A Thirteen Year - and Counting - Ministry with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, NH

by Stephen D. Edington

© 2001 Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua

I was called to the ministry of the UU Church of Nashua in the spring of 1988 and began my ministry the following August. Rev. Donald W. Rowley retired one year prior to my arrival, having completed a very distinguished 29-year career as minister of our church. Highlights of Rev. Rowley's ministry can be found in a speech given by church member John Sias, who introduced Don when he received the Humanitarian Award at the fifth annual awards luncheon of the Nashua Charitable Foundation on May 4, 2000.

In December of 1994, Rev. Rowley was named Minister Emeritus of the Church and was recognized as such in a service in January of 1995. The Church continues to benefit from the fruits of his ministry. Rev. Rowley left the Church in excellent condition in a variety of ways. The endowment was just under $2 million, the physical facility was in fine shape, and the lay leadership was in very capable hands.

Among the first Memorial Services I conducted at the Nashua UU Church was the one for Miss Anna Stearns in August, 1988. Anna Stearns had been a long and faithful member of the church and a dedicated Unitarian Universalist. In her will she left the Church a bequest of just under one million dollars. After considerable deliberation and congregational input the Executive Board chose to use the annual return on this bequest, to be calculated at 5 percent, for special projects and outreach beyond the Church's annual operating budget. The idea was that church members who were involved in community, area, or denominational organizations could petition for an Anna Stearns Grant to help support and facilitate the work of that organization. This marked the onset of some very significant community outreach projects that the Church has supported over the years--projects that have served to enhance the quality of life in the greater Nashua area.

In 1994 the Anna Stearns Fund was merged with the church's regular Invested Funds to form a single Church Endowment, although both funds are still carried as separate line items. The church elected to fund our Community Outreach Grants using a different formula whereby 15 percent of the annual pledge base is designated for outreach projects.

Over the ensuing years, the Community Outreach Grants have helped many Nashua organizations: the French Hill Neighborhood Housing Services, Home Health and Hospice, Harbor Homes, the Nashua Humane Society, the Nashua Pastoral Care Center, Habitat for Humanity, the Neighborhood Health Center, the Ferry Beach Conference Center, the UUA's Whitney Young Fund, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Nashua, and numerous others.

It was this kind of opening up to the wider community that helped provide the impetus for our building a relationship with the French Hill area within which the Church is located. We provided office space during 1990 and 1991 for the start-up of the French Hill Neighborhood Housing Services and initiated the Summer Fun program for children who live in French Hill area. The Summer Fun program runs for one week in July and features games, programs, and activities, in a kind of day camp fashion. It is run entirely by volunteers from the Church.

In 1994, one of the early uses of the outreach grants was to fund the initial printing of the book One Hundred Questions Non-Members Ask About Unitarian Universalism. This was the brain-child of John Sias, who composed a list of 100 questions he felt most persons inquiring into UUism might ask. I supplied the answers to most of the questions John posed. In the ensuing years the book has gone through seven printings and has been edited five times to keep it up-to-date and reflective of the theological currents within contemporary UUism. It is sold and distributed primarily through the UUA Bookstore in Boston, which reports that it is its best selling non-Beacon Press publication.

At the time I was called to the Nashua Church, Don Reilly was the President of the Executive Board. He was followed by Alan Hoye, Bliss Woodruff, and Robert Sampson. All of these people served well and faithfully. The Executive Board was also quite willing and gracious in accepting newer members into the Church leadership. By 1995 many of the members of the Executive Board were persons who had joined since 1988. In 1996 one of these persons, Carol Houde, became Board President and served in a very able manner for four years. At the Annual Meeting in June of 2000, John Sanders was elected and is our current President.

In the early years of my ministry, the Committee structure was strengthened by the formation of the Inter-Committee Council. This is an organization made up of Committee Chairs and Board Liaisons that meets quarterly to help set the Church calendar and coordinate activities. The ICC also plays an instrumental role in the Outreach Grants process.

Over the years of my ministry here the Church has been blessed with a very capable staff. Christine Parker has been our Religious Education Director since 1986, and our RE Program has grown and flourished under her leadership. The church office has been wonderfully managed by our Office Administrator, Barbara Koumjian, who took that position shortly after my arrival. In 1995, the Executive Board created the new part-time staff position of Membership Coordinator. Barbara Berrios accepted this position, and her efforts continue to have a significant impact on increasing church membership. In the past twelve years there have been changes in only two staff positions. In 1997, Janice Whittaker retired, having served thirty years as our Music Director. Sandra LaBarge-Neumann was hired as her replacement and continued our Church's tradition of excellence in music. In December of 1998, Calvin Libby, long-time church member and custodian, passed away. Today the custodial duties are shared by Carol Lasselle and Charles Curtis

The upkeep and maintenance of our large facility requires a significant annual expenditure. For example, in the summer of 1998 the interior of the sanctuary was painted at a cost of $27,000. The Property Committee oversees the day-to-day maintenance and makes recommendations for major improvements to the Executive Board.

Calvin Libby was a very well known local artist and art instructor. Many of his paintings grace the walls of our Church and are part of collections all over the greater Nashua community. Following his death in 1998, the Executive Board created a Calvin Libby Art Scholarship that is awarded annually to a promising high school senior preparing for a career in art.

In January of 1996, the congregation gave formal approval to a Mission/Vision/Covenant Statement that continues to help guide our path as we walk together.

One of the ongoing goals of my ministry with this Church is to help us continue to be a welcoming congregation. My own theological stance is that of a religious humanist. My objective is for our congregation to be a welcoming and affirming home for persons who take a variety of religious and spiritual paths in their journeys of meaning and of the spirit. I feel we have made very significant strides in this respect.

In May of 1998, after a year of study and activity, our congregation voted to become an official Welcoming Congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association. This means that we take deliberate and intentional actions to be welcoming of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. In more recent years, we have observed the "Journey Towards Wholeness" Sunday, which is designated by our Association's Faith in Action Department to focus on issues of anti-racism and racial justice and reconciliation.

As I enter the fourteenth year of my ministry with this congregation, I am gratified to serve a religious community that is blessed not only with a wonderful history, but with a vibrant present and a very promising future. Together we continue to seek spiritual depth as well as intellectual freedom and openness in our life as a liberal religious community; we try to connect with the wider community within which we are located; and we strive to embody the purposes and principles of Unitarian Universalism and of our free faith.

Stephen D. Edington, Minister
Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, NH
September, 2001