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Service of the Living Tradition

General Assembly 2006 Event 2084

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Judith Meyer, Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, CA

Thousands of Unitarian Universalists gathered on Thursday evening for the annual Service of the Living Tradition. Each year, ministers who are entering into preliminary fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) are honored, as are ministers receiving final fellowship, and ministers leaving active service. More recently, religious educators entering the highest level of credentialing are also honored at this service.

Prior to the actual start of the service, Dr. Toni Tollerude, music director of the UU Fellowship of DeKalb, IL, led the gathering congregation in singing. With the assistance of the Singers of the Living Tradition, a choir composed of ministers, other religious leaders, and family members, Tollerude taught the congregation a three-part South African song, "We've Got the Power," and two other songs.

The prelude to the Service of the Living Tradition was the Prelude and Fugue in G Major, a la Gigue (BWV 577) by J. S. Bach. Dennis Bergin, principal organist for the Bach series at Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis and organist for this service, offered a fine interpretation of this piece.

"We have gathered in community," said the Rev. David Hubner, the retiring director of the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group at the UUA "to celebrate the hopes, the dreams, and the humanity of those good people, those ministers and those religious educators, who have devoted themselves to" Unitarian Universalism. "The visions and goals towards which we aspire cannot be achieved easily or accomplished by assembly, but require our shared commitment, our deepest trust in each other, and our deepest caring for each other. Let us join now in worship."

Dennis Bergin then played a short but powerful organ fanfare, "The Last Trumpet," which he composed.

The congregation rose to sing "Rank by Rank Again We Stand," the traditional processional hymn for the Service of the Living Tradition. The Rev. Michelle Bentley, Professional Development Director at the Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group, led the procession of ministers and religious educators who were to be recognized during the service. By custom, those being recognized for preliminary fellowship did not wear stoles, since not all of these people had yet been ordained.

"This has been a year of particular challenge and change," said Hubner. He mentioned hurricane Katrina and other storms. "Wars rage, damaging lives and ending hope." But, said Hubner, we have the gifts of beauty and spirituality to uphold us, and we can affirm "just how beautiful our world is, what a gift each of us is to the other, and what a gift life itself if." This service, he said, takes place to celebrate those who build and sustain the religious communities which "we need to understand life."

Bentley led a "Litany of Remembrance," a responsive reading which began: "From the comings and goings of our lives we have set aside this time and place to honor the calling of ministry."

"Please rise in body or spirit and remain standing as I read the names of ministers who have died in the past year," said the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the UUA. He read the list of ministers who have died since the last General Assembly, including the Rev. Helena Chapin, who died the night before the service.

Sinkford then offered a pastoral prayer, saying, "Our hearts go out to those, some even in this hall, who struggle and grieve. We hold in our hearts so many: the citizens of the Gulf Coast;... the young men and women who fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, may they return to us safe and soon." Sinkford's son completed military service in 2003. Speaking of religious leaders, Sinkford prayed, "May our leadership always point toward the Beloved Community, even when that vision seems distant or unattainable." He concluded the prayer by saying, "Our coming together gives us reason to hope. So may it be. Amen."

Representing the surviving families of ministers who have died in the past year, Barbara Prairie lit the flame in the large chalice at the front of the stage. Prairie's husband, the Rev. Michael Boardman, died in 2005. As a choral response, the choir sang "Vieni Spirito Creatore," a solemn and meditative work by Jacques Berthier (1923-1994), best known as the composer of music for the Taize community.

To start off the recognition of professional religious leaders, the Rev. Beth Williams, Religious Education Credentialing Director of the UUA, led the recognition of two Credentialed Religious Educators, Master's Level. Both women, Jan Devor and Mindy Whisenhunt, are long-time Directors of Religious Education who have been recently credentialed in this new program.

The Rev. David Pettee, Ministerial Credentialing Director of the UUA, led the recognition of those entering preliminary ministerial fellowship. In spite of requests to hold applause until the end, some members of the congregation could not restrain their excitement at seeing loved ones and friends walk across the stage to receive preliminary fellowship, and cheering sections for each person could be heard from different parts of the hall. One minister, Susan Maginn, walked across the stage with her baby in her arms, and the entire congregation cheered. "May all your ministries be long and blessed," said Pettee in conclusion, as the congregation rose to give a standing ovation.

Bentley led the recognition of the ministers receiving final fellowship. Unlike those receiving preliminary fellowship, these ministers were recognized in three groups, representing three categories of ministry—ministers of religious education, community ministers, and parish ministers—ministers are no longer required to declare a certain track of ministry specialization. The congregation watched the expressions of joy and anticipation of the ministers waiting to walk across the stage, and when all had been recognized, the congregation leaped to their feet in a standing ovation.

The Rev. Ralph Mero, UUA Church Staff Finances Director, led the recognition of those ministers who are retiring this year. Ordinarily, Rev. David Hubner would have led this recognition, but this year Hubner himself was being recognized as he retires from his position at the UUA. This year, one of the retiring ministers, the Rev. Charlotte Saleska, was a parent of one of those receiving preliminary fellowship, Kent Saleska.

The Rev. Dr. Judith Meyer, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica, Calif., gave the sermon. Speaking on the topic "To Live in This World," Meyer used Mary Oliver's poem "In Blackwater Woods" as her text.

Meyer described what it was like for her to grow up as a Unitarian Universalist. She felt she had to constantly explain what it meant to be a Unitarian Universalist, but at the same time, "the sense of justice and common sense that my church imparted to me have stayed with me all my life." Referring to the last lines of the Oliver poem, Meyer said, "Aren't we [Unitarian Universalists] just trying to live in the world? Aren't we just trying to live as people who believe that what we do can still make a difference?"

"May we be a fruitful people," said Hubner in his words of benediction. "May we be a blessing to each other. May we help change our world for the good. May we care for the prisoner and welcome the stranger. May our faith grow and our vision expand. May our love and our understanding ever deepen. Amen."

After the recessional hymn, "For All the Saints," Dennis Bergin gave a bravura performance of "Prelude and Fugue in B Major, op. 7 no. 1" by Marcel Dupré (1886-1971), a demanding piece for the organ.