“Pulpit Swap” by Rev. Seth Fisher

This article was written by Rev. Karen Johnston of The Unitarian Society in East Brunswick about our upcoming pulpit swap. On Sunday, May 6, three UU ministers in the area will be switching congregations for the day. It just so happens that the minister coming to FUUFHC is Rev. Karen Johnson herself! This is a great opportunity to get a fresh perspective from another minister and make a connection with another local congregation. Hope you can make it!


Pulpit Exchange on May 6: A Kind of Ministers’ Musical Chairs?

Pulpit exchange has deep roots in our historical polity as Unitarian Universalists, described in the Cambridge Platform of 1648, the document upon which we base our kind of congregational polity (governance) and ground our understanding of a covenantal, rather than creedal, religion. Yet while the historical connection is there in our polity, and even though there was a robust practice of exchanging pulpits in the 19th century New England Unitarian churches, as a current practice, we are much less familiar with it.

But we are about to change that, at least for four of our congregations here in Central Jersey. If you are reading this in your congregation’s newsletter, then your congregation is taking part. On Sunday, May 6, the ministers from Plainfield, East Brunswick, and Hunterdon County will play a kind of musical chairs. They aren’t taking the day off – they are just preaching at a UU congregation not their own.

Pulpit exchange is one way for us to honor the autonomy of each congregation, while also recognizing that we are in association with one another as well. It has many benefits:

  • keeps limber both minister and congregation in their engagement in the act of congregational worship;
  • provides the opportunity to make intentional the act of hospitality, approaching it as the spiritual ministry it can be, could be, should be;
  • connects congregations to each other by creating a shared simultaneous experience; and
  • cultivates a possible wider sense of identity and belonging.

Other benefits include when a minister departs (moving onto another congregation; retiring altogether), the congregation will have already experienced little leavings. When a minister is on temporary leave, there already is familiarity with a local minister who may be providing emergency pastoral care. There is the beginning path for sharing resources among congregations beyond the pulpit.

There are possible drawbacks.

  • While the congregation will experience that their settled minister is away, it can feel to them like it is the minister’s day off; however, in fact, the minister is still working, just elsewhere.
  • It can be vulnerable to expose oneself to comparison — what if one congregation likes the guest minister’s preaching better? What if one minister like the other congregation’s building better?

We are looking forward to strengthening the connections between these small, mid-size congregations in Central Jersey.