Stage 1: Breaking the News.

2 Jan

This is the third part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeAfter a lengthy planning process with my Director of Religious Exploration and Music Director, my first step was to send a message to the Board President suggesting we meet after worship on a Sunday in July when I wasn’t set to preach. We had several things we needed to catch up on, and my plan was to tell her as a part of that.

It was very hard to be present to the other business we had to discuss. My hands were shaking. My heart was pounding. I was sick to my stomach. But I managed to muddle through the other agenda items. And then I shared with her: “I also have other news for you. I have taken a new position. My last day at the congregation will be October 23.”

She exhaled and looked at me. I let the news sit out there in the silence for a few moments. Then I said “I know you probably have a lot of questions, and I am happy to answer them. But before I do, please know that this does not come out of any conflict.”

She was sad, but to her credit, not surprised. She had seen the evidence and had begun to put the puzzle together for herself. We talked. We cried. We laughed. I shared with her the documents I had prepared:

We came up with a plan:

  • Monday (the next day) I would meet with the staff who reported to me who didn’t already know
  • The Board President would call an emergency Board Meeting for Tuesday
  • Letters to the congregation would go out on Wednesday
  • Wednesday through Friday I would meet with a few key leaders in the congregation
  • And one week later, Sunday, I would deliver a homily at a service that our Music Director (who knew what was coming) was leading.

Not surprisingly, the reactions spanned the gamut. Some people were shocked. Others were not at all surprised – some were almost fatalistic about it. Some people were angry. Some were just sad. Some were confused.

One thing that was particularly interesting to me is that people didn’t stay where I thought they would: someone might start out not very surprised, and then quickly move to angry. Someone else might start out sad, and then move to confused.

On Tuesday, the Board swiftly moved into problem-solving mode: What was next for the congregation? I was glad that the ministry team and I had come up with one possibility to use as a starting point for the discussion.  Though I was not in on the planning in future meetings, I did walk with the Board in this first meeting by talking about the transition process and what might be next for them.

I was very surprised by one mistaken calculation I had made. I had thought that the newer people in the congregation would be the ones who were most upset: I was the only minister many of them had ever had. I thought that the longer term members, who had been through this before, would be less anxious.  In fact, the reverse was true. Newer members on the Board (and within the larger congregation) who had not been through this process were the most hopeful. Members who had been through this process once, or twice, or even more, were very, very nervous. Would they be able to find a good interim? Would they be able to find a settled minister? After living through a negotiated resignation and a failed search prior to calling me, they did not want to go through that pain and struggle again. One of the stories that I would repeat over and over again in the coming weeks was that we had done excellent ministry together and so they were a more desirable congregation than they had been a decade earlier. I hope that these assurances turn out to be true.

For me, and I am sure for most of the leadership, this was an exhausting week. Calling leaders out of the blue to set up coffee dates with them alerted them that something was up.  They were all so full of love and hope for me. I was surprised that our conversations often triggered old feelings around disappointing my parents. And at the same time, the conversations confirmed what I knew to be true: it was time for me to leave, not just for me but for the congregation. My gifts and their needs no longer matched up.

By the time the next Sunday rolled around, most people were aware of what was happening. In my homily, I talked about the mutuality of the relationship – how we had been an excellent match for seven years, and how much I loved them. While there were tears (I tend to cry in the pulpit pretty frequently) there were not as many as I was afraid there would be.

After having had the sword of Damocles dangling for a while, I thought that this stage of breaking the news would be the most difficult and that things would get easier from there. While I was indeed relieved, in many ways this stage was just the beginning of a lengthy and emotional process.

go to Stage 2: Drama

Stage 0: Discernment.

1 Jan

This is the second part in a multi-part blog series about leaving the congregation I served.

goodbyeAs many colleagues have told me, most ministers leave either a year too early or a year too late. I have no idea where I fall, but I aimed for a year too early.

Just over a year ago, my family hit a crisis that took much of my emotional energy. The congregation I served held me in care and love and gave me the time and space I needed to attend to the crisis.

When something like this had happened before, I had returned to the congregation with renewed commitment and appreciation, ready to serve. But this time it felt different. I realized I wasn’t happy, but I attributed my discontent to being drained from the family crisis – I thought I just needed time to heal. I wanted to want to stay.

