Finding Our Way

After the November 5 service, I promised I would share with you in a little more detail how I found hope during my brief retreat with my Unitarian Universalist colleagues. The study topic was about our call to ministry. Some people spoke about ah-ha moments, remembering precisely where they were when they knew they were called. I couldn’t find that moment in my life! I realized my call has been more like an incessant hum, louder sometimes than other times, starting when I was in junior high, overpowered by the noise of living after high school for some 20 years, then returning, buoyed by conversations, affirmations and encouragement. But even in seminary I felt tentative. I remember arriving on campus for my first semester thinking, “okay, I’ll see how this first semester goes;” then in the second semester saying, “if I come back next year.” I pretty much kept that up through my entire degree program!
It’s not been an easy road since then either, through internships and the myriad hoops of becoming a UU minister. When I started seminary, it was in partnership with my long-time spouse; a year or so after my ordination she became ill, and six years later she passed away. This was not how I envisioned my ministry! I had ample opportunities to question my authenticity. And then you came along – Eastrose! Even though I had been affiliated for several years, it wasn’t until my call to become your parish minister that I felt my heart quicken with the knowing that this is precisely where I am supposed to be and this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing!
There’s been a lot going on this fall, the beginning of my fourth program year with you: leaning into the reality of the mess of our political system in this country; the encroachment of homeless folks and their trash around our building; a bit of a leadership challenge, as our long-time leaders rotated off from their responsibilities. I wondered how I am supposed to minister in this time of transition. What is my supporting role through a transition from one form of leadership to another and how do I balance what’s going outside our building with what’s going on inside our building? I didn’t know what questions to ask to help me understand.
My first morning at the retreat center I walked the labyrinth. I don’t do this very often, but when I have a particular question and I find myself with access, I walk the maze thinking about my question and when I get to the center I stand expectantly, listening for an insight. On this particular morning, my question was more a plea for help! What came into my head as I stood in the center were four words – Light, Listen and Be Present. The light has been with me since the sermon I wrote about looking for tendrils of light. I have a dear friend who has been in deep grief for some time, who, after hearing of my sermon made a commitment to look for one of those tendrils every day. And every day since then, my friend shares something that brings light into life. I am humbled by this commitment!
Listen. You’ve likely heard me talk about the importance of listening to one anothers’ stories more than once! The insight I received at the labyrinth was deeper; it was an invitation to take time to listen beyond the story, to go deeper into my soul for the discernment that comes with deep listening. Ask the question, “What does listening to this story call forth from me?” Perhaps it’s an action, or a conversation, or even an understanding of something in you that is newly surfacing.
The decisions we have to make as a community are decisions of discernment; they require time for reflection, and asking questions about how we live out our mission and honor the Seven Principles which hold us in covenant with every other Unitarian Universalist congregation and our Association. Personally, standing in the center of the labyrinth reminded me to not just listen to you, but to listen to my own deepest knowing – where knowing how to minister with you lives.
Be Present led me to understand our decisions of discernment are not made solely by reading or even talking, but from being present to what is, staying with it even when it’s uncomfortable, dark, frightening even. We are so overwhelmed by noise in our culture, being quiet in the present, observing, is a radical rejection of cultural mores. It also led me to a deeper sense of hope. I realized that ministry is not the work of one person. We are in ministry together – all of us. Shepherding Eastrose through these uncertain times can only happen if we are all involved – doing the tasks of making church happen, and creating the vision that guides that work. The rest of the conference was interesting, but not nearly as enriching and enlightening as that one walk through a circular maze. It was a deeply sacred few minutes that connected me to the larger universe that is within me and surrounds me and is in each of you.
I hope this blog is an opportunity to be in conversation together – so please, let me know your thoughts!
Love, patti