Sermon for Doing a Hard Thing: Departure

Pulpit Announcement of Departure (as of June 30, 2022)

Given at Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist 

By the Rev. Hilary Landau Krivchenia

March 13, 2020

So …. This is different.

I don’t mean a Sunday in our fellowship hall-I mean, that’s weird in itself, but, no. And I don’t just mean a time when a lingering global pandemic has separated us physically for exactly two years- yes, today is the two year anniversary of our first remote service. It’s a significant date-maybe, in time, a holiday could come out of it. Zoomday or apartday or panzoomica or some-such… But I don’t just mean that. Still, pencil in the idea of a holiday…

It’s been a weird as “expletive” couple of years and the weirdness is only going to wind down gradually and there’re more twists and turns ahead. It’s been a time of upheaval, crisis, significant social discord, and so, so, so much loss. Catastrophic global loss of life in the many millions. And then, of course, the routine and expected losses as well as those losses that came out of the blue to shock us and steal away those we love. And we had to face those losses with 50% of the faces, a fraction of the hugs, and a terrible scarcity of the companionship of those we hold dearest and whose presence comforts us. And we’ve had to do without the simple comfort of sitting beside someone- perhaps, even, someone we don’t know-at school, at the cinema, at a concert, at church.

It’s been hard- so hard-and we want things to go back to normal- whatever that is- and it’s not happening fast enough or maybe it’s not ever going to look or be just the same. And, gosh, I want it too.  And now, just as we want it to be just like it was, just as I want it to be just like it was – the damned minister up and resigns. As of June 30.

            There may be some of you who are thinking – whew! Can I help you pack! But I know that for most of us, this is a significant change and another loss on top of all the others. For each and all of us, it’s important to stop and really recognize this.  It’s how the human heart builds a bridge from the present to the future.

            I want to tell you a story – well – some of you may know it already. A few of you played an important role in it. 

            I loved my first congregation – but I was so ready for a change.  I had a couple of real options – but Countryside had grabbed me by the heart.  So, we moved here in August of 08.  I was excited.  I had met much of the congregation and begun to love you. We unpacked pretty fast. The day before my first Sunday in the pulpit as your minister, our 5 year old standard poodle Louiza seemed sick. I needed to put finishing touches on my sermon, so Mark took her to the vet. She was seriously ill. We tried everything to get her to drink and eat – but she was fading. In the wee hours of Saturday night, in torrential rain, we rushed her back to the vet – but there was nothing to be done. Painful. At 2 in the morning we returned home in torrential rain without our Louiza. Most of you know what that’s like. A couple of hours later we discovered that our basement – my library – was flooded. We called Chris S*&*%h and he rounded up a couple of other folks and they came to bail us out – and I got myself ready and over to Countryside and, right on time, I was there in the pulpit. 

Visiting the home of her Namesake

            What got me there? There were three things – well – maybe 4. 

First – I know it’s important for a minister to show up – even in the clutch –maybe especially.

Second – I couldn’t wait to begin being your minister.  Working with you, knowing you, growing with you.  Joining our songs together in a new harmony. A new and full symphony           

Third – Serving this faith makes my heart pound. It’s life affirming, life giving, world saving and holds the potential to create a durable peace in a diverse and uneasy world — a world that could, instead be inclusive, wise, curious, colorful, earth loving, joyful, and welcoming. Yep, I wanted to be right here with you. To see what your dreams really were and to follow them. 

Fourth – It’s important, challenging, but important – to be a minister who is authentic. Yes – pets die, our parents die, our basements flood, we need help – just like other people. So don’t hide that. 

And, oh – one more, I knew that you all have losses – as great as a beloved pet and far, far greater. I wanted to be one who can deeply be with you in the losses and as well as the celebrations. I took my broken heart and my face – no doubt puffy from so much crying, I came here, and, in the midst of our joyful beginning, I shared my loss and we began the process of weaving our hearts together. 

I took some courage from a Buddhist story I first heard from my colleague and friend, the Rev. Kendyl Gibbons. And some of you, no doubt, have heard me tell it before. 

There was a mother whose beloved young son became sick and died. She was heartbroken and she carried his body to the Buddha and begged the Buddha to work a miracle and bring the boy back to life. Now, this was not the kind of miracle that the Buddha was known for working – but he said to the woman – “I offer you this: if you bring me a single mustard seed from a home where no one has known grief and loss as you have, I will bring your son back to life.” If you wanted to tell this story to last a long time, you could tell about some of the homes she went to, the greetings she received, the tea she was offered, the stories of loss she was told, and the tears that were mingled. House after house. But the story was always the same. Beloved children, parents, lovers, spouses, kin of all kinds, dear friends, grandparents, teachers, even companion animals. So many stories and so many tears in one house after another. The grieving mother returned to the Buddha. She buried her dear son and became a student of the Buddha. 

