Tag Archives: colleagues

Circle of Colleagues


A group of trusted peers helps many a person stay sane!

Who but the people in your line of work understand fully the challenges you face? When I was a young woman, recently married and with one then two sons to raise, neighborhood mothers offered a lifeline as we learned by experience and from each other. Since then I have often developed special relationships with co-workers.

As a clergyperson I find collegial connections essential to my formation and continuing education.

Clergy  love the people we serve but we need friends among our peers. They are the folks we can lean on in times of struggle–and there are many! My group of twelve meets monthly if we can possibly be there. We share a devotional time of reflection and ritual. We brag on our successes but more importantly we share the raw edges of our lives, the places where we’re bruised and bleeding. We are bound by mutual expectations of confidentiality so that we, too, have a safe place to be open and real.

Uncertainty, confusion and doubt? Of course.      Requests for advice? Sometimes.      Leaning on one another? By all means.

We hold one another accountable when our professionalism or actions fall short of our Code of Ethics as Unitarian Universalists. Between meetings we often follow up with a phone call of support or a one-on-one meeting. We serve as mentors to one another–either on a formal basis or through simple collegiality.

Then we go back to our ministries, refreshed and ready to serve.

Thank you, colleagues!


What a great occasion March 30, 2012! Brian Ferguson was ordained to Unitarian Universalist ministry by the members of the San Marcos Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The sanctuary was packed with well wishers from Kerrville, San Antonio, Austin, Waco, and Dallas as well as San Marcos. I was pleased to see several members of Live Oak who made the trip south through rush hour traffic. Clergy robed up and wore their beautiful stoles full of symbolism and color. Delicious appetizers greeted us before the service and even more delights greeted us in the buffet line after the service. Thanks, San Marcos volunteers and caterers!

We send our best healing wishes to Will Bryant, who was to play the piano, and to Ann Allen, who was to present the new stole to Brian. Will was in a car accident and Ann had a fall so neither of them could attend.

The Rev. Aaron While, Associate Minister at First UU Church in Dallas, delivered a fine sermon. He is the proud (and exhausted) father of his first baby Henry, born March 7. Aaron admitted that he might be the first preacher to fall asleep at the pulpit. But he did not. It was wise, witty, and wonderful–filled with the wonder and beauty of ministry.

Other colleagues read or sang or prayed. The Rev. Meg Barnhouse delivered a “charge” to the congregation. Among other things she advised them not to needle their minister with piddly little things. He is called to lead and to pursue the vision, not to worry about whether his tie is the right color. The congregation can support the minister by “keeping him in mind” as their spiritual leader, though merely a man.

I delivered the charge to Brian himself. Someone mentioned later that its emphasis on self-care and balance could apply to nearly everyone, so here is the text as written, if not exactly as spoken:

Charge to the Minister: Rev. Brian Ferguson

Rev. Kathleen Ellis

30 March 2012

Brian, this ordination, this laying on of hands, and your new stole have set you apart. You and your congregation will shape each other over time. They have asked you to speak your truth; to teach wonder and mystery as well as facts; to witness and act on your moral convictions; to officiate for many life transitions; and to serve with love and kindness. That’s all they want! Walking on water is not a requirement.

We already know you’re flexible. Not content with a standard internship you ended up with 3 completely different intern supervisors—Davidson Loehr, Chuck Freeman, and me—in 2 very different congregations—1st UU and Live Oak in Austin. What an experience of observation while remaining out of the crosshairs of conflict! Yes, flexibility is an asset.

You in turn have offered to share curiosity, encouragement, and courage in this wonderful world of parish ministry. Your new stole represents this life to which you are called. When you wear it you are yoked in service of something greater than yourself.

Both you and the congregation spoke of love. That’s hardly a term to be taken lightly because it carries with it one of the most fundamental desires from the moment of birth until the dying of the light.

My charge to you this evening is for you to take care of your spirit, mind, and body.  Infuse these three with love and the knowledge that time waits for no one. The dates in your calendar are closer than they appear!

So take care of yourself for the long haul. You already have a split residency between here and Austin. Make the most of your time in each place, but don’t wear yourself to a frazzle at either end of that stretch of road. You are the one to set boundaries on your work. No one but you will know how much has been asked of you. Ministry never ends so you have to draw the line somewhere every single day. It will wait! And you will work much more efficiently and quickly on the things that matter if you are well rested and in a good frame of mind.

Pray. Center yourself to the point that you know how your spirit is today. Then you can pray for guidance, pray for the people, pray for the earth and everything riding on it. Seek out spiritual direction from someone who will encourage you to grow your spirit. Or find a text or poem that leads you on a path of growth and challenge. Do whatever it takes to feed and nurture your spirit.

As for your mind, read and discuss as widely as possible. Join a book club that chooses books and subjects you never knew existed. Read to learn and read for fun. Get involved in activities outside the church. All of these encounters help keep your mind open and agile.

As for your body, celebrate your health and pay attention to keeping it. Good nutrition and exercise of heart, lungs, and muscles will go a long way toward satisfaction with life and in ministry.

Take time for your family, beginning with Natalie and Isla, who teach you so much about the world through their eyes. Living as an independent family unit is not always easy, especially when you combine different cultures and personalities. It takes time and patience when you are together and it helps that Natalie understands quite a lot about church life behind the scenes. Isla brings youth as well as wisdom and a special bond with her dad as girls so often develop.

