Leader suits church's needs

It is a time of new beginnings for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia. The church has a new pastor, the Rev. Paige Getty, who comes on board after a two-year interim minister.

On Sunday, the congregation held its traditional water communion service in the Owen Brown Interfaith Center -- the first service after a summer break. Congregation members take vials of water from their summer travels, and each vial is emptied into a bowl, symbolizing the congregation's shared journey on its search for truth. The water is used throughout the year for religious services and dedications.


About 250 members attended the water communion service. It was one of the first presided over by Getty, 32, who was ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister in 2000.

"She has an incredible energy and warmth," said Richard Dean, the congregation's president.


The church looked for a new minister for 15 months and had a seven-member ministerial search committee. "The committee was directed to not find someone young and inexperienced," Dean said. "But she is so special. She connects with people."

Jim Wu, co-chairman of the committee, said it was important that everyone agreed on the new pastor.

"We were determined to find someone we could bring to the congregation with a unanimous consensus. We posted a help-wanted ad on a [Unitarian Universalist] Web site," Wu said, adding that the wish list of qualifications was long.

"We wanted someone who would offer challenging sermons," he said. "We wanted someone who would needle and nurture us. We wanted someone who would help us identify our vision and our mission, and how we intend to contribute to this world."

The committee received 21 responses from ministers throughout the nation. After telephone interviews, the panel narrowed its search to three candidates. The three came to town, and the committee listened to their sermons. Getty's style on the pulpit appeared to perfectly suit the congregation's needs.

"It was a no-brainer," Wu said. "We were walking on clouds when we met Paige."

Congregation members then voted, and Getty received 99.6 percent of the ballots.

The faith tradition of the church comes from a variety of sources Jewish and Christian, Getty said. "There is no creed. We are all on a journey seeking the truth," she said.


"It is a buffet of religions," Wu said. "We agree to core value and principles. But we also say that we don't have to think alike to love alike. It's sort of like herding cats -- we all have our own idea of which way we are going."

The future of the congregation looks bright with Getty at the helm.

"The congregation can expect a minister who is present as a pastor, who respects freedom of the pulpit," Getty said. "I will speak that which I know to be true, and I will listen to dissent when my truth may not match someone else's. I will honor and respect them with all that I am. I will listen to other perspectives, and we will both grow. I will not shy away from things."

Getty's openness to ideas could be because she was drawn to the Unitarian faith as an adult.

"I am from Savannah, Ga.," Getty said. "I was raised in the Protestant Church. It was very important to me from elementary school all through high school. Religion and church always had been central to my life.

"I went through a disillusionment and coming of age in college," she said. "There were doctrines that I accepted on faith. I encountered social and political issues that made me question what was right for me. I began encountering different kinds of people. I met lesbians and women who had abortions who were racked with guilt. They couldn't go to their church because their church didn't accept them. My church [in Georgia] had quick answers. Homosexuality is wrong. Abortion is wrong, period. I am a proponent of pro-choice. I am not saying to use abortion as birth control, but I believe in safe abortions.


"I have no moral opposition to homosexual and transgendered people. I believe we need to honor healthy sexuality no matter what form it comes in. I ended up leaving my church. I knew people involved in the [Unitarian Universalist] Church, and it fit. I believe religious questions are the real meat of our lives. Religion has been our attempt to explain our own being."

After graduating from Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga., Getty attended Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts, where she met her husband, Graham Robertson. She then completed her fellowship and was ordained at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in San Diego. Most recently she served as interim minister at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas.

She and her husband spent six months living in Abruzzo, Italy, a small, rural town.

"That really changed our perspective," Getty said. "They [the Italians] appreciate fine and simple living. I am hoping to keep some of those values."

Getty is looking forward to her first "settled ministry."

"I have gifts that can help me be a good minister," Getty said. "It is the small moments where I know I can bring meaning to others. That is something that matters."


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