Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Words at Celebration of Katie Kandarian’s 10 Years of Parish Ministry

Sunday afternoon, September 13, 2009

My Remarks and Prayer of Benediction at the Decennial Celebration

Honoring the Ministry of The Reverend Katie Kandarian-Morris

Starr King UU Church, Hayward, California

Good afternoon! It’s a joy to be with you all for this occasion. And what a grand name for it: the Reverend Kathryn Kandarian’s Decennial Celebration. I’ve never heard the word “decennial” before, but it kind of makes her sound old, doesn’t it? But I am here to say: “Katie, you haven’t changed a bit!”

But of course, Katie has changed, in many ways. So have I, and so have you and all the members of this congregation. I know that serving with you in the shared ministry of this congregation has been a major part of Katie’s formation, growth, and spiritual deepening. It reminds me of the words of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “What does not destroy me makes me stronger.”

Ten years is indeed a good long time for a parish minister and congregation to be in relationship. UU congregations in the Pacific Central District have had an increasing rate of ministerial turnover, and right now we don’t have that many churches and ministers who have stayed together this long. This kind of stability is important if we are to make lasting changes in our congregations, our local communities and our religious movement.

I would like to express gratitude to this congregation for calling Katie to this church and this district, and for keeping her with us. By doing so, you have enriched our district and the local chapter of our ministers’ professional association. Bringing strong experience as a church president in the Denver area (among many other lay leadership roles), and a life long identity as a Unitarian Universalist, Katie has given leadership to several district committees, working groups and special events. To her current role as the president of the UU Ministers’ Association in this district, Katie brings good sense, commitment and courage. She knows how to lead us through challenging deliberations and how to lighten the spirit of a meeting with just the right inflection in her voice and keen coming timing. She makes meetings fun.

For the past several years Katie, Michelle Favreault and I have been part of a yearly collegial study group of 12 UU ministers from around the state and across the continent. Once a year we meet at a Catholic retreat center to engage in conversation about weighty topics of theology, liberal religious identity, and social justice. We read aloud to one another in-depth essays and reflection papers we have prepared just for the retreat. To these scholarly meetings Katie brings her insightful and questioning mind, and relevant examples from real life and her life in ministry with you. She brings her genuine personality, concern for other people, and especially her sense of humor and playfulness. We appreciate Katie because she is both wise and wacky.

I personally would like to thank this congregation for calling Katie to this District, for by doing so you have introduced me to someone who has become a loving and true friend. Katie and I have grown and observed each other’s growth, and encouraged one another. We have strived to uphold our UU ministerial convenant as we have over come misunderstandings. We have struggled to be direct and honest with one another and show forgiveness to one another.

She has shown empathy to me for the disappointments and doubts that are part of the hard work of ministry. She has invited me out to play after a hard stretch of work. Katie has given me fashion advice, but in a supportive way, even when she knew what I really needed was a total makeover.

There’s an old joke or story about a child in a church who said that parish ministers had a very easy job. After all, they work only on Sunday and they just come in, stand up and talk. And then they take a collection. Well, this may be true, but this is only the tip of the iceberg of parish ministry. Over my years in ministry, I’ve learned that much of the hardest work that parish ministers do is not public. Moreover, much of the behind-the-scenes work we do can be tedious, even though it’s important. Most of the work is not visible to most other people most of the time.

For those who do it well, what makes ministry tough is that we carry the lives of parishioners in our hearts as we go about our daily lives. We bring into our minds and into our prayers your hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, your voices and faces. I know that Katie does this hard and heartfelt work for you and with you, and the privilege doing so with you is what makes it holy work for her. This is why I am proud to be Katie’s close colleague. God bless you all. Amen.


Please join me in the spirit of prayer and intention as I offer these words of benediction. Eternal spirit of love and grace, Holy One, we give thanks for this time together.

We celebrate the precious relationship of minister and congregation, and we give thanks for the care, comfort, and companionship that ministers and members bring forth from one another. Bless this congregation, this minister and her family.

