Unitarian Universalists welcome acting minister as Allen retires

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

Last Sunday Reverend Margie Allen spent her last official day as pastor of the 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 began on Monday, August 15.

John Lutterbie, Chairman of the Board, said, “Rev. Margie is a fabulous preacher, blending spirituality and social justice. She strengthened our ties to Oneness Universalism and the larger Long Island community. Two things we deeply appreciate are how she has improved communication within the fellowship and her deep concern for those who need help. In the months leading up to her retirement, she prepared us beautifully for the changes to come. We are ready for change but we will miss her terribly.

Reverend Margie Allen

Reverend Margie Allen recently retired. Photo of Allen

Allen said she decided to retire for several reasons, but primarily because she felt “the brotherhood deserves someone who is at the peak of their energy.”

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

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

She said now is the time for change and a fresh and creative spirit will help the congregation move forward.

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

Allen has served as UUFSB Minister since January 2013 after serving as Minister-Counsellor to the fraternity for 2½ years prior. Prior to serving at Stony Brook, she was an associate minister of the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut, her first established ministry.

Originally from southwestern Virginia, she graduated from Bryn Mawr College after majoring in Greek language and literature. As she considered entering the ministry very early in her life, she first entered the healthcare field working for more than two decades as a cardiac surgery critical care nurse. She eventually studied theology at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.

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

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

She said one of the most memorable moments of 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 performed a maypole weave for the first time.

However, not all of her memories are good, as she recalls the fraternity’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’ve tried to work hard to show them and encourage them that this nation’s racism issues have really reached the pinnacle of what we need to work on.”

She added that the denomination as a whole is committed to creating an environment that actively attempts to reverse white supremacy. Allen said the congregation has taken a hard look at how it organizes meetings, chooses volunteers and how it invites people into its fellowship.

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

Before informing the entire congregation that she was retiring, Allen said that she focused on the passages in the Christmas story where the angels bring a message of fear 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 what will happen, but don’t be afraid,” she said. “Open your hearts and minds to things that are difficult. Say “yes” and move on. This would be my wish for the congregation.

For the community, Allen said, “Log in, log in, log in. I just think we don’t have enough places and ways to get to know each other anymore. Go talk to your neighbors. Go say hi to people who have moved into the neighborhood.

Pastor Madelyn Campbell will be the acting pastor at UUFSB. Photo by Campbell

Pastor Madelyn Campbell

Reverend Dr. Campbell, the new acting minister, said she has taken the scenic route to professional ministry. She, like Allen, started out in the medical field where she was a nurse practitioner. She has also worked as a business analyst in economics.

A widow whose husband died in 2013, she raised nine children and has nine grandchildren. She and her husband were also adoptive parents.

Campbell said her husband was supportive of the call she felt to the ministry.

“I got the call a long time ago, actually, before we got married. It’s something that I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do that when I retire.’ I’m just going to put it on hold,” she said.

After graduating as a nurse practitioner, she said it was her husband’s turn to go back to graduate school, but he was undecided. In 2008, she said her call was so strong that one day she felt a church sermon was addressed to her.

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

It was then that she began to study for the ministry. Initially, she did not envision parochial ministry and considered becoming a minister chaplain.

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

“I love parish ministry, especially transitional ministry. It’s so interesting.
she says.

Campbell is a Certified Bible Storyteller by the Academy for Biblical Storytelling, and the only Unitarian Universalist who is one. She also holds a Certificate in Arts and Theology from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., where she received her Master of Divinity in 2014 and her Ph.D.
in 2022.

She spent eight years in transitional ministries while in school, and Campbell said she also had the opportunity to put her chaplaincy skills to good use, including with civilian air patrol.

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

“But New York will always be my home,” she said, adding that she knew Long Island with a brother living in Valley Stream and friends on the island.

“I looked at this congregation, and it ticked 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 process their feelings about Allen’s departure and be open about future changes.

“My job is to help the congregation understand each other better,” Campbell said. “To understand and look at some things that may not have been looked at in a while, to respond and prepare for the future, and also to help them overcome the fear of change.”

The research

Pastors leave congregations entirely until a new one receives the full attention of the congregation, Allen said. She and Campbell will not be part of the process of finding a new pastor, although they will be available if a committee member needs to consult with them.

Lutterbie said the Unitarian Universalist Association recommends two years with a transitional minister. The process can take just as long because a transitional minister helps the congregation reflect on the past in the first year and in the second sets the congregation’s future directions.

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

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