I spent last week at the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association “Institute on Excellence in Ministry” in St. Petersburg, Florida, along with 400+ of my colleagues. Obviously, we all felt a need to get to the beach! While there, I attended a three day seminar, entitled, “Ordained Ministry in the New Millennium”, taught by Rebecca Parker and Susan Ritchie, from the Starr King Theological School in California. I found I have a long way to go before becoming an excellent minister, as I struggled to re-acquaint myself with the vocabulary of seminary: “eschatology”, “ontological”, “post-Modern” and “counter-oppressive”, all used in the same sentence, left me spinning a bit. But despite feeling over my head, I loved the seminar and learned a lot, which, as soon I have better absorbed it all, I will share with you. I was blessed also to be part of a marvelous small group for the afternoon portion of my seminar, and benefitted greatly from the wisdom of this group of colleagues.
I also had a chance to catch up with some other colleagues, including Barbara McCusick Liscord, former intern here at First Parish; my own intern supervisor, Kenn Hurto; the minister from the church I attended in Virginia before I went to seminary, Rebecca Edmiston-Lange , and a parishioner from the congregation where I served as the assistant minister before coming here, Andy Pakula, who is now in ministry himself. It was fun to be with these folks who had seen me at different times in my ministerial journey.
Every day, I took a walk on the beach, in between the sessions and in the evening. My paternal grandmother used live near where I was staying and I had visited the area as a child. Walking along the beach, I had flashbacks to that time, particularly as I looked at the shells. I used to be an avid shell collector, in love with the range of colors to seen: purples, pinks, peaches, yellows, oranges, creams, and reds, and the shiny rainbow inside some of the larger shells. I love the delicate whirl in the whelks and trumpets. I was once again in awe of the beauty that nature creates, matching these small shells with the colors of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
I returned home, to the familiar cold. Sunday evening, we had a lovely vespers service in the chapel, with the theme of tranquility. Between readings by John O’Donohue, Lisa Calvo played the harp. It was truly a refreshing service. While we worshiped, snow continued to fall outside. As we left the church, the snow sparkled on the ground, like bright white diamonds. It stood out against the dark night. It was a perfect landscape to keep with the tranquil mood of the service.
That Nature can weave such varied and constant beauty—in soft and vibrant color or glittery black and white—both humbles and lifts my spirit. Perhaps the Transcendentalists knew of what they wrote, that the Divine constantly reveals a Universal Soul to us through the ordinary gifts of small shells and tiny snowflakes.