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.

Monday, January 23, 2012


My District 10 Washington State Senator, Mary Margaret Haugen, has just stated that she will support the marriage equality legislation now before the House and Senate. She had been a holdout for a long time and has now become the deciding vote in a tight Senate debate. I haven't yet heard her testimony, but it is extremely exciting to be part of this historical campaign.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The State of the Congregation: a sermon

Rev. Kit Ketcham, January 22, 2012

In two days, our President, Barack Obama, will give his State of the Union Address to Congress and to the American people. I’m going to get a jump on him by giving you all my State of the Congregation message today.

Mr. Obama’s address will doubtless take into consideration the strides made during his term of office so far and make a case for improvements he sees as necessary to bring our nation into closer alignment with the vision that created this country, the vision of a nation ruled by the people. He will also address the mission that underlies the American dream: a mission to provide for the wellbeing and freedom of American citizens.

My message has to do with mission and vision as well. Almost 20 years ago, this congregation was founded as an outpost of liberal religion on South Whidbey Island. It has flourished since that time, offering an oasis of welcome for those looking for a church home that was founded on reason, religious freedom, and as a united effort to serve the needs of others.

And as we prepare together for a major transition in ministerial leadership, it’s a good time to assess where we are, as regards our vision and our mission. We don’t have a catchy phrase that states who we are and what our purpose is; we do have a lengthy statement of our identity and purpose which appears in official documents, but if I were to paraphrase that statement in a few words, I would say that we are a religious community which fosters Love and Justice, here among us, out in the Whidbey Island community, and in the wider world.

Vision and mission sermons can be a little ho-hum and I have cogitated about how to make these remarks scintillating and gripping and memorable. But it’s a serious topic as well, offering ideas that I think you may appreciate as you plan for the years ahead here at UUCWI.

I have some observations about several areas of congregational life that I think will be informative and helpful: governance; religious education for both adults and children; building issues; how we care for one another; how we approach our justice work; worship, which is our public face in the world; and special ministries which have emerged over the three and a half years since we moved into this worship space.

Governance, by my definition, is how the board of trustees and other leaders, both as individuals and as groups, manage our resources and encourage support of the congregation. This includes internal communications, wise policies and procedures, stewardship, and being role models for others as they strive to uphold our Covenant of Right Relations and promote the Principles of UUism.

Our religious education efforts include adult programming, from introductory classes in UUism, discussion groups modeling critical thinking as well as offering social time, and considering current moral issues in human life. These programs have grown markedly over the past three years.

And our religious exploration classes for children and youth have expanded and give our young people opportunity to learn how to be good citizens as well as learning to care about those who are different from themselves, while forming their own Unitarian Universalist identity, a way of seeing the world that will serve them well as adults.

Our building issues revolve, to a great extent, around using our sanctuary and classrooms as community gathering places, not just for our own use, but for the use of the larger community, particularly for those groups aligned with our religious principles. This means, of course, keeping up with the maintenance of the building and, in addition, always being attuned to making it more beautiful and spiritually fulfilling.

Caring for one another is an essential part of our mission as a faith community, and we live this out in a number of ways---pastoral care by me and our chaplain Sally, others providing transportation and emergency service to those in need, all of us giving appreciation for the many daily tasks performed by volunteers such as ushering, bringing refreshments, helping with the children, greeting newcomers warmly, and helping to grow and strengthen the connections between us by attending congregational events. Our Covenant of Right Relations helps us figure out how to handle our differences of opinion in positive, safe ways.

But caring for one another is only part of why we’re here. We depend on this strong, safe community to give us support when we seek justice in the larger world. It is most effective to be part of a group when we urge the legislature to support marriage equality, fair immigration standards, education reform or to end torture.

When we all contribute to the morning collection for South Whidbey Commons or the Hub for Youth or Planned Parenthood, we are collectively supporting agencies and programs that benefit our larger community and improve the world for many people.

Worship on Sunday mornings and our Wednesday evening EvenSong group are our public face in this community, our effort to nurture the spiritual growth of those who attend. For this reason, worship services are carefully planned and carried out, so that those who attend and participate receive an experience that will inspire, comfort, provoke to action, and cause them to think and feel more deeply. We welcome all and invite all to feel part of the community while they are here.

In addition, we have developed some specialized ministries which you may not yet think of as part of the vision and mission of the congregation: first, our visual arts gallery and the efforts of the VAC to assure that the entire building is as aesthetically harmonious as possible; second, our music concert series, which is open to the entire community and features incredible musical offerings and artists; and third, our expanding library which offers a book lending service to anyone who is interested in exploring progressive religious issues.

These are the categories I’ve considered as I’ve thought about the abilities of this congregation, the needs of this faith community, and the needs of the larger community on Whidbey Island and beyond.

