Tag Archive | Starr King School for the Ministry

POETRY OF THE SPIRIT SKSM Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Call to Worship

Come into this place

There are healing waters here

And hands with soothing balm

To ease your troubled days.

Bring your wounds and aching hearts

Your scars too numb to feel.

Your questions and complaints,

All are welcome here.

Rest awhile.

Let the warmth of this community

Surround you,

Hold you,

Heal you.

When you feel stronger,

Just a bit,

Notice those that need you too.

They are here.

They are everywhere.

Weep with them

Smile with them,

Work with them,

Laugh along the way.

Pass the cup,

Drink the holy fire.

Take it with you

Into the world.

We are saved

And we save each other

Again, again, and yet again.

Poem                          “Prayer “

Pray with me now,

If you will.

I think

We need

To pray.

Pray with me now,

Not out to some great intervener,

A handsome stranger,

Coming to the rescue.

You don’t have to barter your soul,

Your mind, your free and restless spirit.

Pray with me now.

We need to pray loudly sometimes

Giving voice with word or gesture.

To the urgent fires within our hearts.

Screaming out, “why this?”

“How long?”

Screaming out for help, for courage.

Outrage rumbles through our veins

And the pulse of our prayer is ragged.

Pray with me now,

If you will,

I think

We need

To pray.

We need to pray softly sometimes

Our silent bodies held still

A quiet hope rising to the wind

Blowing about the world in wonder.

Pray with me now.

Pray silently or out loud.

Our very prayers are an answer

The pulse of life, of hope

In our so very human hearts.

May our prayers be heard.

Message        POETRY OF THE SPIRIT                                      Rev. Theresa Novak

Some people are true poets. Poetry it is both an art and a craft and requires discipline to place words in such a way that the rhythm and meter enhance the images and their meanings. I am not a poet.   But poetry is a spiritual practice for me. Most of the images in my poems come to me in my dreams or just upon waking up. Most often it feels like I am coming up with the words, but just writing them down, pulling them from a river that is flowing through me. When the poems don’t come that way, I know that I am disconnected from spirit and have to find my way back home again. I, of course, have a poem about that.

Something seems wrong

When the words won’t flow

With the force of a waterfall

There is cause for fear

When old faithful fails

And there is no release.

The waters churn

The ocean rolls

The spirit tries

The spirit yearns

The earth it slowly turns

Until patience brings

The sunrise

An unexpected delight

Once again

We are again waiting for a decision from the Supreme Court on marriage equality. I spent seven years in Utah serving out fabulous church in Ogden. I left last June, partly because I was tired of living in a state where my marriage was always in question.

This is one I wrote in 2013.

It is called “Waiting for the Supreme (Court that is)”

They say

They will decide

This month

Once but not

For all

For some

Not everyone

Freedom pulses

In short spurts

Not equal

Breath held


Will it matter

For you

For me.

Justice cannot

Be made

By nine

Black robes

Unless it rolls

Down like water

Blessing us all

True vows

Like faith

Oh freedom

Will you

Come for me

I raged sometimes, and poetry helped me process that rage.

My rage it is building

It will not be contained

I must fight for my life

My love and my dream

Shall I burn

Down your temples

And set fire to your lies?

Shall I spit

In your faces

And call you to pay?

For your crimes

Against freedom

For the people who’ve died?

Ah, but

God is my witness

I can do none of those things

I will love

You instead

With pain and through tears

My fury will fuel

The new dawning day

Justice and mercy

Will rain down on us all.

And another one, called “Walk Proud”

You can creep about

With your head down

Shoulders bent

Weighted down by fear

You can avert your eyes

Maybe they won’t see you

If you can’t see them

Duck and cover might work

Still the blows come

While words rain down

Fag dyke fat bitch

Whatever they hate about you

You can run sometimes

You can even hide

Lock up your heart

Chain your free spirit down

But still their poison seeps

Into the air you need to breathe

Stand up

As tall as you can dare

Gather your friends around

Be yourself and

Look them in the eye

The blows may still come

But the truth will wash

The air around you clean

Whoever you are

You deserve this:

A real life

A chance to dream

There are others

Yearning to follow

Footsteps free from fear.

Walk proud.

Join the conga line.

I also write, specifically for worship. This one was for a servie on covenants of right relations.

Promises, promises

Which ones will we make?

Are they ones we will keep

Or ones we will break?

What does it matter?

Do we really care?

Will we look for the courage?

To take up the dare?

