Monday, May 30, 2011

It only works if you work it.

Those words I spoke to myself as I drove away from my Oak Harbor physician's office two months ago. I had driven the 30 miles or so to my appointment with her, rehearsing the words I wanted to say, the reasons I wanted to give: "I don't want to take statins to reduce cholesterol; I don't want to take bone density drugs; I can't lose weight; I'm not willing to double my exercise routine."

I knew it would be a hard sell, though she's not an ogre and my numbers aren't really terrible. They're pretty normal for someone of my age bracket, my health history and my heritage. She'd persuaded me to try a statin and a bone density drug a couple of years ago and my experience was not particularly good. I had side effects I wasn't willing to live with and I quit taking them eventually. But the cholesterol had jumped up again and I was going to have to deal with that in some way.

Sitting next to her as she unveiled the latest lipid panel scores, I heard myself, right out of the blue, when she asked "how's your diet and exercise plan working out for you?", ---I heard myself say "well, I guess I could go back to Weight Watchers." And saw her smile and say "yes, WW is a good food program." And nothing more. Clever doctor.

I groaned inwardly. I have tried Weight Watchers often enough that I definitely know how it works. Only once have I lost enough weight that I could become a life member and it was 30 plus years and pounds ago. Every time I'd sign up, I'd think "God, these meetings are boring; I know better than these housewives and old fat ladies; I'll just weigh in and do it on my own."

And after a couple of weeks, I'd flake off and toss the materials once again, putting the desire to be slender back on the shelf with the cute dresses and dancing shoes, as well as the confidence I used to feel when talking to an interesting and available gentleman.

In the car on that drive home, I remembered the day when Annaliza Rachelbeth called me up and said to me "we're going to lunch today and we're going to talk about why you keep getting mixed up with all these alcoholic losers". And we did and I found AlAnon, which changed my life radically-----because I worked it. I got a sponsor, I worked the steps, I did what I needed to do to get my life back on track, away from the alcoholic losers and toward a spiritual journey that has brought me here to this place and time.

"It only works if you work it" I told myself on that drive home. I could scorn the meetings, play around with the program, cheat constantly, and stay right where I am physically, with elevated cholesterol and a bad attitude toward exercise. Or I could work it, really take it seriously, develop food and exercise habits that would last me the rest of my life, and improve my health permanently---and maybe regain that confidence I once felt with men. AlAnon did that for me spiritually, but only because I worked it.

I've been working it now for two months. Thirteen pounds gone. Exercising five or more days a week. Smiling a lot. Taking old baggy jeans to the thrift store. Buying new pants in smaller sizes. Bragging. Eating great food. Enjoying the meetings and the new friends. It's working! But only because I'm working it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thinking about collaborative ministry

Before seminary was a gleam in my eye, I was lucky to be a member of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Colorado, under the leadership of the Rev. Robert Latham, who introduced our congregation to the concept of shared ministry. Robert was the author of a chapter in the Congregational Handbook which outlined the charge of a Committee on Ministry, a relatively new concept at that time in the UUA.

I liked what he was telling us about shared ministry, the idea that ministry is not just the minister's job. It is the job of every member of a congregation, to find a place to serve others and to uphold the mission of the congregation. The minister might be the one in the pulpit most Sundays, but the ministry of the congregation was not a one-person job. The COM's basic task was to review if and how that was happening, which was quite a departure from the older concept of a Ministerial Support Committee and a much bigger job!

Anyhow-----from Robert, I learned how valuable it is to share the pulpit. Robert asked laypersons to serve in a variety of ways during a service, from songleading and chalice lighting to offering readings and personal reflections relevant to the theme. He asked me to help him on several occasions, even letting me pick out my own readings for some services. At the same time, he read (correctly, I think) JUC's hunger for "Joys and Sorrows" as a hunger for more participation in worship, and he helped to feed it by inviting people to share the pulpit. At the same time, he weaned us off of a lengthy, rambling J&S session by changing its format to "Milestones" and scheduling it only once a month.

