Marking Ministry Milestones

Ministry & Metanoia, part 1

Gordon McKeeman
"Ministry is all that we do — together. Ministry is that quality of being in community that affirms human dignity, beckons forth hidden possibilities, invites us into deeper, more constant, reverent relationships, and carries forward our heritage of hope and liberation. Ministry is what we do together as we celebrate triumphs of our human spirit, miracles of birth and life, wonders of devotion and sacrifice. Ministry is what we do together — with one another — in terror and torment, in grief, in misery and pain, enabling us in the presence of death to say yes to life. We who minister speak and live the best we know with full knowledge that it is never quite enough — and yet are reassured by lostness found, fragments reunited, wounds healed, and joy shared. Ministry is what we all do — together." (Rev. Gordon McKeeman)
It’s a day for marking milestones. We mark the annual Father's Day honoring of the fathers. We mark the end of a church year.

We mark the milestone of Cindy’s two years with us coming to an end. Two years.

I mark the conclusion of five years of ministry to Community UU at White Plains. Five years.

2013 May: "I accept your call"
I ought to say something on the occasion of completion of five years as Community UU's servant-leader. How has it been? It’s been good. We’ve been through some things. I’ve tried to make it look easy, but it hasn’t always been.

Every minister has critics. It’s the nature of congregations that they include diverse voices, and some of them will criticize. When I was in divinity school, I read a semi-humorous essay by a retired minister who claimed that no matter what the congregation and no matter who the minister, there will always be 17 congregants who are out to get the minister. Maybe they don’t like the very idea of professional clergy. Or they loved the last minister and can’t forgive you for not being them. Or they don’t share your vision for the congregation. Or you remind them of their brother-in-law. Whatever the motivation, it's always 17. So it’s better, the essay said, to serve a large congregation so the 17 will be more diluted. In any case, the essay said, identify the 17 as early as you can, and keep your eye on them.

I’ve never been very good at that – identifying enemies – and I have to say, Community UU, collectively, doesn’t make it easy. When there’s some point of conflict, CUUCers tend to enter in, and then get over it. Very few CUUCers carry grudges. It’s remarkable. We hash it over, and then, for the most part, they're ready to move on. By and large, this is the moving-on-est congregation I’ve ever seen.

This makes it hard to know who the 17 are – because who they are keeps changing. The people that were contrary and oppositional to one idea of mine, will turn around and be supportive of the next. This is a very sensible way to be, but most people aren’t that sensible.* It catches me by surprise sometimes.

The other really annoying thing about my critics at Community UU has been that they’re so often right. Damnit.

And so it was that three or four years ago, in the first year or two of my ministry here, I was feeling down about something, or several somethings, and found myself working late until I was alone in the building one night. I wondered out of my office and into this darkened sanctuary, made my way to these steps, looked up toward the ceiling and said out loud into the emptiness, “Well, Shannon...”

I was addressing the imagined specter of my predecessor at CUC (which added the second "U" to its name and acronym in 2016), the Rev. Shannon Bernard.

That’s my segue to talking about the other milestone to observe today. Twenty years ago this month, the Rev. Shannon Bernard’s ministry to CUC came to an end.

NEXT: Remembering Shannon

*Seriously, being this sensible isn't easy. There's a documented cognitive bias called the "halo effect" -- and its opposite, the "horn effect." When we agree with someone about one thing, we're more likely to agree with them about other things. When we disagree with someone about something, we're then more likely to disagree with them about other things.

* * *
This is part 1 of 5 of "Ministry and Metanoia"
See also
Part 2: Shannon
Part 3: Cindy
Part 4: Metanoia
Part 5: Transformed Into Ourselves, Not By Ourselves

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