First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

At this year’s Annual Meeting on May 20th, we have the opportunity to vote in a minister emeritus for the first time in our congregation’s history. As the Unitarian Universalist Association describes it, “The title Minister Emeritus or Minister Emerita is granted to honor long and meritorious service to a congregation where the minister has given devoted and competent ministerial leadership.” Though a minister emerita/us defers to the current settled minister with regard to preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and rites of passage, ministers emeriti regularly offer their considerable gifts in all these ways to a congregation who knows and loves them. Our own Ed Lane was the beloved minister emeritus at First Parish in Waltham for over twenty years.

As many of you know, Rev. John Buehrens retired from active ministry in 2017 at the age of 70. First Parish in Needham was both his last settled ministry and the longest pastorate (from 2002 to 2012) of his over-forty year ministerial career; his shared ministry with First Parish was fruitful and joyous, with a surge in membership, expanded programming, and major capital campaigns and building renovations completed. I’ve been in e-conversation with John for a few weeks now, and John is excited about the opportunity to become First Parish’s minister emeritus.

What would that mean for us? John has indicated he’d be thrilled to visit First Parish for preaching and teaching opportunities whenever he’s in the area. (John and his wife Gwen have settled down in San Francisco near one of their daughters and her family, but they visit Greater Boston regularly to see their daughter Mary and her family.) We could anticipate that for the foreseeable future, we’d have John speak and preach at First Parish a couple or few times a year. In a more superficial sense, John’s name would also once again grace our letterhead, website, and other public materials.

What would that mean for John? If we welcome him as our minister emeritus, John would restart a formal relationship with First Parish in Needham and continue to be designated as a ministerial delegate (which requires an active ministerial position) at our annual UUA General Assembly meetings. He was delighted to visit First Parish most recently for Labor Day worship in 2017, and is eager to see us more often. Though financial support of John’s visits to First Parish, of his research projects (currently, about the Transcendentalists), or of our teaching and youth ministry endowed fund that bears his name might be deemed appropriate at a future time, there is no monetary compensation required in an emeritus/a relationship (and John is explicitly not asking for any such funding at this time). It would, of course, be proper for us to throw him a little “welcome back” party in the fall!

For John to become our minister emeritus, we need to take a formal vote at our Annual Meeting. A vote “yes” essentially says that you believe that we should honor John for his contributions to First Parish and that John’s renewed presence at First Parish would have a positive impact on our faith community. Our bylaws require a 90% approval for ministers; we currently don’t have a bylaw that addresses ministers emeriti in particular, but we would likely create such a section next year if the vote goes well, and John and I would immediately developa formal covenant about his involvement at the church.

Parish Committee members and I are happy to speak with any person who has questions, comments, or concerns about this proposal. Personally, I would be delighted to have John as a ministerial colleague on staff at First Parish, and hope John will receive a positive vote this month.