Minister carries Unitarian outlook into retirement

  • Fri Dec 21st, 2012 8:57pm
  • News

By Noah Haglund Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE — The Rev. Bruce Davis started emptying his office shelves back in November, ahead of his retirement from Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Box by box, Davis ferried the eclectic mix of books back to his Seattle home: scripture from various world religions, mystic poetry and works of philosophy. All of it had informed him during eight years of leadership in a religious movement known for tolerance and placing a high value on each individual’s spiritual growth.

“Now at 66, the family’s really ready for me to be retired from full-time work,” Davis said.

Davis is preparing to enter a new phase of his life. He’s looking forward to spending time with his three grandchildren, gardening and teaching meditation, as well as writing fiction and works on spirituality.

Davis didn’t start out as a minister. A decade ago, he had a successful practice as a family physician and had risen high in the administrative ranks at Group Health Cooperative.

Even as career opportunities in medicine beckoned, another calling grew louder.

“Going into the ministry was what I decided I’d do,” Davis said. “I worked for about 30 years as a family doctor. What I decided is that what people really want is to have a deeper conversation.”

He earned a master of divinity degree from Seattle University.

Dr. Bruce Davis became the Rev. Bruce Davis.

In some ways, Davis’ switch from medicine to ministry didn’t change his mission. He still helps people understand different stages of life, from growth and development, to disease, sickness and ultimately death. Granted, the new role conferred a lower social status and income.

Davis, who was raised Protestant, was attracted to Unitarian Universalism’s emphasis on community and social justice over dogma.

“Unitarianism is, more than anything else, a community where you can connect with other like-minded and like-hearted people with a sense of mutual support and a sense of being encouraged in your own, unique spiritual growth,” Davis said. “A community where, arm in arm with others, you can reach out to the wider world, trying to make it a better place, healing the environment, working for social justice.”

Unitarian Universalism is the product of two similar traditions, Unitarianism and Universalism, that flourished as the United States was coming into its own as a young country. They merged formally in the 1960s.

Originally, all members were Christians. Unitarians believed in the unity of God, rather than the Holy Trinity. Universalists believed in universal salvation, in other words, that everyone will be saved.

Adherents included U.S. presidents John and John Quincy Adams; poet-essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson; showman P.T. Barnum; and “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott.

These days, Unitarian Universalism welcomes all types of believers. In addition to quite a few Christians, Evergreen Fellowship’s members include Jews, Buddhists and people who find spirituality in nature.

“You don’t even have to be a theist,” Davis said. Atheists and agnostics are welcome.

The Marysville congregation originated as the Everett Unitarian Fellowship in the mid-1950s, when members would meet for services in one another’s homes. It moved from a church building in Everett to its current location in 1990.

These days, the fellowship has a growing membership of about 175, Davis said. There are political discussions and music groups. The fellowship promotes meaningful dialogue between people of different ages.

“The old are teaching the young, but no more than the young are teaching and inspiring the old,” Davis said.

Members put belief in action through volunteer litter clean-up, tree plantings and by hosting the thrice-weekly Marysville Community Lunch, which typically attracts 40 to 50 people.

“That’s one thing we serve with lunch is a sense of belonging,” Davis said.

Davis’ retirement celebration is set for Dec. 30, the last day he’s scheduled to lead a service.

To take his place, the fellowship’s board of trustees has appointed the Rev. Linda Hart as the interim pastor. Hart, who’s scheduled to start Feb. 3, has roots in Olympia and more recently has been leading a congregation in London. Guest speakers are scheduled for January services.

This spring, the congregation plans to form a search committee. About a year later, the congregation expects to vote on its next settled minister.

The congregation must approve the new minister with a high percentage, not just a simple majority. Beforehand, members will have time to interact with the person for at least two Sunday services and the week in between.

Noah Haglund: 454-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.