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Service of the Living Tradition, General Assembly 2011

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Make a donation to support the Living Tradition Fund.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group invites you to join us for our annual service, a hallmark of our faith tradition, where we honor fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders, remember those who have died, recognize those who have completed active service, and welcome those who have received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year.

The Rev. Michael Schuler preaches “The Face of God or a Face in the Crowd?” Rev. Schuler has served the First Unitarian Society of Madison, WI, a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) “Breakthrough” congregation, for 23 years. He is the author of Making the Good Life Last: Four Keys to Sustainable Living (Berrett-Koehle, 2009).

The Rev. Christine Robinson, Liturgist, has been the minister of First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque, NM, since November 1988.

Michael Holmes, Music Director at the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Silver Spring (UUCSS), MD, brings a vibrant musical experience to this worship service as he conducts the Service of the Living Tradition Choir. He is joined by musicians from the UUCSS-based band “UUToo” and organist/pianist Wally Kleucker, all providing a blend of the traditional and the new.

Transcript

Ingathering Music

[Michael Holmes, UUToo*, Choir, UUCSS Musicians**, Congregation]

“Night Lake” 

[Wendy Lanxner, flute; Bruce Krohmer, clarinet]

“Each Step I Take”

[MUSIC: "EACH STEP I TAKE"]

“Song for You” 

[Wendy Lanxner and David Uffelman, vocals]

[MUSIC: "SONG FOR YOU" BY UUTOO BAND]

“Drumming Invocation”

[MUSIC: "DRUMMING INVOCATION" BY UUCSS MUSICIANS]

“Over My Head, I Hear Music in the Air”

[Instrumental only]

[MUSIC: "OVER MY HEAD I HEAR MUSIC IN THE AIR"]

Welcome

REV. CHRISTINE ROBINSON: My friends, welcome to the 2011 Service of the Living Tradition, the 50th service at the UUA General Assembly. This service, in one form or another, dates back to 1945. It has survived so long because it is a living tradition. That is to say, it changes in form as needs and times change. Tonight you will witness such a change. This is a service which honors ministry and ministers and the work of our professional musicians and educators who serve our congregations.

I would remind you that in our way of governing ourselves, it is local congregations which have the power to hire their own staffs, to call and ordain their own ministers, for that matter to identify and commission all who lead them in paid and unpaid ministries. We cherish this freedom. It is you the people who identify gifts, offer space for practice, and support beloved members through seminary, training programs, internships, probationary years, not to mention who work with them and support them throughout their careers, and who experience with them the joy and sorrow of retirement.

We signify this important part of our life together by calling forth the ministers, musicians, and religious educators to be honored this evening from amongst you, which is where they are now sitting. This will be a festive time and we invite your applause and your cheers as we celebrate graduations, certifications, and retirements of the ministers and staffs who serve us so well.

Calling Forth Preliminary Fellows

REV. WAYNE ARNASON: I call forth from among you these persons who have received preliminary fellowship as Unitarian Universalist ministers:

  • Chris Antal,
  • Karla Brockie,
  • Erik David Carlson,
  • Natalie Maxwell Fenimore,
  • Brian Ferguson,
  • Molly Housh Gordon,
  • William Cory Graves,
  • Lissa Anne Gundlach,
  • MaryHelen Gunn,
  • Hugh Hammond,
  • Tim House,
  • Cassandra Maris Howe,
  • Lisa M. Huyck,
  • Andrew D. Karlson,
  • Robert Cavanaugh Keithan,
  • Jonipher Kwong,
  • Brock Leach,
  • Beth Lefever,
  • Christina Reddy Leone,
  • Julianne Lepp,
  • Jeffrey D. Liebmann,
  • Tera Little,
  • Holly Anne Lux-Sullivan,
  • C.J. McGregor,
  • Morgan Ruxton McLean,
  • Andrew Clive Millard,
  • Janet Onnie,
  • Barbara Prose,
  • Karen M. Rasmussen,
  • Nori J. Rost,
  • Scott Rudolph,
  • Kristin Grasel Schmidt,
  • Misty-Dawn Shelly,
  • Cyndi Simpson,
  • Jan Elizabeth Taddeo,
  • Julie Taylor,
  • Kimberly Tomaszewski,
  • Bevan Clayton Tulk,
  • Amy Carol Webb,
  • Andrew L. Weber,
  • Sian Wiltshire,
  • Jay Wolin.

