Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Life of Work, Part 4

During the four years I spent at Iliff School of Theology, in Denver, I had many opportunities to experience ministerial responsibilities. The required curriculum at Iliff gave me some of those but others just happened along during my student years.

I actually consider myself to have been a minister from the day I experienced that definite wakeup call to ministry, the day when Robert Latham said, "Kit, you missed your calling; you ought to be a minister". From that moment on, I looked for opportunities to use what I already knew in pastoral ways; I asked our assistant minister Joe Willis to let me visit people in the congregation who might need some extra care and he introduced me to Vera Mulhauser, an elderly woman at JUC who had lost her husband a few weeks before she had a disabling stroke and went into nursing care at a local facility.

I visited Vera a couple of times a week for six years. This was a very formative experience for me as I lost any discomfort I might have had about nursing homes or disabled people; I came to know the staff at Vera's place, as well as many of the other residents and helped Vera form relationships with them, despite her limited speech and shyness.

During the Iliff years, in addition to being pastoral with Vera, I became the student minister for the Prairie Wind UU Fellowship in Gillette, Wyoming, and during one spring term I drove back and forth to Gillette (800 miles round trip) in my little Geo. Snowy conditions kept me from going as often as I would have liked; I think I made two or three trips, preaching, doing a child dedication ceremony, and meeting with individuals. I'd drive up on Friday and come home on Sunday afternoon. I must have been a little nuts, but I LOVED this experience! It was during my first year of seminary.

During the summer following my first year, I took the required 10 week, 400 hour course entitled Clinical Pastoral Education. I was one of an interfaith, very diverse group of students who met with a supervisor in the mornings doing group work together, sorting out our theology of pastoral care, learning to tolerate and even understand each other. I was the only UU; others were Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Bible Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, and none-of-the-above renegades who just wanted to be chaplains.

In the afternoons, we fanned out to individual learning sites; mine was the St. Anthony North facility in Westminster, where I teamed up with real chaplains to learn what it was like to do ministry in a medical setting. This was exciting and challenging and hard. My first day, I attended the death of a patient. The next, I met a man dying of cancer. Every day had its wrenching and yet illuminating lessons. Every couple of weeks, I was on-call at St. Anthony Central, a trauma center which served the entire metro area, receiving murder victims, criminals, drug overdoses, unsuccessful suicides. Blood all over the ER, every time I was there. On my last night of on-call, I was called to the maternity ward where a baby (aka fetal demise) had died during the birth process; I went with the young father to the mother's bedside to tell her what had happened. A rollercoaster of a summer yet one of the most valuable times of my life.

During three of my seminary years, I was also preaching about once a month at various churches in the Mountain Desert District, which stretched from Montana to the Texas border. I preached in Gillette, Parker, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, Golden, Greeley, Littleton, Pueblo, Los Alamos, Albuquerque, and Cheyenne. Some of these towns had more than one congregation; all in all I think I preached at 13 different churches. I also preached monthly at the Pueblo congregation one year and led them through the Welcoming Congregation curriculum.

My third year of seminary was spent as a fulltime intern at Boulder UU Fellowship, a fairly Humanist congregation which rented space at that time in the Masonic Temple in downtown Boulder. My supervising minister was the wonderful Catharine Harris. This was probably the most important formative experience of my preparation for ministry. Catharine was a good role model, a fine preacher, pastorally skilled, and had a reverential presence at rites of passage such as memorial services.

From Catharine I learned the importance of collaboration and not being cocksure. It's no wonder I got a 2 at the MFC that year; I was way too sure of myself and needed a little comeuppance. All Catharine ever said about it was "you know, Kit, you're the intern, not the associate minister here". It didn't sink in what that meant until the MFC told me the same thing. But that year was a revelation to me about my own background and skills; I was meant to be a minister, I could see myself in that role, I could do it, people responded to me as a minister. Rather than shake my confidence, Catharine and the MFC helped me see that I would be a better minister if I didn't come on so strong, if I scaled back my bulldozer tendencies.

During my final year at Iliff, I had time to process much of what had happened so far in my life and in my training. I visited a Spiritual Director once a month all year, at the MFC's request, and I began to pull my experiences together into some kind of coherent shape. My course load was somewhat lighter, so I took on a work study job with a faculty member Dr. Joan Van Becelaere, also a UU. During this year, I began to plan with a committee how my ordination would take place; never shy about taking charge, I had some firm ideas about how it ought to go. I'm a little embarrassed to realize that this has been a defining characteristic my whole life, but I've sure gotten a lot done!

Graduation with honors on May 30 and ordination on May 31, 1999---whew! My house was on the market and I would be moving to Portland, Oregon, to serve Wy'east UU Congregation in July.


Merry said...

Dear Ms. Kitty

Thank you for sharing your life and understanding of faith. I have no recollection about what specifically led me to your blog. Perhaps it came from a Quaker site, I just don't know. However, I do believe I have read the writing of a kindred spirit. Could you point me to websites where I could learn more of the UU beliefs? Thanks :D

ms. kitty said...

Hi, Merry,
Nice to hear from you! Thanks for your kind words about the blog and our kindred spirits.

If I were you, I'd start with checking out the website of the Unitarian Universalist Association, at

If you explore that site, you'll find quite a bit about UU beliefs and the principles we live by. We tend to adhere more to principles of how to live with integrity and hope rather than by supernaturally-oriented statements (virgin birth, Adam and Eve, etc.).

Thanks for your note.

Ms. Kitty

Merry said...

Thank you for the link Kitty. I've spent some time looking it over. Quite interesting :D