From the Ministerial Search Committee

The past few months have been extraordinary. I suspect that nobody on this committee quite anticipated the intensity of the work. And there’s more to come.  But I think I speak for all of us that in saying that it has been a deeply joyous process, and that we’re honored and humbled to be serving in this way.

Over and over again, the committee has invoked the First Church covenant.  Asking what the words mean, and what kind of minister we need to help us live it.  Can we find a minister who is able to get more than a 90% vote on May 5th?

I invite you to imagine the following conversation about what the First Church needs in its next minister:

  “Well that’s easy, you say.  The minister’s job is to preach.  Preaching an inspiring sermon each week is the most important thing they do.”

“Hmm,” says the person next to you.  “That sounds like the job of a preacher. Are a minister and a preacher the same thing?”

“I don’t think that’s right,”  says the person in front of you.  “The minister’s job is to care for the church members. Like a shepherd tending a flock.  Pastoral care is their most important task.” 

“That sounds like a pastor.  Are a minister and a pastor the same thing?”

“In the UU Church, a minister must be a social justice leader.  They must be charismatic enough attract followers in the community. That will grow the church and the UU Movement.”

“Movement? Who said anything about a movement? I just want to be part of a church that welcomes me no matter what I believe.”

The survey results and the cottage chats revealed variations on all of these themes.  And it’s with this in mind that the search committee has reviewed prospective candidates.

 Twelve candidates expressed interest. That’s a lot. During January, each committee member spent somewhere around 60 hours in candidate review.  Between those hours, we experienced ordinary life: new jobs, illness, serious family health crises, deaths of family and dear companions, human and furry.  The term walking together has been ever present, like a beacon. We’ve felt the immediateness of walking with one another, and the ever-present covenant to walk with all of you.

At this point, we’ve narrowed our field to two candidates, a man and a woman.  They’re both sort of young -- probably between the age of 30 and 50. Each has considerable strengths, though in very different areas.  Each spoke very thoughtfully about how they’d approach ministry here. They know we’ll expect them to move to Salem or a neighboring community, and are excited about that.

During this process, we’ve learned some important things. 

We’ve learned that UU ministers generally preach between 35 and 40 Sundays a year, less often than we’re accustomed to.  We’ve also learned that a Worship committee often actively partners with the minister to plan services.

Apparently, we at First Church have a complicated governance structure.  Who knew? 😊

We’ve learned that churches often provide training for lay leadership. Perhaps it’s coaching for people who speak from the pulpit, or listening skills for people doing pastoral care.  It might be facilitation skills for committee chairs. You get the idea.

We’ve learned that it’s unusual to have a children’s moment every Sunday.  And that it’s generally called A Time for All Ages.

We’ve learned that UU ministers expect 4 weeks of study time each year to deepen their ministry.  And that they’re expected to report back to their congregations about their learning.

We’ve learned that First Church isn’t perfect.  And neither is any minister. We walk together in all our splendor and imperfection.

The search committee’s next step is to spend a weekend getting to know each of the two candidates. After those weekends, we will bring one candidate forward.  That candidate will preach here on two Sundays:  April 27 and May 5th.  They’ll spend the week in between getting to know the church community. The congregation will then vote on May 5th to call (or not) its next minister.

The committee is excited about this next phase.  At this juncture we believe we have two excellent candidates each of whom is just as excited about First Church. We continue to be honored to serve the church in this way and encourage you to offer us your thoughts and ask your questions.

See you in church!

Nicole McLaughlin, on behalf of the Ministerial Search Committee

Joe Bayne, Theo Burbank, Jessica Kane, Tommy Leon, Nicole McLaughin, Katherine Palmer, and Lynn Taggart

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Check out Ethics in Intelligence Operations on Youtube!

The program from May 18, 2018 featuring former CIA Officer John Kiriakou: “Ethics in Intelligence Operations,” is now on the First Church’s YouTube Channel.

Throughout history, and particularly today, the role of intelligence services in information collection and operational activity has been controversial. This talk explores both personal morality and the rule of law in these functions today.

Ethics in Intelligence Operations on the First Church's YouTube channel

A Message from the Interim Minister

A Message from the Interim Minister

Dear Members and Friends of the First Church Community,

As I announced in my pulpit editorial on Sunday, June 3 the Standing Committee has hired an Interim Minister. Terry Sweetser is an accomplished minister with a great deal of experience working with UU churches in the Northeast. He will serve us for a year with the ability to extend for a second year. Reverend Sweetser will begin effective August 1st. He asked for the opportunity to send a note which you can read below.


Marlene Warner

Chair, Standing Committee

Dear Members and Friends of the First Church in Salem,

I’m honored and delighted to take up interim ministry among you during this period of ministerial transition. You have been faithfully and wonderfully served by Reverend Jeff for almost a generation. For him and for your congregation it’s a time of change, farewells, and new beginnings.

Because of the work you and Reverend Jeff have done together First Church is vital, strong and balanced. You have spiritual depth, a passion for justice, and commitment to young people. Our task now is to find new ways to walk together with God.