Calling Forth Credentialed Religious Educators

TANDY SCHEFFLER: I call forth from among you these persons who have been certified as credentialed religious educators, master level:

  • Karen Fisk,
  • Barb Greve,
  • Sherri Phillabaum.

I call forth from among you these persons who have been certified as credentialed religious educators:

  • Sara Cloe,
  • Joyce Duncan,
  • Sadie Kahn-Green,
  • Catherine Farmer Loya,
  • Michelle McKenzie-Creech.

Calling Forth Credentialed Music Leaders

BETH NORTON: I call forth from among you these persons who have been certified as credentialed music leaders:

  • Gayle Kerry,
  • Annie Haymaker,
  • John Herrick,
  • Mary C. Newman.

Calling Forth Final Fellows

REV. WAYNE ARNASON: I call forth from among you these persons who have received final fellowship as Unitarian Universalist ministers:

  • Meg Anzalone,
  • Jill M. Bowden,
  • Judith Cohen,
  • Susan Porter Conrad,
  • John T. Crestwell, Jr.,
  • John A. Cullinan,
  • Joanne M. Giannino,
  • Constance L. Grant,
  • Victoria L. Ingram,
  • Alyson Jacks,
  • Christine Jones-Leavy,
  • M'Ellen Kennedy,
  • Keith Kron,
  • Jennifer Emrich Lentz,
  • Ana Levy-Lyons,
  • Bret J. Lortie,
  • Susan Maginn,
  • Marcia Marino,
  • Kelly Murphy Mason,
  • Marjorie Matty,
  • Aaron McEmrys,
  • Alane Cameron Miles,
  • Manish Kumar Mishra,
  • Shawn Newton,
  • Theresa Jane Novak,
  • Madeline "Lyn" Oglesby,
  • Claudene F. Oliva,
  • John George Pastor, Jr.,
  • Jeanne M. Pupke,
  • Christine F. Reed,
  • Jennifer Youngsun Ryu,
  • E. Scott Sammler-Michael,
  • Anya Sammler-Michael,
  • Nancy Morgan Shaffer,
  • Marguerite Sheehan,
  • Marian Elizabeth Stewart,
  • Jerome A. Stone,
  • Michael James Tino,
  • Archene Turner,
  • Nate Walker,
  • Michelle Anne Walsh.

Calling Forth Those Completing Full Time Service

REV. MAKANAH MORRISS: I call forth from among you, with appreciation, these persons who have completed their careers of full time service to our congregations:

  • Barry M. Andrews,
  • Roger Brewin,
  • Eva Magdalena Ceskava,
  • Helen Lutton Cohen,
  • Gail Collins-Ranadive,
  • Jim Covington,
  • Dennis J. Daniel,
  • Julie Denny-Hughes,
  • Frances Deverell,
  • Marcel Duhamel,
  • Lucinda Duncan,
  • Dorothy May Emerson,
  • Janet Ernisse,
  • Duane H. Fickeisen,
  • John Gilmore,
  • Devorah Greenstein,
  • Phyllis Hubbell,
  • Dave Hunter,
  • Davidson Loehr,
  • John Parker Manwell,
  • Barbara Merritt,
  • Yvonne Miller,
  • Barbara Eaton Molfese,
  • Kerry Mueller,
  • Linnea "Ama-la" Pearson,
  • Will Saunders,
  • Gary E. Smith,
  • Rosemarie C. Smurzynski,
  • Patricia Tummino,
  • William Welch,
  • Judith C. Welles,
  • Kitsy Winthrop,
  • Gretchen L. Woods,
  • Sarah Moores Campbell York.

