The miracle didn’t happen
Two thousand years ago
On a cold night
With stars, shepherds, angels
And little drummer boys
No, the miracle happened
Sixty years ago and seven
When a red-headed girl
Not in a stable
But in New York City
How lucky we are
How lucky I am
That our paths crossed
And crossed again
Weaving our hearts together
Counting our lucky stars
Happy birthday, love of mine
Your birth was a miracle
And your light shines
So bright in my life
Blessing me and our world
Like a white veil
It coats the ground
Falling soft like ashes
From an ancient fire
The dark is long
The days grow short
Rest more easy
In the winter
Knit your sorrows
Into a shroud
Bury them beneath
The falling snow
Feed your fire with embers
Of your patient
The sun will come
The earth will turn
Green will be
Oh, that I could slough my skin away
Like a snake and be reborn.
Old scars, memories, and pain
Left behind in a scaly heap.
Lizards lose their tails
And the lost baggage
Throws their balance off,
But only for awhile.
New tails grow
Long and deep as roots
They balance on the fulcrum
Of unexpected paths
And tender skin scales over
Protecting the old wounds
Providing cover as they reflect
The rising of the sun.
We are waiting
For our metamorphosis
For our resurrection.
Wrap it up
Using two-sided tape
To hide the flaws
The blank white paper
The shiny paper
Reflects the fading light
Of this dim world
You don’t have to wait
Until Christmas morning
To open your gifts
Rip off the paper
And let them fly
Into a world
That needs wonder
Today is my last Sunday with you as your minister. Today is also the last time that I will lead worship as a congregational minister. While I still have hope that my health will improve enough that I can do occasional guest preaching in various congregations, today is an ending for me as well as for you.
Today is also a beginning. You greeted new members today. Each person who comes to this congregation adds something, even if they only stay a short while and move on. The difference each of you make here and in the rest of your lives is significant. It matters what we do.
You will hopefully be getting a new professional minister before too long, so I think it is important to spend my last service here talking about ministry, both professional and lay. Unitarian Universalism fully embraces the concept and practice of the “priesthood of all believers.” “Believer” in this context does not mean only those who believe in God, however they define that term, but also those who have faith in the message of Unitarian Universalism.
If you are a member of this congregation, you are called to the ministry. In affirming and promoting our seven principles, you are doing religious and spiritual work in the world.
Professional ministers do that same work. The difference between professional clergy and lay ministers is primarily one of training, experience, and commitment. The minister’s salary is what allows us to do the work we are called to do.
Becoming an ordained and fellowshipped Unitarian Universalist minister is not an easy process, and cannot be taken lightly.
Ministers are required to complete a Masters of Divinity at an accredited seminary.
In addition to seminary, a potential minister must undergo psychological testing, a criminal background check, provide multiple reference letters, be sponsored by a congregation, write dozens of essays, and complete an extensive reading list. They also must serve a 9-month internship supervised by an experienced minister and complete 400 hours of clinical pastoral education, usually as a hospital chaplain. They must meet in person with the ministerial fellowship committee, present a sample sermon, and spend an hour answering rapid fire questions on history, theology, and anything else the committee might be interested in. If they do all that well, including passing the oral exam, a new minister is granted preliminary fellowship. They then need to spend at least 3 years working as a minister and have satisfactory evaluations each year before they receive final fellowship. Even after final fellowship, which is similar to academic tenure, they are still accountable to a code of professional conduct and can be removed or suspended from fellowship for cause.
Please be kind to Suzanne; she is in the midst of that rather arduous process.
Ordination is a separate step and it is only after ordination can a minister be referred to as “Reverend.” In our tradition, only congregations can ordain, and ordination is for life.
So what does being a minister in a congregation involve?
One way to look at is to understand the various roles of a minister. Lay people do many of them, but usually only ordained clergy do them all. As I talk about these roles, think about the ones that you yourself do and the ones you might be interested in doing. Ministry is not just the professional minister or ministers. In a healthy church, everyone has a ministry.
Let me start with the 4 P’s of ministry: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet, and Priest. There are also a few that don’t start with the letter P. I will get to those at the end.
