Charge to the Congregation
by the Reverend James Ishmael Ford
at the Ordination of
Rayna Houdyshell Hamre
to the Unitarian Universalist Ministry
by the congregations of the Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church, & the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim
9 February, 2019
at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach
Long Beach, California
My part in this service is to speak to you, the congregation, the members of the churches who gathered here to ordain Rayna Houdyshell Hamre into the liberal ministry.
As a matter of polity, polity is a small but important word meaning how we choose to organize ourselves as Unitarian Universalists, we here in North America chose congregationalism as the best way to express this deep intuition of how we relate to each other as a spiritual community. Or, perhaps congregationalism, a profound expression of the human heart called Unitarian Universalism into being. It reminds me of that story from the Upaddha Sutta.
One day while walking quietly together, out of the silence the Buddha’s attendant Ananda declared, “Teacher, to have companions and comrades on the great way is so amazing! I have come to realize that friendship is fully half of an authentic spiritual life. They proceeded along quietly for a while more, before out of that silence the Holy One responded. “No, dear one. Without companions and comrades, no one can live into the deep, finding the true harmonies of life, to achieve authentic wisdom. To say it simply, friendship is the whole of the spiritual life.”
Friendship. It may be the secret of the Buddha’s way, but it is also the secret of our way. Congregationalism is about friendship. To take on the liberal religious way as expressed within Unitarian Universalism is to be called into the messiness, the complexities, the holding of one another in hard times and good, as well as to hold each other accountable: all this is friendship. And, all this is ministry – certainly in that core etymological sense of ministry as service. Service to each other and the world.So, if ministry belongs to all of us, what is the special set aside ministry we’ve calling Rayna into this afternoon? Me, on my own path, when I was looking to graduate school and considering social work or perhaps psychology, it was my UU minister, the Reverend Dan O’Neal, who said to me, “James, you know you aren’t cut out for honest work. It’s time for you to go to seminary.” Turns out that was a bit of bait and switch. Actually, ministry is hard.
Ministry among us, professional ministry to give a name to that particular calling out from the community, that setting aside, that blessing is appointing one among us to the work of naming, reminding, and facilitating. It doesn’t mean the ordained minister is smarter, or wiser, or, anything in particular. Rather, always, always the minister is just one of us. Although one of us who has undergone an inner calling, taken on years of expense and time and effort to prepare, who has been tested, and then tested again, and only then presented in a time and place like this.
All that. But. And. Turning into the heart of the matter. The authority to take on this hard job, to become, if you will, the representatives of the community of friends, comes exclusively from the community. You call her into this. We call her out from among us. We raise her up. We bless her work.
And, you, dear ones, this is what you have done. You have brought the power of the mystery that binds us all into presence, call it the divine, call it Love, that mystery beyond words: and you have blessed Rayna Houdyshell Hamre into that ministry of friendship, of service, of calling, of reminding, of facilitating.
On behalf of a broken and suffering world, thank you.