It is so hard to believe that this is my last column as your minister! There have been times in this unusual spring when it has seemed surreal that I would be retiring without being in your physical presence again. But so it is to be. That fact has gotten more and more real as my last four Sundays approach. And, as it gets more real, I find myself growing ever more emotional. There is sadness, yes – of necessity – and heightened by this enforced separation. But there is also a sense of fullness and gratitude as I feel the import of all I have had the privilege to witness and accompany in my role as your minister.
And, too, I have felt a sense of urgency to make the most of these remaining weeks. I find myself wanting to sing this particular hymn again, tell that story once more, reference that poem one last time. And thinking: Have I shared all I wanted to share? Have I given all I could give? And – will I have left a lasting impression?
To be sure, those questions stem at least in part from hubris, because I know that the congregation is ready for a new voice with new images and resonances and I know that you will do quite fine without me as your leader. Indeed, I desire nothing more than that Emerson flourish after I am gone! Yet what minister doesn’t want to be remembered, credited with having had some influence in her congregants’ lives, however modest? But, at a deeper level those questions stem more from a sense of obligation at having felt called to channel something larger than myself. In the words of Rita Dove’s poem, Testimonial, “back when everything was still to come . . .the world called and I answered . . . I gave my promise to the world, and the world followed me here.” What did I do with that call? Did I serve it well? And have I merited all I have received in the pursuit of that call?
My individual calling has been, from its initiation, rooted in the larger call of our UU faith tradition, grounded in our mutual calling to reverence the sacred wherever it is found and to expand the realm of justice and love. Ours is a great heritage of liberation and hope which, even in this era when everything is judged through the lens of systemic oppression, I still find worthy of our, of my, allegiance and commitment. Yes, Unitarian Universalism has not always lived up to its ideals; yes, our vision has been occluded by patriarchy, classism and privilege. But even so I would never forget that there have been many times throughout our history when we have been capable of rising above our cultural conditioning to be a powerful force for good and a significant voice for those who could not speak for themselves. And what is remarkable about our faith tradition – and perhaps uniquely so – is the ways in which we have continually challenged ourselves to keep growing, learning from our shortcomings and biases, stretching ourselves to enlarge our vision and extend the circle of our embrace, striving to ever more closely embody our ideals. To my mind – and heart – there is no more honorable religious endeavor and I am forever humbled and honored to have shared this great work with you.
Soon, our paths will diverge – yours as a congregation, mine as an individual – but the work continues for us all. I do not intend to stop growing, to stop challenging myself to expand the realm of my interest and empathy, to grow in reverence, and to continue to answer the call of love. To paraphrase Mary Oliver’s poem Messenger – “I am no longer young and still not half perfect but let me keep my mind on what matters which is my work (which). . . is loving the world. . . which is gratitude.”
I still feel called to love the world but in this next stage the form of my work will change. I will be striving less to evidence and embody that love in active ways with and within a community of fellow strivers. Upon retirement, initially at least, my work will be – to echo the poem Messenger again – “mostly standing still and learning to be astonished”, so that in that “standing still” I can hear the call for the next phase of the adventure.
Good people, I am so grateful, how can I thank you enough – for your so generous parting gift? And beyond that – for all you have given me and taught me and allowed me to accompany throughout the years in this journey with you? How can I say how much love is in my heart? One column is not enough. Four more worship services (as of this writing) won’t be enough. But know that it is my intent to try, however inadequate that attempt might be. My trust in your knowledge of my intent will have to suffice.
Love, love, ever more love – for us all,