I was ordained forty years ago today

I was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament forty years ago today. Over the years I have ruminated on this blog about my ordination. Here are bits of two of my favorites. This first one is from 2009, but I’ve changed the dates as needed:

Martha and meI was ordained to the Christian ministry on this day in 1975 at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church (UCC) in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, by the Metropolitan Boston Association of the United Church of Christ. Dudne Breeze, the pastor, preached the sermon, and a good one it was. Jerry Handspicker, my teacher at Andover Newton Theological School and the associate pastor, offered the ordaining prayer, which asked God to endow me with all manner of things for my ministry, and he seemed in deadly earnest. After forty years I now understand why. Jerry, ironically, also presided at the service of thanksgiving for my ministry when I retired 10 years ago, so he book-ended my three decades of active ministry.

At the ordination we sang “Holy, holy, holy,” and “Be Thou My Vision.” My then girlfriend, now wife, Martha, made me a handsome set of liturgical stoles. Good food was served. There were probably grape leaves.

There were no tongues of fire or other obvious signs and wonders, although the whole event was wondrous to me, and when the clergy laid their hands on me I felt an enormous weight, a feeling about ordination that has never entirely left me.

I got to my first parish in rural Maine and realized soon enough that I didn’t know what I was doing, and that feeling has never entirely left me either. My first congregations (I had two) taught me how to be a minister every bit as much as seminary, and I will always be grateful to them. God blessed me throughout my ministry with wonderful saints of the church who encouraged and sustained me, and put up with me even when I was acting like a damn fool.

Early in my ministry I refused all honoraria, and thereby offended nearly everyone that offered me one. I was shopping for clothes the week before my wedding, and the good Roman Catholic salesman at the haberdashery rang me up with a ten percent clergy discount. I tried to explain all the high-minded reasons I couldn’t accept it and watched his face fall. I called my mentor Fred Robie, the sage of Sanford, who simply said, “My Daddy taught me that when someone gives you something, you say ‘thank you.’” Lesson learned. Would that everything I needed to learn was that simple.

What else did I learn?

  • I learned that a wedding rehearsal is the meeting of two clans, and that at any moment violence might break out.
  • I learned that a pastor needs a tender heart, but a thick skin.
  • I learned that when you are relating to broken people some of their brokenness may get aimed at you. I learned that you aren’t supposed to take this personally, although I invariably did.
  • I learned that the faithful aren’t much impressed by the World Council of Churches’ Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document, especially if you want to move around the furniture in the chancel.
  • I learned that for some folks it’s not the height, depth, or breadth of a sermon that is decisive, but its length.
  • I learned that exercising discipline around baptism involves water, and lots of it is hot.
  • I learned that what I said in the pulpit and what people heard were not necessarily the same.
  • I learned that sometimes peoples lives were moved and even changed by what they heard even when it wasn’t what I said.
  • I learned to love some difficult people.
  • I learned that around pledging time Chicken Little competes with Jesus Christ as head of the church.
  • I learned that we clergy preach salvation by grace to the people, but act as if it were by works for us.
  • I learned that it is a high privilege to spend time with dying people.
  • I learned that struggling with a text all week, and then breaking it open for the congregation on Sunday sometimes felt like the best job in the world. And sometimes it didn’t.
  • I learned that God is good all the time.

Like everyone else I had my good days and my bad days. And like any moderately self-aware person who prays I know my failings better than anyone except God (and perhaps Martha). But I learned it really is all about grace. I am proud (in a good way) to have been a minister.

This second one is excerpted from a post in 2009:

StepsBeing a minister of the church is a living conundrum, as Karl Barth describes it so well in his section on “the Task of Ministry”: “As ministers we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison’ (The Word of God and the Word of Man, p. 186).

Where prose fails to capture this paradox poetry frequently does better.

I have often turned to the poetry of my friend Arnold Kenseth, who died in 2003, especially the collection of poems he entitled  Reflections of an Unprofitable Servant. Here’s one of my favorites:


I was anointed. A fire. Yes, I tell you.
An adazzle. His rare thump numbed me, awed
Me down to size and up to Him. Prayed, pawed
By the laying on of hands, myself anew
And aloft; I became lion to roar Him,
Eagle to lift Him, donkey to bear Him. I,
In that sunburst, languaged with seraphim,
Promised myself to be (Ha!) His emissary.
I did not, friends, manage much. True, I found
Fluency, but not roar. I have been sparrow;
And though jackass as most, I could not be least
Even for Him.
He was scarlet and vast
And radiant and restful. He sang such sound
I heard the earth unloose itself from sorrow.