One Final Round of Applause

REV. CHRISTINE ROBINSON: Fellow Unitarian Universalists, let us give one last round of applause to honor those who serve us so well.

[APPLAUSE]

Opening Hymn

[HYMN: "RANK BY RANK AGAIN WE STAND"]

Chalice Lighting by the Reverend Christine Robinson

REV. DR. WILLIAM SCHULTZ: We light this chalice for all who serve our congregations, for ministers and ministry, especially for those professionals who are being honored this evening, whose qualifications we note, and whose service, as it begins and ends, we celebrate. We light this chalice for all the times you have lit chalices to begin worship, to add a note of spirit to meetings and rehearsals, to quiet your own hearts and souls for the challenges of service. We light this chalice for all the times you have helped a child light a chalice, an adult express their faith, or a spirit lift in song. For brave beginnings, faithful work, and honored endings. We light this chalice for the work that all of us, lay and ordained, do in service of our congregations and our movement, its people and our world, our ministry's writ large. We light this chalice for the money raised, the children taught, the meetings organized, the comfort given, for service to the world given by you and by Unitarian Universalists wherever they are. We light this chalice for you.

Introit

“We Would Be One”

[HYMN: "WE WOULD BE ONE"]

Remembering Those Who Have Died

REV. PETER MORALES: Each year we honor those whose legacy is the ministry of our faith. As we have for generations, we will read the names of those who died during the last year. The legacy of these men and women are acts of love and service. Although much of ministry is public, more of it is private and hidden from view. Ministry is countless acts of comfort, nurture, listening, counseling, and conversations that are never seen. As I call the role of those ministers who have died, let us hold the memory of their ministries in our hearts.

  • Herbert Ryan Adams,
  • Jean Cook Brown,
  • F. David Fisher,
  • Nancy Jo Haley,
  • Mary Jeannette Harrington,
  • Charles Alfred Howe,
  • James Dennis Hunt,
  • Robert Francis Kaufman,
  • Virginia Perin Knowles,
  • Brandoch "Brandy" Lovely,
  • Hartley Cabot Ray,
  • Paul Winslow Sawyer.

Prayer

Please join me in a spirit of prayer. Spirit of life and love that lives within and among us, let us feel your presence. We mourn the loss of these good ministers. We have lost dear friends. Nevermore will we converse with them, see their smiles, feel their touch. May we be filled with profound gratitude for their lives. They kept the faith. They stood on the side of love year after year. They worked for justice. They handed on a precious tradition. Their lives continue to inspire us and to give us hope. May we be worthy of their legacy. The work of love is not done. Their ministries are now our ministries. We pray for consolation for those closest to these departed. May they feel our compassion. May they find comfort. Now in silence, let each of us honor those who have passed and reflect on our place in this living tradition.

Reading: “A Parable For Pulpit Committees”

REV. MICHAEL SCHULER: Our reading this evening is drawn from our own liberal religious tradition. It's author, Clinton Lee Scott, served a succession of Universalist churches from 1914 until 1971, when he retired from the active ministry at the impressive age of 84. Between parish settlements, Scott also served as the state superintendent for the Massachusetts and Connecticut Universalist Conventions.

An early convert to religious humanism, Scott wrote, "A true universalism in religion goes beyond Christian denominationalism and sees all religions of whatever time and place striving in imperfect ways to achieve a good life for humankind... this is one world where all things of worth are sacred." He was the only Universalist to sign the original 1933 Humanist Manifesto.

A fervent advocate for and an active participant in the Unitarian Universalist merger process, Clinton Lee Scott was elected to the UUA's first board of trustees, and in 1977 at the age of 90, he received our denomination's Distinguished Service Award. He authored several books including a short history of the Universalist Church in America. Today however, he is perhaps best remembered for his Parish Parables, a whimsical but revealing collection of scenes from church life as he himself had experienced it. Deliberately mimicking the formal style of the King James Bible, these parables first appeared in book form in 1946.

