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Service of the Living Tradition

General Assembly 2007 Event 2093

Thousands of people streamed into the Hall C of the Portland Convention Center for the Service of the Living Tradition, the annual worship service to recognize Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers and credentialed religious educators. For the prelude to the service, the superb Ecotopia Brass Ensemble played music from the Western concert tradition, including the well-known Allegro from Handel's "Water Music." The gathering congregation expressed their appreciation for ensemble's fine control of dynamics and subtle blending of the various instruments.

The ingathering music continued with two hymns sung by the congregation, both from the current UU hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition. The congregational singing was led by Rev. Keith Arnold, Minister of Music of Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden, Colorado, and music director for this service, along with the hundred-voice Singers of the Living Tradition Choir, composed of UU ministers and religious leaders and their families. Arnold provided sensitive direction of the choir, and integrated them well with the brass ensemble and other musicians.

Rev. Beth Miller, Director of the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group, welcomed the congregation and said that the Service of the Living Tradition was a time to recognize and honor ministers and credentialed religious educators at the Masters level Miller made it clear that this was to be a worship service. "In a graduation the focus is on individual achievement," she said. "In worship, the focus is on something larger." In years past, the ministers and religious educators being recognized in the Service of the Living Tradition walked across the stage. Miller said that now the ministers and religious educators would be seated on the stage at the front of the hall, and would simply stand when it was time for them to be recognized.

"We do indeed recognize these individuals, but there is a larger purpose," Miller continued. "And so it is that I ask you not to applaud or cheer individual accomplishments tonight." In past years, some ministers and religious educators were cheered as they were recognized in the Service of the Living Tradition. "I know that when your loved one's name is called it is overwhelmingly tempting to clap and cheer, but I ask you to contain yourselves. So I'm going to suggest that we get it out of our system right at the beginning of the service." Miller said she would lead the congregation in cheering after the ministers and religious educators being recognized had arrived.

The ministers and credentialed religious educators processed in to the hall and up onto the stage as the congregation sang the traditional processional hymn, Rank by Rank Again We Stand. Once they were all seated, Rev. Miller signaled the congregation, and the congregation responded with applause, whistles, and cheers in recognition of the achievement of the ministers and credentialed religious educators.

"And now let us join in worship," said Miller. "Spirit of life and hope, we turn our minds and hearts again towards thee," she began, reading words written by Rev. Clark Wells, a minister who died this past year. The Service of the Living Tradition also recognizes those ministers who have retired or died in the past year. The chalice was lit by Rev. Clyde Grubbs, whose wife, Rev. Marjorie Bowens Wheatley, had also died this past year.

Rev. William Sinkford, president of the UUA, formally recognized those ministers who had died in the past year. "Rank by rank again we stand," he said, quoting from the processional hymn. "Here we are, gathered from the four winds, some at this service for the first time, some for the fiftieth time." To honor those "who dedicate their lives to the life we Unitarian Universalists share," Sinkford read the names of the 19 ministers who had died since the last Service of the Living Tradition. "Hold the memory of their ministry in your hearts as their names are read." After the names were read, Sinkford led the congregation in prayer, and the choir sang an a capella musical response, the "Alleluia Chaconne" based on the well-known Pachelbel's Canon.

Rev. Dr. Ralph Mero, Director of Church Staff Finances at the UUA, then recognized those retiring from active service. "We have the names of 18 ministers this evening who are retiring from active serivce in ministry, plus one credentialed religious educator, Masters level," Mero said. "By the standards of our society, none of these persons are wealthy. On the other hand, their lives have been rich beyond measure." The congregation joined in reading responsively a litany of appreciation for these retiring religious professionals.

The Reverends Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway preached the sermon together, speaking antiphonally. She began, saying, "Dear people, all of you dedicated leaders of this movement, lay and professional, you who give your life, your money, blood, sweat and tears, your heart, mind and soul, to living Unitarian Universalism, we honor you. We thank you."

"This evening, we honor all who have created this living tradition, and who take up the challenges to shape tomorrow," said Bill Hamilton-HolwayHis wife and partner in ministry added, "We want to live up to this day, this living tradition, this stream of life." They spoke of all the sermons they could have written for such an august occasion, outlining some of the points they could have made.

They named some of the significant people and places of Unitarian and Universalist history, saying that these stories "must live in our lives." They called on the congregation to name the names of the "pioneers, prophets, and mentors." They also called on the congregation to honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, not just religious leaders.

