Here’s the last of the three essays I’m submitting as part of my application for the Doctor of Ministry program in Congregational Mission and Leadership at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul. As always, comments are welcome!
What are the primary themes or values that inspire your work as a pastoral leader? What significant autobiographical events or persons have influenced your ministry? How has God shaped you as a leader?
An abiding sense of mystery and wonder, the inspiration of prophetic people, the collective wisdom of the world’s religions, the teachings of the Jewish and Christian traditions, the use of reason and the scientific method, respect for our sacred Earth: these are the various paths that have brought people to the Unitarian Universalist movement in North America. In this regard, my personal journey has not been unique. Baptized a Christian in a Lutheran Church (LCA), raised as a Methodist in a moderately liberal UMC congregation, I realized in my mid to late teens that I could no longer accept the doctrines and dogmas of traditional Christianity without reservation. But unlike many individuals with similar stories, I didn’t necessarily feel that I my spirit had been compromised by my experiences as a Christian. In fact, when (after a long period of studying the world’s religions) I became aware in my twenties that I wanted to identify myself with some sort of faith tradition, I knew I needed to stay close to the religion of my birth. Fortunately, I had developed an affinity for New England Transcendentalism—especially its appreciation for the natural world and the wisdom of the world’s religions—after studying the likes of Emerson and Thoreau in college. So becoming a Unitarian Universalist in my early thirties was a relatively smooth transition in my life.
Still, the values from my Christian upbringing remain: hope, forgiveness, gratitude, hospitality, compassion. And these are the values that continue to inspire my work as a minister. On my better days, I see the liberal religious communities I work with as places where these values have taken root and, to admittedly varying degrees, flourish. On days when I find it difficult to imagine progressive religion mustering the resources necessary to heal our increasingly hurting world, I am moved by the example of my ministerial colleagues who, in the words of Adrienne Rich, “perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” It is from them that I find the inspiration to continue my own ministry, trusting in whatever limited powers and abilities I may have to increase the health and vitality of Unitarian Universalist congregations. However, it appears that what is required of us who serve in the middle judicatories of our denominations will continue to change over the coming decade, so the gifts and talents that have made me useful in my capacity as a director of faith development and congregational growth for the last nine years will need to be augmented by new skills and abilities. A willingness to be open to new learnings about how I can do my job, and, indeed, about the very nature of my ministry, is essential, I believe, if I am going to continue to be an asset to my denomination and the congregations I serve.
This willingness to be open to new learnings is, perhaps, how I have been shaped by God as a leader in the past. I hope that I will continue to be open to new possibilities as I move into what—because of the upheavals in the religious landscape of the United States—promises to be a new and exciting phase in my ministry. “Behold, I am doing a new thing” is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and I pray that the spirit of life and love, God’s spirit, the Holy Spirit, will find ways to do new things through me. It is my hope that what I learn through this program will open my mind and heart to the promptings of that voice still and small which calls us to build the Beloved Community and bring about the Reign of God.