When the members of First Unitarian Church called me as minister in May 2014, the search committee surprised the congregation (and me!) with navy blue “M12” hats. These celebrated my election as the 12th settled minister to serve the parish since 1785. My family and I had gone for a walk during your congregational meeting and vote. When we returned to hear the good news, everyone was wearing the hats! I felt so welcomed and overjoyed at the new ministry we were beginning together.
This August marks my 20th anniversary in the ministry, and the beginning of my 9th year with you. On August 15 2002 I began my work with the First Parish in Lexington as the Interim Assistant Minister. A year later I went on to Starr King UU Fellowship in Plymouth, New Hampshire, to serve as their minister, where I stayed for 11 years. Since then I have been in partnership with you, as your minister.
I was lucky to get more than one M12 hat on that happy day in 2014. One sits in my office, on display on a shelf, unworn and untouched. It’s just a baseball cap, but I like to see it there, gold stitching on navy blue fabric, with a nicely curved brim and no blemishes.
The other lives in my gym bag, and is my go-to hat for running, hiking, gardening or any kind of outdoor activity. As you can see in the photo, they look pretty different after all this time. One is still as pristine as the day I got it. The other—well, the navy blue is fading toward yellow, the crown has collapsed, sweat has stained the band, and the topstitching is coming off the brim. Yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything: for hard work, it fits me just right.
These two hats seem like two symbols of ministry. Part of our life together as a church is largely unchanged over our 235-year history. We have said the same covenant (with one change to make it gender-inclusive) for over 100 years. We have always had beautiful music and rooted ourselves in a liberal understanding of Jesus’ teachings. We work together to preserve our beautiful building and honor our beloved traditions.
Then there’s the other part, just as vital: the unfolding new growth of our life together as a church. Our volunteering at the IHN family shelter. Providing a construction loan from our endowment for new affordable housing in Worcester. Starting a children’s choir. Shepherding our Wiogora program. Helping one another when the need arises. Welcoming new staff and lay leadership. Experiencing the growth and change that comes from including people with diverse identities. Dreaming together of how our heritage can serve our mission today and in the future.
We need both kinds of ministry, the one dedicated to preserving what is precious, the other dedicated to working for change in ourselves and in the world. First Unitarian Church has thrived for so long because it has balanced these two ways of being in the world, one traditional and one exploratory. With our roots planted in our traditions, our branches grow wide and far into the world, bearing good fruit.
After all, I love both my hats. One shows my love because I’ve preserved it in my office. The other shows my love because I use it all the time. We need both the love that preserves and the love that wears away.
I recently heard a retired minister describe his work in churches not with the usual word, “service,” but as “practice.” He said, “I practiced in three churches during my career.” I like that. As we begin our 9th year together, and I begin my 21st year in ministry, and you begin your 238th year as a congregation, we will continue to practice being people of faith in community. I look forward to seeing you all for our Ingathering Service on Sun. Sep. 11. May we find joy in our practice together.