Selected by Leslie Takahashi Morris
Opening worship—Convo 2009

KOPKE: We gather together as part of the continuing story of our faith. All of us knows only too well that this is a story that goes far beyond the professional ministry. And we do have a story, of the struggles and the power.

KATHY: So as we gather together today, we present a few of the words of our shared history, taken from the archives of the Berry Street lectures which is just one part of our legacy.

LESLIE: While this archive does not begin to fully represent our ministry, it offers us a place to start, tales and talismans from those who have come before us.

JOSEPH: As we listen, let us hear the voices who send us wisdom and listen for the unheard voices as well.

WAYNE: Let us listen to the voices of our collective story.

[We would then each read one of these with music under and brief rises in the music between them of about 10 seconds.]

DEBRA: Read before the First Ministerial Conference in Berry Street, at the formation of the Conference, May 31, 1820, "How Far is Reason to be used in Explaining Revelation?” By William Ellery Channing

The general spirit which belongs to us as ministers, which constitutes the spirit of our profession, which gives force and earnestness to exertion, and seriousness and dig­nity to the character, originates in a cherished conviction of the greatness of our end. … We must labor to raise our minds to the height of our vocation, to think generously, nobly of its design, to feel that we are devoted to an object deserving a far more intense energy of purpose than any of the inter­ests for which worldly men contend so keenly and keep so­ciety in an uproar. Nothing calls forth the soul like a con­sciousness of being dedicated to a sublime work, in which illustrious beings are our associates, and of which the conse­quences are interminable. I am speaking with no inflation, I trust. I am not using common-place language to which I attach little meaning, when I say that this is the conscious­ness which should accompany us through our office, and be the all-pervading, all-quickening spirit of our private studies and public labors.

KOPKE: From the 1854 lecture Polemics and Irenics by James Freeman Clarke

Having been requested to deliver the Theological Address at this annual meeting of the Ministerial Conference, let me commence by considering some of the theological defects and theological capabilities of our position as a body. If I speak rather of our capabilities than of our defects, it will be because I think our chief want is encouragement. We need faith, hope, courage. We need to see what we are able to do, what are the special advantages of our position. Our open fault is want of zeal; the hidden defect out of which it springs, want of faith in our own ideas.

 I believe that we want, as a denomination, faith and hope; that we are for the time being a discouraged denomination. But the want of courage is a great want; the victory which overcomes the world is faith. This is especially the case with a sect holding views which differ from those of the majority. An old system can be carried on by the force of mere routine; but a new one is saved by hope, lives by looking forward and by going forward.

JOSEPH: From the 1887 address , Religion from the Near End by Jenkin Lloyd Jones

Take any definition of religion you please, only so it be large enough. Put into it the divinest fullness possible to the experience of man.  I prefer to interpret religion at its maximum rather than its minimum.  Let religion mean the greatest thought of God; the strongest trust in Providence; the closest communion with Jesus; the most loving appreciation of the bible; the serenest confidence in the eternal life, and the loftiest habit of worship that the human soul can know.  No other definition will allow my purpose this morning.  This is the religion that is sometimes at the end—best realized from the near end.  Indeed, it can be realized in its fullness only by him who seeks it from this end of the line. Right here, or nowhere is the gate of heaven for us to day.

KATHY: From the 1929 lecture, Are We Outgrowing the Need for a Church? By Anna Garlin Spencer

I seem to catch a vision at times of the world’s temple that is to be.-- Signs without number everywhere seem to outline and color that hidden vision.  It is of a Temple of Religion, of the everlasting and eternal in religion, not cumbered with form or creed that perish in the using.  It is a temple of all human faiths, not bound to race or clime or age.  Its majestic walls rise out of the marketplace like purple mist-crowned mountains from the sandy plain.  It is a "cave to think in” open night and day to him who in a still place apart would contemplate truth, "would see the face of the Eternal”.  It is a refuge from temptation, open night and day to the wandering and homeless who would be protected from the evil influences without, who would hear more clearly the inward challenges to right.…  Each findeth in his own language the jewels of his ancestral faith strung on the chord of an all embracing sympathy and set in its stately ritual.  It is a place of solemn reverence where no man dare intrude his shallow mood of argument upon you.  …  And from these Chapels all who work for Better in the world that now is meet together around one altar in one Service of Worship of that Perfect which knows no Past or Future but is the Eternal Now & the Everlasting Here.

