The Right Hand of Fellowship at the Ordination of Sarah Prickett


as offered at the Ordination of the Rev. Sarah Prickett, Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church, Spring, TX, December 1, 2018

There are few rites practiced within the Unitarian Universalist tradition that are older than the right hand of fellowship. The practice is attested to in the Christian New Testament. We find Paul describing it in his letter to the Galatians:

When James, Cephas, and John, who were acknowledged as pillars [of the church], recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship . . . and asked only . . . that we remember the poor… [Galatians 2:9-10].

First Puritan ministers in New England, and then later Unitarians, were inspired by this text to pass the right hand of fellowship from one generation to the next. It is an act of recognizing “the grace” or ministerial authority given to the new minister. It implies that the new minister is being welcomed into an unbroken line of secession that extends back to Jesus himself.

I cannot make that claim. I can trace my own chain of ministerial authority back to at least October 12th, 1952. On that day in Ellsworth, Maine, a young Icelandic Unitarian minister named Valtyr Emil Gudmundson received the right hand of fellowship. Twenty-six years later, on April 22nd, 1979, that same Emil Gudmundson stood in the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska, and offered the right hand of fellowship to Jay Atkinson. Jay extended it to me on May 27th, 2007 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach. And now, eleven years later, I stand here to create another link in the chain.

Sarah, in the names of all, known and unknown, who have gone before me in this chain of ministerial tradition, I welcome you into the lineage and the collegial circle of Unitarian Universalist ministers. As a token thereof, I extend to you this right hand of fellowship.

Welcome to our ministry.

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