Telling the Story
Chelle, one of my college roommates and dearest friends these past thirty years, was one of the first people I met on campus. She basically introduced me to John, my husband. She was someone I followed around because her smile and her personality embodied love and acceptance. After five years of struggle, Chelle died of a rare bone cancer a few weeks ago. She was an amazon, a warrior of love, and stubborn as a mule. She never gave up hope and demanded the same from those of us who loved her.
When her friends learned recently that her life could be measured in days instead of months or years, we began to tell stories and share pictures. Social media became the medium through which we collectively grieved. At the same time, were able to tell Chelle how much she meant to us. Story after story came forth from people who shared how they would not be the person they are today without her influence in their lives (me included). Chelle got to tell people how much they meant to her, and hear how much she meant to them. I am deeply grateful to UTUUC for supporting my sudden departure in order to be with her and her spouse in her final hours, and then again so that I might conduct her memorial service.
“Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” asks the musical Hamilton. UTUUC has experienced several memorial services for beloved friends and members in the past few weeks. If you have never been to a Unitarian Universalist memorial service (sometimes called a Celebration of Life), I highly recommend it. One of the central aspects of the service is when the minister tells the story of the life of the deceased. And there is almost always time in the service for those gathered to share their own memories. Of course, even together we can’t capture the richness and fullness of an entire life, but as ministers, we do try to tell the story with honesty and integrity. This sometimes means speaking, gently, of aspects of a person’s life that others might gloss over or ignore.
In many ways, telling-the-story-with-integrity and sharing-of-memories are also things congregations do during interim ministry. While we can’t capture the entirety of the history of the congregation, we Interim Ministers, with your help, try to tell the story of the congregation in a way that is honest and has integrity – not dwelling on the hard stuff but not glossing over it, either. This presents the opportunity for congregants to learn that what you might experience as hard stuff may actually be what other congregants are celebrating – or vice versa. You begin to look at the congregation with new eyes that see depth and complexity where perhaps, before, you thought things were more straightforward.
In the April 24 service, Who We Were, UTUUC had a chance to hear from four different members about times that they were proud of the congregation. Building on that, the Transition Team has created a timeline of the last 60 years of the congregation. Just as people have a chance at a UU memorial service to share their memories and stories, so too will you have a chance in small groups to share your stories of UTUUC.
Sharing stories is a way to cope after a loss, whether that loss involves the death of a loved one, the departure of a minister, or the collapse of the way we thought things were. Sharing our stories, our reflections, our feelings is a chance for us to make sense of our loss and to move into a place of healing. The Transition Team and I hope you will sign up for one of these small groups, whether you are a new member or have been here your whole life, so that you can share your experience of UTUUC with others and can bear witness to their experiences, as we move towards healing and, perhaps, greater understanding.