Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Life of Work, Part 6

One of my great pleasures during my years of ministry has been receiving invitations to preach at various congregations in the district in which I was living. Even during the years when I was a student, I was invited to preach in several congregations in the Mountain Desert District, which stretches from western Montana, eastern Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. Western Nebraska is now part of that district, I think, but it wasn't at the time I was living in Denver.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, I've had the same lovely experience, of being invited to offer a service in 22 different congregations across the district, which stretches from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. This is another huge district!

While living in Portland and serving Wy'east, I preached regularly at West Hills Fellowship, Eastrose in Gresham, South Park, Washington County, and Astoria, plus doing weddings in the Portland area and on the coast. I hope, upon retirement, to do more coast weddings; performing a marriage ceremony on a grassy coastal head is a huge thrill!

Here in Washington, I have preached at Bellingham, Blaine, Evergreen (Marysville), Kennewick, Cedars (Bainbridge/Kitsap), Skagit (Mt. Vernon), Shoreline, Westside (West Seattle), Saltwater (Des Moines), Tahoma (Tacoma), Olympia, and Wenatchee. Most of the weddings I've done have been on either Whidbey or Vashon Islands.

I moved to the Seattle area and lived in Ballard for a couple of years while serving both Vashon Island and Whidbey Island congregations, one weekend a month, as a quarter-time consulting minister. I served Vashon Island Unitarians for 4 years, finally ending that ministry when my appetite for commuting via ferry was sated.

By that time, I was living on Whidbey and it took two hours to get to Vashon. I waited in a lot of ferry lines over the year and a half that I did this commute. I'd go down on Friday morning through Seattle to the Fauntleroy ferry dock, wait in a long line to make the short hop to the island, and then return to Whidbey by taking the Southworth ferry to Port Orchard and north again to the Port Townsend ferry. Two hours each way for a trip of about 20 miles as the crow flies!

Vashon was a wonderful experience for me; they had never had a minister and were a bit torn about whether they needed one or not, but we hit it off immediately and there were few naysayers about ministry when I left. They have had some excellent ministry since that time and it's a good feeling to hear regularly how well they are doing.

Moving to Whidbey meant that I got far more involved in the congregation than I had been able to accomplish when I was living on the mainland. I could attend meetings that were scheduled for other times than the weekend, I could attend church every Sunday if I chose, and I was able to have a public presence in the community. I also found a very satisfying private life, by getting involved with the acoustic music community.

Once I landed on Whidbey Island, my hours increased, from quarter time to one-third time and finally now to half-time. That is, they pay me for half-time. I know I spend more time than that, but it's hard to say no to people in pain.

More on the Whidbey Island years later.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

With Liberty and Justice for All: a sermon

Sing with me:
 “My country tis of thee,
 sweet land of liberty,
of thee I sing. 
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrim’s pride,
 from every mountainside,
let freedom ring!” 

    In 1907, the black poet W.E.B. duBois wrote new words to this famous song for black people to sing, in a scathing rebuke of the privileged understanding of liberty held by theological student Samuel F. Smith in 1832, when he wrote the lines we just sang.  Du Bois substituted these words: 

My country tis of thee, 

Late land of slavery, 
Of thee I sing.
Land where my father’s pride   

Slept where my mother died,   

From every mountainside 

Let freedom ring!

    Though Samuel Smith’s love for his country was deep, he had little understanding of how others might perceive this same country, particularly those whose presence in this country was invisible, resented, involuntary, beleaguered by oppression and poverty, enslaved by prejudice though ostensibly free.

    I wonder what words might have replaced the familiar ones, had one of the survivors of violence against sexual minorities rewritten them?  What might Matthew Shepherd have written, if he’d survived the beating that killed him outside of Laramie those years ago?    I wonder how Angie Zapata, murdered in 2008 by a boyfriend who discovered she was transgender, might have rewritten them.