A parable for pulpit committees: Now it came to pass that while the elder in Israel tarried in Babylon, a message came to him from a distant city saying, come thou and counsel with us. Help us to search out a priest for the one that has served us has gone mad. And the elder in Israel arose and journeyed to that distant city. And when the men of affairs were assembled, the elder spake unto them saying, what manner of man seeketh thee to be your new priest? And they answered and said unto him, we seek a young man yet with the wisdom of gray hairs. One that speaketh his mind freely yet giveth offense to no one. That draweth the multitude to the temple on the Sabbath but will not be displeased when we ourselves are absent. We desire one who has a gay mood yet is of sober mind. That seeketh out dark sayings and prophecies yet speaketh not over our heads. That filleth the temple, buildeth it up yet defileth not the sanctuary with a Motley assortment of strangers. We seeketh one that put the instruction of the young first but requireth not that we become teachers. That causeth the treasury to prosper yet asketh not that we give more of our substance. Verily we seek a prophet that will be unto us a leader but will not seek to change us, for we like not to be disturbed. And the elder in Israel answered and said unto them, when I have found such a priest I will indeed send him unto you, but you may have to wait long, for the mother of such a one has not yet been born.

And now I would invite you to rise in body or in spirit and to join your voices with mine once again in song.

Hymn

“As Tranquil Streams

[HYMN: AS TRANQUIL STREAMS]

Sermon: “The Face of God or a Face in the Crowd?”

REV. MICHAEL SCHULER: Clinton Lee Scott's tongue-in-cheek parable that I just shared a moment ago points to a more serious, underlying truth that many in this vast hall may recognize. The fact is Unitarian Universalists have long been of two minds about the ministerial office. The gifts that ministers bring to our churches, the services they render are eagerly sought after and gratefully accepted, but there is also this queasiness about the influence that clergy exert. And the preeminence that they enjoy in congregational life is sometimes indeed a cause for complaint.

"We may be a relatively small denomination," former UUA president John Buehrens once remarked, "but look at it this way, we are the largest, longest-lasting, most widely dispersed therapy program for people with authority issues that American culture has ever seen." And often as not, the focal point for this pervasive resistance to authority is the minister.

It should be noted that while this matter may be more vexing for Unitarian Universalists than for some others, anti-authoritarianism has long been a notable feature of the American character and a recurring theme in the American story. In the wake of the Revolutionary War, historian Stephen Prothero observes, "And inspired by the Republican rhetoric against deference and hierarchy, Americans were emboldened to loose the shackles binding them not only to the British crown but also to elitist churches, creeds, and ministers."

But the first signs of disquiet and discontent appeared much earlier than that. The Pilgrims and the Puritans had barely gained a foothold in New England when their leadership convened to draft The Cambridge Platform, a landmark document designed to safeguard their new found religious liberty. And The Platform outlines a covenantal system of church governance that curtails the authority of clergy and ensures congregational sovereignty.

"A church, being free, cannot become subject to any but a free election," The Platform reads, and even as the church members "have the power to choose their officers, they also have the power to depose them." We Unitarian Universalists are, in this respect, the direct heirs of our puritan forebears. In our tradition as well, as Christine mentioned in her opening remarks, it is the dutiful laity who select their pastoral leadership and craft the policies that regulate parish life.

This is not to say that those early innovators lacked regard for the ministry, far from it. For having established the principle of congregational rule, The Cambridge Platform then entrusts clergy with considerable authority in matters both social and spiritual. Members, says The Platform, may not oppose or contradict their judgment or their sentence without sufficient or weighty cause, because such practices, it continues, are manifestly contrary to order and government, they cause disturbance and tend to confusion.

