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Lawence Eston McGinty

1994 - 1996

Biography

Lawrence E. McGinty Jr. was born on November 1, 1929 in Walker, Alabama, son of Lawrence E. McGinty Sr. and Virginia Simmons McGinty. Lawrence Jr was raised as a Methodist, but in his teen years he attended a 1946 Pentecostal camp meeting.  As Lawrence related, “There was a hell-fire preacher and an artist who painted vivid pictures of heaven and hell. I was scared.... When the invitation was offered, I went down the central aisle (the Sawdust Trail) knelt at the altar prayed and cried and came away sure that I was ‘saved.” When Lawrence returned home, his parents were upset that he had gotten “mixed up” with the “screaming and crying” of Pentecostals and promptly enrolled him in Methodist youth group which, according to them, was “by comparison more sophisticated.” Young Lawrence went on to attend Birmingham-Southern College where he studied psychology, sociology, and philosophy (including the theory of evolution), as well as religion, and graduated in 1953 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree. However, even after serving for five years a part-time youth leader and for three years as a Methodist minister in rural Alabama McGinty nevertheless felt that he “didn’t ‘believe right,’ and was neither a Christian nor a theist.” Despite growing doubts about his religious faith, he entered Nashville’s Vanderbilt University School of Theology where he received a Master of Divinity degree in 1956 and subsequently. also earned a MA in Counselling Psychology from neighboring George Peabody College for Teachers two years later in 1958. It was during these Nashville years that McGinty was introduced to Unitarianism by one of his professors.  Eventually, after much soul searching, McGinty contacted the American Unitarian Association which recommended that he take coursework at Harvard Divinity School, a learning journey that left him with “a healthy, non-authoritarian, agnostic, humanistic point of view” as well as a pulpit at First Unitarian Society of West Upton in Massachusetts from 1959 to 1964.

In the 30 years between his ministry in West Upton and his call to Dedham’s First Church in 1994 McGinty’s career trajectory was geographically wide-ranging, professionally diverse, and medically impacted.  By the time he took over the Dedham ministry, McGinty had been a minister in churches in Massachusetts, Alabama, Ohio, California, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Moreover, during those three decades McGinty held a variety of church and non-church-related jobs. To begin with, he worked as a settled minister in UU churches in West Upton and Birmingham, Alabama where he was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement, including participating in the Selma to Montgomery March. Next, he became an executive administrator with Unitarian-Universalist Association in Boston for four years. Then, from 1976 till 1980 McGinty was a staff psychologist at Boston’s Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center.  And finally, between 1981 and 1994 McGinty acted as interim minister for 13 different churches throughout the United States, serving terms ranging from four months to two years. Lastly, shortly after being elected as First Church interim minister, McGinty wrote a memoir in the September 15th Parish Record discussing a stroke he had had in 1985. As he recounted, this stroke caused him to lose some speech abilities, occasioned many years of language therapy, and led to a long partial recovery after which, only recently, he had felt confident enough to share his struggles with his new Dedham congregation. McGinty closed his memoir with the following maxim “Commit yourself to the idea that every communication task is a challenge to do your very best and let the chips fall where they may’…. Now that I can talk about it, I am not so alone…. Instead, I have a whole congregation it on my side, saying ‘You can do it Larry, You really can.”

At the February 1995 Congregational Meeting McGinty reported on his discussions with church members concerning goals of what was to be his two-year interim ministry at First Church. First, he inferred that that congregation needed “time to rest, to heal and to gain perspective” before making a decision about future ministerial leadership. Second, he told congregants that First Church needed to get “the financial situation under control,” i.e. Parish Committee was concerned about a looming $10,000 budget shortfall.  Third, McGinty identified the dual goal of growing church membership, while also “strengthening its close sense of religious community”.  But McGinty was quick to observe that it was likewise essential to maintain initiatives such as the excellent Religious Education program.

McGinty predicted that the October 1994 creation of a Membership Committee would “promote feelings on the part of all of being WANTED AND WELCOMED”. The initial undertaking of the Membership Committee was to sponsor A Special Guest Sunday at the end of March 1995 to recruit more church members. McGinty encouraged all church members to invite a friend or neighbor to attend this service and had the congregation actually practice for Special Guest Sunday by interrupting a preceding service in order for congregants to engage in ‘spontaneous cooperative response of cordial conversation.” All church members were to prepare to become “Ambassadors of Good Will” by greeting visitors warmly, inviting them for coffee in the Parish House, introducing them to fellow congregants and inviting them to attend future service. “All of this is not pushy, only friendly.” Moreover, on Guest Sunday (March 26) McGinty preached an introductory sermon entitled “Unitarian Universalism; What Is It Today” after which ensued a brief question-answer-comment period. In addition, McGinty followed up the service by scheduling the “New U Program” of three orientation sessions for those who wanted to learn more about Unitarian Universalism. He reported 105 people attended Guest Sunday whereas usually attendance hovered around 55-70. As it turned out, twenty-five attendees were newcomers and 15 were parents of RE students who haven’t become church members yet. McGinty felt that 1995 Guest Sunday had been such a success that he launched three Guest Sundays in the spring of 1996. The Membership Committee also sent out an annual mass mailing invitation to Dedhamites to attend First Church and inaugurated a yearly New Member Recognition service. At the end of his tenure McGinty could report that largely due to these initiatives First Church’s congregation had grown by 31 new members. 

McGinty also could claim that under his leadership First Church made progress on two of his other goals; achieving financial stability and strengthening community. As previously stated, McGinty began his interim ministry facing a $10,000 budget shortfall. To address the former problem, recruitment of 20+ new members certainly had a beneficial impact. Moreover, McGinty advised Parish Committee to launch a ‘thorough Every Member Canvass for 1996.” This assertive method of fundraising called upon congregants to host a Canvass Team member to “discuss in the privacy of your home your financial support for the programs at your church.”  As a consequence, McGinty could claim at the end of May 1996 that the $10,000 budget shortfall had been liquidated and in addition, enough cash had been accrued so as to provide raises for church staff. As for community building, in 1996 the Membership Committee sponsored a set of progressive dinners whereby parishioners gathered in parsonage for drinks and hors d’oeuvres and then went off in groups of 4-6 to host homes for main course after which they came back together at the Parish House for desserts and entertainment. McGinty also offered counselling which he felt was an important aspect of ministry. McGinty affirmed that his competence and training as well as his own benefit from counselling qualified him to offer six sessions and professional referral for troubled congregants, while assuring potential “clients” that he would model the efficacy of sharing private concerns in his sermons. Lasty, Tam Johnson and other talented First Church parents facilitated the staging of a theatrical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women which was staged on June 1 and 2, 1996. McGinty lauded this adaptation, written, produced, and performed by intergenerational First Church members as an iconic community builder because “It is an event which will bring together diverse parts of our community: children and adults, individuals with a variety of talents people who may not have had the chance to get to know each other before then. All will be working toward a common goal. In working together, the ties between us will be expanded and strengthened, deepening our sense of community.” 

The success of Little Women, the second production of the Parish Players theater company underlines the important contribution the Religious Education program under the leadership of Reverend Betsy Stevens to the growth, financial stability, and community of First Church.  In fact, the first production, an adaptation of “Sadako and the Thousand Cranes” had been mounted as part of a 2nd Grade RE curriculum designed by Tam Johnson in the fall of 1994. (It should be mentioned parenthetically that the Parish Players, 30 years and 24 plays and musicals later, is still a going concern at First Church, having recently mounted an intergenerational production of “Willy Wonka”.)  For starters, during McGinty’s 2-year interim ministry Stevens coordinated a very comprehensive RE program, accessing curriculum, overseeing budgets, staffing classrooms, training teachers, and organizing events for the following grades: Nursery (3 and younger), 3-4 Kindergarten, Grades 1-2, Grades 3-4, Grades 5-6, Grades 7-8 (Coming of Age), and 8th About Your Sexuality with 2 other churches.  In addition, Stevens organized Children’s Choir, facilitated craft days, produced holiday pageants, coordinated the All Church Outing to Roger Williams State Park, and, with her husband Fred, took 8th graders on a UU-focused field trip to Washington D.C. Moreover, during Steven’s watch, First Church children, parents and congregants participated in numerous social action events Stevens facilitated like the mitten tree, the heifer fund collection, the Walk for Hunger, the Arlington Street Cooking program, and Friday Night Supper Program.” Stevens was also an active adult RE educator, introducing the Cakes for the Queen of Heaven curriculum, organizing seminars on parenting and women’s issues, and leading an All-Church Retreat.  RE Committee Chair Kathy Blake celebrated Stevens as “our commodore of cosmopolitan catechism” and McGinty attributed much of his success in stimulating First Church membership growth, fiscal soundness, and social bonding to Steven’s energy, skills, and charisma.  

McGinty’s interim ministry in Dedham concluded in June 1996 with his June 9th sermon that both celebrated First Church’s accomplishments under his leadership and commended the character, skills and abilities of his successor, Bruce Maxfield Clary.  McGinty was then in the process of moving on to yet another interim position at First Parish Unitarian Universalist in nearby Canton. In a message to his new congregants. McGinty anticipated tasks in Canton that were reminiscent of the challenges he had faced in Dedham. Thus starting in August 1996 McGinty committed himself to spend the next year enabling First Parish to achieve growth in membership, increased pledges (to meet a $19,000 deficit!), and the successful calling to a new settled minister. Significantly enough, McGinty added another task to his interim mission in Canton, the crafting of conflict resolution processes, perhaps as a consequence of his difficulty at managing disputes over his salary and style with a couple of influential First Church leaders. McGinty’s ambitious Canton plan, however, was not to be consummated because of his sudden death due to a heart attack on November 9, 1996. In retrospect, it should be added that Lawrence McGinty’s interim ministry in Dedham had had another profound impact on First Church in that after a curtailed “unhappy ending” with the last minister, Reverend Bruce Clary’s tenure was to last for nine years.  As one First Church colleague noted, “When he (McGinty) arrived, he found a church that had been divided and demoralized by a previous ministry. His gentle way, his quiet smile, and his years of experience as a professional interim minister has completely turned this church around. First Church in Dedham has become a happy place to be. His obvious love and care have been a major factor in this happening.”

 

Bibliography


Harvard Mirador Viewer
01 Jul 1948, 5 - Daily Mountain Eagle at Newspapers.com
07 Nov 1964, 3 - Birmingham Post-Herald at Newspapers.com
05 May 1964, 16 - Birmingham Post-Herald at Newspapers.com
22 Nov 1986, 6 - The Central New Jersey Home News at Newspapers.com
McGinty, Lawrence E. (1-3 of 5 folders) | HOLLIS for (harvard.edu)
McGinty, Lawrence E. (4-5 of 5 folders) | HOLLIS for (harvard.edu)
Parish Record, September 1994-June 1996

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