After the winter holidays last year, I thought I had internally recommitted to the congregation. I led a worship service where the congregation and I recited the promises we had made to each other during my installation. I shared that I looked forward to 7 more years together and wondered aloud what they might bring.

At the same time, I was finding the day-to-day of ministry no longer as satisfying as it had been. Even though leading worship is one of my favorite privileges of this vocation, it became more and more difficult to write sermons each week. I enrolled in graduate school, hoping it would engage me in new ways. I traveled more than previously because I had said “yes” to many commitments outside the congregation. In hindsight, I realize I was looking for reasons to get away from the congregation – reasons not to preach, not to engage.

There was no major conflict – no single event that precipitated my decision. To this day, I dearly love the people and institution of the congregation I served. But parish ministry was no longer working for me. I looked at what the congregation and I needed to work on in the coming years and found myself lacking enthusiasm. I began to realize that I was ready for a new challenge and the congregation needed a different type of leader to take it into the coming years. It was time for me to move on.

I decided to look around, not really expecting any positions would be open since the timing was wrong. But then I found something that I realized I was excited about, that would combine the degree program I was enthusiastically beginning, the ministry I was doing, and service to our larger faith tradition. I pursued it, went through the application process.

I was terribly excited when I was offered and accepted the position. But I was on summer vacation! How was that going to work?

While I did not feel I could share my process (at that point) with the lay leaders of the congregation, I did share what I was doing with my ministry team (Director of Religious Exploration and Music Director). We had always worked as a team, and I felt they needed to know. It is telling, perhaps, that those who worked closest to me, who I shared my ministry with and relied upon, were not surprised at this news. They had seen the telltale signs even better than I had. And so together, we began to brainstorm what the congregation would need to know/hear as well as what some of the possibilities were for the congregation since I would be leaving off the regular ministry cycle.

I spent my “vacation” working on a plan for who to tell, how, when, and what. For a few weeks, I felt the sword of Damocles hanging not over my head, but over the heads of the beloveds in the congregation I served. I knew this would take most of them by surprise.

When it was time to pull the trigger on my plan, I thought I was ready. And logistically and rationally, perhaps, I was. But I was not emotionally prepared, even with all the reading I had done.

go to Stage 1: Breaking News

Leaving a Congregation.

1 Jan

goodbyeAs the ministerial search season kicks off for Unitarian Universalist ministers, I thought I would share my recent experience of leaving the congregation I served for seven years. Leaving is difficult, and I am proud of how the congregation and I navigated the process together.

A little background. The congregation I served had gone through a negotiated resignation after four years with their previous settled minister. Then had a “failed search” – so three years of interim ministry. Prior to that, their previous two ministers had both had tenures of more than 10 years.

It was with this history in mind that I determined that my final ministry to the congregation would be for me to leave well. I have often heard that ministers tend to leave either a year too late, or a year too soon – I wanted to hit it just right. Towards these ends, I read the required texts: Running Through the Thistles and Mark Morrison Reed’s Berry Street Lecture After Running Through the Thistles the Hard Part Begins. I talked to the Transitions office of the UUA, and to my regional staff.

My story is different than most in that I did not take a position with another congregation. Also, I did not move out of town and my family continues to attend the congregation I used to serve (something that the congregation has a history with so is not quite as strange as it may sound). But while there are aspects to my leaving process that may be unique, there was much I learned from talking to colleagues who had recently left congregations that they served. This blog series is an attempt to formally share my experience. It contains both personal reflections, as well as some logistics on how I did things.

I have found it helpful to utilize the structure provided by Jane Jordan-Meier, in her book The Four Stages of Highly Effective Crisis Management, outlined below, with an added “Stage 0” for the discernment process and an epilogue. Each link below will take you to a separate blog containing reflections and resources.

All that said, this is my experience and yours will undoubtedly be different. But sometimes it is nice to have a place to start. I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to take any/all of this material and edit it to suit your needs.

Stage 0: Discernment
A minister leaving a congregation precipitates a crisis for the congregation. But before I even announced that I was leaving, I had to decide that it was time.

Stage 1: Breaking News
This stage details how I shared the news of my departure with the congregation and their initial reaction.

