By DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI
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Having two ministers in the same family is rare. A married couple serving together at the same congregation is even rarer.
That’s what the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair has, however.
The Revs. Anya Sammler-Michael and Scott Sammler-Michael moved from Virginia to Montclair in July, to work together for the first time at the same congregation. Their new adventure as co-senior ministers of Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair began Aug. 1.
According to the Unitarian Universalist Association, Unitarian beliefs are diverse and open, not confined to one system. Unitarians do not check their personal background and beliefs at the door: They embrace both Eastern and Western religions and philosophies including Christian, Jewish and Earth-centered traditions and humanist teachings.
According to Anya, Unitarian Universalists look to all sources of divine and human spiritual wisdom: traditional religious texts, poetry and even non-rational ways of knowing.
The two ministers met at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Illinois. According to Anya, fellow clergy advised them to serve at different congregations before serving together as a married couple. So, taking that advice, Anya served at UU Congregation of Sterling, in Sterling, Virginia for a decade. Scott served nine years at Accotink UU Church in Burke, Virginia.
“We have friends who are clergy couples,” Anya said. “We witnessed their work from a distance and saw what amazing ministry they could do together and we wanted to try that out for ourselves.”
The couple believe working together will build a relationship for themselves and the church.
How will they address any problems working as co-ministers and living as a married couple? Anya joked, “As long as I have the last word.”
Scott said,“We are working with a coach that we meet to sort of bounce off how things are going and how we can improve our working relationship.” Anya added,“I think there is a great benefit to be able to model an open and honest communication, at the same time modeling a spousal relationship.”
The Sammler-Michaels said they were drawn to Montclair by its history and its diversity.
“The congregation was started by women who wanted to give their children a progressive religious education in the 1890s. There is that interesting germ in this place to be in central Montclair,” said
“What drew us to this congregation particularly is how diverse the people are. There is a great diversity in this town and it’s reflected in this congregation. UU doesn’t normally have 10 percent African-American membership for instance but we do. But it’s the history of the town which openly welcomes interracial couples from the 1920s.
“When we met the people who are the leaders here, we saw folks who were devoted to a mission beyond keeping the church open and the lights burning,” said Scott.
The ministers will mostly give their own sermons but at times will deliver a sermon together. Their first joint sermon will be on Oct. 22, on the current and historic relationship between gender and faith.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A UU SERVICE
Those who attend a service at UU at Montclair can “expect to be welcomed and challenged,” said Anya, “challenged to be their best self, receive the gift of community and [a] warm embrace,” said Anya.
“Get some spiritual food for the journey for the week,” Scott added.
That spiritual food comes in the form of music, a pastoral space that allows for reflection and calm, a “well-considered” reflection on the state of the world, say the Sammler-Michaels. That view of the world and what it means to people working to make it a better place is interpreted through a Unitarian Universalist theological lens, said Scott.
Among those who frequent a UU Montclair service, according to the ministers are atheists and Pagans. Although the congregation does not have an official CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) chapter yet, Anya believes members of the congregation want to make it more official.
The congregation is a partner of MESH and hosts its MESH café, an evening meal program run by congregations of several other faiths. According to Scott, it feeds 50 to 100 people in need.
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, 67 Church St., 973-744-6276, uumontclair.org
Congregation size: about 400 adults and 180 children
Services: September through the third Sunday in June, 9 and 11 a.m. Summer services Sundays at 10 a.m.