Unitarian Church installs Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons as first woman senior minister

November 6, 2012 By Francesca Norsen Tate Brooklyn Daily Eagle
First woman senior minister, First Unitarian Church, Brooklyn.
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Donald W. McKinney, who served here 35 years, returns for occasion

The installation service of the Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons as senior minister of First Unitarian Church exemplified what she believes; it nurtured a community and engaged visionaries.

The service took place Sunday evening, November 5, at the landmark First Unitarian Congregational Society of Brooklyn, which marks its 180th anniversary in 2013. Levy-Lyons’ ministry here begin officially on August 1.

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Joy, the arts and interfaith bonding were all vital parts of Sunday’s installation service. The event was also a homecoming for the Rev. Dr. Donald W. McKinney, minister emeritus of First Unitarian Church, and his wife, Julie. Dr. McKinney served the congregation from 1957 until his retirement in 1992, some 35 years. At Sunday’s installation, he delivered the invocation.

Borough President Marty Markowitz, in saluting First Unitarian Church as a landmark congregation, exclaimed, to much applause, “So, I have to say, with all of you being so visionary, why have you taken so long to install a woman pastor? Every man here will admit it, while they won’t say it publicly, ‘If you want a job to get done, give it to a woman to get it done.’”

The borough president also presented Levy-Lyons Lyons with one of his signature proclamations, declaring Nov. 5 as “Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons Installation Celebration Day in the City of Brooklyn, US.”

Speakers from the wider community were present, including Rabbi Serge Lippe, representing the Brooklyn Heights Clergy Association; and Debbie Almontaser, chair of the Muslim Consultative Network. Ms. Almontaser recalled that, in the days right after 9/11, First Unitarian Church provided her a spiritual home and held a solidarity-building dinner.  

Almontaser came to Sunday’s installation service directly from hurricane relief volunteer work in Brighton Beach. Her voice filled with emotion as she described the devastation she witnessed. She asked the congregation to keep the hurricane victims in their prayers. Also present were the Rev. Orlanda Brugnola, Chaplain Emerita, who addressed the gathering, and the Rev. Jude Geiger, minister of religious education at First Unitarian Church here.

Moreover, the Jewish heritage that Levy-Lyons shares with husband, Jeff and family, and her musical background were both highlighted. The ensemble ActorCor presented “Music for All Voices,” and led the congregation in singing Hine Ma Tov (by Moshe Jacobson) and Mah Tovu (Danny Meseng). The Choir of the First Unitarian Church also sang “Three Prayers for Peace,” which bonds Psalm 133, verse 1, the Gospel of Matthew 5:9, and Sura 60-Ayat 7.

The texts are, (in their English translation), respectively: ‘Hold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133); “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God’ (Matthew 5:9); and “May it be that Allah will grant love (and friendship) between you and those whom you (now) hold as enemies. (Qur’an, Sura 60-Ayat 7). The music, Por Las Sierras de Madrid, is from the Renaissance-era composer Francisco de Peñalosa, (1470-1528).

The speakers saluted Rev. Levy-Lyons as a Renaissance woman who can successfully bridge and integrate her skills as a mindful listener and background, as a business leader in online advertising, as a singer/songwriter and musician.

The Rev. Donna Schaper, senior minister of Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, gave a succinct, eloquent sermon that incorporated many of the readings, remarks and insights made by other speakers. Referring to the Micah reading: “Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God,” Schaper spoke about short-term and long-term justice responses.

She invited the congregation to stop thinking that each person is a host on this planet to others, but rather, that every person is “both host and guest” on this planet.

The Rev. Galen Guengerich, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church, with whom Levy-Lyons served for three years, gave the Charge to First Unitarian’s new senior minister. Starting with a description of the different meanings of the word “charge,” he likened the relationship of pastor and congregant to that of a sacramental bond of marriage, a covenant. He “charged” her to be a preacher, prophet to the truth, and also to remember the need for self-care.

The Rev. Hope Johnson, who served as minister of spiritual life at First Unitarian Church from 2001-2004, gave the Charge to the Congregation, reminding the gathering to let themselves grow with her, to share their “hopes, dreams amusements and fears. You know that you have an excellent listener, “Trust her as she moves into new terrain with you. Explore the new points of entry in your spirit, that she will illuminate you.”

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