I’m sorry I haven’t written much lately. I have been preparing for an important transition in my life that will happen this November. After serving as the pastor of local churches for twenty years (as of this past July), I will be stepping into a new role as an Associate Conference Minister for a UCC Conference back East.
Sone of you may wonder why I am so cautious in speaking of the details of my new ministry setting. You may have even wondered why I did not make more mention of the specifics of my ministry setting in the past as well.
There’s a good reason. You see the denomination in which I serve has a historic commitment to the principle of free-thinking. Moreover, as participants in one of the few non-creedal Christian communities, an important aspect of our way of being in the world is to extend the grace we have received so abundantly from God to others as well. Because of that, many of my clergy colleagues go to great lengths to speak TO their communities of faith (and, by extension, to the world), rather than attempting to speak FOR their communities of faith (and, by extension, for the world).
Why do so many in our tradition take this approach to living out our ministry?
For those of us who are authorized ministers, we feel a profound obligation to be a pastoral presence in the lives of ALL of those in our communities: not just the ones with whom we agree theologically or politically. We try to speak openly, honestly, and authentically about OUR experience and convictions. And on our best days, we do this in ways that create room for individuals to (1) affirm those principles and values they share with us as well as (2) talk with us about the principles and values they see differently (based on their unique set of life experiences).
Many in the world describe this approach as being “gentle” or “kind”. The approach is that – and far more. For me, there is a much more accurate descriptor that captures what our way of being in the world is all about: “humility”.
My faith calls me to live each day with both the awareness and conviction that as a finite human being, I am – be definition – incapable of grasping the fullness of “the Big Picture” on my own. Instead, my life provides an important piece of the puzzle that – when assembled with others – creates the richness of “the Big Picture”.
If I am aggressive, loud, and arrogant in putting MY piece of the puzzle forward, I create an environment where others feel unsafe and unwilling to share THEIR piece of the puzzle. The consequence is that “the Big Picture” is never complete. That is why I never presume to speak FOR God, the congregations which I have served, or the Conference to which I have been called. Instead, my goal is to show up each and every day, sharing as openly and authentically what my experiences and convictions are, and then shut my mouth (or put aside my word processor) and listen to the ways in which God is still speaking through the experiences and convictions of others in order to gain a better understanding of “the Big Picture”.
I look forward to continuing our conversations. In coming days – when I figure out how to negotiate the world of a copyright feature called Creative Commons – I will share with you a manual I have created for a program near and dear to my heart that will guide the final stages of my public ministry. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, thank you for traveling with me on my journey. I look forward to sharing exciting adventures and insights with you as I move from one coast to the other.