This past week marked the official beginning of my senior ministry at Foothills. As I’ve gotten closer to this threshold, I’ve been thinking about the Rev. Mary Lydia Legget, who in 1900 was the last (and only other) female minister to act as lead minister for our congregation. I wonder what she would’ve described as her charge for her ministry, what inspired her to take up what was surely a difficult posting in the “wild west.”
116 years later, I’ve been asking myself this same question – though the “posting” is somewhat less wild these days, and I’m not sure anyone would describe it as “difficult.” Quite the opposite – now beginning my fifth year in Fort Collins, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t give thanks that I get to live in the middle of all this beauty, with these good people, in this incredible community.
What I believe hasn’t changed over this century plus, however, is the sense of mission and evangelism that was likely at the heart of Rev. Legget’s call to ministry. I know some will balk at the word “evangelism,” but I encourage you to translate it simply as “sharing the good news,” which is pretty close to the definition of the word’s Greek roots. Rev. Legget – as with the other female ministers who were a part of the legendary Iowa Sisterhood of liberal ministers serving congregations in the west – served here because she felt passionate about bringing the “good news” of progressive religion to more and more people, far beyond the confines of the northeast United States where Unitarianism began.
As we begin this new ministry together, there remains in our world an urgent need for voices of love, kindness, and hope, and for a community that embodies the vision that “we need not think alike to love alike.” The news cannot stop bringing us evidence of how much work there is to do to “bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice,” and how revolutionary it remains to affirm that every life matters, and deserves dignity, respect, and tender care – how revolutionary it still is to affirm that that brown and black lives matter, how counter-cultural it is to walk in solidarity with the most vulnerable in our society, to bear witness to the full beauty and brokenness of life today. It is our charge and our inheritance as Unitarian Universalists to respond to this need with our steadfast presence, our compassion, our humility, our hunger for justice, our awareness of our own imperfections, and our willingness for partnership across difference.
The current cultural moment is giving us a great opportunity to speak up with a public, progressive theology, and from a deep sense of mission, offer an alternative voice to the polarization and fear that has captured much of today’s public discourse. It is our task to articulate a worthy vision, something that will bring people together in love, a vision that calls people in towards one another, rather than magnifying our divisions. As Krista Tippet described in her Ware Lecture at General Assembly – it is our responsibility to offer that “middle way that refuses to see each other as evil.” As one of my colleagues recently said it, our message is that “no matter how bad things get, love will remain.”
In considering this great charge before us, I have been holding in my mind the dual awareness of its urgency alongside the wisdom of holding the “long view.” It’s not either/or – it’s both/and. Which means, we must choose carefully where and how we will spend our time, and our energy, and be cautious of reactivity to the “crisis of the moment,” even as we attempt to avoid “analysis paralysis” and that special UU trap of “talking about” religion/justice/spirituality/etc. rather than actually “doing” these core tasks of our faith. This is true for our congregation, as it is for each of us in our individual lives – as we consider the question, “What is that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
In addition to Rev. Legget, I’ve also been thinking recently about another important female minister in our faith – the Rev. Olympia Brown, who was ordained by the Universalist Church in 1863, making her among the very first women to receive ordination recognized by a denomination. After serving in a parish for many years, Rev. Brown went on to be a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, and was one of the only original suffragists still alive to vote, at long last, in 1919.
I’ve been thinking of Olympia Brown this week because most of all, in the midst of all the world’s tragedies and brokenness, I’ve been feeling grateful. Grateful for this calling and its charge to respond to the many forces of dehumanization with a greater love, grateful to carry forward the “good news” of our faith, grateful to be in partnership with all of you – that none of life’s greatest challenges must be confronted alone. And all of this reminds me of words from Brown’s final sermon, given at the end of her life, looking back on everything she has seen. She says:
“Do not demand immediate results but rejoice that we are worthy to be entrusted with this great message, that you are strong enough to work for a great true principle without counting the cost.”
And so let us rejoice together, that we are entrusted with this “good news,” that we might offer one another strength in all of life’s tangled blessings, that we might carry on this light of hope, and love through it all, for all the generations and across all the centuries yet to come.