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Congregation Celebrates Minister’s Anniversary with Year of Surprises
Congregation Celebrates Minister’s Anniversary with Year of Surprises

When the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, Md., celebrates an anniversary, they go all out. It’s been ten years since they called the Rev. Paige Getty as their senior minister, and last summer congregational leaders began talking about what to do for the anniversary. Should there be a dinner? A party? Something else?

“We knew we wanted to do a little something to celebrate,” said Maureen Harris, the congregation’s executive director. “We just didn’t know what.”

They contacted the search committee from ten years ago, and four of its members agreed to be part of an anniversary-planning committee. They quickly decided that a single event just wouldn’t be enough.

Instead, they organized a series of surprises. It started in August with a delivery of flowers, wine, and chocolate to Getty and her husband, Graham. The next month a big cake showed up at coffee hour after each service. The month after that there was a new glass bowl for the chocolates Getty keeps on her desk. In November a tie-dye artist made Getty a stole. December was a musical event. A group of people wrote and composed a song, “The Ten Years of Getty,” which the choir performed during worship, to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It highlighted specific congregational achievements during the past ten years, including growth, staff expansions, social justice partnerships, and religious education.

There was no event in January, but around Valentine’s Day in February Getty was presented with a singing telegram during both services, sung to the tune of “Love Potion No. 9.”

Then in March a high school teen, Mairin Toppo, created a video in which lots of UUCC children and youth spoke about “Why We Love Paige.” There was also a surprise party in March and the presentation of yet another stole, which included representations from many of the significant places in Getty’s life, from Harvard to Kansas to California. A number of clergy from the area attended the party, including one of Getty’s mentors, the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, senior minister of the UU Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, Va. 

“Paige’s ministerial colleagues all know that her congregation loves her, and that she loves the congregation,” said Morn. “This affection and trust between congregation and minister is what our congregations need to thrive. And by loving each other they are all contributing to the health of our faith.”

In April, Harris and four children in the congregation created a detailed “Peeps diorama” out of the popular marshmallow candies in the shape of bunnies and baby chickens. The diorama, which was presented to Getty at an Easter worship service, featured her in the pulpit, wearing a rainbow stole, as well as members of the congregation, the choir, and a pianist. (See photos on UU World’s Tumblr.)

Will there be any more surprises? The organizers aren’t saying.

The Rev. Kären Rasmussen, assistant minister at UUCC, was in on the planning from the beginning. “It could have been ‘Oh gosh, we have to plan an event,’ but it became just this joyful thing,” she said. “It was really easy to come up with things for ten months. We got the kids involved. People were suggesting ideas for Valentine’s Day. We had fun with it.”

She added, “Paige is fabulous. She is incredibly generous to her colleagues and staff in sharing the limelight and space to grow. Her generosity has made me a better minister. We have all raised the level of our game because she gives us the space to do that. Her style is an abundance of yes. She encourages people to bring ideas and try them.”

Longtime member Jim Wu cochaired the search committee that invited Getty to Columbia. He also helped organize the Ten Years of Getty celebration. “When Paige came here we were in a place where we needed to have more fun and to be more spiritual,” he said. “She helped us do both. I’d say she nurtures and needles us to make us better people and the world a better place.”

Getty said she was “flattered and touched” by the various gifts. “The congregation and I have a true affection for one another that is born of being honest and open with each other for ten years. One of the sweetest things in all this is I believe they are expressing their appreciation of the real me. They are not appreciating some sort of façade of a minister. They know me pretty well, and I reciprocate that. We have experienced a lot together.”

She added, “I said to the congregation at one point: I’ve been both delighted and embarrassed pretty consistently by the attention. It’s always been very important to me that UUCC not be all about me. That was one of the wonderful things about having outside guests here at the party in March. The congregation heard from some of my colleagues that UUCC is known as a healthy congregation that treats its minister well.”

On the same note, she said, “If there is a lesson for other congregations it would be this: I try to demonstrate leadership, strength, and conviction with equal parts of kindness, tenderness, and affection. I’m also able to be fully human with this congregation without risk of devastating repercussions. I feel so fortunate that we found each other eleven years ago. I hope I’m here to celebrate after 20 years. Our ministry together has grown and matured and we still have so much potential and room for growth.”

Many of the anniversary surprises are captured in photos on UU Congregation of Columbia’s website

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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