Originally Published: August 4, 2018 7:50 p.m.
Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist interim pastor Terry Cummings is no stranger to transition.
The native of England knows the anxiety, fear and soul-searching that can come with such a journey; as a transgender person for the last decade she knows such change is not always pleasant and can leave people and organizations struggling to find a new sense of identity and purpose.
In her blossoming ministry, the former 25-year Manhattan corporate and commercial lawyer’s focus is on engaging people where they are, be it with spiritual, personal or community transition, with empathy, love and compassion. The 64-year-old, soon-to-be ordained pastor hired to serve Granite Peak for the next year, is a believer that every person regardless their backgrounds or beliefs can find a spiritual home in this social-justice oriented congregation. Her call to serve the downtown congregation founded in 1996 with about 200 members and regular attenders is all about enabling them to “look in the mirror” and exercise their mission to open their doors and ministry to all comers.
Even though this is Cummings’ first solo ministry, she is no stranger to serving others; she said her law practice she officially closed in June 2017 was a type of ministry as she often counseled many of her clients as they embarked on their legal goals and identified how systems and personalities influenced outcomes.
Since earning her Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Cummings has worked as a chaplain and as an intern at a 300-year-old Unitarian church outside Boston. She, too, was active with serving the homeless in New Jersey.
Cummings was granted a preliminary ministerial fellowship by the Unitarian Universalist Association in May as she awaits her ordination in October.
“I bring a lot of life experience to my ministry. That’s one of my biggest assets,” Cummings said in an interview in her new office at the Sunset Avenue church.
She said she has witnessed the “good, the bad and the ugly” in many situations, gaining perspective, strength and understanding “along the way.”
As the church seeks to hire a permanent minister, Cummings will be a guiding force, bringing to the congregation years of life, business and ministerial experience that have revolved around making change, understanding change and living within such change, according to church leaders.
“We looked for people who have a strong social justice emphasis, who can demonstrate flexibility in their personal history, which Terry definitely has … I know Terry fits with our mission as a welcoming congregation, and has made a personal transition that speaks to her willingness to be part of a welcoming congregation (open to those of various sexual orientations and gender identities). And that is something we are proud to acknowledge.”
Cummings was selected from a pool of six candidates with her life story, demonstrated leadership qualities and personal commitment to the value of all people making her what Erickson described as a “dream” candidate as their interim minister.
Cummings, who has two adult children and two grandchildren in New Jersey, succeeds The Rev. Karla Brockie.
As she helps Granite Peak celebrate its life in transition, Cummings said her goal is to help what she described as a “very healthy congregation” take a “look in the mirror to see who they are and who they aspire to be.”
She said her role is not to be a “fixer” but rather to provide a “continued period of stability while they undergo their search process (for a new “settled” pastor).”
“I’ve fallen in love with them, already,” Cummings said.
Her own spiritual awakening came through connection with the Unitarian Church in Montclair, New Jersey, a safe haven after her gender transition where she felt welcome, loved and able to serve others.
Before that, Cummings was not a churchgoer, growing up in the United Kingdom where she equated religion to intolerance.
She appreciated Unitarian Universalists emphasize “deeds, not creeds.”
In her ministry, wherever it takes her, Cummings said she wants to preach love not just from the pulpit and not just to people who share her point of view. True empathy requires a willingness to “step in someone else’s shoes” and see the world from their eyes, she said.
“I don’t want to be thought of as the transgender, English, or lawyer, minister. I’m just a minister,” Cummings said. “I want to bring a healing presence to people I minister to, or meet, in the community, even if it’s just for a year.”