DOWN MEMORY LANE AND INTO THE FUTURE—SORT OF
Rev. Kit Ketcham, June 24, 2012
I had originally intended to go through a stack of datebooks which chronicle the years I’ve spent with you, from September of 2003 when I first began to discover the wonders of Whidbey Island until the present, June of 2012, when I am coming to the end of my service with you, leaving behind some wonderful times and taking with me many delicious memories.
But it didn’t take me very long to realize that simply telling you the highlights and lowlights of our time together wasn’t going to be much of a revelation and just wading through the datebooks was going to be an exercise in boredom, sort of like writing an endless report to the board.
Mark and I and the Committee on Ministry—Sandy and Sarah—have thought about how this service might go for many long months. None of us have had a lot of time to spend on it until after that super-bondongical party you threw for us all a week ago. What an incredible experience---fun and heartwarming and enriching, in many ways. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity.
I remember one of the first sermons I ever preached for you. I recalled, in that sermon, a Sunday School hymn that popped into my head on the morning after I’d felt that second serious call to ministry, back in 1995 at the UU General Assembly meeting in Spokane. It became my theme song for my ministry, no matter where I was---in the best or the worst of situations---and it is my theme song still as I leave this ministry. I hope I have lived up to its words and that I continue to live up to the challenges it poses.
Sing with me if you know this song too. The words are in the order of service.
“I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare (repeat).
I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness,
I would look up, and laugh and love and lift; (repeat)”
I didn’t know at the time what those words might imply, how much of a challenge they might offer me. I couldn’t anticipate the dark nights when I didn’t know if I was strong enough or brave enough or trustworthy enough. I confess I never had much of a chance to test my purity! Maybe that’s good!
It’s hard to know how to be true, when my responsibilities have led me down paths where it would be so easy to turn around and go back; sometimes that happens in a pastoral situation, when someone is hurting badly and all I can think of is how little I can do to change the situation or remove the pain.
Just being there often feels like too little and I wish I could back out, but sometimes that’s what being true means---not giving up just because I can’t fix it. Your trust in me to be true, to not let you down by my actions or choices---that’s been important to me.
What does purity even mean in this day and age, the aftermath of the so-called Sexual Revolution? There was a time when single women were assumed to be lesbian or ugly crones incapable of landing a boyfriend or a husband. There was a time when Ms. Kitty lived it up pretty intensely. I did have me some good times. But I had me some scares too, as HIV/AIDs put the kibosh on being too free with one’s romances.
When I went into the ministry, I left all that behind, at least partly because I found myself way too busy studying or writing or counseling or visiting hospital patients or preparing for Sundays and the myriad of other ministry-related tasks and responsibilities. Need I say that many women ministers find that their former allure is swamped by the demands of the work, in addition to the scare we seem to throw into our gentlemen friends, simply because we are women in a previously male-dominated, highly values-laden profession.
And where are we going to meet eligible, strong-minded, religiously-oriented men, anyway? In our congregations, mostly, where it is definitely not okay to get romantically involved! Many a congregation has been badly damaged by the sexual impropriety of its minister, who couldn’t keep his or her hands off the flock. I’d rather be celibate than take that chance.
There are many strong and brave challenges---memorial services take the starch right out of me. They are an honor and a privilege and yet there were times when I just didn’t know if I had it in me to say goodbye to one more beloved member. Luckily, I had your help and support to draw on and we saw it through, every time. But I needed every ounce of strength and courage.
Speaking of strong and brave---challenging someone’s inappropriate behavior in the congregation has required courage and the very few times I’ve had to do that, I have turned to our leadership teams for assistance. I’ve been so grateful to this Committee on Ministry, Mark, Sandy, and Sarah, and others in former years for their guidance over the past few years when we faced some hard decisions. (Who else here today has been a member of the COM?)
We have had to consider the health of the congregation in making those decisions and it’s hard, because we always want to be kind and fair.
But sometimes you can be too kind, and in doing so be unfair to the congregation, allowing hurtful behavior which damages the health of the congregation. In those rare instances, we struggled to be brave and strong and do the right thing. Our Covenant of Right Relations is an outgrowth of those struggles.
I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless. It’s been interesting to walk the tightrope of friendship here at UUCWI; conventional wisdom among ministers has it that we must be careful about getting too close to our parishioners. But how is it possible to serve you adequately without knowing you deeply? I have simply tried not to play favorites, to love you all as equally as I can, and not worry about whether we are getting too close. I love you, there’s no getting around it, and I will always love you.
The foe and the friendless take a little more work, but I have an abiding interest in people who are different from me, who think differently, who worship differently. I recommend getting friendly with people who seem way different; invite the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the fundamentalists into your life and befriend them. You don’t have to argue or try to convert them; you’ll find that they are mostly decent people and very much like us in all our human ways.
I would be giving and forget the gift. You have been so generous with me over the years, always apologizing for not paying me more, never being stingy about money; it has inspired me to be generous too. And when I opened that envelope last Saturday night, it was the last thing I expected----and yet, knowing your generous natures, it was just one more loving and generous expression of your love and appreciation.
I would be humble, for I know my weakness. Oh boy, it took me a long time, as a younger person, to learn that humility wasn’t the same thing as humiliation, that it was okay to have strong self-worth but that it was important not to assume I was smarter or better or more talented than others. And boy, do I know my weakness! What I learned---and you may have learned this about yourselves too---is that my weaknesses tend to be my strengths carried to extreme.
Self-confidence can become arrogance, unwilling to listen to another point of view. Believe me, I have had that painful experience! High energy can become bulldozing, overriding less assertive folks. Smart can turn into smart-ass. Being funny can turn into being flippant and disrespectful. I have made and still make all those mistakes! Fortunately, you have mostly forgiven me.
I would look up and laugh, and love, and lift. What a great closing line this is to our song! I look to the Spirit of Life and Love to support me in this human life, I laugh at my own foibles and laugh with delight at the great joy of living; I love because I can do no other---Love is everywhere I look and within me; and I lift wherever a helping hand is needed.
You know, this isn’t really a religious song, exactly. It’s a song of human integrity and conscience. It applies to all of us, not just ministers or others in helping professions. You too have a desire and a responsibility to be true and pure and strong and brave; you too have the ability to be friend to all, even the foe and friendless, to be generous without expecting something in return, to be humble even though we’re practically perfect, and to find connection to that Spirit of Life and Love, laughing and loving and lifting in every day of this life.
As I end these lovely nine years with you and go off to live a new and different life somewhere else, I would hope for you the fulfillment of the dreams of this congregation: a growing spiritual presence among you, a hearty and robust membership that supports one another and reaches out in love to the larger community. In my humble opinion, that’s the purpose of a faith community----to look to the Spirit of Life and Love for strength, to enjoy the love and companionship of the beloved community, and to do the best we can to change the world for the better. That’s all. And you can do it.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
HYMN #311, Let it Be a Dance