First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia ~ Welcome home!

Dear Members and Friends of the First Unitarian Church,

I hope this note finds you healthy and happy. I certainly am – the last six months have been the most peaceful and productive time in my life. I'm deeply grateful to everyone who helped make this possible. I’ve come to believe that if everyone received a sabbatical there would be world peace!

I am particularly inspired by the stories of church staff and volunteers who have used their power to build up the community during the sabbatical. It's that simple, isn’t it? Who have you observed nurturing the community? I encourage you to approach these people and sing their praises. They are worthy of your expressions of gratitude.

As I return to community, please know that, as always, pastoral care is my highest priority. I am looking forward to finding quality time with you. Please use my online calendar to view my open office hours and let me know when you’d like to reconnect. I want to hear about your transitions and transformations. I trust that you’ve been practicing self-care and finding healthy environments that inspire the best in you.

Listed below is a description of my sabbatical activities and how they relate to my own transformations, in particular, my new career aspirations.

The last six months have given me the necessary time to make the decision to transition out of congregational ministry and back into the academy. I want to begin this new stage of our ministry together by being completely transparent about my intentions.

Click here to read my letter of intention to the Board of Trustees. Please read below to learn about the context of my decision to resign effective July 31, 2014, a year and a half from now.

This news may spark a wide variety of responses, which is natural, but please know that the timing of this notice prioritizes the community's health. As outlined in my letter of intention, I want to ensure that the Nominating Committee and the incoming Board (the Trustees you're about to elected in May) will have adequate time to assist with the succession plan.

In the meantime, I intend to be a caring first-responder to pastoral matters; to lead dynamic and inspiring worship services; to assist in the moral and faith development of learners across the lifespan; and to support the congregation in its prophetic outreach. I look forward to working with you to strengthen these shared ministries.

It has been and continues to be an honor to serve the historic First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.


Reverend Nate Walker
Minister & Executive Director


Harvard Fellowship
          During my sabbatical, I completed a five-month Resident Fellowship at Harvard Divinity School where I studied legal restrictions on religious expression. I spent most of my days in the library reading and researching, finding peace and vocational clarity.
          I audited two classes, which were amazing. The first was titled Religion, Education & Democracy, where we explored the complex intersection between religion, secularism, democracy and public education in multicultural America. The second class was titled The World’s Religions in Multicultural America: Case Studies in Religious Pluralism. We analyzed the dynamic multi-religious landscape of the United States with special focus on Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh traditions in the most recent period of post-1965 immigration. These were incredibly stimulating experiences, particularly because the professors were so masterful. The high quality teaching made me nostalgic for the time when I spend four years teaching at a college in Nevada.

Book Talk & Academic Forums
         In October, Harvard Law School and Harvard Divinity School co-sponsored our book talk for Whose God Rules: Is the United States a Secular Nation or a Theolegal Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan 2011). I was delighted to be joined by Ed Greenlee, co-editor, and five contributing authors, including Christine Carlson. It was a delightful way to represent our congregation, demonstrating how subjects explored in worship can contribute to scholarly debates about religion and democracy.
         I also hosted academic forums at Harvard and Columbia universities about the Bible in Public Schools, as part of the 50th Anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Abington Township v. Schempp. I am delighted that Dr. Schempp and Professor Solomon were able to come to the church last Sunday to discuss the significance of this case.

Book Contract
         I also taught a Preaching Seminar at Harvard titled, Exorcising Preaching. I designed it to help clergy banish the harmful habits associated with the healing craft of preaching and worship. I am thrilled to report that this workshop resulted in a book contract with Chalice Press. Although its name suggests otherwise, Chalice Press is not associated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. It is, however, the leading publisher of preaching books in the country. In order to publish the book by the spring of 2014, I hired student minister Lee Paczualla to serve as my research assistant. We have some exciting things planned that, I hope, will significantly contribute to the co-creation of high-quality worship.

Publications & Presentations
         I am also thrilled to report that I wrote a chapter for the Oxford Handbook on Religious Diversity and an article for the Journal on Inter-Religious Dialogue. I was also invited to present papers at conferences sponsored by American Academy of Religion, the Law and Society Association, and the Americans United Church/State Symposium. These were timely affirmations of my renewed commitment to produce timely scholarship in the field of religion and public life.

Doctoral Research
         I also made significant progress on my doctoral research. I’m now at page 261! As you know, I am a candidate in the interdisciplinary program in Law, Education, and Religion at Columbia University. My dissertation, Unveiling Freedom, is about legal bans on religious garb worn by public school teachers. I am particularly grateful to Anne Slater and Ed Greenlee who gave me outstanding feedback on my research. My intention is to defend and graduate in May of 2014.
I am scheduling my doctoral defense so that it will be in sync with my intended departure from the church. 

Intentions & Ministerial Transition
          I have informed the Board of Trustees of my intention to resign eff... My letter to the Board makes explicit my rationale for the timing of this notice.
          I hope to discuss this with you all during the Sunday, May 19, 2013 congregational meeting, where I will outline a succession plan and vision for a healthy ministerial transition. In the meantime, I welcome your input into this process and look forward to spending the next year and a half with you.

          Please join us on Sunday, March 3rd for worship, where we will be singing, "I Need You to Survive," which captures the essence of my hopes for our community.

I need you, you need me; we're all a part of [one] body.
Stand with me, agree with me; we're all a part of [one] body.

It is [our] will that every need be supplied;
you are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, you pray for me;
I love you, I need you to survive.

I won't harm you with words from my mouth;
I love you, I need you to survive.

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