Stage 2: Drama
After breaking the news, the focus quickly moved from the initial shock to wondering how this could have happened.

Stage 3: Blaming
I was determined to avoid finger-pointing (either my own, or from the congregation.) Jordan-Meier suggests it is best to skip this stage if possible, but I think that intentionally managing it was more effective in my case.

Stage 4: Fallout/Resolution
As the congregants and I came to terms with my departure, we were able to move into a new way of being together – one characterized by a lot of joyful tears, hugs, and celebrating what we had achieved together.

Epilogue: Having Left
I thought the leaving process was done on my last Sunday, but I was wrong.

If you are leaving a congregation you have served, I hope you find my experience moderately useful. Leaving a congregation is hard work. It is emotionally draining, whether you are leaving on good terms or not. Take care of yourself, approach the task with intention, and know that you are not alone.

a letter to Democratic Party leadership.

19 Dec

Power to the People

This letter was written after I sat in the Kentucky Statehouse today (12/19/2016) with my teenage kiddo as the Electoral College voted. In that room, I heard the Governor say he didn’t understand why people were protesting. I heard the head of the GOP party in the state talk about how Republicans have a mandate in the state. I watched the old white men who were the Electors (one woman out of 8) sign away our future as my child asked me what happens now. When I reached my car, I broke down in tears, and then wrote this letter.

Dear Democratic Party Leadership,

What happened? Where did you disappear to?

When HRC was running, you seemed to be all over the place trying to defend her. But since the election, it is as if you have been sucked into a vast black hole.

We need you. Our children need you. The entire country needs you.

We need you to be on the TV news, on the radio, and in the papers, boldly asserting that THIS IS NOT OKAY. It is not okay that HRC won by nearly 3 million votes and Trump is proclaiming a mandate. His selections for cabinet positions are not okay. His business conflicts of interest are not okay. Bringing his children to State meetings is not okay. Not getting intelligence briefings is not okay. Being infiltrated by Russian propaganda is not okay!! Having election results stand, knowing the Russians tampered with the election IS NOT OKAY!

Others have written about this – about how, if the situation were reversed, the GOP leaders would be pitching a fit. They would be everywhere: they would be filing lawsuits, they would be gathering committees to examine WTF is going on, they would be giving press conference upon press conference stating and restating ad nauseam their horror, disgust, and how THIS WILL NOT STAND.

And yet from you, crickets.

I know you are shocked. I know you don’t understand what happened. And I don’t care. YOU MUST LEAD US.

For years now, you have been moving to the middle, thinking a centrist position would serve you best. And now you know how wrong that is. Now you know that we are well divided between left and right and the center is kinda lonely. So get out of there and come to where your people are!

I hear the cries for leadership amongst our people. We are afraid. Immigrants are afraid of being deported, whether they are here legally or not. Black people are afraid of not being able to vote, and of continued violence. Muslims are afraid of having to sign up for a registry. Same-sex couples are afraid to lose the rights they have gained in the last decade. Trans people are afraid they will be beaten or killed for going to the bathroom. Women are afraid of being treated as incubators for lives that are apparently more important than ours. The working poor are afraid they will never achieve a livable wage. College graduates are afraid that they will never be able to pay off their educational loans*. And across the board, we are afraid that our government has been usurped by the Russians**.

Progressives have a compelling message, if you would just claim it. Claim your voice, proudly. Claim your values. Stop being so wishy-washy-wait-and-see because there is an army of us who are behind you and who will put our bodies on the line for our cause.

And if you realize that maybe we are actually too bold for you, if you find yourself confused by how upset we are and how scared we are and HOW ANGRY we are, or if you don’t have the courage to speak up, then may, just maybe, you need to get out of the way so that others can step up.

Sincerely,

Me, and probably a whole lot of other progressives desperate for leadership

 

* College enrollment has been steadily dropping since 2011.

** Russian popularity among Republicans has been skyrocketing, as shown in the tweet below.

Gratitude for the Department of Energy

14 Dec

I post a #DailyResistance item on my personal facebook page. This is the one for today.

Today’s #DailyResistance focuses on the Energy Department. As you may be aware, Trump has nominated Rick Perry to head the Energy Department, which totally makes sense since Perry once said it was one of the agencies he would kill. If you haven’t noticed the trend of Trump choosing people who HATE the institution they are being asked to head, then this is your clue-brick of the day.

