I am so pleased and excited by the prospect of working amongst you for the next two years.
Those of you who have been researching this interim period know that there are five tasks to be accomplished: 1) claiming and honoring your past, 2) recognizing your unique identity, 3) understanding the leadership roles within your church and recognizing that there will be some changes made, 4) re-appraising and making use of the larger connections with the UUA denomination – especially at the regional level, and 5) preparing for new growth and new professional leadership, ready to embrace the future with anticipation and zest (whenever we come to this last one I always picture myself holding a lime and a stainless steel grater).
The five tasks are a bit like the stages of grieving: You can experience them individually or all at once; there is a rhythm to their order, but it is possible that you will feel or be working on a stage out of sequence. The good news is that we have two years to accomplish the tasks. We need to invest ourselves in a slow process. It’s like slow cooking – there are periods when you need frantic energy; there are times when you need to stir and watch patiently; there are times you need to get out of the kitchen and the let process do its work without your hovering. The work is sacred, sometimes hard. This does not mean that we won’t be having a lot of fun during the next two years.
Let me tell you a few things about myself by way of introduction:
1). I’m tall. When I spent time in South Asia, whenever I spoke to a group of people, I began by saying, “I know what you all are thinking right now. You are thinking, ‘That man is very tall.’” Any height difference will certainly be less amongst you strapping Midwesterners than it was in South Asia, but I know that for some people, it can be off-putting. Sometimes I have a hard time hearing people in the midst of a bubbling coffee hour. Please, never allow my height to be a barrier. If you have something you want to say to me, I want to hear it. Let’s sit down together.
2). I think the conversations that have been taking place about race relations at the UUA are important. It has been painful for me to hear our denomination being described with the words “white supremacist.” However, I think my role as an elder white man is to do more listening than talking. I especially need to listen to the experience of people of color in our denomination. We often talk about how life is a journey and we should pay less attention to the small contours of the disagreements we have with like-minded people and more attention to the things we most love and value. I believe we are called to do that now. I am optimistic about our future as a people of faith.
3). For most of my adult life, I have been a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. When I moved to Canada in 2009, I let my membership lapse. When I moved back to the States last year, I did not sense any urgency to rejoin. Then on November 9, 2016, I felt the urgency. Enough said.
Onward, Rev. John Marsh