GATES OF CHANGE AND TRANSFORMATION

October 20, 2013
REV. RICHARD M. FEWKES MINISTER EMERITUS

(SERMON TO UNITARIAN CONGREGATION IN KADACS)

When I first came to visit you in March of 1992 you presented me with a beautiful hand-carved miniature wooden gate inscribed with words from your native tongue which mean: "You Can Be At Home Anywhere, But You Only Have One Homeland" I had been told by others that the people of Transylvania, of Erdely, were noted for their beautiful hand-carved gates. I never dreamed that you would present one to me as a gift of love from the people of your village. I was deeply touched. Your beautiful gate sits on top of the bookcase in my church office as a reminder to me of my home away from home- Erdely, beautiful land of the forests, Kadacs, the gentle village by the river.

I am reminded of the story of Samson in the Book of Judges who is alleged to have carried the Gates of Gaza on his shoulders 38 miles into the wilderness to the hills of Hebron. Samson carried the gates of his enemies back home to the hills of his homeland. I did just the opposite. I carried the gates of my newly made friends from the Carpathian hills of Erdely 3,000 miles across the waters to my home in Norwell. I think Samson would have been proud of me. Not only did I exceed his feat by 2,962 miles, but I had to carry your gate through Romanian, Hungarian, English and American customs before I got it home to Norwell. We have a saying in my country which says: "Home is where the heart is" I think it means more than just attaching your heart to a special place which you love more than all others. It also means that if you are at home inside your own heart, if you have made peace with your own soul, then you can indeed be at home anywhere. I can tell you this: I carry Erdely and Kadacs in my heart, and because I do I can say with the Psalmist, "this is the gate of the Lord”, no less than the temple on in Norwell, and America the Beautiful.

In thinking about my sermon this morning I was drawn to the text in the Book of Acts, the first ten verses from the third chapter. Peter and John were going up to the temple which is called Beautiful for prayer. There they encounter a man lame from birth waiting at the gate to ask for alms. Peter says to him, "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have”, and in the name of Jesus he takes him by the right hand and raises him up, and immediately the lame man begins walking and leaping and praising God. What I would suggest to you this morning is that though you may not yet know it or believe it there is healing power right here at the Beautiful Gate of your temple, right here in Kadacs, right here in Erdely, the beautiful land of the forests. "This is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven” (Gen.28:17).

What is this Beautiful Gate of heaven, and where is it to be found? It is not the miniature hand-carved gate which you sent home with me to Norwell back in 1992, though it is a beautiful symbol of it. It is not the gate that sits beside the road at the head of your village, though that too is an emblem of it. It is not any of the numerous beautiful gates which dot the countryside of Erdely in village after village, though they too are the children of the Beautiful Gate that brings healing.

The Beautiful Gate is the entrance to the deep heart of your faith, your inner temple, that has stood by you in good times and bad, that has given you strength to endure suffering and loss, that has kept hope alive in you from generation to generation, and especially in your children who continue to walk and leap and rejoice in the gift of life. That is where the Beautiful Gate of healing resides--in the deep heart of your faith. Home is where the heart is, and when you have found the heart of your faith, your source of courage and hope and love, then you can truly be at home anywhere on the globe. "This is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven." Far more than money we bring you our brotherly and sisterly love and the knowledge that you have Unitarian friends in America who pray for your health and well-being. Home is where the heart is, and our hearts are with you.

(END OF KADACS SERMON)

Well, my dear friends, here, we are 21 years later, with our two congregations, Norwell and Kadacs, still maintaining a brotherly-sisterly relationship with one another. That is nothing short of a small miracle, and I am as proud of both congregations as I could possibly be. Each of us, singly, and collectively, as people and congregations, have passed through many gates of change and transition over these more than two decades of change and transformation. We have experienced births and deaths, unions and disunions, hellos and goodbyes, welcomings and farewells - all of them symbolic of the journey of life itself in all of its grandeur and mystery of being and becoming. It is what those of us in the ministry call "Rites of Passage”, or with tongue-in-cheek, "Hatches, Matches and Dispatches" It's what we do, and we do a lot of them in the course of a long ministry.

