That’s all folks – June 5, 2016
Two years ago, UUCM was in need of an Interim Minister, so you set up a Search Party of Amy Renee Patterson, Suzanne Ferroggiaro and Keith Johnson. The scoured the entire United States, looking for someone prepared to come to Bandit Territory of Nevada County but, alas, they could not find anyone. Word had obviously got out. And so they had to go looking further afield, to England, where your reputation might not have become known, and to ad to the lure, they promoted Nevada County not as Bandit territory but Gold Country. I took the bait. After all, it is an established fact that all Americans are millionaires, even if some are suffering from a temporary financial embarrassment. I thought to myself, Gold Country, this is my big chance to get rich quick. The US Government did step in for a while, reluctant to let in a foreigner, but when they learned that originally came from a convict colony, they figured bandit territory was a natural destination, and so they relented.
On the very day I was to leave for California, the very day, I fell off a short step ladder and badly dislocated my right shoulder. Now you would think that anyone would surely take this as a sign from the universe, but I was too obtuse to read the signs and so, in September 2014 I came to Grass Valley to do a two year interim ministry.
The purpose of an Interim Ministry is not just to be a caretaker until the next settled minister comes along, it is to help the congregation prepare for that next ministry. That means identifying and addressing institutional problems, effecting change to make the congregation more healthy, more functional, more able to move forward. The reality is, some have liked that process, some of you have hated it (and have not been shy about saying so), and most of you have been somewhere in between, for the most part grateful but also chafing at some of the rough spots.
And is that not true of any relationship? Is it not the case that even in the most successful and harmonious of relationships, there are occasional tough times, and that it is often during those tough times that the relationship is strengthened. You learn about a relationship by being in one, not by reading a book about it. How many of you in a relationship can say that your partner has never angered, irritated or disappointed you? Similarly, you learn about interim ministry not by reading a book about it, but by doing it.
So, after these almost two years, how well we have done together? The answer is – it is too soon to tell. The success of this ministry in many ways will not be known until you are well into your settled ministry, it will be determined by how well you adapt to your new settled minister. If you think you will simply revert to what you remember as the good old days, as if this interim time simply has never been, then this interim will indeed have been a failure, as, alas, will likely be your settled ministry.
But at the heart of all ministry, interim or settled or any other kind, at heart of what this place is, is worship. I calculate I have stood at this lectern to lead you in worship on at least sixty Sundays. What has that been all about?
I know some of you have trouble with the word worship. But that is because you think it is a transitive verb. You think it is a verb that requires an object.
I confess, I am a philological pedant. I like words, I like grammar, I like correct punctuation. Not just in sermons or letters or anything else I might write, but in emails I fuss over proper syntax and punctuation. Even with texts, I refuse to lower my standards. And when I read other people’s grammatical and syntactical errors – especially the misuse of the apostrophe – I notice it and get all judgmental. And what is wrong with the letter u? Why can’t it be in words like flavour and colour.
Because of my philological pedantry, I used to bridle with the Americanism of simply saying Enjoy! A waiter would deliver my meal with the invitation to Enjoy! Enjoy what, I would wonder to myself. “Enjoy” has to have an object. It is transitive verb!
Well, I am pleased to say I got over myself. I have come to like the imprecation to Enjoy! Yes, it can be an intransitive verb. Enjoy! Take delight. Be appreciative! You don’t have to specify what it is you are enjoying.
Likewise, worship is not a transitive verb. Or at least, it does not have to be. If for you, worship is transitive, if you do indeed worship a God/object/something other, then that is wonderful and may you long continue to do so. But you can also worship intransitively, by being in that presence of that which transports you, which fills you with meaning, which helps you to make sense of the world and to delight in it. You can do that by being in nature, by glorying in a loving relationship, by reading a profound book or wrestling with provocative ideas, you can worship by being of service to others, you can do it by with at one with the highest that you know, which is to be with your God. Worship is being filled with wonder, with reverence, with gratitude, with awe. To worship is to acknowledge the mystery and the miracle of this remarkable thing called Life.
In the words of Philip Larkin’s poem which I shared earlier, this is a place to grow wise in. In which to grow wise! One does not grow wise by forcing answers on others (sadly so fashionable these days for some who call themselves religious), one grows wise by asking searching questions of oneself? How am I to live this one precious life? What are the highest values which command my loyalty? What is it that rules my heart and guides my actions?
This is not a place of transaction, but transformation. This is not a place simply where you pay your few bucks in return for an interesting talk, and then a cup of coffee and perhaps a cookie. This is a place to ask those What if questions of Oriah Mountain Dreamer …. what if they really did mean something? What if they really did transform your life? What would that mean? Are you open even to that possibility?
I remember when I was a kid in Australia, my family was one of the last in the neighborhood to get a TV. It was a huge box with a tiny screen, black and white, of course, and you had to turn it on half an hour before you wanted to watch it. And the really quaint thing was that if you wanted to change channels, you actually had to get up off the sofa to do so. Not that that was really such a problem, given that there were only two channels to choose from anyway.
There were two programs that I would rush home from school to watch. One was The Lone Ranger. Do you remember it? Each episode he would ride into town, sort out the bad guys, and then ride off into the sunset, leaving the townspeople wondering. Who was that stranger? I don’t know who he was, but he left this silver bullet. Wonderful stuff. Well, being an Interim Minister is a bit like being the Lone Ranger, you ride into town, you for them out, and then you ride out again. If only I had a silver bullet.
I have one more Sunday with you, the Picnic Service in Condon Park, but this my last service here. I want to tell you, you are an excellent congregation to lead worship for. You are attentive, appreciative, discerning, fun. It has been a challenge, yes, and it has been a pleasure. I regret to tell you that I am no richer financially, but I certainly am richer experientially. I hope that we have grown wiser together.
The other program I used to love watching after school instead of doing my homework was cartoons. A favorite was Porky Pig. So, like Porky, let me conclude by saying, That’s all, folks.