A vital element about attending General Assembly (or any denominational event beyond the walls of our congregations for that matter) is the experience of traditions – rituals that we may not conduct in our own religious communities, but that unite us with other Unitarian Universalists, wherever they call home. For me, the Service of the Living Tradition is one of the most important of our rituals.
Every year, the Service of the Living Tradition celebrates Unitarian Universalist ministry, particularly highlighting the achievements of fellowshipping, retirement, and the lives of ministers recently passed. I have worked five years to become a Unitarian Universalist minister, and waited five long years to walk proudly and sing loudly in this jubilant event.
In recent years, applause after each read name was discouraged. This year, the organizers recognized that in our tradition, the recognition of ministerial authority arises from our congregations. So, rather than march us to the stage in one unbroken line, this year we all sat among the attendees until our names were called, able to join with our congregants, family and friends. When called, people were free to applaud, whoop and holler as we rose and walked to the stage.
My adrenaline spiked as I heard my name and leaped from my seat surrounding by the voices of congregants, friends from seminary, and colleagues. In particular, I was thrilled to have my daughter Ashley and son-in-law Kevin in attendance, who drove from Jacksonville just to see the old man get his “diploma.” I couldn’t have been happier…joyful…jubilant. Ashley is carrying my first grandchild, due to arrive for my spoiling pleasure in early September.
There is simply no greater rush than singing Rank by Rank Again We Stand with thousands of Unitarian Universalists. A tear rolled down my cheek during the Chalice Lighting, and the rest was a blur until the recession. I walked back through the auditorium, singing at the top of my voice, robe flowing, to For All the Saints. I then hugged everyone, from former congregants, to fellow ministers, to young adults I have known for many years as advisees and now lifelong friends and colleagues.
This was a special night that will forever live in my memory. When people ask me about my call, the work and sacrifice, and living the life of a minister, if you see a little smile arise on my lips, then you will know I am thinking about this celebration, this wonderful Unitarian Universalist tradition.