Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

saying goodbye to my second pastor in six months

[FirstChurch Mailing List] This weekend at First Church Somerville
Sent: Fri, May 7, 2010 12:13:22 PM

Dear Beloved,

Mother's Day! My Last Sunday! Molly in Service!

Our service on Sunday will be about all these things, but more importantly than all these things will be our praying, singing, and speaking together of our longing for God. We will praise God for her willingness to match our longing, and to love us in ways we are able to recognize. I pray you, join us for worship.

In addition to our worship, we will practice the spirit opening discipline of caring for others and ourselves. We will take two offerings this Sunday, our regular offering, and also a special offering for the Holy Bible Baptist Church, our Haitian sisters and brothers in Davis Sq. Members of this congregation will be going to Haiti on May 24, with a ship container of necessary things. Our offering will help with this.

Myriam Piervil, from that congregation will join us for worship, and will say a few words to us, a mission moment, during the announcements.

Also joining us will be the Rev. Merrie Allen. Merrie iis the Clerk of the Metropolitan Boston Association of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. Merrie will lead us in our litany of Farewell. In this litany, Merrie will ask you to forgive me, and then she'll ask you to release me to my new ministry. Then Merrie will ask me if I will forgive you, the congregation, and then she'll ask me if I'll release you to the ministry of ourselves, you and Molly. We will say, "We do," and "We will, with the help of God."

I'm preaching a short sermon, Althea's the liturgist, Tim's leading the praying of a Psalm, Dibbie's helping me with the benediction. Molly will read scripture and participate in others ways. Lots of folks are playing lots of instruments. Joe's promised something achingly beautiful. Thom will lead our singing, which we will do as if our lives depended on it, please?

One last thing, in the past, it was the habit of the church to bring canned goods and non-perishables every Sunday of the year for folks who are hungry. The Deacons have asked that we resume this act of compassion. There will be a basket at the back of the church for these non-perishable proteins and pasta every Sunday. On Communion Sundays, these food gifts will be presented, with the offering, to be blessed for the use in the community.

Oh, yeah, there's a party tomorrow night, 6-10. I'm bringing a CD mix of R&B music (such as "Brick House," oh yes!). There will be food, skits, and dancing. I've not been reading the emails, so I can't wait to see what will happen. Will I need a rain coat? Meck will come with me. Thanks, y'all, in advance.

If you can't make it this weekend to worship and the party, I know you're with your moms and in necessary places of rest and responsibility. Please, know I understand these necessities. I feel your love and kind regards, and I send you my prayers and blessings.

Laura Ruth

Betsy M's email about the party said:
We have lots of southern type side dishes and pies. We ordered bar b Q from Blue Ribbon . With approximately 100(?) people coming,we should enough food for everyone to have a light dinner. The party starts at 6 with the dinner and tributes.
So I was a little concerned that I wouldn't have enough to eat, but I had black bean soup and mac&cheese and vegan potato salad and then seconds of all that and Mississippi Mud Pie.

Liz D. and Christy Z. presented Laura Ruth with a disposable camera and a gift certificate -- so she could buy a new digital camera (something she had been talking about wanting).  They had collected "over $500" -- The look on Laura Ruth's face; I thought she was gonna drop the gift bag she was so shocked and overwhelmed.

There were a variety of musical performances and tributes and etc.

"Serenity Jones" did "Proud Mary."  And when "she" was first introduced, she was joined by Matt M. in drag -- which was amazing both because Matt M. is a somewhat conservative straight guy and also because he made an awesome woman (long blond wig, black gown, great arms -- he thought they looked too masculine for the part, but I said, "I would totally date a chick with arms like that," 'cause srsly, I would love to have arms like that; obviously muscled but not bulky or anything).  Apparently Andrea R. had bid on Matt-in-drag for their fundraiser auction.  The "Proud Mary" performance was a solo, though.