    I wonder today how our gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender friends might rewrite these ancient rhymes if they are once more denied the civil rights they’ve gained so far.

    What about victims of brutal immigration practices?  What about workers summarily robbed of the opportunity to band together in unions?  What about women denied the right to control their own reproductive life or to feel safe in a work environment or on a dark street?  What about Muslims pilloried on the stage of religious and racial intolerance?  What about those young persons who are brought to this country and exploited as child prostitutes or unpaid workers in the personal service industries?

    How might they rewrite the words to this favorite American anthem?  How do they perceive the promise of freedom and justice, freedom and justice which has been held just out of reach or given and then snatched quickly back?

    We who form the privileged sector of American citizenry have only a vague idea of how much we benefit from the American promise of freedom and how little some of our neighbors receive from that same promise.

    As Unitarian Universalists, it is our responsibility to inform ourselves and to act in the interests of those who are denied access to American freedom and justice.  We have a history of doing so, in this nation and across the globe. 

    You know me well enough to know that civil rights for sexual minorities has been a passion of mine for many years.  It started when I began to understand the difficulties my gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, and transgender friends and students encountered as they tried to live with the strictures imposed by a society that just plain didn’t get it.

    Didn’t get what it might feel like to be a woman in a man’s body.  Didn’t get what it might feel like to love deeply and yet be denied the right to unite in marriage with that beloved partner.  Didn’t get why anyone would be attracted to a member of the same sex.  Didn’t get it that hostility toward someone with a same sex attraction or born into the wrong body could and often did result in violence and even murder and rape.  Didn’t get it that same sex partnerships were as sweet and fulfilling as opposite sex partnerships.  Just didn’t get it.

    Folks in our state have gradually begun to “get it”, as our legislature, at the urging of gay people and straight allies, has enacted laws that forbid hate crimes, that offer domestic partnerships which provide many protections, including the benefits of marriage, and now we have legislation which gives full marriage benefits including the title of marriage to same sex couples.

    Of course, the legislation (as has been all similar civil rights legislation which provides for sexual minorities) is under attack already and will likely be the subject of two referenda in November.  We will do all we can to prevent these rights from being snatched away by voters who refuse to acknowledge their fairness and logic.  There are still many people out there who don’t get it---and don’t want to get it.

    As Glo and I were preparing this service, we talked about the experiences we’d had with these civil rights issues and we agreed that the politics of civil rights concern us less than the compassion we feel for those who are denied these human rights.  And we realized that we wanted to present our thoughts as they reflected our belief that all of us humans share the same spirit of life, regardless of our differences in culture, in religion, in race and gender.  We all need freedom; if one person or group is not free, we are not free either.

    Recently I had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Nydia Stephens, a member of this congregation, who has educated me about one of her human rights concerns.  After hearing her stories of the victims of human trafficking, I asked her to share some of her passion for this issue with you.  Nydia?  (Nydia speaks)

    Both Nydia’s passion for the victims of human trafficking and my passion for our friends and family members who are unfairly treated by laws which do not recognize the value of the lives of sexual minority folks, both of our passion issues are bound up right now in political wrangling, but they have a different kind of  importance to us as people of faith.

    Our faith asks us to be compassionate, to consider the pain of those who struggle, who are treated unfairly, who suffer from the cruelty that lack of compassion imposes.  Yes, these are political issues, but they are first and foremost issues of compassion.  And whereas we may do whatever we can to influence the political process which establishes or denies the rights of our fellow humans, we must first address the lack of compassion which undergirds inhumane treatment for others.

    This is our job as fellow human beings, no matter what our religious beliefs, our political preferences, our cultural background.  Compassion is our job.

    The value of compassion is inextricably woven into the fabric of all moral, ethical, and religious principles.  The prophet Jesus said it well, when he was asked what God’s greatest commandment might be.  He answered “to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves”.  To love the Source of All, no matter what we might call it, and then to give the same love to our neighbor---that’s a big commandment. 

