Rev. Valerie's Reveries

This blog contains personal reflections from Unitarian Universalist minister Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Working title: Cooked Goose

This is a piece I wrote in about 15 minutes as a freewriting exercise to begin to find "rabbit holes" that might lead to clarity on how I want to write about my brief career in ministry. The "rabbit hole" concept came from my workshop teacher Susan William Silverman at the Bear River Writers' Conference. Names have been changed but little else.

Lesson: I am not entirely comfortable making fun of people about whom I have feelings of care and concern, but finding humor in the predicaments of ministry does feel better than the bitterness I also feel. Writing helps and apparently I am guilty of good comic timing when I read this out loud. Who knew? I thought my spouse was the funny one.

Cooked Goose

I should have known my goose was cooked when a member of the search committee who had just weeks earlier so enthusiastically recommended me to the congregation came up to me on a bright fall Sunday after church, leaning close to whisper in my ear, “ Just so you know, I am an avid birdwatcher. If the sermon is good, I’ll tell you so, but if it isn’t, I’ll just tell you the number of species I saw out the window over your shoulder. Today it was 12.”

While the sermon might truly have been less than adequate, in my defense I ask you, who could work optimally in such conditions? The worship space had backward acoustics. Every scratching chair scoot and each whispered commentary assaulted my ears while the congregation could barely make out my carefully crafted words, no matter what we did with the microphones and speakers. To make matters worse, the minister emeritus had gone nearly deaf but deeply desired to remain in close community with the congregation and so each Sunday he would take up residence in the front row, dutiful wife by his side. “Please join me in a moment of silence,” I would say. Felicia echoed, shouting into Andrew’s ear “VALERIE WANTS US TO ENTER IN TO A MOMENT OF SILENCE!”

If all the shouting and whispering weren’t enough, people would blandly and blithely get up and wander about the worship space, refilling coffee, tinkling the spoon against the side and tap tap tapping the drips back into the cup. And why was the enticing aromatic coffee IN the worship space anyway? Why so no one would have to leave the service just to refill their cups of course!

Besides Felicia’s fidelity to repeating each word to Andrew, we were blessed with ever-present member Marcus who deemed it his divine right to challenge my ideas and reflections, in place, during the sermon. “Whaddya mean by that? Where did that stupid idea originate?” And he expected—no demanded a response—Now!

One Sunday after I told a children’s Hanukkah story and gave each cherubic child a piece of chocolate gelt to take to Sunday School classes, the service moved on to a contemplative prayer. Hazel, our senior female curmudgeon (there is also a senior male curmudgeon and several junior ones of every gender) loudly proclaimed to the woman next to her, “When is she going to get over this Jewish shit?” I continued my prayer as though nothing at all unusual had transpired but Myrtle, a board member, slapped Hazel--hard-- on the arm. Hazel hit back and a scuffle broke out. The newcomers sitting behind the pair intervened and separated them. We never saw that family again..


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