Special Guest Post
My Path to Ministerial Fellowship
Pam Sharrah Rumancik*
Looking back there have been many turning points in my life. One in particular occurred in 1991 when I was watching a PBS music program called Church Street Station. I was thrilled to discover a fresh and original genre of music. The group called ‘Strength in Numbers’ was playing acoustic music that had bluegrass roots expanded in innovative and exciting directions. I was mesmerized. Falling in love with that music began a brand new chapter in my life; we started camping, attending bluegrass festivals, arranging vacations to Colorado and ultimately buying a café in Estes Park, Colorado. Picking up and moving the family 1500 miles across country could be traced back to an evening watching television at the house in which I had planned on growing old.
Stretch a little more and that evening might just be the first solid step in the direction which ultimately led to my application for ministerial fellowship. In the four years that my husband and I ran the Mountain Home Café I learned more about myself than I had known in the previous 33 years together. I discovered unimagined strengths and internal resources. I also reached previously unknown depths of despair. I felt abandoned by the God that I had been so faithful to in my Catholic upbringing and it was out of those depths that a new, life-affirming relationship with Divine Mystery emerged. I learned how limited and limiting my old faith life had been. On a cold winter’s afternoon while asking God through my tears why He wouldn’t give me what I wanted – I’d done everything a good Catholic woman was supposed to do! – I got a distinct answer I wasn’t expecting. “Why don’t you want what I’ve given?” The words were so palpable they hung in the air and my despair was replaced by a complete change in paradigm. A love, so deep and powerful it took my breath away, poured over and through me. I had love, I had family, I had a home and children who were healthy – why wasn’t I appreciative of all those gifts?
That day in Estes Park was an enormous turning point in my life. I began trying to reconcile this wonderful new awareness of Spirit with the teaching of my childhood church. I worked hard at it for a few years reading everything I could, first in the Christian tradition then in other traditions, looking for similar experiences of communion with the divine. I finally had to surrender my comfortable home in the Roman Catholic Church when I realized that the defining characteristic of my experience was being loved completely and unconditionally. I didn’t have to do anything to earn that love. Any judgment I felt came from my own mind, not from That Which Is. The presence I experienced would never demand a life sacrificed for others’ sins or condemn anyone to a place of eternal punishment. It was inconceivable. There were still many truths to be found there but I came to borrow a sentiment I heard attributed to Gandhi “I like your Christ but not your Christianity.”
I smile when I look back upon the books that were recommended, the people I met, and the connections I made at just the right moment. In retrospect it seems like a perfectly laid out path, with lighted signposts and flashing neon lights. How could I have gone any other way? At times it felt like struggling in the dark – yet I always got an answer when I needed it. Upon reflection I could usually uncover the lesson that had been offered, often with a little help from one of my teachers. I studied with Sufis for a while and was initiated into the Sufi Rahanyat under Sheik Wyrick Firdousi in August of 2001. I was thrilled to meet so many people who knew and understood Divine Mystery the same way I did. In attending Sufi workshops I was exposed to Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Islamic thought among many others. Each of the Sufi teachers had a tradition that they were stronger in and I loved the way all the traditions converged on common ground.
The jump from Sufism to Unitarian Universalism is not really a jump at all -it’s actually more of an overlap. I still cherish my participation in Zikr with my Columbus Sufi circle and my practice of wazifa – the repetition of sacred names of Allah in meditation. I treasure my connection with a community so in love with Love. Being a Sufi has a counter-cultural aspect to it that almost seems to manifest an ‘us / them’ mentality. There isn’t judgment, just the idea that the much of the world isn’t ready to live into the concept that there is only One. I want to be able to take my spirituality with me in every part of my daily life, not just have it as a weekend or vacation event. So here I am at the UU door. I love the way people of vastly different perspectives can come together to worship in respect and unity. I love that atheists and theists can co-exist in harmony; that the inherent worth and dignity of every being is affirmed. It is such a lovely model for the forward progress of the planet.
Taking the step from Unitarian Universalist church member to ministerial fellowship applicant feels more like organic growth than rational decision. It is something which has always been there in some part of my being and is just now coming to fruition. I want to carry awareness of spirit with me into all aspects of life. I know there are other options but this is the one my heart calls me to. Living the life of a monk in total renunciation is fully spiritual but being removed from the reality of daily life would mean losing many valuable lessons that can only be learned therein. I could continue my life as a Home Depot associate, interacting with one person at a time over the sale of blinds and carpet, but I feel strongly called to have all aspects of my life immersed in spiritual discovery. I believe each person I interact with can offer a valuable lesson if I am open to what the Universe is sending. Being in a position to interrelate on a spiritual level with many people each and every day will surely offer myriad ways to grow in knowledge, wisdom and understanding.
My greatest aspiration is to be fully human and fully present with each person and in every encounter. The bottom line answer to why I’m applying for fellowship is that my heart has called me to this path. The experiences of my life have proven it a good and trustworthy counselor. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
*Pam Sharrah Rumancik is my eldest sibling and the first Guest Poster (by my request!) on this site. I am very proud to be her little brother.