Charge to the minister

Charge to the minister
For the installation of Tess Baumberger
Unity Church, North Easton, MA
March 22, 2009
by Dan Hotchkiss

Tess, I’m glad you’ve come to Easton. Traditionally, the “charge to the minister” includes wise, oracular advice to the new minister from an old one. Sadly, I have no such advice to offer; if I did, I would long ago have followed it myself.

I don’t need to tell you what a charming, admirable bunch this congregation is. I don’t need to say how hard and effectively they have prepared for this day. They’ve been preparing for 10 years: renovating Holly House; stepping up financially; stepping out into the community; growing a new cadre of leaders; taking on the parking and the steeple; right up to the thorough, thoughtful labors of the ministerial search committee.

Unity church has prepared hard and well. And so have you. Your life, your education, your careers—have readied you to be here, standing with this congregation at the threshold of a question.

And the question is: For what?

This moment points beyond the comfort of a friendly group of people with sound principles housed inside a jewel. This moment asks,

“What difference will we make to our community?”

“Whose lives will we transform, and in what way?”

“What is our faith calling us to do and be?”

These are not questions to be answered in a day. So Tess, I charge you to be patient with this congregation, which has become so good at projects, when they get anxious in the face of puzzling spiritual questions, questions about purpose, meaning, and identity. I charge you to forgive them when they jump too quickly to an answer when it would be better to sit quietly a while amid the questions.

I charge you to be patient with your congregation.

And I charge you, Tess, to disappoint them.

I’ve asked around, and just between the two of us, they have high expectations of you, for good reason.

But as you may know, congregations really don’t select ministers, they construct them out of pieces of their old ones. Unity Church wants a minister as wise and lovable as Holly Bell, as musical as Bonnie Devlin, as youthful as Eric Cherry, as intellectual as Jay Deacon and as physically attractive as Dan Hotchkiss.

And you’re all those things, except you’re not. You’re Tess. And so I charge you to look at yourself in the mirror every morning to confirm that you are not the sum of the projections and the expectations and the hopes this church invests in you.

You’re Tess. You can fall short. You can say no. You can punch out. You can refuse to take responsibility for what is not yours. It is not your job to be the minister they want. It is to be the minister you are. And so if, in addition to being lovable and musical, and vigorous and intellectual and beautiful, they sometimes find you bookish, pushy, passive, lazy, or eccentric like certain of your predecessors, that’s their problem, not yours.

It’s more than a problem, it’s an opportunity for ministry. When you disappoint your congregation you offer them a chance to learn that no one can stand in for God. All you can do is walk beside them and help focus their attention on what seems to matter most in every moment. Given what I know about who you are and who they are, I feel certain that will be enough.