The following were my words at the Tribute and Celebration of the ministry of Rev. Barbara Pescan, at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, on June 4th, 2011…
I remember a day at General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale in 2008. A few weeks after Barbara had sprinkled some pixie dust on me and I had magically transformed from her Ministerial Intern into the UCE Summer Minister. Attending General Assembly as a Military Chaplain Candidate and a seminary student, I was invited to a meeting between the UU Military Chaplains and the President of the UUA, the Rev. Bill Sinkford.
Rev. Sinkford had us going around the room introducing ourselves, and saying where we were serving in ministry. When it became my turn, I said “I’m Lieutenant David Pyle, U.S. Army Chaplain Candidate. I’ve just completed my ministerial internship at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, IL, with the Rev. Barbara Pescan”.
Rev. Sinkford’s eyes lit up, and he said “An Internship with Barbara? Wow… Lucky you!”
Lucky me, indeed.
I sometimes think we who have been in her life and her ministry on a daily basis don’t realize how lucky we are. When I’m out among ministerial colleagues, or even among long-time UU’s from other congregations, I get reminded from time to time about that luck. On more than one occasion, I have had a ministerial colleague seek me out, to ask me what it was like to be Rev. Barbara Pescan’s intern. The answer I have come to give is that it was wonderful, but how much more wonderful to be her friend… and to think of her as one of my mothers… my mother-in-ministry.
There is much of my relationship with Barbara that I’m not going to share with you. I’m not going to because, in the years after my internship here at UCE, I realized something special. After speaking with many of my fellow seminary students and now ministerial colleagues about their experiences of internships and supervising ministers, I came to the surprising realization that my experience of internship, and my relationship with my supervising minister was rare, if not unique.
As my seminary colleagues talked about their supervising ministers, I realized that the relationship that Barbara invited me to share with her was so much more intimate, so much more personal, and so much more human than these colleagues of mine had shared. In our time together, we not only talked about, and at times cried about the congregation, we also explored how each of us is called to engage our own personal life in ministry. In my case, we touched on some of the issues around my relationship with my dad, with my military past, and with my frustrations with my seminary and our denomination.
I cannot count the things that Barbara taught me during my time as the ministerial intern here at UCE, but one lesson stands out above all of the others. It was taught not in a lecture, not in a sermon or a didactic. It was taught in a lived example, and an invitation to a kind of intimacy and trust that I have rarely seen among ministerial colleagues. And, by far it is the lesson that I have leaned on in becoming an Interim Parish Minister, a hospital and hospice chaplain, and an Army Reserve Chaplain.
That lesson is how to be fully and authentically human in ministry.
Barbara, you taught me this lesson by always speaking your mind, by having a connection directly between your heart and your voice… even and especially when your heart told your voice to tell me I was being stupid.
You taught me this lesson by preparing me, by your own example, for those Sunday afternoons when you just have to pick up the help wanted ads in the local paper to remember that we are in ministry because we are called to be…
You taught me this lesson by letting me make my own mistakes, and then challenging me to accept that I am merely human… a challenge you know was hard for me to accept.
You taught me this lesson by allowing me to see some of your own pains, some of your own grief, and some of your own hurt… and to see how these are our strengths in ministry.
You taught me this lesson by the example of how you bring the fullness of your being into the pulpit. Much of my ability as a preacher I owe to you.
You taught me this lesson by telling me to “get over myself” when I was convinced I had flubbed a sermon you knew I had knocked out of the park.
Anyone can teach the mechanics of ministry. There certainly are enough books out there that make our profession seem like a technician’s paradise. Anyone can teach theology, and even theological reflection, for the models are there and well established. But to teach and inspire seminarians how to bring the fullness of their being, their authentic human selves into a life of ministry? That, my dear, takes genius.
And that you do it even without realizing it is why, I think, people keep asking me what it was like to be Barbara Pescan’s intern… And it is why you are with me, each and every day I walk the path of our shared profession.
Yours in Faith,