Sample “Em-anations” Columns from the monthly newsletter of the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (CVUUS) and the Unitarian Society of New Haven (USNH)
October 2010 (CVUUS)
During our Ingathering Worship, I introduced you to the five developmental tasks that will engage the congregation during the interim period. Those tasks are:
1) Claiming and honoring the past, and healing griefs and conflicts
2) Illuminating the congregation’s unique identity, strengths and challenges
3) Navigating the shifts in leadership that accompany times of transition
4) Renewing connections with resources within and beyond the district and UUA
5) Engaging the future with vision, strength, anticipation and zest
This isn’t a checklist of things to get done; these are called developmental tasks because they are deeper processes that evolve over time, and with encouragement, in the inner lives of people and the life of an institution during in-between periods. My job is to serve as your minister and coach as you go through these processes.
If you’ve been with us for worship the past few weeks, you will have noticed some changes. As your minister, I am called to lead worship in ways that are authentic to me, and that nurture, sustain and challenge you spiritually. As your coach, I am aware that my offering a different model of worship invites you to reflect on your traditions, on the meaning and purpose of worship, on your usual ways of doing things, and, ultimately, on your needs going forward.
During my first few weeks here, I’ve been meeting with the Board, the Interim Team, staff and committee chairs to get their perspectives on CVUUS.
Now I’d like to hear from you, the members and friends of CVUUS! I’ve posted what I’m calling an emotional timeline on the bulletin board in the sanctuary foyer. The timeline includes the basic facts of CVUUS’s history, gleaned from your website, conversations with leaders, and the UUA’s records. Just below the dates and important events, you’ll see notations in navy blue handwriting; these are feelings shared by Board members at a recent retreat about times and experiences that have had an important impact on them. This emotional timeline is now your document, a place for you to share your feelings about experiences in the life of the congregation that have had a significant impact on you. I encourage you, over the next several weeks, to add your own reflections right on the timeline.
I’m also hosting a series of Listening Sessions in early October, when you’ll have the opportunity to share your experiences of CVUUS with one another, and with Board and Interim Team members and me. You’ll find information about the sessions and how to sign up for them elsewhere in this newsletter.
I hope you’ll take advantage of these opportunities to share and process your own feelings, and to contribute to the creation of a full and robust picture of CVUUS! On Oct. 17, I’ll reflect back to you in a sermon what I’ve learned from your sharing.
Emily Melcher, Interim Minister
November 2010 (CVUUS)
Before turning our attention to the tasks in front of us, Nita, Karri and I begin our bi-weekly staff meetings reflecting together on vocation. We’re reading Let Your Life Speak by Quaker educator and writer Parker Palmer as a way of informing our own thinking about the work we are doing, and whether and how that work fits with who we are, with our innate natures, with what feels most right for us.
Naturally, the discernment of fit also takes into account the needs of CVUUS and the requirements of our positions.
Institutions have vocations, too. Central to the Board’s work this year will be consideration of CVUUS’s vocation. In order to discern what this congregation is called to do in the world, the board must inform themselves about who this congregation is, and what fits its innate nature, what feels most right for it. At the same time, they will be attentive to the particular context in which CVUUS exists. There are nearly limitless opportunities and needs CVUUS might embrace; only some of them are likely your true calling.
This type of discernment is central to the spiritual life of individuals and the religious life of congregations, and there is no better time to develop a practice of reflection than during an interim period. That’s why I keep holding the mirror up to you and inviting you to reflect, as individuals, committees, task forces, and as a whole congregation.
In addition to the discernment Nita and Karri are engaged in, I’ve asked those involved in social action to consider whether the way social action is currently conceived and carried out is the best fit for CVUUS and for the needs CVUUS hopes to meet in the world. I’ve asked the Worship Committee to shift their focus from simply coordinating worship toward discerning what makes worship effective and trying some new things; I’ve begun reflecting with a variety of people on whether the current committee structure is the best fit for CVUUS at this time; and I have asked the personnel committee to focus on discerning the staffing needs of CVUUS as you grow into the next stage of your life together. In just a few months, a search committee will be selected and tasked first with discerning what you need in your next settled minister, then with finding the minister who is the best fit. That’s a discernment process, not a decision-making process.
For my own part, I have never experienced a better fit than the one I feel as your interim minister. There is nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing, and no one else I’d rather be doing this with. What a joy it is to be sharing this vocation with you!
Emily Melcher, Interim Minister
June 2011 (CVUUS)
I’ve always loved the rhythm of the school year, for the way it allows me to engage, learn, and interact with others for several months, and then take time off to integrate my learning and experiences and spend time getting to know myself again in the open space of summer. Guess what? It turns out UU ministry is a very good fit for someone who likes that rhythm!
An introvert by nature, I need time and space to process my experiences, access my inner wellsprings and creativity, and find direction for the future. Here on the cusp of June, with Middlebury College graduation behind us, and the public schools about to wrap up the year, I’m beginning to sense the spaciousness of summer just around the corner, and I’m looking forward to relaxing into it. But before we get there, we will hold our annual meeting, elect new Board members and adopt a budget for next year. Task forces will plan next year’s RE program and devise new structures for engaging people in the various ministries of CVUUS. And some lucky person will get to kiss the kid (a baby goat!) at CVUUS’s second annual Rhubarb Festival! (Remember, you are welcome to buy the kiss the kid election – and I really, really want to kiss the kid!)