As we start our walk together I need to get to know you. Above all, I need to listen and learn. So, I will be spending time in August and September becoming immersed in the ways of First Church and Salem. If there is anything you think I should know plan to meet with me in August or email me any time

I come to you with forty-five years experience as a Unitarian Universalist minister. The church I grew up in, First Parish, Norwell (gathered in 1642), was not very different from First Church, Salem (gathered in 1629). We said the Lord’s Prayer and were inspired by scripture every week. I’m glad to be coming home to it.

Please cherish the good-byes and hellos ahead.


The Reverend Terry Sweetser

New Memorial for the Victims of the Salem Witch Trials is dedicated

A group of approximately 175 people gathered at the site of the new memorial to those hanged during the Salem Witch Trials 325 years ago this year.  Jeff Barz-Snell delivered the Opening Words for the Ceremony and the offered a concluding Prayer of Committal.  His remarks are pasted below:

Proctor’s Ledge Memorial Dedication

Remarks and Prayer Prepared by the Rev. Jeffrey Barz-Snell,

31st Pastor and Teacher of the First Church in Salem

Wednesday, July 19, 2017, 12 Noon


Opening Benediction:

We shouldn’t be here today.  These five innocent women should not have been executed on this day three and ¼ centuries ago. 

We shouldn’t be here today.  We should not be here dedicating this memorial and setting aside this small patch of rocky earth as a memorial for these 13 women and 5 men. 

We shouldn’t be here today.  We should not be here commemorating the heartbreaking and tragic loss of life, people who were falsely and unjustly accused of being in the “Snare of the Devil.” 

We shouldn’t be here today.  It did not need to happen.  It should not have happened.  And yet it did.  And so we are – here – to remember, to resolve, and to rededicate, so that the evils perpetrated against these people never happen again. 

We here in Salem know what can happen when we let our pride and petty grievances get the better of us. 

We here in Salem know what can happen when our resentments and hatreds manifest themselves in our religious beliefs and practices and our social life and community.

We here in Salem know what can happen when our unconscious biases against women or men, when our prejudices against people and cultures different from our own, are allowed to inform and distort our spiritual lives without reflection and humility.

We here in Salem know that the doorway to human evil lies in people being given permission to unfairly accuse and scapegoat others. 

Petty grudges and class anxieties; resentments based on gender or ethnicity, fear and anxiety about our larger world – it’s far too easy to let these fallacies of the human mind and soul rule our lives and our decisions.

And so we endeavor to chart another course in our lives, in our communities and in our faith traditions.  We chart a new course based on the values of thoughtfulness, humility, curiosity, and charity.  We chart a new course guided by the principles of compassion, freedom and tolerance.  And we resolve to cultivate our best selves.

Good afternoon.  On behalf of the Community of Salem I welcome you to this solemn dedication of Proctor’s Ledge.  My name is the Rev.  Jeffrey Barz-Snell and I am the current and 31st Minister of the First Church in Salem.  Rebecca Nurse was a full member of my congregation, as was Giles Corey. 

325 years ago today, (give or take a few days given alterations to the calendar over the centuries), 5 innocent and very frightened women were executed for the crime of witchcraft.  My predecessor, the Rev. Nicholas Noyes, who held the same office as I do, was party to the events this day and helped fan the flames of hatred and hysteria that engulfed this region during that tragic summer. 

I like to tell people that the real history of Salem is not embodied in the tragic and terrifying events of 1692 but rather in how Salem evolved and developed in the ensuing decades and centuries.  We would like to think we learned from the evil and traumatic choices made 325 years ago.  We would like to think we became better people.  The truth is that the lessons from Salem are not just learned once but must be learned and re-learned by each generation.

Salem has come a long way over the centuries and I am proud to call this community and city my home.  But we must never forget what happened and what can happen.  That is what today’s dedication is all about.  Thank you for attending on this hot summer day.


Prayer of Committal Offered at the Conclusion of the Ceremony:

There are many different ways to remember the past: we can analyze events from different perspectives and angles.  We can chart out events by time or by geography.  We can explore larger contexts and recognize the subtle and intricate connections and concatenation of events that form any historic incident.  But in the end, all of our research and analyses of the past are meaningless unless it informs the present.   The lives that were falsely accused and unjustly executed at this place 325 years ago are best honored when we as individuals, as a community as a region resolve to make different choices.  

As we conclude this Dedication, there is one final action needed to be taken: in the traditions handed down to us, we know there were prayers said upon the passing of a member of the community.  These are traditionally referred to as Prayer of Committal often said at funerals and when committing a loved one’s body to the earth.  Recognizing this probably did not happen here at this site when these five innocent women were executed, we now offer a prayer of committal for them, and for us:

Go forth Faithful Servants

In the name of God who created you.

IN the name of your Saviour who died for you,

In the name of the Spirit which was given unto you.

Go forth upon your journey from this world

May you live in peace this day. 

May you dwelling be in endless light.

And may you - and all of us - find our place, our true place, in God’s Kingdom.

 (Adapted from the King’s Chapel Prayer Book)

 May their lives never be forgotten, and may what happened here serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of compassion, reason and tolerance in all our lives. 

Let the people say Amen.