Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Busman’s Holiday/Minister’s Vacation–Northeast Worship visit July 8

In Ithaca, NY, area on Sunday, July 8, it was the second Sunday in the pulpit for the new pastor at the liberal United Methodist church.  He had started his job with them on July 1, when many clergy are starting vacations.  We two UU ministers (traveling companions and friends for 16 years) skipped UU alternatives because we had done some research:  We wanted a real service, not a “talk” with “feedback” by the congregation on some issue that might be interesting to the regular UU church friends and community of the lay speaker but might not spiritually feed first time visitors.  And another UU church in the area was shut down for the summer.  We enjoyed a warm congregation (and warm, humid sanctuary), robust hymn singing to organ music, a strong soloist (as the choir was off), a relevant prayer for the challenges of life (even while one is on vacation), a kids’ story before they went out for Backyard Bible Study, the summer RE program there.

The Bible reading was from the Gospel of Mark 6:13–Jesus says a prophet is welcome everywhere but in his home town, he urges his disciples to take no possessions with them and not to be picky about accommodations in the towns they visit, and if they are ignored or spurned by the towns to which they seek to minister and witness, they should shake the dust off their sandals and move on to the next stop.

The sermon was not a stem-winder, but thoughtful, subtle, delivered in front of the pulpit with no notes, with the middle aged man in a shirt and tie but no jacket or robe).

Folks were friendly but not so outgoing to intercept us before we left.  Two of them gave us walking directions to our next stop.  One note:  At the start of the service, they ask you to pass “pew pads” down the row, signing in your name and whether you are a visitor or member, and if you have any requests.  The pad of paper makes its way back and forth, so you can read to see who else is there with you.  I asked a man in our row if he was related to a UU minister with the same last name, but he wasn’t.

We got the impression that this was a genuine spiritual community with a lot of health, a progressive heritage, a presence in the local college-oriented community–not perfect or stellar, but solid.  It was also explicitly and clearly in opposition to the official stance of the United Methodist Church on full inclusion and affirmation of LGBT people.  (The denomination recently had voted not to accept non-celibate gay persons as clergy or to affirm marriage covenants in same-gender couples.)  This church was having a series of films like “Fish Out of Water” and “Incompatible with Christian Teaching.”  Gotta love those progressive Protestants who keep the faith, and maintain a stance of open doors, open minds, open hearts.

We discussed the sermon with interest and appreciation while walking to meet my friend’s daughter (26), who had spent the morning with coffee and the Sunday New York Times at a bakery.

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