the right hand of fellowship?

10 Jun

These words were given during the Ordination of Christe Lunsford at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY on June 9, 2019.

Rev. Lunsford (!!!), over the years I have watched you grow in your ministry. From those early days of being the music director at First Unitarian, to working with you on the ministry team, through your discernment to enroll in seminary and all that it entailed.

And so I am thrilled to be with you today. THRILLED!

The offering of the right hand of fellowship is one of our oldest traditions, which comes from the Christian Scriptures. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes that during his commission as an apostle, he received the right hand of fellowship from the other apostles. It was a symbol of their mutual relation, their equal authority, and their common affection. It was a pledge that they recognized each others gifts and that they were colleagues on a greater mission. Though they knew they might never meet again, they pledged fidelity to each other and were, in effect, bound by the ties of faith and suffering and hope.

It was the right hand, as opposed to the left, in part because offering the right hand was a show of peace, demonstrating that one had no weapon.

So this ritual is one that is grounded in our history. Offering you the right hand of fellowship today suggests a covenant among colleagues. We are fortunate to be part of a living tradition that has inspired our lives and has been passed down for generations. Fortunate to be a part of a vocation and a role that is much bigger than us as individuals.

And.

Let’s get real. Most of those who have participated in this ritual through the ages have been cis-white men. They haven’t looked like me until relatively recently. And they haven’t looked like you until really recently. And sometimes, we fail in our collegiality with each other. We fail to recognize one another’s call and gifts for ministry. As our colleague the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen recently reminded us at the ordination of Sara Green, professional associations are fallible, and even collegiality and the collegial covenants we create can be weaponized to serve white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism and capitalism.

I can offer you my right hand and still stab you in the back with my left.

And so, I have the temerity to suggest an adaptation of this ritual as a part of our living tradition – an update to better fit the times we find ourselves in – times when it is no longer only cis-white men welcoming one another into collegiality, times when our ministers represent a much broader array of genders, orientations, cultures, races, ability levels and more.

Instead of the right hand of fellowship, I would like to offer you the hug of collegiality. With your consent, of course.

Unlike a handshake, a hug demonstrates true care and concern. With a hug, I make myself vulnerable to you, and you do to me. We welcome each other into our personal spaces. We use both hands (no side hugs!) so no hand is free to backstab. And a hug says: I have your back, and I know you have mine as well.

I offer you this hug of collegiality, knowing that it has not and it will not be easy for you. That you will have to continue to demand your right to exist, even within our faith tradition, even, sometimes, among your colleagues. But you are not alone. Many of us already have your back, and will support you, and challenge you. We will move with you in the world, in whatever ways we can, knowing that your very presence as our colleague makes us all better. Knowing, too, that we need each other.  Because the mantle of ministry is impossible to bear alone.

So in offering you this ritual today, I say for myself, and for our trusted, faithful colleagues: We are here for you. In the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. And we expect you to be there for us, too. May this ritual be a symbol of our mutual relation, our equal authority, and our common affection. Know that we recognize your gifts and that we are colleagues on a greater mission. We exhort you to be faithful to this sacred trust. I have no doubt that you will be – indeed you have already proven your faithfulness.

And so, Rev. Lunsford, in an update of the custom of our congregations, as a part of the living, changing, growing tradition we share, on behalf of myself and our trusted colleagues, may I give you the hug of collegiality?

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