Rev. Jacqueline Brett – Guest Blogger

Rev. Jacqueline Brett
Lead Minister
Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

“My spiritual center emanates from a womanist process theology where ultimate meaning is intentionally co-created at the intersection of being a queer Black woman who grew up poor in America, weaned on the notion of creative possibility as faith, as hope, as action.”

Reflections on a First Year as Senior Minister

I was named Lead Minister by the Eno River UU Fellowship in January 2022, as an inside call. Following the recommendations of the UUA Transitions Office, I took a 90-day leave before returning for my new position on August 1.

While I was away, members of the congregation decided to read the book, Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry, and it seemed to have a deep impact. When I returned there appeared to be two key things on the minds of most: What should we call you? And, how can we support you in your self-care?

I was initially surprised by the first question, as I’d already been their minister. But I appreciated how moved they were by what they’d read, and their recognition that they were now in a new relationship with me and wanted it to be successful. I responded with a blog post that explained my thoughts about their question and what I preferred to be called. (The post can be found here. Note: the ERUUF website is currently experiencing technical difficulty as of 10-5-23.) Their other question proved to be an ongoing struggle throughout the year. I was taking on a huge position, amid a group of people with very high expectations of themselves, let alone for their Lead Minister, or the high expectations she held for herself!

I led the effort toward developing a new three-year strategic plan, chaired a committee of the Board that formally launched the congregation’s new Theory of Change for Racial Equity and Inclusion, worked with the Board on my Start-up weekend, and of course, planned my Installation, which was held in February and, as most ministers know, was like planning a small wedding. The work from August through January was both tremendous and admittedly stressful, despite the congregation’s exuberance and great joy.

With the Installation over, we began work on the Pledge drive. Some folks expressed displeasure over the “direction of the UUA and the direction of ERUUF,” and said they were “stepping back” or could not give at the present time. I had a tremendously supportive Board chair who reassured me that I had nothing to worry about, that I had the support of most, and while a few might leave more would come in. We ended in exceeding the congregation’s previous pledge drives and also received a major gift.

The area where I experienced pushback, came as no surprise: worship. My services ran past an hour and some congregants let the staff (though not me!) know that they’d been UUs for (fill in the blank) years and a service was “supposed” to end within an hour. Some of the older congregants were quite miffed.

The Worship Team and I had been focused on, “What does it mean to create transformative worship?” I encouraged them to innovate, to think beyond our usual liturgy. I’d been less concerned about making sure it all happened within 60 minutes. I found it difficult to grasp what felt like an obsession about time, and realized I held the spiritual practice of our communal worship quite differently: I’d aim in a general way for an hour, but if we exceeded it by several minutes I didn’t feel it was a major issue – the children were being picked up from RE on time, and most people were headed to the Fellowship Hall for coffee anyway!

I addressed it in a lighthearted sermon in which we all got to laugh at ourselves. As a congregation interested in charting a new course, I mentioned that we could end up doing the same old things, giving it a new name, but it would really be nothing different. I spoke to them about the Worship Team’s desire to explore and innovate and asked them to be patient and to work with us. If they ever needed to leave early, we would not be offended.

And they did work with us. Also, as I checked in with other ministers, I discovered that many were leading services that lasted longer than an hour.

For the 2023-24 program year we have returned to two services for the first time since the pandemic but have made significant changes. The first service is contemplative and begins with a “quiet sit” or gathering for contemplation. The lights are low, and the music and hymn singing is quieter throughout. The service has been successful in meeting the needs of those who had been longing for a quieter worship experience. The second service, by contrast, seems to burst at the seams in exuberance in terms of music, content, and the congregation’s energy overall.

This year we’ve also received a grant from our foundation to develop an artist in residence program in which artists from the local community would be invited to create worship with us while presenting other programming for the congregation as well. This is still in its formative stages, but we are excited about its possibilities for continued innovation, and deepening our relationships within the community.

Rev. Jacqueline Brett

— submitted September 2023

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Thank you for your reflections, Rev. Jacqueline Brett. The Eno River UU Fellowship is among our large size congregations. We hope to feature more posts and information about Rev. Jacqueline and ERUUF in the near future.

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“Jacqueline is continuously expanding her ministry in the world in beautiful ways that draw people in. Her process of grounding in ancestors, in lived experience, in imagining the other; generates a community of care. She names spirits, moves along the line at the edge of her learning zone, and is an old soul thunderstorm storyteller.”

Rev. Joseph Santos-Lyons
Center for Organizing, Renewal, and Leadership