Thursday, June 28, 2012

The New Gig

You'll notice that I've retitled the blog.  Or, rather, I've added a secondary title since I'm no longer in the active ministry (i.e., paid).  I guess I am, technically, still on staff at UUCWI till Saturday, at which time my contract runs out, my Comcast address expires, and the post office starts forwarding my mail.

I've spent the last few days packing madly, marshalling the friends who signed up to help me move out of the house, and cleaning up in more than just a desultory way, so that I can get back all (hopefully) of my damage deposit.  I'm meeting the landlord on Saturday the 30th for just such an inspection and I'm pretty confident.  You'd never guess how much grime can accumulate over six years of easy living, even though I've always been pretty good about staying tidy.  I haven't always mopped up every barf mark on the floors, but I've gotten most of them and I had eagle-eyed friends scoping it all out for me.

According to the Merry Men who packed up the cartons and various and sundry other possession and took them to the storage locker, I need to watch for falling items when I go to move things with the nephs later in July.  They apparently stuffed it pretty tight, in order not to need a second locker.  I'm grateful!  These were the sweetest bunch of guys:  Dave Sweetwood, Gene Berg, John Long, John Leaser, Charlie Knutila, John Kron, Chris Bell, and Tom Buxton.  More testosterone in one place than I have been privileged to enjoy for many a year!  They made short work of a house-full of stuff---3 hours total!

Later that day, Terra Anderson, Judy Kaplan, Christi Shaffer, and Wendy Ferrier came over and shined up the place.  They were done in an hour!

So the biggest part of the move is done.  Still to follow are a few minor items to pickup at the house tomorrow or Saturday, the walk-through with the landlord, and, of course, the eventual move to Gearhard with Scott and Justin, the nephs.  I'm hoping they can manage it without me, because otherwise I'd be awfully stretched to get back home in time to do a wedding and a band gig the day after.  My sister suggested that as a solution, which I hadn't thought of.  I think it's a good idea.

So Ms. Kitty is off on another adventure:  free time, less responsibility, more opportunities to follow my interests without deadlines and meetings to pay attention to.  Whoopee!  Let the good times roll!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Civilian life begins.

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 



Saturday, June 23, 2012

Last week of my ministry at UUCWI

The days I secretly thought might never come are actually here.  Tomorrow is my last service with the congregation I've served for nine years, nine wonderful years with only a few bad moments and always the support of my congregation.

Only a couple of folks have been obstreperous in any way that needed attention, which I deem incredible luck, as my previous congregation in Portland was a little harder to deal with---and I was a rookie at the time as well.

If pain and trouble taught me anything then, it resulted in my having a better idea of which hills were worthy of defending; which battles are worth fighting?  which precious value must be preserved at all cost?

Knowing that so and so had scared a couple of people badly enough that they were uneasy about coming to church---that needed to be dealt with.  And because of the integrity of the people involved and the people I consulted for help, we did a pretty good job of sorting out the truths and letting go of the rumors which were at the base of the trouble. 

Knowing that another so and so had damaged the congregation so badly many years ago yet failed to understand or accept responsibility for the damage---that also needed to be dealt with when the person wanted to return to the congregation.  And it was dealt with fairly and kindly, thanks again to the help of others in leadership.

So tomorrow I say goodbye and recount some of what I've learned.  My theme song for ministry, all the years of it from call to retirement, has been the Sunday School hymn "I Would Be True".  That will be the theme of tomorrow's sermon.  Watch for it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rev. Kit Ketcham, June 10, 2012, with Mary Goolsby

    In February, Eileen and Mavis and I brought you a worship experience that focused on the importance of music in our spiritual lives.  We wanted to give you a musical encounter that might move you into your right brain far enough that you could feel music taking you to a different place---not necessarily a place of sweet contentment, but a place of creative reflection and interchange.

    The responses to the experience made me wonder if we could do the same thing with the visual arts and their importance in our spiritual lives.  This morning, Gladys, Mary and I, with the help and support of others on the visual arts committee, hope to accomplish something similar as we explore the spiritual stimulation we receive through viewing the art another has created.

    In thinking about my own experience with the visual arts, my own efforts to create something beautiful with paper or clay or wood or textiles, and the impact certain artworks have had on me, one particular work stands out in my mind.

    As I’ve thought about this work, I’ve realized that part of its importance to me is that I know the artist, I know something about the experience out of which the art was created, and the colors and design cause me to contemplate its meaning at a deep level.  I am always seeing something new in it.

