Ministry is Like a Love Affair (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Carole Martignacco,  22, January, 2017

 

A rose is an apt symbol of love, with it's graceful unfolding. (place rose on pulpit)

Carolem

You may know I hail from that country to the south. So to begin ~ yes, I accept all your expressions of concern and commiseration.  But I have to tell you, it was so good to be here in Montreal for the Women's March yesterday. I was there with your minister Rev. Diane and her husband David, and we joined others from UCM to hear some fabulous speakers at the rally - Sue Montgomery among them, and the Raging Grannies. I was reminded of the Women's March in 2000 in Quebec - Genevieve Patterson and I sat together on the bus, sharing stories of our daughters going and returning.

Come sing a song with me, walk in rain with me - or ice or snow or hail.  Come meet and plan, share a meal with me, explore ideas, tell stories, raise funds with me. Come march for rights, teach some kids, worship, study, learn, dance, cook and just BE with me.  And I'll bring you hope - and you'll bring me the same. And I'll bring a song of love, a rose in the winter or any other time. 

Dear friends - mes amies - when Diane asked me to help you celebrate your 175th anniversary year by sharing my memories, I was stunned to realize ours is a16-year relationship.  Starting back in the year 2000; the world was a very different place. Through many encounters, weaving in and out of each other's lives like a dance - at times briefly, others longer - together we've done all those things in the song and more. So I've come to cherish you as part of my beloved Canadian family of friends, grateful for your place in my life, my place in yours.

When we met, Ray Drennan your minister at the time was on my internship committee.  Ray was vocal about wanting to see me take risks and claim my voice in transition from student to minister. So he invited me to do a dialogue sermon, and we worked carefully to coordinate our message. I'll never forget the moment I walked into this sanctuary and mounted the platform the first time, asking Ray where I should stand. He pointed to the pulpit - this, his pulpit - and indicated with characteristic Drennan curtness, "You're there, I'm here." He took a small portable stand to my left, a temporary affair, more like a fancy music stand, and said, "Now claim your space."

The work of training ministers is a calling and a gift, requiring patience, generosity of spirit, openness to new ideas, and huge doses of forgiveness. Not just on the part of the mentor, but all with whom the intern engages. I cut my teeth here in ministry! You've been my teachers. You welcomed me warmly, with minimal resistance!  But let's back up. Our story begins, like so many life stories, before we ever met. It was somewhat by chance I landed in Montreal to begin with.

How often have you stopped to wonder what your life would be like if you'd never met a particular person. If some incident hadn't happened, the significance you hardly knew except in hindsight.  Ministry is like a love affair - in how ministers and congregations even find each other.

20th century British novelist John Fowles based an entire series of novels on the premise that we owe a lot to randomness. Our lives are largely shaped by chance. Fowles you may recall from the film decades ago based on his book, The French Lieutenant's Woman - starring, remember? - Meryl Streep. Reading one novel was like several. Somewhere in the telling, just as Fowles should be about to wrap things up, he'd say something like:  But wait, maybe that's not what happened.  What if instead…it went like this? Then he'd go back to some event, decision, conversation, chance encounter that would have set in motion a whole different scenario.

Thinking back to that pivotal moment when I sat in the seminary Library writing a theology paper, I was in that stage of formation needing hands on practice. I'd sent out four large 3-ring binders called Candidate Packets, applying for internships to US congregations from one coast to the other: New Haven CT, San Diego CA, Rochester MN another I can't remember. But as soon as I walked out of the post office, I was haunted by a sense, almost a voice in my ear, saying, "Just one more - five's a good number." Busy writing papers, I shrugged it off, told myself: be patient, wait for a bite.  That day in the library the voice was back, like someone speaking aloud, that clear. Saying, "Oh for goodness sake! Get up, get the book, look again. Maybe you missed something!" Ever heard a voice from inside not just nudging but demanding?  You do what I did, you don't argue. I flipped through the book one more time - nope, nothing, saw that, yes, uh huh, not that one, as I thought. Turning the page - suddenly there was Quebec. Two congregations inviting an intern, for an 80/20 stage between Lakeshore and Westmount. Dated a year ago - why I'd missed it, that's it! As I closed the book, the voice said again: "Call anyway, now! What's to lose?"  Just to silence that frapping voice for good, I grabbed and copied the page, took my phone card downstairs to the student lounge. And someone answered, saying with amazement, "I can't believe you're calling. We're meeting with a candidate tonight, but we're still open. How soon could you send something?"  We chatted goals and dreams. I spent the day emailing what I could, sent the rest by post. That was Tuesday; Friday she'd called back to say the combined committee was inviting me to come.  A week later San Diego called - too late. And that was it - mostly chance.  

