My dear friends,
There are no words to describe the depth of my gratitude for having been able to minister with y’all here in Nogojiwanong. It has been a joy. I am so very blessed.
This post contains the words from my final message to you, but I also want to share a pastoral message. I understand that some of you were dismayed and shocked by the reality that our communication with one another must end on July 1st. I had hoped to prepare you for this in an earlier post, HERE.
I know it hurts…and I know how important it is for my ministry to end so that yours can move forward into all that it can be. Trust that, even as we grieve this ending.
And, a time will come when we can again be in touch…after you have a settled minister, and they’ve gotten established, and after they and I can enter into a Letter of Understanding. It may be a few years. Until then, we’ll carry one another in our hearts.
Here is what I had to say at our closing service on June 26, 2022:
There’s a Mary Oliver poem that begins with the phrase, “What can I say that I have not said before?”
Truly, one of the very favourite gifts I’ve received here is a card given to me when I arrived, drawn by one of the children, which featured a picture of a black-robed minister behind a pulpit, with a word bubble that read …”blah, blah, blah”. A cautionary note, to be sure.
What can I possibly say to you today? So much has been swirling around in me in all the weeks leading up to this morning…memories, advice, regrets, hopefulness, a deep trust in you… I went back to read the two sermons I delivered 15 years ago during my candidating week, before you voted to call me as your minister. I spoke then about change, and the unknown, and jumping into possibility, and frankly, I almost could have re-used those sermons this morning. Indeed, I have said it before. (HERE’s a link to the text of those two sermons.)
So what can I possibly say today? If there is nothing I haven’t said before, I’ll just settle for reminding you of a few things…at the risk of being a little ‘blah, blah, blah’.
Of course, it would have been wonderful to be able to pass the ministry of this congregation directly into the hands of an interim minister, but that’s not to be. I have no doubt that a great minister is coming your way, because who wouldn’t want to be here, but in the meantime, much is going to be required of you.
You know…and I know you know this…that when we want something to be bigger, better, we have to give ourselves to that cause. I’ve been moved in the last two days by all the statements and protests following the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. When we need something to be different, to be changed, to be better, we have to give ourselves to our vision.
And this congregation, and its vision for justice, and belonging, and sustainability, and love…well, that’s something that needs you to give yourselves to it. So, here’s a little homework.
Mostly, in this in-between time, the most important thing you can do is to stay connected. And remembering that this doesn’t happen without your fully, bodily, expressed intention to make it so. So if you do nothing else, keep one another in your thoughts and hearts, as constantly as you can. Print out a copy of the directory and keep it somewhere you’ll always see it. Open it to different pages. See different names. Reach out to one another. Turn the mirror away from yourself and focus on others. Keep asking who’s not at the table, who needs to be heard, and who you haven’t seen recently.
Set up regular times to meet for coffee, or for pub nites. Show up on Sundays. Invite folks to a picnic. Go to the park gatherings that Jessica is hosting for you. Be present with one another. That’s the best, the only, way to build, and sustain, community, and to keep this beloved Fellowship alive.
I was listening to a session broadcast from Portland where Ministry Days and General Assembly are happening this week, a session with Rev. Karen Hering who’s just published a new book called “Trusting Change.” And she spoke of how participating in change always goes better when we do it together.
So that’s my homework for you… do it together. Hold hands and stick together.
That, and…of course. You’ve got to lean into it, with love and courage. Here’s another of my favourite Mary Oliver poems, West Wind #2.
You are young. So you know everything.
You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt,
I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart,
and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me.
There is life without love.
It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe.
It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied.
When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight,
the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil,
fretting around the sharp rocks –
when you hear that unmistakable pounding –
when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement,
the long falls plunging and steaming –
then row, row for your life toward it.”
I keep thinking of the first days and first year with you… that began in a February snow storm and a secretive meeting with the search committee at Sue Sauve’s home…which led to a May candidating week and those sermons I already mentioned, which led to a vote to call me…which led to a very frustrating apartment search…which led to my first water communion with you…which led to a service of Installation the next April…
I’ve repeatedly read, although perhaps not often enough, the words of that Installation Service, where we made sacred promises to one another. I wish it had been filmed, as I’ve imagined that today we might play that video, and then play it backwards, to unwind our relationship, and to ‘take back’ those promises.
Indeed, we will be ‘undoing’ our promises to one another at the end of the service, releasing me from your call to be your minister. But that can never erase the time we’ve had together, or undo the countless ways we’ve been affected and changed. The story that we built and told together will forever be a part of our individual stories, and the story of this congregation, and can never be erased. Thank goodness. Speaking for myself, I would never ever want to erase what we’ve been together, and your impact on me.
Another thing I found in those first sermons was a reference to Annie Dillard’s words about watching what looked like a Martian spaceship whirling towards her in the air. She wrote:
As I watched, transfixed, it rose, just before it would have touched a thistle, and hovered pirouetting in one spot, then twirled on and finally came to rest. I found it in the grass; it was a maple key…Hullo. I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose…like a creature spread thin to that other wind, the wind of the spirit that bloweth where it listeth, lighting, and raising up, and easing down…
And now when I sway to a fitful wind, alone and listing, I will think, maple key. When I see a photograph of earth from outer space, the planet so startlingly painterly and hung, I will think, maple key. When I shake your hand or meet your eyes, I will think two maple keys. If I am maple key falling, at least I can twirl.
I know this is going to be a windy time for each of you at UFP. So remember, and remind one another, when swaying to a fitful wind, to think maple key. And think that no matter what else, you can twirl.
You can twirl. I know you can. Because you are so much. You have so many gifts and so many potentialities within. I keep thinking of that beautiful scene in the movie The Help, where Viola Davis plays Aibileen Clark, an African-American maid caring for the little neglected Mae Mobley. And when she has to leave her, she helps her to memorize the words…”You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” Well, I hope that my ministry with you leaves you with similar words in your hearts…you are so smart, so kind, and so very important. You are loved, and resilient, and blessed, and a gift to this world.
(And I closed with a story book…I Wish You More, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. HERE’s the story.)
So for now, I bid you a fond farewell, until we meet again.
With all my love,
June 30, 2022