Sunday will be very special for me. It will be a day of completion, of continuing, and of beginning. Sunday is the day of my ordination as a Unitarian Universalist minister. Anticipating that, for today's column, my byline is slightly different, giving me the title “Rev.”
The completion is that I reach a finish line of sorts, after seven years of education, ministerial formation, and other training. I entered theology school in 2006, did classroom study, research, and field work in congregations, hospitals, and other places to earn a master of divinity degree in 2009 at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago while also being enrolled in a three-year leadership course at The Humanist Institute. Then I continued my education as a chaplain while fulfilling more of the many competencies my liberal religion requires of its ministers—expected religious foundations like Hebrew and Christian scriptures, world religions, church history, and theology and ethics; practical education in preaching, pastoral care, and administration; and social justice orientation in the areas of anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism; and sexual health, sexual boundaries, and sexual justice (I wish leaders in a few of the more traditional religions had those competencies). All that and getting a national committee to see me as a minister.
The continuing part is that in many ways, in “real life,” Sunday is the next day, and life goes on. I continue to be husband to Jewel, and my love and care for her is sacred outside of organized faith. I'm the Blade religion editor, and I don't foresee much change in the religion page. I continue to seek out and report on religion in Toledo in all of its manifestations, from formal congregational worship to individual practice, sacred and secular, covering people, organizations, and issues. I'll also continue to publish commentary; sometimes you get an idea of my religion in that writing, and you might get a report or two on some ministerial activities. That is as it has been since I joined The Blade just over a year ago.
I hope readers see that I give honor, dignity, and respect to the people and issues I write about, and that their religion, not mine, is what is in the stories. In my training as a chaplain, I learned that the other person is the important one; my role is to help. That carries into religion journalism, where I give examples of a person's faith, show how world religions are practiced in Toledo, and tell stories about religion in the pews, the workplace, and far outside the sanctuary.
The Blade is very supportive of my being a minister. My editors knew that ordination was on the horizon when I was hired. And my denomination sees that religion journalism is community ministry. I can take part in other people's worship in my role as religion editor, often on Sunday mornings. Sometimes I'll stand in a pulpit as a guest minister rather than reporter. I am First Unitarian Church of Toledo's community minister and I do some volunteer ministry there such as teaching Sunday School, taking a leading part in Sunday services, and being available for pastoral care. As both religion editor and ordained minister, I sometimes can give an added perspective to a story. But life goes on in that my professional responsibilities have not changed.
Sunday is a day of beginning because I suspect that the act of ordination actually will make for change within me, in my soul, if you will. Ordination in my faith is for life. Some people will call me “Reverend Tim” from now on (many Unitarian Universalists have a formal informality in giving that title with the first name). An actual difference is that I can now preside at weddings; I could already accompany families at funerals, bless babies, and perform other sacred service. And I am aware that I have a privilege that is withheld from many people I know; as I become “reverend,” I send my thoughts to people who cannot be ordained in their religions and denominations: women; married people; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; and others.
The ordination ceremony, which is open to the public, is at First Unitarian Church of Toledo, 3205 Glendale Ave., Sunday at 5:30 p.m. My friend the Rev. Fred Wooden of Grand Rapids, Mich,, who has known me longer than I've been a Unitarian Universalist and who was my minister in both Austin, Texas, and Brooklyn, N.Y., will preach a sermon titled “How Ordinary.” The Rev. Kendyl Gibbons of Kansas City, my teacher of religious humanism, will have words for me in the form of a charge; she will also deliver an address, titled “… Or Not,” at the 11 a.m. service at First Unitarian.
My first offical action as a minister will be to give the benediction. Let me practice now: Bless you all.