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

Charge to the Congregation — Installation of Rev. Bret Lortie at the Unitarian Church of Evanston

When my colleague and dear friend in the ministry, Rev. Bret Lortie, asked me if I might participate in the service to install him as the Senior Minister of the Unitarian Church of Evanston, I knew that there was only one role in such a service I could possibly fulfill.  For those of you who may not know, during the 2007 – 2008 church year I was a ministerial Intern in this congregation… and it was amongst you I learned how to be a minister.  All of you were wonderful in helping me to learn the role, the responsibilities, and the practice of being a minister… and you all charged me with those roles again when you ordained me to the Unitarian Universalist Ministry in 2010.

Now it is my turn… I am here to issue to you the Charge to the Congregation.

As some of you may remember, I have only two pulpit speeds… three points or seven points. Out of compassion I have chosen to remain in 3 point mode this evening…

Point 1.  I Charge You to Let This Be a New Chapter in the Amazing History of this Congregation.

One of the wonderful aspects of my time amongst you was exploring your amazing history, and even coming back to preach a sermon or two about it.  This congregation has had a part in changing the world.  Housing Equality, Civil Rights, and Ending Wars have all been touched and transformed by this congregation.

And the responsibility of having such a history is living up to it.  Living up to the expectation that you are a congregation that not only can but does change the world.  That you are a congregation that saves lives, not just across the world but of the people who are hurting and alone who walk through your doors each and every Sunday Morning, for the first time and for the thousandth time.  Each time you pull into the parking lot, or see other members of UCE in the community, remember that you are a part of something that is larger than yourself… a part of transforming lives that transform the world.

And as such… let it be a new chapter in that history.  If something is happening that is different than how it has happened in the past, let it be okay.  New chapters in a novel would be boring if they were the same as the chapters that had come before.  You, Rev. Brett and Rev. Connie are writing this new chapter together.  Trust that this new chapter, though different, will continue to tell the Amazing Story that is the Unitarian Church of Evanston.


Point 2.  I Charge You to Keep your Eyes on the Horizon.

One of the things that has happened for me since you ordained me is that I was accessioned as a Chaplain in the Army Reserves… and that means that I quite often have to put on a heavy pack and go walk for miles and miles with my soldiers.  It has taught me something, and that lesson is a part of my charge to you.

If on the journey I keep my eyes down, and focused on the ground before me, then I seem to be focused on every pain, every complaint, every thought about how I would really rather be doing something different.  But, if I keep my eyes up, and focused on the horizon, then all of those complaints and concerns seem so much less important to me.

I charge you to keep your eyes on the horizon… and that horizon is your mission and your vision as a church.  Keep your eyes focused as much as you can on your purpose as a religious institution, on the ways in which you seek to transform each other and the world.  Keep your eyes focused on the dream of the world we wish to create, and the church you need to be to help create that world.

Trust that there are a few people who are looking at the path, to make sure it is safe and navigable… you elect some leaders to do that for you.  And when you are feeling frustrated or discouraged, remind yourself to look back towards the Horizon… back towards your mission and vision, and see if, as happened for me, it shifts your perspective.

We will only reach the goal of a world transformed if we keep our eyes on that horizon.


Point 3.  I Charge You to Be Bold.

This is my dearest wish for you.  I Charge you to be bold.  I charge you continue being the church that invited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King jr. to speak in this part of Chicagoland when no one else would.  I charge you to make decisions based out of your dreams, and not out of your fears.  I charge you to trust yourselves, to trust your staff, to trust your lay-leadership, and to trust your professional ministry.  Whatever problems arise, you and they can handle it.  Whenever there appears to be some scarcity, remember that you have far, far more abundance.

Be Bold.  Make Bold Decisions.  Take some risks.  You can afford it… spiritually, physically, and yes, financially.  When you keep your eyes on that horizon of a world transformed, and your feet firmly grounded in the amazing history of this place, of this congregation, there is nothing, and I mean nothing you cannot do… so long as you are bold.


Out of the love that I will always hold for you, and out of the common ministry we share for a world transformed to justice, equity, compassion and peace… consider yourselves charged.

Do you feel Charged?  Then may the people say amen.

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