As I got ready to graduate, be ordained, and start serving a congregation myself, I took the lesson of shared ministry with me and in every congregation, I have instituted that participatory, collaborative model as fully as local circumstances allowed.

Moving to Whidbey several years ago gave me the chance to expand his model into my own ministry and I was surprised recently to realize that the way we create meaningful worship here is somewhat different from how it's done in many other congregations.

Twelve people from our worship team (far more than any other congregations attending) hopped on the ferry one Saturday morning to attend an all-day worship workshop across the water at a nearby UU church. We knew it would be good, as it was being taught by my colleague the Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove. And it was an eye-opener, not because it was all new to us but because our approach was far more collaborative than others. We learned some great things, but the greatest may have been that we are unique, at least given the sample we experienced that day.

Our approach has evolved over the years because we have moved from being a tiny, totally layled congregation, where all services were pulled together by volunteers and were pretty hit and miss sometimes, to being an 84 member congregation with a half-time minister who is in the pulpit twice a month. It also moved from being active only from September through mid-June to all-year-round services.

When I first came, I came for one long weekend, preaching on Sunday but doing committee work and pastoral care on Friday, Saturday and Monday. When I moved to the island, I was able to spread my work out over a full 5-7 days and as my availability increased, so did my hours and my income. I began preaching twice a month and the worship committee planned the other 2-3 services.

We began to offer trainings every fall, we changed the title of our service leaders from "facilitator" and then "layleader" to "worship leader", a title appropriate for me those times when I took on that role when we had a UU minister as a guest, and we became much more reflective about what "quality" worship meant. What worked best for us in worship? What was distracting or less meaningful? What about those times when a service worked well for us but didn't work for someone else? How could we help people with this concern?

Gradually, we became a committee of about eight with a host of well-trained, experienced worship leaders. We required all worship leaders to attend the fall training and hosted a spring "best practices" and "thank you" luncheon for all who had served during the year.

A couple of years ago, I began to invite the worship leader who had volunteered to serve during one of my services to a session in which we not only picked hymns and readings and children's story but also talked about the sermon topic and how we might address it. I wanted to know the WL's thoughts on the topic; how did s/he view this topic? What might s/he want me to address? What did s/he have to add to my thinking? This conversation preceded the service by about ten days, giving us lots of time to get just the right elements and for my thinking on the sermon to percolate.

Some of this is only possible because I preach every two weeks; I'm not sure if I could do it if I were preaching every week. But the evolution of our process has resulted in a worship team that is confident, deeply spiritual in its approach to worship, and feels like equal partners as we create worship that works.

Yesterday we had our thank-you luncheon for worship leaders and talked about what each person found most meaningful in our worship planning and leading; many, perhaps most, valued the collaborative process we had developed. I'm not sure how this will play out down the line, as someday I will retire and a new minister will come on the scene. It may take another new turn at that time.

I just hope that whoever follows me, in the years to come, will find this collaborative worship ministry to be satisfying and worthy of continuing in some way. It has certainly been satisfying to me, not to have to do it all alone.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A dedication ceremony for new artwork and library

May 8, 2011

This morning we dedicate the gifts of creativity which we have received from many hands and hearts. To begin, I’d like to invite Nola Allen, Mary Goolsby, and Eileen Walker to come forward to tell us how this beautiful wall hanging came into being. Will the members of the Visual Arts Committee and the many other folks who helped with this creation please stand?

Please stand and we will read together our words of dedication.

Grateful for the gift of beauty we see before us and thankful for the many hands and hearts which created it, we dedicate this piece of art to the service of our community. May its colors and shapes remind us of the beautiful world in which we live and of our responsibility to nurture and protect that beauty. May those who created it for our sanctuary be blessed and may they continue to bring new visions into our world.

Please remain standing and turn around to face the carved doors. John, will you please come to the podium and tell us how these doors came to be? Will those who helped John with this work of art please stand?

Let’s read together our words of dedication. (I don't yet have pix of the doors or the library.)

