What was the question? This week has been filled with so many opportunities for learning and contemplation. Is it different from other General Assemblies? I don't know. It feels different, but what is most likely is that I have changed; I am taking the time to contemplate; I am actually listening at least as much as I am judging or thinking of responses; I am making a conscious effort to express and really feel gratitude for all of the people with whom I am sharing this faith. I'm not really sure how that metamorphosis came about. I had a meditation practice for years. Maybe it was the year I spent out of the parish ministry, and the conscious decision to come back to it, via Interim work, that made room for this expansion of heart and spirit. I clearly recall the time of discernment and the day that a thought came to me: There is more ministry in me yet.
Ministers know this is no small decision. Not when made for the first time, nor the last. They say every addict takes about six other lives down with him/her, and I'm guessing it's pretty much the same for clergy. Maybe it is a form of addiction. So what I was hearing and seeing this week, both during Ministry Days and beyond, was very personal. It was deeply piercing, for, having decided to finish off the called portion of my parish ministry days, and then moving out into somewhat of a void, I found myself back in active service again. I'm looking back as much or more than I'm looking forward. And, I'm thinking about others as much or more than I am about myself. I wish there were a way that we could be more helpful to one another. I'm somewhat uncertain about our collegiality, and Ministry Days/Daze hasn't reassured me.
"Culture of judgment destroys human communities" Rev. Sean Dennison Berry St. Lecture
You may have noticed that these are not pictures of Ministry Days. These are my family, my three grown kids, and our ten year old adopted son who has Autism. My husband stays home and takes care of him in KY while I'm doing a 3/4 time interim in NJ. It pays $40k, and my husband lost his job right before I went back to work, so for 6 months we had no income and thank goodness, relied upon the ACA for health insurance. We maxed out all our credit cards. We don't have family from whom we can borrow. So, no, Marlin, I can't give $1000 to the UUMA endowment THIS year. But you made me feel really bad that I couldn't. It's a great idea.Some how, I am going through all of this a day late and a dollar short to benefit! I have been helped by scholarships here & there.
"We can use devastation as a seedbed for new life" Parker Palmer (quoted in Berry St. Essay)
This isn't a sob story. It's actually a huge success story. I watched Rev. Lavanhar's SLT sermon tonight, and I loved what he had to say. It was a Universalist message of hope, inclusiveness, and radical love. If it were being preached and practiced in our congregations, my kids might still be UUs. As it is, I'm not sure. My sons struggled with addiction through their teens and twenties. I sat through way too many meetings where colleagues talked about their kids' scholarships and successes, and was too ashamed to share my own grief and pain except with a few. Thanks be to to God, both of my sons are clean and sober today, through the hope and fellowship of AA, in which they have found unconditional love, acceptance, guidance, and direction. It saved their lives and gave them a community of other young adults, a place to do service for others and lead lives of meaning and purpose. This Spring, my daughter graduated from college with both of her brothers by her side, a dream she never thought she'd realize. I am talking about a miracle right now.
"One mistake we make is trying to lead with our strengths rather than our heartbreak" Rev. M. Lavanhar
I'm struggling with how little the UU church has been able to offer my boy with Autism. He wasn't included in an OWL class that was offered for his age cohort. So many people made insensitive remarks that we just stopped bringing him. And I was the Minister! So, all of this goes to say that for my family (I fully acknowledge that this is not true for all families) ministry is not something that includes them. It's my job. It doesn't include them any more than if I were a Wall Street stock broker. (and then I'd at least make more money!) I don't even know if they are proud of me any more.
So, when I hear sermons like the Berry Street Essay, and the responses, I am moved. When I hear: You give your life to ministry.... part of me feels touched and part of me just dies. Why did I do that?
I gave it to people, some of whom took it for granted, when my children needed me. I couldn't not do it; I don't regret it, but there are days when the math doesn't quite work.