It is not always easy

To be kind or be good

We’ll fall on our faces

We won’t do as we should

But it’s still worth the effort

Although we will fail

Even when we blow it

We won’t end up in jail

A promise is a promise

It’s not a command

It is pledge for the future

So we know where to stand

I’ll remind you of yours

You’ll remind me of mine

Our promises together

Will bear fruit in good time

Another on a similar theme:

Will you walk with me

Across this great divide

The imagined distance

Between two souls

Worlds apart

Lives lived differently

Hopes perhaps the same

Will you stand with me

No matter what I say

Or think or do

Can I do the same for you

I will hold you

while you weep

Will you work with me

To dry the tears so quick to fall

Solitude is not an option

In this crowded crazy world

Walk with me.

And one on God:

If God could weep

For all the pain

That in this world abides

The tears would flow like rivers

The rain would never stop

Ocean waves like thunder

Would reach the mountain tops

If God could shout

A message out

For all the world to hear

The roar of words

Would echo round

This green and spinning sphere

If God could act

We’d surely have

Peace in all the lands

Food for all the hungry souls

And care for all the sick

If God is sleeping

I’d like to know

How to wake the Holy up

Most likely God is asking

That same question

Of every one of us.


How can we know God

If we won’t look into the mirror

Deep into our own eyes

How can we know faith

If we don’t trust ourselves to do

What we know is right

How can we know compassion

If we are not gentle and tender

To our own hurting souls

How can we know love

If we don’t remember

That our own feelings matter

Who bakes the bread

Who pours the wine

Our bodies and our blood

Are the sacraments of life

All creatures walk

The holy path

With twists and turns

With fear and doubt

Surprising joy

Around the bend.

This can be my life

This can be your life

Sacred journeys

Must begin somewhere

Why not here?

Why not now?

Why not you?

And for you who aspire to be ministers or other religious leaders:

Mantle of Ministry


What is this mantle?

This holy vestment

Of clerical fashion

Is it a superwoman cape

Or merely a disguise?

It can make me taller, thinner

It can amplify my voice

Bring courage to my path

It carries its own baggage

And sits by me at the station.

It cradles my shoulders

When I kneel trembling

In prayer or in despair

It offers comfort

When words do not suffice.

A heavy weight

It gives me wings

Lost, it leads me home

Buried in my bones

Lending the strength I need.

What is this cloth

Woven by the spirit swirling

Awesome and overwhelming

It is not worn lightly

And can’t be left behind.

Lessons learned in practice

Visions clarified

The call just keeps on coming

Echoes with the wind

There is ministry to do.


If you walk along the shore

Waves might tease your feet

Drawing you into the sea’s embrace

Ankle deep the sand shifts

Taking the space from beneath your toes

Keep moving to stay still.

If you go deeper

Waves will pound your thighs

And bring you to your knees.

Stagger to your feet

Sand has scraped your hips

And salt has burned your eyes

The hardest place to stand

is in the midst of breaking waves

Punishment for indecision.

Beyond the breakers

The ocean swells in ecstasy

Longing draws you there.

The gentle pulse of tides

Rocks you in the heart of time

Gather courage and ride them home.

Two Old Poems from my time at Starr King School for the Ministry

With all the negative attention that Starr King School for the Ministry is getting in the press these days, I thought I would share these two poems that I wrote while a student.  I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to study there.  Bless this school….

This prayer was presented at the school’s orientation worship service on Friday, Aug. 27, 2004.

Divine Spirit,

Bless this school,
Bless all of the staff, the students, and the very bones of this building.

Bless our collective hopes and our universal fears. Bless the congregations that nurture and support us, And those we nurture and support in turn.

Teach us to speak the truth,
Both with power and with care.
The world is so full of hurt,
The weight of oppression so heavy,
It sometimes threatens to still our very hearts. Add your endless compassion
To our awkward words and faltering phrases. Guide us to wisdom.
Steep us in humility.

Lend us your strength and power, Soul of all understanding,
May we ride your deep river of Grace Into the valley of justice revealed.


A poem from May 2006 when I graduated from SKSM

Seminary Garden

We live in a wild garden here.

Strange plants
Surround us as we wander.
Some with thorns
And some with — Oh so fantastic blooms.


Sometimes we tarry on a bench
In rapture captured by
What feels like awesome possibilities found. Other times we struggle,
Bodies and souls clenched in yearning,
Lost amidst the tough weeds
Deep in the dank muck of despair.
Twisting paths through shade and light Cooling breeze and warming sun
Graced by solemn mysteries
Giddy laughter
Leads us on.
Forever on
And back
Again, again
To where it seems we started.

Gates we find,
Some open
Some locked and rusted shut.
We enter —
Or we don’t.
We leave the gate unlatched behind us — Or we don’t.
Others wander with us for a time
Dear souls.


