TFA PRESIDENT ORDAINED
My Long and Winding Road to Ordination
by Rev. Will (William Russell Thayer)
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be in the ordained ministry. While in high school in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, I was contemplating the idea, and I had looked into a couple of divinity schools to obtain the necessary credentials. I visited and checked out Andover Newton Theological School, the oldest graduate divinity school in the country, and Tufts University Divinity School. It was an exciting time for me and I learned much about the process.
I had been raised Unitarian and Congregationalist in central and western Massachusetts. At times our family (including Lloyd Moulton Thayer, our DNA person in TFA) would attend a Unitarian church and, when we moved, a Congregational church. Fifty years after the fact, I asked my mother, “Why did we attend Congregational churches?” I asked this because I knew she was an atheist. “Better for business,” was her reply. In the 40s and 50s many more people attended church regularly. It was a social obligation in some ways, and it looked better. A funny state of affairs, I thought, but my father owned a large oil company in the town, so back then it made some sense. One had to play the game.
When I went to Springfield College, I majored in philosophy and religion. Enjoying it immensely, I applied myself and learned a lot from my professors. I found church history, theology, and comparative religion compelling, especially courses that gave me an introduction to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. I found discussing personal thoughts and feelings about religion in general interesting, as well as the study of religion. This preparation prompted me to attend Hartford Seminary Foundation in Hartford, Connecticut after I graduated from Springfield College.
At first it was a challenge to engage in the depth of inquiry that I found at Seminary. Classes were large in the introductory subjects. I remember that we had to pass a foreign language exam, and I managed in French. Also, I was married at the time, and the marriage was not in good shape. It was one of the many young, early marriages that were plentiful in the late 60s and 70s. The two of us did not do the necessary groundwork, and we did not have the maturity to make it work. So we divorced, and I decided to terminate Seminary.
I was concerned about being divorced and in the ministry at that time, so I thought it would be better to pursue a career in social work. I started my social work profession at a halfway house in Edinburgh, Scotland. The house was very central in the City of Edinburgh, which made it desirable for touring the town. I was a Director of the Cyrenian Community, which made it possible to associate with other social workers and clergy in Edinburgh. There was even a member of the House of Lords on the Executive Board. The halfway house provided aftercare for young men who had been in hospitals for severe psychiatric disorders and in prisons for such crimes as stealing, rape, and murder. I stayed in social work aftercare for over thirty years in New Haven, Connecticut, Manchester, Connecticut, and New York City. I received a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work in 1984, having begun the degree at Columbia University in New York City.
I returned to my hometown, Springfield, Massachusetts, after a few years in New York City. After a time I obtained a position as Parish Visitor at South Congregational Church in East Hartford, Connecticut. The church had always had a strong commitment to visiting hospitals, rehabilitation, and nursing facilities as well as shuts-ins. I liked the community and fellowship of the church from the beginning. I was warmly greeted by members and friends as a visiting minister from the church.
After a few years, I started taking courses at Hartford Seminary again, in New Testament and the Sociology of Religion. I found the subjects interesting and stimulating, as I thought I would. Completing 42 credits at Hartford Seminary, I transferred to Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, which was about 90 miles from my home. I drove during semesters and stayed one night each week at the School. It was situated just a bit west of Boston and was very commuter- friendly. I enjoyed the community at the School, and the classes were marvelous to attend. I received the Master of Divinity in 2005. I was formally ordained for ministry in the Unitarian Christian Church on October 31, 2015, by two close friends in ministry whom I have known for many years; Drs. Ed Knight and Richard Phelps. It was a relatively small affair with about 60 in attendance—and, as most Protestant ordination ceremonies are, it was brief. Naturally, we had to have it catered, and I had a friend, who is one of the best in the area, do it. She made all the food herself, by hand. They were beautiful things to put in one’s mouth! All enjoyed the food probably more than the ceremony itself.
Hallelujah and thanks be to God!