They asked the congregation to recognize "how the lives of our congregations shape the living tradition, and how we often busy ourselves with the smallest of matters, holding ourselves back from what we could do in the world with all of this energy." They said that we must honor common humanness more than categories of different kinds of human beings. "The day will come when we know we are all connected," he said. "The golden era of Unitarian Universalism is yet to be."

Barbara Hamilton-Holway told a story of a woman who thought she could not be a good UU because the woman could not believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all persons. This woman had been abused as a child, and could not believe that her abuser had inherent worth and dignity. But Barbara Hamilton-Holway told her that she only had to believe in her own worth and dignity. When it came to believing in the inherent worth and dignity of all persons, "We have the whole community" to do that work.

"In our congregations, we remind one another: you are worthy, you are blessed, you have gifts to share with the world," said Bill Hamilton-Holway. "Horrible things happen to us, by us, all around us. Still there is so much in each of us, so much that can never be destroyed. So much lives that is not broken; there is life for us." He continued by saying, "There is a healing balm in our congregations. We know how to be present to be with one another, to speak the truth, to listen, to be changed. Once our grief is named, we can open to beauty, we can open to our possibilities and promises."

Barbara Hamilton-Holway said that the larger society would have us skimming the surface, but missing the mark. "The culture is glad to have us ignore beauty, and bottle up our creativity," she said."It's important to appreciate the beauty that's immediately in front of us."

"I breathe in the beauty, and breathe out love, and let go of sorrow," said Bill Hamilton-Holway. "Feel the blood coursing through your veins, the blood of your ancestors.... you have everything you need, your cup brims with blessing, you are ready for the coming day."

"We go down to the river," said Barbara Hamilton-Holway, "and we step in."

For an anthem, the choir sang Harry Belafonte's song, "Turn the World Around." The choir, under Rev. Arnold's direction, sang beautifully with great dynamic control, and the anthem was greeted with applause by the congregation.

Rev. Dr. Michelle Bentley, the Director of Professional Development at the UUA, led the recognition of ministers attaining"final fellowship," ending their three year probationary period, and the recognition of credentialed religious educators, Masters level. "It is a privilege and pleasure to affirm and recognize ministers who will today receive final fellowship," she said, and to recognize the religious educators. Bentley noted the "attention to detail and the hours of sacrifice" needed by these religious professionals to attain the highest level of credentials in their respective fields.

"In affirmation of your successful journey," said Bentley, "when your name is called, please rise in body or spirit." Five Ministers of Religious Education, nine Community Ministers, forty-five Parish Ministers, and one Credentialed Religious Educator, Masters Level, were recognized. She then led the congregation in a litany of appreciation for these religious professionals.

The Rev. David Pettee, UUA Director of Ministerial Credentialing, led the recognition of ministers entering preliminary fellowship, beginning their three year probationary period. Pettee invited the congregation to "welcome the 56 women and men who have met the basic requirements for service in the Unitarian Universalist ministry."

"All these ministers deserve our honor and praise for holding fast to their call to ministry," said Pettee. Since the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the UUA has changed the credentialing process for new ministers, there are no longer different categories of ministry recognized, and there is no longer a distinction made between community ministers, ministers of religious education, and parish ministers. Thanks to Rev. Miller's instructions at the beginning of the worship service, there was almost no applause for individual ministers.

After the new ministers were recognized, the Rev. Alicia L. H. Grace spoke to the congregation about the Living Tradition Fund. "I invite you to generously contribute to the living tradition fund," she said. The fund is used for grants to reduce the burden of seminary student loans, scholarships to seminary students, and general aid to ministers in need. She said she had been a recipient of the Living Tradition Fund, and "it made a difference in my ministry, and it deepened my understanding that I do not live alone." After thanking the congregation, she invited them to give generously to the fund during the Offertory.

The Rev. Beth Williams, UUA Religious Education Credentialing Director, gave the benediction for the Service of the Living Tradition. "It is often said among us that ministry is what we all do together," she said. "The service is ending but the ministry carries on."

The congregation sang the hymn "For All the Saints," while the ministers and religious educators recessed out of the hall. When the hymn ended, the congregation applauded all these dedicated religious professionals.

Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Pat Emery.

About the Author

Barbara Hamilton-Holway

Barbara Hamilton-Holway is co-minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Berkeley, California, and author of Evensong, published by Skinner House Books.

For more information contact .

Carolyn Owen-Towle and Paul L'Herrou at Service of Living Tradition.
Entering the hall.
Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway at Service of Living Tradition.
The Reverends Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway
New ministers at Service of Living Tradition.
Ministers and credentialed religious educators.