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Minister: The Reverend Aaron Payson
Rev. Aaron R. Payson began his tenure at The Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester in August 1999. He has a BA in psychology with a minor in religion and philosophy from Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pa., and an MDiv from Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Center, Mass. He is currently studying for his doctorate at Hartford Seminary.
Aaron served as minister of The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, Ohio, from 1991–1999. In Marietta, he was involved in community activities including chaplaincy at Marietta Memorial Hospital and Home Nursing and Hospice Services. He was a founding member of the Washington County Community Crisis Response Team; served as president of the Greater Marietta Ministerial Association and vice president of the Wood County, W.Va., Clergy Association; and taught courses in the interdisciplinary study of death and dying at Washington State Community College and Marietta College.
Active as well in district and denominational groups, Rev. Payson served on the Executive Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers' Association as the publications representative. At the Summer Institute of the Ohio Meadville District, he has been theme speaker for youth, young adults, and the main conference. Over the course of his ministry, he has led districtwide men’s conferences, been theme speaker and minister of the week at Ferry Beach, served on the nominating committee of the Clara Barton District, and been the Good Offices Representative for the CBD UUMA Chapter. A founding member of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry Team, Rev. Payson responded to the aftermath of hurricanes Charley in Florida and Katrina in Louisiana. He currently serves as the response coordinator for UUTRM.
Besides commentaries in local newspapers, Aaron has published articles on reproductive rights in Conscience magazine and has a chapter on "Mealtime as a Spiritual Discipline" in Everyday Spiritual Practices (Skinner House, 1999), edited by Scott Alexander. He has also presented papers at the Berkshire Study Group on the Sufi mystic Rumi, and at Collegium on the ethical intersection of same-sex marriage and reproductive rights and on the work of 19th-century Spiritualist Andrew Jackson Davis.
He was an emergency medical technician as a teen and young adult. As a minister, he has served on the boards of Daybreak of Central Massachusetts, the Worcester County Ecumenical Council, the Men’s Resource Center of Central Massachusetts, the Interreligious Forum, and the clergy caucus of Worcester Interfaith. Additionally, Aaron has been president of the Massachusetts Affiliate of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Jane Fund of Central Massachusetts. He is a member of the Board of Overseers of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. He was involved in efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
Aaron lives in Worcester with his wife, Kristen, an editor with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette; his daughter, Morgaine; and son, Charles. His brother, Marc, joined the family in Massachusetts in 2005.
The son of the late Rev. Robert E. Payson, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and an educator, Marcia Payson, who lives in Saco, Maine, Aaron credits his family with his passion for ministry.
Minister Emeritus: The Reverend David Miller
A native of Muskegon, Michigan, our Minister Emeritus is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School. He was called to the ministry of our church in 1970, at a time when the church had been weakened by a period of controversy and strife. At that time we often saw 20 or fewer people in the pews on Sunday morning, the church school had programs only for the elementary grades, and the church was financing a substantial deficit out of its endowment. David and the congregation worked together for 20 years to restore the church to a more flourishing condition.
Having resigned in 1990, David, with Linda, his wife of 40 years, enjoys attending church without all the weighty responsibilities of ministerial leadership. David and Linda have a son, Matthew, now 36 years old, who attended the church’s religious education programs during childhood and adolescence. Matthew is married and has a daughter, Lily, 5.
As Minister Emeritus, David provides occasional backup coverage for Aaron, at Aaron’s invitation.
From time to time David teaches in the church school and has volunteered as a mentor in the Coming of Age Group. He is also active in the UU Humanist Group at church. Among his special interests are Humanism and world religions, especially Islam.
In the past 14 years, since his retirement, David has enjoyed driving children in the Wachusett Region (mostly Holden) to school and home again in the big yellow schoolbus. Some of them, at least, say that he is “the world’s best schoolbus driver.”
Since retirement, David has also found time to become a Trip Leader, planning and leading trips for the Worcester Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. These are mostly canoe and kayak day trips, but include an occasional overnight or hiking trip.
David also organizes extended summer wilderness trips, mostly in the Eastern US, Ontario, and Québec, and occasional winter campouts in Central Massachusetts.
David is avidly interested in nature studies, including the identification of trees, flowers, birds, tracking and animal sign, and old growth forests.
Affiliated Community Minister: The Reverend Cheryl Leshay
Cheryl is our affiliated community minister. A minister who grew out of our congregation, her two now-grown children and her husband, Bruce, held down the fort here while she completed her education and served UU congregations elsewhere. Before coming back home to Worcester, Cheryl served several churches all over New England. After completing 18 years as a professional UU religious educator, nine of those as an ordained UU minister, Cheryl followed her call into Campus Ministry. She returned to us three years ago and began forming an organization to support Worcester UU college students seeking a UU presence on campus. While Cheryl is here with us, often in the pews on Sunday, most of her ministry takes place elsewhere, with college students.
While we are home base, her ministry is in the world outside our walls. Her pulpit supply work and “The Campus Ministry Road Show” take her all over the district.
She teaches World Religions as adjunct faculty at Nichols College. Recently, Cheryl has also developed quite the wedding ministry. She serves the Clara Barton District of the UUA as clerk, and is a member of the district’s accessibility committee. It is rumored she writes fiction in her spare time.
She swears all of this activity serves her primary ministry on campus.
Of her work in forming and running the Campus Ministry, she has this to say:
"The name of my community ministry is Greater Worcester Unitarian Universalist Campus Ministries. This group, lovingly called GWUUCM, is young itself. As its ultimate goal, GWUUCM works to support and sustain student run UUClubs on each of the 12 local area campuses. I am both the director and the minister of GWUUCM. I minister to campus-based people, (students, faculty, administrators), by serving as their UU chaplain.
"The group provides support in a variety of ways. We work as allies, providing institutional memory for the transitioning population of academe. We secure administrative and faculty liaisons, leadership resources. We assure a pastoral presence, regular on-campus worship and fellowship as well as an e-newsletter connection for all area UU students. To subscribe to the newsletter, go to http://lists.uuyan.org/listinfo/GWUUCM.
"The more I interact with our UU college students, the more convinced I am of the importance of this ministry for our movement as a whole. I can’t abandon our young adults, and I find that I am not alone in that sentiment. Funding this ministry is its biggest challenge. I am delighted that so many UUs from all over the area have joined in to help. As part of this ministry, I also aim to provide a way for our many small local congregations to participate in this campus ministry mission.
With 12 colleges, the need is huge. By pooling our efforts through one central campus ministry organization. we can make the dream a reality.”