    I think this t-shirt that I found on Facebook and ordered for myself says it well:  (show shirt)

    Thy Homeless Neighbor
    Thy Muslim Neighbor
    Thy Black Neighbor
    Thy Gay Neighbor
    Thy White Neighbor
    Thy Jewish Neighbor
    Thy Christian Neighbor
    Thy Atheist Neighbor
    Thy Racist Neighbor
    Thy Addicted Neighbor

    There are a few more neighbors we need to love, and I’m sure you can add your own thoughts to this list.  Listening to Nydia, I realize we must also love the neighbor we don’t know---because she is invisible to us, invisible and suffering. 

    As we end our service today, I invite you to consider the two issues we have brought to you today:  the potential slap in the face---and worse---to those same sex couples and gay kids growing up in our state who have received a gift of dignity and acceptance from our state legislature but who face the very real possibility that it can be snatched away in November by those who refuse to “get it”, that same sex couples are as lovable and as capable of love and commitment as anyone else.

    I invite you, too, to consider what you have just heard from Nydia about human trafficking in our state.  Here is an opportunity for educating ourselves and others about a deeply troubling travesty of justice---that newcomers to our nation are frequently caught in fake industries that promise the American dream and yet deliver a kind of endless slavery to masters who use and abuse them for their own financial gain.

    Compassion is our first step.  Our second step is to use the political process to bring justice to bear on unjust practices.  Our third is to help those who have been hurt by those unjust practices to find healing.  Our fourth step is to keep a watchful eye out for new mistreatments that stem from insatiable human greed, taking steps to understand and find ways to prevent and shortcircuit those schemes that would use our most vulnerable fellow humans in shameful ways. 

    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 that compassion for others is the hallmark of Unitarian Universalism.  May we bring our compassion to bear on the injustices we see around us and may we seek justice through the democratic process, which is one of our cherished principles.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Life of Work: Part 5C

It seems to me, in retrospect, that much of my work life, maybe much of my life, period, has been marked by times when hubris got the better of me and I assumed I knew things I did not know.  I was a child who did not like to ask questions but rather tried to figure things out for myself.  It got me into awkward situations time and again as I'd leap to a conclusion based on inadequate information and forethought. 

That was how I decided, at about age 11, that babies came because the mother took pills;  I had never asked my mother to tell me how it happened, but, in reading the book "Not as a Stranger", I noted an anecdote in which a weeping woman took pills and then cut up baby clothes into the toilet.  How I came to think that this was an instance of baby-making is a mystery to me, but I believed it firmly until a friend set me straight.  Even then, I was aghast!  How could my parents have done such a strange thing?

I think I have always been uncomfortable asking questions because I felt embarrassed if I didn't know something.  "Beginner's Mind" was an unknown concept in my growing-up and because I was touted as a brainiac in elementary and high school, I didn't want to reveal my own ignorance.  So I didn't ask questions much.  I've gotten much better at that, but I still am uneasy when I'm out of my depth knowledge-wise and I tend to listen hard, paraphrase what I hear and try to synthesize it for myself, but I still goof it up periodically.

Anyhow, lessons learned at Wy'east were of the hubristic variety.  I went in thinking I was going to be their savioress, their ticket to the big time, their crusader leading the way to huge growth and significant outreach in the community.  Wrong again!  They liked me fine initially, were charmed by my interesting sermons and ideas, but chafed at my insistence on being involved in every committee, every activity, every idea circulating.  Some of this chafed-ness was due to their own misunderstandings of ministry; they didn't think I ought to attend board meetings or have opinions about where we held services or help sponsor social justice programs.

I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do (and I was, to a great extent---I mean, isn't it obvious that ministers should attend board meetings?) but I had not considered the impact of my sense of surety about what the congregation should do.  I moved too fast, assumed everyone would love my ideas, and didn't consider the consequences of irritating long-standing congregational leaders who came to see me as an intruder and a threat to the way they had been running the congregation.  They felt that I wanted to control everything and that I saw myself as the centerpoint of the life of the congregation.