Here are a few things I’d like to see happen, partly as an outgrowth of what I’ve started here, others as new directions you might take.
These are already being talked about in committees and leadership meetings, so few will be surprised by them. Your ideas are important too and I hope you will share them with the leaders of the congregation.

Here’s one I know is already under consideration, because it’s an ongoing tension between those who are responsible for the aesthetic harmony of a church facility and those who are responsible for its practical usage. Every congregation has to figure out how to maintain the beauty of the space while taking into consideration such concerns as the acoustics, structural integrity, and financial limitations.

I know our VAC (Visual Arts Committee) and BAG (Building and Grounds) leaders are always working to both preserve the beauty and make it accessible to all. I hope that they and you will continue the conversation and find a balance between these two complementary yet sometimes divergent services. I also think, by the way, that something is going to have to be done about expanding the available parking!

Another possibility is one I know is also under consideration: to increase the social action involvement of the congregation, by aligning with Good Cheer or Whidbey Island Nurtures or Whidbey Island Share a Home, or some other agency on the island which dovetails with our outreach mission, giving every person in the congregation, hopefully even the kids, a chance to be part of a hands-on effort to help in the community. I’ve been part of other congregations which had an all-congregation social action project, and it was a huge success!

One ongoing need must be addressed, I think, if the congregation is to continue to flourish. There are lots of small jobs that need to be done week after week after week and even though we have almost 100 members now, these jobs tend to be done by the same small group of people, week after week after week. Very few people seem to step up to do those small chores.

These little jobs are opportunities to get to know people, to do your part to keep things flourishing, and yet they often go begging. The jobs I’m thinking about are ushering, making coffee and bringing a few goodies on Sunday morning, showing up for work parties, serving on a task force or committee, volunteering with the children.

I would urge each of you to find a place to serve: as an usher, coffee-maker, refreshment bringer, on work parties and landscaping days, on a committee, or helping with the kids. The time spent will be enjoyable and you will find yourself developing a real sense of belonging. It will be worth it to you and will help the congregation thrive.

I have a couple more ideas which have not been talked about widely: we have a wonderful music series which is open to the entire community and enjoyed by all who attend. Mostly we’ve used it as a fund-raising activity and it’s been quite successful that way, as we’ve raised money for UUCWI projects and for community agencies such as Good Cheer. But what if we could begin to think of it as spiritual outreach to the community as well and find ways to illustrate UU principles in some way?

Subtly, of course, as the series is not intended to be a worship service, but music is definitely a spiritual experience for many people. Can we openly acknowledge that experience and help people see that music is deeply evocative of the human spiritual experience? I wonder if we can somehow identify this as a ministry without scaring people into fearing they’ll be proselytized if they attend? It’s worth thinking about, I believe.

And my second thought is that we might think how we could do the same with our art gallery. I wonder if the artists who exhibit here could be asked to consider the spiritual nature of their work, offer some words in their descriptions of that nature, maybe even connect that nature to a UU principle. Again, this must all be carefully done. But we are a spiritual community and it makes sense to think about what we do for the larger community as ministry, as spiritual not secular.

I’ll be preaching about these two ideas more fully in later sermons this spring, one in two weeks with Eileen Soskin and one later on with, I hope, the help of the VAC. I believe that the Arts are truly Sources of our UU Living Tradition, that they are sources of great spiritual and religious inspiration and must be integrated into the life of our congregation and its outreach into the community.

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 strengths we bring as individuals and as a community to our mission. May we strive to continue the good work we have begun and look eagerly to the next steps in our ministry, as we move through this time of transition. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Life of Work, Part 3C

I have been snowed in all week, which was good for sermon prep, packing up books, and noodling around on Facebook, HuffPost, MissCellania, and the friends' blogs I regularly peruse, but it only just occurred to me that I could spend this Friday afternoon (as the rain washes away all the snow) writing the blog post I've been thinking about.

This particular entry in the "Life of Work" series concerns my experience at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, between 1995 and 1999. It took me four fulltime years to complete my Master of Divinity degree because of the various credentialing requirements of the UUA. Iliff is a United Methodist seminary, very liberal, and one of the best in the nation for a good grounding in religious academics.

I was like a kid in a candy shop most of the time, though I was thoroughly tired of the Apostle Paul a few times during these four years and longed for the broader curricula of Starr King or Meadville. But Denver was home at the time and it made the best sense to stay in my own house during this major undertaking. It was an easy commute, I was in familiar territory, I didn't have to leave my home congregation, and I knew people all up and down the Mountain Desert District. Getting preaching gigs and weddings and an internship would not be difficult under the circumstances.

I enrolled in the fall of 1995, one of a class of about 70 students, most much younger than I. I wasn't the oldest, at 53, but I was up toward the top of the heap, at least among those students who were preparing for fulltime ministry.

