Meadville Lombard Theological School just celebrated commencement, in which I had the honor of having conferred upon me the degree of Master of Divinity.  We processed in to the age-old classic “Rank by Rank” and enjoyed music from the First Unitarian Church of Chicago’s choir under the direction of Michael Thorne.

During the reflective and moving piece, “Choose Something Like a Star” by Randall Thompson, I found myself pondering the gravity of such an occasion.  The commencement service is a ceremonial way of preparing us for the long road of ministry ahead: its foibles, yes, but mostly its joys.  As I entered into a prayer of gratitude, a ripple of energy moved through the sanctuary of First Unitarian.  In a flash, a very confused squirrel dashed in front of the row of seated graduates, leaping up the steps into the side chapel.  As the choir continued its somber and thoughtful piece, muffled snickers could be heard.  Suddenly, another squirrel came tearing through the seated guests, some lifting their legs with a little yelp, others gasping.  Laughter became less controlled, and I admit to being the source of a hearty snort.

In some cultures, animals are guides that offer wisdom and new insight to a human.  In this instance, I wonder again about the little squirrels that made such a large impact on a ceremony with great pomp and circumstance.  The cermeony was wonderful.  Forrest Church was to deliver the sermon, but, having terminal cancer, he was too ill from his chemotherapy to come.  Our school President, Lee Barker, read the sermon on his behalf.  Church emphasized the core of ministry: service.  He reminded us of the one person who comes in on a Sunday who is on the edge of life, on the edge of the church.  He reminded us to always serve this person.

As I watched the second squirrel, I had the feeling that he was scared.  Panting, he tried burrowing into the corner of the carpeted stair to no avail.  I held myself back from trying to usher him to an open door, to a place of freedom.  But amidst the black crepe robes, the satin and velvet hoods, the embossed paper, amidst all the finery that befits a special occasion, a room full of ministers were wondering about this squirrel.  We have been trained to care and love all of creation.  But those on the edge of life, trapped, panting and scared- these are those to whom we reach out.  We also may find ourselves at such edges, afraid and alone.

Honor our forbears by taking the great risk of service in your life and as a community.  Look into your heart to see if you yourself are in need of ministering.  Then take the risk to ask for help.  May what they dreamed be ours to do.

Thank you for your thoughts and well-wishes.  I am grateful for Meadville Lombard for the education I have received.  Many who have gone before me provide support and context to my ministry today, a network of souls who are only a phone call, an email, or a dog-eared page away.  Most importantly, I have been steeped in Unitarian Universalist culture and tradition, while having ample opportunity (in the great spirit of liberalism) to own our past and live into a more life-giving future.

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