WAYNE: From 1941: The Changing Reputation of Human Nature by James Luther Adams

It is not the "enlightened Mind” alone that is necessary for salvation, but rather the "raised Affec­tions” inspiring, transforming and controlling both reason and vitality. Nor is it that the reason needs merely the added push of vitality, but rather that both reason and vitality must be kept from perversion and from exceeding bounds. Not that information and hard thinking and technique are dispensable. Far from it. Even a St. Francis with commitment to the highest would be im­potent when confronted with p. case of appendicitis if he did not recognize the malady and did not know what to do. One sector of the problems of society and of solitude is the intellectual problems. Here no amount of good will alone can suffice. But something of the spirit of St. Francis is indispensable if the benefits of science and of society are to be in widest commonalty spread, and, for that matter, if even the intellectual problems are to be dealt with adequately. The desire to diagnose injustice as an intellectual problem as well as the power of action to achieve a new form of justice requires "raised affections,” a vitality that can break through old forms of behavior and create new pat­terns of community. "Man becomes what he loves.” But the raising of the affections is a much harder thing to accomplish, than even the education of the mind; it is especially difficult among those who think they have found security. Spiritually significant change takes place only when a man discovers that he must make a decision for a way of life that distinguishes him and his whole orientation from the man who has not made such a decision.

KATE: From the 1964 lecture, The Church: Salient or Subordinate? By Dorothy T. Spoerl 

Last winter in exploring the possibility of studying the process by which children come to identify with the church, I asked the fourth and sixth graders in one of our large suburban churches to make maps for me; We had first discussed the wide variety of maps that are possible, and then the simple instructions were given: "Make a map showing the places which are important to you.” Not one of the children in these two grades included his church on the map, only one included any church at all! … "these children” were at the church, itself, when they drew the maps; and that the maps contained many places further removed from their homes than the church, such as their summer ­camps, spots where memorable vacations had been spent, the riding stable many of them used. It seems rather clear, whatever the reasons may have been, that at the time of drawing the maps the church had not seemed to them an important place.

LESLIE: From the 1986: Religion, The Church, and Our Mission in the World by John Wolf

My first parish was in Racine, Wisconsin. It was a small church that once had prospered but had fallen on meager times. A year before I went there the congregation had voted to dissolve. As a matter of fact, at the congregation’s meeting held for that purpose the vote had been thirty-three to one to close the church. The one  was Gwendolen B. Willis. She said, "I do not intend that we should close my mother’s church!” Miss Willis’ mother was Olympia Brown!  Miss Willis prevailed. (So much for the rule of the majority!) The tiny congregation appealed to the Wisconsin Universalist Convention for a loan, enough to hire a minister for one more try, and I was called. I was there two months before a new face, and potentially a new member, graced the door. His name was Russell Wilhelmson. There were only twenty-six of us there that Sunday morning, but I remember what he said to me as we shook hands after the Service. "Since I first began to think for myself,” he said, "and to draw my own conclusions about religion, people have been telling me I am crazy because of what I believed. And, here, this morning, I found a whole church full of crazy people!” Russell became a good and . faithful member of the Universalist Church of the Good Shepherd in Racine, Wisconsin. And he reconfirmed me in my conviction, and that tiny congregation in its commission, wherein we ministered together.

KIELY: From, the 2000 address: After Running Through the Thistles: the Hard Part Begins by Mark D. Morrison-Reed :

When Donna and I returned from a sabbatical in the Fall of 1998 calamity struck. Immersion in death changed my understanding of ministry. Four women, all in their forties, each a mother, had cancer; among them was my sister, Carole. …. The challenge for me through all this was to be fully present — fully in those precious moments. Open to dialogue without pushing it, often I simply sat and waited and watched the rise and fall of each breath. I gave up the urge to fix and assuage, held in abeyance the need to grieve, and stilled my thoughts and feelings so I could be fully there. Because that was all there was to do — be there.

In a pensive moment following a bout of tears it came to me that being present is what it takes to love a congregation. We do ministry knowing that someday the relationship will end. The challenge is to be there despite this. For unless we can be fully there in authentic relationship with its members we can go through the motions of ministry but we can’t really minister. We can’t hold back because the power is in our relatedness to one another, and yet we must hold back or risk conflating the professional with the personal. To minister is to wrestle with this dilemma. 

KATE: As we go through this week of precious time gathered together, may we know that we walk with those who have gone before us.

KIELY: Let their voices be part of our conversations and let us know they listen for our contributions to the on-going story of our ministry.