We celebrate the variety of people and the multiple generations now present in this congregation, and we give thanks for the many friendships fostered and sustained by this church over the years. Bless them all with greater joy, faith, love and hope in the days and years to come.

We celebrate this church’s connections to the Unitarian Universalist Association and its 1,000 member congregations. We give thanks for our liberal religious heritage and its values of freedom, reason, compassion and understanding. Bless all our congregations and bless those who serve in ministry and professional and volunteer leadership.

We celebrate this church’s commitment to inclusion, fairness and justice. We give thanks for its ministry beyond these walls out into the city of Hayward and nearby communities. We give thanks for Katie’s leadership in the larger community. Bless all the religious leaders gathered here today, and bless all those who serve nearby communities in ministries of love and justice. Bless all our cities and our neighborhoods with peace and hope.

We celebrate this congregation’s power to change lives. We give thanks for its celebration of life, faith in human possibility, service to others, and its optimism in the face of challenge. We give thanks for its deep heart. Bless its minister and staff, its members and friends, its children, youth, adults and elders, today and in all the days to come.

May we be grateful for the blessings of this day and for all the gifts of life. Spirit of Life, bless our lives, our communities, and our world. So may it be.  Amen.

Vocational Issues: TSA Workers and the Big Picture of Bureaucratic Jobs
September 16, 2009, 10:22 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

In workshops,  guided meditations or team-building sessions at various large organizations, it is possible to guide each worker, at whatever level or type of job, to consider how his or her work fits into the larger picture, how it supports a larger mission, how it matters.

I thought of this in the security line at the airport last week:  how mind-numbing, boring and frustrating it would be for me to be part of the TSA bureaucracy.  The most interesting part of the job would be foiling an evil plot, or at least finding something dangerous in someone’s bags or pockets.  But the system exists to dissuade people from even trying that; it is set up to be mundane.

As I waited in the TSA line I saw a sign proclaiming:  “TSA workers have rights too!”  It urged people to be respectful of the security agents and asserted that verbal abuse and physical assaults against them would not be tolerated.  So, to add insult to tedium, they have to deal with ungracious and ungrateful travelers.

But perhaps the TSA workers can see their routine jobs as protecting the safety of thousands of travelers and airline employees every day and thereby reassuring travelers of the safety of air travel.
Of course, a problem in any bureaucracy is when rigidly following the rules or SOP and ignoring exceptional or new information.  Also, systematic oppression or biased treatment can find cover in the required routines of any bureaucracy, in particular publi-safety bureaucracies.

Recall that it took two hours of questioning of a Muslim Indian Bollywood star in an American airport before he was released.

The Vocation of Denying Insurance Claims
September 16, 2009, 10:12 am
Filed under: Politics, Elections, and Government, Social Action & Social Justice

Monday on KQED-FM’s “Forum” the Washington Post journalist T.R. Reid spoke about his new book based on his exploration of different health care systems in the world.   I believe he said that $50 million a year on employees whose only job is to process, and largely deny, reimbursement claims.  Denial of claims is a key to cost-cutting and profit-making for private insurers.

A question arose about the loss of all those claim-processing jobs.  Reid paraphrased an economist who said the nation would be better off paying half those people to dig ditches and the other half to fill them up.

If we change our health care system to eliminate the claim-denying bureaucracy, Reid said, a better plan would be to train those folks to be nurses’ or physicians’ assistants, to work in health-promotion and disease prevention activities, or any manner of productive work related to health care.

In a recent post I wrote about the benefit of seeing our work, no matter how mundane, low-paid, or routine, as part of a bigger picture, perhaps even an expression of purpose or calling.   Given the millions of people whose job it is to deny claims, I’m wondering how they could look at their work from this angle.  Is it possible?

When we have to deal with a claim-denying bureaucrat on the phone it can be quite frustrating; surely they are in a difficult position if they have any empathy at all.   Is this kind of work “just a job” or is it a “soul-killing job, but at least it’s a job” or is it a worthwhile job because it benefits the company shareholders?  Perhaps many of them see their calling as doing what it takes to earn enough money to keep their children fed and housed or to save for a child’s future college expenses.

What do you think?