When I retired from my ministry at the UU Congregation of Whidbey Island after 9 years of satisfying and useful service to those lovely folks eight months ago, I had in mind to wait a couple of years before I offered to be helpful to the lovely folks at the local UU fellowship in Astoria. I was pretty sure I needed to really wind down, have fun, make new friends outside the UU community, and distance myself from ministry for a good long time.
Maybe I'd never go back. Maybe I'd really served my call and the Power Beyond Human Power would let me be. I'd done various kinds of ministry for almost fifty years by that point, assuming it's okay to count my four previous careers (welfare caseworker, home missionary, junior high school teaching and school counseling) as ministries of sorts. Maybe it would be most satisfying to be involved with non-human-services as a volunteer, for a change.
Maybe. Or maybe not.
I've lived here in Gearhart for almost six months now, enjoying every minute of it, making new friends, getting involved with the local Land Conservancy, going to presentations about the coastal environment, walking the beach, joining the locals at the little bakery in town for Saturday morning coffee, taking classes in the community college's seniors division, and going for hikes with the hiking club. I have even been keeping company with a very nice man, to some extent, and experiencing the joy of being with a man who is not off-limits.
And every Sunday I'd get up, dust off one of my Sunday outfits, and go to church at PUUF, aka Pacific UU Fellowship. I've known this congregation for a long time and have preached there several times over the years. It's a strong little group, very informal and mom-and-pop-ish, but good leadership, good UU identity, very active in the community's social justice work. And no minister, over the years, except for one experiment with a setup whereby a UU colleague came for a long weekend every month and crammed in as much ministry as possible in a few days or, in another setup, a colleague would visit one Sunday a month for preaching services only. Other Sundays were covered by lay leaders and other visiting speakers, primarily UU colleagues. They did their best with their resources and their contacts within UUism and have provided meaningful worship for members and friends for several years. But they had no pastoral care available and several members whose health and lives were getting iffy. But for awhile, I was happy just to sit in the pew and be served. For several months, at least.
My first clue that the ministry seed had not gone totally dormant was shortly after Christmas when a traditionally low-attendance service turned out to have quite a lot more people present than expected and the plan to just sit and talk casually over coffee wasn't going to be enough for the 30 or so who showed up. I found myself unable to keep from throwing a conversational gambit on the table and encouraging people to take part. I was almost embarrassed that it came so easily and I worried that I was being inappropriate. But nobody seemed to mind and everyone seemed to enjoy a more directed conversation.
It made me think. It made me wonder how long I was going to try to suppress the ministry seed, because it was clear from that moment on that it wasn't dormant any longer. I started thinking about whether the congregation might be interested in my help at some point---maybe an occasional sermon, maybe a little pastoral care. Oh, and maybe a couple of coffee klatches, like I'd done on Whidbey to reach members who lived at quite a distance from the meetinghouse. And gee, there were several new members---maybe I could offer a new members class.
You're getting the picture, I'm sure. Eventually I wrote out an actual proposal, bounced some ideas off our DE and another colleague who had been coming once a month for a few years to preach and was ready to lessen her involvement, and I presented my proposal (with many caveats about not wanting to work very hard) to members of the leadership.
To make a long story short, in March I will begin officially offering pastoral care, a membership class, and maybe those coffee groups, for a small monthly stipend. In September, I'll add preaching once a month for an additional stipend. PUUFers are thrilled and so am I.
Maybe I'll even have something to write about at Ms. Kitty's again!