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There was a time I was considering becoming the minister of the Edmonds WA UU Church. The story was told during my time with them that their previous minister, Robert Fulghum (who wrote “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”) decided after asking his congregation, that he would ordain his entire congregation which he did on a brilliant fall morning. He then sent all 230 letters of ordination to the UUA in Boston. They were not amused and removed him from Fellowship. Soon thereafter, Fulghum retired and began writing bestselling books based largely on his newsletter articles. Once famous the UUA invited him to return to the fold and speak to the General Assembly to which he declined, at least for the first twenty years. The story is likely apocryphal but it is telling.
Ours is a congregational polity, meaning that only the congregation has the right to ordain those it has called out from among themselves to lead them. The polity, which reaches all the way back to our Puritan ancestors, assumes that each and every one of us is able to minister to one another and the world. Ministers in our tradition then are only set aside for their commitment to the impulse in all of us to minister. In other words, our covenant “Service is our Law” is an identity: we are ministers all. I am your called minister but I don’t do ministry alone, we do ministry together.
This is what I mean by the good work of our mission. You are all ministers whenever you are serving our mission, to inspire, to connect and to act in the world. Whenever you hold someone whose life is broken, whenever you raise money to keep our community bright and vibrant. Whenever you read a story to a child, teach a class, serve coffee, sweep our floors, stand witness to injustice, sing in our choir, build this beloved community you are doing ministry, being ministers.
This is so fundamental to our vision that I can’t stress this enough. Ours is community doing ministry together. We are not a member services organization; we are a vital and generous community of seekers and healers who exist to help those who walk through our doors and those who are in need beyond these doors. We are not consumers of our religion; we are the creators of that religion. That is what it means to belong here. And I am honored to serve as your senior minister in this mission. I guarantee it will be messy. As my colleague Marilyn Sewell in Portland OR put it:
“We have to ‘leave home,’ in a sense, leave our comfortable ways of being, to find ourselves and our calling. We need to develop a passionate discontent, an anger that picks us up and shakes us by the neck and will not let us go. The Holy Spirit, you know, is not on the side of order and stability.”
I do believe we are in the midst of a new wave of spiritual awareness, akin to the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau. We are being called not out of our congregations but into our church in ways that are meant to renew and rebuild. To the hundreds who will come to us, we must offer them not the product of our faith, but the process of building a beloved community together. Will you join us, be a minister of this congregation as we go about changing the world? No matter how young or old you feel there is good work to do and it starts today sometimes in just being present with those who suffering.
We are part of the divine ministry in ways we can’t always see. Sharon Salzburg is a Buddhist teacher and, in my opinion, a closet UU. She spoke to a minister’s gathering some time ago and spoke about this mysterious connection to the larger cosmos. ‘She had sent a class of novices to practice offering prayers of compassion to those on a subway platform. These were silent prayers mind you, but the idea was you spot someone you see and you offer them a prayer of compassion while seeing them from a distance. Now you had to be careful with this in New York, because staring at someone while you are praying for them is well, a bit creepy. One young woman spotted a businessman who seemed to be very harried and nervous. Silently she started reciting prayers for him, almost immediately she began judging herself; I must be doing this wrong because I feel so distant. I don’t have a great wash of warm feeling over me. She began to doubt her choice, I mean suppose the guy was exploiting others. Still she kept at it and the man noticed her staring. Uh oh, she thought, as he walked up to her. He looked right at her and said “I’ve never done anything like this before in my life, but I’d like to ask you to pray for me. I am about to face a very difficult situation in my life. You somehow seem to have a really loving heart, and I’d just like to know that you’re praying for me.”’(Adapted Sharon Salzburg Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience pp143-144)
We belong to each other in ways we can’t always see, in a connectedness that goes beyond the rational. We belong to each other and the cosmos. The point is to let life live through us, to let love live through us. This for me is the essence of faith. It’s how we let life live through us and how we make a life worth living. Whose are we? There are many answers to that. But ultimately, we belong to the cosmos. We belong to the earth. We belong to life. We belong to each other. We may not feel that ever widening sense of belonging today, but it is there. You are loved and you are not alone. We are in ministry together.
In the words of Gordon McKeeman
“Whenever there is a meeting that summons us to our better selves, wherever our lostness is found, our fragments are united, our wounds begin healing, our spines stiffen and our muscles grow strong for the task, there is ministry.” May it be so. Amen
From Out of the Ordinary by Gordon McKeeman