I attend Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, CA. Unfortunately I don’t actually get to live in cool, hip, Berkeley with perfect weather year round, but instead I get to stay in nice (word carefully chosen to be about a 6 out of 10 on a scale of wonderfulness) Rockville, Maryland. I live here with my partner Ken and our son Nathan 15. Because Nathan is in a high school which is a great fit for him, we won’t move while he’s there, and unless something goes seriously wrong, I’ll have graduated from Starr King by the time he graduates from high school. So I won’t get to live in Berkley.

If you are a Unitarian Universalist you may have heard of Starr King. It is one of only 2 UU seminaries, and the only one with an ongoing residential program. Thomas Starr King was a Harvard educated Unitarian minister who moved to California to serve a Universalist congregation in 1860. While there he worked tirelessly to keep California in the Union during the civil war. If the Union had to fight both the Southern separatists and California separatists I don’t know how the Civil War would have ended. His career also represented the early blending of our Unitarian and Universalist pasts. Rev. King died of exhaustion, pneumonia, and diphtheria all sustained while working to save the Union.   Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM) was named after him to honor all of these facets of his life.

More recently SKSM has been embroiled in a controversy – we don’t have to go into the details here. Suffice it to say that our new President, Rosemary Bray McNatt, who I love and admire, spent part of this summer teaching a course named “Theology and Ethics for UU Ministerial Leadership; Ethics, Accountability and Calling.” It isn’t a coincidence that ethics is in the title twice.

I got to spend a week with Rev. President Rosemary as a student in that class. Part of the core of the controversy at SKSM came out of the fact that everyone at the school did not share the same definitions of secrecy, privacy and confidentiality. I was very much looking forward to the part of the course where Rosemary would expound on these ideas. Yet the days slipped by with hardly a mention of those themes. Instead we worked as a large group and in a small group on a mired of ministerial formation topics. Interestingly the small groups stayed the same all week. Was that an oversight or something else? In my small group we got to know one another well and considerable trust developed between the 5 of us, despite representing different position on the controversy, as well as different ages, races, sexual orientations, residential patterns (e.g. living in Berkeley or not) and durations in the school. And the topic at hand wasn’t being covered – here we were at about lunch on the last day and ….

Finally the topic was covered. We were asked to break into our small groups again and define each of the terms in a ministry context and then say whether it was negative positive or neutral ethically. The terms again were confidentiality, privacy and secrecy. Starr King being Starr King, the groups reported back in various ways. One did an interpretive dance and for me at least it captured the definitions that our group came up with using many words. I can’t share the content of our work together, as we promised each other confidentiality, but I can say ministerial ethics, and the differences, if any between these words has now been explored and I think we are all on much the same page.

It was intentional we were in the same groups; it was profound that this was our last topic of the day. Formation – Friday at 6 we left with smiles on our faces and deeper knowledge of an important topic.