210 Henry Place
P.O. Box 1942
Spartanburg, SC 29304
Unitarian Universalist Church of Spartanburg
CHURCH OF SPARTANBURG
Sunday Service at 11:00
Vespers Wednesday at 6:30
My Call to Ministry
It‘s hard for me to remember a time when I didn‘t feel called to ministry. I was eight when I went forward during an altar-call in the church of my youth and declared to the minister that God had called me to ministry. The minister assured me that I had simply overheard someone else‘s (a boy's) call, since everyone knew girls couldn‘t grow up to be ministers. Somehow it was easier for him to imagine I could hear God talking to someone else than imagining God could be speaking to me. I never lost sight of that call, however. I just figured I would serve in other ways.
Throughout my teen years I was part of a girls’ music ministry. Later, I found a path to ministry through theatre. As an adult I began teaching voice - helping people find their voices and giving them the tools to believe in themselves. As a theatrical director for youth and community theatre, I helped people discover their gifts and then nurtured that self-confidence and helped them realize wholeness in their lives. And I taught Communications at the community college, helping students develop skills and awareness that would influence every part of their lives. All of that was clearly ministry.
But finally the day came when I could no longer ignore the call, not only to ministry, but to be a Unitarian Universalist minister. I eventually recognized that my inner imperative demanded that I take the leap of faith and begin my seminary training, even though there were no financial resources to justify that leap. So I leapt. And resources and opportunities presented themselves - or perhaps I was simply more attuned to identifying them - and although the path has been by no means smooth, I have never felt more at one with my self and my purpose as I have since beginning this journey. I am grateful for all of the ministries I have participated in. Music, theatre, teaching, parenting, counseling, and administration are the tools and gifts that I bring to a congregational setting. All of these are pieces to the puzzle that fall into place in parish ministry.
My Spiritual Path
In recognition that important experiences and events are not always pleasant, I will begin with the experience that shook me to my very foundation; the semester I spent at Bob Jones University. I had been raised in a fundamentalist Christian home and it was simply assumed that I would attend a Christian college. The semester I spent at Bob Jones changed the course of my life, spiritually as well as physically and educationally, and put me on the path that eventually led me to Unitarian Universalism. St. John of the Cross is noted for describing the ‘long, dark night of the soul,‘ and that was my experience as I lost the faith of my youth and then spent the next ten years seeking my path. The journey was often difficult and always enlightening. The experience of losing my faith and then finding a home in Unitarian Universalism has given me understanding and empathy for those who are in the midst of the long, dark night of the soul. This experience has also sparked a passion for not only welcoming those new to our faith, the 'come-inners', but to help those who have been raised in Unitarian Universalism to experience their faith and identity more deeply - rooted in our tradition and in our forward-thinking commitment to real religious universalism.
Passion for Worship
I strive to create worship experiences where transformation can occur. I care deeply about the content, flow, and quality of the worship experience. I create worship experiences that invite people into transformative relationship; with themselves, with one another, with the Divine, and with the world. Sometimes those experiences are gentle and nurturing and sometimes they are more like tightrope walking (with a safety net, of course!)! As Unitarian Universalists, we have an opportunity to bring creativity and an expanded sense of the sacred in our lives to our worship experience. As Emerson reminds us, we will worship something - and “it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.” I would like to see us become more intentional about our worship together - engaging heart, head, and hands as we seek wholeness for ourselves and for a hurting and often unjust world.
Pastoral Care & Presence
I believe pastoral care and presence is about connecting with people and helping them to see their gifts - and then nurturing that growth. Ministry is all about relationship - walking with people through the joys and challenges of their lives. My experience working with victims of domestic and sexual violence helped me to begin to learn how to be a non-anxious presence for those in crisis. My further experience in CPE (clinical pastoral education, or chaplaincy), small group ministry, and one-on-one counseling has given me tools for being an effective pastoral presence in a congregation.
Commitment to Education
I love collaborative learning where everyone, teacher, student and learning community, learns and grows through the engagement. I have been teaching in some form or another since 1986 - whether that has been as a community educator, an adjunct faculty member at the community college, serving as an RE teacher, teaching Adult RE curricula, or serving as DRE in two separate congregations. I am committed to the power and potential of education.
I am committed to leaving the world a little better than I found it - and that translates into actions and attitudes that create justice. I created a Gay/Straight Alliance at the community college where I teach and have been an ally for LGBT folk since I was a teen. My internship with the Ohio Meadville District of the UUA has been a wonderful opportunity for me to gain more experience in social justice work as it relates to Youth and Young Adult ministries. And I continue to confront my own white privilege, challenging our cultural assumptions and systems that promote racism and oppression. I look forward to being a prophetic voice for justice in my congregation and within our movement.
We build our House of Hope by grounding children, youth, and adults in our history, our traditions, and our way of providing the space to experience spiritual truths and practices from multiple traditions to find what resonates for us as individuals. I believe the whole worshipping community should also be a learning community - and that can mean worshipping and learning together. I also firmly believe that it is ok to raise our children as Unitarian Universalists and invite them to stay within our faith tradition, rather than introducing them to every possible religious path but the one we have chosen as UU‘s.
