Friday, October 02, 2015

On Resurrection and Renewal

This is the October edition of the column I write each month -- "Words of Wikstrom" -- for the Bulletin of the Congregation I serve, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church - Unitarian Universalist.  I re-post it here because it might be of interest to anyone -- whether in my particular profession or not -- who has felt the need to reinvent or resurrect themselves.

Unitarian Universalist preachers don't get a lot of opportunities to talk about "resurrection," but I don't really know any other frame for the story I have to tell.  It also has to do with this month's theme of  "letting go," I suppose, but I'll get back to that in a moment.

Since I was ordained twenty years ago I've preached somewhere around 1,500 sermons; spent nearly one-and-a-half years in Board meetings; and made a truly incalculable number of visits to people in the hospital, in their homes, and in my office.  In and through all of that I've developed a “way” of performing my ministerial duties, a “way” of being a minister.  Toward the end of the last church year, though, it became increasingly clear to me that over the years I had gotten stuck in my habits and had, for want of a better description, "lost my way."

Nor have I been alone in recognizing that something just wasn't right.  Over the past four years some of you have expressed confusion, discontent, and disappointment with the way you've experienced me doing things (or not doing things).  I can see clearly, now, that I haven't been performing my ministerial duties as well I would have liked -- as well as I know I am capable of -- and I know that some of you have seen and felt this, too. 

And this is where the element of resurrection comes into this story.  This past May was the twentieth anniversary of my ordination, and that got me thinking about what it was like -- what I was like -- when all of this was new to me.  Alex's ordination deepened these reflections.  The results of the Pulse Survey also gave me much to mull over.  And so, this summer I spent a great deal of time in prayer and reflection; I consulted with trusted colleagues, friends, and family; and I sought to remember the fire that once burned so brightly in me and called me to ordained ministry.  I am happy to say that I believe I have not only remembered it -- I've been able to rekindle and reclaim it.  It feels to me as though my ministry has expereinced resurrected.  It may not be too much to say that I have, too.

From the begining I have been committed to the idea of shared ministry.  I believe down to my core that each and every one of us -- ordained or lay -- is called to a ministry of one kind or another.  (After all, "minister" comes from the Latin for "to serve," and aren't we all called to be of service to some one at some time in some place?)  I also believe, just as foundationally, that your ministry as lay people is no less "real" than mine; that the term "minister" should not be reserved only for the clergy nor should it be considered an analogy or a metaphor when referring to lay people.  This is decidedly not the way most religious communities operate, so I have spent a lot of time and energy "defending" our right to share that title ... and to mean it.

What I've come to realize, though, is that with this nearly single-minded focus I have lost sight of my own role as this congregation's Lead Minister.  Yes ... your ministries are no less important and no more real than mine, yet mine is no less important than yours.  Lay ministry and ordained ministry are not more nor less important than each other, yet neither are they the same.  I come back to this church year once again committed to answering my own deep call which, in many ways, I have only just begun to hear clearly once again.

TJMC is full of some truly wonderful people -- strong, gifted, funny, smart, dedicated people -- and we are doing some really important things here.  As your Lead Minister it is my role to help make and deepen connections between and among you, and between our congregation and the wider community.  This calls on me to "show up" in ways that I haven't been, yet which I find a renewed energy for doing.  It is not enough for me affirm you as you discover, develop, and deepen your ministries in the world.  My ministry includes taking an active role in supporting, nurturing, and offering you guidance as well.

I have often said that the ordained minister should not be the "captain of the ship" but, rather, its "navigator" -- helping the congregation get to the destination it has chosen for itself.  I still believe this, yet I now see again that when the navigator is passive the ship in emperriled.  I have studied the ancient charts, if you will, and have an understanding of how their wisdom might be of service to us.  I have been taught how to read the signs of the sun and the sky, if you will, so I have an idea of how the currents are running today and what kind of "weather" we might encounter.  Perhaps most significantly, I have the time to contemplate these things and to try to make sense of them.  A "Lead Minister" should lead -- not demand, not dictate, yet the approach of "leading from behind," which I am inclined toward, still calls for leadership.

This looks to be a year of resurrection and rebirth.  That means it will be a year of "letting go" as well.  I need to be willing to let go of the patterns and habits I've developed which have obscured my original call.  I have to let go of my own guilt and shame, to wipe clean my life's "sands of forgiveness and atonement."  I must be able to let go of my own belief that how I've done things before is how I should do things now and, instead, be open to discovering something new.  This won't always be easy of course, but it certainly does feel exciting!

If I am to succeed, however, it will need to be a year of letting go and of discovery for you, as well.  Just as I have, over the decades, developed a pattern, a "way" of being a minister, so, too, over the past four years you have developed a "way" of seeing me.  Some of you have seen me in a bright light while others see me through a dark cloud.  Most of you are no doubt somewhere in between.  I am hoping that you will be willing to try to let go of your picture of who (and how) I've been so that we might discover together who I am now and who I am becoming and what this means for our mutual ministry. 

If we can each do this for one another, I feel certain that this year will see us actively, collaboratively, and creatively deepening our mutual ministries in and through this beloved community.

Pax tecum,


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