A few weeks ago, when I was in the thick of writing a guest sermon on happiness, I blogged about the ministry and why that profession landed at the top of Forbes magazine‘s list of “10 Happiest Jobs.”
Since then, I’ve had my own moment in the pulpit. Guess what? It made me very happy! Actually, that brief hour leading a service for the Montpelier Unitarian Church continues to make me happy, as fellow church members not only offer me generous compliments but also seek to engage me in further conversation on happiness. Their interest indicates that I must have done a pretty good job, but you don’t have to take my word for it: you can listen to the sermon yourself, if you like.
Of course, I am not a minister and one morning as a guest speaker does not a career make; my minister sister Kathy invested many (many!) years of studying and internships before she was ordained. But I do think there were aspects of my experience consistent with what makes my ministerial friends happy with their jobs. Two things stand out: the need to be creative, and the opportunity to deliver a message worthy of people’s time and attention on a Sunday morning.
Creativity: Writing the sermon was undeniably creative (also undeniably work!). Crafting a message that connected climate change and personal happiness, and presenting it in sermon form (20 minutes long, meant to be read aloud, rich with meaning but not too complex, with an awareness of how certain words and passages might make people in the congregation feel) was challenging for me. I wrote and re-wrote and practiced and re-wrote and practiced again. Often I was in the flow, an excellent place to experience happiness — but just as often I had to draw on what creativity expert Roger van Oech terms “the warrior.” The warrior, he posits, is the archetype all creators need to embody to slog through the tough spots and actually finish a creative project.
Of course, not all the creating was arduous. Selecting the quote for the Order of Service, and choosing two readings was like a great walk in the woods of wonderful thinkers. The most fun creative element, though, was asking the Montpelier Ukulele Players to play the prelude, postlude, and special music. This is the group my husband Bob plays with, and I put in the request through him. At first, he told me there might be eight musicians. On Friday before the service, Bob said he thought maybe 12 would show up.
Turns out, there were 16 ukulele players on the chancel that day! I am telling you, those ukulele players spread quite a bit of happiness, especially with the postlude — “Keep On The Sunny Side” — which had the congregation singing and clapping along. So, yay for creativity!
A Worthwhile Message: The main driving force for me in my happiness work is the looming threat of climate change, and my belief that understanding and cultivating personal happiness and systemic well being (ie, a Gross National Happiness paradigm) is a positive way to both limit the extent of environmental devastation and help us cope with unavoidable tragedy. So it was pretty clear to me from the get go what direction my sermon would take.
It may seem counter-intuitive to focus a happiness talk on climate change, which can be a seriously depressing topic. Truthfully, I felt a little bad when I finally stepped to the pulpit, after the ukulele music and a rousing choir anthem had the congregation laughing and clearly in an upbeat mood. I thought, wow, they are not going to expect the direction this sermon will take! But I had faith in the worth of my message, so I was surprisingly calm as I plunged in. By the end, I think the congregation was once again feeling hopeful and upbeat, thanks to the power of happiness research.
Some of the climate change information I cited in the sermon came from a January 2012 report from in the New York Times. I’ve found an update in the paper re one of the items I had cited (extreme heat in Australia). Here’s an excerpt: “But the report from the Climate Commission, titled ‘The Angry Summer,’ argues that the frequency and ferocity of recent extreme weather events indicate an acceleration that is unlikely to abate unless serious steps are taken to prevent further changes to the planet’s environment.”
Sadly, it doesn’t seem as though my sermon topic will become irrelevant any time soon. So I’ll be hitting the road, sharing this same basic message with Unitarian Universalist congregations in Barre, Vermont on April 7th and Hartland, Vermont on April 14th. Maybe I can even go to my sister Kathy’s church in Philadelphia!