Ordination at 52: Entering second career as Unitarian Universalist minister

Oct. 30, 2013 @ 11:51 AM

Jim Magaw grew up as a preacher’s kid and was a leader in his church youth group. He considered the ministry, but when he went to college, he stopped going to church altogether. Twenty years passed. In his 30s, he felt the need for a religious community again, and Unitarian Universalism was the best fit.

Now Magaw, 52, is taking his involvement in church further – by becoming a minister himself. He will be ordained Sunday in a joint service at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, where he interned for two years, and The Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist, where he’s a member.
Magaw grew up United Methodist but chose Unitarian Universalism, he said, for several reasons. It’s a faith open to a lot of diversity in many different ways and follows orthopraxy – right action over right belief, he said.
“Unitarian Universalists tend to stress what we do in this world rather than what we believe,” he said. Belief is important, but how we act them out is most important, Magaw said.
Magaw is seeking to pastor a congregation by the fall of next year, but in the meantime he’ll continue his current day job. He is a development writer at UNC Chapel Hill, where he has worked for almost 20 years. Five years ago, he started on a path to seminary.
As a member of The Community Church of Chapel Hill, he was involved at first as a musician, sung in the choir and was on the music committee. Then because he’s a professional fundraiser, he served on the stewardship committee, then the endowment committee and then the ministry committee.
“I found church work really most important to me,” Magaw said. He loves his job at UNC, but decided to make the jump.
“I think someone needs to go around telling people to wake up,” Magaw said. “We tend not to notice things around us – like each other, like fundamental values of mercy, love and justice.”
Ministers remind people those things are there, they matter, and deserve to be noticed, he said.
“I think we live in a culture more connected than we have ever been electronically, but less personally connected,” Magaw said. He thinks religion can get us outside ourselves and build authentic community in the world. Also, everybody needs help and support going through life, he said.
Magaw is married and has a 9-year-old daughter. He attended Meadville Lombard Theology School in Chicago, in a nonresidential program. His two-year internship at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship ended in May. About halfway through the internship, he realized he really felt like a minister. It was during a church service.
“It was not something bestowed on me like a piece of paper – but looking out on the people and I knew I loved them and serving them was something meaningful to me,” Magaw said.

Jim Magaw will be ordained at 4 p.m. Sunday at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 4907 Garrett Road,  Durham. All are invited. A reception will follow. For information and to RSVP, visit www.jimordination.com.