While some of us were hanging around after having cleaned everything up, Betsy said one of the elder ladies of the church had said that the drag was "disgusting," and Betsy said, no, it's HILARIOUS.  I was uncomfortable at her saying, "a man in a dress is always funny," especially because the man who performs as "Serenity Jones" had said at Rest and Bread recently that he thinks he's "bigender" and, just, I feel like the power of drag is that it brings to the fore the reality that gender is a performance -- that the clear bright lines we often draw, aren't so solid and distinct as we might like.  I felt like a really bad Ally for not saying anything, but...

However, at one point during dinner (the context was something about lesbians) Jeff B. said, "Christy used to swing that way," and I (who had met Christy at the Queer Women of First Church get-together and had heard her mention her husband) said, without missing a beat, "She's still bisexual, she's just married now."

At one point, Keith and Jeff V. got up and spoke a bit about Laura Ruth's involvement with Rest and Bread and re/New (respectively).  During Keith's piece, LR kept looking over at me, as if to affirm that everything he was talking about, I was as much a part of that as the two of them were.
When Betsy first announced this party, she invited people to sign up for slots to say a few words or whatever and I purposely didn't sign up because I didn't have anything I felt called to say.  I found out after the party (when Betsy was gushing about all the great work the subcommittees had done -- so she had "organized" this party but really hadn't had to do a lot of work) that she had asked Keith and Jeff on like Thursday, that she had wanted some stuff that was just speaking, that wasn't performance.

Jeff V. said that one of the things we do at re/New is to make old things new again and so there's this fourth-century hymn ... yeah, Julie had distributed handouts of "Let All Straight White Men Keep Silent" (a joke I had heard Jeff make months ago).  (After we were done, LR grabbed the mic briefly to assure us that she loves straight white men.  Someone yelled out that we know she didn't write that song.)

Oh, and there were group-sings scattered throughout the evening ("Somebody prayed for me," "Glory Glory hallelujah, since I laid my burden down," and "I'll fly away").

I started crying around 7:30, when Betsy M. and Kim A. presented Laura Ruth with a stole -- hot magenta pink base, decorated with "scraps of cloth" -- from stuff that was damaged, stained, the wrong color, the wrong shape, the wrong texture ... and together they make a beautiful whole, which is what LR has done (and that's where I started to cry, even though my immediate reaction was also, "Molly has been doing that work here since 2002 -- that is how we do church here").  And the base of the V is a scrap from one of the FCS shirts, the part that says "Beloved" ♥♥♥

I cried intermittently for the remaining 30-40 minutes (I don't remember the exact order of everything, so quite possibly some of the stuff I already listed came during the intermittent crying part; I also want to nameheck the "not ready for primetime" Deacons Players for a good Laura Ruth sketch -- Betsy was great).

Dinner wrapped up around 8pm.  I helped clean up a little and then I went to the bathroom and when I came back, the space was entirely cleared.  Fastest we have ever cleaned up :)

One of the dance songs was, "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)" -- which I thought should have been more toward the end.  We actually only danced for about an hour.  Which I was bummed about, but I also couldn't mind too much as my legs were tired.  Which I felt /o\ about, esp. having been Last Dancer Standing (TM soundingsea) at WriterCon 2006.  But I'd walked all the way home from work at least two days that week, and upped the intensity of my three-day-a-week cardio workout, so...

After we set the hall back up (which, again, arguably the fastest put-back-together ever) a bunch of us were just hanging out.  Including Rafe (8-year-old PK).  The parsonage is literally next door.  People were joking about after-parties and bringing Rafe to one and what would happen if Peter and Molly woke up and Rafe wasn't there and Betsy(?) said, "He's with the village.  The village is raising him."

(Sunday, Liz D. posted photos to flickr, and omg I go to church with such beautiful beautiful people.)

