Category Archives: Ministerial practice

Another option for a minister’s loose-leaf services book


I can't believe I'm suggesting this.

Some time in seminary (now many years ago) a seasoned minister advised me to “start getting my ‘book’ together” — by which he meant services for weddings and funerals. And uniformly in a half-letter-sized (5.5 by 8.5 inches) three ring binder. It was covered in black vinyl, which was utilitarian. if not interesting to look at.

I had used identical binders as a kid — we’re talking the early 80s now — for my stamp collecting, but at least they came in different colors! Around 2000, these black ones were all that I could find, and even these became scarce — they do wear out — so I bought a couple in case they vanished completely. But then they returned, even in colors, but in an over-designed way that made them better for a commercial office but ugly for worship.


Well, lo-and-behold if the new Martha Stewart line of home office binders doesn’t fit the bill, including this very nice one in pebbled brown paper. At Staples, $7. Made by Avery, who also make the commercial ones. Indeed, the locking-rings mechanism is identical, so all the now-available tabs, paper and binder whatsits will also fit.

Unfellowshipped ministers in Unitarian Universalist congregations

There no reason (anymore, from a Universalist perspective) that a minister without ministerial fellowship in the UUA can’t serve a UU congregation. There are some denominational oddments around inclusions in directories — unimportant to the living — so I have to think the reason to note such in our once-print, now-online directory is to note who’s not in the guild. (The auslander clergy were marked with a # — alas, not in scarlet ink.)

Noodling around the online directory and the General Assembly certification numbers to re-set the UUA geographic epicenter — to come — I discovered the notation lives, and thanks to a customized Google search can see the list all in one place. More than I would have guessed, too. The term “Non UU” may not be quite fair — some of these ministers must surely be members of the churches they serve. Some are in federated and multi-denominational parishes; others are in out-of-the-way areas. But not all. Many emerited. An interesting mix.

See them here.

Dopp bag for communion

Last month, I wrote “In place of cheap church gear” and now let me suggest you use an old Dopp bag (or Dopp kit, or shaving kit) to keep your portable communion kit. The kit itself can be assembled from Nalgene-type bottles for the bread and wine. The other vessels (and linens and candles, if any) would depend upon your tradition. (I will have one suggestion for the free churches later.) A Dopp bag can carry all of these plus a small service book, orders of service or both.

Why? Because they’re a handy size, “read” as a case, and are easy to come by –indeed, you may have one or have one given to you.  I own three, including a grandfather’s leather kit which — apart from the sentimental value — has the added feature of being firm-sided to protect the contents. Dividers, sewn from sturdy cloth, or fashioned out of foam rubber would keep the individual pieces from jangling if there aren’t linens enough to meet this need.

Don’t serve communion? Consider a Dopp kit for storing and carrying the candles and bobeshes (protectors) for a candlelight vigil or Christmas eve service.


Pastoral development: “Five Hours with Raja”

It makes a very difficult viewing — it took me three times to finish watching this over the air — but this documentary is worth watching and I recommend it especially for ministers and seminarians.

“Five Hours with Raja” is the story of a child born with am incurable and fatal condition; the preparations made for the tiny sliver of time his family had with him;, and the follow-on (particularly by his mother) who helping others surviving the same situation.

See a background page and watch the documentary online at Aljazeera English.

In memoriam: Mary and Wells Behee

Some very sad news this week in the death of Wells and Mary Behee, lifelong Universalists and church servants. I never met them, but knew much about them from Derek Parker, a friend and ministerial colleague (and successor) to the couple. I asked him to share his remembrances — lest this long-serving couple’s contribution be forgotten — and he’s graciously agreed.

Mary grew up in the Universalist Church of Lynn, Massachusetts.  She was the daughter of a long standing Universalist family in that community.  Following World War II she enrolled at Saint Lawrence College, to study religious education with Angus MacLean.  It was in theological school that she met Wells.

Wells grew up in Medina, New York.  His family attended the First Universalist Church of Middleport, New York.  During World War II, Wells served in the Navy.  His military service included both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of combat, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.  Later in life Wells would frequently comment that the only thing which kept his sanity at Iwo Jima were his repeated praying of the Washington Avowal of Faith.  Following World War II, the First Universalist Church of Middleport sponsored Wells to study for the ministry at Saint Lawrence College.

Mary and Wells served together in ministry.  While Mary was never ordained, she was sometimes licensed to preach.  This was a ministry she seldom exercised, preferring to work with young people in classroom settings.  Together they served the Universalist Church, Dexter, New York; the Universalist Church, Woodstock, Ohio; the Universalist Church, Eldorado, Ohio; and the First Universalist Church, New Madison, Ohio.  Aside from her work in Universalist religious education, Mary also worked as an elementary school teacher in different rural Ohio school systems.  Wells also enjoyed an additional career as a high school instructor of public speaking, Shakespeare and English composition.

Both Wells and Mary were gadfly critics about the Unitarian and Universalist merger.  While their opinions were sometimes abrasive to colleagues, the core of their criticism rested on three points:

  1. That post-merger redefinitions of Universalist theology and traditions were not faithful to the evolving traditions and spirit of Universalism,
  2. The post-merger closure of Universalist institutions like the Jordan School, and the theological schools at Tufts and Saint Lawrence.  Mary and Wells were of the opinion that the Tufts and Saint Lawrence theological schools should have merged.
  3. They expressed concerns about the lack of support for rural churches, and about the post-merger preparation of ministers to do relevant liberal ministry in rural settings.

