This ending of an interim ministry, containing as it does a new beginning, almost feels like a graduation. I’ve definitely got some Seussical sense of Oh The Places You’ll Go! about UUFA, because this Fellowship is certainly poised for many great adventures as you traverse the passages out of interim and into settled ministry.
I’ve also spent some time thinking, “Oh the Places We’ve Been!” as I’ve looked back on our time together. I remember interviewing for the job in the summer of 2020, and one of the board members said, “We’re temporarily shut down, but we anticipate being open for regular worship this fall.” None of us could have anticipated how long we’d stay with virtual worship, and I’m so grateful that you were already doing that the time I arrived. (I know there are lots of complaints about virtual worship, but as my daughter says, “at least in virtual worship everyone gets a front row seat.”)
Still we connected, you and I, sometimes virtually and sometimes in person with social distancing, sometimes over the phone or on social media. Remember those “burning coal” conversations we had on the patio? Whose bright idea was it to name those discussions after a polluting practice? (Oh oops, haha, that was me. Failure to think through the whole metaphor, sorry.) I loved hearing your responses to those questions of appreciative inquiry: When things at UUFA are at their best, what does it look like? What does it feel like?
I’m certain that, various stages of quarantine notwithstanding, I’ve seen UUFA at its best most of the time. I’ve enjoyed the unfolding of beautiful relationships with the many people who collaborate on leadership and love at UUFA: the staff and Lay Ministers and board members and all the hard-working volunteers, and yes, the folks who just need some time to take in the profound and wonderful community that is this Fellowship. Worker bees need people to remind us that it’s not just about DOING, that an important part of fellowship is BEING, simply experiencing some moments together in our various and imperfect ways.
And oh, didn’t we need to come together as we navigated the losses along the way, most especially the illness and death of Ms. Kelli McConnell. I was honored to work with Ms. Kelli, who was talented and gracious and deeply insightful. I saw her light reflected in the faces and actions of UUFA members and friends, and it was so lovely and so heartbreaking all at once. As the song says, “we have found a joy being together,” even in the times of sorrow.
There have been many times of joy, too: figuring out a series of drive-through events (including a wacky and wonderful New Member Welcome), raising UUFA’s profile with an awesome sign and amazing website, welcoming Ms. Kahla to the staff, and adding a number of professional audio and video techs who’ve put UUFA’s live streaming on a par with much larger UU congregations (in fact, you easily surpass some of the Big Ones). You’ve raised your staff compensation to be counted among the UUA’s “fair and equitable” congregations. You grew in financial giving – let me emphasize that this is not what happened in so many congregations, UU and otherwise, so it’s worth a moment of gratitude – you GREW in your financial giving during these two pandemic years.
All this took meetings. So. Many. Meetings. Worship, finance, communications, Ministry Council, pastoral care, board, membership, Racial Justice team, Transitions Team. There are SO many UUFA members who step up to service. (Did you know that your board spent some time before the election of November 2020 strategizing about how UUFA might respond in case armed protesters took to the streets of Athens?) You’re a deeply engaged and committed group, and I swear your congregational motto should be: “we’re not afraid to do the hard work.”
And the reshaping that all congregations are doing right now is indeed a massive labor. (I’ll say more about the “post quarantine church” in my farewell sermon on June 12th.) I believe that UUFA will make this a labor of love, and still there’s hard work ahead for all of us who believe that progressive religion has a prophetic role in shaping society and culture.
As you move through this transition time and approach settled ministry, you might revisit the questions of appreciative inquiry: When things at UUFA are at their best, what does it look like? What does it feel like? Oh, the places you’ll go, and the places you’ve been – I’m immensely honored for the privilege of serving UUFA.