shoshanna_g: Unitarian flaming chalice inside a Canadian maple leaf (Default)
Today's service at my church was on the theme of transitions, and in particular the transitions the congregation's lay chaplains both help other people through, and are going through ourselves, as one of us (me) begins the work; one of us (A) is halfway through the work; and one of us (N) retires from the work -- it's a six-year term -- and moves on to the next stage in her life. So the minister (D) gave an introduction, and then the three of us spoke in turn about what the experience has meant for us. Here is what I said.

my 817 words on lay chaplaincy so far )

I choked up at the part about my father, which I had pretty much expected (and yet had I laid in any tissues in advance? I had not, sigh). I thought the whole service went really well; although the four of us hadn't shared our texts in advance, they all complemented one another, and at the end [D], [A], and I each gave [N] a gift and thanked her for all she's done for us. A lot of people came up to shake hands with us afterward, and I wasn't the only person who got teary at some point!

I'm particularly glad it went well because it wasn't looking so good for me earlier; I had an icky night, though I'm slowly improving. )

And when I got home and checked email, I had a request from a couple for a wedding being planned for June 2012!
shoshanna_g: Unitarian flaming chalice inside a Canadian maple leaf (Default)
Yesterday I entered the memorial service I conducted into the church register.

The Unitarian Church of Montreal has been keeping records of births, marriages, and deaths in its community since it was founded in 1842. (Until 1994, these records were the only legal registers of marriages performed by church officials; the Quebec civil government only then started keeping its own records.) In 1987 the church was destroyed in a fire; it's an incredible piece of good fortune that the church archives were entirely preserved and rescued, and we still have them going all the way back to its founding. The church register takes up many many volumes, and the current volume is kept in a locked cupboard.

On Sunday, I took up the special archival-quality pen and wrote in it:
[name] was born in [date] and died [date], 2011. A memorial service to celebrate his life was conducted on February [date], 2011.
and signed it in my capacity as lay chaplain.

I felt very strongly that I was setting my small mark in a shared record stretching so far back and forward, participating in something large and significant.

(I also felt that my handwriting is appalling compared to everyone else's. One person once expressed some shock when she found out that I can't write script (cursive); "But -- there's never been printing in the church register!" she stuttered. "Well, there's going to be now," I answered. I mean, what else could I say? It's not like they told me a copperplate hand was a criterion for becoming a lay chaplain...)
shoshanna_g: Unitarian flaming chalice inside a Canadian maple leaf (Default)
I did my first memorial service a few days ago. I got the call and reached the family by phone; we spoke briefly, and then I met with them for an hour and a half, and on the basis of that conversation I drafted a service. They had already chosen music, and pictures for a slide show, and decided who would be speaking; but I helped them put all the pieces together and provided an introduction and a unifying voice, leading everyone through the service and giving a sort of nonreligious benediction at the end. I also added (with their approval) some more ritual elements, lighting a candle at the beginning and offering a brief period of silence before the slide show.

It was a good one to start with; the family were grieving, of course, but not stunned or traumatized, and the circumstances of death weren't horrific. (I plan to take a "Challenging Memorials" workshop at the CUC annual conference this spring; creating and leading a service for someone who committed suicide, say, or a rape&murder victim, is far more difficult.) But still, I had to be there with them, listen for what they needed, and craft a service that addressed those needs, both spoken and unspoken, and that honored the concrete specificity of who the deceased had been. On the basis of our phone call I brought some readings to our meeting, and on the basis of how conversation was going in person I offered some to them; they really liked and asked me to do a couple, so I definitely felt that I was reading their preferences well!

And at the ceremony I did not cry, and I made sure to speak slowly and clearly.

I'll tell you, the stole felt a lot heavier when I put it on to begin the service than it had when I was trying it on.

One of the funeral home workers complimented me on the service just afterward; she had been listening over the PA in the next room and said she thought it was really well done. She even asked if I knew the family. I couldn't resist telling her it was the first one I had ever done, and she told me that I definitely had a knack for it. I figure she probably hears a lot of them, so her compliment is worth something!

I sent my minister and the other lay chaplains my draft service the day before for any comments they might have, and as well as giving me some advice (which I, er, didn't end up taking, but it went okay anyway), my minister said something really important to me: "In a sense, you, as Shoshanna the person, are stepping out of the way to become the conduit to the sacred for this family." Simultaneously being the guide and the expert, and yet also a conduit rather than a focus, a means rather than an end, is a new way of conceptualizing my role, and I find her phrasing really useful. I will be thinking more about it.

(In writing this up I realize I'm not saying much about the spiritual side of it; but the thing is, the details of that feel very personal to the family, and not like something I should be talking about in public. So I'm not. I did feel that I had been of service, in a way that is important to me, but I don't feel comfortable talking specifically about how.)

It was a good start.
shoshanna_g: Unitarian flaming chalice inside a Canadian maple leaf (Default)
This weekend I am doing a training program for lay chaplaincy. It's going on simultaneous with the Eastern Regional Gathering of the Canadian Unitarian Council, but I'm not really getting to see any of the ERG (except at meal breaks), since the training takes up almost the whole time. It's a very small group: four people plus the leader, plus two who were there today but will not join us for the rest of the weekend. I'm incredibly glad that it's being held and grateful for the chance to get, not just a chance for formal training in designing and managing rituals (plus things like role-playing practice), but also the opportunity to talk with people just starting out in the role. The experienced lay chaplains who have been mentoring me have been fabulous, but it's not the same as being with peers, and I'm glad to have both kind of experiences.

I also really like the way so many Unitarian gatherings get people's attention, in a big noisy crowd (such as toward the end of dinner tonight, when it was time for introductions and announcements). Rather than yelling "Hey, everyone, listen up!" or clinking a glass, or finding someone to give an earsplitting whistle, the people who need the floor just start singing, singing a song that it's certain most people, at least, will know. And as more and more people realize what's happening, they join in, until the whole room is singing, and then the song naturally winds to a close, and everyone is now paying attention to the central singer/speaker.

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again come.


shoshanna_g: Unitarian flaming chalice inside a Canadian maple leaf (Default)

June 2011



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