Gilbert: ‘First 50 years of ministry are the hardest’

The Rev. Dr. Richard S. Gilbert reflected this morning on his 50 years as a Unitarian Universalist minister during the annual “25/50″ worship service at Ministry Days, the conference of the UU Ministers Association that immediately precedes General Assembly. “The first 50 years of ministry are the hardest,” he quipped as he stepped to the podium. Talking about ministerial formation when he entered the ministry, he noted that “there was little quality control when we entered the ministry in 1961. . . . My MFC interview consisted of a conversation in a back pew.”

Reflecting on his long career, Gilbert expressed gratitude for the Universalist and Unitarian traditions that informed his evolving theology. “I rejoice in our rich religious diversity that allows us to learn something.” He also pointed to social justice work as the cornerstone of our faith. “Peace and justice work can never be an extracurricular activity,” he said, urging younger ministers to continue social justice work.

Gilbert, who is minister emeritus of First Unitarian Church of Rochester, N.Y., said that he is grateful for his good health and his family, but found retirement to be a mixed blessing. “What are we worth when we are motionless?” he finds himself pondering now. He concluded, “Being is the endgame in ministry and in life.”

The Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director and senior minister of the UU Legislative Ministry, California, offered her thoughts on 25 years in ministry since her ordination in 1986. “When you get ordained,” she said, “they don’t give you a road map, but they do ask you to be thoughtful about your guides.”

Ramsden has been a guide herself as one of the first out lesbian ministers in our movement. She remembered during some of her first General Assemblies when gay and lesbian ministers would pass notes in order to arrange inconspicuous gatherings when being outed could hamper careers. “Look how far we’ve come!” she told the cheering crowd of ministers. “Look what we have done!”

The opening worship service of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s annual meeting honored ministers celebrating their 25th and 50th years of ordained ministry. Twenty-two ministers were honored for their 25th year of service. Thirteen ministers were honored for their 50 years of service.

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