I do love parish ministry. I’m a lifelong Unitarian Universalist. I felt an initial “call” to ministry in the early 1990s. I went to Harvard Divinity School in the mid-1990s, finishing with my M.Div. in 1997. But I wound up doing non-profit work (wonderful work!) for almost a decade before I found the call of a more conventional ministry coming back.
At first, I thought I would do healthcare chaplaincy. I did indeed complete lots of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), including a full-time chaplain residency. But I also began a student ministry role at the Unitarian Congregation of Mendon & Uxbridge. I ended up loving both chaplaincy and parish ministry, and needed further discernment.
I was jointly ordained by the Unitarian Congregation of Mendon & Uxbridge and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester on March 30, 2008. For a time, I was a half-time hospice chaplain as well as a half-time consulting minister at First Congregational Parish, Unitarian, in Petersham. As much as the chaplaincy ministry moved me, the calling to parish ministry was stronger. Eventually, I became the consulting minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Andover in July 2009.
For me, the primary aspects of parish ministry are preaching (worship), teaching (religious education), pastoral care, and prophetic (social justice) work.
I want to say just a bit about worship. Sermons are a fascinating genre. They are meant to be heard, not read on paper. For this reason, I prefer to share live recordings as mp3s (or a podcast) rather than transcripts (and, once in a while I preach without a manuscript as well).
I am very aware that no two people hear the same sermon; so much of what is heard has to do with what the listener is going through on any given Sunday morning. Sermons are also an ongoing discussion, in a sense, between a minister and a congregation. It is part of the magic of the genre that it is a two-way experience.
Music is also crucial to a congregation’s worship experiences. Working with a strong Music Director and choir is one of the joys of ministry. Music touches the emotions and spirit in a way that readings and sermons do not. I see the music in a worship service as being every bit as important as the spoken word, sometimes more so. I have occasionally been able to use my own amateur musician abilities in worship, and I love to play music with parishioners.
In addition to Sunday services, for several years I have offered a monthly vespers service as a chance for a more contemplative worship experience. Sometimes shared silence and contemplation is just what the spirit needs.
In a sense, every part of a parish minister’s role has religious education at its core. To be a minister is to engage in religious education. One of the great delights of parish ministry is being with people of all ages. That is truly part of the magic. Intergenerational ministry is at the heart of healthy congregational life.
Before I became a minister, I never would have imagined how profoundly I enjoy ministering to, and teaching, people of all ages. I never could have imagined the joy of seeing children grow up and become wonderful young adults, as I have had the privilege of witnessing. What a gift.