My friend’s installation and my own journey in ministry

Don’t get weary.
Don’t get discouraged.
Don’t get played.
Do you.

That was the charge given to my friend the Rev. Jacqueline Duhart as she was installed as Associate Minister for Faith In Action at First Unitarian Church of Oakland on October 5.

 

It was a good Sunday, and a deeply self-reflective one for me. I bet every pastor who attends an installation thinks about their own installation(s), and I was no exception.

Here are a few things that popped into my head about church, a year after I left my seven-year pastorate:

  • It didn’t matter too much that I chose not to process in with the other clergy (in a fit of “priesthood of all believers” and continuing reflection on how to manifest my ministry without a parish), because there were about 8 rows of clergy happy to take my place. (But I had the last laugh—it was HOT in the balcony, and there were two rows of people sweating through their clergy robes.)
  • It is possible for a theologically and politically radical church to be vibrant, diverse of orientation and race, multigenerational, and absolutely thriving.
  • That church can thrive with traditional liturgy as long as the liturgy is alive and involves participation from the whole community.
  • Jesus is not necessarily the secret sauce for making that church vibrant (although heavy cribbing from Christian liturgy might occur).
  • Just because those things are possible and they were my dream all throughout seminary does not mean that said church would feed me now.
  • Even though I am not craving traditional worship at this point in life, I find comfort knowing there might be a church trying to build beloved community in those ancient ways with that eternal values of radical inclusivity. (Confidentially, I don’t see a ton of it in my community—the triumvirate of good, feeding worship; good, rich, complex theology; and deep commitment to the community’s need for justice, although I see it in a lot of synagogues, making me understand why my co-pastor briefly considered converting to Judaism although he deeply loves Jesus.)

Here are a few things that popped into my head about Rev. Jacqueline:

  • That church is damned lucky to have someone so gracious and yet so powerful.
  • I wouldn’t have said this a few years ago, but I get the sense that they know that.
  • I have spent a lot of time recently saying that the church is often a limiting factor in pastors being able to do the work God called them to. I am honored to have Jacqueline in my life to remind me that sometimes the church, with all of its challenges and small heartbreaks, is exactly the avenue through which a person can fulfill her calling. (But it doesn’t have to be.)
  • There is almost no one else it would have been fair to place that charge on (don’t get weary, don’t get discouraged, don’t get played, do you), but Jacqueline already lives that charge, and is transparent in healthy ways when she does get weary and discouraged so she can be open to receiving uplift…and thereby, she models something for the priesthood of all believers, which is what a pastor at her best does.
  • I’m glad the city of Oakland celebrated Rev. Jacqueline Duhart Day last week. It makes me feel like we were a better city that day by the light reflected onto us.

Here are a few things that popped into my head about my own installation:

  • The sanctuary was freezing (and the boiler still doesn’t work to this day).
  • It was full of hope, and full of people—over 100, with only 20 of them belonging to my church.
  • I made my congregants take on roles within the worship service, and I gave them “stoles” made of ribbon to symbolize the priesthood of all believers, but that service was a lot about me, and I don’t think the congregation particularly loved the ribbons or embraced that vision of the shared burden of ministry, and maybe there was a sizing issue I should have acknowledged long before that day—my dreams were too big or theirs were too small or both. In the following years, much bruising ensued.
  • There were people in that service who left the church because they felt genuine hostility or contempt or hurt in relation to me.
  • There were people in that service who were lost to the church due to addiction.
  • There were people in that service that I plumb wore out.
  • I was given stoles that day made by a parishioner for every liturgical season, made from fabric from India. I will always treasure them.

And one final thought that didn’t happen during the actual installation:

I have honored the year moratorium on communication with members of my church since I left, so that they could get used to not having me as their pastor. In recent days I’ve begun being in touch with some of them as friends. I met with one of them for lunch a few days after Jacqueline’s installation. She had a photobook from my final worship service that she gave me, and we talked about our lives, and I talked about how the Oakland Peace Center feeling like it’s really taking off and making a difference in the community and how I am almost giddy about our podcast, which is telling positive stories of peace in the community.

“See, God had something in store for you,” she reminded me. “You went through what you did with us so that it would prepare you for what you’re doing now.”

And I flipped through that photobook and saw the faces of people who were members of First Christian Church of Oakland for my whole tenure, and people who had drifted through and drifted on but came back to give me love, and clergy colleagues and regional staff. I saw elements from my carefully constructed worship service with a drama and powerpoint and small group interaction and lots of laughter and deep theological reflection. I saw pictures of the toasts the congregation had sent me off with. I remembered that in seven years, we had all been changed, even though the congregation today is smaller than when I arrived in 2006. And I remembered that these were the people who created the Oakland Peace Center, that I am in the privileged position of carrying on the legacy of their articulated commitment to creating peace in the midst of violence and family in the midst of brokenness and encounters with the divine.

And in the years since my installation, I have been weary, I have been discouraged, I have gotten played plenty of times. But God has definitely worked best through me when I have done me.

I know the same will be true for Jacqueline and for the priesthood of all believers she is building up. And I am grateful for having been able to participate.

Comment (1)

  1. Rev. Dr. Monza Naff

    Profoundly moving: honest, authentic evaluation of the Church as institution and community of grit and grace; and the potential it has for transforming people to be the hands and voices of the Divine in a world hungry for a Real Encounter with that Presence. Thank you, Sandhya, for being precisely where you are doing precisely what you’re doing. You and your work are two of the most authentic Peacemakers in my beloved former Hometown, Oakland. My fervent prayer is that we ‘ll meet there one day before long. You ARE a pastor to me. And I know your congregation is much larger than could fit in one building. I mean it! Monza

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