Time passes quickly, too quickly. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been serving you for 18 years now. During this time we have marched together in protests as far away as Seattle (for the WTO protest), and Miami (for the FTAA protest), and to New York City (for the People’s Climate March). We have repaired hurricane-damaged homes in New Orleans, traveled to Cuba together, and gone to every single General Assembly since I arrived in order to advocate for the earth and the systematically oppressed.
We have also opened up a shelter for homeless families. We’ve led community forums and teach-ins, hosted lectures, and stood up for justice—time and time again—in the streets and at City Hall and the Capital.
And I’m just scratching the surface here. We have done so much more—much much than I can mention is this homily.
Through it all we have been present to each other–present through the tears and rage, through the doubts and fears, and through those occasional-but- glorious victories. And somehow, as we consoled, and inspired and empowered one another……somewhere, as we traversed the road towards solidarity and beloved community.. we also managed to become a nationally acclaimed center for love-based activism. What an honor it has been to be a part of it all!
Yet now it is time for us to say goodbye to one another. I am leaving parish life to minister more directly to the needs of our community. Yes, as of November 15, I will be directing a 5-country program called Home Free, which serves women and children fleeing domestic violence.
Home Free is a highly regarded program that offers an Underground Railroad, of sorts, for domestic violence victims. It is operated by Volunteers of America and is highly regarded in this state.
It will be a big change for me. My work up until this point has been largely public. Now much of my work will be conducted in secret locations where women and children can access emergency housing, medical care, support services and legal aid. And although I hope that none of you will ever need these services, I know in my heart that I will see at least a few of you in my future role. Yes, domestic violence is THAT prevalent.
But enough about my future. I want to spend the remainder of this homily reflecting upon the time we’ve had together. Let’s start at the beginning.
When I first considered coming here, I was still employed at First United Methodist Church– just a few blocks away. I was their Director of Community Outreach at the time. It was First Unitarian member Tomm Pickles who first mentioned that Marilyn Sewell was looking to hire “a Kate Lore-like person.” “Hmmmm,” I said to Tom, “maybe I should apply. I would certainly meet the criteria!”
“But, Kate,” Tom replied, you’re a Methodist.”
“Yes, that’s true, “ I said. But what you don’t know is that I’m ALSO a former Unitarian Universalist. Maybe it’s time I give UUs a second try.”
And I am so glad I did! What I discovered is that Unitarian Universalism had changed a LOT since I had left. There was so much more spiritual depth, for one thing—as was evidenced by the unforgettable sermons of Marilyn Sewell. At the same time, some important boundaries had been established. You see, I originally left this denomination because I didn’t feel comfortable with some of the shenanigans that were going on.
It was during the 1970s, a time of wild social experimentation, and back then UUs allowed youth groups to gather and travel on their own–without any adults present. It was called the Youth Empowerment Movement. Now I won’t go into a lot of detail about what the members of my youth group chose to do in the absence of adult supervision but I can tell you that is was NOT good. I left and swore I’d never be back.
Yet….. when Tomm Pickles told me about this particular job, something deep inside of me knew the time had come to let go of those bad experiences and to give this denomination a second chance. That inner knowing, that sudden clarity that I needed to come here, was the very first stirrings of my call to this church.
I will be forever grateful that I heeded that inner wisdom. For what I discovered when I came here was that this denomination had learned a lot from it’s past. It had enacted remedies to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all persons—most especially the youth.
I ended up feeling so good about these changes that not only did I let go of my negative associations, I ended up entrusting my sons to the remarkable RE program here at First Church. To this day, both of my sons are so grateful that I did. Their favorite memory of this place? The OWL lifespan sexuality program, of course. And if you haven’t heard of OWL, you owe it to the kids in your life to ask someone in the religious education program about it.
Now I mention all of this because I want to acknowledge that both you and I took risks in bringing me here. After all, not ALL of you were that pleased by the prospect of bringing someone from the Christian tradition into the heart of your social justice work. But, as these past 18 years have demonstrated, it’s important to take risks now and then. Thank you for taking that risk with me.
Thank you also, for your steady encouragement. As I’ve been preparing to leave, I’ve reviewed me work here. In the process, I’ve re-read some of the early sermons I preached and thought to myself, “Wow, those sermons were really awful. They were!
I’ll always remember one Sunday early on. It was time for the service to start, and no one, absolutely no one except a few choir members had shown up. “They’ve figured it out,” I said to myself. “They figured out I’m no good and can’t bear hearing another bad sermon.”
After what seemed like forever, it dawned on me that the reason no one was here was because it was the end of Daylight Savings Time, and I had forgotten to change my clocks!
Later that morning, and on so many other Sundays, you filled this sanctuary, found meaning in my words, and encouraged me – even when I was less than my best. Some of you, like Doug Watson and Bob Schaibley, even offered to help me get better. And they did! Thank you, Doug and Bob!
Even more importantly, in those early days–despite my inexperience–many of you also trusted me with your struggles and problems and let me clumsily walk beside you during both the most joyous as well as the most painful times of your lives.
