Charge to the Minister – for the ordination of Sean Neil-Barron April 2, 2017

First, Thank you. It is my joy and privilege to charge you in your new ministry – I think doing the charge is like every older sister’s dream.  But – really, it is my honor, so, thank you.

To begin, I need to tell a little story, from the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron. She tells about a time when she was invited to co-teach with one of Buddhism’s greatest teachers.
It was a big honor, but also, it left her kind of confused – as no one really told her who she was in relation to this great teacher – was she great, too? She says, “Sometimes I was treated like a big deal who should come through a special door, and have a special seat.
And so then she’d think – OK I’m a big deal.”

And she’d start to act in big deal ways…..But then she’d get the message – no no no no –
just sit on the floor, mix with everyone else, be a part of the crowd – be ordinary.

But then, just as she’d get used to being “ordinary,” she’d be asked to do something that only big deals did. She says this was an incredibly uncomfortable, even painful experience – because she was constantly feeling humiliated based almost entirely on her own expectations – whenever she thought she knew what to expect–  she’d get the message that it should be the opposite.  So she’d switch, and then again, the opposite.

Finally, she went to her co-teacher with some exasperation – “who am I supposed to be here? Am I big deal, or not?”

And her co-teacher responded, as if it was completely obvious – well, what you need to learn is how to be big and small at the same time.

And this – Sean –is what I charge you with, in your ministry. To be big, and small, at the same time.

Be big, because, you are a big deal. And you need to know that. You are smart, and deep, and hilarious, and dorky in all the best ways. And we – all of us – need to learn from you.
You’ve so often been the youngest one in the room – don’t worry, that will eventually change – but I’m sure that makes it hard to fully step into your role as teacher, and leader – but our people, and our faith need you to claim that space, and grow expansive, deep roots. We need you to be loud, and sometimes even obnoxious. It’s ok. Because only in boldness might you discover – as Rilke says – the limits of your longing.

The world needs you to go all out – in imagination, in relationship, in pulling from the depth of our tradition, and the depth of your connection to the holy.

The rest of us will need help to grow into this vision of course, so I also charge you with being big in patience, big in adaptive skills, and big in your compassion. Because we know – being a big deal in ministry really means making everyone else in the room feel like THEY are the big deal, needing the special seat, and entering in the special entrance.

Which is why I charge you not just with being big, but also, small, and ordinary, and regular.  I don’t mean be invisible, or insignificant, but more – be a learner, and a beginner, and relentlessly curious – even about the thing that you’ve encountered 8 million times and you’re pretty sure there’s nothing new to learn there – still, be curious.

You have a long ministry ahead – which means that you’re going to have a number of years where you start to feel like you’ve already seen most everything, met most every type of person – been there/done that. But being small in your ministry means remembering that everyone, and everything, is almost always a mystery – and no one, and nothing, is ever one thing.  So remember to be enchanted, confused, surprised. Stay loose with your conclusions, and your analysis, and stay in touch with all you don’t know or don’t have under control, and let that be a visible part of your ministry too.

Because PS we know you don’t have your act together all the time.  Even though you’re a big deal, you’re also just regular, and ordinary, and struggling like the rest of us. And we love you not in spite of this, but because of it – because we like our ministers human…And so, we hope you remember, that although in many ways, your colleagues and your congregation need you – you also need us.

In all that your ministry may bring you, I charge you to manage this dance and sometimes-pain of being both big and small, at the same time. To recognize and navigate your own expectations, to keep a sense of humor, and most of all, to surrender to the mystery.

Because, to be honest this job mostly makes no sense – you’ll be thanked for stuff you think is crap, and overlooked for what you think of as your best work, you’ll be asked to be both invisible, as well as out in front, and you’ll hear the craziest stories, know things you wish you didn’t.  And yet somehow – through all of this – you will find yourself grateful, that you might faithfully be both small and big with these small and big people –
for your whole life. Or at least, we pray that you will.

We are so lucky to call you one of ours, and to say we had a part in making it so, and to keep traveling together in big and small ways. Many blessings on your ministry.

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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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