Rev Andy Pakula
I do not fit the mould. I never have.
I grew up in a liberal and rather secular Jewish family in New York. We celebrated Hanukkah (mostly for the presents) and Passover (the celebration of freedom), but we also had a Christmas tree, and Santa came and filled our stockings every year!
I did not take to religion as a young man. Indeed, I was vehemently atheistic and anti-religious. I am still an atheist and, depending on definitions, I might still be called anti-religious; at least I am 'anti' the kind of religion fosters homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny, that promotes 'us vs. them' thinking, that insists that it knows the right answer - as if there is just one - that tells us what we should think, believe, and do, and dangles rewards and threatens punishment to get us to behave.
I chose to study science, earning a PhD in Biology and a Master's in Business, both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I went on to have a rewarding career in the biotechnology industry. As a scientist, I wouldn't entertain any ideas that couldn't be proven in a well-designed, objective experiment.
So, when I found myself in a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Lexington, Massachusetts, it was a bit surprising to those who knew me, and to me as well! My wife Miriam and I had decided to give it a try, but only for our young son's benefit - or so we thought.
Over the subsequent years, ever so gradually, that congregation helped me to recognise the potential beauty and power of people coming together to create community and to make a better world. Indeed, it started me on a path that led me to leave biotech and become a non-theistic Minister.
I began studying for the ministry at Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts: several years of academic training, followed by a year-long internship under the supervision of an experienced Minister. I was in the late stages of setting up my internship at an American congregation when Miriam announced that she'd been offered an exciting job (as the CEO of an internet retail fashion company) that would be a great step forward for her.
Naturally, I was delighted - until I found out that this new job was based in London. 'London? We can't go to London! I'm preparing for the American UU ministry!' I feared that it would be impossible for me to transition my ministerial preparation to the UK. However, the expected barriers fell like dominoes before me. We packed up and moved to what we expected to be our very short-term home - London.
The London Unitarian congregations of Newington Green and Islington asked if I'd be willing to fill in for a year, upon the departure of their shared minister. I was told that it would be considered a success if the congregation numbers were maintained. Happily, the congregation grew that year, and the church Committees asked me to stay on a bit longer. Two more years passed, with continued growth, from 35 members to more than 100. In 2009, when I completed my British Unitarian ministry training, the congregation formally welcomed me as their Minister. It had become clear to me that even though I hadn't foreseen the fascinating twists and turns my life path would be taking, I was in the right place, at the right time, in the right vocation; and so looking forward to the challenges and joys to come.
I do not fit the mould, and I don't think any of us are meant to be shaped and manipulated to fit a mould - of belief, perspective, sexuality, or ability. We're meant to be treasured as the people we are, and to be accepted, loved, and supported as we grow as individuals and join together to create a more just society.