Friends, while I’m packing this week — we’re moving to Cambridge, MA on August 23rd — I thought you might enjoy reading about Unitarian Universalism and M-U-R-D-E-R…. The following guest post is from the Rev. Judith Campbell, a UU community minister and Ministerial Search Representative for the Ballou Channing District. She leads workshops and retreats in writing as prayer and spiritual practice across the US and in the UK. You may learn more about her work, writings and contact her through her website.
Ministry and Unholy Mysteries
By Rev. Judith Campbell
When I was ordained as a community minister in 1996 I didn’t think then that the creative arts ministry I envisioned would lead to writing bona fide, whodunit mysteries – or ‘crime novels’ as they are called in the UK. But such is the way of the Holy Spirit and I was willing to take the risk and see where it would take me. I’m a natural writer, story teller and teacher. As my ministry began to develop it seemed to be the most logical, (and creative) way for me to serve in the community and be a voice of the spirit for the unrepresented and marginalized in our culture.
My ministry, even during the seven years I served a parish on Martha’s Vineyard, (2000-2007) has always included leading retreats and workshops centered around creative writing as spiritual practice and prayer. A Deadly Mission, first in the OLYMPIA BROWN mysteries, began about 4 years ago when I joined a writing group and picked up the threads of a story I’d started 20 years earlier. And then, as anyone who write, paints, or makes music, knows, the project soon took on a life of its own and I followed its lead…letting go of where I thought it should go and simply hanging on for dear life/the ride.
What I learned during the process was that I wanted to do more with my mysteries than tell a good story and get the spelling and grammar right. (No small task!) Rather, I was on a mission; hence the use of the word mission in all the titles. I realized that as part of writing these I wanted to challenge and expose religious hypocrisy and to dismantle contemporary cultural stereotypes – thus my choice of a gay Catholic priest to be the co-sleuth with protagonist, Olympia Brown. Fr. Jim Sawicki is not a pedophile, but rather one of the finest men and most dedicated members of the clergy you’ll ever meet. he brings honor and integrity back to the professiion and I love him! I chose the name Olympia Brown for my lead character, not because my main character is a modern day Olympia but rather that it’s a wonderful name and I wanted to honor such a strong woman leader in our denomination. In the first book, set in Boston and Cambridge, Olympia and Jim take on a malevolent religious cult in order to rescue a homesick college freshman.
Fast-forward to now. The book is out and on the shelves at the UU bookstore, local bookstores and on-line. I’ll spare you the 2 year saga of finding a publisher, but suffice it to say, I persevered and found the right one for my work—one whose business ethic and philosophy mirrors my own. Olympia Brown is already on her way to the next mystery, An Unspeakable Mission, where she and Jim work together to exonerate a murder-suicide victim suspected of her abusive father’s death in a house fire.
So, how is this ministry—and not just an ego-based commercial venture? I say it is ministry because these books could be considered to be very long-winded sermons…but ones that will keep you reading until the end – or so say friends and early reviewers. But first last and always I’m a minister. I was ordained to this work and this is how I can do it best. I feel called to expose religious hypocrisy however I can and to be a voice for the marginalized and silent victims of this world. For me, the pen (or Microsoft Word) is my sword and my flaming chalice. Welcome to my ministry and to my mission.
About the Book, A DEADLY MISSION
When College Chaplain, Olympia Brown learns that one of her freshman is being recruited by a shadowy religious cult, she and colleague, Fr. Jim Sawicki, join forces to rescue the girl before she becomes one more victim of their deadly mission. Set in Boston/Cambridge, the story takes the reader far beyond the formula of a whodunit mystery and into the dark places we all experience before we can ‘see the great light.’
Dan Hotchkiss of the Alban institute says: “Judith Campbell’s mystery will interest everyone who cares about the power of religious faith to harm—or heal.”
Rev. Judy is available to preach/speak at your church or to lead a workshop or retreat in your district.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org