This will be my final message to you as your Senior Minister. Let me begin by saying what an honor it has been to have served you these past eight years. When I was called by you to be your Senior Minister, I told you that I would serve no more than ten years. Many of you had expected I would stay that long. It is in the nature of ministerial callings to follow the call we hear. I have loved you and worked with you towards some amazing transformation. I do believe that I have led you as far as I can and that I must now allow another to follow me with new ideas, passions and skills.
Eight years ago, I told you that I believed in being more ministry centered than minister centered. I believe deep ministry is not about a person but about the mission we seek to fulfill. I have practiced ministry by empowering you as a congregation to grow in new and exciting ways. As a whole you have taken up that cause. Together we started a Leadership Development ministry training which helped many lead us into the future. We enhanced our Pastoral Care ministry to train and support lay chaplains who have reached out and to care for so many. We enhanced worship through our Worship Associates to make our time together more about participation and less about perfection. We began a spiritual engagement ministry through our Soul Matters program; small groups engaged in spiritual practice and meaning making. We became a teaching congregation, helping four new UUA ministers find their voice and skills. We have over the years ordained many into our faith, able to serve UU Congregations and social justice. We have enhanced our Social Justice ministry to be a powerful voice for change and action. We weathered the pandemic (fifty people joined us over the years we were on line). We added a virtual presence to worship and meetings, vastly extending our reach. We made the evolution from religious education to a more holistic family-centered model of faith formation. We are growing again with new families joining us every month.
There are always struggles when change occurs. We have had to learn and adjust to a new reality of what our religion means and how we welcome new generations. That evolution is on-going and will require of you all the willingness to be open to the changes that are still to come.
I wish for you curiosity. It is too easy to become judgmental and close minded. The congregation you are becoming will be different from the one you have been or even the one you are now. Ask “why is this happening and how can we answer the changing call of our faith?” I wish for you courage to take the steps necessary to welcome the new reality coming towards you. I hope you will learn how to disagree without anger or hurt or leaving when challenges arise. And they will arise. It is too tempting to blame someone or something for conflict whether a minister or a new idea. Have the courage to rise above that temptation and ask “what is really going on?”
And finally, I wish for you compassion. Spirituality comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes it’s music and sometimes it’s sharing stories and taking action. Action and spirituality are not separate ideas, they are two dimensions of one reality; a reality that you will need to embrace. That is why being compassionate is so important to your congregation and the religious life. Ask not “how do I disagree with this person?” but rather, “what is really important about staying in relationship?”
It is not hyperbole for me to say that we have saved lives together. I know of many who have come through our doors close to the end of hope or even the end of their rope. Together people found us and found a reason to keep living. Together we have helped people heal and grow into deeper human beings. Together we have taught our children, cared for the broken, and helped hundreds of people to go on. In a world such as we face now, this salvation may be our greatest reason for being.
I wish for you many blessings in the years ahead. I have loved you with all my heart.
Yours always, Rev. John