Asking the Clergy: What is it like to lead a new congregation?

From left, Rabbi Rishe Groner, The Rev. Wendy C. Modeste, The Rev. Israel Buffardi Credit: Tzipora Lifchitz; Lasting Impressions Photography/Jennifer Mercurio; Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock

Published by Newsday, August 10, 2023
Contributed by Jim Merritt, Journalist

Taking on a new pastoral assignment offers opportunities for innovation, building new relationships and experiencing personal growth, say Long Island clergy moving this summer to new congregations. This week’s clergy discuss their journeys as well as the excitement, wistfulness and need for trust-building that may be involved in that change.

The Rev. Israel Buffardi
Associate Minister for Member and Community Engagement, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Manhasset

I see myself as more of a spiritual guide rather than a spiritual leader, not only because I minister with two amazing colleagues, but also because I seek to minister through facilitation and connection. The challenge then, when new, is how to build the trust needed to be invited to travel with people on the journey of community. Humility and curiosity are my approach. If I am to journey with people, they need to be able to trust that I will neither judge nor coerce. I take time to get to know them, and if I do lead, it’s from the desire to draw out the unique strengths, passions and perspectives of the people in the community. I ask guiding questions and I offer sacred space and time for people to connect with each other, to seek a sense of something greater than themselves, and to reflect on their orienting values. In short, I seek to be a mirror and a compass, not the navigator. Ultimately, the challenge is knowing when to listen and affirm and when to draw attention to ways of being that prevent us from living our values of love and justice.

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