Launching New Ministers

Rev. Nina GreyOver the past 200 years, the First Universalist Society of Wakefield (which is still the formal name of the Wakefield Unitarian Universalist Church) has had 41 ministers. Most of them served the church for a term of 2 to 5 years. There are many reasons for the number of short term ministers, including the tendency of Unitarian Universalist ministers to change churches regularly. 

The small size of the church created another reason for short term ministers: it attracted ministers at the start of their career. The Wakefield church has served many times as the first or second church for a new minister who has then gone on to a lengthy career.   

The Reverend Stillman Barden was an early example of this. He served the First Universalist Society of South Reading from 1841 to 1842, having started his ministerial career in 1839 at the age of 27. He continued his ministry in Orleans, Beverly, Marblehead and Rockport. A biographical sketch was printed in the Universalist Register on the occasion of his death in 1865.  It described him as active in the causes of temperance and anti-slavery. “In every community where he labored, he won friends by the earnestness of his zeal, the purity of his motives, the high moral aim of all his labors.”

Following the Civil War the Reverend William Willis Hayward, who had served as an Army chaplain, was called to be the 11th minister of the First Universalist Society. Born in New Hampshire, he had worked as a teacher for a number of years before deciding to be a minister.  After he was studied for the ministry with the Reverend Lemuel Willis, he was ordained in 1859, which was also the same year he was married.

His wife, Elizabeth Ellen Hayward, was the subject of one of the sketches in a book called “Representative Women of New England” edited by Julia Ward Howe and Mary Hannah Graves and published in 1904. Mrs. Hayward was an active member and officer of the Women’s Relief Corp. The author also noted that “In the various parishes over which her husband presided, Mrs. Hayward was active in church and Sunday School work.”

After leaving Wakefield, the Haywards served parishes in Acton, Methuen, Plymouth, South Framingham and Medfield, Massachusetts. Rev. Hayward also wrote a history of the Town of Hancock, New Hampshire, which was published in 1889.

Following the 23 year pastorate of the Rev. Warren Perkins, the pattern reasserted itself with the Rev. Donald Lothrop, who served four years as the 21st minister of the church. Rev. Lothrop was ordained by the First Universalist Society in Wakefield on March 8, 1932. He stayed in Wakefield until 1936 when he became the second minister of the Community Church of Boston, a job he held until 1975.

Rev. Lothrop was a very different sort of minister from either Rev. Barden or Rev. Hayward.  His death in 2002 was noted in an obituary in the New York Times entitled, “Rev. Donald G. Lothrop, 96, Boat Rocking Minister, Dies”. The Community Church was a much more left leaning congregation than the Universalist Church in Wakefield. 

The Times obituary stated “he readily pleaded guilty in the 1950's to charges he had given ‘aid and comfort’ to Communists. ‘I have given aid and comfort to all kinds of people, black and white, Jew and gentile, Catholic and Protestant, Mohammedan and Buddhist, rich and poor, capitalist and Communist, democrat and anarchist,’ Mr. Lothrop testified before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature in 1958. ‘My exemplar is one, Jesus of Nazareth, who feared not to associate with and minister to prostitutes, thieves and tax gatherers,’ he continued. ‘He believed in virtue by association, not guilt by association.’” 

Although the first female Universalist Minister, the Rev. Olympia Brown, was ordained in 1863, the Wakefield Universalists did not have a female minister until 1981. That year Nina Grey, a third year divinity student at Andover Newton Theological School, became the 34th minister on a part time interim basis. She has gone on to serve Unitarian Universalist Churches in Keene, New Hampshire; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Chicago, Illinois; and Bozeman, Montana; where she remains as minister.

Many other new ministers have been launched into the Universalist community (before 1961) and then the merged Unitarian Universalist denomination from the First Universalist Society of Wakefield. The current building has housed the congregation since 1839. Its walls have seen the beginnings of the careers of the four very different ministers highlighted above, as well as many others who have started their successful careers in Wakefield.   

For more information on the Bicentennial Celebration of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield, go to


Event Date: 
Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 11:45pm