Many of our country's founding fathers held similar convictions. Despite genuine concerns about the abuse of religious authority, those early patriots generally esteemed the church and it's ministry. Even Patrick Henry, a revolutionary firebrand if there ever was one, urged the Virginia Legislature to pay Christian ministers from the public purse because as he put it, "The general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath the natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society." To be sure there were others, like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who sought to reduce the church's sphere of influence but theirs, my friends, was a minority point of view.

The seeds of this profound ambivalence toward ministerial authority were sown very early then. And over the decades, the fortunes of clergy have waxed and waned. At times our members have enjoyed more respect and influence and at other times, considerably less. But at no time have it's representatives felt more superfluous and less consequential than at present.

I once attended an ordination ceremony in which a colleague's charge to the minister included this admonition. Never forget, she said to this new minister, never forget that to your congregation you wear the face of God. You wear the face of God. It was her way of saying, pursue this vocation with the utmost integrity, for yours is indeed a high and holy office. And yet today a healthy percentage of Americans would beg to disagree with that appraisal. Fully half of those recently surveyed by Gallup expressed serious reservations about the morals and the ethics of clergy. After a quarter of a century career as a successful church consultant, Loren Mead lamented that, "I have watched the ministry go from high respect and low stress to high stress and low respect."

Current trends are not encouraging. Nuns, those people who have abandoned organized religion altogether, now represent the fastest growing segment of the religious public. And opinion polls show that with respect to spiritual matters, Oprah Winfrey is currently the most trusted voice in America. There was a time when ministers' opinions really mattered, when we labored in the vineyard confident in our calling. But today many of my colleagues share the surrounding culture's ambivalence and are less convinced of their vocation's relevance. In a recent study of one thousand pastors conducted by the Fuller Institute, 70% of those pastors reported a lower level of self esteem than when they had first answered their call to ministry.

Eugene Peterson, a highly regarded Presbyterian minister, summed up the situation in his recently published memoir. "Men and women who are pastors in America today," he said, they "find that they have entered a way of life that is in ruins." "Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistent." What then are our prospects? Have ministers become, as Peterson glumly observes, "America's invisible men and women," ill-defined, unheralded faces lost in the crowd?

If I believed that the disintegration of this old and wondrous calling was a foregone conclusion, I wouldn't be standing here in front of you this evening. It is indeed true that in years to come ministers will have to confront an increasingly dubious and indifferent public. But the future could look a good bit brighter if organized liberal religion learned to do a few things differently. And an honest appraisal of ministerial authority would be a fine place to begin.

Authority, which has been loosely defined as power freely conferred in consideration of services rendered, generally has two components, the positional and the personal. And one may be said to possess positional authority simply by virtue of the office that they occupy. And thus we speak of presidential powers that can be exercised the moment that a chief executive is sworn into office, positional authority. And likewise, a Roman Catholic priest is authorized to celebrate the sacraments by virtue of his ordained status. So long as the office, whether sacred or secular, is perceived as legitimate, its occupants can, for certain specific purposes, speak and act with considerable authority. Britain's Lord Acton once remarked that, "There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it." No worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. But heresy or not, under certain conditions the ministerial office should and does command respect.

A case in point, when a number of other clergy colleagues and I joined the mass protests at the Wisconsin state capitol last February [APPLAUSE] when we joined those protests, our visible clerical attire, our collars, our stoles, our yarmulkes, these visible signs of our office caught the crowd's attention and we were repeatedly commended, high-fived, for our presence and our support of those protests. And moreover, when the Wisconsin state capitol building itself was locked down and wholesale arrests of protesters sitting inside seemed very likely, ministers, rabbis were among the few who were still permitted to enter that facility. The beleaguered administration clearly hoped that our presence, the presence of identifiable clergy, might forestall an ugly confrontation with those determined demonstrators. And yet it is often the case that what we say and do as ministers under normal circumstances is not taken all that seriously.