Department of Energy

Department of Energy Website

But other news about the Energy Department might have missed your radar.

ABC News reports: “Last week, sources at the Energy Department said the agency received a 74-point memo, which was obtained by ABC News, from the Trump transition team. The questionnaire asked for information on several Department of Energy programs and asks twice for lists of the names of staff members who worked on specific projects. One line item asked for names of any staff or contractors who attended international meetings on climate change run through the United Nations…A second question in the memo asks for names of personnel who attended domestic interagency meetings focused on the ‘social cost of carbon.’”

Scary, right? We thought the Muslim registry would be first, but it looks like it will be a Climate Scientist Registry. And no, that is NOT me joking.

BUT! Yesterday, the Energy Department refused to comply!!

Eben Burnham-Snyder, director of public affairs at the Energy Department said “We will be forthcoming with all publicly available information with the transition team,…We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.”

YES!

Dr. Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy

Dr. Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy

So today’s action is to contact the Energy Department and THANK THEM!!!

Ernest Moniz is the Secretary of Energy. You can tweet at him, or email him at The.Secretary@hq.doe.gov or call the office at 202-586-5000 .

I tweeted, and this is what I said:

@ErnestMoniz Thank you for refusing to provide the names of climate scientists in a fascist request that has no place in our democracy.

You might want to email – you get more room to go into just how terrible PEOTUS’s request was.

#DailyResistance

14 Dec

In a blog a few weeks ago, I said “I won’t promise to post an idea for something you can do each day.”

And yet, I find that is exactly what I am doing.

Over on my personal facebook page, which you can follow without friending me, I am posting a #DailyResistance action.

Sometimes these are items that are going around. Sometimes I write them myself. Sometimes they are pretty quick. Sometimes they are longer.

I am wondering if I should also cross-post them to my blog.

Let me know what you think!

 

 

 

resisting twitter trolls.

29 Nov

I’ve been thinking about Trump, and his tweets, his weak spots, the phrase “when they go low, we go high” and what it means to resist. It is a mixed jumble.

Here is what I know:

a) Trump is a narcissist. And the best way to piss off a narcissist in real life (irl) is to ignore him. By this standard, when we pay attention to tweets, we are feeding him and giving him more power.

b) On twitter (not necessarily irl), ignoring Trump means that the only people he will hear are those who worship and praise him. Which will feed him and give him strength.

c) If someone says he is going to burn a school down, we don’t want to ignore him just because he is a narcissist. We need to watch him, and watch the school, to make sure he doesn’t make good on his threat.) We know Trump is a master manipulator and that he is using his tweets to distract us from other, more important issues. Perhaps it is his business dealings, or his cabinet choices – whatever it is, there is a new one every day.

d) Tweets are a window into Trump’s frame of mind. He can easily be drawn into a tweet-war. This may be his achilles heel.

Based on all of the above, I am wondering if we would be more effective if we followed the 6 Ways to Fight Trolls Instead of Starving Them.  That said, I am not yet ready to sacrifice “We go high” so my plan (and suggestion) is to ignore tactic #1 (mock mercilessly) and focus instead on adopting tactics 2-6:

Troll-Fighting Tactic #2: Cite Real-Life Sources

Troll-Fighting Tactic #3: Retain Some Humility

Troll-Fighting Tactic #4: Give ‘em the Snark

Troll-Fighting Tactic #5: Be Creative

Troll-Fighting Tactic #6: Feed the Trolls Until They Explode

I invite you to do so as well.

What might this look like?

When Trump tweets something ridiculous or offensive, I will try to respond utilizing the above tactics of being creative and snarky. And I will always include a link to something I think that he is trying to distract us from. I will probably respond a whole bunch of times, with different links in each tweet response.  I did this earlier today (minus the creativity) in response to his flag-burning tweet. This is what it ended up looking like:

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-2-14-24-pm

 

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-2-14-36-pm

 

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-2-14-46-pm

 

Even if Trump doesn’t see them, perhaps others will.

Maybe, maybe, if we utilize the above tactics to poke him to the point that he fights back, it might eventually cause Trump to implode to such a degree that even Republican leadership can no longer deny his unsuitability to lead this country.

