In Search Of… (Dr. Anthony Stringer)

I hear that this week UUCA is looking over a candidate for senior
minister. I haven't met him, but some of what I have heard about
this candidate gives me pause. First of all, I hear that he's not
British. I am sure that when I filled out the congregational survey, I
specifically told the Search Committee we needed another British
senior minister. Apparently they didn't read my survey. I said
British. But I'm open- minded, I can let this one go. He is
Canadian, and that's almost British.

I hear that he ice skates. That's just kind of weird. An ice
skating minister. It's probably because he's Canadian. How are
we going to keep a Canadian ice skater in Georgia? Does he know how
hot it gets? We haven't seen ice here in ten years. And even when
we do get an ice storm, you can't get a good look at it because
the power immediately goes out. Is he going to be happy in a place
with no frozen lakes? If he were British, like I told them, we
wouldn't have this problem.

I also hear that he is a youngster. Now I know that I was explicit on
this point when I did that survey. I specifically said, don't get
us a youngster. It is not that I have a problem with young people.
Every church needs a few of them. We have our quota. We used to keep
them in the basement, which I thought was just fine. I don't know
why Pat Kahn moved them upstairs. She looks kind of young herself, so
that may have had something to do with it. Young people were doing
just fine in the basement. It flooded down there every once in a
while, but young folks, by and large, are good swimmers. So, I
don't see why they needed to be upstairs.

But putting a youngster in the pulpit. That's just asking for
trouble. That's just asking for new ideas. New ways of doing
things. If we were Catholics, I could see the point. Catholics
haven't caught up with the modern world. But we're Unitarians.
We already have all the new ideas, and all the new ways of doing
things, that we need. A youngster in the pulpit. What did we say back
in the 1960s? My memory has grown dim, but I'm pretty sure it was
something like: "Never trust anyone under 50."

*        *        *

Welcome Rev. David, to the end of our search. And hopefully to the end
of your search. Despite the foregoing, we are glad that you're
here. This has been a difficult search, because this has been a
difficult two years at UUCA. I don't know if the Search Committee
told you that. And if they did, I don't know if you heard them. It
has been a difficult search for lots of reasons.

I could list them. You may already know them. We lost a minister
mostly to old age. We've gotten over the grief and the anger, but
sometimes we still feel a little sad. We lost a young minister too.
Someone most of us liked. We hope she's doing well, and maybe we
wish things had worked out differently for her. We hired an interim
senior minister who is damn good at what he does. He has the battle
scars to prove it. And, so do we. Some of us are still feeling a
little tender in the places where those wounds are newly healed.

I could go on with more reasons why this was a difficult search. But I
won't. I really just want to mention one reason for this having
been difficult, that maybe isn't on your list. It was a difficult
search because, we're difficult people. We really are. And
you've got to love us for it. We're deeply complex, and deeply
flawed. It's part of what makes us interesting.

We can accept gay and lesbian couples, cross-dressing men, uppity
women, and all manner of eccentricity, but we struggle to accept that
some of us believe in God and some of us do not. We can give away
thousands of dollars a week to charities we've never heard of
before, we can wrap a ribbon around our entire building to proclaim to
the public our support of the right of everyone to marry regardless of
sexual orientation, we can devote ourselves to an underperforming
inner city Atlanta school with children that don't share our
predominant racial background and who don't speak the language
that most of us do, but, we may not notice when one of our own has
stopped coming to service. We may not notice for weeks, for months,
for ever. Some of us are so passionate about peace that we will rip
the throat out of any minister who maybe is just a little less
passionate about the thing that we hold dear. We're complex,
we're deeply flawed, we're interesting.

We are some of the best people I know, and also some of the most
difficult to get along with. Sometimes we're better at being
honest, than we are at being kind. But all the time, all the time, we
mean well. We passionately believe in free speech. So much so, that
some of us can't stop talking. We abhor censorship, but we
don't want our minister to pray to a "holy one" or to
say "amen," at the end of a service. We want passionately
moving Sunday services that inspire us to get out of our seats and to
take action, but we want sit still while we listen to you preach. We
want music that plays on the very strings of our souls, but heaven
forbid we should ever clap at the end of a song. We want to be
relevant to what is happening now, as long as it doesn't require
us to change anything. We want to grow our congregation, as long as it
doesn't get any bigger.

We are a bundle of contradictions. We're lonely and needy, despite
being full and generous. We're a beacon of liberal religion and a
bastion of humanist conservatism. We want a minister, but we're
not sure what a minister is. We want someone skilled and knowledgeable
to lead us, so we can ignore him as we go our own way. We want someone
to be out in front, so we can refuse to follow. We want someone to
represent our point of view in the wider world, even though we
can't agree on what is our point of view.

Sometimes, sometimes, I am so frustrated with us. And sometimes,
sometimes, I am moved to tears by what we'll do. We'll stop
the world for a little dying boy in the arms of his adoptive parents.
Sometimes I am so frustrated with us, and other times I am unspeakably
proud of us. This is quite a community that you are seeking to join
and to lead. We are complex. We are deeply flawed. We are so
interesting. And you've got to love us for it.

If you came looking for a perfect congregation, you won't find it
here this week. And if we came looking for a perfect minister, neither
will we find him this week. He's too young, he talks too fast, he
has too much hair. And we've got to love him for it. We can love
him, if we choose too. Just as he can love us, if he so chooses.

This has never been about finding the perfect match. It has never even
been about finding the perfect minister. We don't love someone
because they're perfect. It that were our criteria, we'd be
loveless and alone, and we'd deserve to be. It has never been
about finding the perfect minister. It has always been about finding
the best in ourselves. Because if we can find the best within
ourselves, then we can find and inspire the best in a minister. If we
can believe in the best that lies within this faith community, despite
our deep flaws, then we can believe in the best that lies in Rev.
David, despite all the ways he will never measure up to the
conflicting fantasies we carry for what our minister aught to be.

If we can take a leap of faith and dare to love him, then maybe he too
can dare to love us.

Closing Words – There is more love somewhere. But more importantly,
there is more love right here. May we give it generously. May love not
blind us, but rather may it help us see more clearly the potential
within ourselves, and the potential within the minister who seeks a
place beside us. Go in peace. Go in love. Go in search for the best
within us all. Amen.