My advisor was Dr. Pamela Eisenbaum, a Jew whose area of expertise was the middle ground between the Hebrew scriptures (aka Old Testament) and the Christian scriptures (aka New Testament). She was young and smart and we worked well together. She encouraged me in some of the coursework choices I might have avoided otherwise and I benefited greatly from her wisdom.

I won't go into every course in detail, but the required curriculum at most Christian seminaries includes Bible study, including the various ways of interpreting original texts, History of Christianity, Pastoral Care, Preaching, Worship/Liturgy, Ethics, Social Justice, and ways to explore each of these areas more deeply. The UUA required that each candidate for parish ministry must take one course in Clinical Pastoral Education, i.e., chaplaincy work in a hospital or other setting, and a year of parish internship.

My favorite classes were Bible and especially exegesis of the Bible--aka interpretation via probing of the culture, the language, the symbolism, etc.--, Pastoral Care, Worship/Liturgy, Christian History, Women in Religion, and UU History and Polity. I struggled with Theology classes, even though I am a Christian at heart, because I have what is called a "low Christology", meaning that I do not believe that Jesus is/was God. My CPE experience was a high point as well.

During this time, I had some work study experiences, one time as an assistant for a faculty member and another as a Field Experience facilitator for first year students. These put me in a position to get to know professors and other faculty members in a different way, as well as incoming students who were struggling with their discernment around ministry issues.

As my first two years of classes came to an end, I found a fulltime internship at the Boulder Unitarian Fellowship, just up the highway from where I lived in Golden. My supervisor was the Rev. Catharine Harris, still my friend and mentor. This experience was transformative as Catharine helped me get my feet on the ground, helped me sort out what internship meant (not associate minister!), and helped me learn another meaning of the word humility. I was pretty sure I was the best thing since sliced bread and had to learn that I was not.

It was late in my internship year when I went before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee for an oral exam, one of the many hoops to jump through before official Fellowship status is granted. My sermon was timed perfectly, I answered most of the questions well, and when I left the room I thought I'd probably wowed them. It took a long time for them to call me back in for a verdict and when they did, I was shocked. They didn't think I'd done as well as I did and gave me not the ultimate grade of a "One" but the penultimate: a "Two" plus a requirement.

"You're too intense," they said to me (at which I of course bristled intensely). "We want you to have a year of Spiritual Direction before we consider you ready for Fellowship. You're good but you're too intense." I was crushed and embarrassed to tell anyone what my score was; I moped around Chicago with a couple of friends who had, of course, gotten "Ones". But the important thing was that I had passed, just not as brilliantly as I'd expected.

A year of Spiritual Direction turned out to be a huge blessing, however, and I was eventually grateful for the requirement, as it made my final year of seminary much more valuable. I had a new view of myself as a minister, a spiritual companion to help me sort things out as I went, and I finished the year graduating with honors on May 30, 1999, with ordination at my home church in Golden the next day.

These four years, even though I wasn't earning much money at it, were some of the hardest work-years of my life. My brain was stretching, I was learning exciting stuff, meeting new friends, and preparing for the work that felt like the logical next career: ministry.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Life of Work, Part 3B

And there will probably be a Part 3C too.

After I was married (an unusual affair which shocked my mother and inlaws, no doubt, as it was held in the Gold Hill Inn, in Colorado, and officiated by---not clergy, but---Judge Ted Rubin, my H-T-B's boss at Denver Juvenile Court), my work life changed substantially.

I was no longer the sole support for myself; my husband (HTB means husband to be) and I pooled our money and he pretty much controlled it, with my acquiescence (and a good thing it was, too, as I was stupid about money, never having had much and finally having A Credit Card of my own). He was pretty tightfisted, which was as much a problem as overspending, at least to me.

But within a few months of our marriage, the Christian Center was subsumed into Curtis Park Community Center, and the H and I began to consider what my next occupation would be. H had been an English teacher in Westminster schools and suggested that I might consider getting teaching credentials. It would probably be the only way I'd ever get to use my book-learned Spanish professionally, so I decided to do that.

I checked out Colorado Women's College in Denver, got a job there, and shortly discovered that not only could I take classes tuition free, but I could read the course materials and test out of some classes. Within a year, I had my teaching credentials and was ready to do a semester of student teaching.

But the jobs I had at CWC were interesting; they were totally entry-level but gave me contact with students and faculty, which I enjoyed. I served for several months as the Registrar's clerk, taking applications, filing materials, and making appointments. Later in this stint, a new Psych professor was looking for a secretary and I transferred to the office of Dr. Joel Greenberg. Dr. G was an interesting guy and I typed manuscripts and letters while reading the material for education classes and occasionally attending an education class. I didn't take very many classes, as I was able to test out of several. My college friends were right----there's very little that's interesting about education classes, so this was a true benefit.

