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Updated: Mar 9

Hooray, it’s springtime!

I cannot think of a better congregational theme for the month of March than “The Gift of TRANSFORMATION.” Not only is it an apt description for what happens every spring, as we move from darkness to increasing light, but transformation is also a metaphor for what our beloved UUSM community is currently experiencing. Critical to our congregation’s transformation is our ability to understand the importance of shared ministry, and to embrace it wholeheartedly.

Early during Rev. Vail’s ministry at UU San Mateo, I was engaged in a conversation with her about something important to me. The specifics of that conversation have faded from my mind, but what I DO remember clearly is that she told me: “This community is about shared ministry.” I recall being amazed and taken aback by that statement! After all, Vail was the minister and I was just an ordinary lay member of the congregation. Wasn’t she responsible for ministering to all of the congregation’s needs? Was I expected to share in ministry? And if so, how would I do that?

Fast forward nearly a quarter century later, and I recognize my understanding of shared ministry has been completely transformed. Today I know full well that as members of this congregation, we belong to one another. Shared ministry means we all share in the responsibility of ministering to the needs of this congregation, each in our own way.

Part of the confusion I experienced in my conversation with Rev. Vail undoubtedly came from applying the traditional meaning of the word “minister.” The dictionary says a minister is someone who is “official” and/or “superior,” entrusted with more responsibility than others in an organization. That definitely is the case in many religious denominations, such as Catholicism, wherein God delivers “Truth” to the Pope, who speaks it to bishops and cardinals, then on to the priests who deliver the message from “on high” to their parishioners.

But things don’t work that way in Unitarian Universalism. We do of course call upon ministers to perform certain kinds of duties for which they are specifically trained and skilled, such as planning and coordinating worship services and delivering robust sermons. But ministers are members of a congregation’s staff, and the purpose of staff is to help a congregation achieve its objectives. The congregation belongs to us – the members – not to our ministers. Who we are right now and what we will become in the future is ultimately up to us! As our mission states so clearly, we are “working together to transform ourselves and the world.” [emphasis added, but important!]

Our ministry becomes most transformative, both to ourselves and world, when we share together in work and service. Through the years, my stepping forward into shared ministry has not only enabled me to make many contributions to UUSM, but also to transform myself – to grow, and become a better, more effective and contributing human being. Bravely trusting things would be okay, I’ve taken on major responsibilities, such as serving on the Board of Trustees twice, most recently as Vice President. But some of my most satisfying experiences of shared ministry have come from engaging in less demanding and time-consuming ways, such as keeping my little Aging-to-Saging group going through the pandemic (and now watching it grow and thrive!); singing with others in the Sacred Song Circle to provide warmth and tender, loving care to those cannot attend worship; and creating lyrics slides that make it easier for us to sing together. We share in ministry when we do even simple, short-term tasks that are so very much appreciated, such as decorating for or cleaning up after this month’s Auction Parté.

Transformation is about change. The transformation of my shared-ministry understanding happened in stages, across an extended period of time. Our friends at the Soul Matters Sharing Circle remind us that transformation is far more subtle than we tend to believe. They warn us to not confuse it with fixing things, or pursuing purity and perfection; they suggest instead that we create some space in our hearts for “unexpected guests” to arrive that can transform us.

“[W]e don’t want to miss those unexpected guests,” Soul Matters suggests. “Those seeds brought by the wind and those passing birds are the partners that make transformation possible. They help us notice new paths…walk with a new step…awaken in us new songs…remind us that transformation is not something we do alone.

“[It] doesn’t have to be a long and lonely struggle, but instead can be more like learning a new dance with a friend. All we have to do is trust….”

Are YOU ready to create and experience transformation by participating in the shared ministry of this congregation? Well then, come, my friend: let us learn a new dance together!

Let it be a dance we do

May I have this dance with you?

Through the good times and the bad times, too,

Let it be a dance.

– Ric Masten

Seeking more inspiration and wisdom about The Gift of TRANSFORMATION? Check out this month’s Soul Matters Overview, and the complete Gift of TRANSORMATION ministry guide.


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