Ministries / Ministers
Meet the FUSN Minister
What were FUSN Minister Erin Splaine's early religious influences? What value does Unitarian Universalism have in contemporary times? Read the answers to these and other questions in the interview below.
Born in New Hampshire, Rev. Splaine grew up with three siblings and parents who were educators. The family moved to North Carolina, then Texas, for her dad’s jobs. After college, she worked as a Congressional press secretary, then spent the late 1980s centered on Nantucket searching for her next life step. When she walked into the UU meetinghouse in Nantucket, she found her spiritual and intellectual home as well as her future career.
Splaine has brought that sense of home to Newton as FUSN’s new minister. Before joining the FUSN staff Aug. 1, 2010, she served as minister at Wayland’s Unitarian Universalist church for eight years and, earlier, at the UU society in Northampton and Florence, Mass. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Manhattanville College in 1984. Since the early 1990s, she has served in more than 30 roles working with UU societies and groups. Her first calling was as an adult advisor to the Nantucket UU congregation’s youth group before beginning her studies at the Harvard Divinity School; she earned a master of divinity degree in 1998.
What were your early religious influences?
My mom became a UU when I was in high school. She got heavily involved in a Houston church, but it wasn’t until I was on Nantucket after living in DC that I wandered into the UU meeting house there and felt at home in all the ways that everybody wants to feel at home—spiritually, emotionally, politically, psychologically, and religiously.
We were raised in the Catholic Church. Although I struggled with the Catholicism of my youth, there are three main things I am grateful to the nuns for—a love of music and ritual, a deep passion for social justice, and faith in education as the great equalizer.
What was your Capitol Hill experience like?
I started as a receptionist right after college and became press secretary to a congressman about a week before the Bhopal explosion in India. His West Virginia district was home to the sister plant, the district’s largest employer. He came to national attention very fast.
I liked that he was someone whose integrity and politics at the time I really connected with. He was very liberal in an increasingly conservative area but we were able to do some important things and connect with the people in his district. That was a huge part of what I did. Going out into amazing communities and just talking to people was the part I loved the most.
What was your focus at Harvard Divinity School?
The school was much more conservative than I expected it to be, but the greatest gift that I got was twofold—dear friends and colleagues who are UUs because there was such strong UU presence and history at the divinity school. Moreover, to be in such an intense intellectual and personal dialogue with so many people of so many faith traditions was stunning. It was both inspiring and frustrating. It helped me articulate myself as a UU and a woman and all those other subcategories.
What particular value do you think the UU faith has for contemporary times?
Historically we UUs are very adept at defining who were are not, but we are not as agile at defining who we are. That we do not have actual dogma at the center of our faith is our greatest strength and our bane. I don’t want us to do that, but what an engaging conversation it would be to articulate more deeply and more concretely who we are and why we are here. I think everyone is going to say his or her faith tradition is a life-saving message and I want us to be able to say that as well and back it up without apology.
I hope people find at FUSN—the first time they come or in their 40th year here—that there is a home and place for each of us in all our diversity, quirkiness, and uniqueness. There is commonality to our presence and our understanding. We don’t tell folks what to believe but we talk to people where they are now. There are very few places we can bring our whole selves without disguise and the FUSN I know is that place. We can bring ourselves here without disguise and figure out the big questions together.
What do you like best about being a UU minister?
Everything except creating a filing system. I am so fortunate that I get to be in this building every day and I get to be engaged in the life of FUSN every day. And I get to be invited into people’s lives in different measure and in different ways whether it’s having a cup of coffee or talking about a loss they have suffered. To be able to do that is humbling and incredibly awe-inspiring. And that’s what I love about it.
How does a UU minister lead a congregation of independent thinkers?
You can ask any UU minister that question—that is among the joys and woes of a UU minster. There are things I understand about congregations as systems and about how systems work and how organizational structure happens, but if I could define my ministry in one word it is relational. What we all strive for is to know and be known.
You worked on youth group and membership at Wayland—among other things—what are some opportunities you see at FUSN?
One theme that came out of candidating week is that FUSN has got so many fabulous things going—program strengths like Coming of Age or myriad ways people plug in to social action, the lay minster program, the music, and adult education presence. One of the things that struck me is there are all these ways to plug in to programs but very few threads weave together to create a more cohesive whole. One thing I’ve been talking about is how to create a unified center. It’s this shared vision of community building that the search committee and FUSN wants to do that I find so engaging.
When you were considering FUSN, what aspects of the congregation or community worked in our favor?
So many things…the energy and the place where the community is now in terms of defining who we are and how we will be for each other and for the larger community. And the community building aspect of the work we are thinking of doing together is a very good fit. From a personal perspective, the more I got to know the search committee, a very diverse group of people, the more I found myself missing them after our conversations. That is the intangible part of the process that was so striking.
2010 interview with Nancy DuVergne Smith; photo: Kevin Osborn.
In May 2010, Rev. Erin Splaine was called by an overwhelmingly positive congregational vote to be FUSN's settled minister. Read the committee's endorsement, her letter to the community, and the press release announcing the decision.
Meet with the Minister
The minister is available to talk with members and prospective members by appointment. A group of FUSN members serve as lay ministers, who offer support to families experiencing illness or other difficulties. They can all be reached through the church office: 617-527-3203.