Student teaching at Morey Junior High was another eye-opener for me; my students were mostly Black and Latino and many of them knew far more Spanish than I did. Classroom management was my main bugaboo, as these kids were pretty juicy. But I had a good experience, by and large, and by the end of the term, I felt ready to take on my own classroom. I applied to Denver Public Schools, in hopes of returning to Morey, but hadn't heard anything late into the summer, so I decided to apply to other districts.

(Note: in April of this student teaching term, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. occurred, a devastating experience for my students and the whole inner-city Denver community. The community had felt safe up to this time and though there was little violence in Denver (at least not like other major cities experienced it), we knew we were living in explosive times.)

While applications were pending across the metro area, H and I had the opportunity to attend the first Colorado Outward Bound School, a six-weeks course in the Rockies, climbing mountains, rappelling down cliffs, white-water rafting, sailing Sunfish boats on mountain lakes, three-day solos without food or fire, long, long hikes and getting lost, culminating in some good friendships, much improved survival skills, and massive leaps in self-esteem. COBS was a very good experience for me!

When we returned to the city, I had a job opportunity and then an interview with Dick Frost, the principal of Evergreen Junior High in the foothills of the Rockies. He seemed impressed by my Outward Bound experience and hired me to teach three levels of Spanish, starting immediately. I taught Spanish at EJHS for four years, profiting from my OBS hugely as I told wild tales to my students about rapids named "Hell's Half Mile" and how not to rappel down 150 foot cliffs. I was the drama coach, as well, and can brag today that the late Randy Van Wormer was one of my drama students. I love his song "Just When I Needed You Most". He was a cute kid as a sevie.

For two years, I organized a white-water raft trip for 9th grade students at EJHS, though I couldn't go on the second one because of pregnancy (mine). The students were a mixed bag of "Gilmore's Gorillas", the name given to the social studies classes I'd been given when I rashly offered to take on the kids nobody else wanted in their classes---the underachievers, the do-nothings, the hippies, the bums. Dick Frost's assumption was that I would work miracles with these kids because I'd been to Outward Bound. I don't know about that, but we did have a good time! (Gilmore was my married name.)

Pregnancy and the FS's birth changed my work life again. For two years, I was on maternity/educational leave; the FS was born in August of 72, I went back to school for a Master's in Guidance/Counseling, while subbing in the school district. Subbing was fun, but also challenging. Many teachers didn't leave very good lesson plans, so I always took my own bag of tricks, with stories to tell, games to play with Spanish words, and other diversions to help keep me sane. I found it was essential to learn some names as quickly as possible; it bolstered my authority to be able to call some miscreant by his/her actual name. Kids were actually pretty well-behaved in the 70's and I liked it when they'd tell me (though they may have been lying) "we like you better than Missus Soandso".

I also put in two years as a Spanish teacher at O'Connell Junior High, in the district. Field trips were a big deal and the H and I and the FS chaperoned a few, most notably a camping trip with 9th grade Spanish students to Bandelier National Monument, where one morning I woke up to discover that the H had not returned from visiting a neighboring campsite where substances were being consumed. I roused the FS, who was about 3, and we went looking for Daddy, whom we found curled up and snoring at the other campsite. Sheesh! Nobody ever found out about that, luckily, but it knocked another huge hole in what I'd hoped was a good marriage. It could have meant the loss of my job and his, for he was working for the same school district by then, as an attendance counselor.

In 1976, I got a counseling job at Creighton Junior High in Lakewood and stayed there for 13 years, until I realized that one of my seventh graders had been a fetus the last time I'd seen him. It was time to move on, I realized.

But at Creighton, I really developed a style of teaching and counseling that served me well. I co-wrote a peer counseling curriculum with Carolee Hayes, which was accepted into the district's junior high curricula regulars and became used around the district in other schools. I instituted a lot of groups for counseling: divorce, addiction, adoption, under-achieving gifted kids, anger management.

My own marriage was struggling, however; the FS was about 7 years old, and after a difficult summer, the H and I separated and then divorced. We shared custody, so the FS lived with me parttime and his dad parttime. We all had a hard time as we sorted out living arrangements, discipline, homework and school behavior. Once we regained some equilibrium, my life seemed to soar without the burden of substance abuse; I began to date, had some good relationships and some not-so-good, and the former H also seemed happier, giving up the sauce though not the grass, and getting some therapy.

In 1989, I transferred to Oberon Junior High and spent six more years as a counselor, with more groups, more peer counseling classes, and adapting to the many changes demanded by federal and state mandates. By 1995, I was thoroughly burned out and ready for another change. I had felt a strong call to the ministry in 1992 (outlined in the post MAGNIFICAT published in December 2011), but had not yet been able to respond to it, as I was too young with too few years in the district to apply for early retirement.

