Update and Charge

So, my laptop is still in the shop and the desktop has wacky internet connectivity. It rarely will let me connect to blogs, including this one, which makes updating a challenge. So this is a quick update made urgent by the fact that I happen to be able to access the blog for some unknown reason.

Let’s see, where were we last? I’d gone home for the weekend and that was both intense and good. I’ve been back a week now and after a bout with a very fierce cold I think I picked up while traveling, I’m well. Things at Starr King are going well. I love teaching. I’m feeling good about the class and my students’ level of engagement. We’re all working hard, challenging, deconstructing, and reconstructing our ways of thinking. I’m particularly focused on uncovering the habits of thinking that keep us “stuck” in dualisms and paradigms that reinforce patterns of “othering” that become oppressive. Last week, we took a long hard look at Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer, trying to recognize the gifts and insights of the text while staying awake and aware to the assumptions that wind through it. It was good, hard theological work.

This weekend I participated in the installation of a new colleague, Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig, to the ministry of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton, the first congregation I served (as interim minister 2000 – 2002.) It was good to be back there, seeing people dear to my heart and new faces and leaders as well. It felt like I was able to give a meaningful blessing to their shared ministry by offering the charge to the minister. Here is what I said:

Charge to Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig
on the occasion of her Installation as Minister
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton
March 18, 2007
Rev. Sean Parker Dennison

What a joy it is to be back in this community, in this sanctuary, in this pulpit on such a joyous occasion! And what a privilege it is, Laura, to be invited to charge you to the ministry of this congregation—a congregation that will always be special to me as the first I served and who shared in ordaining me to the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

At its heart, Laura, ministry is a form of Love like no other. By answering the call of this congregation, you enter into a wonderful, frustrating, amazing, challenging, and always-changing relationship. Not with only one person, but with many; not only for a season, but over the course of years; and not only with this congregation as it is, but this congregation as it can be—as it longs to be—and as it will be in the future.

Together with the leaders that have brought the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton this far and with those who will emerge to lead it on, you will build and nurture this liberal religious community. You will bless babies and children and watch over their wellbeing. You will perform marriages that acknowledge the power of loving commitment to change lives. You will stand by the bedside of those who are ill, and will preside over the memorial services of those who have died. You will witness life—all of it—and you will see and experience Love.

To minister, you must love in new ways, for ministry is a kind of paradox, where one must simultaneously love a vision of the future and what can be, while holding close the present and what is, even when that falls far short of what you dream.

Gordon McKeeman described it this way:

How great a religious discipline it is to try to achieve that holiness, that universal embrace—accepting what is as it is, accepting who we are as we are—broken, fragmented, unholy, yet hungering and thirsting for the holy. How ever present the challenge to be on the road to the holy—to eschew the temptation to power over, to manipulation of, to winning, to judgment–and to be obedient to the holy vision. Ah, yes, and how transforming… It transforms the potentially religious into the actually religious—bit by bit, moment by moment, word by word, deed by deed, little by little.

As this congregation’s minister, the measure of your success will not be how much people like you. The measure of your success will not be that the congregation thought you “nice.” The measure of your success will be that you have loved this congregation well enough to lead them boldly to being the best church they can be, and that you have done so with unwavering loyalty and compassion.

I told this congregation a long time ago that I did not want to be their friend, and I charge you to do the same. For to be this community’s minister is so much more and so much more important than friendship. I charge you to be this congregation’s minister: serving them with a generous heart, an insistent voice, and strong hands. I charge you, Laura, to love this congregation boldly, both as they are and as they can be.

Be dedicated to their wellbeing and your own. Work hard, never taking for granted that many before you fought hard to win and guard the religious freedom that we now know. Never stop learning, or you risk missing the new path and leading yourself and those who travel with you in ever-shrinking circles. Set aside time for the rest you need to renew your spirit, to breathe deeply, to make music, to surround yourself with beauty. And celebrate! Celebrate every step forward and every amazing gift you discover.

On this day of celebration, as we install you to the ministry of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton, may the Spirit of Life fill you with love and gratitude. May your ministry here be blessed.

Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.

So it has been a very good week, full of reminders of the good we can do when we attend carefully to what we are doing, hoping, and being in the world.

I hope you are experiencing blessings as well.

Oh, and for all of you who have been asking: No, Sinbad did not die just days after I met him. He’s alive. Somebody “updated” wikipedia with false information. Sinbad lives. No need to fear.