I am organized… juggling family, home, work, and seminary has made sure of that! Respect is the foundation of my interactions with colleagues, staff, and congregation. My significant administrative and supervisory experience makes me confident in this area of ministry because the focus is always on the people I am working with or serving.
My dominant theology is universalism, and that can really be boiled down to the statement, ‘Love changes everything.’ I believe in the transformative power of Love. I believe that we are here to serve Life - to practice mercy, justice, and compassion. I believe that the well-being of one cannot be separated from the well-being of the whole; that ultimately we all spring from the same source and all journey to the same ultimate destiny. I am not afraid to use ‘God-language’ - and I earnestly believe we must reclaim some of this language to remain in the religious dialogue in our culture.
I appreciate Unitarian Universalist theologies that have Love as the central focus. Some of my personal spiritual practices spring from Christianity, Paganism, Buddhism, and Religious Humanism - and so I find a lot of resonance with folks who include these in their practices and in their theologies. My experience has been that my Atheist UU friends do many of the same things as folks who claim other theologies - they simply use non-confessional words to describe them. If a theological stance leads one to affirm Love and to live in service to others, the rest of it is simply details.
I am a Unitarian Universalist - and I preach Unitarian Universalism. I may use an element from another spiritual path during worship, but I am unlikely to preach a didactic (teaching) sermon about another religion. I might facilitate an adult RE opportunity on another religious path, but my calling is to preach a Unitarian Universalist gospel from the pulpit What is our good news? I‘m so glad you asked! I‘ve recently heard the UU Good News described as: “All life is precious. All life is interconnected. All are called to a ministry of love and justice.” That sounds pretty good to me!
The Theological Context of My Call to Unitarian Universalist Ministry
A friend challenged me to name my theology in three words. He named his theology, and it was quite good, however one of the rules of the game was that my three words could not be, “Oh, me too!” For nearly a year I pondered over what my 3-word theology might be. As I was preparing for Easter, it came to me: Love changes everything.
Love calls us into relationship. Fostering and facilitating relationship is how I understand my call to parish ministry. I love the challenge of being in relationship with a congregation as all of us make the journey toward wholeness. My role is to encourage, exhort, challenge, and comfort the gathered community into relationship with themselves, each other, the world, and with God. I firmly believe that the work of a congregation begins, in Lao Tzu‘s words, in our own hearts and then extends to neighborhoods, towns, cities, nations, and the world.
My ministry is about being in relationship and creating and sustaining a covenantal community. As we forge relationships, mess up, and seek restoration, we are transformed. Some folks find inspiration by walking through the woods or listening to beautiful music, and there is beauty and restoration to be found in solitude - but I think we crave connection as well. I believe that our need for community and for our lives to have meaning is as innate and as compelling as our need for food, shelter, and safety. Our religious community, and particularly this faith tradition, gives us the strength to live according to the dictates of our consciences and to work together to effect change in our world. The community that we call Unitarian Universalism provides the space for our individual intellectual and spiritual freedom, even while it demands that we look beyond our own wants to meet another‘s needs. When we only tend to the first half, our individual freedoms, we sell our faith and our heritage short.
The theologian that speaks to me most deeply of this theology of love and relationship is Forrest Church, who wrote that universalism “is an inclusive faith, rejecting the divisive notion that people fit into two separate categories: sheep and goats, the saved and the damned.” That is a theology of deep connection. Our faith, the source of our hope calls us to spend our lives on Love; love that enlarges our vision and urges us to pour out the cup of our lives in service to others. That is the Love that calls me to ministry.
Unitarian Universalism is, for me, a chosen faith; but for my daughter it is her birthright. Discerning the often divergent identities and needs of ‘come-inners‘ and those born into our faith is a crucial piece of my call to ministry - demanding pastoral and prophetic responses. I know that this is not my challenge alone - that our faith movement depends on all of us working out ways to be welcoming and relevant to both groups - and our continued existence may well be determined by how well we are able to address this challenge. Again, the key is in connection and relationship with one another and with God in tandem with deep engagement with the world.
That is the theological context of my call to ministry. Love and deep connection infuse every element of my ministry; pastoral care, worship, teaching, prophetic outreach, and even administration. Love and deep connection are what drive me… they sustain me. Forrest Church said that “our degree of enlightenment reflects itself not in our faith claims but in our lives.” Faith and works are two sides of one whole, the inhale and exhale of single breath - because as James‘ letter to the Christian Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire reminds us, faith without works is dead. Faith connected to works and lived in Love changes everything. That is my theology and it is, for me, the essence of Unitarian Universalism.
Michelle & Les - Audubon March
Michelle at Her Desk
Working on a Straw Bale House
In the Pulpit - UU Church of Buffalo
Michelle Does Weddings!