A congregation that has been on its own for several years, managing worship and governance and social action fairly successfully all that time, is not going to want some upstart minister fresh out of seminary to come and tell them how they should be doing it.  And that's what happened to me.

In the aftermath, I did some soulsearching and realized that I had learned a great deal, had recognized an old pattern in myself that needed attention, and came to some new conclusions:  a minister needs to work collaboratively with congregational leadership, especially if the congregation is new to ministry; it's important not to rush in with new programs and new ideas, better to take plenty of time and call everything an experiment;  if things go wrong and you get sideways with congregants, be transparent, don't be afraid to apologize (out of misplaced pride), and always keep reconciliation as a goal.

In a sermon I preached as we were dealing with the mess we'd made, I acknowledged to the congregation that I have some besetting faults:  my energy and enthusiasm can feel disempowering and controlling to those I work with or serve; I am often defensive when people want to give me feedback; and I am always "on" when with congregants , and yet I forget this frequently.

I made some promises to the congregation in that sermon:  I will remember the possible effect of my energy and enthusiasm on those I serve; I will listen with acceptance and won't offer explanations of my behavior unless asked; I will curb my tendency to be "flip" and will remember that a minister's opinions and even casual comments can have extra weight to a congregant because of the role.

As that final year lurched on, one deep pain that was never resolved continues to this day:  because of the conflict, which occurred early in the church year (September through November), many people who were advocates and supporters of my ministry disappeared because they didn't want to see the people in church with whom they disagreed.  I understood this at one level, but I felt abandoned by these former members who left not only the congregation but left me, despite my need for their support and advocacy. 

It was one of the strokes of luck during that last year or two that the FS was living with me in Portland, going to school and working.  He and I had many long conversations about conditions in the congregation and he was one advocate and supporter to whom I turned regularly.  How nice to have an adult child who has such understanding and perspective!  He helped me sort through my own feelings, made me laugh, and kept me sane.  Thanks, Mike.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Life of Work: Part 5B

The summer of 1999, I put my little house on the market, it was snapped up in a matter of hours, the buyer paid cash in full, and I was ready to move to Portland, ready to start my new life in ministry at Wy'east UU Congregation in Portland.  I was excited!

And then the news that I had an atrial septal defect, a cardiac birth defect that could shorten my life by 10-15 years, rocked my world.  When the Portland cardiologist told me I would need open heart surgery to repair the hole in my heart, I balked.  How could this be necessary when I had lived symptom-free at altitude (5280 feet plus in the Denver suburb where I lived) for 34 years?  Couldn't I postpone the surgery until after my first year in this wonderful new work?

The doc balked too but consented to let me wait until the following summer, provided I upped my intake of aspirin and paid close attention to my health habits, because a stroke was a definite possibility if a clot broke loose and went to my brain.  I could hardly believe this was happening, but I wasn't willing to die before I'd had a chance to be a minister, so I took him seriously and did what he suggested.

The Wy'east board of trustees was supportive, folks in the congregation rallied round, and on July 5, 2000, a surgeon lifted my heart out of my chest, stitched up the significant hole, patched it with a slice of heart muscle he'd pared off on the spot, and closed me back up.  I had a rapid recovery and re-entered ministry the next month with a new understanding of what it meant to have a broken and healed heart. 

The first couple of years at Wy'east were idyllic; we rented space from a large United Methodist congregation which, coincidentally, was a block away from the home my family had lived in during our Portland years, at 37th and Steele St on the southeast side of town.  My dad's little church had been at 39th and Holgate, not far away, and I drove by it every time I went to our Wy'east office.

(Note:  Wy'east is the Klickitat Indian name for Mount Hood, Portland's signature mountain.)

