I’ve hiked where the trail is so clearly apparent that there’s no danger of getting lost among the trees. I’ve hiked where I’ve had to follow the painted markings on trees in order to stay on a particular trail – thankful for those who ‘blazed the trail’ for me to follow.
I began hiking the ministry trail on April 1, 1970, working as assistant to the minister, Herb Adams, at Follen Church in Lexington, MA. I knew what to do because Herb gave me directions: once-a-month preaching, working with a high school youth group, visiting in hospitals and nursing homes, editing the newsletter, counseling and teaching in the adult education program. I worked with Herb until seminary graduation in June 1972.
On August 15, 1972, I began my first senior ministry at Murray Church in Attleboro. There were no summer services – the place was very quiet, and my desk was empty, except for the lonely telephone. I went to the office that first morning, sat at the desk, and realized I had to begin blazing a trail.
A member of the congregation had volunteered to work as temporary secretary, so I asked her if she knew any members who were homebound, or in a nursing home or hospital. She gave me a few names and I picked up the phone to arrange visits.
Before that first day was done I had made visits to three homebound members of the congregation, each of whom gave me names of others, many of whom had not been actively involved for many years. I visited the local hospital and a nursing home, and at every visit I got more and more names – within a short time I had a list of 75, in a congregation with less than 200 active members. My work was cut out for me, and for the next twelve years it turned out to be very satisfying work, indeed.
In October of 1983 I received a letter from the Search Committee, inviting me to talk with them about coming to Westport. I replied, “No, thanks.” I got a call from David Pohl, then Director of the Department of Ministry at the UUA, asking me to come to Boston to talk. He encouraged me to consider a move…I did, and the rest is history.
On August 15, 1984, I began my new ministry – a challenging piece of work, as David assured me it would be, and should be at this stage of my career. The congregation had been through some tough times, characterized by power struggles – expected in a free, democratic institution. I focused my work on traditional parish ministry, avoiding, as much as possible, getting tangled up in the struggle for control. I knew what needed to be done – I had to blaze my own trail.
Last month I set a date to conclude my ministry here, and I’ve come to realize that, like start-up and mid-career, these new woods are ‘dark and deep.’ This new trail isn’t blazed. Sometimes I feel lost, or, as Daniel Boone said, ‘confused.’ With help, I’ll find my way.