Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Institutional Resistance To Change — Homily by the Rev. David Pyle

Last Preached on January 19, 2014


The Rev. Dan Hotchkiss,

fellow Unitarian Universalist Minister

and the author of a book that has been

an inspiration for one of our own congregation’s

efforts at transformation,

has observed the inherent paradox

in the phrase “Organized Religion”.

Religion is about transformation.

It is about looking at the world as it is,

and dreaming of the world as it could be, as it should be.

Religion is about inspiring people to the work,

spiritual and secular, of bringing the world as it is

closer to the world as we believe it should be.


And yet, organizations are conservative.

By their very nature, organizations and institutions

seek to conserve what is good.

They make schedules and they create policies and rules.

They seek to motivate people to move

in a complementary direction.

Organizations can be flexible,

but only by resisting some of their basic impulses.

Organizations are designed to be resistant to change.


No wonder Organized Religion can be so difficult,

Rev. Hotchkiss writes in the book “Governance and Ministry”.


Our theme this month is resistance.

Much of my ministry amongst you,

both here in the congregation and in the wider community

is about resistance.

In most of my previous ministries,

my experience of ministering to resistance

has been very personal.

My ministry to resistance has come

in the form of private pastoral care work,

where I am working with a hospice patient to accept that,

it is okay for them to take the morphine.

There is no need to worry about addiction…

they are on hospice.  They are dying.


My experience of ministering to resistance

has been with my soldiers

who are resistant to seeking psychological help,

because they do not want to be seen as weak.

My ministry has been to help shift that resistance

by helping them see that seeking help when you need

it is a sign of strength.


My experience of ministering to resistance has been

with doctors in an emergency room

who did not want to let a 94 year old woman die in peace,

as her family and her written wishes asked,

because doctors are trained to see someone dying as failure.

Amazingly, this was one of

my more difficult experiences with resistance…


Almost all of my experience

with ministering to resistance prior to coming here

to minister amongst you has been of this kind…

it has been one on one, personal,

and often around some kind of pastoral care ministry.


Not so much since I have come to minister amongst you.

Oh, I’m not saying you are all

paragons of flexibility and adaptability…

although I will say that I have seen more willingness

to be flexible and adaptable

in the members and friends of this congregation

than in any other I have served or observed.

No, it is just that I am not the minister

who is called to be the pastor of this congregation…

the primary provider of pastoral care.


Each year I have been amongst you,

I have been required to write a self-evaluation

for the Unitarian Universalist Association,

part of my own development as a UU Minister.

It is an opportunity to reflect upon

my practice of ministry amongst you,

and to reflect on, among other things,

where my own resistance lies.

In the most recent of these reflections, written last November,

I wrote that I saw my ministry here in Ventura

to be more about ministering

to Institutions, Organizations, and Systems

than it has necessarily been to individuals.

It was an important realization for me,

and it helped me to get past some of my own resistance.


Though I cherish each and every time

someone from this congregation

comes to see me for pastoral care and counseling,

this year has marked an important shift for me.

I was hired by Rev. Jan and the Board of Trustees

to minister more to the organization and the system

of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura

than I was to be a provider of personal pastoral care.


And so, much of the resistance I am called to minister to now

is Institutional and cultural resistance…

especially as Rev. Jan and the Board have challenged me

to help lead us through some significant institutional change

as a church… from small church thinking to large church thinking.


We are changing.  As a church, we are changing.

Some of this change is obvious.

Some of this change is more subtle.

We are changing how authority and responsibility

flow within the church,

in ways that will result in more authority and responsibility

resting in a wider portion of the members of this church.

We are changing how we hold on

to the wisdom that is amongst us,

so that each time we change leaders

we do not have to re-invent what those leaders do.

We are changing who gets to make decisions,

so that more decisions are made by leaders

and less by professional staff.


And, that change is scary.

It is hard to see the results of change

while the change is happening.

Change takes us out of comfortable patterns,

it makes us question our assumptions.

Change can make us question our own roles,

and it can challenge our own power.

Things might not have been perfect before,

but at least they were understood.


I get why we humans can be resistant to change.

Add to that the “Resistance!  Protest!” spirit

that imbues Unitarian Universalism,

and about which I will be preaching next week,

and it is amazing that we are ever able to change at all.

For a Liberal Religious Faith,

we when it comes to transformations in our churches

we UU’s can be as conservative as it gets.


And so, with our theme this month being resistance,

and with a large portion of the ministry that I am tasked with

being to help us, as a church,

move from thinking and acting like a small church

to thinking and acting like a large church,

I could not let this month pass by

without having the conversation with all of you

that I have had with many of you individually

over the last six months.


We have to change.

We have to start thinking like, acting like,

and making decisions like we are a large church.

If part of our mission as a church

really is to make sure that everyone

who is in need of Liberal Religion in Western Ventura County,

can find that religious home here,

and there are hundreds upon hundreds of them,

then we have to start thinking and acting like a large church.

We have to make room for them.

We have to change how we make decisions,

how things are communicated,

how we bring people into leadership,

how we share our values.

This will be difficult,

and it will change the meaning of who we are as a church…

so I get it.  I get the resistance.  I really, really do.


I will leave you with just one question.

It is one I have asked before,

and it is one I can’t answer for you.

Is keeping our church as it has been,

as we have known it, important enough to you

that you are willing to deny a liberal spiritual home

to those in our community who are so desperately looking for it?


I pray, and I’m willing to bet

what a colleague once called the “best years of my ministry”

that the answer is no.

I am willing to bet that you are willing to push past the resistance

and transform into large church thinking,

to make room for all of those in our community

who are looking for a liberal spiritual home.

So may it be, blessed be, and amen.

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