The past couple of weeks, I had been wanting to write a farewell letter to Laura Ruth, but I couldn't figure out much of what I wanted to say.  At the party, there was a journal book for people to write messages for Laura Ruth, and I still didn't know what I wanted to write, but it would be there on Sunday so that was okay.  After I got home, going to bed, thinking about what I would write in Laura Ruth's book, I burst into tears.  Which threw me a little, since I'd only cried a little bit at all the goodbye/"last" events thus far.

I hadn't cried a lot at the various goodbyes and "lasts" with Laura Ruth, so I didn't really know how Sunday morning was going to go.

Seeing Laura Ruth process right before service began, I started to cry.  She has said before that when she's up in front of the congregation before service she wants to look out at everyone and greet them and engage with them (she is an extrovert) but she also needs to center herself in prayer to prepare herself to lead worship.  So if she takes off her glasses and puts her hands over her eyes, that's why.  I feel like she's usually engaged with the congregation when she's processing, though.  This time, though, she looked so focused as she processed up, like she wasn't looking at anyone, and I thought about the fact that this would be the last time she would help to lead us in worship, and how she would want to be really grounded and centered before beginning that, because she would so want to do right by us.

Opening Hymn: "How Can I Keep from Singing?"
I sang it, but I would tell that I was all choked up, that it wasn't objectively pretty singing at all.

Call to Worship and Welcome
Passing of the Peace
A Time of Confession

Althea was the liturgist, and she talked about busyness -- about her own busyness and the various disfunctional motivations behind it.  The unison Confession printed in the bulletin, which followed that, was:
Holy One of Blessing,

We confess that we do not always use our time well.  Sometimes we work too hard, and sometimes we worked too many hours.

We confess that sometimes we think we are following you, but we find we are following our egos.

We confess that sometimes we prefer to resist you, rather than find reason and common cause with you.

We confess that sometimes we prefer to be important or passive, rather than humble or active.

For give all the ways we sin.  We are heartily sorry.  We truly only wish to follow you.
The bulletin says "Silent Meditation" and on the next line, "Assurance of Grace," but basically right after we finished the unison piece, Althea started talking again.  She said, in part, "The Holy Spirit is sent to use when we prepare to love one another."
Sung Response was "Glory, glory hallelujah, since I laid my burdens down"

Musical Meditation: Kathy (vocals) and Tara (cello) -- "Although the Lord Be High Above," which LR had requested of Kathy a while back and which was really beautiful.

Tim led us in saying Psalm 67.
I was choked up and shedding tears.  There's nothing in that particular psalm to merit that, but yeah.

Laura Ruth read John 14:23-29 -- Jesus' farewell speech

Sermon: "I Am Going Away"
She talked about the lectionary (which included "United Stashians, as my Canadian girlfriend says") and I grinned and nodded a lot (because I have become This Person)
"I've received a Call to another place"
She said there are many ways she and Jesus are not alike -- for example, he was so advanced in his relationship with God that he almost never made mistakes, and in that way she and Jesus are not alike.  She said her mentor Judy Bray told her, "a pastor has to forgive herself every day," and she knows that's true.
They both like to pray -- or at least, prayer is necessary; she said she has been praying in the car, "God, let me live long enough to say goodbye to First Church and hello to Hope Central."  Oh, my heart.
Both of them, their first ministry was of limited tenure -- though Jesus' ministry ended because he was arrested and sentenced to death, and she very much hopes that isn't her fate.
And Jesus loved those who were with him in his first ministry, "and so do I."  I had been crying, but here I nearly sobbed -- in my head I was like, "Quiet crying, quiet crying..." because I felt like it would be really disruptive to cry loudly, plus it would mean _I_ couldn't hear the sermon if I were being loud.
She said that she hopes we continue to hear each other's stories so that we understand better where each other are coming from so it will be hard to commit the sins of judgment.
At one point LR said, "Can somebody get me a Kleenex?" and Hilary went up and Althea ... didn't exactly dive for it, but she definitely rushed over and grabbed some as well.
LR said that the first Deacons meeting after she had announced she would be leaving, she asked Betsy ... so that she would know what kind of work she needed to do to make this a good leaving for the congregation, and in her sermon she said that Betsy, with all the love in her heart, "said she would miss me and you will be fine."  Which is so true.  When Betsy was gushing about the subcommittees after the party, Gianna(?) commented that this whole party had happened without Laura Ruth's involvement and probably without Molly's, too, since she had been on medical leave, and that's an indicator that we'll be fine.  I said that last summer when Molly was on sabbatical they all did worship, and yeah Laura Ruth helped them, but they are totally capable of doing church.  I am not worried at all about this church in Laura Ruth's absence -- it will be said, and sometimes it will be hard, but we will continue to do the work of the church, because we are a thriving church with lots of energy and bodies and resources and ideas and leadership.
LR also mentioned tikkun olam -- the work of reparing the world.