    I have brought it to show you.  Many of you have seen it on the wall of my home; it is one of my most valued pieces of art.  It is a batik created by a former student whose name is Valerie. 

    Valerie was very angry with me at one point in our relationship because I had learned that one of her teachers was sexually involved with her and I had to report that situation to the police.  This batik was created during her tumultuous 8th grade year, when she was just 13 years old and trying to understand why all this had happened.

    Later, when we had successfully navigated that difficult time, I asked Valerie if I could buy this piece of art from her, as a remembrance of our painful but ultimately growthful experience together.  It has been on the wall of my home ever since.

    Other works of art in my life include wonderful photographs of nature scenes, paintings by beloved friends including our dear Nola Allen and Judi Nyerges, needlework made as gifts and returned to me upon my mother’s death, gifts from others, and the many paintings, sculptures, photographs, and designs I’ve contemplated in galleries and museums, including the walls of this building and other sacred spaces.

    This very building, this sanctuary, is a work of art that inspires me and gives me peace of heart.  I sit in our chairs and from any angle, I can look out these windows and experience the movement of the wind in the trees, enhanced by the fine grain of the wood framing.  I’ve often thought it’s like being in a life-size Ansel Adams photograph.

    When I look up, I see the symmetry and texture of the crossbeams that support our roof.  Not only are they eco-friendly, they are also lovely in their coloring and striation, with ironwork placed just so to set off the attractive wood structure.

    Through our round windows I can see the sky, the clouds scudding by, the rain patterns against the glass.  At various times of the day, the sunlight streams through our windows and strikes the floor, making the lustrous bamboo glow. 

    And our beautiful wall hanging of the madrona trees which line our landscape reflects the colors and shapes of our outdoor setting as it reminds us of the creative spirit that produced the design, the color selection, the intricate stitchery, and made our sanctuary extraordinary.

    Other useful and beautiful elements in this room add to the visual effectiveness and stimulation for our spiritual experience:  our beautiful pulpit, our chalice, the sanctuary doors, the ways the colors and textures of wood, fabric, and metal harmonize to create a visual feast of beauty for our worship.

    Sometimes the beauty that surrounds us, whether natural or humanly created, becomes so familiar that its effectiveness is dimmed.  We hope that today you will be refreshed and reminded that the beauty that surrounds us every day is a source of spiritual renewal and inspiration.

    Mary is going to lead us all now in a meditative time, that we might experience or re-experience what visual art has meant to us spiritually.

(Mary leads visualization meditation.)

    In their recent book “A House for Hope”, the Rev. John Buehrens, former president of the UUA, and the Rev. Rebecca Parker, current president of Starr King School for the Ministry, are clear about the importance of the visual arts to our experience of the divine, to our ability to find hope and comfort in human living, and to the creative spirit within each of us.

    Here’s one passage from their book:

    “Progressive religion in the 21st century will be stronger if it can engage not only music but also the visual arts in developing a house for the Spirit, a house for hope.  Many Americans today gather in megachurch sanctuaries that exude the aesthetics of shopping malls or sports arenas.  The spaces are purged of anything too “churchy”---which surely has marketing advantages, given how alienated from “religion” many people today are.
    “But this accommodation of American religion to the world of consumerism, aided and abetted by Protestant iconoclasm  lacks full power to reshape the imagination as a true home for the Spirit.  Early Christians knew better.  Their worship spaces were filled with beauty, giving a sense of paradise now to those whose eyes brought them there for the rituals…of shared worship…
    “To give faith greater form, progressive religion must learn to become practiced and disciplined in the creation, use, and interpretation of images, not just words and music.”

    Parker and Buehrens go on to say that in order to practice the love that is innate within us, in order to freely offer it to both friends and enemies, we must remember and re-imagine that love.  Images, symbols, and songs are the medium for such memory and imagination.   Without their presence, we cannot be fully human and fully creative.

    Words cannot do it all, much as we love them!  We also require physical beauty in our spiritual diet.  Our restless spirits are soothed by the beauty of nature and take flight as we create beauty of our own making.

    In the years ahead, the ministry of this congregation will expand and strengthen, in collaboration with your new minister, Dennis Reynolds.  As you grow together, it is my fond hope that you will remember that a religious community flourishes best when the facets of its ministry are equally attentive to outreach and inreach.

