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Rites of Passage: Skills


One of the unique rolls that ministers hold is being present with, and presiding at, important rites of passage in our lives. Those range from birth to death, and the important events in-between. On this page you'll find a few examples, from the very personal to the very contemporary. Mostly you'll find links, so you don't have to scroll through everything to get to the next thing.


One of the great joys of ministry is to be with couples as they are getting married. Whenever I prepare for a wedding I ask the couples to complete a Prepare-Enrich assessment so we can talk at greater length about the commitments they are undertaking, and how we can best help them have the conversations they need to have to lay the foundation for a long and happy marriage. Here you'll find a copy of a wedding I did for Mary & Joe, who were getting married later in life after previous marriages that had ended. They're the beautiful couple at the top of the page. 


Even today, as more and more weddings are performed by friends and family, babies are born and raised without a particular community, memorials services continue to be a reason people turn to faith leaders, even when they themselves are not part of a church. It's often the first introduction to Unitarian Universalism a person has, attending a memorial service in our churches. Here you can find an example of a memorial service I did for one of our members (names redacted) a few years ago. 


Even in the midst of the pandemic, babies were born, children were dedicated, and our members keep showing up for one another. Here's a backyard baby dedication from last fall, when we were so far away from being able to dedicate children in service, with commitments from not only their parents, but the gathered community.

Rites of Passage: Welcome


First of all, thank you all for being here. It’s a real joy for our entire family to have the people who have been a part of my dad’s life in so many ways and over so many years with us on this day when we celebrate his life and mourn his loss. He asked my sister and I speak on this occasion. Actually, he asked me to lead the service, and I rather more pointedly than I intended told him that he had his own minister, and I’d rather be his son. So, thank you Jonalu. And as his son I hope you’ll indulge me rather more time this afternoon than maybe even I intended. But I’m a minister, and there is much to be said, and I just couldn’t figure out how to make it smaller. 

Ever since he died last month people in my life who had only met him in passing, or never met him at all, have been asking me about him. Asking me what kind of a man he was. And I never quite know exactly how to answer that question, because one of the things he valued was honesty. And I think the honest truth is that what can be said about any of us, him included, is that it’s complicated. There’s never enough time to tell the whole story. There’s never enough time to capture all the nuance. There’s never enough time to say I love you just one more time when the time has come and gone. If saying “I love you” is the sort of thing you do.

I loved my father, and I know that he loved me, but it’s also true that every single phone call we had over the last 20 years ended in the same way. “I love you do.” “Ok, is there anything else we need to talk about.” “I don’t think so.” “I’ll talk to you later.” It was a technique he learned. He was good at things he could learn. He could implement the form and structure of things once he knew what they were. Not long ago my mom told me about the time that Emily & I were moving away, I was headed off to seminary, and they offered to host a party at their house for us, a going away party in the backyard. And there my dad was, again in the strange place of needing to be around, but not really knowing what to do with himself, and by then my mom had figured it out. She said “For this afternoon, I just need you to do what I tell you to,” and he did. He knew how to be a man of his own, but he also knew that sometimes what it took was to have clarity about roles and to do your part, to fulfill your place in the order of things, to play your part in the band, so long as someone could help him see what his place was.

I say it’s complicated because I had so many conversations over the years with my dad about his own dad, who was a deep and abiding disappointment to him. His father made a successful career as a professor at the University of Hawaii, and he made it clear to his children that success in academia was the only standard by which he thought success could be judged. A standard none of his children, and none of his grandchildren, ever achieved. That pain and sorrow echoed in my dad’s life in ways that will always sadden me, because I think that he fell into the trap that so many of us do too often. Judging ourselves by standards that are not our own, or built around the things we were actually called to do. It’s like telling a thoroughbred who can run like the wind that he’s a failure because he can’t fly like a condor. I say it’s complicated because no matter how much we told him that we loved him for who he was, just as he loved us for who we were, those ghosts of his childhood never quite faded away. He was a bright and capable man. A good man. Who left the world a better place for his living in it. But it was so, so hard for him to own that himself.

And yet he was also so much more. He was a man who believed deeply in both work, and work well done. I can’t tell you how many times we talked and he shared his frustration with the emphasis on STEM education without a concurrent understanding of the place of the arts as vehicles for communication and connection. A renaissance man you might have called him in another era. Not confined by one narrow band of knowledge, but also not one who thought that work was for others. It’s because of what he taught us that when I was ordained, I chose as a reading a poem by Marge Piercy, To Be Of Use. Perhaps you know it. It ends with these words-

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.