Maybe.

One can hope.

And in the meantime, we can take comfort in annoying the hell out of him as we go high, creatively and with a side of snark.

Resisting the Complacency of Privilege

22 Nov

I want to talk about privilege and how it can give us a false sense of security. In order to do so, I need to locate myself: I am a person with a high level of privilege. I am a white, cis-gender woman. I grew up in a white-collar family where going to college was the expectation. I was entitled, and my parents paid for it. I was assured that I would be a success. In a family with 2 siblings and 2 cousins there are 2 doctors and a lawyer. All five of us have at least a graduate degree. I was told, and shown, that my gender shouldn’t be an impediment to achievement. I have been married to a man for over 20 years so present as heterosexual. We have two children.

The only debt we have is our mortgage. We paid for seminary out of pocket and so don’t have that debt. Our children go to a private school and I am putting myself through another graduate degree. We are saving for retirement. That all said, we have made plenty of tough decisions: our two cars are both more than 10 years old and our house needs quite a lot of work. But we live in a well-to-do neighborhood, and money is not an issue we worry about daily. And, if worst came to worst, we have the safety nets of parents.

When I walk into a room in a professional situation, I expect people to listen to me. That expectation is expressed in how I carry myself, how I meet people’s eyes, and how I shake their hands. My expectation of respect, and how it is sometimes perceived by others, was made clear to me by a CPE supervisor who asked if I was a “blue-blood” – I honestly had no idea what he was talking about.

So you see, I have loads of privilege. I don’t say this to brag. And, frankly, it feels vulnerable to share all this with you. But you need to know where I am coming from because right now, I want to speak to my peers: other people who find themselves in a similar boat.

keep-calm-and-check-your-privilegeLet me describe this boat. This is the boat of “Well, the country may be entering scary times, but I will be fine.” We are not usually people of color, and maybe everyone in your family is white, like mine. We are mostly heterosexual. We are educated. We have professional jobs in fields that require specialization.

You know who you are.

To you, I confess: I am tempted, every day, to put my head into a hole in the sand and just ride out the next few years. Because, for the most part, I could. It feels like my life is not going to be directly impacted by most of these changes: no one in my family is getting deported, no one my family is being denied their right to vote, no one my family is being profiled by police, no one’s marriage is at risk. And if we end up with a pregnant teenager, we have the means to travel somewhere where abortion is legal.

I know the seduction of privilege. I have to fight it every day. It tells me that I “got” mine and that I should just hunker down to protect it.

So why don’t I?

Because I learned, intellectually and in my heart of hearts, that it is true that no one is free while others are oppressed.

I remember pieces of this shift. One occurred when my spouse and I were attending the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, VA. It was the height of the 90s tech boom. We were in our mid-twenties, no kids, and had bought a house. Property values in our county were on the rise, though, and I complained about it at church one time. “We don’t have kids!” I moaned. “Why should we have to pay property taxes to support schools?”

An older man in the congregation responded with love and patience. It didn’t come with judgement for if it had I never would have listened. He talked about how having good schools benefits an entire community. He listed ways – a list much larger than the scope of this blog posting – that child-free individuals benefit from supporting schools. My mind was changed.

My heart was changed by a woman at church. She was the primary guardian of her grandchildren, and was usually on welfare. I remember the bind she found herself in: the system required her to get a job after a few months of benefits. But that job wouldn’t pay childcare, and her benefits would stop once she was employed. And so she would work a few weeks, then get fired or quit because the (inexpensive) unreliable childcare arrangement wasn’t working out and without someone to watch her grandkids, she couldn’t go to work. If something happened to her car, she had to decide between groceries and repairs – and if she was working but her job wasn’t on the bus line and she couldn’t get there, she would lose the job. In addition to the on-again-off-again job situation, her food stamps wouldn’t pay for necessities like diapers. At one point, she was so desperate for money, she considered selling drugs. I could not sit in my tower of privilege and judge her because I knew she was doing the very, very best she could.

I saw this woman struggle every day to get by. She was my friend, and from her I learned about the cycle of poverty and how impossible it is to get out of it. I learned that the system that so benefited me was slowly killing her. Literally. She had health problems from all the stress – but whenever she sought treatment, she got further into debt because, of course, she had no insurance. Which made her more stressed…

Do you see this cycle?