Preacher first, which is the one hour a week Sunday Morning role, which some folks think is a really short work week. Sermon preparation takes a lot more than an hour, not to mention crafting how the service will flow together. Preacher includes teacher too. Teaching is a lot of what sermons are about.
Formal religious education classes are included here as well as all the more informal sharing of knowledge and hopefully, sometimes at least, the wisdom that comes from the experience of being a minister.
Those of you who lead worship, those of you who teach classes, and those of you who tell others about our Unitarian Universalist faith are doing the preacher/teacher part of ministry.
The Pastor role is one of caring, and care-giving. It includes being with individual people during some of their hardest times, listening, trying to provide some comfort.
It also includes caring for the spirit of the church as a whole, paying attention to how we treat each other, trying to set an example. It includes caring for the world, for its people and the environment. The caring committee is one obvious example of how lay people are involved in this pastoral role, but it also happens when you just listen to someone else’s troubles and offer them emotional support.
Prophet –This is the social justice role of speaking truth to power, standing on the side of love. It is raising difficult issues and asking hard questions. Those of you who write letters to the editor, to the city council, the board of supervisors. who attend meetings, rallies, and marches, who pick up trash when you see it, recycling what you can, you are doing prophetic work. You work to change the world so that it can become a place of both justice and compassion, and you remind us that this church is not just here for its members but has a higher calling as well. All praise to the prophets among us.
Priest. Yes, Unitarian Universalist ministers have a priestly role too. The work here is one of ritual and rites of passage. Weddings and memorials, baby blessings, and the many elements of our worship services, especially prayer, all call upon the priestly role. Our worship associates and our musicians and our choir, they all minister to the rest of us in that priestly role
Preacher, Pastor, Prophet, and Priest; those are the 4 P’s. The two S’s are steward and shepherd.
To be a Steward is to take care of the congregation, making sure that it continues to exist and to thrive. Many of you do ministry as stewards.
If you are on the membership committee, if you help with fundraisers or the stewardship campaign, if you help at coffee hour, you are being a steward. Stewardship is all the practical and necessary parts of church life. It is supporting the church with your resources and your time. It is pledging generously so this congregation and our larger faith can have the resources it needs to fulfil its mission. Stewardship creates and maintains the foundation we need if our spirits are going to have the ability to soar.
The last “S” is shepherd, and Shepherds are leaders. It does not mean that the people being led are sheep, however. We are not at all famous for being a people who blindly follow wherever their leaders suggest they go. No, the shepherd role is one of trying to keep the church as a whole safe and reasonably together, but still always moving forward, keeping the focus on the vision of where we both need and want to go. The members of our board of trustees do ministry as shepherds. Many other leaders in our congregation also serve in that role. Drafting and approving the new covenant of Right Relations was an act of leadership as well as being pastoral.
Those are the 4 P’s and 2 S’s and I hope in particular that each of you saw some of your own ministry in one or more of them. Are you a Preacher/teacher? A pastor? A prophet? A priest? A Shepherd? A Steward? All of you should raise your hands on that one, because all of you help create and maintain this beloved community. Some of you raised your hands, multiple times. The roles are, of course, intertwined.
Preaching can be pastoral and it can be prophetic.
Social justice work is ineffective if it is not grounded in a pastoral quality of love and caring. Stewardship is a part of everything and everything needs shepherding at times.
I want to share some personal comments now about my time with you. It has been hard for me not being full time here, even though I wanted to be part time. Part time ministry means you can’t do all that you feel called to do.
While at UUP, because of limited hours, I needed to focus mainly on the shepherd and preaching roles, and only performed the others in a rather limited way. It was hard for me not to have the time to visit our elders in their homes, to teach formal classes, or to attend community events.
It is even harder to admit that even those limited roles are no longer possible with my current physical limitations. The little I can still do is not enough for you or for me.
I want to name something else in the spirit of love and care, hoping you will do a bit better with your next minister.
Professional ministers need to be tough and tender at the same time. We need to be tough when hurtful things are said to or about us and we need to be tender with those who are saying them. But it isn’t easy. Ministers are human, and none of us are perfect. My charge to you, as I leave you, is to be faithful to your covenant of Right Relations and keep the criticisms of your new minister constructive, direct and kind. If you hear mean-spirited comments from others, call them back into covenant, and remind them that ministry is what we do together.
