An entire new world opened up for me after I turned 50. A pink-collar worker with top typing skill (no computers yet in those years) I had worked in offices till becoming a wife/mother, took a ten-year break to stay home till all four kids were in school, then became a clerical worker on the staff of North Dakota State University. That was the 1970’s–as a member of campus staff, I was entitled to free tuition for one course each quarter, and I took advantage of that, building up credits toward a Bachelor’s degree.
Graduated NDSU in 1982, took the GRE, passed on the strength of language skills (math? don’t ask) and applied to enter seminary. The feminist movement was the source of this ambition–I had become state coordinator for the National Organization for Women, wanted and needed a career instead of a job, and had come to believe I deserved it. Fall of 1982 I entered the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, and during my three-year tenure there I turned 50. Graduated with the class award for biblical scholarship, purchased a black ministerial robe, and became a probationary member of the ND United Methodist Church, appointed to serve three small churches in rural ND. TADA!!!
Twelve Step Groups
Soon after divorce in 1978 I joined Al-Anon, the 12-step group for codependents of alcoholics and addicts. My father was a heavy drinker and although I did not realize how that had impacted my life, I knew that my children were using alcohol and drugs as escape from their problems. Education about these developments came my way when I attended “family week” at the ND State Hospital Chemical Dependency ward. Thirty-seven years later I am deeply involved in recovery groups:
- Sponsor of Alateen (for children of dysfunctional families)
- Facilitator of ACoA (for adults who grew up in dysfunctional families)
- Group Representative for Al-Anon weekly meeting
- Speaker for AA-Al-Anon regional gatherings
- Consultant for the public in information about local 12-step groups
- Member of the UUA Addiction Ministry Team
- Chair of Coalition for a Compassionate Community
Because the original twelve steps are based on traditional Christian theology there is no easy interface with Unitarian Universalism, which is open to people “of all faiths or none.” But the authors of the AA program provided a door labeled “God as you understand God,” and I walked through that door into the freedom of UUism. I have come to believe that is the safest, surest, and most effective path to recovery from the ravages of alcoholism, addiction, and other mental health afflictions. Years of involvement with others who walked this way have enriched my life beyond measure—recovery brings “the priceless gift of serenity.” The presence of the Higher Power is the aura of optimism and gratitude that fills the air of 12-step meetings.
Me and the UUs
Why would a devoted, liberal Christian after serving as a United Methodist minister for 20 years take honorable retirement, and then make a sharp Left turn and work her butt off to earn new credentials as a UU? Is she looking to marry someone of the same gender? (UMC does not allow that) Is she Black and suddenly sick of working in all-white environments? (can’t be that, as the UUA is just as white as the UMC). Maybe she was actually always UU at heart? Aha! It’s possible to love Jesus above all other prophets and also hate the evangelical theology of UMC’s “Good News” caucus.
Unitarian Universalists are predominantly liberal in every area, politics and lifestyle as well as theology. As a member of the Dakotas Conference of the UMC, I served on the Board of Ordained Ministry for 12 years, examining and passing judgment on candidates for careers in ministry. I choked when voting in favor of women and men who swore to the infallibility of the Bible (a logical and historical impossibility) and agreed to exclude any deviation from sexual and gender conformity (injustice arising from ignorance).
Watching the news, I saw Unitarians in the forefront of social justice, defending equal rights, freedom of conscience, marriage equality, and all minority groups—even as UMC dissenters were disbarred for performing same-sex marriages. Over morning coffee, this became a no-brainer, making the prospect of retirement a door into freedom. For ten years I had been speaking in UU churches as a visiting UMC, experiencing their exciting fellowship, inspiring principles, and enlightened language. Began the change at Dakotas Conference of UMC in 2002.
Next stop – UUA Regional Ministerial Committee, Chicago in 2003; General Assembly, Fort Lauderdale in 2003, Probationary Membership; UUA Ministerial Fellowship Committee, Chicago in 2009; General Assembly, Minneapolis in 2010, Final Fellowship. First day of the rest of my life. UUs disagree on all kinds of questions, personal, philosophical, and political. But we very seldom walk away from each other having failed to give and receive love and respect, and to tell our own authentic truth without fear. Well worth seven years of study, this is the pearl of great price.