Our worship associates, minister, and the Management Committee are planning for the congregation’s future worship needs.
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Here is a factoid about your minister I hope to have kept from you for nine years. In secondary school, I was a band nerd. I wasn’t the cool one playing the sexy alto sax like I wanted. Instead, I was consigned over my objections to playing the tuba. It was even more humiliating as I was one of the smallest in the band.
I would like to introduce our speaker for today, who is my friend, Paul Watson. I first met Paul when I decided – on the recommendation of several men in this congregation – to participate in a weekend experiential workshop put on by an organisation called Essentially Men, which some of you know well and some have heard me mention two weeks ago in my talk. Paul was one of the facilitators of that weekend. Over the last 2 years, I have gotten to know Paul much better and have grown to love and respect him — and learn from him, as I hope you will today. Paul also happens to be Chair of the Board of Trustees of Essentially Men.
Kia ora everyone, and a heartfelt thanks to Ted for that beautiful introduction. When I first met you Ted around 20 months ago I instantly liked you, and I think one of the reasons is because as you presented last week ‘You’ve always had a thing for language’. I think our brains connected quickly, my Auckland spelling, speaking and debating days came flooding back as an articulate American shared his recent struggles, learnings, and pain with me.
Christianity has a lot to say about fathers. Taking just Catholicism as the most extreme example, we have a God in heaven who is like a father. Then we have his representative on earth, the Pope, whose title derives from the ancient Greek word for father. Then under him, we have individual priests, who are also referred to as “Father”. Admittedly, this is balanced out slightly by the fact that Catholics venerate the virgin Mary as a holy mother, but even so, this view of religion presents us with a veritable “Russian nesting doll” of fathers.
I’ve always had a thing for language. I think I inherited this from my dad. Dad wasn’t highly educated, nor widely read – the only magazines he ever subscribed to were Reader’s Digest and TV Guide, and I never knew him to read a novel — but he loved to play with language.
He often used words that were either made up or some version of a word he’d learned while serving overseas in the military. He would latch on to words and phrases that were new to him.
When he came to New Zealand for the first time, the term flatmate caught his eye – it’s not a term used in the USA — so for his remaining years, he referred to my daughter, his granddaughter, as “my little Kiwi American flatmate”.
In fact, he had nicknames for just about everyone – or at least everyone he liked. They were not all flattering.
As we were driving home from last Sunday’s service, I was thinking on what I should talk about this week.
During that service, we celebrated Clay’s years with this church as our paid minister, and we acknowledged that phase of our community’s life was coming to a close.
During the Notices that day, Ted reminded us all of the need for members to step up and fill the void Clay’s retirement has created. We can no longer sit back and let him come up with all the ideas week after week, because – simply put – it’s not his job any more.
The ‘theme’ or ‘slogan’ that popped into my head during last Sunday’s drive home was simple: “One Community – Many Voices.”
As has been mentioned once or twice recently, and to my great sadness, I am retiring at the end of the month. Because I have loved all forty-one years of my ordained ministry in two denominations and my nine years with you, I want to scream, “Nah, this isn’t how I planned it.” But, ”Yeah, it is the reality I must come to accept…kind of.”
The expectation of ministers, when they retire, is to absent themselves for at least a year from the congregation they served to make room for the new minister. As trained UU ministers don’t grow on trees here or in Australia, and it will be a while before we can hire my replacement, I’ve been asked to help fill the vacuum on a voluntary basis while you figure out where you want to go.
I met Clay 10 years ago at a residential training for community organising. The basis of the training was storytelling.
At the opening of the training, all participants were asked to tell stories about a time we had spoken truth to power. Clay’s story was about taking the Anglican Bishop of Auckland to the Human Rights Commission for violation of the Human Rights Act because he refused to ordain a gay priest.
My story was about standing up to a union leader who, to a largely but not totally white male audience, had used the phrase “dirty girls of the Philippines” to refer to migrant sex workers. I confronted him privately and told him I had been offended at his use of language that was imperialist, misogynist and anti-worker. He went back to that audience and apologised, even though many of them had found his language perfectly acceptable.
As all the people in the room told their stories, we began to see that all of us had not only identified injustices but had also had moments of courage where we had spoken up. Some of our stories had had successful outcomes, but many had not. Many of us had acted alone. All of our stories had promise. When one person shows courage in the face of injustice, that act holds the kernel of transformational change.
My father loved words. The Oxford English Dictionary and books on etymology, the study of the origin of words and how their meanings have changed throughout history, were never far from his fingertips. If he couldn’t find just the right word for the book he was writing, he had no reluctance in just creating a word that captured his intent. He passed on his love of words to me. That was to my benefit in seminary, where I was required to take two semesters of word study. It was essential to preparing sermons. Our task was to fully understand biblical words in all their meanings, translations and uses in biblical times so they could be applied relevantly in our modern and cultural context. I know it sounds boring and tedious, but thanks to Dad, I loved it.
You might remember me telling you the story of the 1969 UUA General Assembly in Boston. It was at the height of the Black empowerment movement in America. For that reason, many Black UUs attended instead of the token few who usually came. White UUs were shocked and wondered where they all came from. They had always been there since the 18th century but had been generally ignored or discounted. We were more diverse than we had been aware of or at least acknowledged. But in 1969, systemic racism reared its ugly head, undermining that diversity and many Black UUs walked out the door, never to return. Much has happened within Unitarian Universalism since then. So, it was highly newsworthy when Sofia Betancourt, a woman, a person of colour and openly queer, was overwhelmingly elected as president of the UUA.