(Arnold Kenseth, Seasons and Sceneries, Windhover Press, 2002)

“Retirement, Aging, Loss and Change” My Interview on WSBS’s Religious Roundtable


Tune in to WSBS radio tomorrow morning, September 13 at 8:30, and listen to my interview on “Retirement, Aging, Loss and Change.” The Reverend John Wightman, a retired United Church of Christ minister, interviews me on behalf of the Religious Roundtable, a weekly Sunday morning radio show hosted by the Southern Berkshire Clergy Association.

John and I have a good discussion about the resources of faith in times of loss and change, including aging, illness and retirement.

Can’t get up that early or have choir practice? You can download the podcast of the interview here.



“The God of the Far Off” Toward the Ministry of Inclusion

Prodigal sonWhat an extraordinary week this has been for our country! The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth liked to admonish the church that it must read both the Bible and the newspaper, because we Christians live in the world.

And what a week of news it was! There were two historic Supreme Court decisions that will change our national life in significant, and in my opinion, profoundly positive, ways.

On Thursday, by a 6-3 decision, the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, which makes health care available to all Americans.

And on Friday, by a 5-4 decision, Marriage Equality became the law of the land.

The reason I am here before you instead of our pastor Brent Damrow is that he is in Cleveland at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, representing the Massachusetts Conference. I am sure he will have stories to tell about the celebrations taking place there, as our national church has been a long and tireless advocate for equal rights for the LGBT community and a supporter  of marriage equality.

I believe that these two historic Supreme Court decisions share a common idea, and that is the idea of “inclusion.”

And a third extraordinary event in our national life also happened on Friday. President Obama climbed into the bully pulpit in Charleston, South Carolina to give the eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Emmanuel AME Church who, along with eight of his congregants, was murdered by a gunman while attending a Bible study at the church on June 17.

President Obama gave a stirring eulogy for Pastor Pinkney, but he was addressing not only those present, but also the nation. I’d like to share with you some excerpts of his eulogy:

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston . . . .the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he (the alleged murderer) failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace . . .

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace . . .

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

Martha and I were driving to Onota Lake in Pittsfield for a walk on Friday when the President’s eulogy came on the radio. We got to the parking lot at the boat ramp, but we didn’t get out of the car. We sat in the car until it was over, and when it was over I had tears streaming from my eyes.

The President was addressing the painful facts of racial relations in today’s America. He mentioned that in response to the massacre at the church the Confederate flag had been taken down in the South Carolina capitol and elsewhere. That flag, he said, was a symbol of our nation’s “original sin,” slavery.

The president had both the Bible and the newspaper in mind as he gave this incandescent speech. I don’t know of such a theologically astute presidential address since Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural.

And once again I would argue that inclusion is the big idea that binds all these events together. Inclusion.

I believe in the power of ideas to shape societies, and, as my teacher, mentor and friend, Max Stackhouse taught me, to examine where they come from and what they mean. So I want to do a little bit of that with you today about the idea of inclusion. Continue reading

“Praying from the depths”

Out of the depths“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” — Psalm 130: 1

In the prayer book I grew up with each Psalm had a Latin title, which was always the first line of that Psalm. The only one that I distinctly recall was “De Profundis,” the Latin title of Psalm 130, which begins, “Out of the depths.”

I’m not sure what it was about that title that was so intriguing to me. Perhaps it reminded me of the English word “profound.” I know now that “profound” is derived from the Latin “profundus” which means literally “at the bottom.”

As I have lived out my life through the decades there have been some difficult, even desperate, times when I have cried out to God from somewhere pretty close to the bottom. We have phrases that describe such times. We say someone has “hit bottom” or is “bottoming out.”

But it is not only in these desperate times that we can pray from the depths. We can always pray from the very deepest part of our selves, from the very “bottom of our hearts.” Sometimes we are able to find the words, other times our silent prayers are, as Paul described them, “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Either way, our God, who is Lord of the depths as well as the heights, hears our prayers.


O God, your love fills the world, help us to fathom the depth of the love you have for us in Jesus Christ.

(This is my Daily Devotional for June 11, 2015. To see the original go here. To subscribe (for free) to this daily e-mail service go here.)

“Taking the Long View” Reflections of a Retired Pastor

Presiding(This is a talk I gave to “The Saints” which is the United Church of Christ retired clergy group in the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. The talk was in Cromwell, CT on May 14, 2015)

I’d like to thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I have great respect for ministry as a high and holy calling, and I enjoy the company of ministers. I am proud to be a minister, and this year is the 40th anniversary of my ordination. And it is good to be in the Connecticut Conference. I never served here, but my daughter, Rebecca Floyd Marshall, is an ordained minister here in CT, serving in Westport. If you bump into her at a Conference meeting introduce yourself.

