top banner  
  top navigation  
 
         
 

Biography

Early Years and College

In 1963 I was born in the city of Savannah, Georgia, where I spent my first thirteen years. As a child I did well at school, formed friendships with other children in my neighborhood and had a strong imagination. My mother was a dedicated Southern Baptist and we were at the church almost every time the doors were open. I sang in the children's choir, played a shepherd in the church Christmas pageant, attended the Wednesday night potluck prayer supper and always read my Bible lesson in preparation for Sunday school.

This might seem excessive to some but most Southern Baptists live through their church community. In the neighborhood in which I grew up when a new child moved in the neighborhood children would greet her by asking her which Baptist church her family attended, and they were always Southern Baptists.

The church was very important to me as a child. I was dutiful and I still have several perfect attendance medals from the Sunday school. Even though I was religious in a conventional way, I felt that the Southern Baptist faith was not the right path for me even at a very young age. I began to question the literal meaning of the scriptures and thought that some of the stories that we children were being taught seemed improbable. Though my mother was loyal to her church, she and my father also believed in ideas like evolution that were in conflict with the narrow interpretation of scripture found at our church. This confused me and caused me to question the validity of religious ideas. I also have never been able to believe that a benevolent creator of the universe would permit humans to suffer eternal damnation. The Southern Baptist church we attended was strong on the fires of hell so I knew that I would seek out another faith when I grew up.

When I was fourteen my parents finally divorced. Almost immediately after the divorce my mother and I moved from Savannah to a small mill town in northeast Georgia. Around that time I think that I lost the last vestiges of my given faith. My world had been disrupted and I retained no confidence in the idea of God, let alone the Christian faith. I still dutifully attended church with my mother who converted to the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ. The Disciples are much like the New England Congregationalists, Christian but usually tolerant on matters of belief. At the time I could not hear their message because they used the same symbols and terms that the Southern Baptists used. I was not aware that they meant something entirely different to the Disciples.

After high school I went on to the University of Georgia, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. College life was everything that high school was not. I made close friendships that have endured to this day. By this time I considered myself an irreligious atheist. I could not understand how anyone could believe religious ideas. Unfortunately, most of the religious ideas to which I had been exposed were those of Southern fundamentalism.

Yet, I secretly harbored an interest in religion. While I postured as an atheist with my friends, I spent the weekends in the university library reading books about the world's religions and philosophies. I read the Koran, the Tao te ching and other significant works looking for truth. It seemed so evasive.

Seeking and Finding

After university, and armed with a highly marketable undergraduate degree in history which had many potential employers lining up to read my resume, I found work as an historic preservationist in a small urban planning agency serving the Chattanooga, Tennessee area. I enjoyed my time in Chattanooga. During the week I worked as an historic preservation surveyor and during the weekends I hiked through the mountains surrounding the city. As I became accustomed to walking mountain paths alone I began to realize that I was talking to someone and that that someone was God. I felt a presence in my solitude and felt for the first time since childhood that I was a soul-filled person.

When I told my college roommate about my experiences in prayer and meditation he was surprised. He was then a Disciples of Christ minister and had known well my reluctance to accept religious ideas. When I told him that I was looking for a religious community in which I might explore my nascent theism without being bound by creed or dogma my friend said to me, "You sound like a Unitarian Universalist." I started attending the local church. A few months later I joined the Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga. It was a life-changing experience. I found the community that I sought for so many years. I became involved with many committees and programs in the church.

Seminary and Professional Training

Throughout my life I have always known that if I found a religious community that I truly believed in that I would feel called to the ministry. When I announced that I had been accepted to Meadville/Lombard Theological School in 1992, two years after joining the congregation, I discovered that my fellow congregants at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga experienced me as one called to the ministry as well. They celebrated my decision to enter seminary by giving a banquet in my honor and sponsoring me during my ministerial education.

The years at Meadville/Lombard Theological School were a flurry of activity. I took a full load of graduate-level courses at Meadville/Lombard and the University of Chicago Divinity School, worked two and sometimes three part-time jobs (totaling thirty hours a week), kept a spiritual discipline, preached occasionally, found time to be involved with seminary activities, volunteered for charity, and I maintained a personal life at the same time.

In the summer of 1994 I took a course of Clinical Pastoral Education at the pediatric HIV/AIDS clinic at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. There I served as chaplain to mostly African American and Hispanic women and their children.

The following year I served as the ministerial intern at Countryside Church, Unitarian Universalist in Palatine, Illinois, in Chicago's northwest suburbs. It was a difficult year but I learned more from my supervising minister, the Rev. Ruppert Lovely, about pastoral care and ministry in the first two weeks of my internship than I had learned through Clinical Pastoral Education and three years of study.
During the following year I finished my remaining course work and prepared for the interview with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee. I graduated from Meadville/Lombard Theological School in June and was granted preliminary fellowship by the Unitarian Universalist Association in August 1997 and Final Fellowship in 2004.

top

Early Ministries

Six months later the First Congregational Parish, Unitarian in Petersham, Massachusetts called me as their interim minister after the sudden death of their previous minister. As their interim minister I helped the congregation deal with issues around grief and conflict, and prepared them for their settled minister.

