Renewed Health and Vigor
The beginnings of a turnaround for the congregation occurred during the brief but lively ministry of the Rev. Dr. Clarke Dewey Wells. (1975-1978) The author of four books of poetry and essays, Wells enjoyed a reputation as a dynamic preacher, and his sermons began to attract members. A lover of the theatre, Wells started a play-reading group, took roles in several productions of the Newton Country Players, and also played a mean game of tennis. Together with his wife Cora, who was a dancer, Wells encouraged greater attention to the arts in the Sunday services (Shakespeare's birthday was celebrated religiously ;-). He was an interesting and controversial pastor for the society.
The renewed vibrancy and growth of the society owes much to the highly successful ministry of the Rev. Dr. Gerald Krick (1979-1998). His optimistic vision, skills at facilitation and negotiation, compassionate counseling, and spiritually oriented sermons drew new people and new energy to the church. Recognizing the religious diversity in the backgrounds of many new members, he was sensitive to this in his religious references and rituals. During his ministry, FUSN added several elements to the Sunday service that have become meaningful to many, including the weekly candles of concern and celebration lit by members and the monthly memorial candles lit in quiet commemoration of lost loved ones.
Gerry Krick empowered members to use their individual skills to support the community. In 1994, he was awarded the Newton Human Rights Award, recognizing his efforts against discrimination. One of the most notable features of Gerry's ministry was the generosity with which he shared his pulpit. From the minister of the Myrtle Baptist church to the mother of the young gay sailor who was killed by his shipmates (whose airfare Gerry paid), to the Roxbury activist who adopted neighborhood children to keep them out of gangs, Gerry welcomed to his pulpit those who would speak most tellingly of social justice.
*During the 1980's, FUSN formed a lay ministry, a powerful program that continues successfully today.
*As the church grew, so, too, did the Sunday school program. During this time, enrollment grew from about 40 children (from preschool to grade eight) to over 200. The Coming-of-Age program with its unique mentor practice (which has since been imitated by congregations all over the country) was initiated for eighth-graders and a youth group was organized for senior high school students. Anne Bancroft served as the R.E. Director from 1999 to 2009, bringing fresh enthusiasm to the program.
*The Board of Trustees (BOT) and the DRE search committee announced the appointment of Barb Greve to the position of Interim Director of Lifespan Religious Education (Interim DLRE) this spring; he is expected to serve through spring 2010.
Roberta Humez's work as music director from 1962 to 2007 reflected her excellence in musicianship and infectious love of music. Under her direction, the Music Program occupied a central role in worship services, continuing the congregation's longstanding commitment to music in worship. In addition to her work with organists and adult and children's choirs, Roberta developed and implemented many innovative programs, including Instant Choir and West African Drumming Circles, which have become FUSN traditions. The society continued its longstanding commitment to a music program when it engaged Anne Watson Born as Director of Music Ministry in 2007 after Roberta's retirement.
In the spring of 2000, the congregation called the Reverend James Ishmael Ford as senior minister. A widely respected preacher, writer, and American Zen Buddhist priest, James brought to the society a deep commitment to sustained spiritual disciplines as well as wide-ranging social activism. He served the congregation until 2008.
*Currently, Reverend John Nichols is serving as Interim Minister, a two-year appointment that will continue through the 2009-2010 church year. The congregation is in the midst of the formal process established by the UUA for selection of a new minister. A Search Committee has been chosen to lead the congregation in calling a new minister, under a schedule that anticipates the new minister beginning service in September 2010.
The members of the First Unitarian Society in Newton continue as a vigorous community dedicated to a living spirituality as well as serious engagement in the work of social justice. The flourishing Religious Education program is complemented by the work of a vital Social Action Committee, and inspiring Worship services inform the congregation's outreach to the needs of the larger Newton and Boston communities. FUSN continues to reveal the liberal faith of Unitarian Universalism as a vital witness to the world of human possibility.