First Unitarian Church of Worcester

Sermons, Memos and other writings from the newsletter and worship services of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester. The First Unitarian Church is located at 90 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608. Our phone is 508-757-2708 and our webpage is A audio CD is produced for almost every one of our regular services. Call our office or send a note to the office at our website to request that one be shipped to you.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Number Eleven" by Rev. Barbara Merritt

Memo from Newsletter, dated October 21, 2006

One of the most depressing statistics I have ever encountered in the story of the “modern church” is that no matter the denomination, the average parishioner stays five years.

While some of this is explained by job transfers, and death and illness, what is new is the dominant attitude in American culture of the consumer. This mentality looks at all services, programs and institutions as places to meet immediate needs. When needs shift, when the initial enthusiasm of novelty wears off, the consumer moves on in search of new destinations, and a never-ending variety of experiences. According to the studies I’ve read, this is true not only about people who drop in and out of religious communities. It is also true of our recreational habits, our exercise routines, and the way we furnish our homes. This pursuit of what is novel and fresh, and momentarily engaging is written large across 21st century America. Some trends must simply be accepted.

And yet at First Unitarian, we seem to be at least a little out of step. When I went this week to look for a beloved Responsive Reading from 1992, I found the names of Lisa and Barry Siciliano, and Bill Densmore, and Laura Howie, and Jennifer Bowes, and Steve and Frankie Knapp, and Cliff Browning, and Mark Lincicome, and Liz Gustavson, and David Blodgett, and Bob Shaw, and many, many more people who are front and center in today’s church.

When this parish called The Rev. Thomas Schade to be the Associate Minister in 1999, I thought it was the best piece of luck imaginable. The Search Committee including Jay Lavelle, Sara Glenn, Mary Melville and Lee Reid had managed to find a strong, brilliant, enthusiastic, mature and visionary leader who was willing to conduct his first parish ministry with an experienced senior colleague. We wrote into his contract that he had to promise to stay three years. We were aware from the start that he would receive many invitations to serve as the sole minister in other UU parishes. These invitations have occurred with some frequency. Yet seven years later, Tom is still with us. He has now served longer than two of this parish’s previous ministers


If you ask Tom, he will say that he has stayed because you are a vital, engaging, growing congregation that continues to challenge him and allow him to work at his creative best. To say that his leadership here has been invaluable would be an understatement.

Tom has been an innovator at First Unitarian, helping to develop a new governance structure, including the Lay Leadership Council, the Time for Community before the service with News from the Pews and Announcements, experiments with small group ministries, our current website and email lists. This year, he is leading a year-long program of education: The First U School of Theology and History. He has introduced the returning Young Adult service at New Years, and the early Family oriented Christmas Eve service and has organized the summer services series each year. On the district level he has been President of the UU Minister’s Association, is currently ”Good Offices” (handling crisis’s in other parishes between ministers and congregations), and has been a leader in a professional study group. At the national level, he has served as the President of the UU Christian Fellowship, is leading retreats for UU ministries, and has been asked to speak throughout the country. In Worcester, he serves on the Board of the Worcester Pastoral Counseling Center and with the Faith Group of the Central Massachusetts Partnership for Compassionate Care at the End of Life. And he was essential to the rebuilding efforts after the 2000 fire. What you haven’t seen is that he has talked me out of quitting, more than once.

It was in the summer of 2000, only a year after his arrival that Tom stopped functioning as an “Associate,” and started sharing the ministry with me. The demands of the institution required it. And because each of us has different strengths and compatible theologies and complementary styles, we have forged an effective partnership. Because this has been a shared ministry, many in the congregation, especially the Prudential Committee, have asked why Tom still carries the “Associate” tag.

On Sunday, November 12th, there will be a special congregational meeting after church to allow the congregation to vote on recognizing Tom’s important ministry among us. I am the 10th minister. I fully and enthusiastically support this congregation’s move to officially recognize The Rev. Thomas Schade as its 11th minister. There will be a listening session on November 5th, after church, hosted by the Prudential Committee. Please try to attend if you have any questions or concerns.

Variety is nice. But what a blessing it is to live in right relationship through long and fruitful years.



Post a Comment

<< Home