September 2022 Minister’s Column

Let’s cut right to the chase: I begin my 20th year as UUS:E’s minister this summer, August 15 to be precise. No mincing of words: This is a huge milestone, not only for me, but for all of you. The average length of a parish ministry these days is ridiculously brief, 4 – 5 years. I’m not entirely sure why the average tenure is so short. It may have something to do with all the headwinds facing traditional congregations in our era—headwinds which the pandemic exacerbated. Whatever the cause, it hasn’t impacted UUS:E. Twenty years is indeed a huge milestone, and for that reason I am feeling celebratory! (I’m sure we’ll find time to celebrate at some point.)

As I have been reflecting on twenty years of ministry, two features of my experience at UUS:E stand out to me. First, UUS:E is committed to shared ministry on Sunday mornings. The full-time minister is not a full-time preacher. This means that the congregation hears wisdom and insight not only from me, but from its own members and guest speakers on a very regular basis. I firmly believe (and I’m being completely serious when I say this) my ministry has lasted so long because you don’t hear from me every Sunday. My voice is certainly prominent, but it is one voice among many. There’s a balance, a multiplicity of perspectives and approaches, a very natural and inherent worship democracy. If it were me in the pulpit every single Sunday for twenty years, no matter how much you appreciate me as your minister, there would be no balance, no pulpit diversity. It would be much harder to sustain a long-term parish ministry.

Second, over twenty years, it is possible to develop strong personal relationships with many members of the congregation. I know you. I know your stories. I know your struggles. I know your joys. I know your children, especially if they grew up at UUS:E. And not only do I know you, I know the wider community. I have strong personal relationships with clergy from many faiths, leaders from community organizations, town and state workers, activists, politicians, labor leaders, social workers, teachers, therapists, medical providers, nursing homes, funeral homes, and more. These relationships are a natural outcome of serving as a minister in one place for twenty years. They are assets one simply cannot develop in a 5-year ministry.

Along those lines, “relationship-building” and “community-building” are going to be important themes for me this year. During my study leave hours I’ve been reading writers who focus on these themes as responses to the challenges of White Supremacy culture, patriarchy, and hyper-capitalism: Mia Songbird (How We Show Up), Adrienne Marie Brown (Emergent Strategy), Alexis Pauline Gumbs (Particle and Wave and M Archive: After the Fall of the World). I was drawn to these and other resources because it is clear to me that as we slowly move from COVID as pandemic to COVID as endemic, the possibility for isolation is strong. COVID has changed our ways of interacting; and while some people are thriving in terms of community engagement, others are feeling more isolated than ever, more lost, more forgotten. It is important to me that UUS:E does everything it can to address that risk and potential for isolation within our congregation and in the wider community. You can expect to hear much more from me on this topic. As I begin my twentieth year as your minister, I am excited for the transformative ministries that we have yet to build. I hope and trust you are excited as well.


With love,

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek