Transition to Lay-Led Community

New in 2020: First Parish, Stoughton’s center for progressive thought, is entering a new and exciting stage of its work by moving to a lay-led ministry, featuring services led by members of the congregation, guest ministers, and other guest speakers. This change was necessary to stabilize our budget so that we can continue to be Stoughton’s “Church on the Green”. Curious about what all this means? Read belowfor some Frequently Asked Questions… send us an email ( if you have a question of your own… visit us at a Sunday service (10:30) to chat in person and see what First Parish is all about.

Q: What does “lay-led” mean?
A: “Lay people” means people who aren’t professionals in a given area. In this case, it means that First Parish doesn’t have a professional minister anymore (we miss you Rev. Sarah!). Instead, those of us who are members of the congregation will bring together our experiences and talents to meet the needs within the church and in the larger community. While it might seem unusual to folks familiar with traditional religious communities, there is a long history of lay-led Unitarian Universalist communities and we are getting lots of support and consultation from the Unitarian Universalist Association and from other lay-led churches nearby.

Q: Without a staff minster, who will be running Sunday services?
A: At every service, we will have a Worship Associate from the congregation who will help facilitate things. At some services, there will be a guest minister, or a non-clergy guest speaker, to provide the main message. Other times, a member of the congregation will speak about a topic important to them. It does mean that services will have more variety than when there is one set minister, but we are excited about the chance to hear from a diversity of voices, something that is in line with our values. Specifics about who will be speaking and their topic will be posted on the Event for each Sunday Service.

Q: Why is being lay-led a good match for a Unitarian Universalist congregation?
A: Unitarian Universalism is a liberal faith community characterized by the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Historically it has roots in Protestant Christianity but in current practice, UU communities include people from a wide-range of religious faiths and people who are atheist, agnostic, and humanist. There isn’t a set religion or belief about deity that UUs have to adhere to. Since we don’t believe there is only one single right path, we are interested in hearing from many voices and finding multiple paths to meaning. This fits well with the community model of a lay-led congregation where members learn and grow together, rather than relying on an expert.

Q: What makes the congregation think that it can handle such a big change?
A: First Parish was started in 1744, literally as the parish that established Stoughton as its own town. In 1822, the congregation split — the more traditional members left to found the First Congregational Church of Stoughton and the more progressive members stayed at First Parish and aligned with the then radical idea of Universaliam, rejecting the doctrine of hellfire and brimstone in favor of universal salvation. In 1961, Universalists and Unitarians found common ground in their commitment to social justice and liberal religious thought, so they joined together to become Unitarian Universalists. In 1965 the original First Parish meeting house burned to the ground. The current building was built on the original site and it opened in 1970. This change to being lay-led is certainly something new, but we trust that we will be able to get through it just as past members of First Parish Stoughton successfully navigated the transitions they faced.

Q: What else does First Parish have planned for 2020?
A: We have a strong commitment to continue the work of serving the Stoughton community and being a vibrant center of progressive thought. We will continue projects like:

  • Expanding the work of the Welcoming Congregation and the Social Action Committee, which seek to create a place where all can explore their spirituality and personal growth, especially members of communities that face persistent marginalization
  • Hosting educational programs and movie nights that spark thoughtful discussions among the wider Stoughton community
  • Providing a space for intimate conversations that skip the small talk and grapple with big issues during our Small Group Ministry and Men’s Discussion Groups
  • Supporting local organizations and community initiatives, including food drives, making lunches for the local homeless shelter, and toy donations during the holiday season
  • Partnering with Stoughton organizations to sponsor events on our lawn, like last year’s Stoughton Brew Fest on the Green that benefited the Stoughton Food Pantry and Clean Energy Committee

Q: What happens with events like weddings or funerals when there isn’t a set minister at First Parish?
A: We have many connections in local UU and other faith communities if people want help identifying someone to conduct a service for an important life event. Many people have their own friend or family member to serve as officiant, rather than the church’s minister anyway.