Consider for instance the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on the artificial means of birth control. Despite repeated forceful admonitions from the Vatican, 98% of Catholic women use birth control technology. 98%. And despite priestly disapproval, dissatisfied Roman Catholic couples also routinely skirt the church's rules regarding divorce and remarriage. So much for the priestly office.

I received my own first lessons about the limits of positional authority as a newly minted divinity school graduate. I'd been called to a pastoral size congregation, and I imagined, fresh out of divinity school, that the 75 members of that community would welcome their young minister's direction without quibble or qualm. But of course like many small churches, this one had endured a succession of short-term ministries of varying success. And accordingly, its stolid lay leaders had learned over time to be their own source of confidence. They definitely wanted ministerial talent, ministerial support, but they were also quite clear about who called the shots, and it was certainly not going to be me.

So beyond question the ministerial office carries less clout than it once did, but fortunately a second and more viable source of authority is available. And indeed whatever respect and credibility a minister enjoys today will, for the most part, reflect the community's estimation of him or her not as an office holder but as a person. Unlike positional authority which is automatically conferred, personal authority, and this is the rub, it has to be earned.

So how do we earn it? Among the many factors that could be mentioned, four are especially noteworthy. We earn it through love and trust and authenticity and partnership. "Love is the spirit of this church," James Vila Blake's well known covenant reads. And it is a principle, the principle of love, that no minister, at least in our movement, can afford to neglect. Clergy can challenge. They can contend with, and occasionally they can even chastise their congregation. But as former AUA president Frederick May Eliot once said, "There is no substitute for love of the brethren."

Now love is a notoriously ambiguous term. Each generation understands it somewhat differently. For Frederick May Eliot, it probably stood for something like mutual acceptance, the emotionally neutral state of harmonious coexistence. And this is certainly how Unitarian Universalism struck me as a child of the 1960's. UU ministers back then, as bill Schulz observes, were authoritative wisdom figures, mediators of truth, rational instructors of the congregation who seldom let their emotions show. In that era, ours was without question a faith more of the head than of the heart. And love was less a warm and fuzzy feeling than an ethical proposition.

But then an amazing thing happened on the way to the 21st century. Women moved out of the pews and into the pulpits. Lutheran educator Ann Svennungsen describes this development as quote, the most significant transformation in pastoral leadership since the reformation. It has certainly altered our understanding of what love is all about and shifted dramatically our expectations of clergy, male and female, significantly.

Now Unitarian Universalists still prize a thoughtful, articulate ministry. But we are far less tolerant and accepting of ministers who are distant and emotionally disengaged. Congregations today want a person who will lead with compassion not just with cool logic. Richard Sennett, an authority on authority from New York University, says that, "One definition of authority is someone who will use his or her strength to care for others." And this caring dimension of ministry has become much more important over recent years and decades because in this harsh and disconnected world, the minister who exhibits genuine warmth will win more plaudits than one who relies primarily on his or her eloquence.

So love is a critical factor in any committed relationship but so is trust. Unfortunately, well-publicized clergy misconduct cases in the last decade have left the ministry and ministers with something of a trust deficit. Americans are far more wary of clergy than they once were, and yet no minister can succeed among festering doubts about their intentions and their judgment. So how does a religious leader gain a congregation's trust? Well, by loving them in the manner that I just described and by showing a willingness to listen and to learn.

According to Bill Schulz, one common mistake that ministers often make is to equate leadership with airtime. We like to talk. Why otherwise would we have chosen to be preachers. And we suppose that the congregation's confidence in us will increase as we speak often and well. But this is to overlook the importance of that other organ, the ear. Because I have found that what a congregation often really wants, especially in the initial stages of the relationship, what they really want is to tell their story. And for them it is vital that the minister develop, from hearing that story, a lively sympathy for the context to which he or she has been called.

