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

Joy and Sorrow are Woven Fine

There is something about the way congregations come together, to support one another, to grieve with one another, to celebrate with one another, to laugh with one another… often all at the same time… that amazes me. Something in the way a disparate group of people, brought together by belief, by community, and even sometimes by having no one else to turn to, can become an entity in and of itself. How a congregation can together grieve loss and celebrate renewal and rebirth, all at once… while also doing a million other things, amazes me.

Today was a “full” day in the life of our Fellowship here in Midland, Michigan. It was an amazing performance from our Choir, as they are preparing for the Annual Christmas Walk at Dow Gardens, where local choirs sing Christmas music as people walk by candlelight through the gardens. The choir sang, the congregation sang, and there was joy… we even sang Little Drummer Boy just because they know it is my favorite carol.

And yet, it was also a moment of sadness and memory for us, as one of our long time congregants, Claire, had died just a few days before. Claire had been the service coordinator for the Choir service for years… as much as the Choir, this was “Claire’s service”. As the choir came into the sanctuary, they placed little red hearts into a candle-bowl… for Claire. We will be having her memorial services and celebrations later in the week, but we were also celebrating her years with us in today’s service.

We sang joyful hymns, we sang sorrowful hymns. One of our members did the most absolutely amazing reading of a section of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” I think I have ever seen… Jean, who had agreed a few months ago to step in for Claire if she could not coordinate the service this year. Joys and Sorrows were full of emotion, across the widest spectrum. And all of it was held by a congregation that loves and cares for one another.

I will admit, I was nervous about this service… for I had an announcement to make. After we celebrated the month’s birthdays and had sung our final carols, I needed to tell the congregation something that contained both joy and a bit of sorrow. I needed to name for them something about which I did not know how they would react. I wanted this congregation to know that I do love them, for they are an amazing congregation… and that I am going to be leaving them and going somewhere else in July.

Now, we’ve known I was going somewhere else in July since the very beginning of my ministry… I am an Interim Minister after all. But we thought that I would be going on a deployment as a Military Chaplain, possibly to Iraq or Afghanistan. For a lot of reasons that we do not need to be gone into here, I will not be deploying next year.

Instead, I have been honored with the opportunity to serve for the next two years (beginning next August) as the Assistant Minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, California. This is a consulting ministry, not a called ministry… and so it is in some ways outside the normal settlement process for Unitarian Universalist Ministers. During the first year, I will be with the congregation during the sabbatical of their current (and soon to be Senior) Minister, Rev. Jan Christian. When she comes back from sabbatical, Rev. Jan, I, and the congregation will together discover what it means for them to become a congregation served by more than one professional minister.

Sandy and I are excited to be moving to California, and being closer to her parents in what could be an important time in their lives… and sad to be leaving Midland, a community we have come to love and enjoy. I am looking forward to the work of ministry that lies ahead with the UU Church of Ventura… and overjoyed that I now get to focus on being the interim minister that the UU Fellowship of Midland needs without the distraction of an extended search process. Though I and the congregation both knew that I would be leaving after one year, I am also sad to be reminded of the shortness of our time together… knowing where I am headed next makes the reality of our short time together feel more real. I am looking forward to exploring Ventura and California, and a bit sad that this will be my last Midwestern winter for awhile. Sandy is not so sad about this being the last Midwestern winter… but unlike her I like the snow.

All of this and more was with me as I shared this news with the congregation here in Midland. It came amidst all the confusion of a joyful service of singing with the sorrow of a long-time member not present. It came amidst the emotions of having, just a year ago, planned to leave congregational ministry to become an active duty chaplain in the military, and now realizing that I am called first to the congregational ministry, and only secondarily to military chaplaincy. The congregation in Midland has helped me to see that part of my call, by allowing me to be their minister… and for that I am and always will be deeply grateful to them. So much so that when the idea was raised a few weeks ago for me to re-apply for active duty, I decided against it. The congregation is my ministry’s spiritual home.

As I stood in the pulpit and shared some of these things with the congregation this morning, I did not know what to expect… And the reaction of the congregation was amazing. They applauded… Now, in another context, a congregation applauding a minister saying they were going to another congregation could have different connotation… but this came from that mix of Joy and Sorrow. It came from a mix of knowing we have a short time together, of relief at knowing I am not going off to war, and of knowing the part they have played in allowing me to hear my calling to congregational ministry. It was an amazing moment, and one I will cherish forever… along with all the hugs and well wishes that came afterward. Thank you, dearest ones.

I also want to thank the members and friends of the UU Church of Ventura, who, having found out about Sandy and I coming there two weeks ago, have been wonderful about not telling anyone (though I have seen that they have been reading Celestial Lands – Welcome!). You allowed me to find the right way and the right time to share the news with your fellow UU’s here in Midland, and I am grateful to you. I look forward to meeting with all of you at the end of January, when Sandy and I will travel to California, to visit her family and to spend a weekend with you in Ventura.

There is a poem by William Blake that I use in memorial services, and it holds the meanings I felt in today well…

Joy and Sorrow are woven fine…

Under every grief and pine

Runs a joy with silken twine

It is right it should be so,

We were made for joy and woe.

Yours in Faith,

Rev. David

3 Thoughts on “Joy and Sorrow are Woven Fine

  1. Was at the UU Church in Ann Arbor this morning with long time friends – sorry to have missed this meaningful service – as you are the age on of my sons, I wish for you and Sandy only the best for what’s best for you as a ‘couple’ – we in Midland knew that we had you for only a year and I am delighted that you now see ‘your path’ – I treasure our short time together.

  2. Such, such congratulations to you and Sandy! It puts a bit more of a time crunch on our get-together with you guys (must meet up before you leave the Midwest!) but really … such a joy. Hooray for Pastor David!

  3. Thank you all… to answer a question that came in email, I am remaining an Army Reserve Chaplain… just not looking at an immediate deployment. I will hopefully be serving with a Reserve unit in the Ventura area.

    Just thought I’d clarify…

    Yours in faith,

    Rev. David

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: