A Service by Revs. Phyllis L. Hubbell and John Parker Manwell
Ringing of the Bells
Welcome and Announcements
Our opening words this morning are adapted from Walt Whitman:
Afoot and light-hearted, [we] take to
The open road,
Healthy, free, the world before [us,] . . . .
Onward! To that which is
As it was beginningless, . . .
To know the universe itself as a road--
as many roads
as roads for traveling souls.
Come, let us travel one more time, togetherTime for All Ages
After singing “Let It Be A Dance"
What do you think those words mean?
Life is about how we respond to change. Good things happen. They don’t last. Bad things happen. They don’t last either. But the song says that the bad times can help us appreciate the good things.
There are always many good things in our lives–-sun, laughter, sailing birds, dancing, even rain–-even when we may be so sad we forget to notice.
Part of the dance is moving on. Most of you will have that experience. You and your families come here for a while, you make friends, you laugh, you dance, and then, one day, it is time to take flight.
Today we are moving on. This is our last service with you. We are moving back home to spend more time with our children and grandchildren. We are so sad to leave you behind. But we are happy that we will have more time to be at our own family birthday parties, recitals, gatherings. That is part of our dance.
You will have a new minister. Someone who will tell you stories and love you just as much as we did. He or she or they will be different from us, better in some ways, maybe not so good in others.
We hope we have watered the roots you have in this faith. We hope we have helped you develop wings that will someday allow you to soar.
Even though we leave, may our love embrace you everywhere you may go.
Revs. Hubbell and Manwell
Rev. Hubbell: If I have learned one thing in nearly twenty years of ministry, it is that the road leads on. We live-–many of us--with the illusion that the ground is steady under our feet, but even the ground beneath our feet moves. We live with the illusion that nothing will ever change. Even if we know change is coming, still somehow, something inside us tells us that we will always be the same, feel the same, stay exactly the same age.
But one day something happens. You go into a store and get into a casual conversation with the person next to you that turns into coffee that turns into an engagement ring. You sign some papers and you find yourself in Afghanistan. You start feeling sick each morning and discover you are bringing a new life into the world. You hear that a tornado is coming, and this time it heads down your driveway.
Rev. Manwell: The road leads on. For us as individuals and for this congregation that includes us. Today, the road diverges and leads on for you and for us. We want to leave you with some last thoughts about interim ministry and what happens next.
One of the hardest things for folks to understand about interim ministry is why the UUA recommends that strict time limits be place on interim ministry. It is hard to understand why interim ministry must end if the congregation finds that their interim minister is a good match and wants him or her or them to stay. The congregation may feel that Boston doesn’t understand their needs, is arbitrary and inflexible.
Rev. Hubbell: We’ve been doing interim ministry for three years now. We’re still relatively new to it, but here’s what we’ve found:
Nothing is perfect. Congregations aren’t perfect. Ministers aren’t perfect. Church experts aren’t perfect. Hopefully, we are all dedicated to doing better. Our staff at UUA headquarters is always trying to perfect the system. They see how things work in many churches, what seems to work, what doesn’t. They know that congregations who don’t use interim ministers frequently call someone who only lasts a few years.
There are issues to work out after a minister leaves. Sometimes, some members believe no one can be as perfect as the last minister. Sometimes, many members will never trust a minister again after the last one. Sometimes, the church has lost its vision, has become insular, conflict ridden, or has let a few bullies paralyze the church. Well, lots of things happen. A new minister comes in and gives up after a few years or is forced out.
So the Unitarian Universalist Association offers congregations interim ministers who come for a few years to try to help them heal and grow stronger. It is specialized work and may not involve the gifts the congregation needs for the long term.
There are also risks involved if congregations vote on whether to call an interim minister as their settled minister. Always as time goes by, there will be some who are unhappy. They may remain silent if they think the ministry will soon be over, but have to speak up if the congregation considers calling the minister permanently. If a small but significant minority of the congregation votes down a minister whom some have come to love, the majority who voted yes will feel a minority drove the minister to leave. But if a substantial minority opposes the minister, ministers know their ministry is unlikely to last. It can work, but it is risky.
