Friday, September 19, 2003
The FRS's newest minister arrives in Carlisle with a flurry of enthusiasm
Jensen is filling the vacancy left by the 2001 retirement of Reverend Eugene (Woody) Widrick. As is traditional among UU churches, an interim minister served for two years while a search committee reviewed candidates. Reverend Jensen explains that the process that brought him to the Carlisle church is analogous to "an on-line dating service. A church looking for a minister posts its profile on a Web site run by the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston; a minister looking for a job posts his or her own profile; and each side looks for the best match."
"Every minister's dream"
At one point in the candidating process, Jensen had the opportunity to solicit his predecessor's opinion of the church. The simple description of Carlisle that Widrick offered to Jensen gave the new minister his strongest indication that the FRS might be an ideal placement for him. "Woody said that this is every minister's dream: a committed congregation in a pastoral community located an easy commute from Boston."
For the past two years, Jensen has served as interim minister for the UU church on the island of Nantucket. As such, he explains, his responsibilities included doing something almost none of his clerical peers have to do: preaching during the summer. Many UU churches go on hiatus from formal services in July and August, giving their ministers a long stretch of time to read, study, and prepare for the upcoming year. Being a summer tourist destination, Jensen points out, "the high season in Nantucket was July and August." Jensen says that the summer was a whirlwind of work for him, preaching and fulfilling all his other ministerial responsibilities in Nantucket while also preparing for the move to Carlisle.
Early years on the West Coast
Although his two most recent postings have been in New England, Jensen spent most of his earlier years on the west coast. As a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest and California, he always attended UU church services with his parents, but his family's attendance at church dropped off during his teenage years, when his father took exception to the church's stance against the Vietnam War. It wasn't until he was an undergraduate at the University of Washington in Seattle that Jensen resumed attending church services, and soon thereafter abandoned his plans for a career in law. He applied to divinity schools and was accepted at Harvard.
After completing a ministerial internship at the First and Second Church in Boston, Jensen devoted the next two decades to a variety of ministerial postings, as well as more academic degrees, marriage and fatherhood (he is now divorced and has two adult children, Jacob and Stephanie). He served for four years at a small church in Midland, Texas, during the height of the oil boom, then returned to the Pacific Northwest, where he helped a newly formed congregation to found a church in Hillsboro, Oregon. During these same years, Jensen completed two more master's degrees in creative writing and interdisciplinary studies and a doctorate in American History. He confesses that "history, spirituality, the Bible, world religions, the environment and economic justice are all topics near and dear to my heart." An avid reader, he once took a break from ministry for 18 months to manage a bookstore.
Despite his West Coast roots, Jensen says that New England is actually quite familiar to him. Not only did he earn his divinity degree in Cambridge, but his specific field of study there was early American Unitarians. He is looking forward to "walking in the steps of the Transcendentalists" as he explores Carlisle and its environs. In his first month in town, though, Jensen has stayed close to home, getting acquainted with the church and its parishioners and preparing for the year ahead.
FRS "a delightful size"
Jensen calls the 175-member congregation of Carlisle's FRS "a delightful size for a church." He explains that in his view, there are five primary aspects to the role of a church: worship, education, fellowship, pastoral care and social action. Worship begins with "coming to church, gathering together on Sunday morning." Education includes Sunday school for the church's youngest members, but should ideally continue through an array of educational offerings for adults. Fellowship and pastoral care require parishioners to attend to each other in good times and bad. "Social action," says Jensen, "is a term currently used for what I prefer to call evangelical ministerial outreach. Charity, hospitality, helping others in need."
The FRS will celebrate its annual Neighborhood Sunday on September 28. Jensen explains that, in his view, this important date in the calendar year is a special opportunity for those who have not yet become involved with the church to get a taste of what it has to offer. "People tend to begin coming to church during personal milestones or times of crisis," he says. "Weddings, funerals, christenings, illness, job loss. At stressful times, people often look within themselves and wonder if there's more to life than what they've found so far. Someone who has always been very committed to a professional career and then gets laid off, for example, might start to wonder what they've been missing on a more spiritual level." A designated date such as Neighborhood Sunday gives people an opportunity to get to know the church at a more neutral time in their lives."
"That's really why I love my job," he says, brimming over with unchecked enthusiasm. "I get to talk to people about the most important questions in the world." Jensen urges anyone who is curious about the FRS or his ministry to attend a Sunday service, whether it is on Neighborhood Sunday or any other Sunday. "This church already has everything it needs," he says. "It has all the resources and talent necessary for us to do whatever we want to do. Our mission as a congregation is to decide together what direction we want to take."
Services are held at the FRS every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. For more information, contact the church office at 1-978-369-5180, or visit uucarlisle.org.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito