"Patriotism is good here, but not for people in other countries"
What a wonderful gathering! We’re here to celebrate the life of this lovely, friendly fellowship, the ministers you’ve had thus far, and this honor in my career.
It has been a great opportunity and satisfaction in my life to tend small Unitarian Universalist congregations. Over half of our UU congregations are small fellowships like this one. That’s been my realm, not the mega-churches. Primarily I have been a preacher. I like conducting services and having something to say that open-minded, intelligent, caring congregants find thoughtful or inspirational. The level of the “free and responsible search for truth and meaning” is higher in UU congregations than in other churches or society in general.
I have also been a pastor and a peacemaker, if not much of an administrator. I speak my mind, and I value the honor to do so. Emerson said, “Always a seer is a sayer.” I get to say what I see, think, and feel. That wasn’t so much based on Bible verses as social observation from a humanistic vantage. I believe we’re freeborn, sovereign earthlings able to live healthy, happy, and well. Because society can forsake and impede these, I have railed against cruel people pushing punishing laws, toxic technologies, and unjust relations. I have preached to America, but through your ears, hearts, and minds. Perhaps you often needed something more personal than this. I apologize for when I didn’t fit your needs. I am grateful that you met mine.
I’ve served – and been served by – an interesting array of small UU groups: a student church in Michigan, a campus center in Urbana, Illinois, an old-timey Universalist church in rural North Carolina, a growing fellowship in Ashland, and of course, this budding fellowship. At each setting, I also visited outlying small fellowships, often operating without ministers, sometimes covering hundreds of miles. I’ve presided at the ending of two, the rapid growth of one, and the founding of this one. While I have felt increasingly alien from the UUA and the national movement, I feel redeemed by my connections and accomplishments here in Grants Pass. I hope I have helped you as much as you have helped me.
I like remembering the early-most meetings in 1987 at the Blokers and the McKillops, the back room at the Family Bank, the years at Options, short stints at the Circle of Light and love, the Stardust Theater, and of course, the GP Museum of Art. I remember a fun rhythm jam at the Gallatin’s and offering a semi-serious poem about our ancestors at the foot of the Caveman Statue, “Because thou werst, we arst.” I carry some grief still for those who moved away or passed away. Other ministers helped over the years – Ruth Miller, Joyce Phillips, Nels Oas, and of course, our own mom and pop of the store, the reverends Marge and Fred Keip. Marge and Fred provided the orderliness and assertiveness I avoided, bringing in new people and helping us move into better locations: on 6th Street at first, and then here – finally.
When I luckily was assigned to Ashland in 1986 as an extension minister, all RVUUF had was a small cabinet in which were stored our chalice, gong, and songbooks. About a year later, I started coming over here where we had nothing but each other. Now, Unitarian Universalism has two charming, strong buildings and viable congregations in southern Oregon. I’m proud of my ministry in Ashland and in Grants Pass, and for the growth of a few distant fellowships. I’m honored to have officiated at many a wedding and memorial service.
(Showing various boxes) Here is a box of some of my prepared sermons and newsletter entries from my time here. A similar but larger box with Ashland sermons and ceremonies is in my garage. Here are some of the documents from my four years teaching writing, speaking, and critical thinking at Southern Oregon University. Here are a few folders from three years of my quasi-ministerial reports about Good Earthkeeping at KSKQ community radio.
But these other ventures were spin-offs, not my “real work.” If anything has been the center of my work in life it has been UU ministry. Your honoring me with emeritus status is very gratifying. I’ve tried my best always, even when most of it wasn’t very lucrative. I’m glad for the money I’ve earned, but I also vaguely realize how much more money people with my level of education, skill, and talent can make. I’ve been able to “get by.” At this late stage of life, I’m realizing how ignorant and inept I am about making money. Something other always took precedent. I still maneuver according to an almost mystic mentality. I trust in God, as it were, while I preach to and care for my local community, America, and the world. It is my real work.
Your gently moving me out and my repeated leaving has been our path for a few years now. I’m a bit ambivalent; I still like you and what you’re doing; I still need the honorarium. I get the title of emeritus and you get room to use your own pulpit and invite new ministers to it. There’s a curious and not always healthy undo adulation of UU ministers – along with emotional ups and downs at having them. In a religion where 80% are “come-outers,” (sometimes angry at religion and ministers) overblown expectations or resentments can show up. Turns out, we’re just people like anyone, but with a bent towards ideas, people, and the institutions which would ideally serve them. But don’t assume ministers know and you don’t. Don’t accept any and every fad the denomination or its ministers might be pushing. You are the ones who run your own fellowship; you’re far freer to craft your own ways than you realize.
When working with your board to ease us three along, I wrote this:
“In the long-run, UUFGP will outlive all of us. What sort of character and karma this congregation establishes – is what matters. A friendly, fun, all-age, multi-centered community that enjoys itself and serves its larger community and world is a good way to go – as ministers come and go.”
Was I to sum up this box of sermons I’d say to this congregation what I’d say to an individual, live towards and with your own integrity. If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters. Then keep in mind what Betsy Otter Thompson once said, “We wait for God to bless us while God waits for us to accept the blessing.” Accept the blessing. Be glad for it. Protect it. Further it.
So, I go. “Who was that unmasked man?” you might ask. I don’t want to wear a mask; I want me and you as we are. I never wanted to fully take on the persona of the standard minister. I drink, swear, and carouse too much for that, plus I think ministers should be more authentically themselves as their ministerial example. A feigned smile conveys pretense and unease. I want the earned respect of both the mayor and the village blasphemer as a genuine man with something to say and vibes good to feel.
While I wear various kinds of clothing for various aspects of myself (rock wall builder/rock ‘n roll enjoyer) I’ve enjoyed spiffing up a bit to come over here. We spiff up for each other a bit, don’t we?
Thank you, my favorite congregation ever. Thank you for letting me speak and be. I’ve tried to be real and significant in your life, even if not appearing to be. I always did my best, but God knows, and I know, while I wish I had been much better, it was pretty good mostly.
Reverend Byron Bradley Carrier
For the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass
September 9th, 2018