rich offering of music, much of which was composed for the occasion, including Ed’s musical version of a poem I wrote some years ago, Connecting Dots.
The week took off like the 747 jumbo jet mentioned at the start of this two-page letter, and after flying high for a special week, we came in for a smooth landing. I was the welcome recipient of hundreds of hugs, every one of which included expressions of appreciation for my 29-year ministry here in Westport. Many of those hugs came from folks who long ago moved away from the area but made a point of coming home for the occasion. I am, and will forever be, extremely grateful. Thank you – I love you, truly.