Words to the United Church, Foggy Bottom

On Sunday, April 14, 2013, the United Church, Washington, D.C., celebrated the installation of the Rev. William Federici as senior pastor.  The following was offered as the “Charge to the Congregation.”

When I think of Bill, I think of Brooklyn.  Bill and I were in seminary together.  As a nice Southern boy from N.C., I wasn’t sure what to make of Bill.  He scared me, mostly.  There was a joy in life, an exuberance, and a laughter that came from absolute passion.  There was little filtering or editing.  And how he did he make me laugh!

As time went on, we shared some friends and our closest friends overlapped.  We would talk here and there, but I know I had my guard up, so I was never listening so much as trying to make an impression.  At one point, I was more confused than usual. Relationships were failing.  Classes were incredibly difficult.  The church I was working in as a student brought challenges.  There was no fun, there was no money, and there was very little (for me) in the way of a clear direction.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or be.  And I wasn’t even sure God really cared that much.

Bill suggested we go have dinner in Brooklyn.  I had never been to Brooklyn.  So we as we drove, I got a tour.  We ended up eating in Brooklyn Heights and after dinner we walked down the Promenade, with its amazing views over the East River.  And we talked and laughed.  Several times I laughed so hard that I cried.  Before going back to Princeton, Bill needed to check by his parents’ house and I met the Federicis.  As Mrs. Federici showed me her dogwood tree in the back yard, I told her the old folktale about the dogwood being the tree on which Christ was crucified, and thus, the dogwood still bears a wound on each petal and a crown of thorns in the center.  His mother cried and said “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

I can’t put my finger on when that night it happened, but I can tell you that by the next day, I knew I had somehow been healed of my funk and confusion.  My depression had lifted, my sadness, all gone.  I was no clearer about what the future might bring, but I was clearer about something else—I was beginning to be clear about myself, about who I was, and who I was becoming.  And that happened because Bill took me to Brooklyn.

To say that Bill “took me to Brooklyn” is to say that he shared himself with me, his best, most honest, deepest, most wounded, most rooted, self.  Because Bill LIVED, and shared that sense of life with me, I knew I had a lot of life in me, too, and I was just getting started.

Walt Whitman names a little of what Bill conveyed when he writes,

I too lived—Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon me.
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution;
I too had receiv’d identity by my Body;
That I was, I knew was of my body—and what I should be, I knew I should be of my body.  (“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Walt Whitman).

Friends, whenever Bill invites you, be sure to “go to Brooklyn.” By “going to Brooklyn,” I mean to encourage you to allow Bill to be present for you and get to know him as your pastor and friend.  Bill will “invite you to Brooklyn” as he invites you to himself and to his understanding of God. Like I was, you might be a little scared at first.  Maybe he takes a different route or drives too fast or insists on making stops you might not have planned.  But I promise you, the trip will be worth it.  You’ll definitely see God.  And you also might even see a new version of yourself.

God’s deepest blessings to you, Bill, and to the United Church, as you move forward in ministry, love, and life.

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