FUUSN Calls Co-Ministry Team Rev. Dr. Debra Haffner and Rev. Joel Miller as New Settled Ministers

Selection Brings New Leadership to Historic Newton Congregation after Year-Long Search

June 2, 2024 – West Newton, MA

Members of the First Unitarian Universalist Society in Newton (FUUSN) today voted to call Rev. Dr. Debra Haffner and Rev. Joel Miller as the congregation’s new settled co-ministers. 99% of the members voting called the ministers to serve. Revs. Haffner and Miller were selected by FUUSN’s Ministerial Search Committee after a year-long process. Rev. Haffner and Rev. Miller were called by the FUUSN membership after extensive conversations within the FUUSN community during a week of events and meetings.They will begin their ministry in September 2024, succeeding Rev. Parisa Parsa, who has served FUUSN as interim minister for two years.

“The seven of us on the Ministerial Search Committee spent all year exploring the needs of our congregation and then searching for the minister who is exactly the right fit for FUUSN. We struck gold with Rev. Debra and Rev. Joel,” reports Erin O’Donnell, Chair of the FUUSN Ministerial Search Committee. “Their compassionate and thoughtful approach let us know the hearts of the FUUSN congregation will be in good hands. Their energy, clear direction and dedication to social justice let us know the broader community as well as our own congregants will be well-served by their presence.” 

Rev. Dr. Debra Haffner has been a UU minister for 21 years, and previously served congregations in Huntington, NY, Santa Cruz, CA, Reston, VA, Westport, CT, and Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. She is the President Emerita and co-founder of the Religious Institute and has written numerous books, including Beyond the Big Talk, From Diapers to Dating, and What Every 21st-Century Parent Needs to Know. She is the creator of the Sexually Safer Best Practices Initiative used by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Rev. Haffner has been recognized for her dynamic worship, loving approach to congregational life, social justice work, and ability to give and receive feedback. 

Rev. Joel Miller has been a UU minister for 33 years and has served many congregations in interim and settled ministry, including congregations in Morristown, NJ, Indianapolis, IN, Rochester, NY, Buffalo, NY, and Littleton, CO. He has been praised by many for his pastoral care, organizational leadership, worship services, and thoughtful presence. He is a co-founder of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry and has been a thought leader in Unitarian Universalist Interim Ministry.  His focus on trauma response ministry is rooted in Rev. Miller’s personal experience serving the Littleton, CO, Unitarian Universalist congregation during the aftermath of the Columbine High School mass shooting.

“We are delighted to accept this call. We look forward to being active in the Newton community,” said Reverends Haffner and Miller.

Revs. Haffner and Miller will share responsibilities as co-ministers, a growing trend in church leadership in which two ministers fill a single ministerial position. Rev. Haffner will focus on tasks such as membership, communications, and social justice. Rev. Haffner also envisions involvement with the wider Newton community and the local interfaith ministry groups. Rev. Miller will focus on the internal congregational needs, such as governance, operations, staff management, and finances. Both ministers will collaborate on worship, pastoral care, and support for religious exploration. Starting in September 2024, each minister will preach solo once a month and once together from the FUUSN pulpit.

“We could not be more delighted that Rev. Debra and Rev. Joel have accepted our call to serve FUUSN as our next co-ministers,” said RoseAnn Murray, Chair of the FUUSN Board of Trustees. “They bring a depth and breadth of experience that is truly impressive. We look forward to working with them to further build our liberal, spiritually nurturing faith community and being inspired by them to contribute towards greater justice around us.”

For 175 years, FUUSN has been a liberal, spiritually nurturing faith community and an advocate for social justice in Newton. Worship services are on Sunday mornings in person and online at 10:15am. A complete worship schedule and additional information is available at www.fuusn.org.