Hymn: "What Wondrous Love Is This"
Yeah, I think I sounded choked up singing every single hymn.

First Things: Life In Our Community
Prayers of the People

Molly had been on medical leave for ~2 weeks, and Sunday was her first day back, and she opened by saying that she felt reluctant -- and grateful, so so grateful but also reluctant to talk about it, which suggested to her that she needed to talk about it.  And so she talked about that, most of which I had already read in her email to the listserv, but from like her first sentence I wept.
She talked about how we are the Beloved Community but we are also building the Beloved Community -- the world needs God's justice.

During the Prayers, Molly said that Laura Ruth taught us songs and her voice leaves us, but the songs stay.

The Lord's Prayer continues to say "Our Father" in the bulletin, and I wondered what Molly would say (last week, Laura Ruth had led the prayer and said "Our Creator"); the answer apparently was, "Our Mother-Father."

A Time of Gifts and Offerings
Invitation to the Offering -- Althea: "After this Sunday comes every other Sunday.  After the earthquake comes rebuilding. [a reference to the special offering we were taking for HBCC's mission trip to Haiti]  This is all possible because of your generosity."
Offertory: "Total Praise" -- which was the whole choir, plus Molly and Laura Ruth, standing in front of the congregation, behind the Communion table, singing their hearts out (Laura Ruth, especially, was singing with incredible gusto -- which I think she probably always does)
Offering Response: "Halle, Halle, Halle"
A Prayer of Thanksgiving

A Litany of Farewell
I started crying again basically as soon as we started the litany -- after the representative from the broader UCC introduced the participants and walked us through how the litany would go, when Molly started reading the first part ("Our church is constantly changing. People come and go. Children grow up. People commit themselves to one another. Loved ones and friends among us come to the ends of their lives. Individuals move into our community and church life. Others leave us, moving away to new places, new experiences, and new opportunities.  It is important ad right that we recognize these times of passage, of endings and beginnings.").  By the time we got to the first bold part (the parts the congregation says), it was like the words were swimming my eyes were so tear-filled.

Closing Hymn: "When in Our Music God Is Glorified"
Choral Response: John Bell's "The Peace of the Earth"

The receiving line moved v. slowly (unsurprisingly), and when I got to Laura Ruth I gave her a big hug and after we moved apart she looked at me like to give me space to say something if I needed to, but I really didn't know what I wanted/needed to say, so I just gave her a look like, "It's okay," and she nodded at me as if to agree, and then I thought, "I'll say my real goodbye to you downstairs [at Coffee Hour]," but as I thought that I could feel a limp in my throat and I knew that if I tried to say it I would start to cry, and so I just continued in my turning toward the door.

I was too late getting down to Coffee Hour to have much to eat, but I found Melissa S. to give her my check for the Save Our Homes Walk and hung out at their table for a while and also moved around a bit -- wasn't particularly chatty, but also didn't feel particularly stressed or drained or anything by the socializing.

