Shared faith: McHenry, Grayslake churches have one full-time pastor between them

Rather than compete for leaders, 2 Unitarian Universalist churches decided, ‘Let’s go together’

Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry.

McHenry’s Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation welcomed David Becker as its new pastor Jan. 1.

So did Grayslake’s Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

The two Unitarian Universalist churches, about a half-hour drive from each other, were looking for part-time pastors at the same time, said Judy Stottner, congregational administrator at Tree of Life.

“Rather than compete for the same people, we decided, ‘Let’s go together,’” Stottner said. “Our leaderships reached out to each other and decided, yeah, that looked a lot more exciting versus a part-time minister alone.”

It seems appropriate to Becker that the two churches are collaborating because it is part of the Unitarian Universalist tradition, he said.

Two different Christian denominations – the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association – joined together in 1961.

David Becker is the new pastor at both McHenry's Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation and Prairie Circle Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Grayslake.

On one hand, it is new for the churches to work together, as is planned, Becker said.

”On the other hand, it is falling back to our roots,” he said. “They made the decision that they would share and work together.”

Becker will not be doing two sermons on Sundays, but he will rotate back and forth between the two churches. The two congregations also plan joint worship services six to 10 times a year, again rotating which church will host the service, he said.

In between, he will do all of those things that pastors do for their congregants, including visiting members who are sick, leading services and “supporting the social justice efforts” that the UU church might best be known for, Becker said.

Becker, 61, of DeKalb, has a long history of social justice work. He spent 15 years in social work before beginning a second career working in museum and zoo education. For the past 18 years, he was the senior manager of learning experiences at the Brookfield Zoo.

“In both of those, they had a very spiritual component – or at least they did for me. It was mission-oriented work,” Becker said. “Now the spiritual component is more explicit than in the past.”

He is a graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, completing dual divinity and arts in leadership master’s degrees. He was credentialed as a Unitarian minister in May but also served as a chaplain at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove and as interim minister at the Third Unitarian Church of Chicago for three years.

It is the social justice and community involvement of the denomination that drew him to it as a faith community, Becker said.

“When I first walked into a Unitarian Universalist, I was falling into the category of ‘spiritual but not religious,’” Becker said. “I thought about spirituality and religion but wasn’t involved with a church.

“In our church and our faith, social justice and the parts of my life I called my spiritual life ... they go hand in hand together. I really became interested in ministry, and here I am.”