My heart shifted.

I realized that I was not inherently deserving of the privilege I had. I learned that it was absolutely not fair that my friend had not only been born into poverty, but also could not fight her way out of it.

And like the older member who talked to me about how communities as a whole benefit when they have good schools, I learned from my friend that I, personally, benefit, when people do not have to fight tooth and nail for every scrap we toss them. My friend wanted to work. She wanted to be a productive member of society. She wanted to contribute, to be of use.  And she also wanted her grand-babies to grow up in a safe, loving home, and for them to not go hungry. She was smart, and a hard worker – someone I would hire any day. The workforce was losing out by not having her in it.

connectedSo my mind and my heart have been changed. I understand now that my privilege requires that I be a good ally in the fight for equity and justice. Because I know that men are harmed by sexism, that white people are harmed by racism, and that heterosexual people are harmed by homophobia.

So that story we tell ourselves that we won’t be effected? It is a myth made up to keep people artificially divided, to make it easier to target vulnerable communities. To keep us from using our privilege for good.

So please, oh privileged peers of mine: Resist the desire to hide your head in the sand. Resist the complacency of privilege. They need us in this fight. And we need them.

Resisting.

21 Nov

Thoughts and ideas have been stewing about in my mind for 2 weeks now. This is how I grieve – I get angry and I think a lot. And rant a lot. My family is a bit tired of it, I suspect. Though I am on twitter all the time, and I am posting more publicly on facebook, the reality is that neither of these formats are ideal for concepts that require much depth. And so I am inspired to start a new blog tag: Resisting. You can follow these themed blogs by clicking on the tag over there → (don’t worry, it will get bigger as I post more).

Why a special category for Resisting?

Well, as you may be aware, due to a messed-up system that makes the vote of someone in Wyoming worth 3x that of someone in California, we have elected a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic compulsive liar to our highest office. Someone who has no political experience. Someone who is already trying to parlay his election into a business win for himself. Who is a threat to our freedom of speech. Who is appointing men to his cabinet who are more famous for their hate than for their leadership experience.

Don’t kid yourself – this is not “just like when <insert candidate you didn’t like> was elected.” This is not about partisan politics. Not even close – I don’t know about you but I would gladly take Mitt Romney right now even though I have some major disagreements with him. No, this is much bigger. As a friend of mine told me on the phone, the “Great American Experiment” is collapsing. Democracy itself is at stake. The ideals of one person-one vote, government by the people & for the people, self-determination, freedom and justice are in the crosshairs. Fascism is in sight.

You still don’t believe me? Look at Trump’s reaction to Pence’s Hamilton visit or his reaction to SNL’s recent skit – he doesn’t like freedom of speech when it means he gets criticized. He threatened months ago to remove libel laws so he could sue the press when they print something he doesn’t like.

Or how about this: Though he has not released his tax statements, we know that Trump owes millions to Deutsche Bank. This same bank is being fined for $14 billion by the Department of Justice for mis-selling bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis. As President, Trump will appoint the Attorney General, who heads the Department of Justice. Trump will be the AG’s boss, which means he can tell the AG to drop the case against Deutsche Bank, maybe in exchange for, say, Deutsche Bank forgiving all that Trump owes them.

When has there ever been a President with this obvious, enormous conflict of interest? But don’t put money on Trump somehow recusing himself – the “blind trust” he put his business affairs into is anything but blind and is being run by his kids. The same kids he is trying to get security clearances for so that they can be his political advisors, not just run his businesses.

If he feels he stands to gain, nothing will stop him. Trade Agreements, International Treaties, Civil Rights. Human Rights. Do not kid yourself: everything we believe and love about this country is at stake.

Beloveds, we have a lot of work to do. We must resist.

But this is not a weekend project. Or something we do between now and the inauguration. No, this will be a long road. Two years, at least, some say. Or four. I suspect it will be much, much longer. Studies have shown that the effects of Nazi propaganda lasted more than 50 years on those who were exposed to it. This will be a long, long road. And the longer it lasts, the longer the recovery.

