Main Content

Wise Words for Your Ministry

By Rachel Walden

Four separate images taken from different SOLTs

The Service of the Living Tradition (SLT) at General Assembly has been described by some as a solemn opportunity to honor generations of Unitarian Universalist ministers and by others as a raucous celebration of clergy milestones. Whether solemn or raucous, formal or familial, the annual SLT is a perfect time to pause, reflect, and celebrate all the diverse individuals who are called to serve Unitarian Universalism through ministry.

To honor the complexity of Unitarian Universalist ministry, we asked this year’s cohort of retiring ministers to share some of the wisdom they’ve earned over the years or to give advice to those ministers at the beginning of their careers of service. We can all benefit from their words.

Minister presents same sex married couple

Guidance on the Duties of a Minister

"Sermons are not for information and entertainment but for insight and inspiration."—Rev. Burton D. Carley

"Learn to sing well, inspire others to sing well, and create a choir that really sings well."—Rev. Michael D. O’Kelly

"Ask questions of each person you come into contact with, especially those questions that probe what is of greatest importance to them at the present time."—Rev. Dana F. Reynolds III

"Make sure the bride’s veil doesn’t catch fire during the lighting of the unity candle and know what to do when it does. Always carry smelling salts for the groom. Don’t do more than two weddings in one day; it’s too hard to keep the names straight."—Rev. Dr. Judith C. Campbell

"When you are up to your neck in alligators, remember your objective is to drain the swamp."—Dr. Michael W. Hennon

Rev Theresa Novak and Worship Leader hold hands and walk down church aisle

On Leadership

"Be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove (Matthew 10:16)."—Rev. William L. "Scotty" McLennan

"Find the courage to lead and the wisdom to draw from the congregation’s composite wealth of knowledge."—Rev. Dr. Pam Allen-Thompson

"Find your congregation’s pace and don't take 'em too fast."—Rev. Michael D. O’Kelly, citing advice from Rev. Paul Carnes

"You are only allowed to cry after a funeral because during the service the family needs you to be strong when they are falling apart....You can do it."—Rev. Dr. Judith C. Campbell

"Change comes slowly. Know that the change that will happen must come from within the congregation with the support of your ministry."—Rev. Mary Rebecca Gunn

Minister in SSL stole stands at a mic next to Mexico border wall

On Openness

"Look into the mirror each morning and say, 'I might be wrong.'"—Rev. Burton D. Carley

"Be prepared for the unexpected because what you will most need to know, you didn't learn in seminary—things like knowing how to unclog a toilet in the three remaining minutes before the Sunday service is about to begin."—Rev. Dr. Judith C. Campbell

"Be brave, be gentle, and share your talents with gusto!"—Rev. Dr. Pam Allen-Thompson

"Remember that you are serving a higher power. Keep this in mind as you view your ministry from 'the balcony' (a family systems perspective)."—Rev. Kathleen Trichel Ellis

First Parish Beford Ministers Play Drums

On Finding Balance

"Be true to yourself and your beliefs while acknowledging and honoring those of the congregation."—Rev. Dr. Pam Allen-Thompson

"Follow a rule of 8-8-8: work eight hours a day, play eight hours a day, and get eight hours of sleep."—Rev. Peter Hart Newport

"If you are taking care of your people during the week, they will forgive you for whatever you say on Sunday."—Rev. Dr. Stephan R. Papa, citing advice from Rev. Paul Carnes

"Seek connections with support groups, not necessarily comprised of colleagues but certainly including collegial relationships. As Elton John has said, 'The three hardest words to say are: 'I need help.'"—Dr. Michael W. Hennon

Ministers teach, preach, listen and learn by leading congregations, serving as chaplains, and working for justice in the community.

Learn more

General Assembly is the annual meeting of our Unitarian Universalist Association. Attendees worship, witness, learn, connect, and make policy for the Association through democratic process.

Learn more