Charge to the Minister – for Rev. Patty Willis

I had the wonderful chance to be there for my friend and colleague, Patty Willis’ installation to the South Valley UU Church in Salt Lake City on Sunday the 20th of March.  And not just to be there, but to give her her charge!

Here’s a great photo of the interfaith colleagues present for this wonderful celebration.  12376323_10154749976259179_8734512464009976381_n

And here is my charge!

Charge to the Minister
It is my great joy and privilege to be here for this celebration.
I am among many Unitarian Universalist ministers in the Mountain Desert who have been paying attention to and sending love and support from afar for this journey you – congregation and minister – have been on for the past few years.  I think it is a pretty safe bet to say I am speaking for states of UU clergy, when I say- wooohooooo! We are so happy for you.
Today, I have the lucky privilege of charging your newly installed minister, and for this charge, I want to recall a tradition Patty and I have of going on walks at every ministers retreat.  As we walk – through red rocks and along river beds, we exchange stories and offer each other support, perspective, and most importantly, the best sort of big faith and courageous love the kind embodied in silly, hearty laughter.
So Patty – for today’s charge, I’d like to imagine that we are on one of our walks.The only difference is that this time, only one of us is going to to talk.Oh, and we have an audience.  And… we’re standing still, and indoors.
But other than that….basically the same.
Are we ready?
We always begin by telling stories of the past, what has happened, how it relates to the bigger picture of our own story, and of the congregation’s story, and of the story of our faith.  So this is my first charge to you:
Remember where you have been.  Your own life story is so rich with beauty and risk – your heart has been broken wide open over and over, and you keep saying yes to love.  So too the story of this congregation.  Here is a place of tenderness, struggle, hope, desire. I charge you with seeing and naming these stories – honoring what has been and the ways it is still alive in the realities of today.
I know you are no stranger to this work.  Keep doing it.
Do it more, and more boldly.  But don’t stop there.  As you move fully into your calling, move beyond seeing, naming and honoring into the work of transformation.   I charge you with transforming these stories of the past into the new story of the future.  I charge you with releasing the past – reframe it, re-tell it, forgive it, mine it for gifts, and create with your partners in ministry a new story.  Become something new with them, and let your lives together be a witness to our good news that truth continues to be revealed and God is still doing a new thing in Salt Lake City, in your lives, in Unitarian Universalism, in this difficult and still beautiful world.
So.  After we’ve told some stories, my experience is that things tend to get a little uncomfortable.  Not because of the stories exactly, but for for two other reasons: first, because I realize I was unprepared for the walk we took –
I didn’t bring the right clothes or shoes or sunscreen or water – and second, because I start to realize that Patty can’t fix my problems.  Nor me, hers.  Which brings me to my second charge.
Patty, I charge you with being uncomfortable.  I charge you with going to places where you don’t feel you are prepared to be, places where you feel self-conscious or unsure of yourself – and I charge you with constantly realizing how much of this world and this life you cannot fix. And I charge you to keep walking, regardless.
Because what I have found out is that sometimes, the best places to go, the places we are most needed – are the places you can’t prepare for. And that the most worthy journeys aren’t about fixing, or about making everything all better or totally transformed, at least not in our lifetimes.  The places we are called to travel – that YOU are called to travel, are about showing up anyway, offering your companionship, and your holy witness.
Which brings us near the end of our walk, and my charge. Always our walk includes one important thing, and that is a ritual of letting go. We have tossed more things in the lake, and rolled more things down the mountain than we should probably admit.  My last charge for you is to keep up this practice. Perhaps each week, or night, some days, each hour.
Ministry is so often about accumulation – accumulating heartbreak, longing, milestones, gifts, grief.  In order to make this work sustainable, alongside this piling up, we need to practice setting down.  Find ways to set down these precious stories, to take in cleansing breaths, to begin again and anew.  So, laugh as often as you can.
Keep taking walks with me, and others. Most of all, know that you are beloved, just as you are, and the world keeps on going, even when we rest.
This is my charge to you, Patty:  Name and transform the holy stories, be uncomfortable, and practice letting go.
Thank you for walking with me – and all of these good people, here, and yet to come. Many blessings on your ministry – today, and long into the future.
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About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley serves as the Senior Minister of the Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, CO. She's relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation and poetry, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy and often-great-depth of popular (and less popular) television and music. She and her partner of 17 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (10) and Josef (8).
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