“Thinking of You”
I am given to turning my nouns into verbs! Maybe you have heard me talk about this propensity to action – of creating what is happening out of what is. I am somewhat of a kinesthetic learner I discovered when studying about different ways of learning in seminary. I learn best by doing, by the experience of something. Occasionally this means that I learn the hard way, as the saying goes. It is an embodied way of being. I am in it with my whole self, not just my head or my heart or my hands and feet. Words, feelings and actions become intertwined and I am expanded in the process; I learn, grow, deepen and change.
It should come as no surprise then when I say that somewhere along the way I came to an understanding of what a minister is that was aligned with this way of being. A minister – the noun, according to my beloved Webster’s Dictionary – is a person authorized to perform sacraments and rituals, a member of the clergy, a diplomatic representative, someone who acts as an agent of another. Way down at the bottom of the definition we get to the verb – to give service, care, or aid! There it is! That’s what I’m talking about!
For a long time I thought it was sufficient for me to simply do this thing called ministry – to live in service to humanity, to persons, to life really. And it honestly is enough or even more important to be about that business. Call me naïve, but I thought that everyone believed this – the idea that we are here to serve one another in this life. I kept on striving toward it and talking about it when asked why until I realized that I had something important to say about it; that it wasn’t the framework from which everyone operated; that it was a necessary enough component of our understanding of the world if we are to sustain ourselves as a human body of existence; that I understood a call to professional ministry where my being and doing could be accompanied by my proclaiming this truth as I saw it, for the betterment of the whole.
So that’s my call story in a nutshell, but the real gold nugget of it is the idea that we are all called in service to humanity; to the greater good; to minister. Each of us has our own talents and gifts; skills we have trained for out of a desire to bring them to fruition; innate qualities perhaps that lend themselves to serving in some particular way. If we are lucky those two tracks have joined on our journey and we are fulfilled in ways we might not otherwise be. Maybe we have lacked nurturance in the gifts we have, and it has taken us longer to figure it out. Certainly, it has been a progression for me over these sixty some odd years.
I bring all this before you today in order to dive into the idea of a shared ministry here at UUMH. “What does that exactly mean?” you may be asking.
First off, it acknowledges all the many gifts and talents possessed in the lives behind these little squares of faces I see. Some of you are good with finances, some bring musical talent, some of you like to build and construct – to work with your hands, some of you are thinkers and planners, some creative, artistic, theatrical. You get the idea! Everyone brings a part of themselves to the table where it is recognized and appreciated if we are paying attention enough. We are each called to examine our personal treasure trove of strengths and abilities and to allow them to be used for the common good.
Second, it recognizes that even though I am “the minister” I am not the only one here who has a ministry. I am just a piece of the whole. And having come to the conclusion that what we will have for now is a half-time professional ministry here, I am less of a piece than if I was full-time. But I come to you with my own life and work and educational experiences in my basket and I contribute those in service to this church. Christian sacred texts liken the church to a body; its members all with different gifts or purposes just like our eyes that do the seeing and our ears that do the hearing. Together these various parts work in concert with one another in order to have a well-functioning body. I serve this congregation in ways that are different, but no more valuable than the ways each of you serves.
And here’s the catch – if we are going to sustain this place it is going to take all of us working together like a well-oiled machine or a giant organism moving through time. I go to a lot of meetings and gatherings with you here and I see many of you over and over again in the course of my weeks. You bring your enthusiasm and your gifts to the table and we are so grateful that you do. But I also sense that you who show up most frequently may be a little tired. You keep bringing it though because this place we come for sustenance and connection and the expression of our values means so much to you.
My invitation here is to all of you – to do that inventory of sorts and think about what you bring so that when there is a call to action you know that it is a call for you to act. What have you come to know about yourself that could be of use? Just recently the Pastoral Care Team saw itself needing some more help and saw in a couple of our members this gift of caring so authentically, and so they extended an invitation to join in the effort and it was graciously accepted. Thank you, Barbara and Joan, for offering from the deep well of your beings to the good of this body. That’s just one example, of course. We answer the call more often than not.
One of the facets of shared ministry is this concept of values and purpose – the idea of mission that I keep offering up as a tool toward our sustainability and growth. It is easier for all of us to work together toward a common goal than to have us each working on what we think that goal might be. If we know why we are here – UUMH of Chatham – why we must exist as a religious institution on Cape Cod, we will be one step closer to coalescing around a plan for our future. And a reason for being with a plan for making it so has an enticing quality about it that strangers in our midst may want to sign onto. In a shared ministry there is always room for new and untapped ability to contribute.
Nearly a month ago when I was asked to submit my sermon topics and titles, I settled on “Thinking of You” for today. It was sparked by this understanding of shared ministry I bring. The Pastoral Care Team does its best to keep up with who we see regularly on zoom in all the forums we gather here for; who we run into in town; who we intentionally go for a walk with or get take-out food with. And then to make connections with those who we are missing to make sure they are okay; to catch up; to let them know they are loved. But this is really the work of all of us and even more so in this time of physical distancing. Whenever you think of someone from UUMH, that should be a signal to make a call, just to say, “Hi! How are you?” We don’t have the benefit of seeing one another face to face like we used to and so it becomes all the more important to maintain that bond; to express how valuable each one of us is to this life.
Care and connection are the obvious ways we minister to one another, but a creative look at what we bring – each of us – paints a much larger picture. Wouldn’t it be something to put together a grid of sorts that showed what all of us believe our gifts to be? What a resource that would provide for when we finally settle on our purpose! What I want to say is that nothing is too small a contribution – there is no such thing as an insignificant gift.
Every week when we get ready to ask you for your generosity we say, “And now let there be an offering to strengthen and sustain this place, this community of memory and hope, for we are the keepers of the dream.” Your financial offering is critical, of course, but it is not the only kind of offering that will sustain this place. Shared ministry calls upon our offering of ourselves to the end that UUMH continues and thrives. That’s a piece of the dream that we hold fast to. We are each a part of that. We are all responsible to and for the ministry that is the UU Meeting House. And I believe that at some level we know this because I see it in the spirit with which you engage this congregation and its efforts.
I believe that what happens here belongs to all of us; that we are part of a team, you and I; that we, essentially, sink or swim together. My ethos is one of empowerment. I lead from among and within. We are in a unique and sacred relationship here by virtue of the values and principles that bind us. We share in service to one another and to our world. We share in ministry together.
So may it be and Amen.