One day stands out in particular. I’ll never forget the day when a church member in crisis came into the office looking for a minister. Neither Tom nor Marilyn happened to be around at that moment. And although I was still in seminary at the time, I was the closest thing to a minister in the office at the time– so our receptionist steered this person to me.
Upon seeing me, this emotionally distraught woman collapsed into my arms and sobbed for a long, long time. Neither of us spoke a word but my mind was pumping overtime. “What can I possibly say that will EVER bring comfort? Why am I so inept? What ever made me think I could be a minister?!
My mind was still spinning when her sobs began to slow down and then finally stopped. At that point, she took a deep breath, looked me deep in the eyes and said, “Thank you, Kate. You are the first person to hear about this tragedy who hasn’t offered platitudes or tried to fix me. You just held me in your loving arms as I cried and that is precisely what I needed. This problem isn’t fixable and isn’t going away. But at least for now, I have the strength to go on.”
What was the tragedy? Her husband had just murdered their child. And she was right: There IS no fixing or “getting over” that type of tragedy. But what she taught me that day was the healing power of simply being present to one other in times of crisis.. We don’t have to find the perfect words. We just have to respond with a loving heart.
Only a fool calls herself wise, but if I have become any wiser about walking with people through the ups and downs of their lives, it is NOT because of anything I learned in seminary. It is because so many of you have allowed me to learn from your own experiences of life.
There’s this too…During the past 18 years, when I have said, “Okay, everybody, let’s go change the world,” you haven’t said, “We’d prefer you to just concentrate on things here at the church” – – as some congregations say to their ministers – – or “Do anything you want, but do it by yourself” – – as some congregations also say. You’ve said, “Yes, let’s get going!” And together we have changed the world and made it a better place in many ways.
In so many ways, here within the congregation and in the wider world, you have been willing to try new things, make changes, take risks, and even occasionally fail. You’ve rarely said, “We tried that once, and it didn’t work.” You’ve rarely fallen into the trap of trying to make everybody happy, which is the surest recipe for doing nothing. Instead, you have stepped up and done your part in making this world a better, more equitable place– over and over again.
Some of you have said, “We couldn’t have done it without you,” but the truth of the matter is that I couldn’t have done it without you either. It’s been YOUR passion for justice, YOUR openness to trying new things, YOUR willingness to step up and lead, and YOUR generosity of time, spirit and resources that has made the difference. And my friends, all of these characteristics of yours will remain, long after I leave this place.
If I were to die today…I would really be upset! But I would also look back these past 18 years as the most satisfying of my life, so I want to say thank you. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your social justice minister.
At the same time, I want to say I’m sorry.
While I’m proud of the many things we have done together, and believe my ministry has been good for this congregation, I am under no illusion that I have been a perfect minister.
I know that at times I have been less compassionate than I should have been. I know that at times I have been impatient and even occasionally less than tactful. It’s my hope that you will forgive me.
I also want to say that I forgive YOU– though when I search my heart, I find little bitterness about these past 18 years, very little I have to forgive.
Except, well, you know…those times when your cell phones went off during one of my sermons. Or s when you’ve insisted that I squeeze one more event into a crazy-busy week. Or when one of you called me at home late on a Saturday night and wanted to know if the sermon the next day was going to be any good because YOU had had a long week and were thinking about just sleeping in instead of coming to church… but that’s it, at least for now, and I forgive you for those things.
But most of all, I want to tell you that I love you.
I care very deeply about all of you and this congregation, and I will for the rest of my life. I will miss being here for anticipated births and adoptions and upcoming weddings as well as the sacred privilege of leading you through rituals of grief.
And, of course, I will miss hearing our choirs and experiencing the simple joy of seeing you on Sunday mornings.
But I also need to tell you goodbye. This is my last worship service and I only have a few remaining days in my office. So it important that we at least recognize that starting very soon, we will no longer be a part of each other’s lives as we have been. I will no longer be your minister, and you will no longer be my congregation. I am so glad to have walked the same path with you for the past 18 years, but a week from now our paths will part.
Because of strict rules about what ministers must do when they leave congregations, I will need to be completely absent from the life of this congregation for at least two years. You don’t have to run from me when you see me in the grocery store, but I WILL ask those of you on Facebook to please “un-friend” me. That doesn’t mean, though, that we will no longer be a part of each other’s lives at all.
You see, one of the main inspirations I’ve learned from my time here is that love is stronger than separation or even death.
The Chinese poet Kuan Tao-Sheng writes:
Take a piece of clay,
Wet it, pat it,
Make a statue of you
And a statue of me
Then shatter them, clatter them
Add some water
And break them and mold them
Into a statue of you
And a statue of me
Then in mine, there are bits of you
And in yours there are bits of me
Nothing shall ever keep us apart.
My friends, though my ministry among you is now ending, may the love that we have shared be a part of us for all of our days.
May it be so. Amen.