But the honeymoon didn't last.  I was a rookie and made mistakes; they were still peeved about what they perceived to be unfair treatment by the larger church they'd spun off from; and eventually sparks began to fly.  I'd made a five-year commitment to Wy'east, as an Extension minister, but by the middle of the summer of 2002, it was clear that it wasn't going to work.

There were many good folks at Wy'east, many who supported my ministry and loved me.  But there was a small group of people who were miffed about my mistakes, my leadership in areas they considered their own purview, and they banded together to try to get me removed, even contacting the UUA to complain.  I got some good advice from national and district leaders and tendered my resignation at the beginning of my fourth year there, effective the end of that fiscal year, June 2003.  We took the whole year to examine the mistakes we'd made, we achieved a certain peace by the time I left, and I felt we'd done some good work together.

And I learned a lot of lessons I wouldn't have learned had it been all beer and skittles for five years.  In fact, I hope that all new ministers could have a similar learning experience; it's not fun, but the lessons I learned have stuck with me and have enriched my ministry in subsequent congregations.

Those lessons will be enumerated in a later post.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Music, Metaphor, and Meaning: a sermon

 by the Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 5, 2012

    Let me try to give words to the power of music in my life by recounting the stages by which music came into it.  I invite you to take your own musical life’s journey by reflecting on how you came to have your personal sense of musical expression, whether it’s positive or not so positive.

    As I offer each of my stages, I invite you to reflect on how you might have experienced this stage, IF you experienced it.  And if you share any of these songs, please sing along!
(Offer these slowly, with pauses.)

    The first memory I have of anything musical was a lullaby:  “Mama’s darling, Daddy’s sweetheart, Jesus’ precious little lamb,”
    Piano lessons:   (pound out/hum “Mary had a little lamb”)
    Sunday School songs: “Jesus loves me, this I know…”
    Children’s record sets:  “Oh, the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the appleseed, the Lord is good to me.”
    School music classes: “Stodola, stodola, stodola pumpa, stodola pumpa pumpumpum”
    Camp songs:   “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”.
    Spirituals:  “Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home”
    Hymns:  “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies”
    College choir tours:  “OKLAHOMA, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain…”
    Folk Songs:  “If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning…”
    The Beatles:  “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…”
    Lullabies for my son:  “Mama’s darling, Daddy’s sweetheart, Jesus’ precious little lamb”.

    And as a young adult, the pop music of the 60’s and 70’s, ----until Tchaikovsky’s  1812 Overture played at an outdoor concert in Denver’s City Park----with cannons ----woke me up to an appreciation of the classics.  Before that time, all my music had words.

   Words helped me find meaning in the chords and rhythms of the work, whether they were sentimental, humorous, inspiring, exciting, bold, sad, or quietly serene.  I loved words!   Poetic or thrilling words expressed something I myself did not yet have an ability to voice.  And the tune and harmonies carried that meaning into my heart.

   But to find meaning in a wordless musical experience---that was new for me.  I’d had brief moments of it in some of the Sousa marches as I grew up.  Their stirring notes and rhythms made me want to do something energetic---throw my arms skyward, march---though it was years before the doggerel words of “be kind to your webfooted friends” were mostly expunged from my automatic responses.

    Some of us have not had easy or pleasant experiences with music.  Some of us were told not to sing but to mouth the words during Glee club.  Some of us were advised not to try out for the choir or the upcoming school musical because we couldn’t read music.  Some of us were faced with offensive or incomprehensible words in songs we were asked to sing in church or in school or at camp.  Some of us, as we lose our hearing, find that music is no longer as pleasurable as it used to be.

    Some of us are afraid to join in singing for fear we won’t get the notes right.  Some of us are still peeved about the theology of various religious songs and, as the old UU joke puts it, “we sing poorly because we’re too busy reading ahead to see if we agree with the words.”  These are wounds and barriers that keep us from receiving many of the gifts of music.