Remember your family of origin. Although they may be far away in miles, you carry them in your heart: your mum Margaret Ferguson, so far away and so frail in Scotland and her older sister Aunt Marion; your brother Alistair who lives in Moscow; your cousin Anne Reid with whom you are still so close she might well have been a sister; your father Ian, who died four years ago but remains a part of you. They are your roots and branches and will remain so forever even though you are scattered around the world.

Love your family; love your neighbor; love God; love life itself. Do you know yet what you love at the center of your being? Let love of something be your foundation, your faith, your north star.

Love the congregation, who range from those who feel self-assured to those who find it difficult even to love themselves.  Each of them needs you. But before you can love anyone or anything else you have to love yourself first.

Ministry will call upon you to serve as a leader, a pastor, a priest, a prophet, a role model and a rabbi. Have you already learned to juggle? There will be lonely times when you have to stand alone for something you believe is right and honorable. There will be crowded times when you can scarcely hear yourself think.

Whenever you feel alone and isolated and whenever you feel crowded and overwhelmed that’s where your colleagues come in handy. A number of us have driven many miles for this great occasion because we want to show our support today and in future years. None of us can stand in your shoes, but you can be sure that we will support you when you call upon us, just as we will turn to you when we need advice or a listening ear. Take care of yourself: spirit, mind, and body. Infuse yourself with love and nurture yourself over time. That will be the basis of your great ministry.

One more thing, Brian. Take everything I’ve said with a grain of salt . . . so long as you remember this: have fun! Celebrate! Leap for joy! Believe in miracles! Be yourself!

. . . and let your inner Scot shine!


What a great occasion!

On the plus side of ministry


Before General Assembly got underway, clergy and other religious professionals arrived a day or two early for our own meetings. I scarcely had time to check messages among workshops, worship, conversations, and occasional meals. Time with colleagues is so precious to me!

One highlight from Ministry Days:

The annual “25/50 year service” honors ministers who were ordained 25 and 50 years ago in a very meaningful worship service. Each “class” selects one of their own to deliver a short sermon that usually looks back over the decades and into the future challenges of ministry. This year Lindi Ramsden and Richard Gilbert were so honored.

Lindi Ramsden helped her San Jose congregation grow from 30 to 300 members over a 17 year span. Among other accomplishments, she started a Spanish-language service and the UU Legislative Ministry in California (UULM). She has now left the parish and works full time as Executive Director of UULM.

Dick Gilbert served several churches, with his longest tenure in Rochester, NY. Always a prophetic minister and a renowned preacher, he wrote Building Your Own Theology, including a series on Ethics, and How Much Do We Deserve?  These are both wonderful curricula designed to generate conversation among us so that we come away with a stronger sense of our own beliefs. He also wrote a meditation manual, In the Holy Quiet of This Hour.

It is such a joy to recognize and celebrate successful ministry over decades of faithful service. During the Service of Living Tradition, another beloved tradition, we celebrate ministers who have achieved Preliminary Fellowship, Final Fellowship, retirement from full-time ministry, and those who have died in the past year. Thus our names are called into sacred space four times, if we are so fortunate. Each year we scan the lists and note the names of our beloved friends and colleagues. Bless them all!

Sweet Honey Harmonies


CENTER Institute, the first large scale continuing education conference for Unitarian Universalist clergy, took place last week in Pacific Grove, CA. Nearly 400 of us gathered at the Asilomar Conference Center for five days of learning, worshiping, and walking on the beach. Food was great; collegiality was even greater!

Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, founding member and lead songwriter of the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, offered her seminar on Building the Vocal Community. She writes and sings songs with a purpose: inspiring us to listen to the sounds of nature; assuring us that freedom will unfold in time; filling us with the holy spirit! (Go to http://www.sweethoney.com/ for more info.)

As a long-time fan of Sweet Honey in the Rock, I was eager to attend Ysaye’s seminar, work she has done for 27 years, about 8-10 times per year. She knows a LOT of African-American music history along with the songs. About 40 ministerial colleagues formed a double circle as we sang chants, spirituals, gospel, and justice songs. The circle was for community. Ysaye taught the songs, yes, but we looked into each others’ faces and sang our harmonies with a lot of heart.

The first chant became an intricate blend of several phrases. We chose one line, learned its rhythm and repeated it until all of the text worked together rhythmically: 1) Go down into the market. 2) Mama! 3) I won’t go down to the market, Mama! 4) I just came from the market, Mama, go down! When we added movement and walked around to greet one another, the sound and rhythm grew in intensity. Fantastic!

One side benefit is that the “Barnwellians” were asked to sing at several worship services during the Institute. One song evoked the sound of God, from a tribe that understands that the Rain Forest is God. Another repeated lines that mean, “The works of God can never be destroyed.”

We also sang, in English,
“Tell all my friends that my ship just came sailing in.
It was filled with the Holy Spirit, it was filled with joy divine,
Wouldn’t you like to sail on a ship like mine?”

We learned about quadlibets, in which several related songs are sung in succession or simultaneously—like a modern-day musical mashup. One pure joy was singing along with Ysaye for about 30 minutes as she sang one Civil Rights song after another. We joined in as we learned the tunes.

I plan to bring several of these songs back to Live Oak Church, possibly with the help of Ysaye Barnwell’s instructional CDs, Singing in the African-American Tradition and/or Building the Vocal Community.