In retirement Mary became involved in causes related to the humane treatment of dogs.  Wells also dedicated himself to a late life ministry of advocacy on behalf of combat veterans.  Following the beginning of the Iraq War, he would volunteer his time to provide a pastoral ear to young combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  He would also preach on issues related to the extreme psychological cost combat service takes on armed service members.  One of his sermons, “War Never Ends,” was given to a Dayton, Ohio gathering of the American Friends Service Committee.

In retirement Mary and Wells also nurtured the religious vocations of a number of Earlham School of Religion students with Unitarian Universalist, Quaker and Brethren backgrounds.  The mentoring was not always requested, and sometimes made friendships difficult.  But the offer to buy seminarians dress shoes were real and sincere.

Noted advice to seminarians included:

  • “When you are preaching in many churches,  your feet are at eye level with the congregation.  Invest in professional looking shoes.  Anything else is a distraction to the congregation.”
  • “A good sermon is like a good play.  It has a beginning, middle, climax, and an end.   If you give people anything less than this, it is like giving somebody a hot dog, no bun, and a cheese danish; and then calling it a balanced meal.”
  • “Let me show you how to preach without a microphone and amplification.  Seminaries don’t teach that any more.  But how do you think we preached in those big buildings after World War II.  Without a microphone!  If the power goes out, or the sound system blows a fuse, you will need to know this.”

Mary Behee died Tuesday, December 13, 2011 from an automobile accident on a rural Ohio county road.  Her husband, the Rev. Wells Behee, was a passenger and sustained less serious injuries.  He died in his sleep at Heartland Eldercare of Eaton, Ohio on Thursday, December 15, 2011.  Mary was 85 and Wells was 86.

At their own instruction, Wells and Mary chose for the cremation of their remains.  The family will hold a private internment of Wells’s ashes in his boyhood town of Medina, New York.  Mary’s ashes will be scattered on coastal Cape Cod.  A public memorial gathering is tentatively scheduled for summer of 2012, in rural western Ohio. Wells and Mary are survived by their children Kris, Cathy, Carol and Emerson and a number of grandchildren.

  • Wells’s website, including sermons and the page of the New Madison church.
  • In place of cheap church gear

    Hubby and I wandered into a well-known church supply house on Saturday.  I was struck by how shabby so much of the gear and books looked. Were the 1980s and 1990s the high mark for church design?  Must everything come in plastic.

    Consider the home communion set made of a plastic clamshell box (which will surely wear badly), containing the kind of plastic bottle one would carry shampoo while travelling in (for the wine), another thin plastic tub containing thin plastic cups, and a tiny spun aluminum vessel with a tight fitting lid — serving as something between a pxy and a ciborium — for the wafers. The price for this disaster? $80.  It was neither large enough to be useful not small enough to be tucked into a handbag or laptop case. Of course, there are also fine church artisans, but it’s hard to justify so much a premium on goods when church budgets are under such pressure. And frankly, do we need another generation of neo-Gothic, neo-Byzantine or neo-Colonial whatsits?

    I’ve written before about how church goods should be fairly sourced, and how secular goods can be repurposed for church use.  For the next little bit I will consider alternatives of the economical parson who wants well-made and tasteful equipment. And I’d like your help if you have ideas.

    On misconducting ministers

    I’d like to say the path to confronting misconducting ministers — whether that misconduct is sexual, financial or otherwise — was direct. Indeed, the unspoken lesson, after sundry scandals (great and banal) has been:

    1. Powerful or well-connected ministers can do what they want.
    2. If you stay in print, this is doubly true.
    3. Accusers (I’m thinking of ministers here) will end up suspect.
    4. Libertines will come out of the woodwork of offer defenses.
    5. The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association guidelines enable this process by quieting discussion and disabling accusation.

    Unitarian Universalist minister and blogger Dan Harper reviewed a book about the late minister of All Souls Church, New York, Forrest Church, and focused on how his misconduct was treated therein. Indeed, since it was in the press — an example from the New York Times in 1991 — his case was one of the few cases that (formerly) young ministers could mention in mixed company without fear of reproach. I’m glad someone’s talking about it, but I’m jaded that anything will really change (short of generations changing) and it’s certainly colored my view of how the ministerial guild works. (I am, by choice and intention, not a member of the UUMA.)

    But go read the carefully written post Dan wrote.

    Pastors: here’s a good binder for your service book

    Starting as early as seminary, I’ve known free church ministers (including and particularly Unitarian Universalists) to put together their pastoral services book — services, readings and the like — for weddings, funerals and other occasional services. Baptism and communion would go here, too.

    But what about the actual binding? Almost all I’ve seen are loose-leaf, thus calling for a binder. I can’t recall if I’ve used anything but 8½ by 5½ inch binders, and all but one of those (inherited, made of pebble-textured card) have been covered in vinyl. But I found one, Russell+Hazel mini binder: three-rings and covered in something like buckram, like clothbound books. Effective, but not the most attractive upon close examination. Not terribly expensive ($16), made in the U.S.A. and its plastic content seems to be restricted to a protective film.

    This is the one I found today, at the Container Store.