    Remember that in order to give your best to the larger community, you as the Beloved Community here within these walls must attend to your own needs as well.  As the cabin staff on our airlines point out every time we prepare to go aloft, you must put on your own oxygen mask before you take care of others’ need for oxygen.  If you can’t breathe, you can’t help others breathe.

    Ministry is a demanding cause, whether you are an ordained clergyperson or a lay person.  To be the most effective minister possible, you must take care of your own spiritual needs before attempting to take care of others’ needs.

    I once naively asked one of my Iliff professors what his theology was, and he answered, “Beauty.  Beauty is my theology.”  I may have been na├»ve in my question, but I understood his answer immediately.  Beauty is the wellspring from which spiritual wholeness emerges.  That can be beauty of action, beauty of thought, beauty of words, beauty of relationship, but it flows out of an appreciation and a connection with the beauty around us.

    We are lucky here to live in a beautiful natural environment and we have created a sanctuary for the spirit here in these rooms.  As we are strengthened by the beauty of our home here, we become better able to serve the needs of the larger community. May your ministries of outreach always include beautiful music, beautiful artwork, beautiful relationships, beautiful words of hope. 

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

Before our benediction, let me offer this poem by Mary Oliver:

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees

are turning
their own bodies

into pillars of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,

the long tapers
 of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.

Every year


I have ever learned

in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side

is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

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 beauty of this time and place and carrying it with us into our lives beyond these walls.  May we seek beauty in nature, beauty in human living, beauty in creative thought and act, and may we strive to bring beauty into others’ lives, that they too might find spiritual wholeness in art, music, and loving relationships.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Moving and shaking!

It's been a month since I last posted; the sermons in May were brief and kinda standard-issue:  Flower Communion, which I rarely write something new for but just tell the story, and Memorial Sunday, which is more of a sharing service for everyone rather than a time for a sermon.  I did speak the names of all those for whom I had performed memorial services during the nine years I have served this congregation, plus the names of my own dear ones who had died during the past year.

But primarily I've been involved in the whole moving-away and letting-go-of-ministry process.  I've found a house to rent on the Oregon Coast and am looking forward to getting the key, commandeering my nephews into moving me down there, and starting to get settled in a new home.  It's a sweet little house, on a creek, about ten minutes' walk from the shoreline, and, in another direction, ten minutes from the local coffee shop.  It's 1200 square feet, all on one level, with lots of storage, and I feel very lucky to have found just what I was hoping for.

I will be staying on the island most of the summer, so that I can sing with the band, and will be house-sitting for a couple in the church who live on top of a hill outside Coupeville.  I'll take care of their animals and property for a couple of months while Lily and Loosy stay with another couple in the congregation till I'm ready to take them to the coast.  I should be moved into my new home around the first of September.

My going-away activities are in the works; yesterday, the lectionary group took me out to lunch after our last session together and we said goodbye.  I will miss them very much on Friday mornings; they have been one of the most important groups in my island life, giving me encouragement and collegial support, even though our theologies are different.

My last two services with the congregation are June 10 and 24.  I'll be posting those sermons as they are given and I'll try to be better about posting on this blog until the end of June.  Then I have decided to chronicle my life in retirement, as an exercise in reflecting on who I am when I don't have a career ongoing.  I want to continue to write and to express my experiences in words.

I'll probably start a whole new blog, but I like the Ms Kitty's title so well I'll figure out a way to keep the flavor of it while changing the topic from active ministry to active retirement.

The big retirement party will be June 16 and they're planning quite the bash.  My band will play a short set, they will honor me with the title of Minister Emerita during the party, give me a Memory Book that has been in production for the past several weeks, and I don't know what all else.

On the 24th, I'm planning the final service with my Committee on Ministry; it will end with a ritual that will be something of a surprise to the congregation, though I've been telling a few people what to expect.

So, though many of my congregants are assuming that I am all torn up about leaving them, the truth is that I am thrilled to be laying down the mantle of ministry and letting someone else take it up.  I am not grieving this change a bit, at least right now; I am so glad they've found a good candidate to take my place and I hope that works out really well.  I am looking forward with glee to letting go of so much responsibility for other people and for leading the charge in progressive religious causes.

I've pretty much decided that when I do get ready to volunteer next winter (if then), I want to work with animals, with animal rescue if possible.  I want to learn things I've never had time to learn in the interstices between work responsibilities.  I want to rest!  at least for awhile.