But the thing worth doing well done

has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

Our lives our filled with the work of his hands. The spice racks and cabinets, the mousetrap cars and the houses that shine from the floors up, the floors he finished himself. The stained glass he learned to make so that the grand old dame of a house they live in would sparkle just a little bit more. But he didn’t just want to do it for you, or at least not for us, he wanted to make sure we knew how to navigate in the world, whether that meant being able to change the oil in a car, or hang sheetrock, or buck 80lb bundles of shingles up a two-story ladder, because until just a couple of years ago our family had gone a full half century without paying a professional roofer to shingle any of the houses we owned.

Which meant, of course, that he had a lot of tools. Tools that made it possible for him to craft the world around him. Tools that took tending and care, and that he wanted you to know how to tend and care for as well. The right way to coil a cable. The right way to sharpen a knife on a whet stone. The right way to drain an air compressor so it wouldn’t rust from the inside out.

It’s why it was not a surprise to me that in his final days he made arrangements to sell the tools of his shop, the dent removal tools, the hammers, the clamps, the pads for saxophones and clarinets of every size. We’d told him if it was too much, or he just didn’t want to, that we could sell them for him after he died, whenever that would come. But he didn’t want them just sold willy-nilly. He wanted them to be of use. To keep horns and woodwinds and strings playing in the hands of children and adults for many years to come. So, he put out the advertisement, and arranged to sell them, all together, to a man from Louisiana, who was coming, as it turns out, four days after my dad died, to keep those precious things at work, making the world beautiful.

It was always that dance. Between the things he could do, and what he wanted to do, to make the world better. The longing for work that is real, and wanting to make sure you could do it, too. Even this winter, just weeks after he’d been in the ICU and hospitalized for more than a week over the holidays, he was back up at String Fling, because he didn’t want those kids left unable to play because of a broken string or a small repair that he knew he could do, this years after he’d formally retired from the music department. But also, my sister tells me, when she came to him unable to change her windshield wiper blades because of a broken finger some years ago, a task she has successfully accomplished many times before, but just couldn’t do in her slightly disabled state, he said to her “I’ll do the first one to show you how, and then you do the second one.”

And here’s the other thing I think needs to be said about this man, Chris Banner, our father. He believed in us, beyond all measure of reason. He was never one to let common expectation get in the way of what he believed his children or his wife could do. I’ve asked my mom over the years about how they got together. I think most of us as adult children come to that place at some point in our lives. We look at our own lives, the twists of fate that have brought us together and made the families we have, and know enough of our own foibles and shortcomings to wonder, to marvel that anyone chose us. Not all the time, but just on those days when we know we really lucked out. And what she’s said to me, again and again, is that this man believed in her. Believed in her in ways her parents never expected from a daughter. Believed in her capacity to grow and serve and lead. To help her name the things that she felt somewhere deep in her soul, but didn’t have the words for, and he did.

He believed in the possibilities of those around him, and in his own ability to decide to do something new, and then to do it. To build that concrete boat, and later that concrete car. To work on the car that sits now, forlornly in my mother’s basement, as if waiting for one more wiring diagram, one more twist of the wrench, one more body panel waiting to be formed. He believed in things beyond all measure of reason.

Like that time years ago when the city was left sitting with two old art deco bridge piers after the new bridge had been built, and years went by in conversation about what to put on top of them. Until he decided that the city needed a bit of civic education, a bit of local history, and he built a silhouette of the Hartford, the ship that ran aground in New Boston, with passengers destined for Junction City, and instead to decided to settle here, so long as the town name changed to Manhattan. He built it, and then called me up to help him install it in an act of civic beautification and education, one stormy, dark night, without a permit, with only a pair of ladders, of course he had the tools, a small pickup truck, his son and a lot of pluck.

Any reasonable person would have told you it wouldn’t work, and it didn’t. We barely made it off those ladders without falling to our own doom, but that was the kind of man he was. The kind of man who had ideas, and then made them real. Or at least tried to. He believed in the people around him, and it’s because of that fact that I am the man I am today. The reason we are the family we are today. Living in old houses we take care of, because we never believed we couldn’t. Helping and serving the ones beyond our small circles of hearth and home. And making the world a beautiful place, his steady, guiding hand with us always, his voice of encouragement and belief in what was possible, even when no one else can see it, even now, and in all the days yet to come.

We miss you dad. And no, there’s nothing else we need to talk about just right now. I’ll call you soon.

Rites of Passage: Bio
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