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Distinguished Service Award, General Assembly 2014

General Assembly 2014 Event 402

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This report is part of a longer event. Go to General Session V for the complete video and order of business.


THE MODERATOR: It's my pleasure this morning to welcome you to the presentation of the 2014 Distinguished Service Award to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism. This award is the highest honor that this association can bestow. It's given annually to the lay or professional leader who, over a considerable period of time, is deemed by the UUA board of trustees to have made extraordinary contributions to the strength of this association. It is to go to someone who exemplifies the highest values of our shared faith.

This year my fellow trustees, Lou Finney and Rob Eller-Isaacs, have served on this committee. It has been my privilege to chair this group. And this year we are delighted to bestow this award upon the Reverend Kenneth MacClean. The Reverend-


THE MODERATOR: The Reverend Marlin Lavanhar will offer the citation. We will hear a few words from Reverend MacClean, and then we will officially bestow the award.

REVEREND MARLIN LAVANHAR: Kenneth Torquil MacClean, preacher, teacher, pastor, prophet, husband, father, partner, organizer, advocate, and institution builder. Over the course of your extraordinary 54-year career, you have ministered to your colleagues, congregations, and the wider community and have been outstanding in your efforts to establish and strengthen the organizations and associations that will sustain Unitarianism and Universalism in America and around the world for generations to come.

A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Divinity School, you were introduced to this faith by your wife, Harriet, who encouraged and supported you to become a minister. Ordained and fellowshipped in 1960, you were called to the Rosalind and West Roxbury churches. And during your tenure, you reunited these two historic churches.

In 1964, you were called to the Tennessee Valley Church in Knoxville where you helped to establish the first chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in that state. In 1972, you were called to Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, one of our largest churches, and you served for 20 years before becoming their minister emeritus.

In 1999, you began what grew to become an 11-year ministry to the Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, California, and led them to build a beautiful new church home. You also spent many memorable summers as a visiting preacher for our church in North Hatley, Quebec.

While you are renowned for your long and successful parish ministries, your unfaltering devotion to establish and support institutions that sustain and uphold our faith nationally and internationally makes you stand out as one who has fostered our faith for the future. You were the founder and organizer of the Senior Ministers of Large Unitarian Universalist Congregations, which to this day serves to support the ministers and ministries of our association's largest churches.

You have served as the president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association and in that role were instrumental in helping establish the office of church staff finances, to help churches and ministers address questions of salary, health care, pensions, and equitable compensation, and also established a foundation grant to supplement the income of retired ministers and their widows who were living on less than $10,000 a year.

As the Ministers Association president, you also worked with the Reverend David Weissbard and leaders of the Liberal Religious Educators Association to support the ordination of ministers of religious education. You served two terms on the board of the Unitarian Universalist Association, during which time you established the UUA's task force on AIDS.

You also served on the board of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. And for five years, you worked as the special assistant to the president of our Association for International and Interfaith Affairs under President John Buehrens.

In this role, you worked tirelessly to strengthen our heritage worldwide and helped organize the founding meeting of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. The International Council has since played an essential role in connecting, supporting, and training UU communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.

On behalf of our association, you traveled to and lent your support to our churches and partners in the Philippines, India, Japan, New Zealand, Hungary, Romania, Canada, the United Kingdom, and beyond. You've helped our co-religionists and others in far off and sometimes remote places who were battling discrimination, or deprivation, or dictatorship.

In Prague, you worked for many years, even when others were convinced the cause was futile. And you ultimately prevailed to rescue the Church of Norbert Capek from people who had seized illegal control of it.

Even as you have worked on a world stage for the betterment of the human condition, you are also well known among your colleagues as a pastor to pastors. Colleague after colleague, as well as congregant after congregant, tell stories of times you ministered to them as they were bearing burdens too hard and too heavy to bear alone.

For decades, you have also mentored young ministers who've gone on to serve our faith well here and in other countries. Indeed, the reach of your more than half a century of ministry has touched and strengthened our faith to the far corners of the earth. You've given your vision and leadership to fortify the individuals and institutions of Unitarian Universalism.

It is therefore with deep gratitude, admiration, and pride, in your 87th year and in your home state of Rhode Island, that we confer on you our highest honor, the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism. It is our intention that your name be inscribed among those who from ages past have stood out as the exemplars of this tradition.

Your ministry has provided a standard for succeeding generations to aspire to as they and we seek to sacrifice for and give our lives to the faith of our forebears, the betterment of the human condition, and the pursuit of freedom and justice for all. Congratulations.



My friend, Marlin, my new friend, moderator Jim Key. All my fellow Unitarian Universalists, and the close people I love over here, this is an overwhelming moment. It takes me back to growing up in the Washington Park Methodist Church about three miles from here.

I left after Brown, hitchhiked to California, and as you've heard, I married Harriet Johnston, Director of Religious Education at the Providence Church. Harriet said there are two things, I don't do shirts, and I do go to the General Assembly.

The general what? I agreed to her conditions. And I was halfway through divinity school when she told me she had always planned to marry a minister.

I have to think of early mentors, friends, colleagues, people like Brad Gale, and Joe Barth, and Ralph Norman Helverson, who was a great inspiration and mentor to me. I think of the colleagues and friends all along the way, the luck I had in serving terrific churches.

I was asked by a search committee for Cedar Lane, Mr. MacClean, we've talked to some ministers who say it's a mistake for the minister to have close friends in the congregation. It causes problems. What do you think?

And I said, I think they're probably right, but the trouble is I need friends so bad I can't be picky about where I find them. And that has worked out well.

Ministry is an incredible profession, especially in this movement. We talk a great deal about freedom of thought. We don't talk so much about freedom in ministry, but it is real and it is important. And each of us has great leeway in choosing the ways we will shape our ministry, how we will spend our time, what organizations we will try to be part of, what social injustices we will try to respond to. That is a tremendous freedom.

For me, I felt the criminal justice system was one of the most glaring programs that cut people off from the rest of society as though they did not exist. There are human beings in those prisons. And in Knoxville, we were fortunate in being able, after a year of work, to bring five young men out of the penitentiary after they had served part of a 25-year sentence for a scuffle in a car in which nobody suffered lasting injury.

Early in my ministry, to be involved in racial questions meant the first Fair Housing Committee within the city of Boston.

For the five years in which I worked for John Buehrens at the UUA, I had tremendous opportunities making friends around the world, friends for the UUA. And I had the great experience of going to India with Kathy Sreedhar five times to meet the people who were benefiting from the Holdeen India program, some of the poorest of the poor, people called untouchable, bonded laborers, women. That program is one of the very best things this organization has ever done, and it may be one of the best kept secrets. But it won't be a secret if you go to its celebration today.

I have to say, that becoming a Unitarian before merger and then Unitarian Universalist minister gave me a life, a life of challenge, a life that always seemed worthwhile. You became my people.

I could not be more honored by your validation of the choices I made along the way, the things I tried to do, the benefit, and friendship, and collegiality I received. I have nothing but gratitude. And after all, isn't that the basis of our religion? Thank you.