In 1969, we were just a young band of determined dreamers,
almost fifty-strong, setting out to build something good and lasting. We envisioned a place where every voice
would be heard, every story told, and where strangers would feel welcome. Out of nascent dream we formed the
Unitarian Universalist Society: East (USS:E), in Manchester, CT. Our congregation changed and moved
nomadically in search of a permanent home—from a karate studio, to a Singer
Learning Center, to a couple of austere rooms over a basketball court—but the
caring and welcoming spirit remained a clear constant in the life of the church.
Our equally visionary young minister, Arnold Westwood, told
us, “Build it and they will
come.” Just ten years after
that initial commitment, we moved into the meeting house that is our home.
… And they came, and continue to come in ever-growing
In part, the answer lies in our strong tradition of shared
ministry, born out of both mission and need. In the early years, we could not afford
a full-time minister, and we worried that our minister’s absence every other
Sunday would make it impossible to continue with services. Instead, Arnold gave us one of our
greatest gifts. He enthusiastically
shared his pulpit, gathering members together in a Sunday Services committee to
guide us in creating lay-led Sunday morning services—services that nurtured our
identity as a liberal religious community.
We shared our stories. We listened to speakers who lived
meaningful and purposeful lives. We shared our talents and supported each other
as we created uplifting Sunday services.
The shared pulpit epitomizes what many of us consider to be a unique
strength as a community.
At UUS:E shared ministry, however, reaches beyond Sunday
service, touching every part of our UU community life. While the framework of programs is
shared with many UU Societies, we feel UUS:E shows an unusual commitment to a
broader concept of shared ministry.
As we grow as a congregation, we continue to develop
opportunities for individuals to be heard and, perhaps even more importantly, to
be valued. This is another crucial facet of shared
ministry at UUS:E.
Houses—While this might not seem like “ministry” to some, it is a powerful
tool to connect spiritually for others. Here, budding poets, songwriters,
and musicians have tested their voices for the first time, sometimes after years
of remaining silent. While we have
a strong music program and encourage all to participate, this less structured,
informal event lets people share their art, their music, and their spirit in
more intimate ways.
Ministry—Nowhere is shared ministry more important at the individual
level. Groups of ten or fewer lay people commit to meeting once a month to
center themselves, to share their thoughts about life’s ultimate questions, the
feelings close to their hearts, and the spiritual issues with which they
wrestle. Small group ministry is an opportunity for both spiritual intimacy and
ultimacy. We continue to add two or
three groups every year, to foster the individual connections and intimacy that
can be lost as a congregation grows.
Social Justice—The Social Justice Committee fosters and focuses the passion for social justice
by undertaking hands on projects itself, and by providing an umbrella forum for
the initiation, coordination and lifting up of social justice activities in
other groups at UUS:E. Reverend
Jeanne Lloyd, our community minister says, “Too many people think that
spirituality and social justice are at opposite ends of the continuum, even
polarized from one another. In
truth, neither can be fulfilled without the other.” Social justice
programs simply move shared ministry into our greater community.
We are now a band of almost three hundred adult members, with
dozens of active friends who attend services and take active roles in our
programs. No matter how much we
grow, or what new programs we develop, we never lose track of our roots; this
may be why we grow. The importance of sharing the pulpit
remains our cornerstone of shared ministry.
Today we are beginning a new adventure in partnership with
another young visionary minister. The words of the Reverend Joshua Pawelek, echo
the original vision of our band of forty:
Perhaps the best
illustration of shared ministry here is the balance between professional and
lay worship services. I believe it
is essential to our spiritual wholeness that we experience a multitude of
voices from this pulpit, that we each have the opportunity to speak from
this pulpit if we so desire. It is
truly the prophethood and priesthood of all.
In 2006, we became an officially designated green sanctuary,
realizing a long-standing goal of the society. Our commitment to “go green” represents
a global shared ministry, and is crucial to our vision for the future. From the pulpit or through our actions,
shared ministry at every level has never been a more powerful a force than it is
today at UUS:E.
Thirty years after our first meeting house was built, and
with the same pioneering zeal, we are undertaking a capital campaign to double
the size of our meeting house and become the first entirely green religious
building in CT, equipped with geothermal and solar heating. Our roots—shared ministry, a commitment
to the environment, and the need to act on our vision—have led us full circle.
Yet, as we begin this latest campaign, we must and we will
retain our commitment to the “still, small voice” in each of us that inspires
and directs us to share our own ministries. That is the commitment that inspires us
… And they will come.
May their voices be heard. May their energies, their talents, and
their spirits flourish in our midst.
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Wednesday, May 4, 2011.
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