However.... stay tuned for Part 3C.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Dark of Winter: Reflections

Rev. Kit Ketcham, January 8, 2012

The morning I started to write this homily, I’d just gotten back from a quick half-hour walk up Bush Point Road and home again. We’d come through yet another night of blustery winds and driving rain and I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but my yearning to be outside whatever the weather overrode my sensible but boring other option---to go to the gym, ride the bike and work the machines for half an hour.

So I’d bundled up with ear muffs and gloves, zipped up my jacket, and headed out. It was breezy but not too bad, the air was dry, not drizzly, and even though cars whizzed by constantly, it was good for my mood to be outdoors.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my life, the situations that have shaped me, the decisions I’ve made that were regrettable or wonderful. And my walk in the breezy, chilly air that morning found me taking stock of yet another set of circumstances in life that have brought me to the place I am, at age 69 and a half.

Since last March, when I began to change some habits so that I could shed some weight and improve my general health, I’ve spent a lot more time outdoors walking than practically any other time in my life! I’ve had my favorite places to walk----Greenbank Farm, South Whidbey State Park, Double Bluff beach.

But the old standby has, surprisingly, been a walk from my house up to Mutiny Bay road and back, a journey of about half an hour. I don’t have to drive to get there, it’s about a mile and a half round trip, I can do it easily before nearly anything else in the morning, and though it’s busy, I’ve never felt threatened by the traffic---and there’s always that beautiful vista of the Sound and Olympics once you top that first knoll.

But as winter approached and sunrise came later and later, I knew I’d need to make a winter plan. I’d become too fond of the walking and being outdoors to give it up and go exclusively to the gym. I decided I’d walk every day it wasn’t pouring rain or whipping gale force winds. Those days I’d go to the athletic club and do my stint on the bike and machines.

Last spring, when I started my walking regime on Bush Point Road, I expected it to be boring and trafficky, just a way of getting some exercise, not something I would come to crave. But quickly, I became familiar with the sights and sounds of nature alongside the road: a coyote, once, and a couple of deer; the horsetails poking up through the mud, the wild currant and blackberries leafing out, slugs by the millions, streamlets in the barrow pits and eagles and hawks strafing the meadows.

All last spring and summer I enjoyed watching the cycles of growth alongside the road. When the leaves began to fall, I took handfuls of colorful leaves back home to decorate. But I was not looking forward to winter, when the trees would be bare and the leaves crushed into muck.

The time came, however, when sunrise was so late that I decided I’d better go to the gym more often, and I have, but I still longed to be outdoors. I’d go to Greenbank Farm on an occasional free afternoon; those vistas are beautiful too and the traffic is not a problem----just the deposits of large-caliber dogs whose owners forget to clean up after them.

But I needed to be outdoors! And finally I decided that I’d walk the road every possible chance. And doing so has reconnected me with the value of winter in my life.

As Effie and I talked about this service and shaped its design, choosing hymns and readings to create the atmosphere we hoped for, we shared our thoughts about what the winter season has come to mean to each of us spiritually.

We talked about the dark of winter, how we have each feared the dark in our own lives, either as a child for whom darkness meant the scary unknown or as a woman fearful for her safety on a dark street.

During our lives, we each discovered a need to reframe our ideas about the dark, for we found it limited our lives too greatly. In our own ways, we came to see the dark of winter not as a fearful time but as a fertile time.

Effie mentioned that she had come to see the winter dark as warm and cozy, a womb-like place in which we grow until we are ready to emerge into the light.

For what is wintertime but a so-called fallow season, a time in which the earth does its work underground, reintegrating the fallen leaves into the soil, resting as the amalgam of microbes, water, green material, and time replenish the stores of nutrients in the life-giving body of the planet? Mother Earth is not a misnomer, is it?

I remember my time as an expectant mother, from the time my pregnancy was confirmed, right through the long months of waiting and waiting and waiting---many days joyous, many days uncomfortable and emotional. I remember when I first felt my child move; that moment reminds me now of the first shoots of early plants in my garden.

And when he was born, three weeks early, he wasn’t quite ready to come into the light and needed extra time in hospital care where he received some extra support.

Greta Crosby once wrote:
"Let us not wish away the winter.
It is a season to itself, not simply the way to spring.

When trees rest, growing no leaves, gathering no light, they let in
sky and trace themselves delicately against dawns and sunsets.

The clarity and brilliance of the winter sky delights.
The loom of fog softens edges, lulls the eyes and ears of the quiet, awakens by risk the unquiet.
A low dark sky can snow, emblem of individuality, liberality, and aggregate power. Snow invites to contemplation and to sport.

Winter is a table set with ice and starlight.

Winter dark tends to warm light: fire and candle;
winter cold to hugs and huddles;
winter want to gifts and sharing; winter tedium to merrymaking;
winter danger to visions, plans and common endeavoring -- and to the zest of narrow escapes;

Let us therefore praise winter, rich in beauty, challenge, and
pregnant negativities."

