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Church leadership ‘feeding my spirit and soul’

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The journey from Duluth to Kennebunk took some time for the Rev. Lara K-J Campbell, with stops along the way in Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. But for Campbell, who became the minister at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Kennebunk at the end of the summer, it was worth the trip.

“It really has been a journey for me. But what has made it all worthwhile is the people that I have met on the way,” said Campbell. “All of my experiences primed me for ministry in a way I never expected. To be able to do my work in the context of Unitarian Universalism is really where my heart sings.”

Campbell, 44, is happy to report that she, husband Jay Pacitti and their cat 17-year-old cat Temis (short for Artemis) have settled into life in Kennebunk and look forward to the new year. Maine Women had an opportunity to speak with Campbell about her ministry, spirituality and what brought her to Maine.

Q When and why did you decide to go into ministry?

A My pathway to ministry has been a series of forks in the road. At most of those forks, I did not consciously say, “I am going to be a minister,” but in hindsight my actions and choices sent me in that direction.

In graduate school I began volunteering as a Sunday school teacher and youth adviser for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, Mich. While working on my (doctorate), it became clear to me that I would find greater fulfillment working in a Unitarian Universalist congregation than I would as a university professor. So I took a leap of faith, left the program and moved to Princeton, N.J., to be the youth adviser for the Unitarian Universalist congregation there. After a year, I moved to suburban New York City and took the position of director of religious education at Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, N.Y. I found this work to be extremely rewarding, but as the years progressed it became clear that I was called to be an ordained minister. I enrolled at New York Theological Seminary in 2007. I continued to work for the congregation in White Plains full time while going to school part time. I spent a total of nine years as the director of religious education in White Plains, and left in January 2012 to finish my course work full time. In May 2012 I graduated with a master of divinity degree.

I was granted preliminary fellowship to the Unitarian Universalist ministry in September 2013 and was co-ordained by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester, N.Y., and the Church of the Larger Fellowship (in Boston) in January 2014.

Q How does ministry fit with your education and other work you’ve done?

A All of my previous work fits well with being a minister. I began my professional career as a substance abuse counselor. I received my bachelor of science in family social science from the University of Minnesota, with a designed degree in sexuality, society and the family. I completed a master’s in marriage and family therapy at Michigan State University. I have worked for organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Lansing school district and Michigan State 4-H.

Q What is at the center of your spirituality and theology?

A I am deeply rooted in Unitarian Universalism. It is the core of my theology and in the core of my being. I believe that we are all called to both see and hold up that which gives meaning to our lives. I seek to embrace both the delights and the challenges that life has to offer. I choose to see the presence of the divine in the spaces that reside between, among, and within us. I am grounded in the power of human community, the depth of human connection and my belief in the good of humankind.

When I am asked to describe my theology, I am most comfortable with the label of theistic-religious humanist. I draw from a variety of traditions, stories, and rituals. Sometimes those sources come from Hebrew and Christian texts, sometimes from the wisdom of the world’s religions, sometimes from poets, musicians, and artists, sometimes from nature and our physical world, and sometimes from popular culture. For me, all that we experience is an opportunity for us to learn from, to grow with, and to shape us into our best selves.

Q You are a fifth generation Unitarian Universalist. What is that like?

A Being a Unitarian Universalist is more than just something I believe. It is who I am, it is in my blood. I come from one of those rare Unitarian Universalist families. The paternal side of my family first became Unitarians in Grand Rapids, Mich. I am a fifth-generation Unitarian, raised as a Unitarian Universalist because I was born after the merger between the two denominations. Growing up as a Unitarian Universalist kid in northern Minnesota was not easy. Most of those around me were Catholic or mainline Protestant, and most had never heard of Unitarian Universalism. This afforded me the opportunity from an early age to explain what being a Unitarian Universalist was. That experience strengthened my commitment and dedication to my faith.

Q What drew you to Maine and the First Parish Unitarian Universalist in particular?

A So many things drew me to First Parish and to Maine. The information the congregation shared about themselves indicated that they are grounded in their history and also forward thinking. The building holds significance to the community both physically, as witnessed by the clock tower being on one of the flags on Main Street, and emotionally, in that it is host to so many community groups and events. That spirit of hospitality and openness is something I value. It was clear that the congregation, while being steeped in history, is really open to growing and changing. They have found a way to balance history and tradition with innovation and change. One of the other things that drew me to this specific area of Maine was the water. I was raised in Duluth, Minn., on Lake Superior, so being near water provides a great source of strength and comfort for me. From the moment I set foot in town it seemed like a place I could call home.

Q Now that you’re settled in Maine, how has it impacted your spiritual life?

A Since moving to Maine I have felt my spiritual life deepen. Being in the presence of such amazingly beautiful surroundings, hearing the sound of the waves and the smell of the fresh ocean breezes makes it easy to experience the holy on a daily basis. The pace of life here really lends itself to my intentional mindfulness practice. Serving First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church is feeding my spirit and soul through the wonderful people in the congregation, the comfort I feel in the community and the clear sense of purpose in my work. I feel truly blessed to have been called to First Parish.

The Rev. Lara Campbell, a native of Minnesota, is the minister at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Kennebunk. Campbell’s first day at the church was on Aug. 15.