    What does music mean to you?  Can you identify that meaning in a word, or is it one of those things too elusive for words?  Would anyone be willing to share? (share)

   Eileen is going to lead us in a musical experience right now.  I ask you to participate in it as fully as you are able, whether you think you can make music or not, because in the second half of my reflection this morning I will ask you about your experience.  I’m going to participate with you in this, as music is most meaningful to me when I’m participating in it.  Your mileage may vary.
Eileen teaches spatial chant.
    Okay, now we’re going to try to put this experience into something we can share with each other.  For me, at least, the way to start is by identifying feelings we have during a musical experience.

     Let’s take a time for reflection so that you can put yourselves back into the moment of music-making and find a word----or a gesture----that expresses a little bit of what you experienced.  (silence)  Let’s hear words first:  (share)      How about gestures?  (share)

    When we let ourselves experience music, in worship or in a performance hall, when we are listening, absorbed in the experience, and not just using it as background sound, we can feel rhythms, we can have a sense of being enveloped by sound, coming not just through our ears but through the very ground we stand on. 

    If my hearing ability were to be diminished, I might try to see if I could experience the music through the vibrations of the ground or in the energy in the air of the room.

    If we close our eyes and remove visual stimuli, we can have an experience of simply sound---complex or unembellished. 

    Music can be a vitally important part of a spiritual experience.  It doesn’t work for everyone, and you’re not a weirdo if it doesn’t.  But for many, perhaps most, of us, music offers an experience that can be transcendent, and the transcendent is what spirituality is about---lifting us out of the mundane and into a realm beyond ordinary experience, moments when we feel expansive and exhilarated or quiet and self-reflective in ways we don’t normally experience.

    This is what we’re trying to create every time we come together for worship, whether here on Sunday morning or at EvenSong evenings.  We hope for transcendence, we hope for a moment that reminds us that we are good and that we can be even better.  We hope to go home with an inspiration, a clarity, a sense of purpose, a sense of grounding that we might not have had before.

    Music can do this for us, as can other elements of worship.  It can do it through the melody, it can do it through the words, it can do it through our ability to let ourselves be lifted up by the experience of singing or listening together.

    I invite you to open your hymnals to 123, Spirit of Life.  This is a favorite hymn of UUs and we sing it regularly.  Have you ever really thought about these words?  Have you ever really let yourself feel the melody and the harmonies?

    “Spirit of life, come unto me; sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.”  What does that mean to us?  (share)

    “Blow in the wind, rise in the sea, move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.”  What’s that about?  (share)

    “Roots hold me close, wings set me free.”  What are our roots?  What are our wings?  What ideas do these metaphors represent to you?  (share)

    “Spirit of life, come to me, come to me.”  What is this song in its entirety saying to us? (share)

    If we were just to read these lyrics as a lovely poetic prayer, would it be different from singing them?  How does the music work with the words?  (share)

    In a few moments we’re going to sing Spirit of Life again, and I want to invite you to experience this song in a new way, letting yourself be lifted up by the words and by the melody.  If you like to sing a harmony part, by all means, add it in and experience yourself as one part of a harmonic whole.

    When I began to sing with my band a few years ago, I discovered the exhilaration of being one voice in a group in which everyone was singing a different note and even occasionally a different beat. 

    As another voice moved between notes, my note needed to change to maintain the pleasing sound of harmony.  Each of us changed our note depending on what the others sang.  Sometimes we even deliberately sang dissonant notes just to up the interest level of the sound.
Every note has value, whether it’s consonant or dissonant.  In consonant harmony, the whole effect tends to be pleasantly melodious, with the notes forming sounds that “go with” one another.  When a dissonant note enters the picture, it’s like a new idea that causes the sound to go somewhere new in its mood and its possible meaning. 

    Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky were masters at using harmonic dissonance to create new musical ideas.  So don’t be afraid that your sound won’t work.  We are in a long tradition of religious heretics already; why not be a musical heretic as well?  Every voice contributes to the whole picture, just as every human being, every being contributes to the universe.