My talk today is entitled “Taking the Long View” which was the title of a UCC STILL SPEAKING Daily Devotional I wrote for March 14 of last year. I see it was re-printed in your newsletter. I’m going to share with you some of my personal back-story behind the writing of this particular devotional.

I began the devotional with an anecdote about Ralph, a congregant of mine in my first church, who owned an apple orchard: “I drove over to see Ralph at his hilltop orchard a week after I had presided over his wife’s funeral and burial. He was well into his nineties and they had been married for seven decades. I was all of twenty-seven. It took me awhile to find him, because he was out planting apple trees. He seemed glad to see me and said, “You may wonder why I am planting trees that I will never live to see bear fruit. But it’s what I have always done, and I am not going to stop now. There were apple trees in this orchard when I came here that somebody else had planted, and there will be apple trees here after I’m gone.”

I’ve held onto Ralph’s words for forty years, and lately they have helped me as I think about what it means to be a retired minister. That hasn’t been easy for me. Because when I left my role as a pastor it seemed, at first, and for a long while, like the loss of my calling as a minister. Now I have come to realize that, although I am no longer a pastor of a congregation, I am still a minister. When I turned 65 the UCC Pension Boards mailed me a good little book by Paul Clayton entitled Called for Life (Perhaps you all got one, too). I love the play on words in the title, and I do believe we are “called for life” in both senses of the phrase.  Continue reading

Rick’s salade niçoise


As the weather warms up it’s time for a hearty dinner salad. Some friends of ours served us a lovely salade niçoise a few weeks ago and then last week I was at a bistro in Boston and one of my dining companions ordered a good-looking one. It seemed as if it was calling to me to make it since it has been a long time, and I knew I had some nice cooked French beans and some cooked Yukon gold potatoes leftover from a supper a couple of days ago. So the only thing I actually had to cook were the hard-boiled eggs. There are nearly endless variations of this. Here’s mine:

The Ingredients

A few leaves of washed lettuce or other greens (I used Romaine since I had some)

1 can of good quality oil-packed tuna, drained

Some cooked small potatoes such as Yukon Gold sliced.

About 8 good quality canned anchovy fillets, rinsed and drained

½ cup good black olives, such as (duh) niçoise, or kalamata

8 oz. cooked French beans (haricot verts) or green beans

4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Thinly sliced red onion (or scallions)

Coarsely chopped good fresh tomatoes or cherry tomatoes halved

Capers and fresh herbs (parley, basil or tarragon are nice) for garnish

Some sliced radishes for color (I didn’t have any)

The Vinaigrette

4 TBS red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil (French evoo is nice if you can find it and afford it)

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced

½ TBS Dijon mustard

¼ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 TBS finely chopped parley

Putting it together

Whisk the dressing ingredients and put it aside. Assemble the salad on a platter starting with the greens, the tuna, the potatoes, the beans, the egg slices, the onion, the tomatoes, the anchovies, the capers and herbs. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, a few turns of the pepper mill, and serve.

It’s a meal on a plate. Get yourself some good bread, some Provençal rosé and “Robert est votre oncle!”

(Photo: © R. L. Floyd, 2015) If you see an ad here it is WordPress doing their mercantile thing, over which I have no control. This has always been, and will continue to be, a non-commercial site.

“God’s Good Pleasure”

Cherry blosoms

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”— Philippians 2:12-13

This passage reminds me of those jokes in which someone asks, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”

I’m inclined by temperament to want the bad news at once, so the bad news from Paul comes first: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Uh oh! This sounds to me like a counsel of despair, for who among us has the power to save ourselves? Is this the ultimate bad self-help advice? And that “fear and trembling” part is scary.

So what’s the good news? The good news is that Paul knows this salvation process is a collaboration with God “who is at work in you.”

That’s sounds much better, because only with God at work in us can we ever choose and accomplish the things that please God.

And what pleases God? Today’s passage follows directly after a beautiful hymn that describes how Jesus, in humble obedience to God, emptied himself of privilege and power to become a servant. Apparently that is the sort of thing that contributes to God’s “good pleasure.”

Prayer: O Jesus, before your name every knee should bend on heaven and earth, help us day by day to follow in your way, that both our will and our works may please God.

(This is my Daily Devotional for April 27, 2015. To subscribe to the UCC STILLSPEAKING Daily Devotional go to:http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/

(Photo: R. L. Floyd, 2015)