So, she didn’t have the mustard seed but she was no longer alone – she was one with every one she had wept with, with all of life. one with the very cycle of life and death – her grief still hurt like a knife in her heart – but she’d received some comfort from every house she’d visited and from discovering that, as we recognize in our 7th principle, we are a part of a web of existence. One that enfolds us in the wheel of life. 

You should each have received a mustard seed as you arrived. I hope you still have it. And those of you at home may not have a seed — but – don’t worry — this meditation works with or without the seed – you might simply imagine a mustard seed – or another seed in the palm of your hand. You hold this not because your household or your church is without loss – but because you are part of a community of life. I want to thank my dear friend and colleague, the Rev. Lindsay Bates, for reminding me that I am part of many communities of life and – reminding me that a seed carries the possibility of life.

            So hold that seed – the seed in your imagining or the one in your hand and remember — that a seed carries the possibility of life. Feeling it in your hand or your imagination, study the seed. Around every seed is a covering that protects the life within— the possibility held in the seed. We often push back or resist times of darkness, times when the path before us is unclear – but the seed – in its own seed-like way – longs for the darkness, the quiet, the path with soft, rich soil. A place to rest – even in uncertainty. We need those times, too.

Last week we explored what happens when the habitual forms of life fall apart – that is when the soil, the habits, loosens – it is a time when new life can emerge.  In your hand is a seed. In your heart is a seed, in your life is a seed. How it grows is also in your hands. Let it rest in the dark for now. I have learned that even tears, salty as they are – help the future to grow from within us.  The darkness, the time, the change of seasons, and even the tears – and something new and remarkable emerges.

When you are ready, you can open your eyes – whether you hold a seed in your hand or not – it is now resting in your mind – its potent life curled and waiting.

This has been an… interesting week. You can ask any member of the Board of Trustees. Ask my mother-in-law, cousin-in-law, cousin-in-heart, nephew, colleagues, and my poor husband – and they can testify that the letter you received, with my resignation in it, was practically written with tears.

Just when I thought, I really thought, that I’d wept enough, we took our beloved Pema – our 14 year old standard poodle — to the long awaited vet specialist appointment on Friday. Turns out she has an untreatable cancer.  It is a strange bookend that, as I announce that I am leaving, our dog announces the same thing. Yes, I have wept enough tears to cause a basement to flood – if we had a basement.

            I wondered how I’d get up to the pulpit this morning when I realized that I had something now that I didn’t yet have 14 years ago. 

For nearly 14 years I have worked with you, gotten to know you, learned and grown with you. I have watched you mature as a congregation, come into your own. You have grown and developed leadership of compassion, vision, depth, and principle. 

            I have watched new generations enter this congregation and grow into this faith – and discover the peace, purpose, and power that it has to offer in help us to co-create an inclusive, wise, curious, colorful, earth loving, joyful, and welcoming. I swore that when I came here, I would follow your dreams, empower and encourage your hopes, listen, (even though I love to talk), and lead where you lead me. 

            You are emerging from the pandemic – gradually, as the world needs to – and you will need more generosity than ever, a deeper lived covenant together. Still, and more – you do shine bright and true and I know that you will find a new minister and become a new voices in new and full symphony. More than you did 14 years ago, you are equipped with a grasp of Unitarian Universalism, with a deep sense of principle and purpose. You may not be able to recite all 7 principles off the top of your heads – but you can live them – not from the top of your heads but from your hearts. 

            The worth of each person has drawn more and more of you into the work of anti-racism, the longing for justice and your own compassion has lead us all into new relationships in the wider community, the spiritual yearning and desire for truth, meaning, and spiritual growth have nurtured small groups, study groups, the well spring program, the monthly themes that are shared throughout the congregation, the commitment to the spirit of democracy has made every process more transparent, and, whether it is along the roadside, at a pride march, in Springfield, chalice house, or hanging a banner out front – this congregation has chosen to emerge – living our principles — into the world. In bountiful gardens that feed hungry people, conferences that raise public awareness about the crisis of the earth, or solar panels that increase our use of renewable energy, your show your ever deepening sense of the life that joins us to all life. 

While the pandemic challenged you – you rose in strength. While world events challenge you – you rise to learn about and meet them. And where my passion for this faith got me to the pulpit that first Sunday – it was your passion that I watched grow, that moved me and inspired me for 14 years.  Where it was my hope for our connection that carried me to church that Sunday – this Sunday it was the powerful love that grew in my heart over the years – watching such a sweet, strong, healthy congregation – you have your growing edges still – but you have the richest soil, the richest soul, and the sweetest hearts at your center in which to grow those edges.  And despite every challenge – we have made this place – ever and ever more – a holy place – a place of good faith and lived faith, a place of love.

It is time to, as I said in my letter, reinvent my calling.  Seriously, one of the hardest decisions ever – so I am grateful that we have the next few months to prepare, to celebrate and mark our time together, and to say goodbye well.  I love this place – it feels like home, it’s been home, and, even more, of course, I love you so much.  Of course, it was a struggle to decide to leave – but I could not leave you in better hands – your own. This is my faith – the faith I have in you. 

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