So we must have endurance. We must be resilient and find ways for resistance to become our new normal. Something we engage in on a daily basis. We can’t go around panicking all the time, even though I know it comes upon me regularly in waves these days. We must build resistance into our routines and find communities that will sustain us and support us. This is the only way to move forward, to fight our own panic and to struggle against the threat of fascism.

One example I have for you is a friend of mine who spends every Monday lunchtime on the phone with her legislators, state and local. It is a part of her routine.

One of the things I will be doing is trying to blog more regularly. I won’t promise to post an idea for something you can do each day, or a list of organizations you should give time or money to – others have already done that and I highly suggest you look them up if you haven’t already.

What I want to do is let you in on my processing. What am I doing? What am I thinking? What am I struggling with? Because I am doing a whole lot of all of those right now. I hope you are too and I hope you join me.

Vive la résistance!

And in the spirit of freedom of speech, and because someone told me I was too serious the other day, and because I would gladly welcome Canadian overlords right now, I leave you with this.

the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning.

7 Nov

My good-bye sermon, delivered at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY on October 23, 2016.

As we all know, today is a very special day. Today, we celebrate the Cubs making it into the World Series.

Just kidding. Unless you are a Cubs Fan.

No, today is special because it is the last time I will stand before you as your minister. At the end of today, I will turn in my keys, say my final goodbyes, and take a week off before I start my work for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

rebuilding-wayside-pulpit

The wayside pulpit at First Unitarian Church on the night of a devastating fire in December 1985.

Last sermon for you. Oh my goodness. There are so, so many things I want to say. When I write a sermon, I usually throw out a rough draft or maybe two, but this sermon has had at least 5 different versions. At one point, I thought I’d do a narrative: tell my story, tell your story, tell the story of our time together, and then talk about your future and what hopes I have for you. Another version had me listing all your ministers – I was going to ask you to raise your hand or stand up for each minister you remembered. I wanted to demonstrate that though my ministry with you is transient, the ministry continues. This is why ministers generally cut off contact with congregants when they leave – to make room for the next minister to fill the role.

I even made a spreadsheet with all your ministers – settled and interim (I am number 28!) – and I included not just their start and end dates, but how old they were when they started. It was pretty neat to discover that in terms of length of ministry and age when I started, I’m actually a pretty average minister for you! But as fascinating as spreadsheets and data mining are to me, it is not a suitable topic for a last sermon. And, truly, this last sermon – it’s not about me. It’s about you.

I want you to walk away from today uplifted, hopeful, and grateful for our time together. I want you to walk away emboldened and energized to live your mission. No, I won’t be with you, but again, it’s not about me. It’s about how First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY embodies our saving faith in this neighborhood and beyond. I want to remind you that you are a beacon!

So many of you have told me, these last few weeks, how this church has saved you – not in some other life, but in this life, here and now. In a world that tries to convince people otherwise, you shared with me how healing it is to be told, each week, that you are lovable and that you are loved.

So many people are looking for a place where they are accepted, no matter their educational background, their theology or lack thereof. People are looking for a place where their gender identity and sexual orientation are not only accepted but celebrated. People are looking for a place where their quirks are tolerated, where it’s okay if they’ve served time, where their family structure is supported, where they will be told that black lives matter, and where they can get into and out of and around the building independently whether on wheels or on legs.

There is so, so much pain in this world. So much “othering” of anyone who does not fit society’s arbitrary standards. So many people are looking for ways through the confusion, looking for the transformational power of love that First Unitarian Church offers. And then, once you experience it and begin to heal, it is natural to want to give back. To serve this congregation that helped to save you.

This is what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist – that you know it is your responsibility to love and help others once you have experienced that love and acceptance yourself. Mark Morrison Reed wisely wrote that it is in being loved that we learn to love. We cannot, must not, hide our light under a bushel – it is not only irresponsible, but it is wrong. Wrong to keep this saving faith to ourselves.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to put ourselves out there. To help bind up the broken, the love the hell out the world and to love each other out of hell.

How will First Unitarian continue to do this? How will you continue to embody and incarnate your mission, even in these few months before the interim minister arrives?

