, Salem, MA

Local News

September 25, 2010

Young minister leads city's oldest church

BEVERLY — The city's oldest church has hired the second-youngest minister in its 31/2-century history.

The Rev. Kelly Asprooth-Jackson, 28, started last month as the minister of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church. The church began in 1667, the year before Beverly became a town.

Remarkably, Asprooth-Jackson is only the 26th minister in the parish's 343-year history. He takes over at a key moment, with the church having recently completed a $600,000 renovation of the building's exterior and in the midst of raising $2 million for work on the interior.

Earlier this year, members made the difficult decision to sell some of the church's historic silver to help pay for the work.

First Parish historian Charles Wainwright said the renovations and the appointment of Asprooth-Jackson "gives us a different direction."

"We've sort of been in the background in the city," Wainwright said. "We'd like to get ourselves out more, and Kelly is in a good position to do that."

A search committee spent two years looking for a new minister after the Rev. Sylvia Howe retired. The committee interviewed five candidates and recommended Asprooth-Jackson to the congregation, which, in the Unitarian-Universalist tradition, gets to vote on a new minister.

"It was a unanimous vote to call him, which is incredible," said Arthur Thompson, the search committee vice chairman. "The UUA says anything around 95 percent is good. He has a wonderful intellect, he's a very warm person and a great preacher. The top thing everyone was looking for was somebody who could deliver in the pulpit."

Thompson said First Parish has had one minister who was younger than Asprooth-Jackson, but that was years ago.

Wearing a black suit and black Converse high-top sneakers, Asprooth-Jackson said in an interview this week that he wanted to be a minister since he was a 13-year-old boy growing up in Rochester, N.Y. He was raised as a Unitarian-Universalist, an anomaly in a religion that tends to have more joiners than people who were born to the faith, he said.

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