In April of 1999 the First Unitarian Congregational Society of Wilton Center, New Hampshire called me as their minister. The congregation told me that they wanted to grow. I am a growth-oriented minister. After serving as their minister for a year I realized that they were not really wanting to grow and did not wish to have the kinds of conversations that would encourage a common mission and vision. Their resistance to growth and development led me to look elsewhere.

In the 2001–2002 church year I served as the interim minister of the First Church of Christ, Unitarian in Lancaster, Massachusetts, another U.U. Christian congregation. I helped the congregation work through conflict issues arising from the previous settled ministry, establish a membership committee, strengthen their Sunday school, and helped them deal with issues around stewardship. In all, this was a very successful year for this church and I think that they anticipated their next settled ministry with zest and enthusiasm.

Recent Years

This 2002–2004 period was spent in interim ministry at the High Street Unitarian Universalist Church in Macon, Georgia. High Street's previous settled ministry ended terribly — just as the congregation was making plans to vacate their church building for a year due to structural renovations. My ministry with the Macon church was largely about providing stable leadership during a time of transition. They were a great congregation with energetic and committed leadership. In the last year of the interim ministry High Street Church grew more than twenty percent and the congregation was optimistic about its future. During that interim ministry, for the first time in the congregation's memory, High Street U.U. Church raised enough funds in its pledge drive to completely fund its budget

After the interim ministry in Macon I accepted the interim ministry at the Unitarian Fellowship of West Chester, Pennsylvania. During the first year of the interim ministry the congregation decided to take stock of its situation, underwent an analysis of its membership growth potential and chose to go to two Sunday services. Going to two Sunday services meant raising twenty percent more money for the annual budget. The congregation raised the needed money partly due to evidence that the congregation could grow significantly based upon the ten percent growth in membership during the first year of the interim ministry.

During the first year at West Chester my personal life changed significantly as well. I met my wife, Jennifer Johnston. We plan to live in the Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey/Northern Delaware area for the foreseeable future.

In 2006 I accepted the three-quarter time interim ministry at the Thomas Paine U.U. Fellowship in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. During that year we worked on coming to terms with a painful history, added a much-needed administrative assistant to the church staff and had the most successful pledge drive in the congregation's history. Though the congregation was committed to having a two-year interim ministry, I felt that the congregation would benefit from exposure to another style of ministerial leadership and I chose not to renew for a second year of interim ministry.

At the same time that I began the interim ministry at the Thomas Paine U.U. Fellowship I also began a quarter-time, consulting ministry at the Dorothea Dix U.U. Community in Crosswicks, New Jersey. Over the course of those four years that I served as their minister, the congregation grew in ministries with younger membership and a children's religious education program. Though the Dorothea Dix congregation is small in numbers, I was continually impressed by their commitment to "hands on" social justice projects and their supportive community. It was a real pleasure serving as their consulting minister.

From autumn of 2008 to 2010 I served as the consulting minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. The congregation had gone through a tumultuous time in the previous settled ministry and the almost two years of that consulting ministry were largely spent in dealing with issues around the previous ministry and stabilizing the congregation.

From 2010 to 2012 I served as the interim minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Mill Creek in Newark, Delaware. During that time we dealt primarily with issues around grief over the long-serving minister's retirement and putting the congregation's finances in better working order.

In the 2012–2013 church year I served as interim minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark, DE. The second year of an intentional two-year interim, the ministry focused on setting a process for ministry evaluation, establishing a committee on ministry using the Lathom model, and normalizing the relationship between minister and congregation.

I entered the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lower Bucks in Langhorne, PA as their half-time consulting minister for 2013–2014. It quickly became apparent that a consulting ministry would not work as the congregation was mired in grief over their previous minister's resignation, needed to examine its expectations about professional ministry, and needed to reflect on its future plans. Because of the half-time nature of the interim ministry, the intense winter, and the six-month period, little has been accomplished in the interim ministry process. The congregation is adapting to differing expectations of part-time ministry.

I am currently serving as the interim minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hunterdon County in Baptistown, New Jersey. The congregation has been dealing with a new vision of ministry and considering its future. The congregation successfully called a minister in May 2016.

In 2012 I embarked upon a new journey and began classes for a Master of Science in Pastoral Mental Health Counseling at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania. Coursework included Theological Reflection, Marriage and Family Counseling, Theoretical Models, Trauma and Crisis Counseling, Multicultural Counseling and many other courses. I have had hands-on experience through a year of Practicum and Internship. My coursework will end in December 2016 and I will graduate in Spring 2017. My goal is to serve a Unitarian Universalist congregation and also work part-time as a professional counselor. So far, I have been able to balance the full-time work of congregational ministry and still take classes and internship.

 
 

Sermons
The Subtlety of Water
"We Remember What It
   Means to Be Irish"

Fear Itself
Lessons from the Edge
I'm Here to Recruit You
Passages
Child Dedication Service
Memorial Service
Wedding Service
Articles
January 2010
December 2009
September 2005
April 2005
 
UU
 

top

   
  Home  |  Biography  |  Experience  |  Contact  
         
 
     
     
     
  © 2017 Larry W. Smith, Unitarian Universalist Minister. All rights reserved.