When I look back, I see that we have done great things together in the last 7.5 years. We’ve worked on what it means to welcome people – the welcoming statement that’s on every order of service and the website is a living document that is constantly being added to, expanded. We joined CLOUT in an effort to use our privilege to amplify the voices of those too often silenced. We made our bathrooms accessible to all genders. We gave Religious Exploration its own hour and welcomed children into worship. We have used this building as outreach to the community: offering affordable space to Central Louisville Community Ministries, FORward radio, and two other worshiping congregations! We have strived for excellence in worship and in all we do. We have argued, debated, and even changed positions when we thought we were entrenched.

We have done amazing ministry together.

Now you are at an intersection – my ministry with you has reached its end. We each will go our separate ways.

Which way will go you?

Will you turn inward? Let any anger or frustration, or even fear, or sorrow about my departure cause you to pull back into yourself? Will you hide your light so that only those already here will see it?

Or, will you use this time to flourish? Will you continue to be a beacon of liberal religion here in Kentuckiana? Continue to share our saving faith with those who need it? This, this is my hope for you.

But how do you do that between now and when your next minister arrives? I’ve told the Board and leadership that the #1 thing that I think you need to, in order to continue to be the beacon you ought to be, and indeed, even to help you figure out who to call as your next minister, the #1 thing you need is a plan. A strategic plan.

You need goals. Priorities and objectives that you can measure against – priorities that can drive your budgeting choices – whether that budgeting is financial, or even when you are budgeting how much volunteer or staff energy you have. Because you can’d do and be everything.

One thing I do not recommend you put in that plan is to grow your membership. For too many years, Unitarian Universalist congregations were told that they were only successful if they were growing. What we know now is that the vast majority of congregations, Unitarian Universalist and otherwise, are dying. Growth in membership, for the sake of growth in membership, is an unrealistic target. And then it feels like a failure when it doesn’t happen.

But there are other important ways you can grow: you can grow in how you incarnate, embody, your mission and vision. You can grow in spiritual depth. You can grow in your organizational capacity.

The reality is that your options are not limitless. They are bounded by your financial capacity and the amount of energy needed to accomplish something. But you are are so rich both in terms of finances and in terms of volunteer and staff energy, you certainly have many, many options!!

Yes, you are financially very well off. I’m taking a Finance Management for Nonprofits graduate class right now – we are learning about debt ratio and assets. Let me tell you: no one should ever claim that there is “not enough” here – because there is abundance! You have no debt, you are generous pledgers, you have an amazing endowment and you are wrapping up a wildly successful capital campaign.

And yes, you are very well off in terms of volunteer and staff energy. You are a congregation that knows how to support your minister, that strives to be fair in how you pay your staff. You are a congregation that says “yes” to ideas that members come up with. You are a congregation that has learned how to rise above conflict to do the right thing, even when it is HARD. You have abundance, in finances and in the amount of talent, skills and energy people have to get the job done.

What you don’t have, yet, is a plan against which to measure your decisions. You are reaching out in every direction – a mile wide and an inch deep. This applies to how you do your finances, how you do your social justice work, and it applies to pretty much everything. This is the shadow side of being a “yes!” congregation without a plan: everything gets stretched too thin and it feels like there is not enough. But if you focus, if you know where you want to go and can set goals and objectives, then you will know how to prioritize your resources and how to better utilize and manage them. There is abundance here. It just needs to be be harnessed properly, and pointed in the right direction.

Of course, this means change. It means potentially sunsetting programs that don’t energize people, programs that don’t measure well against your plan or your mission. It means change, and change means loss. But it also means growth and possibility. A new day.

I want you to shine. I want you to pick a direction and point your light that way, and start moving, confidently and with conviction.

I will be watching. And rooting for you. And talking you up to my colleagues. You are an essential part of my ministry – your sap runs through my veins. You taught me, gave me confidence in myself as a minister, helped me grow my gifts and talents. You allowed me to take risks, and to fail, and to know that that is okay. James Keller pointed out that “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” I burn brightly because you lit my flame. And so I take you with me wherever I go.

But I am not the bright light of this church. You all are. You own the ministry. You light the beacon and keep it burning. If you think I hung the moon, it is only because you built a ladder for me to reach it. This is my final task for you: seek to embody your mission, relentlessly, and First Unitarian Church will continue to shine, as it has for nearly 200 years. I love you. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.

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