Grateful for the gift of beauty we see before us and thankful for the hands and hearts which created it, we dedicate these doors to the service of our community. When they are open wide, may they welcome all persons to enter this sanctuary; when they enclose us, may they create a space of safety and peace. May those who created it for our sanctuary be blessed and may they continue to bring new visions into our world.

Our library is the result of a huge gift of books from my friend Don Cooper, as well as those donated by members of this congregation. Don is a retired linguistics professor, who was moving from Ohio to South Carolina and wanted to bestow a gift upon our congregation. Over the course of several months, he sent us 13 or 14 heavy cartons of books, which were sorted, catalogued, and eventually shelved on the book cases in our hallway. He wrote this statement for me to read for you today:

“In this new religious world of America, in which there are twice as many Moslems as Episcopalians, I thought that it would be helpful for you to have available library resources which will help you to know who your neighbors are in religious terms. I hope that you will extend this collection according to your own tastes and interests by looking into what is available from such sources as( Beacon Press and Skinner House, UU-related publishing houses.)”

I’d like to ask the craftsmen who built the shelves and those who helped with design, plus the librarians in the congregation who sorted, catalogued, and shelved the books, plus devising the check-out system.

Let’s read together our words of dedication.

Grateful for the gift of knowledge and inspiration for our searching and thankful for the hands and hearts which created this library, we dedicate our new library to the service of our community. May its many volumes inspire us to search for truth and meaning. May those who created it be blessed and may they continue to bring new inspiration into our world.

Let’s give one more gesture of appreciation for the many hands, hearts, and minds which have given us these gifts today.


Freedom and Creativity: a homily

Rev. Kit Ketcham, May 8, 2011

Who was the creative one in your family? Was it you? (raise hand if so) Were you the artist? the musician? The writer or poet? Who was the non-creative person? What did it feel like to be creative? What did it feel like to be considered non-creative?

In my family, my sister and my mother were the creative ones. They both loved to draw and I have a very flattering pencil portrait that my sister drew for me when I was in college. My mother had been a sketcher and a painter in her younger days but only picked up a drawing pencil now and then during her mothering days; when she went back to college at Ellensburg in midlife, she again picked up her pencils and brushes and created some beautiful paintings which still exist in our family storerooms.

I was the musician---sort of. That is, I could play the piano for hymn singing at my dad’s church, I could read music pretty well and carry a tune, and I was in the a cappella choir in college. And I also have a store of poems written in grubby notebooks while sitting in a truck in a hot field of wheat or peas, awaiting my turn to load my truck.

My dad and brother tended more toward craftsman skills; both were experts with their hands, whether it was to build backyard forts or repair damaged wiring or install any number of household amenities---plumbing, appliances, you name it, they could do it. And I’m sure my brother still can. My dad, of course, was also a writer of sermons, few of which survive except in my memory.

Small town American culture, in the 50’s, did not encourage great creativity, did not give creativity much freedom to blossom. There were no art or drama classes in my tiny high school, no creative writing classes, little attention given to musicality.

Girls took home ec; boys took shop. Our creative impulses were channeled into practical applications. Too much interest in art or drama or poetry or dance got one labeled an eccentric, an oddball, a free thinker, out of place in the small community where good crops were the primary focus and any creative effort should be directed toward that goal.

Children in every generation seem to have had similar experiences. My online friend “Mile High Pixie”, who lives in Denver but grew up in the South, wrote something interesting in her blog recently and I asked her if I could quote her. Pixie became an architect who loves her work, if not its politics. This was her childhood experience decades after mine.

I drew a great deal, but I never wrote much down, per se, as it always seemed like my mind went so much faster and farther than my hands could write…. But (the) names (of my imaginary characters) remain in my head like it's 1983: Botae, a multi-talented woman; her dad Oz, who looked like my mom's Dad in Michigan and was born super-old and nearly died at birth …; and Mr. Invy, who was mayor of Legoland and somehow allowed (the punk rock band) Devo to move into the neighborhood and drive around in their red-and-black van, which my sister named "Devo-Machine" and would dead-pan narrate its thoughts and voice.…
I didn't tell a lot of people about these characters, as I seemed to know/feel even as a child that imagination would be mocked. I kept my drawings to myself, mostly, although (my sister) was really good about encouraging and adding onto my ideas.

