Unitarian Universalists greet new minister

MIDDLEBURY — During his almost three decades as a reporter with The New York Times, Barnaby J. Feder strived to give his readers the essential ingredients of a story without including his personal opinions or biases.
Now, in his new career as the Rev. Feder of the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (CVUUS) in Middlebury, it’s all about getting personal.
“As a minister, you are there taking the world as you experience it and really reflecting through your personal lens, in a personal way, so that your congregants can feed off of that and react,” said Feder.
It was on April 29 that the CVUUS voted to call Feder, of Montclair, N.J., as its next settled minister. On Aug. 1, he began the duties of succeeding the congregation’s interim minister, the Rev. Emily Melcher.
It’s an exciting career change for Feder, who spent 27 years as the Times’ science and technology reporter before entering the Drew University Theological School in 2009. He was ordained on that same April 29 and completed an interim ministry at the Stroudsburg, Pa. Unitarian Universalist fellowship.
Feder’s decision to enter ministry shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. He was raised a Unitarian Universalist in San Mateo, Calif., and held various leadership positions within the U.U. congregations of which he has been a member throughout the years. He had long considered the notion of becoming a full-fledged minister, but his journalistic career and family considerations prompted him to at least delay his career change.
“Working with The New York Times was a bit of calling in its own right,” Feder quipped. “My wife (Michele Lowy) was not raised in our tradition and I didn’t feel like I could just walk away from the Times easily and start this.”
But his opportunity finally came when the Times started downsizing and Feder had the choice of either applying to another news organization or switching vocations. He chose the latter.
“I really, really wanted to (enter the ministry) and my wife, bless her heart, said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ which was a brave thing,” Feder said.
Michele Lowy will be working this year as a literacy specialist at Bristol Elementary School. The couple has three young adult children.
Feder is pleased the CVUUS congregation thought he would be a good match, which resulted in a preliminary visit, two sermons and a series of interviews. This culminated in a membership vote to offer the Rev. Feder the job, which he accepted enthusiastically.
He and his wife are currently becoming acquainted with Middlebury. It is an assimilation made easier by the fact that the couple has spent a lot of time in Vermont over the years, having family and friends living in the Green Mountain State.
He is looking forward to establishing a strong, enduring bond with his congregation.
“At the end of the day, it’s like a marriage,” Feder said. “Forming a really meaningful, deep relationship begins when you start living together.”
He said he has been very impressed with the congregation — which numbers around 160 — and its accomplishments over the years. Among those accomplishments is a new, environmentally friendly sanctuary at 2 Duane Court.
“There are very few UU congregations that I know that started in 1985 like this one and have come this far and have this kind of facility,” Feder said. “This is an exceptional group here in Middlebury.”
Feder does not join CVUUS with a big slate of priorities.
“What we have here is an approach to religion that is based on the quality of your life now; it is not focused on what happens in the next world, or even if there is a next world,” Feder explained. “We want to practice our faith in a way that makes the world more just, that makes us agents for peace, that helps us have a deeper understanding of what we hold sacred.”
Indeed, the CVUUS congregation includes folks who define themselves as Buddhist, atheist, Christian or Jewish.
“What unites us is a belief that no one, not even me, the minister, can get up and say, ‘This is what you have to believe the sacred is in order to worship here,’” Feder said. “We are the liberal wing of most religions today. We are talking about a journey and a process rather than an answer.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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