1974 Starr King Graduate
Kraft is the minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sacramento, California.
I loved the field of psychology. But in the late 1960s, graduate psychology schools seemed hopelessly narrow. Then, out of the blue, two Unitarian Universalist clergy asked if I'd ever considered the ministry. The notion seemed outrageous. I thought of ministers as well-meaning folks in tweed jackets who looked earnestly in your eyes and shook your hand a little too long.
Nevertheless, after studying the Starr King catalog, I decided I wanted the program, even if I was not so sure about the profession. Many Starr King students at that time were there to avoid the draft. So my ambivalence fit the ambiance.
My Starr King years were wonderful, difficult, raw, provocative and empowering. I trained intensively in encounter group facilitation, studied the Old Testament with a Marxist scholar, developed deep friendships with students, took LSD for the first time (outside of school), fell in love with the congregation where I interned, studied Tillich and Rollo May, explored Christian theology with Jesuits, taught a course in humanist psychology, became a trainer for facilitators for the original "About Your Sexuality" curriculum and climbed out on one limb after another. I felt stretched, challenged and enlivened. The school did not form me as much as un-stuck some old childhood patterns and set me on a course I did not understand at the time. I stormed out of Berkeley, angry with my advisor, but grateful for the experience and the connections. I never went to my graduation.
After going into debt to get a degree, I thought I should at least give the ministry a try. I spent two years in a tiny New England congregation. We had speakers like Daniel Ellsberg, the Berrigan brothers and Ram Dass come to my church. I found I had a gift for psychic perception. This eventually led me to meditation training and Buddhist practice.
Then my marriage came apart. I left the church and hitchhiked around the U.S. and Mexico for six months. I returned to New England to start a counseling program for street kids: "community ministry," we'd call it now. After three years, I felt a strong draw to the parish ministry. I know you are supposed to feel "called" to the ministry and then go to seminary. But the power of grace had me ordained before I realized I wanted to be a minister.
My next five years in another New England church were wonderful. I thought if I died as a country preacher, I'd die happy. But I also found that ministry exhausting. I decided I did not have enough talent and interest in institutional maintenance. I left and began a psychotherapy practice.
In the decade that followed, I watched from a distance my former congregation and saw it in a new frame. I began to reexamine my decision to leave the ministry. Gingerly I re-entered the professional ministry as an interim. It felt like coming home. Maybe these congregations were healthier. Maybe I had just grown up a little. But I knew it was a path I'd best not fight any longer.
Both of my boys were in high school at that point and my wife's career was not easily re-located. So it took a few years to find and settle in a church. Five years ago we came to Sacramento. At that time the church had a reputation for being difficult. But I fell in love with them and their potential. It is truly a good match for both the congregation and me. My Buddhist practice and love of dharma made a perfect bridge between the self-identified atheists and those seeking spiritual depth. We are thriving together.
I still work too hard and struggle with the demands of the ministry. But I no longer fight the grace that put me here. I do several intensive meditation retreats a year and will travel to India and sit for two months next year on sabbatical. But I no longer see a separation between my spiritual practice and my professional life. There is mindfulness on the cushion and mindfulness on the run. They enrich and inform each other.
I don't wear tweed jackets and hope I don't shake hands with people a little too long. But I do see the ministry as my life work. I love it.
Grace keeps dragging me toward the light as I kick and scream in protest.
Rob Eller Isaacs
Mary Ann Maggiore
Judith Brown Osgood