At Coffee Hour, Christy Z. was telling Jeff B. that we're allowed to go to Laura Ruth's installation (which surprised me), and I got to jump in and do some explanatory endorsement of the one-year moratorium.
She said that LR would try to make sure it didn't get scheduled for the same day as our block party :)
I think that's what I needed -- to hear the explicit "As part of that 'release' thing we just said at church, for the next year, we're not allowed to contact Laura Ruth."  Because as soon as Christy said it, I knew it was true, that of course it was true and it wouldn't be any other way, but not having had anyone explicitly articulate it to me, part of me kept feeling like, "Well I know what the rules are for Tiffany's one-year, but are those going to be the same rules?" and that little bit of uncertainty just didn't feel good.

I hung around until LR finally came down -- at which point there weren't a lot of us left.  Once she arrived we were all clearly waiting our turn to say our last goodbye (though we were also continuing our own conversations and everything).

Gary S. said his goodbye to LR and afterward she went into the former church office and looked so sad and hurting (though maybe she was just deep in prayer -- not that I'm saying the two are mutually exclusive, of course) and I was thinking that this must be so hard and painful for her as well, and that it's easy for us the congregation to lose track of that in our own grieving -- and I was going to say something like, "This must be so hard for you," to her (compassionately), but when she came back she looked really bright and cheerful.

She asked me, "Are you ready?"
I sort of shrugged/nodded.  I said, "Every time I think I'm done crying, I start crying again."
And indeed I started crying.  I sounded miserable, but I said that it had been a good and healthy goodbye process and it would be fine (which is true, and I also wanted to try to convey that even though I sounded like I was in such pain, I wasn't feeling hurt or in pain or wounded).  I hugged her for a long time, and I was grateful that she just held me as I took deep breaths and tried to calm myself down.  I was able to mostly override the voice in my head that says, "You've had enough of a goodbye, clock is running, other people need to have their turn," because hello, this is my last goodbye to her (tho obv. I am highly likely to see her again) and I can have a five-minute goodbye if I want/need.

I reiterated that it had been a really good process, and I told her that I had said everything I needed to say and she said that she had, too.  "Except I love you." 
(In my head: "You've already said that to me, actually."  When I told that to Scott this morning, he said, fondly -- have I mentioned he's on the spectrum? -- "That's so autistic of you."  I would say, cf. last night's CWM meeting, that I am really pedantic.)
I said, "I love you, too.  So much."  And I said, "Thank you, for everything."
And she said, "You're welcome," and thanked me, and I said, "You're so welcome," stroking her shirtsleeve, because yeah, I am a physical-touch-oriented person, and I never want to let go of the people I love.

At one point she said, "Be strong, sister-girl."
I kind of laughed 'cause REALLY?
Then she said, "Let other people be strong with you."
I said, "That's the part you really need to remind me of."

As I walked home, I was audibly crying, and I wondered if part of it was that I was grieving other things I hadn't had opportunity to grieve well.

When I told Scott this morning about how I had cried a lot but I hadn't felt painful grief or anything, he said that I was sad but I wasn't grieving -- which he thought was a good thing: that I'd had this good process and I'd done what I needed to do and all that.  When I was telling Ari this tonight, she commented that it is true that, thinking about the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, I've been able to experience a lot of those already as part of this process.

Edit: From Molly's email to the listserv Tuesday:
It was so good to be back with you on Sunday--to feel not a million miles away from my church family in the midst of my medical labyrinth (no dead ends, right?), to see the tears shining in your eyes as you said goodbye to Laura Ruth, as you recognized the truth of Althea's words in your own lives, as you let the feelings that were set free that morning, begin to free other feelings and griefs in you, griefs both present and past. What an amazing gift, just to have a place to feel your feelings, whatever they are; to sit beside people it's ok to feel things with, who won't be ashamed of you or themselves when feelings get out of their tidy boxes, when nose and eyes runneth over.
Tags: church: somerville: first church ucc, got gender?, parties: attending, people: church: jeff v., people: h: scott k., people: pastors: laura ruth, people: pastors: laura ruth: transition, people: pastors: molly

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