Rev. Manwell: Interim work is different from settled ministry. We cut back on some of the things like teaching, social justice and community outreach so that we can work with you to heal and grow. We sometimes have to make hard decisions that might swamp a young settled ministry. Having a set time limit encourages everyone to focus on the most important issues-–the main things. We’ve probably gotten as much done in the last six months as we have during the rest of the time we were here. We kept thinking we want to get this finished or that finished before the new minister comes so they won’t have to deal with it.
You are ready for new ministry. We so believe you are ready. You have been a wonderful congregation. But the level of energy is so much different today than it was two years ago. Last week you made an important decision to explore whether it is feasible to move. That was a difficult decision for some of you, even though it doesn’t commit you to moving. But the vote made it clear how the vast majority of the congregation feels about this issue. The road leads on. It is time to take the next steps.
Here is what we want to say to you. Building decisions can be all absorbing. You have so many decisions in front of you-–where to move, whether to buy or build, how much money can you raise, how much space do you need for music, for children’s r.e., for offices--even picking colors can take a year. Then you must finally decide in the end, whether to move at all after all the facts are in. Nothing is certain other than that you must do something.
Rev. Hubbell: Stay rooted in your vision. I don’t think that vision is really clearly set out in writing anywhere. My sense of your vision is that your outreach is focused on issues of prejudice, of poverty, with some energy around environmental issues. Internally, your focuses are children, music and a caring community.
Some of you may see UCN’s vision differently, more clearly. You have been here longer than we have. The important thing is that you become clear about what your group vision is and hold it in front of you. It is important to listen to your individual visions, but even more important for each of you to seek to discover what your common vision may be. Your building should serve your common vision. The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. That’s the main thing.
As you come to decisions about where to locate, how much space [you need], and how that space should be used, lift up that vision. Put it in banners, recite it in worship, make up a song and sing it together. Call your poets and wordsmiths to fashion slogans and poetry that will inspire you and your children.
Rev. Manwell: Oh, this sermon could go on and on. But as the king might have said to Amadeus: “Too many words.” And you have indulged us for two years. It is time to go. Really go. We need to make room for the new ministry, and that means that we need to cut ties. We will not be in contact with any of you at least for the next year or two, except for business reasons. This is another rule that congregations find difficult to understand.
We talked to the Board about this last week. The boundaries around ministry are fuzzier than they are with any other “professional.” Most of us accept that we don’t go out to dinner with our psychiatrist or become buddies with our teachers.
But ministers are called to love. And we do. It will take a little piece of our hearts when we leave you. It is easy to think that we are your friends. Yet, we are not friends in the ordinary sense of the word. We tend to listen to you far more than we can share of our own lives. It would be inappropriate for us to share with a congregant unresolved marital problems or vent about a troublesome member. I will not say that never changes with time and distance, but it rarely does. Moreover, if we hang around emotionally, the new minister may find it difficult to develop the bonds with you that will find you naturally turning to him or her or for a wedding or memorial service, or for much needed counsel or leadership.
Rev. Hubbell: This is our formal goodbye service. After we return from General Assembly, we will be on vacation, available for major congregational emergencies by phone or e-mail as during any vacation period, but gone for any day to day business. Your new minister will soon be more clearly in the wings.
The road leads on. Sometimes you reach the top of a difficult hill and see the sunrise ahead of you. This is one of those times. We think you are ready. Even with the sadness of saying goodbye, we are seeing excitement. The holy is in this moment. God is in this moment. New life and new love are in bud all around you.
The road leads on, but it branches here. To end again with Walt Whitman, let us set off along our separate paths, each “worn really about the same,. . . the world before us. . . . To see nothing anywhere but what [we] must reach it and pass it. . . . To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for [us].” Come, it is time. Sailing birds fly above us. Let us dance on down that road.