Because as Eugene Peterson says again, "Churches are not franchises," and it's important that we "become participants in the unique setting where we live and we worship." The bottom line is that all ministry is local. And a congregation comes to trust it's spiritual leader when it is clear that he or she is in touch, as Wendell Berry put it, with the genius of that particular place and it's inhabitants.

Now we live in an age of haste. But in a matter of such importance, a minister simply cannot be in a hurry. The growing season for a stable, trusting relationship is often quite long. It took at least a decade for the established members of my Madison congregation, a decade, for them to invest in me as much trust as my predecessor, who had served them for thirty five years, how much trust he still retained. So don't try to use any authority until they give it to you, John Buehrens cautions. Because in the end, that authority is conferred by trust and it must be earned.

Trust and authority also increase when the community judges us to be authentic. Professional competency, very important but hardly sufficient. Because today religious seekers are looking, not just for competency but for wholeness, for integrity, for spiritual maturity in their ministers. Dan Hotchkiss has said that ministers are unlike other professionals "because of the intensity with which people hold them responsible, not only for the success of the institution they serve but also for their own religious quest." So whether we are aware of it or not, and whether we like it or not, people are watching us. They are scrutinizing us. They are taking our measure, and they seek reassurance, not just on Sunday morning but every day of the week, that we really practice what we preach.

The intangibles then are just as important as the tangibles. And beyond all the data points and all the measurable outcomes, ministry today really is about modeling, demonstrating, in word as well as in deed, what it means to be a fully-formed, high-functioning human being. The demand is not for perfection. It's not to live a life of exceptional holiness, because authentic people make mistakes. We misjudge people and situations, we get rattled, we get upset. "Parishioners do not really want super-saints as leaders," Diana Butler Bass says, "they want mature men and women who exhibit the balance that they hope to achieve in their own lives." So above all, the authentic minister is self-aware, honest about his or her strengths and weaknesses, resilient enough to rise above the petty hassles of daily life.

The fourth and final element that bolsters a minister's personal authority is partnership. In keeping with the example of the apostles, The Cambridge platform reads, the congregation and its leadership must sweetly agree together with due regard for the given authority of each. What this means is that ministers must be secure enough in themselves, gracefully and gratefully, to share the church's ministry, to equip others for ministry, to give ample credit to all who are involved with that ministry. And in today's egalitarian culture, clergy who compete for power with the laity or who function poorly as the part of a team will wear out their welcome in relatively short order no matter how gifted they are in other departments of life. It is of course entirely appropriate for the minister to keep his or her finger on the pulse, uphold standards of excellence, ensure that congregational activities are aligned with its mission. All of these are within the purview of ministerial responsibility. But sustainable leadership also requires clergy to avoid over functioning, actively look for ways to release the power the congregation, and to take pride in the team's accomplishments. As Lao Tzu observes in the Tao Te Ching, "When the master's work is done, the people say, amazing, we did it all by ourselves."

As the forgoing might suggest, I harbor some pretty significant concerns about our Unitarian Universalist movement and it's ministry. Too many of our churches are underfunded. Too many of our ministers are under compensated. Too many congregations are conflicted. Too many ministers are dispirited. We are not yet doing our best work together, not yet sweetly agreeing together as The Cambridge Platform says we should. And yet for all of that, I also believe that there is great vitality in this movement, and I concur with UUA President Peter Morales that we can be the religion for these tumultuous and contentious times. But if that promise is to be fulfilled, we simply have to come to terms with these authority issues that have divided and disabled us for far too long. They have caused too much disillusionment, and they have drained far too much of our energy.

[APPLAUSE]

"Without an answer to this key question," Phyllis Tickle writes in her book, The Great Emergence, "individual personalities and groups fall into disarray and ultimate chaos." It is hell, she says, when there is no clarity about authority. Now in keeping with the historic tenets of Universalism, we of course dismiss hell as a metaphysical possibility. But our task now is to forge ahead with hope and with courage, working together to create that spiritual climate that will keep the devil from our door in today's world as well. May it be so. Amen.

