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Installation includes justice work

Rather than simply install its new minister, congregation launched day of community service.
By Donald E. Skinner
Spring 2013 2.15.13

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When the Rev. Barnaby Feder was helping to plan his installation at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, in Middlebury, Vt., he wanted the day to include more than just a meaningful ceremony.

That’s how paintbrushes, baking pans, and a Japanese maple on the town green came to be part of the day.

“In addition to the ceremony itself, I wanted us to think about doing something for the community,” Feder said. “Installations naturally center on celebrating the commitment of the new minister and the congregation to each other, but I wanted the day to also reflect our commitment to being part of the larger community.”

To that end, the installation committee came up with four community service projects: painting a room at the local library, preparing food for a drop-in meal center, organizing materials for a literacy program, and planting a tree.

The installation was on Saturday, October 27, in the afternoon. That morning, congregation members fanned out to the four project sites and worked until noon, then attended the installation.

“It made the day feel balanced and fulfilling,” said Feder. “People were happy to have these opportunities, and they felt really good about what they’d done.”

On that morning, member Laurie Borden peeled hundreds of carrots for a food pantry, then helped bake large pans of apple crisp for the drop-in meal center in town. “The day was a wonderful demonstration of everyone doing a little bit,” she said. “It would have been easy to say we didn’t need to add this to our day—we had a whole installation to plan—but we felt that our important celebration should be shared with the community. It reminded us that as a congregation we’re not here just for us. We’re part of a larger community, and we like being out in that community.”

Dorothy Mammen, another member, had the idea to plant a Japanese maple on the town green as a gift to the town. “I call it a ‘diversitree,’ because it complements our native maples,” she said. “I’m thrilled with what we’re doing. I like how these projects are kicking off Barnaby’s ministry here. I think we’re very focused now on what else we can do as we go forward to make a difference in the community.”

Feder estimated that a fourth of the congregation of 160 members participated in the work projects. He noted that the congregation has a history of community involvement. One weekend the youth group peeled and bagged 200 pounds of carrots for a food pantry. Each year the church hosts the Boston-based Mexican consulate staff, which helps local immigrant workers update their health forms and other papers. Recently the congregation’s new-member class organized a project to provide toys for needy children.

“Vermont in general and our region in particular can look idyllic to outsiders, but there is plenty of justice work needed here,” said Feder. “We have a reputation for being socially active, but we are in a good position to do more.”


This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of UU World (page 46). A longer version of this story appeared in the December 2012 issue of InterConnections, the UUA’s free email newsletter for congregational leaders. Sign up for monthly articles and weekly updates, explore the online resource library, and share success stories from your congregation.

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