That said, it has been a pleasure serving you. I have been inspired by your commitment and willingness to explore and dig deeper into the big questions. I have valued the spirit of community you have created. I have loved your willingness to experiment with new ways of doing things and your passion for creating a better world.
Ministry isn’t always easy, but it is work that has always felt sacred to me. It is an honor and a privilege and a huge responsibility. I have done the best I could for you. Please forgive me for the ways that I have failed.
It breaks my heart to leave you, especially earlier than planned. Please know that I will carry you with me in my heart, just as I still carry those I have served in other congregations. The river of love runs deep and it runs wide. We will always swim in it together.
As I prepare to retire from active ministry, no longer physically able to serve a congregation, I am reminded that ordination is for life. I will find ways to continue to honor these vows I took on November 4, 2007.
Act of Ordination led by Dan Mansergh
Dan Mansergh: In the Unitarian Universalist tradition of religious freedom, the authority and privilege of ordaining ministers rests solely with the people of the congregation. Ordination is recognition of a unique commitment to leadership in a religious community.
Theresa Jane Novak, you have been a member and a lay leader of this congregation. It is here that you discovered Unitarian Universalism and first felt the call to ministry. We proudly recognize your call and your preparation for Unitarian Universalist ministry. You have earned your Master of Divinity Degree from Starr King School for the Ministry, served a year as the intern minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis in Maryland, and received the recommendation of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. By the authority of the vote of the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin, we are pleased to offer you ordination.
Are you ready to accept ordination to the Unitarian Universalist ministry?
Theresa Novak: Yes, I am.
Dan Mansergh: Theresa, in the sacred work of ministry, do you pledge to lead and to serve our faith fully; to speak, act and live as a voice of courage and of hope; to champion justice, freedom, and compassion?
Theresa Novak: Yes, I do.
Dan Mansergh: Theresa, in your ministry, do you pledge to preach, teach, and live the principles of our faith; to honor those of all ages and of all sorts and conditions; to serve in your ministry freely, among all those who are in need?
Theresa Novak: Yes, I do
Dan Mansergh: Will the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin please rise?
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin: We, the members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Marin do hereby ordain you, Theresa Jane Novak, to the Unitarian Universalist ministry.
We charge you to minister faithfully and courageously. May you always lead in the ways of justice, liberty and compassion; minister to all alike in human joy and sorrow; celebrate and share our liberal faith; and nourish the Spirit of Life within yourself and others.
Theresa Novak: With deep humility, I accept ordination to the Unitarian Universalist ministry. I pledge that I shall always endeavor to speak, to write and to live guided by the principles of our faith, with love, with courage, and in hope, for as long as I shall live.
Dan Mansergh: Will Theresa’s family, friends and colleagues, please stand and join in the affirmation of this act of ordination.
All: Theresa, we have each walked with you and shared with you on your life’s journey that has led you to professional ministry. We rejoice with you on this occasion, and offer you our continuing friendship and support. With pride and love, we offer you our blessings on your ministry.
Dan Mansergh: Will the representatives of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden please come forward.
Bill Hackett and Dan Arnow: Theresa, you have been ministering to us and to our church since September. It is a pleasure and an honor to be here with you for this sacred ceremony. We are grateful for those in this room and elsewhere who have helped you become the minister you are.
Theresa Novak: It is with gratitude, joy, and serious commitment that I accept ordination and I promise to dedicate myself to living the ministry which you have entrusted to me. With my mind, body, soul, and most of all with my heart, and sustained by all that is holy and all that is human, I pledge to fulfill the offices of priest, pastor, prophet and teacher, according to the needs of our tradition, and to commit myself to the ministry to which you have ordained me.
All: Theresa, with this act of ordination we send you forth as a minister. May your ministry be one filled with love, faith, and the joy of worthwhile work. May you make a difference in the lives of those you serve, and may you help to heal some of our hurting world. Blessings on you and upon your ministry.
Below are some pictures from that day.