I like that! Pregnant negativities! Turning what could be seen as merely harshness of weather and season into warm light, hugs and huddles, gifts and sharing, merrymaking in the face of boredom, vision, plans, and zesty experience.

Living in Denver, where winter started in October and sometimes lasted till May, I was always waiting for spring. My younger life in the PNW had convinced me that spring ought to start in February---because it does begin to peep through the cold then, here. So I’d begin looking for evidence on Groundhog Day but always had to wait until the March Chinooks out of the west thawed the ground enough that the crocuses could start to croak and I could plant the peas.

I still eagerly look forward to the green shoots of daffodils, tulips, and iris as they respond to the warmth of a southern wall; I still lift my face to the faint warmth of a sunny January day. But I’ve learned that winter is not just the warmup act to spring. Winter is a season for being still, for quiet reflectiveness, for lying fallow, for letting the work take place internally.

We are animals, after all, animals who make far too much out of our humanity sometimes, expecting to conquer winter as we have conquered (we think) rivers and mountains. But all our conquest of nature is strictly in our heads; our soft animal bodies respond to the cold and dark in very primal ways. We nest, we hunker down, we huddle around fires and candlelight, we conserve our strength, we rest.

That is the meaning of winter. Spring, with all its resurrection and rebirth and re-energizing, is an exhausting season. Winter is the time of rest before the long hours of labor begin. We need winter. As the late Max Coots has said, “winter is the poor soul’s fertilizer”, and if we avoid its nourishment, we may fail to use much of our creative potential, our ability to bring forth new life, new commitment, new growth.

What does winter do to our spiritual lives? Certainly winter can be a dark time, not just a time of rest but of pain and anguish. It can be hard to stay and rest within that painful season. But when we do, we reap rewards.

For winter clarifies. Between the bright light, the clear air, and the absence of foliage on trees and shrubs, winter lets us see farther and more clearly. The landscape may be bleak and barren, but we can see it better. In winter, our lives, too, show themselves more clearly.

Winter reveals, stripping away fluff. A tree, streamlined and stripped of leaves by the harsh wind, looks stronger, more steadfast than it does when its branches are fluffed by greenery. In winter, we are most conscious of our basic needs---food, shelter, companionship.

Winter covers, whether with snow or ice or vast puddles of water, transforming an ordinary scene into a new place. We respond to that new place with our creative selves, playing in the snow, coping with the ice, splashing in the puddles.

And winter strengthens. We test ourselves against winter wind, ice-glazed roads, snowy ski trails, and our muscles and our brains answer by adding cells, devising new strategies, responding to danger with increased intelligence.

We have such a short time to be here. In winter, we are acutely aware of the fragility of life and of the need to use our lives as fully and as openly as we can. Winter is a time for introspection, for healing our wounds, for hibernating and storing our strength. We come together in this community to share our lives, share our journeys, share our struggles.

Can we, in the interstices, the spaces between the events of our busy lives, find time to be at rest, to be at home with one another? Can we let ourselves be enriched by winter?

Can we move from fear and anxiety about the cold and dark to a new acknowledgement of the spiritual gifts of winter? Can we trust that even in the hardest times---the winters of our discontent, the cold and barren and scary times of life---we can find hope and vision made clearer by the stripping away of the old and the transformation of that old stuff into something new?

This is the challenge of the wintertime as well as its gift, that within each negative, there is a positive. We can’t see it immediately, most of the time. We need time, we need awareness, we need perspective.

We can’t know immediately, upon learning of a tragic event, what that positive might be. When we learned of the death of a beloved child on Christmas Day, a freaky accident of nature, we were stunned into grief at the loss to family and friends.

But enough people believed in the healing power of community that quickly the effort spread to support and give assistance in the time of terrible need. Nothing can replace the loss of a child and this was not the aim of the outpouring of aid. Its intent was to tell the Leonard family and each other that we shared their grief, that we would be present to help as long as needed, and that their pain could be tempered---not quenched, but tempered---by the care of the community.

What do we here offer to each other in the wintertime? When we come together in this room or in each other’s homes, what do we give and receive from each other? For me, it is a listening ear, a chance to laugh together, to share a meal, to offer support and receive encouragement. These quiet mutual needs and offerings are the gifts of this season. May we give and receive them joyfully.

I close with these thoughts from our friend the Rev. Dave Bieniek, who has shared his wisdom with us several times: This is the season of Epiphany, the date in the Christian calendar that celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men at the baby Jesus’ cribside. The Magi had to travel at night, in order to follow the star, a risky venture in the absolute dark of the Asian sky two thousand years ago. They faced huge dangers. And so must we.

