June 9, 2015
Words spoke at the Installation of Reverend Sarah Richards at the Carbondale UU Fellowship, April 26, 2015, Carbondale, Illinois
By Reverend Thomas Perchlik © 2015
What a beautiful thing to do, to lay hands upon this minister, and the people and friends of this congregation, and thereby to bless one another and affirm the power of our promise together. The sermon and the ritual have lifted up the larger beauty of what we are doing here, and something of what we hope to be doing in the future. But, it is my job to make the commitment of this congregation a little more specific, a little more concrete.
To do that I will tell you a story. Once, I was in a conversation with a Rabbi. I asked him some questions about how Judaism changed from being temple-centered to focused on the religious life of home and congregation. Instead of giving a discourse on Jewish history, he said that once upon a time after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, there was a lay-led synagogue in an isolated shtetl. The leader of this congregation was beloved not only because he had memorized the scriptures, the whole of the Torah and the law. Always, when he spoke or read the holy words it was with deep understanding and insight. What is more, he lived his life as an embodiment of God’s holy covenant, and was an inspiration to others. He made his money as a mason, building walls, for yards, homes, and other buildings.
One day the wealthiest man in the synagogue came to this leader and said, “My father has died, and you must come with me to say the prayers and put his body to rest.”
But the stone worker said, “I cannot. I have a contract to finish this wall in three days.”
“Oh don’t worry about that,” said the rich man, “I can find others to do this work and fulfill your contract.”
But the stone worker protested, “The homeowner did not contract with anyone, but with me. He knows the quality of my work, the artistry and durability of my work. He wants a wall of quality.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” said the rich man, “I have resources. I will find someone of excellence that knows stone as well as you, but, I cannot find anyone who knew my father, and who knows the spirit of worship as well as you.”
“Ah, yes,” replied the stone worker, “But you must realize, I need this job. Without it who will pay my bills? If I lose this contract, I may lose others.”
The rich man finally saw the whole picture. He said, “Don’t worry. I will help pay your salary, and I will make sure the others in the synagogue pay your salary, not just a fee for each service, but a wage you can live on.”
The stone cutter agreed, and that was the beginning of congregational ministry.
So, this story carries a three-fold charge to you.
First, remember that Sarah is a professional leader. We know she is professional because she has jumped through the many hoops of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. She has great training, has developed her talents and skills, and continues to study and develop her craft. She does this best with your support. So, treat her with particular respect. Honor her opinions and the power of her professional disciplines. Understand that by choosing to be served by a professional you are all lifted up together. The work she does here, connects you directly to the great lineage of professional religious leaders, from martyred Bishop of Kolozsvar, to Rev. Francis David, to the powerhouse 18th Century preacher, Rev. Theodore Parker, from Educator, Rev. Sophia Lyon Fahs to the first woman in American ministry, Rev. Olympia Brown. This Reverend connects you even to Jesus and Buddha. Through the dignity of her office and the honor you give her, the honor, and dignity of your congregation becomes greater.
Second, remember a minister is more than a fee-for-service professional. Sarah is a religious person and does her work as an expression out of her relationship with the sacred, the holy, the good and ultimately real. In this, she represents the center of your congregation. She is not the center but helps you to make it more visible. I know that UUs can be diaphanous, or vague, about what is at the center of our faith. Sometimes it seems as if we are a mere collection of individual ideas. But to help your minister you must join with her in claiming the center. In our way, it does not matter what you call that center: God or Truth or Inherent Worth. But what matters is that you seek to know it and embody it. Don’t make Sarah do that alone. Share the work of faith with her. She wants to nurture and inspire the soul of each child. Join in that sacred work. Don’t let her be the only one who finds connections and partners out in the community with Catholics, Jews and others. Join with her, even while making your worship together more meaningful, beautiful and good.
The third part of my charge is to remember that she is a person, just like anyone else.
So, treat her as a person. Be polite, be kind, and friendly to her, even when you and she disagree. Thank her. There are many people in my congregation who thank me for what I do, even when I only do a mediocre job. I am so grateful for that. It is encouraging. Think about Sarah’s feelings, she has them. Respect her limits. Give her days off, and forgive her mistakes and failings, because we are all faulty in one way or another. I charge you to go so far as to embrace in love her shortcomings because those are part of her humanness and wholeness.
Finally, I charge you to remember that, as an ordinary person, and as a religious person, and as a professional, she has bills to pay and a quality of life she would like to live. So, pay her well. Honor her and her role. Share with her the sacred dimension of your work together. Treat her kindly; if so, you will build something together, something that is beautiful, inspiring and enduring. You will build the Beloved Community out of the stones of your lives and faith.