Monday, October 13, 2014

This is Who I Am

This is an essay required by the Unitarian Universalist Association to begin the process toward ordination.  It asked for a description of my history and my ministerial aspirations.

At six years old I was asking strangers what they thought happened to them when they died.  Not out of morbidity, but a deep spiritual curiosity.  My curiosity and fascination with world spirituality has only increased over time.  I think I have been a form of clergy my entire life.  Always listening for good advice so I could share it.  Offering a shoulder and a hopeful thought as needed.  When opportunities like this came I always felt at my best; like I intuitively knew what I was doing or at least understood my mission.  In my early teens I wanted to be an advice columnist.  Later, into my high school years I decided it was the role of psychologist I sought.  But it didn’t feel quite right and I left college during my first semester.  I knew I wasn’t quitting.  I just didn’t know toward what I was transitioning.  I had been singing from the age of nine and loved performing.  I did a lot of community theatre in my late-teens and early twenties while I went on an employment spree.  I often had two or three (at once time four) part time jobs in various disciplines.  Everything from restaurants to retail to child care to picture framing.  I wanted to know how to do everything.  Eventually I went to acting school in New York and spent many years as a performing arts professional in New York, Toronto, and on cruise ships throughout the Western Hemisphere before resettling in my hometown of Fitchburg at the age of thirty.
By this time I knew I wanted to merge my performing arts interests with my desire to be of service.  I had also developed a strong entrepreneurial sense during my employment spree years.  I began creating various performing arts and cultural series designed as social enterprises to benefit local nonprofits and service organizations.  I was awarded two fellowships with Community Builders/United Way and made a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in support of my work.  I started an after school social enterprise rock band at my old high school called the Tribe (we are launching our debut album this school year).  The Tribe Music Mentorship Project cultivates empowerment through creative achievement.  We meet three days a week, year round, in our classroom at Fitchburg High School and rented storefront space in downtown Fitchburg.  As a youthful expression of its commitment to community service, the Tribe hosts Fitchburg’s annual Zombieburg Festival (about to enjoy its third infestation on Nov 1).  
In 2015, through a partnership with the local community development corporation, I am launching the No Storefront Left Behind Program.  NSLB will be a community-run, service organization dedicated to supporting property and small business owners in downtown Fitchburg.  It will create cultural events around curated window displays in empty storefronts, seek funding to restore blighted, out-of-code, or run-down properties, and work with city development to advocate for energy and tax subsidies for small business owners operating in the downtown.
This is my ministry.  This is my evangelism of doing.  I consider myself to be a Christian.  But my form of Christianity is focused entirely on the teachings of Christ.  It does not comment on his divinity nor does it affirm or deny reports of miraculous events.  I believe in the miraculous, it happens all the time.  I consider the Bible to be a sacred text, but do not claim any authority to know the method by which it was written or the motives behind which it was made canon.  I believe in the active daily practice of forgiveness and compassion.  I believe that my neighbor is my supreme responsibility.  I believe that all paths up the mountain are valid.  I have Facebook friended my bullies from high school.
I grew up Congregationalist in a UCC church in Fitchburg.  Rollstone Congregational raised me and taught me to think for myself.  They encouraged me to have my own ideas and explore.  They produced plays for me, gave me solos as a child, and still ask me to sing O Holy Night every Christmas Eve.  They allowed me to host my first performing arts series using the sanctuary and hall.  When I entered seminary they formed a committee to support me and helped me begin the UCC discernment process.  But as I began to discern my path I realized the difference between the pews and the pulpit.  My universalist theology fit in fine as a member, but not as a minister.  I was never rejected for my beliefs, but I began to see that it was not a UCC pulpit that I would speak from.
I had been attending services at various UU churches over the years in my travels; preferring the open spirituality and sense of justice.  Friends of mine invited me to sing at First Parish UU Church in Fitchburg and I began appearing there occasionally to sing with my Tribe, or preach.  I decided to buck my sense of loyalty to the community in which I was raised and “came out” one Sunday to the members of Rollstone Church as a Unitarian Universalist.  No one was surprised. Everyone was supportive.  I thanked them for everything they had done for me throughout my life and signed the book at FPC Fitchburg the following week.
I aspire to continue my work as an advocate for community innovation, youth mentorship, and social enterprise.  I have decided that a Master of Divinity with a focus on community ministry is the best training ground for that continued work.  
Ordination is entirely another matter.  Why ordination?  It is entirely personal.  It is the completion of who I have always felt that I am, yet saw no version of what I aspired to be.  It wasn’t until I realized that I could be my own form of minister that I finally answered my call.  Every form of “coming out” in my life has been increasingly difficult.  Coming out as gay was a piece of cake.  As an actor, a bit harder.  As a musician, very risky.  As a minister?  Somehow the social stigma of ministry and organized religion had kept me from accepting it my entire life.  I didn’t want to be that.  But in today’s world, ministry can look like what I have always done: Simply be there for people.  Encourage and empower them.  Offer comfort and an actionable way toward personal acceptance.  Instill entrepreneurialism with integrity and invent models to show it can work.  Mentor kids, knowing they are the best place to start to change this world.  Understand that speaking to thousands is no less important than holding one person’s hand.  Ordination offers me a loving and well-guided pathway of learning to be the best version of what I have always been, a servant of people.  It adds the crucial element: sanctification and blessing of my life’s work.  
My last name means of the archangel in Italian.  I have always viewed that as a perfect job description.  I want to be a messenger of good news in the world.  I want to encourage hope and forgiveness.  Create pathways toward acceptance, rather than merely tolerance.  We are better than that.  I want to repurpose our old retributive forms of justice to the restorative.  I want to end my days knowing that my fearless idealism and rabid optimism made a difference even if only as one grain of sand on an entire beach of human progress.

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