Except I'd always been fascinated with Quebec, the French Canadian side of my father's family having immigrated through Montreal back in mid-1800s - across Ontario into Manitoba, down through the Great Lakes into central Minnesota. 

My family thought I was crazy - trading Minnesota winters for Quebec's?
Versus San Diego:  300 days of sun, 20 days annual rainfall.

There's a correlation here with how we humans come together. The whole of life like one chance affair - the fact we're here, on so many levels. Here in this same room, how you found this place, were born into the family you know, found and chose your life partner, or job or life's work, wherever you call home, whatever is your life. I would agree with Fowles that random events and chance are more at work in shaping our experiences than we're often aware. So much for life decisions and our illusion of control.

Our theme for the month here, I understand, is Resistance. And I'm going to resist this morning making this about the state of the world and the resistance we are all called to practice in creating a world governed by love. Except to say this congregation's commitment to justice is one of the countless ways I love you.

So many ways ministry is like a love affair: how it begins, develops. How we invite each other in by stages and degrees. Learning about self in relation to others. In close encounters - in the heat of the moment, discussing issues close to our hearts, we uncover rifts in our presumed agreements. Like all relationships with something important at stake, it's not all lovey-dovey, a bed of roses. We may struggle, inadvertently hurt each other, rub each other the wrong way at times, get angry even. Closer we try to come on things we care about the harder it is. Again, like any great love, our work is to grow. It's inevitable that we sandpaper each other's rough edges. So that I become more patient and articulate, you become more forceful and confident - or the other way around. Which changes from moment to moment. Never static - if we're not stuck or at a stand still, we must be dancing. 

This grand love affair I have with ministry - with you and ministry in general - has brought great joy, free and inspiring. And you've taught me some huge lessons. Mirrored for me, as good partners do, both my strengths and weaknesses. We've had many golden moments. And we've worked through some pretty sticky territory. One phrase - governance issues. I read three books to prepare myself. During my sabbatical stint in early 2012, and again in 2015 when I came up for a month while Diane was in the Philippines, we worked hard. And I love you for your willingness to let this rooky minister come and learn the ropes with you. Later inviting this visitor from the Townships to take a turn at the helm and know the joy of what we can accomplish for love.

It's ALL about love - why we're all here, in this room, this life. And to quote Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith:  “The world cannot be changed by love to become just, unless WE are changed by love to become whole, but we cannot be made whole without engaging in the work of making the world whole. Personal transformation and social transformation are one piece.”  

Our culture tries to sell us on the idea that love is largely personal. Of course it's personal - we're persons! But make no mistake: as beings caught up in this network of mutuality, who and what and how we love affects the whole. The state of the world depends upon how much love is cultivated in our individual lives. To quote Richard Rohr, in an essay entitled "The Activist's Guide to Contemplation": "The state of the communal soul is the state of the social order." The personal and public - a Yin Yang, one side embracing the other.

Once here, I joined the choir, Frank and Carol Green's community cooking, walking and book groups, attended meetings. Charles invited me into the Jewish Christian Dialogue. I fell in love with this work many times over, as a way to raise the level of goodness in the world. 

Erik Walker Wickstrom reminds us in Serving With Grace, our task is to become proficient in the art of love - not so much in what we do but how we are together ~ one meeting, conversation, event or project at a time. Our commitments are honed in relationship here before we take it out there. In meetings, classrooms, social gatherings, fundraising projects, Sunday worship.  We practice our principles like a musician practices the scales, to increase our fluidity, training our ears, so what we play in public is in harmony with who we say we are.  

Through it all, LOVE's the boss we serve.  Love for the world so compelling, it calls us to mutual commitment. A love that grabs us and won't let us go. 

Our world has changed since 2000 when I first stood in this pulpit. Chance and choice - a delicate dance. I could be preaching today in San Diego! Chance may have brought us together, but love keeps me coming back. On marche, mes amies, ensemble. Thank you, merci bien. Let's sing!

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