This church and congregation has a special place in my heart and memory for so many reasons. I was ordained into the Unitarian Universalist ministry by this congregation on November 1, 1964. You took a chance on a young single greenhorn theological school graduate with little to no experience and over a period nearly five years you taught him how to minister. I will always be grateful for the opportunity you provided me. When I began my ministry Everett Saunders was President, Emil Cobb was Vice-President, Pret Richmond was Treasurer, Sarah Cowen was Secretary. Jackie Warren was newsletter typist and helped me publish "One Liberal Voice" as it was called in those days. Larry Carver eventually succeeded Everett as President, Ken Johnson came on the board and, of course, Elsie Gaudette was all over the place. It's hard to believe that Everett and Emil and Pret and Ken and Elsie are no longer with us. What wonderful gifts of life and the spirit they gave over the years. And, of course, there was Ethel Cook at the organ, and Henry and Henrietta Burkland singing in the choir, over there to my left. They too are gone and with so many others are remembered with fond thanksgiving. All of them helped me learn the art of ministry.
Another important event in the life of this minister took place on the 17th of December 1967. My wife and I were married here by the minister of the First Parish in Norwell, the Rev. John Kolbjornsen, who I would eventually succeed as minister there in the spring of 1969. But that's another story. This afternoon we are here to ordain the third minister of this Society in the past 34 years. You ordained Patt Herdklotz in 1984 who like me was serving her first UU congregation, and now you are doing it again, only this time you are doing it for one of your own members, Patricia Tummino, who was motivated and inspired to go into the ministry by your previous minister, Elizabeth Tarbox. What makes this so special for me is that both Elizabeth and Tricia were trained as student ministers at the First Parish in Norwell. I was proud to be their supervisor and equally proud to send them to you to serve the church that gave me my start in ministry, a truly wonderful and marvelous twist of fate. It is enough to make one believe in destiny. I am forewarning you, however, that this is the last minister I can send to you. I have a strong hunch she is going to stay with you a long time and have a rich and creative ministry that will build an even stronger congregation than you already have. At least that is my prayer for you and Tricia.
Did you know that when Tricia was being considered by your Search Committee as a ministerial candidate for this Society that no one from that committee bothered to call me to inquire about Tricia's internship at First Parish Norwell? True, I did write a reference of high praise that was included in Tricia's packet of materials, but you would have thought that someone would have made a phone call just to be sure. Well, now I can tell you the truth. The ministerial intern committee sent out an evaluation form to the entire congregation, asking them to evaluate Tricia's ministerial skills in worship, preaching, pastoral care, adult education, social action, etc. on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 as the lowest and 5 as the highest level of performance. Tricia got high 5s from an overwhelming majority of the congregation! You sent her to us, and we now send her back to you, fully credentialed and qualified to be a minister. But you knew that already. Otherwise you would have called me.
Did you know that when Tricia first began to explore the possibility of ministry she took a course at Andover Newton Theological School just to see what it would be like. She had a parking sticker that allowed her to park at the school. However, she did not glue the sticker to the window of her car as others would normally do. She kept the sticker loose in the glove compartment and she would tape it onto the window when she arrived. Just before she left to return home she would remove the parking sticker and put it back in the glove compartment. Why, you ask, did she do that? Because she did not want anyone in the Middleboro church or community to even suspect that she was taking a course at a theological school. Horror of horrors! Her mother, she believed, would roll over in her grave if she knew, and she was not at all sure this was the right thing for her. But, of course, it was. And it all began with a dream.
In our first supervisory session together Tricia shared with me a couple of dreams she had that seemed to hint at the eventual goal of ministry. She soon learned that I was a dream freak and leaped at the opportunity to unpack the symbolism in her dreams that related to her ministerial call. Her first dream was one she recalled when she was around 10 or 12 years old. In the dream she was walking along the edge of a pond near her house with a couple of friends. Lying at the water's edge on its side was a black fish, shaped like a hornpout. It was very sick. As soon as she saw it she recognized that it was ill, but she also knew that she had what it needed to get well. She took a small pill out of her pocket and put it into the fish's mouth. The fish was immediately restored to health and swam off into the pond.
Wow! In archetypal symbolism water is a symbol of the soul and of the collective unconscious, a fish is an ancient symbol of primitive Christianity and the early church, and the power to heal is a symbol of the healing potential of the pastoral ministry. It was all there in her dream of ministry in veiled form. Years later when she was wrestling with the confusion about the pull towards ministry, which part of her wanted to reject, and the other part couldn't get out of her mind, she had another dream. This time she was swimming in the ocean (the pond had become a sea) on a lovely moonlit night, the sky above filled with breathtakingly beautiful twinkling stars. Her swimming is interrupted by a voice calling to her. She looks up at the waxing crescent moon and sees a child, a girl seated on it, with legs dangling down as though on a swing. Her child calls down to her and asks, "Can I jump?"
The child is eager and thinks it would be great fun to jump into the water from the moon. But as a parent Tricia is concerned for her child's safety and looks around for possible shallow areas that might prove dangerous. She sees a couple of areas that are a bit shallow and there are some rocks there. "Wait," she says, "Don't jump yet." She wants her child to have the experience of jumping in the water as long as it is prudent to do so, but how can she gauge where she will land, and what about those rocks in the shallow waters? "Can I jump?" her child asks again. Tricia wakes from her dream leaving her child sitting on the moon, ready and expectant, waiting for her to say, "Yes!"
Well, of course, you all know that she took the plunge and followed her call to ministry, in spite of her fears and uncertainties, in spite of the hardship on her family at the time, in spite of the financial sacrifice and expense, in spite of making a midlife career change from teaching to ministry. Those of us in this strange and wonderful business of ministry know from experience that there are no guarantees that we won't take some belly flops or get bruised on the rocks, or sometimes get in over our heads and have to call for help, but we all took the plunge because we could do no other, prudent or not, because our inner child called to us from the moon, or from the pond of our soul, or the ocean of our being, or the stars of our destiny, asking, "Can I jump?" And to a man and woman, we all said, "YES!"
I would suggest to you that the call to ministry is not Tricia's alone, but is a power and a potential belonging to the entire congregation. Where two or three are gathered together at the shore of a pond in a child's dream, or in a house of worship, or in a church kitchen serving coffee, or at a hospital bedside bringing comfort to the afflicted, or at a committee meeting monitoring the finances of the congregation, or welcoming people into our midst whatever their race or color or creed or sexual orientation, or even arguing what color to paint the sanctuary or the fence out back--it's all ministry of one kind or another, and whether we know it or not, we all carry in our pockets, a magic pill, a balm of Gilead, that can heal not only the deep soul within us, but the collective soul of our churches and congregations. All it takes is a clear recognition of our mutual interdependence and the willingness to serve and share and take the plunge together.
If we can do that then the dream of ministry will come true manifold and free, with life abundant for all who come in these doors and make this church their spiritual home. I hear a voice calling, asking and pleading, "Can I jump? Can I jump?" What do you say? I think I sense the people of this congregation ready to give a loud and resounding, "YES!"