Michelle Buhite - Letter to the Congregation
Already you are so dear to me. I realize that I have the advantage, having had the opportunity to get to know you through your congregational record and the wonderful members of the search committee. When I visited during the precandidating weekend it felt like a homecoming. I am so looking forward to meeting each one of you in April and to giving you an opportunity to begin to know me and my family, Les and Ashera.
You’ll have a bit of a preview of who I am and the path that has led me to you as you read some of my thoughts and reflections in the Candidate section of the UUCS website. I hope that you’ll feel the same deep connection and resonance that I feel for this congregation - and I hope you’ll catch a spark of excitement and hope for our shared ministry together.
Because that’s what it’s all about - shared ministry. I look forward to sharing the journey with you; walking together through both trying and joyful times. Les and I are ready to make our home with you and to love you. See you soon!
With joyful anticipation,
A Little About Us
I have lived most of my life in western New York State, although my husband, daughter, and I got a ‘taste’ of living in the South when we moved to Tallahassee (FL) for Les’s graduate work. My formative years were in a biblical Christian context - which gives me a deep well from which to draw in my ministry. I found Unitarian Universalism in 1989 and it has been a wonderful journey!
I am an avid reader and often am reading several books simultaneously. I am a classically trained singer and teacher of voice. I met my husband while working in theatre, and our life as a family has centered on theatre and church.
My husband Les and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage this August! We have one child, our daughter Ashera, who is 22 and lives in Buffalo, NY where she is finishing a B.A. in Gender Studies. She is an active UU and teaches OWL and the Coming of Age program at the Buffalo church. Les is the technical director for the Bromeley Family Theatre at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, PA. He holds a M.A. in Playwriting and a Ph.D. in Theatre (Performance Studies). He is looking forward to pursuing new projects in Spartanburg! He is an active UU and is supportive and enthusiastic about our future ministry together.
A Message from Your Search Team
For almost a year now we've been working to find the best possible minister to take our congregation to an even higher level of enthusiasm, commitment, and growth. After a great deal of reading, writing, discussing, interviewing, traveling and, of course, laughing, we feel confident that we've found the person to fill that role.
Our candidate's name is Michelle Buhite (boo height).
Michelle is a warm and friendly, self-assured woman of 49 who lives in Jamestown, New York, not very far from Buffalo. She's been an enthusiastic and involved UU for 23 years. Michelle's husband and adult daughter are also long-time, active UU's.
Michelle currently works as an Intern for Youth, Young Adult & Campus Ministry for the Ohio-Meadville District of the UUA. She'll be ordained as a UU minister in May at the UU Church of Buffalo, and is delighted at the prospect of coming to UUCS for her first full-time ministry.
Like a number of people here, Michelle grew up in a fundamentalist Christian environment. A traumatic freshman semester at Bob Jones University shattered her faith and sent her on a ten-year quest that eventually led to Unitarian Universalism. She writes "My formative years were in a biblical Christian context - which gives me a deep well from which to draw in my ministry. I found Unitarian Universalism in 1989 and it has been a wonderful journey!"
Michelle has served for 5 years as a Director of Religious Education, for 10 as a Religious Education Instructor, for 3 as a Board Member, and for 16 years as a UU Musician. She's worked with kids and she's worked with leadership development. She's won numerous awards for her scholarship and for her teaching skills. People she's worked with and worked for are unanimous in their high praise for her character, dedication, skills, work ethic, initiative, creativity, compassion, and suitability for the ministry.
Her pastoral care skills are well developed. She has experience working with victims of domestic and sexual violence, with chaplaincy, with small-group ministry, and with one-on-one counseling.
Michelle is dedicated to Social Justice. She started a Gay/Straight Alliance at the community college where she taught, and looks forward to being a prophetic voice for justice in her congregation and within our movement.
If all that's not enough, she has eight years as a church administrator and five years of administrative experience outside the church.
Michelle has thoroughly prepared herself for this opportunity. It's something she's worked toward for a long time. To say that she's qualified for the job of Minister at UUCS is an understatement. As the Board President at the UU Congregation of Jamestown said, "she's the whole package".
Michelle has gifts that she was born with and talents that only come from years of dedication and hard work. You listen to her tell a story or sing a song, it's compelling and beautiful but it's more - there's intellectual depth and there are important messages that stimulate us to think about why we're in this church and what we need to be doing to make our mission statement be more than just some words we recite. Her preaching is poetic and inspiring, her writing clear and elegant. She communicates in ways that are meaningful to people of almost any age or background.
The Search Team has experienced a couple of Michelle's services. We felt the excitement --- we think you'll feel it too.
Michelle Buhite is extraordinarily well qualified to assume the responsibilities of ministering to our congregation. Her twenty-plus years of UU experience perfectly complement her warm personality, her highly-developed communications and teaching skills, her active mind, her spiritual grounding, her work ethic, and her administrative and collaborative and pastoral skills. We feel very strongly that she would bring our congregation even closer together and inspire us in new and exciting ways to do the things we should be doing as Unitarian Universalists.
Michelle Buhite (boo height)