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
Past Stone Soup Columns
How could the monthly theme be any more appropriate for this time in the life of the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough? I celebrate how this theme has come along to bless us all!
As I prepare to leave you, here’s just a bit of what I’m celebrating:
• A long, trust-based, and shared ministry
• The ongoing use of Community Conversations to further our understanding and decision-making (with much gratitude to the trained facilitators who lead these conversations)
• Your generous and ever-present contributions of talents, time and treasure
• Your consistent good natures and optimistic outlooks
• A relatively low-stress ministry with you, allowing for us to tend to the fire, rather than putting out fires
• Your vision and open-minded exploration of a long-term relationship with Beth Israel Congregation
• The many, many, many ways that you’ve taught me how to be the best minister I can be (and I’m still learning!)
• The really really really beautiful love that you show to one another as well as to the greater community. It’s boundless, and it matters.
Recently I was gifted with a poem by Wendell Berry, “A Song Sparrow Singing in the Fall”. In it, Berry writes:
Somehow it has all
added up to song —
earth, air, rain and light,
the labor and the heat,
the mortality of the young.
Indeed, somehow it has all added up to song. You are indeed blessings that I will carry with me, singing and celebrating as I go.
Remember that the world needs more people like YOU, so carry on being the loving, kind, thoughtful, justice-seeking beings that you are!
I love you,
I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city north of Chicago along the west bank of Lake Michigan. And it is to that area that I now return, as I have signed an agreement to serve as interim minister with UU Church West (UUCW) in Brookfield, a western suburb. Being there will put me within an easy drive of family and friends, and I’m beginning to realize how important that will be in my life.
It would have been wonderful to have been able to share my news with you just as UFP was anticipating a similar arrangement with an interim minister, someone new and different who would bring a fresh perspective and leadership style. Of course, that may still happen, however delayed. But for now, I share of my upcoming adventure while holding some disappointment on your behalf.
Still, there is excitement on your horizon as well. The sea spread out before you is uncharted and vast. And you, of course, will be just fine. You are as strong, creative, and resilient as a seaworthy sailing ship. The months ahead will be an incredible opportunity to minister together with one another. You’ll be filling holes you didn’t know were there, making plans for things unforeseen, and venturing into new roles in a beautiful web of interdependent shared ministry. Adventures in learning and discovery will be yours. And, I’ll be cheering you on.
As for me, the month of July will be one of packing and making moving arrangements to begin at UUCW on August 1. I will wrap up this next month with you by celebrating the many many blessings we’ve shared. You, and this ministry, will always be a part of me…indeed, a BIG part of me. In the words of ee cummings, “i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart).” Always.
Your minister until June 30,
Isn’t beauty just one of those things? One of those things we recognize but can’t put in a box?
Sort of like love, beauty is illusive and ever-present, known yet hard to define, taken for granted and blissfully indulged in. And, like love, beauty is something we seldom fully trust as inalienable, even though it is within and all around us.
In Galway Kinnell’s poem, St. Francis and the Sow, he writes that:
… everything flowers, from within, of
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
…and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of
What a gift that would be, if we were to encourage one another to flower from within. And, perhaps this is something that I didn’t do enough as your minister, that is, to put my hand on your brow and tell you of your loveliness, so that you would blossom from self-blessing.
Let me say it here and now. You are lovely. You are beautiful. Trust that.
Still here if you need me,
When a minister leaves the congregation they have served, they commit to step back from their role completely, and including from social connections. As hard and strange as that can feel, this is to make room for what comes next, for both the minister and the congregation.
This practice is part of the ministerial guidelines for UU ministers; these guidelines exist to ensure that we all do our professional best to serve the thriving of our congregations and the UU faith. I have covenanted with my colleagues to do this.
Your new minister(s) deserve to build a relationship with you free from my presence or influence. And you deserve to find yourself before a blank canvas, ready to create a new vision for who and what this community is, without being limited or influenced by any of the ways that I have ministered with and to you.
These are exciting times, anxiety-producing times. You, and I, are in a period of transition, and have both embarked on a search process, discerning what we need and want for the next phase of our journeys. We’re going to be okay. Indeed we are going to grow and thrive in unforeseen ways!
Be assured that when I go, I will leave carrying you in my heart. Know that I have been changed and deeply moved by who you are and what we’ve been together. Nothing, including distance, can take away the deep connections we have built.
Let me know if you want to talk about this more.
April 26, 2022