NJ congregation welcomes out minister

The Rev. Kim Wildszewski was raised listening to sermons from the pulpit in a Unitarian Universalist church — and next weekend will take to the pulpit to deliver her own first sermon as settled minister at Unitarian Universalist Church of Washington Crossing.

Wildszewski, 30, takes the reins of the Titusville, N.J., church from transitional minister the Rev. Jennifer Brooks, who stepped in after the Rev. Charles Stephens retired from his post in 2012 after 16 years.

Wildszewski comes to the congregation after spending three years as assistant minister of congregational life at the Unitarian Church in Summit. She and her wife, Tara, moved to Lambertville — where they were joined in a civil union last year, then later married in the Summit church — this summer after she was offered the minister position at UUCWC.

The responsibilities in her new role are diverse, she said.

“I’m the head of staff, so I oversee the director of religious education, the music director, the sexton. I’m here Sunday-Thursday and I’m the person people will come to for pastoral care. I’ll lead worship every Sunday. I’m going to be making sure the congregation is healthy from the inside and therefore able to do outreach in a responsible and authentic manner. It’ll be vision-setting and speaking back to the congregation what I’m hearing that their hopes are. It’s a little bit of everything.”

She’s well-equipped to handle a position with a range of duties. At the 500-member Summit church, she was charged with everything from facilitating small-group ministries to overseeing volunteer recruitment to delivering a monthly sermon and sermons during the summer.

After three years in that position, Wildszewski said she felt it was time for a change and pursued the UUCWC opening, an exhaustive process that began with a meeting with the church’s search committee, a Skype interview, observation of her sermons and finally an evaluation by the congregants themselves — an eight-day process in which she preached twice, met as many members as she could and answered congregant questions before the membership voted to approve her.

She is familiar with UU practices, having been raised in a UU church in Long Island. She said she knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a career as a UU minister, earning her master of divinity from Union Theological Seminary and being ordained a UU minister in 2011.

“By luck and privilege, I was born into this tradition,” Wildszewski said, noting that the UU church is wholly LGBT-affirming, making her own coming-out process free from spiritual conflict. “I was never taught anything that would make my sexual orientation or gender identity at odds with what I wanted to do with my life.”

However, she has encountered some resistance outside of the church when it comes to fusing LGBT and communities of faith.

“I will say the tension comes when I am outside a UU circle. So say at a party or meeting friends or family for the first time, they may know I’m gay and be fine with it, but when they find out I’m clergy, you can feel a shift in the room. And it’s the same if I’m at an interfaith council meeting; everyone’s great with me being a young woman in ministry but when they find out I’m gay, that tension becomes palpable. So that’s always been a constant reminder that Unitarian Universalist is a unique space for many people, including myself,” she said, noting that she hopes to use her role to close gaps. “I’ve been given the opportunity to walk that line. That’s a lot of my calling, to present both spaces for both communities and show that there can be that shared demographic: gay folks in a religious context and a religious context within the LGBT community.”

The 250-member UUCWC church includes a number of LGBT congregants, Wildszewski said, although the diversity of the church is a uniting, not dividing, factor.

“We have a really strong young family cohort — the 30- and 40-year-olds with young kids — and then there’s a little gap and we have a really strong group of 55- and 60-plus. There’s a strong lesbian contingent. The class statuses within the congregation are really diverse. There are a lot of separate cohorts but they all work together. It’s a really good mix.”

As she gets settled, Wildszewski said one of her chief priorities will be leading a congregation-wide effort to employ meaningful and directed programmatic efforts.

“One of our taglines is, ‘Create Community. Celebrate Life. Change the World.’ That’s a lot of what my focus is going to be,” she said. “Typically, one of our members could come in with a great idea that the membership could really benefit from, and as long as they’re willing to lead that program, there’s no need for us to say no. But what happens is that you can become a mile wild and an inch deep. With so many things going on, the congregation can become scattered and not as deep in one conversation as we could be. I’m very organizational-minded and vision-centered so I’m going to be engaging the congregation in a shared conversation; if you’re on the facilities-management team, the pastoral-care team, the membership team or just coming to church on Sunday mornings, we’ll all be asking the same question of, How do we create community, celebrate life and change the world?”

Wildszewski will deliver her first sermon as UUCWC minister Sept. 14. For more information, visit www.uucwc.org.

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