“Sometimes we must stand in the dark in order to see the light that is guiding our lives. It is necessary for us to walk through our fears, our grief, our pain in order to find the treasure that lies on the other side. It is true, we need the dark in order to see the stars.”

Let’s sing our closing song, followed by a time of silence, before our benediction.

Closing song: #55, Dark of Winter

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, rejoicing in the gifts of winter, committed to sharing our joy within this community and reaching out to those beyond these walls. May we remember our strength while acknowledging our needs and may we both give and receive in right measure. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Marriage Equality in Washington State

At a Town Hall today in Bayview, on Whidbey Island, State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen was greeted by a large group of marriage equality proponents, as the state legislature is about to consider the issue of granting full civil marriage rights to all Washington couples. This is the text of my opening remarks.

Senator Haugen, thank you for coming today to listen to the concerns of your constituency. We know you are eager to serve us to the best of your ability and we appreciate your commitment. My name is Rev. Kit Ketcham. I am a longtime ally of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/intersex community and have supported equal marriage rights for all couples for many years.

As a minister in this county, this community, and a Washington native, I urge you to support equal marriage rights for all couples by voting yes when the marriage equality legislation soon to be considered in the legislature comes to the floor of the Senate.

Religious faiths have the right to determine for themselves whose marital unions they will sanctify, but the State has no business denying this fundamental civil right to ALL its citizens, as our Governor Chris Gregoire has stated so eloquently. Human rights should not go to a vote, as in a referendum; it should become law because it is right.

I urge you to take this step, vote yes on the upcoming marriage equality legislation, and make our state a place where all loving couples can enjoy the many benefits of civil marriage. Such an action takes moral courage and I believe that you have that moral courage.

Domestic partnerships are good but they stop short of full equality. They are the equivalent of archaic “separate but equal” laws which have hampered this nation’s progress and cast aspersions on our national character. Please do your part to end this unfair infringement on our citizens’ civil rights.

Senator Haugen was courteous and listened to concerns during the 90 minute session but only said she would "consider" our requests for full inclusion in the civil rights open to heterosexual couples.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A Life of Work, Part 3A

Those of you who were alive and cognizant on November 22, 1963 know where you were and how you found out that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. I was watching General Hospital on TV while my dad and I ate lunch at home. We watched for hours, stunned, as events unfolded and our country reeled from the shock of losing our President and the metamorphosis overnight from Camelot to we didn't know what.

I had been thinking about the possibility of either going to seminary in Berkeley, CA, or moving to PA and applying at the American Baptist Convention headquarters where my friend Kathy worked. Neither possibility seemed attractive to me, given national events, and I instead applied to be a caseworker for Washington State Department of Public Assistance. They needed a new person in the Klickitat/Skamania county office and I was hired right away. A month of training at headquarters in Seattle and I was ensconced in the Skamania county courthouse by February of 1964.

It was both exciting and lonely to live in Stevenson, WA, in a tiny apartment on Main Street. I had no idea how to entertain myself and was nervous about going places alone, even in this small town. But the work was challenging and opened my eyes further to the poverty and bleakness suffered by the elderly, single mothers, the disabled, and the addicted. I lived in Stevenson for a year, the latter part of that time in an apartment on the banks of the Columbia River, and went home every weekend to stay with my parents in Goldendale; weekends alone and friendless were unbearable. After that lonely year, I was transferred to the Goldendale office, where I could live with my folks all the time.

Unfortunately, my religious views had changed a great deal because of my religion classes at Linfield and the mind-changing theology I'd heard during my Green Lake summer. It wasn't very comfortable to listen quietly to the conservative, anti-modernist views of my family members; I wasn't articulate enough at that time to disagree without risking the loss of my family relationships. So I kept quiet and found my health suffering. The family doctor was blunt: "You need to move away from your parents and strike out on your own; you can't live this way. You don't really have physical problems, you have other problems."

But where to go? In an effort to relieve the boredom and cognitive dissonance of living at home in a small town with my conservative parents, I signed up for a class about the "Life of Jesus" being offered at the Yakima Baptist church, which was taught every Tuesday night for six weeks. To get to Yakima from Goldendale required a trip across treacherous Satus Pass from the Klickitat valley to the Yakima valley. I was fearless, even in the snow, in my desperation, and one night met a young man representing the American Baptist Convention and their program for juvenile offenders. He was cute, but more importantly, he was an angel of salvation---he knew about jobs with the ABC in community centers all over the US and he hooked me up with the director of programming at Baptist-run Christian centers.

In September of 1965, I became an American Baptist home missionary at the Denver Christian Center, where I did after-school programming for children of all ages. I worked with some terrific people, including Lydia Ortiz, a woman about my age who became a wonderful friend, and Rev. George Turner, who had recently returned from Selma, Alabama, where he had been part of the Civil Right marches with Martin Luther King, Jr. My social conscience was beginning to grow and expand; it was impossible to overlook the poverty and the racial discrimination suffered by the kids and adults who frequented the Christian Center. In addition, I taught a preschool class for a semester, a pre-cursor to the federal Head Start programs which began at almost the same time. It was a thrilling place and time to start becoming a social activist.