Our fingertips touch in passing A whispered exchange Passwords shared,
Promises given.

The garden feeds us as we grow Then
Too suddenly it seems
It is time.


Farewell friends
There are more gardens
And wonders to share
We may meet again.
— Or not
But still
We have shared this particular garden, This particular time.
Many blessings on the journey.

Trouble in Paradise – Starr King School for the Ministry

I have hesitated on whether or not to write this post. Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM) is important to me.  It is the seminary where I studied for the ministry, and there is so much pain there right now. I don’t want to add to that pain. But it seems to me in all the discussion about the disclosure of confidential information and the board’s response to that disclosure, several important points have been lost.  Three  of them are, in my opinion:

1. The underlying racism of the reaction to the selection of the Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt as SKSM’s next president

2. Ignorance of the power dynamics of institutions, including those of small religiously liberal seminaries

3. Hubris and confusion about what the “empowerment ” of students actually means.

You can read the public documents from the school  here.

Facebook has been totally popping, but I only know of one UU blogger who has commented so far.  Scott Well’s comments are here. I found some of Scott’s comments less than generous in tone and that is partly why I have decided to add my own voice.

Disclaimer first: I have no inside information, just what I have gleaned online.  Most of the discussion seems to be about an anonymous email that contained confidential information and the students whose degrees have not been granted while the school investigates to see if they were involved.  Publicly disclosing confidential information is a serious ethical breech, not something that a minister should ever intentionally do, except in cases where there are legal reporting requirements. This wasn’t that kind of case, however.  It was instead because a student or students (or others) were upset with the selection of the next president of the seminary and believed the selection process was flawed.

1. Racism

There were 3 finalists for the position, all well respected and highly qualified individuals. When the African American woman was selected as the new president it triggered a lot of frankly racist nonsense about her being somehow less qualified than the other two candidates.  This is a major problem for a school that has as an emphasis on social justice work and  educating to counter oppressions. It is also something that always happens when a person of color rises to a position of power and authority, so I guess no one should have been surprised.  Think of those that still question where President Obama was born.  It happens to women too, and there was a very similar reaction when the now outgoing president, Rebecca Parker was first selected.  Everyone can have a favorite candidate and is certainly entitled to be disappointed if someone else is chosen, but would the reaction have been the same if the white male had been selected instead?  Would his qualifications and credentials be disparaged?  Would the selection process have been declared corrupt by anyone?

2.  Ignorance of power dynamics

If you chose to attend a small school or if you chose to work for that school, there is an expectation that you will generally support the institution, and also the board and administration.  Don’t bite the hand that you want to feed you.  Understand where the power lies and approach it with respect.  Constructive criticism is one thing, advice offered in love is a gift that, in my experience, is usually reasonably well received, even if it is not followed.  A milder version of this incident occurred while I was a student there.  One student took it upon herself to state publically that academic standards were being ignored by the school’s administration in certain selections.  She at least signed her name, but the personal advice I gave her was that if she really felt that way, it was probably time for her to look at transferring to a different school.  Similarly, faculty at a small school need to support school policies and the decisions of the board and administration, at least in all public discussion.  If you can’t do that, you don’t belong there.  You might even be fired.  By the way, this is also true for the staff who work for our local congregations.  An office administrator should not be trash talking about the minister – or visa versa for that matter.  The whole really is greater than the parts.

3.  Hubris

Whoever said that the students at the school should get to pick the faculty and the new president?  Being able to give some input into such decisions is a gift, so to be outraged when another decision is made is just hubris in my opinion.  This may be one of the systemic issues going on.  Students are encouraged to speak truth to power and to be vocal on all sorts of social justice issues, but not enough attention appears to be given to the need for humility.  The school is about so much more than the current student body and their opinions or even their careers.  The outraged students don’t seem to understand that.  If they hope to be effective ministers someday then they need to understand that the good of the congregation as a whole always trumps whatever personal  issues the minister might have.  Always.  It can be a very difficult discernment process, but it is one that needs to be done.  It should never just be about you; it has to be what is good for the whole, not what individuals think they want necessarily, but what will help them grow in their faith and also make a positive difference in their own lives and in the wider world.

I hope all involved can spend some reflection time  on the following question:

What is the best thing I can do for the future of the school, for Unitarian Universalism, and ultimately for our world?

I happen to believe that both Unitarian Universalism and the world need the Starr King School for the Ministry.  It is a very special place.  It isn’t perfect, nothing is.   If we want to be faithful and effective religious leaders then our mission must be to build things up and to make things better.  Let’s all try and pray about it.  That could help.


Tom Shade has some important things to say about power and authority  (here)