I’m feeling like the winner of an Oscar, standing at the microphone and looking out at family and friends who should be thanked, but lost for words in a whirlwind of emotion.
The 25th anniversary of my ministry in Westport was celebrated last Saturday in spite of the rain and the wind that had knocked over trees all over town, making the route to the church a nearly-impossible, impassible maze.
My daughter Sue and my son-in-law Chip, and my son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Rosie drove to our house for a pre-party family celebration with Lory, Carlyn and me – Carlyn was on spring break from Cleveland Institute of Music.
We left the house in a three-car caravan, drove toward North Ave. and were turned back by an overturned tree across the road, then we tried Roseville, which was also blocked by a tree, so we turned to North Compo, also blocked and we wound up on a maze of small streets, all blocked by fallen trees. I said. I said, “I don’t think it’s going to matter if we don’t make it because no one will be there.” Lory was driving and was determined…
We finally found a route to the church, driving around a huge downed tree on Weston Road and could see that power was out all around. Then we turned the corner onto Lyons Plains Road and were amazed to see the lights from the church blazing and parking lot filling up. By the time we filed into the sanctuary for a wonderful, creative show, giving me a roast and a boost, the tables were filled with 180 hearty souls.
When the songs were over and I was invited to the stage to open a box with gift-wrapping hand-painted by resident artist Julie Fatherly, I found myself standing at the microphone with a velveteen rabbit in my hands – my Oscar!
There were so many people to thank. My family was sitting there, front and center, and I wanted to thank each of them individually, and tell them, in the context of this wonderful congregation, how much I appreciate them – love them. That’s when the Oscar-winner comparison shot through my mind.
I looked beyond the family table to a sea of faces, including Tad Crawford who chaired the Search Committee a quarter century ago and who came from Martha’s Vineyard to share the memories and the sense of accomplishment for so many things in the vision we shared way back then.
I thought of tens of dozens of dearly beloved friends who had once occupied seats in our sanctuary, so many of whom are [‘at rest’ on the hill behind where I was nervously standing. And I thought of my dear friend and mentor of forty years, Herb Adams, who took a chance with me by creating the job of ‘assistant to the minister,’ on April 1, 1970 at Follen Community Church in Lexington, he expressed regrets at his absence.
Now, with my new rabbit at home, I simply want to offer a deeply heartfelt expression of thanks to you. Ministry, by definition, requires a congregation, and good congregations create a good ministry.
Ministry is sometimes a lonely profession, but a supportive staff makes it all team work, and I have been blessed to have the likes of Ed Thompson as music-maker partner all these years, and in more recent times to have an inspired DRE in Perry Montrose, and the ongoing work of Youth Outreach Coordinator, Jamie Forbes, and Youth Group Director, Lillie Rappaport, and Social Justice Director, David Vita, and Jan Braunle and John Carroll in the office doing all the behind-the-scenes work, and our indomitable Bobby Santiago putting all the pieces together, then taking them apart, again and again!
My dear colleague, John Tolley, our first Associate Minister made the same point, by saying, “During my ten years at our Unitarian Universalist seminary, Meadville Lombard, I always hold up my time in Westport as a perfect example of team ministry.”
His successor, Barbara Fast, also spoke of the sense of team work, which Debra Haffner, our Community Minister underscored.
None of us would be here, however, if it weren’t for you – for all the work it takes – to serve on the Board and various committees, and to contribute financially, and to show up on Sunday mornings and for special events like last Saturday’s 25th celebration.
Anticipating the spoofing I would take about my poetry-dependence, I re-wrote the Donald Babcock poem about the duck, which I read on Saturday as I stood there with my little velveteen rabbit. It seems an appropriate ending, and if you’re not familiar with the duck piece, yyou can access it on our website under ‘sermons and readings.’ Here it is:
Now we’re ready to look at something pretty ordinary. It’s a minister, walking at the ocean twenty feet in front of the surf. No it isn’t a roofer, a roofer always has a willful look about him. This is some sort of minister, and he has a meditative look about him.
He isn’t cold, because he’s bundled up, and he is thinking things over. There is a big heaving in the Long Island Sound, and he keeps out of it. He looks a bit like Thoreau, or a bearded Buddha meditating under the Bo tree. But he has hardly enough above the eyes to be a philosopher. He has poise, however, which is what long-tenured ministers must have.
He can rest while the Long Island Sound heaves, because he walks in front of it. Probably he doesn’t know how long his tenure is. And neither do you. But he thinks about it. And what does he do, I ask you? He takes a walk with it! He reposes in the immediate as if his tenure was infinite – which it is. He has made himself a part of the endlessness by easing himself into it just where it touches him. I like the walking minister. He doesn’t know much, but he’s got religion.
Thanks for everything!