That is an age-old question of philosophy that humans have grappled with for millennia, and we continue to ask that question. There is a whole branch of philosophy dedicated to exploration of “how do we know what we know?” called Epistemology. Much smarter folks than I have written volumes on this question of how is it that we “know” anything.
Is it by logic, by reason alone, by experience or experiment? Is it probability or is it absolute? And yet, here I am, daring to venture into the dance of “knowing” and “unknowing” and how it impacts my ministry and what do we need to ask of Unity ministers in the field with regard to continuing education. Whew! Ask me an easy one, would ya?
Good for the soul, they tell me. I am one of those lifelong learners who loves to continue to read and learn. I am a book junkie, and I have purchased almost as many books since I graduated in 2012 from Unity Institute as I bought while in school. My previous career was in education, specifically as a school psychologist. In that field, we were required to attend seminars, take classes and receive in-service training up to 75 CEU (Continuing Education Unit) hours over a 3-year period in order to maintain our professional credential.
As a minister, a professional, it makes sense to me that I would be required to do the same kind of continuing education as I did previously. I have no argument with a requirement for continuing education to maintain a professional credential; it comes with the territory.
One can argue that not much changes in theology, and that God is unchanging and timeless and Absolute, so the approach needed is to just be Silent and hone my intuitive powers so that I can “listen and know” the Truth. And I do this regularly, on a daily basis. And what I “know” from this practice is very real and very powerful in my life and in ministry.
Many answers come from this practice; most of them bring me clarity about the “next right thing” for me to do/say or not do/say in any given situation. I also model this for the church community and sit in meditation every Wednesday night for 30 minutes with that small percentage of the congregation that regularly shows up for this practice.
Most of the congregation shows up on Sunday morning. They are there to see one another, sing together, pray together, drink coffee and eat treats, find out what is going on in spiritual community and in each other’s lives … and listen to what I have to say. I find that very humbling and I am grateful each Sunday that they show up.
What it means for me is that I want to have something to say that is worth hearing. I take that responsibility very seriously. And it can’t be all about me and my human journey and my inner spiritual journey. The folks who show up want to learn something; they want to have a takeaway that makes them reflect on their own lives, and they want to explore what it means to grow in consciousness. They want to be coaxed to the edge of their growth and find that it is not that scary.
Also good for the soul. Back at the beginning of October 2012, I was sitting on the futon in my study at home on a Sunday morning, crying. This was after nine weeks of serving in ministry. My husband, alarmed at my tears, asked me what in the world was wrong. I mournfully said, “I have already told them all that I know. After this Sunday, I have nothing left to talk about!” I had spent August on Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements and the five Sundays in September on Ellen Debenport’s, The Five Unity Principles. Now what?
Fortunately for me, I was leaving that week for my first regional conference as a Unity minister. Rev Chris Michaels was the keynote speaker and what he said was so real and so helpful and funny! He said aloud all the questions I was asking myself about why in the world I was doing this ministry gig in the first place. And then I spent time with other ministers, asking questions, sharing stories and “being a real person” not a “minister”!
It was like an oasis in the desert or manna falling from heaven. I could discuss some vexing issues with other ministers and do a think-aloud with a colleague, face-to-face. I had been feeling “all alone” out there, and the contact with other ministers at this USCR (Unity South Central Region) conference was invaluable, worth every penny! I went back refreshed, renewed and I discovered that I had a lot more I could share with my spiritual community. [Unity Regional Information.]
Over time, in this journey of ministry, I have found that unless I am willing to stretch my own boundaries and go outside of my comfort zone, I can’t really ask the congregation do what I am unwilling to do. For me that has meant continuing education, Unity conventions, participation in a local Contemplative Leaders group, reading and learning, individual therapy, Martha Creek’s leadership programs and spiritual direction. God may be unchanging, but all the people in the spiritual community keep showing up with their very human selves.
Many times I need more tools than I had when I graduated. The result has been that when I asked the board to travel together to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to attend a weekend seminar with Martha Creek on Leadership and Healthy Congregations, everyone said yes. They wanted the same education I was getting with Martha. Not one board member objected.
Interviewing My Congregation
I recently sat down with each member of the congregation individually, to interview them one at a time. What I heard reinforced all the education that I have been pursuing post-seminary. They do appreciate all I bring to each Sunday lesson; they notice it and learn from it. They appreciate that I have been willing to explore how to respond to problem situations in the church and that I have talked about that openly.
They appreciate the personal stories that I weave into the lesson that illustrate how to navigate challenging situations more skillfully. They appreciate what I keep learning about the history of the Bible and our “story” in Christianity. One congregant has purchased the same Bart Ehrman series we used in seminary because he really wanted to learn more about the history of the Bible. Wow!
The bottom line is that when congregants ask a question and I say, “I don’t know,” they can sit with all the layers of meaning in that response. It is ok to not know and to just be in the question. The most powerful energy in our spiritual growth is to continually refine our questions. What is true is that I am always at the edge of “unknowing” which is an honest willingness to dance with the mystery of God. Shall we dance?