But a year after I arrived, the DCC became a United Way agency and lost some of its Baptist affiliation; it was merged with several other similar community centers in Five Points and became the Curtis Park Community Center. I was invited to stay on, but I had met the (Unitarian) man I would later marry and decided to leave the Christian Center and go back to school to get teaching credentials. The leadership of the Center was changing as well and I would no longer be working with Lydia and George; it was a good time to leave. My missionary life had lasted a year and a half, the same length of time as my caseworker life.

Monday, January 02, 2012

A Life of Work, Part 2

Linfield College, a small Baptist-supported liberal arts college in McMinnville, Oregon, was my home away from home for the four years after high school. Moving to McMinnville after many years in tiny Athena was a shock and an adventure for me. Living in a dorm with a roommate, experiencing campus life, meeting people from all over the U.S., learning things I'd never heard about in Sunday School----these were delicious and horizon-stretching years.

However, I had to come home in the summertime and that was a challenge. I needed a job during the summer and felt I'd outgrown pea and wheat truck driving. There weren't many job opportunities but I lucked out by being hired to be the timekeeper for the pea harvest outfit I'd driven truck for previously. This meant going from field to field, recording the name of every worker, the hours the crew had come on, when they left the job, and those sorts of details.

I also visited the quonset huts where the migrant workers lived, to verify addresses on occasion. It was my first real encounter with the poverty and grimy living conditions provided by the company. Other than the high school boys and girls who worked in the fields, the men who pitched peas into the viners were transients, Mexican day laborers, winos, and other wandering workers. My rudimentary Spanish was helpful, but I wasn't very fluent. Mostly the workers were adult men; few families followed the pea and wheat crops. The migrant workers were paid daily; we teenagers were paid weekly.

During my sophomore year, I was hired to be a clerk at the new Linfield bookstore, which had been renovated and needed extra staff. However, I was more interested in browsing the shelves than in helping customers and eventually was let go from this job. My first and only firing!

That summer, I went home to a new town. My family had moved from Athena to Goldendale, Washington, where my dad became the pastor of the Baptist church. Dad asked around town and found me a job as receptionist at the Goldendale Sentinel, the local weekly newspaper. I learned to use a cash register, to take special orders, and to wait on customers---more successfully than I did the job at the Linfield bookstore!

Junior year I didn't have a job until summer time, when I drove a bus full of screaming kids out to the strawberry and bean fields of the Yamhill valley near McMinnville and spent the day as a row boss, checking to make sure the kids had picked their rows clean, weren't filling their hallecks or bags with dirt and rocks to make them weigh more, and then driving them back to the starting point again. This was a lot of fun; lots of Mexican migrant families with kids---good for my Spanish! In fact, I decided to major in Spanish, thinking I'd be a UN interpreter one day. And living in a rental house in McMinnville with a couple of other girls was a blast! We were always entertaining and I managed to learn a few things about romance.

Senior year I was the dorm counselor, the so-called "senior girl", at one of the dorms. For this responsibility I got a slight cut in tuition and the dry cleaning concession, which paid a small stipend. I also got to contend with the potential panty-raids, drunken frosh girls, and campussing punishments. At Christmas, I decided not to go home right away and took a job at the local Penney's to make a bit of Christmas cash.

During my senior year, the fourth year in a row that I had been a member of the a cappella choir, I received encouragement from friends to apply to be on the young adult staff at the American Baptist Assembly grounds in Green Lake, Wisconsin. I was accepted and set off by train to Wisconsin shortly after graduation. It was the first time I had ever been far from home alone.

This three month interlude was one of the best experiences of my life. I met other college age young people from across the US, all with the same religious background I had but much more worldly! Linfield suddenly seemed tame by comparison. My job was as a snack bar worker (very hard on the waistline!), but it was only for a few hours a day. We had special activities and programming, as well as access to the high-powered and very liberal Baptist thinkers of the day (1963). I dated several of the guys and made long-lasting friendships with people I'm still connected to through Facebook. I even fell in love, at least temporarily!

At the end of the summer, I headed back to Goldendale again, while several of my fellow staffers headed for the Civil Rights rally with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington DC. I wanted to go with them, but I did not have the courage. My courage to act came a few years later.

Instead, I went home to Goldendale with no idea of what I would do with myself. I didn't have enough Spanish fluency to be an interpreter for the UN and a degree in Spanish wasn't going to get me very far in Goldendale! So I stayed with my parents, watched soap operas with my dad over lunch, and on Nov. 22, 1963, as we were watching General Hospital, the whole world changed.