I was installed as the Parish Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Grafton and Upton in Massachusetts on Sunday, April 9, 2017. It was a momentous occasion with all the beauty and pageantry of a wedding, a coronation and an inauguration all rolled into one. The installation occurred eight months into my pastorate here, by design; on the Sunday closest to the full moon, which is a traditional time of culmination and fulfillment.
I chose the theme of “Coming Back to Life” for the service, because I believe that I have entered a generative stage in my life that dovetails perfectly with the new found confidence and expansive spirit of the church I serve. I feel as though the magic of the day has recreated me into a new person and the whole congregation has been energized in this process. My people and I are endowed with new powers and special abilities. And word of new found vigor is spreading; people are coming to the church like never before: families that were active in the past are reconnecting and curious townsfolk, hearing that something exciting is occurring, are visiting en-masse every Sunday and other times during the week.
The installation confirmed our new status as minister and congregation. The change was affirmed and celebrated by visiting friends and family members. Our commitment was witnessed by clergy of diverse traditions from throughout the Blackstone Valley and beyond. We even had local civic leaders and a state representative in attendance. It was an extraordinary thing to be feted in this way. I know that there were many more people who could not be there in person, but their spirits filled the sanctuary.
While the installation in some ways is a deeply personal thing in the life of a minister and a church, it has an impact that extends far beyond our small meetinghouse on the common in Grafton. I often think that the good we do for ourselves, whether it is prayer, meditation, healthful eating, journaling, singing, walking- whatever, is never exclusively for ourselves. People are always watching, listening, perhaps even silently wishing us well in our practice, because they know we are doing it for them too. As we are transformed through our spiritual practices and rites of passage others are changed too. Our evolution as individuals and a community ripples out into the universe. Sometimes just being who you are, being your most authentic self, whatever that is, is enough to make a world of difference. I didn’t always think this way, but the installation really brought all of this into proper focus for me and for the church as well.
I believe that my vocation of ministry is a calling to be a religious leader. I was led here by the spirit to be with a people who need me, speaking a language they can understand, for as long as they need me. I hope to grow here and to teach and to be taught here. I want to infuse all I do with joy, gratitude and purpose. Most of all, I want this ministry to be a witness to the wonder that is unfolding in this time. Right now the world is groaning under extraordinary labor pains, as it anticipates a new birth of greater love and justice, as well as mercy and reverence. My parish is Grafton and Upton, and I see the whole world as my parish, to recall an idea first coined by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and my job, now confirmed by the installation, is to minister to all the people. From this semi-rural, exurban, post-industrial corner of the commonwealth of Massachusetts I hope we can influence that world, making it a better place by lighting the fire of the spirit right here.