We have worked hard together this year. The transitions you face have challenged you time and again, and you have risen to every challenge, most often with amazing good humor and skill. This work has challenged me time and again, and I have done my best to rise to the challenges, most often with, well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks… I am amazed by all we have accomplished together, and, more importantly, I am deeply grateful for the ways we have engaged the learning and growing that make this time of transition so fruitful.
As summer approaches, and I begin to draw my energy inward for a time, I hope for you that you, too, will be able to step back from your various commitments, to rest, relax, enjoy time with family and friends, and nurture your spirits, each in your own way.
As we approach the end of our first year together in this transitional space called Interim Ministry, I want to thank you. This has been one of the most marvelous, rewarding, challenging and growth-producing times of my life. I’m looking forward to being on vacation during the month of July, especially since I know that after that vacation, we’ll have another year together! Our new pastoral caregivers, Laurie Borden, Karri Ingerson, Sue Grigg, Marsdin Van Order and Gerry Zickler will take turns being available when I am away; don’t hesitate to reach out to them should the need arise.
Emily Melcher, Interim Minister
October 2011 (CVUUS)
Can you guess what the following things have in common?
- The UUA’s ministerial settlement process
- The worship songs “Let Us Open Our Eyes” and “Let There Be Light”
- Heidi Sulis’s skillful attention to our children’s RE program and to a recent Teacher Orientation
- Stories like “What If Nobody Forgave?” and “Yuki and the Tsunami,” which we’ve used in worship as the Story for All
- A workshop for the board led by our District Executive, Mary Higgins
- The Clergy Conference on Staff Supervision that I will attend in January
- My ability to articulate a philosophy and theology of Religious Education
- Singing the Journey (our hymnal supplement) and Las voces del camino (the new Spanish-language companion to our hymnals)
- The curriculum for last spring’s “Learning and Growing with CVUUS” class
- The network of collegial contacts that nurtures me as a minister, and provides me with ongoing support and training
Well, these things are just a few of the many ways in which the ministry of CVUUS is supported not only by our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregation and our Northern New England District, but also by the professional organizations that provide resources, training, supervision, and ongoing education to religious professionals: UU ministers, religious educators, and musicians.
I can tell you that I would not be here today, doing the ministry I’m doing with you, were it not for these three organizations. Foremost for me, of course, is the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association (UUMA), which has nourished, sustained and challenged me to be the best minister I can be. The Liberal Religious Educators’ Association (LREDA) develops and provides training and opportunities for professional religious educators, seminarians and clergy, and I’ve attended several of those. The Unitarian Universalist Musicians’ Network (UUMN) develops new music for use in worship and trains professional musicians in all aspect of music leadership in worship.
Even as I would not be here today without these Professional Organizations, so CVUUS would not capable of doing the ministry we’re doing together without them. On Sunday, Oct. 2, CVUUS will join UU congregations across the country in celebrating Association Sunday and raising money for specific initiatives that fall outside the UUA’s operating budget.
This year’s theme is “Excellence in Ministries.” The offering will benefit CVUUS and Unitarian Universalism by supporting these professional organizations, expanding their ability to provide funding, training, resources, and ongoing education to our professional leadership.
CVUUS’s delegates to our 2011 General Assembly (Dale Birdsall, Jim Burnett, Marjorie Carsen, Anders Hőrnblad) and I will lead worship and share reflections on General Assembly and Unitarian Universalism. Please join us in celebrating Excellence in Ministries.
Emily Melcher, Interim Minister
Sept. 11, 2013 (USNH)
Return to the home of your soul.
Return to who you are,
Return to what you are,
Return to where you are born and reborn again.
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit two of the homes of my soul, two of the places that profoundly nourish me and recall me to myself: Sweden and Madison, Wisconsin. Most of us have those places, places where we know ourselves, where we are whole. They may be as close as our breath or as distant as a childhood home. They may be people, rather than places: people with whom all barriers and pretense fall away and we relax into simply being.
From our first visit to our home congregation in Madison until we moved from there for me to attend seminary, I experienced it as a home of my soul. I almost never missed a Sunday, and many of them felt like a rebirth. Shortly after we moved, the congregation broke ground on a new sanctuary, and every time we’ve returned to Madison, we’ve worshipped in the new sanctuary. Each time, I’ve had a vague sense of disappointment. Many of the staff had changed, there were a lot of people I didn’t know, and the new sanctuary just didn’t feel like a home of my soul. This time, for the first time, I considered skipping church, in part because “my minister” wasn’t preaching. But I went after all, and within moments, everything in me relaxed, and I was filled with a profound sense of joy; I found that I was home.
As we gather again at the beginning of the “regular” church year, I am acutely aware that for some of you, this homecoming may be disappointing and disorienting, for things have changed here at USNH. I nevertheless hope that, somewhere down the line, you might once again find yourselves filled with a profound sense of joy here, a sense of having home, even though things have changed.
Others of you will experience this ingathering season as a homecoming, not just to a community of friends, but to the home of your soul – or at least to one of the homes of your soul.
I hope that for most of you, USNH is a place you return to time and time again to be nourished, to find sustenance, and to deepen your connection with yourselves, one another, and the spirit of life, however you understand that. I hope that it might be a place to which you always return, and find yourselves born and reborn again.
Emily Melcher, Interim Minister