The Reverend Arthur S. Vaeni has been with us since he accepted our congregation’s call in April of 2001. During this time his dedication to our community, his leadership, wisdom and his good humor have made him well loved within the congregation, and he has become an important and respected voice for justice and compassion in the wider community.
My understanding of parish ministry
By Rev. Arthur Vaeni
There is a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver called “The Summer Day,” that speaks in part to my understanding of ministry in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. It begins with one of the fundamental questions of human existence, “Who made the world?” She goes on to make particular observations about a grasshopper, and then writes:
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Ministry, at least in a Unitarian Universalist context, begins with questions. The questions we need are those that open our minds and our hearts to life’s possibilities. Religion is not necessarily a matter of knowing “exactly what a prayer is,” but dawns with the willingness to ask ourselves important and, at times, difficult questions. And in the pursuit of our answers we need to “know how to pay attention.
The ability to pay attention is at the heart of ministry. When we pay attention, we can discern another’s humanity - their struggle and their joys - through their words and actions. When we pay attention, we no longer separate ourselves from the wrongs of our world, for we perceive the pain borne by those in need. When we pay attention, we experience the exhilaration of sharing a discovery with a child or the joy of feeling the morning mists rise through shafts of pale sunlight. When we pay attention, we are alive to the moment.
As we create our capacity to live within each moment, then we become capable of responding to life - to the world around us - from our center, our hearts, our souls. We may join in religious community for our individual reasons, but I believe that surrounding each reason is a shared desire for fulfillment. And fulfillment, however it manifests for each of us, evolves with our growing capacity to experience life from the depths of our souls.
My hope is that the ministry of the congregation I serve will create a sense of community that allows each member to discover the depths of their being and to discern the bonds that join us with one another and with the world in which we have our being. And from those depths each will emerge with a heightened awareness of the gift we possess with this “one wild and precious life.”