Unitarian Universalists welcome interim minister as Allen retires

Unitarian Universalists welcome interim minister as Allen retires

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Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook. Photo from UUFSB

A local fellowship said goodbye to a beloved pastor this week.

This past Sunday, the Rev. Margie Allen spent her last official day as pastor of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook. Until a new permanent minister is found, Pastor Madelyn Campbell, who recently arrived from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, will serve as interim minister and officially started Monday, Aug. 15.

John Lutterbie, president of the board of trustees, said, “Rev. Margie is a fabulous preacher, intertwining spirituality with social justice. She strengthened our connections to Unitarian Universalism and the wider Long Island community. Two things that we value deeply are the way she enhanced communication within the fellowship and her deep concern for those in need of assistance. In the months before she retired, she prepared us beautifully for the changes to come. We are ready for change but will miss her terribly.”

The Rev. Margie Allen

The Rev. Margie Allen recently retired. Photo from Allen

Allen said she decided to retire for a few reasons but mainly because she felt “the fellowship deserves somebody who is at the top of their energy.”

The pastor added she felt things had changed, in general, regarding religious worship due to COVID-19. One factor is that live streaming and other technological advancements come into play. She said finding a new pastor will enable the congregation to find someone more technologically savvy.

“I did not grow up with computers,” she said. “I’m not stupid about them, but I’m not also creative about them, because I don’t really know their maximum capacity.”

She said now is a good time for change and feels a fresh, creative mind will help the congregation move forward.

“I think that change can be a very energizing and engaging time for a congregation,” she said.

Allen has been the minister of UUFSB since January 2013 after being the fellowship’s consulting minister for 2 1/2 years prior. Before serving in Stony Brook, she was an associate minister with the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut, her first settled ministry.

A native of southwest Virginia, she graduated from Bryn Mawr College after majoring in Greek language and literature. While she thought about going into ministry early on in life, she initially entered the health field working for more than two decades as a cardiac surgery intensive care nurse. She eventually studied theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.

“I often say I went from open heart surgery to the spiritual type of open heart practice,” she said.

Allen is married to the Rev. Dr. Linda Anderson, and the two moved to Stony Brook in 2010. Over time, the couple have developed an appreciation for what the area has to offer, especially Stony Brook University’s Staller Center. 

She said among the most memorable moments during her time with the Stony Brook congregation was when she cut down a pine tree in the yard. She made a maypole and tied ribbons on it, and the congregation conducted a weaving of the maypole for the first time.

However, all of her memories aren’t good ones, as she remembers the fellowship’s Black Lives Matter sign being defaced a few years ago. She said the congregation weathered the storm, and the police department was helpful in the situation.

“I’m so proud of the congregation,” she said. “I tried to work hard to show them and encourage them that this nation’s issues with racism have really risen to the top of what we need to work on.”

She added the denomination as a whole is engaged in trying to create an environment that is actively trying to reverse white supremacy. Allen said the congregation has looked closely at how they run meetings, choose volunteers and how they invite people into their fellowship.

“It starts in small communities and once we learn how to do it, it spreads out,” she said.

Before she informed the whole congregation that she was retiring, Allen said she was focusing on Christmas story passages where the angels bring a message of fear not and all will be well. The passages inspired the message that she would like to leave the congregation.

“It may not be what you think should happen or think will happen but don’t be afraid,” she said. “Open your hearts and your minds to things that are challenging. Say ‘yes’ and move forward. That would be my wish for the congregation.”

For the community, Allen said, “Connect, connect, connect. I just think we don’t have enough places and ways to get to know each other anymore. Go talk to your neighbors. Go greet people who moved into the neighborhood.”

Pastor Madelyn Campbell will be the interim pastor at UUFSB. Photo from Campbell

Pastor Madelyn Campbell

The Rev. Dr. Campbell, the new interim minister, said she took the scenic route to professional ministry. She, like Allen, started in the medical field where she was a nurse practitioner. She also worked as a business analyst in economics.

A widow whose husband passed away in 2013, she has raised nine children and has nine grandchildren. She and her husband have been foster parents, too.

Campbell said her husband was supportive of the calling she felt toward ministry.

“I had the call a long time ago, in fact, before we were married. It was something that I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do that when I retire. I’ll just put it on hold,’” she said.

After she received her nurse practitioner degree, she said it was her husband’s turn to go back to graduate school, but he was undecided. In 2008, she said her calling was so loud that one day she felt a church sermon was directed at her.

When she told her husband how she felt, he said, “You have a call and I don’t, so you should do this.”

It was then she began to study for ministry. Initially, she didn’t plan to go into parish ministry and was planning on becoming a chaplain minister. 

She said her internship committee encouraged her to go into parish ministry, which she is happy she did.

“I love parish ministry, and specifically transitional ministry. It’s so interesting,”
she said.

Campbell is a certified biblical storyteller through the Academy for Biblical Storytelling, and the only Unitarian Universalist who is one. She also holds a certificate in the arts and theology from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where she earned her master’s in divinity in 2014 and doctorate
in 2022.

She has spent eight years in transitional ministries while studying, and Campbell said she also has opportunities to put her chaplaincy skills to use, including with the Civil Air Patrol. 

The pastor said in the past when choosing a fellowship, she tended to look at places on the coasts, especially since she spent most of her life on the East Coast. Campbell is from New York City, and she lived in Rockland County when she was younger as well as spent 33 years of her adulthood in Arlington, Virginia.

“But New York will always be home,” she said, adding she’s familiar with Long Island with a brother living in Valley Stream and friends on the Island.

“I looked at this congregation, and it ticked off a lot of boxes for me and it looked interesting,” she said.

While the process is underway to find a permanent pastor, she said her job is to help the congregation to process their feelings about Allen leaving and be open about future changes. 

“My job is to help the congregation understand themselves better,” Campbell said. “To understand and to look at some things that maybe haven’t been looked at in a while, to answer and prepare for the future, and also to help them move past the fear of change.” 

The search

Pastors leave congregations entirely until a new one has the full attention of the congregation, Allen said. She and Campbell will not be part of the process of finding a new pastor even though they will be on hand if anyone on the committee needs to consult them.

Lutterbie said the Unitarian Universalist Association recommends two years with a transition minister. The process can take that long as a transition minister helps the congregation reflect on the past in the first year and, during the second, defines the congregation’s future directions.

While defining its future in the second year, Lutterbie said, the fellowship will undertake the process of finding a new permanent minister.