As children, we are often creative and free in our self-expression, at least when we are left to our own devices, but many children are discouraged later in life, told we can’t draw, can’t sing, can’t write a coherent line, and our creative life is cut short, at least until we get new messages of encouragement and begin to regain our freedom of expression.

We have honored today the women and men who have given us the gifts of our fabric art and the system of hardware that makes it movable; the beautifully carved wooden doors and the strong arms and hands that mounted them; the cartons and cartons of donated books which were then sorted and categorized, the design process for the shelving which would hold them, AND the careful creation and crafting of those shelves, followed by their secure mounting on the walls.

We are the recipients of hours of creative energy and hard work. We cannot overestimate the importance of these gifts nor the value of the act of creation which is the hallmark of human endeavor.

This is a joyful day, partly because it celebrates the lives of those who are mothers, those who mother others’ children, those who look out for others both adult and child in their everyday lives. It is joyful too because we have all received this wonderful Mother’s Day present in these gifts of artistic and literary creativity.

And yet there is a tinge of dark remembrance in this year 201l, ten years out from that terrible day in 2001 when we Americans received the gut punch of September 11, with its monumental death toll and psychic damage.

One week ago we learned that the instigator of that murderous act had been tracked down and killed by our armed forces. Millions of Americans rejoiced that Osama bin Laden was dead. Millions across the world danced in the streets. Others refused to believe that it was true. Still others, like me and perhaps many of you, were disturbed by public gloating over the death of this man.

And yet he has been the death of creativity in many, many human lives, some live taken by those murderous plane crashes, some lives taken by the heroic acts their own compassion and professionality demanded of them. Other lives were simply too damaged by their pain to go on.

Still others, however, used their creative impulses and training to make something worthwhile out of the destruction of life in general and individual lives in particular. Works of art and architecture, poetry, music, dance, stories, and other artistic expressions have been created out of that terrible event. Children were conceived out of the irresistible human urge to make sure that life goes on.

Osama bin Laden sought to punish America, to make us so afraid that we would be hamstrung and impotent as a people. To some extent, he succeeded. We now have tighter reins on our freedoms; we are not as carefree nor do we feel as safe as we once did. But we are still free to love and to create beauty in all its forms.

As our newly dedicated works of art proclaim, to create is to bring new life into the world. That new life might be an infant, or it might be a poem, a painting, a play, a carving, a stitchery, a sturdy library shelf, a photo, a dance, a song, a building, a garden, a recipe, a pot of soup, a friendship.

Our responsive reading this morning and the insert which accompanies it draw our attention to the difficulties women and mothers encounter as they raise families, maintain their own health and their families’ health, and struggle to bring children into the world safely.

Because human reproduction is the place where the creative urge begins, we must safeguard it, in order to safeguard the process of creativity. To do so, we must work toward basic health care for men, women and children, toward safe contraception for all, toward comprehensive, accurate sex education for all, and to maintain legal protections for those who must end a pregnancy, offering sympathy instead of punishment.

“Every night a child is born is a holy night,” wrote Sophia Lyon Fahs, one of our UU foremothers. A creative spirit is the birthright of every child and we, the adults in that child’s life, are the nurturers of that spirit. I hope that we would be supportive of our children’s desire to express themselves creatively, offering encouragement rather than criticism, acceptance rather than skepticism.

And I hope that we will always be supportive of those children’s parents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, all those who are raising our children, for in their hands is the future of all human creativity.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering the joy of this day and appreciating the many gifts of creativity we enjoy. May we honor and protect the creative spirit within each other and within ourselves, that we may live to the fullest of our human potential. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.