To Boldly Go

By Bill Lyon, MDiv

Many years ago – 32 of them, to be specific – I wrote a letter to the HUUC board president, Jean Crocker-Lakness, who I remember fondly. The purpose was to express my desire to become a member of this church. I could have simply written, “I want to be a member.” But, for me, it was a big deal, worthy of some soul-searching.

You see, I had been searching for a spiritual home for a long time. I had looked in the likely places of my past faith tradition and in lots of not-so-likely places, too. I had nearly given up, believing that there was no faith big enough, nor church welcoming enough for what my soul yearned for. I was proven wrong, of course, when I entered the church with the round window.

I began journaling as a spiritual practice during some early adult religious education workshops led by Rev. Elinor Artman and Jim Crocker-Lakness. I wish I could say that I kept it up. My musings led me to shift my expectations. Instead of aspiring to some idyllic spiritual destination, I found comfort in the metaphor of “the journey.” Given that, what I needed and what I realized I had found was a worthy vessel for that expedition.

As a fan of Star Trek, I referred to her as The UU Starship Heritage in my corny but heartfelt letter requesting membership. It read like a Captain’s Log complete with an imaginary “stardate.” Here’s a link to it if you’re interested: .

With that as a backdrop, I thought I would answer a question that I get a lot these days, “Bill, I saw that you were recently awarded a Master of Divinity degree – what in the world caused you to pursue a degree in Divinity?” Many asking the question were shocked that a theological school would even let a heretic like me in. Others assume that my “lost soul” was finally saved. Most are genuinely and justifiably curious about the motivations of the 55-year-old I was at the time. And plenty of times over the past six years, I’ve asked myself the same question.

For starters, I enrolled in my first course at Meadville Lombard (one of only two Unitarian Universalist seminaries) on a “test” basis. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I committed to completing the Master of Divinity Degree. I described that initial “dipping of my toe” into seminary studies as “Adult Religious Education on steroids.” In other words, my motivation had not changed from when I showed up for discussions in the Heritage Room. I wanted to keep growing, and I wanted to do it in the presence of fellow travelers.

I was blessed to have had the first two one-week intensive classes taught by icons of UU leadership. Lee Barker was then president of The Meadville Lombard Theological School and taught his final class on “Religious Leadership in a Post-Denominational Age.” The course stirred up imaginings of what spirituality might look like beyond the walls of our churches. It inspired me to seek ways to infuse my own life, my business, and my community endeavors with a sense of sacredness. I remember thinking, “If this is all that comes of this ‘toe-dipping,’ it’ll be worth it!

My other class was “Preaching as If You Mean It.” The professor (teaching it for the final time) was former UUA President William Schulz. I told you this was Adult RE on Steroids! A master of both teaching and preaching, Schulz also served as the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. I began to realize that the skill sets offered through theological education might serve me well regardless of whether I completed a degree or shifted my vocation.

I continued taking one or two courses each semester, either through weeklong intensives or online for a while. However, I could not imagine diving into the full-time commitment required to complete the degree. That would involve a full-time chaplaincy rotation over a summer and a two-year half-time internship at a congregation that was not my own.

There was no way – not when I had two dependent kids, a mother who was starting to face some medical issues, and a business that required 50 hours a week of in-person time. I also chaired three volunteer boards of trustees. The degree would have to wait.

Then came a pandemic that brought with it a “perfect storm.” The kids moved back home. Mom moved in, too. Zoom replaced in-person client and board meetings. People I knew and loved died (including my mother). The new question became, “If not now …when?”

With that, I returned to my understanding of this life as a journey. It was time to rearrange some priorities to make room for what my soul told me I needed to do. I needed to let some things go – things that I truly loved and would miss – things that had become comfortable – things that were holding me back from more profound growth that could only happen by deepening my commitment to other things.

These last five and a half years (especially the last two) have continued a mission I began 32 years ago. I continue to explore strange new worlds – within myself. I seek out newness in my spiritual life and broader views of our multicultural civilization.

I have much to discern about where I am headed next vocationally (community or congregational ministry – or something yet to be imagined), and I do not intend to rush it.

What is important now … is the journey and that I heed the words of my internal Captain “to boldy go” on that mission. Wherever you are on your journey and however modest the endeavor may seem, I pray that you find the courage to heed the yearning of your own soul.

Live Long and Prosper, Friends!

Image source: Bill Lyon