    As we sing Spirit of Life, we’ll sing it through twice; the first time we’ll sing it softly and with reverent reflectiveness; the second time, we’ll sing it with gusto and joy, and I hope you will earnestly put yourself into this musical experience.


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 that each of us has  beauty within, that we each contribute to the world around us by the music we bring into our lives, and by the acceptance we have of our own notes and rhythms and those of others.  May we truly listen to the music within, the music among us, and the music of the spheres.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Life of Work, Part 5A

On April 22, 1999, the phone rang in my Denver home. I had been expecting the call---Margaret Beard, Extension Director at the UUA, was phoning me to let me know that the congregation I'd been hoping to be appointed to had met all the qualifications to become an Extension Congregation and she wanted to appoint me to that fulltime pastorate.

Wy'east UU Congregation was a very new congregation in Portland OR, about 60 members, meeting on Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. in a United Methodist church where they were renting space. I'd decided I'd like to be an Extension minister and serve a new congregation or one where they had been lay-led for many years and were just beginning to work with a minister. I figured it would be a good place to begin ministry and I really wanted to go to Portland. Of all the locations in the PNW, Portland was top of my list.

At the same time as Margaret's call was coming in, the radio began blaring the news that there had been shots fired at a local high school, one of the schools in the district where I had lived and worked for 25 years. I knew staff and students there. In one ear, Margaret was telling me about Wy'east and in the other ear, I was getting the news about the Columbine High School massacre.

What a juxtaposition of joy and shock! I thanked Margaret and told her I'd better find out what was going on; she was as shocked as I was at this terrible event. Within an hour or so, I was at the Columbine UU church, near the high school, with other UU seminarians hoping to be helpful as the neighborhood reeled with this news. We didn't know if any Columbine UU teens were involved nor what had happened. Joel Miller, CUUC's minister, was at the school all afternoon to offer his support, while we opened the doors of the church for any neighborhood residents who wanted to come in.

What an inaugural to the life of ministry! There's scarcely an adult in the nation who isn't aware of what went down at Columbine that awful day. The reverberations from that day have affected Jefferson County Schools, Jefferson County, and all of Colorado, perhaps the entire country. And it was this awareness of how quickly tragedy can strike and how ministry skills can be helpful in a crisis that I carried forth from that day.

At Iliff School of Theology, during the next days, we learned that some of our fellow seminarians had lost teens from their youth groups in the shootings. We learned that our seminary colleagues needed huge support, that in some cases they would bury one or more teens. We were together in our anger at the public memorial service when Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son and heir, totally ignored the fact that there were Jewish students murdered and prayed for all in Jesus' name, exhorting the crowd to turn to Christ so that this kind of thing wouldn't happen any more.

Columbine happened during the same school year that Matthew Shepherd was beaten to a pulp and hung on a Wyoming fence to die. Faced with tragedies this enormous and this significant to a population like our seminary's, we reeled under the expectation that these events had to have some meaning, that we as pastors and preachers had to be able to rise to the occasion, offer comfort and answers and conduct the rites that would enable some sort of healing to begin.

One month later, I graduated from Iliff, was ordained by Jefferson Unitarian Church, and a few days later was told by my physician that she thought I ought to have an echocardiogram to diagnose the heart murmur I'd always thought was benign. My first reaction was "why would I want to do that---there's probably nothing wrong since I have never had any symptoms" and my second was "well, Dad had heart trouble and so has brother Buz, so I'd better get it checked out."

Two weeks later, on the very day I was to close on the sale of my house, the technician reading my ECG pictures said, "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but since you're moving soon, you need to know that you have a fairly significant hole in your heart, called an atrial septal defect. Lucky for you they have great cardiologists in Portland."

I moved to Portland another two weeks later and prepared to have open heart surgery and my first year as a minister all at the same time.