Recently, I had the pleasure of tying the knot of marriage for Jonathan Babcock and his bride Kristen Myers, right here in this very spot, a few weeks back on September the 21st. Scott Babcock reminded me that I no doubt performed the Christening and Dedication of his son some 40-plus years ago. What goes around comes around. I shall never forget my last Easter service in Norwell when a troop of a hundred or so young people marched into the church carrying individual flowers representing a Christening or a wedding I had performed for them over the course of my 31 years of ministry. As the flowers piled up in my arms I passed them over to my wife Ellie in the first pew to make room for more to follow. I was of course deeply moved by this event which was for me a Rite of Passage in itself. It was a most fitting conclusion to my 31 years of ministry in Norwell. For me it was indeed déjà vu all over again.

Which brings me to your most recent Rite of Passage - the welcoming of your new Interim Minister, the Rev. Dr. Len De Roche, who will guide you through the transition period till you call a new settled minister, one or two years down the road. The one thing above all I want to emphasize for you is that when it comes to future hatches, matches and dispatches - the first thing you should do is contact your current minister, Len De Roche - he's the man in charge of performing those services and duties for you. Yes, I am still your Minister Emeritus, and proudly so, but I remind you that I am retired and no longer performing Rites of Passage for Life Transitions in this parish, other than occasional pulpit supply visitations which I do enjoy, or on very rare occasions filling in for Len, but only with his gracious blessing.

I remember when I first came to First Parish in Norwell in 1969, the Rev. Alfred "Jimmy” Wilson was Minister Emeritus, age 88, a resident in Sprucehead, Maine, and Florida in the winter months. He participated in my installation, gave his blessing to my ministry, as he had done for five other ministerial successors, and pleaded with me to stay awhile so he would not have to come back for anymore ministerial installations during his lifetime. Well, he died about a year or so later, and I managed to stay for another 30 years. What's done is done. And now I find myself, like Jimmy Wilson, fulfilling the role of Minister Emeritus and giving my blessing to successor ministries; interim, settled, and interim, and hopefully another settled minister.

I would like to impress upon you this morning that changes in ministerial leadership are themselves a Rite of Passage for both ministers and congregations, and yes even for denominational leaders. Since I went on my first visit to Transylvania in 1992 the Unitarian headquarters in Kolozsvar has had three changes in their Bishop's Office, and women have come into their ministry in greater numbers, as has happened in the UUA. Kadacs called its first woman minister, Rosalie, who has since herself, moved on, as has First Parish in Norwell, with Vicki, who has moved on to a new ministry in Lynn/Swampscott after 11 years in Norwell. We wish her well in her new ministry as we wish ourselves well in our own spiritual search and endeavors. We've come a long ways, baby. Ministers, bishops and Popes come and go, but the church and congregation endures through all the changes and transformations.

Our own UUA headquarters in Boston has had a series of four different Presidents in the past two decades—and now we have the active proposal for another major change in the life of our denomination--to move the UUA headquarters from 25 Beacon Street next to the State House down to 24 Farnsworth Street in the up-and-coming waterfront district. The question is, are we going for a full immersion or a new birth or both? The Catholic Church has called a new Pope to its helm in Rome, Pope Francis, who has expressed some slightly progressive views, and lo and behold, some of his constituents are beginning to ask, "Is the Pope still Catholic?” No one has asked a similar question of our UUA President, Peter Morales - is he still a Unitarian Universalist? The bigger question is, how would we know?

We once had a photo in the FPN church office portraying a staircase leading down to a doorway with the caption, "When God closes one door He opens another" The comings and goings of ministers and spiritual leaders is itself an action in the opening and closing of gates and doors. Every once in awhile, a minister walks through the gate and closes it behind, never to return, except perhaps for a short visit, and the congregation faces the task of finding a new gate keeper. Your predecessor congregations have done it many times over the years and even centuries. I am confident that like your spiritual ancestors in years past you will rise to the occasion and do what you have to do to make and create a new ministry at the First Parish in Norwell that will serve the needs of this congregation for years to come.  Blessed be. And all manner of things shall be well in Norwell.