[APPLAUSE]

Meditation

REV. CHRISTINE ROBINSON: Let us take a few minutes to consider what we have heard and to let it sink into our hearts. If we are clergy, let the heft of this sacred calling settle on us, not to weigh us down but to give us ballast in our professional journey. If we are lay, let us note our responsibilities to partner fully in the institutions we care about as professionals, participants, leaders. May we all be in touch with how much we care that our congregations and associations and ministries be places of love, justice, hope, and help for ourselves and for our hurting world. May we remember the promise of the creativity that is at the heart of our universe, that together we are stronger, that the new and the good emerges from our interchange with each other, that the hard work of healing and forgiveness is the price and the glory of our life together. May we be together in peace, and may we be one. Amen.

Offering for the Living Tradition Fund

REV. DR. JOHN BUEHRENS: Behold the priest who now cometh forth and with authority freely given. Asketh thee to ponder with gratitude how thou hast been ministered unto, and now to minister unto those who are in need even by giving freely of thy substance. It is time my friends to reach within your order of service for the envelope.

40 years ago, when I received my own theological education, scholarships paid the full cost. When I graduated I had not a dime of debt. Today most of our ministers begin their careers with more debt than their salaries can ever begin to cover. 20 years ago, when I ran for the presidency of our association, nothing moved me more than hearing painful stories from my colleagues in ministry facing financial crises during their active years and penury during their retirement. During my eight years of service, I began every day with the discipline of praying for the well-being of all of our congregations and especially for their ministers, often by name. Then I rose to work hard to raise additional endowments for scholarships and debt reduction and emergency financial needs. But each year and especially in these recent years, endowment earnings have failed to keep up with the demonstrable needs among those who serve our congregations.

Your offering tonight, like those at many ordinations in installations throughout the association, will go to benefit The Living Tradition Fund. Last year it allowed the UUA to distribute over $150,000 to seminarians, to active ministers, and to retirees, all in need. Some used it to reduce student debt, some to stay in school, some to pay the doctor or the utility bill, some just to buy food. I am still haunted by an encounter with a retired minister I met who told me he could not even afford to have a telephone. So this is my call to you.

Tonight we honor the lives of service and often sacrifice led by our religious professionals. Let our generosity give substance to our gratitude and our partnership and our concern for their well being. Let it be not a mere token, but a grateful investment in our health as a religious movement. If you were planning to reach into your wallet, I ask you to find more bills and double what you were thinking of giving. The same if you write a check payable to the UUA --Living Tradition Fund or mark the line that says I pledge, to be paid at a later date, which is what I shall do. The years go by very quickly my friends. Not long from now I will be among those who will be acknowledging the end of their active service in ministry. Let us say to ourselves, if there is any kind and generous thing that I can do let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I may not pass this way again. Amen.

Offertory

“Heavenly”

[Music Duo, Rich & Audrey Engdahl]

[MUSIC: "HEAVENLY" BY RICH AND AUDREY ENGDAHL]

Choral Response  

“Answer the Call”

[Choir, UUToo, Soloist]

[MUSIC: "ANSWER THE CALL" BY BOB HIRSHON]

Benediction

REV. WILLIAM G. SINKFORD: Let us revere the past, but let us find there both inspiration and caution. And let us trust the daunting future more, embracing it with open hearts and open minds. We are a community of both memory and hope. The vision of the beloved community still calls us. Let us answer that call. This is the day we have been given. Let us rejoice in it and be glad. Go now in peace and practice love, and let the people say Amen.

Recessional Hymn

“For All The Saints

MICHAEL HOLMES: And now let us once again rise in body or in spirit to sing our recessional hymn for all the saints. We will begin with a solo organ verse and in between each of the four sung verses, additional full instrumental organ solo verses. Let's rise.

Postlude

[Wally Kleucker on keyboard]

Service of the Living Tradition is General Assembly 2011 event number 2095.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, February 27, 2012.

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