History of UUFN Ministers

by Lois Burnes

UUFN’s founding mothers’ and fathers’ vision for the new group was to have meetings and services to hear and discuss stimulating ideas.  Their lay led and inventive framework worked well, with the occasional visiting minister.  Topics included the arts, social justice concerns and world religions.

After 27 years, the membership voted to hire “a regular occasional minister.”  Laurie Bushbaum served in this role from 1993 until 1997.  The next year, a new part time arrangement was tried with a trio of ministers, rotating services throughout the year.  These ministers were Roberta Haskin, Shelly Dugan and Ted Tollefson. Shelley and Ted continued as co-leaders until 2001, when Ted became the part time minister, serving until 2007.  The solo ministry model continued with Dawn Cooley who served for 2 years, from 2007 until 2009.  Our most recent past minister, Kristin Maier, joined us in 2009. 

In preparing this “Peek at the Past”, I was able to talk with all five of the previous ministers, asking them all the same questions to guide our conversations:

- When did you serve as minister at UUFN?

- Describe two or three experiences that were memorable during that time.

-  How would you describe the congregation at the time you were serving as minister?

- What would be your hopes and dreams for UUFN as we look ahead?

One outstanding memory of Laurie’s time here was a letter she received from a member who had started attending while Laurie was minister. This member wrote to tell her that when she first came to UUFN, it was a tough time in her life, but UUFN played an important role in her getting back on her feet.  She eventually met and married her new life partner at the church and wanted Laurie to know the good news. Laurie’s impression of the congregation was energetic, shuffling the chairs and hymnals into place at the Arts Guild for each service. She also commented that the congregation was just beginning to think about what it would mean to work with a minister.

Roberta loved the light airy, wonderful space at the Northfield Arts Guild.  She liked having younger families with children in the RE program and enjoyed the special interaction with the children at the beginning of her services. She appreciated the wisdom of the elders in the group and described the congregation as questioning, welcoming and appreciative of the arts, particularly music and the written word.

Shelley encountered a new challenge when the congregation asked her to preach without notes, but she valued the experience.  She was privileged to officiate at the wedding of Bill and Janet McGrath which was held on a farm in the rain with a sea of umbrellas. Her description of the membership includes the words “politically active, creative, passionate with a tremendous sense of humor” and she absolutely adored them.

Ted also enjoyed the clear light and high ceilings at the Arts Guild, a perfect setting for music, poetry and a poetic, reflective style of preaching, although it was too small to encourage membership growth.  He remembers the lovely, playful procession from this home to the new larger building owned by the Masons.  Gatherings at Chapati’s on Sunday after the service or midweek where he held office hours under the gold Buddha left a strong impression of getting to know one another face to face, heart to heart. He felt that the congregation was a community in transition, welcoming new members and saying good-bye to others as they moved on. The members grappled with many of the ethical and spiritual issues of the day, and most of the time managed to be truthful and kind with one another.  We joined hands, sang “Spirit of Life,” and in our diverse ways, practiced the art of blessing one another.

Dawn remembers the lights going out occasionally in the middle of the service, with these same gremlins plaguing us even today. Special outings at the Topps’ and fun with Mairi Doerr’s goats are among her memories, as well as the wonderful potlucks with friendly people. She appreciates how welcoming the congregation was to her spouse and children. She remembers fondly a growing RE program, the vigorous Sunday Services Committee, the music and so much more. She also commented on the  congregation wanting to grow, but struggling with how to achieve that.

Finally, our quintet of ministers shared their thoughts for the future of UUFN.  Here are their dreams for the years ahead:

- Continue to deepen your relationship with ministerial leadership and take a role in local justice issues.  Continue to take risks and develop and deepen lay leadership.  Peace and all the best to the entire congregation and to your minister from Laurie Bushbaum.

- I’d like to see the congregation grow to 150, with a diversity of ages. Continue your stability with ministry and a building of your own says Roberta Haskin.

- Your congregation is a vibrant group that has lasted 50 years which really says something.  I hope that UUFN will serve as a beacon for people who are atypically religious who would find a warm, inviting and fulfilling place in Northfield from Shelly Dugan.

-  I hope you will continue to grow ethically, spiritually and numerically.  I hope you will continue to welcome strangers as guests, and attend to those who need extra help and careful attention.  I hope you will continue to struggle non-violently for peace and justice for all, no exceptions. I hope you will continue to transmit the light of our liberating faith to children and grandchildren and all those who share our values but rarely get up on Sunday mornings wishes Ted Tollefson.

- When I left, my primary hope for you was to find a minister who would stick with you for long enough to make wonderful things happen, and I am so glad that you have done exactly that.  My ongoing hope is that you are able to make the shift from a family-sized congregation to a pastoral sized one, and that you get to the size where you no longer have to struggle to figure out how to fund both a minister and a building. May you continue to grow your reputation for being a force for good in Northfield and the surrounding communities.  Happy 50th anniversary and much love and blessings to you all from Dawn.

It is wonderful to hear these voices from the past wishing us the best for our future.  These individuals have brought their talents, wisdom, personal style and caring to guide and strengthen our growing fellowship.