We have friends who are clergy couples. We witnessed their work from a distance and saw what amazing ministry they could do together and we wanted to try that out for ourselves.Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, MDiv '07
Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, MDiv '07, and her husband Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, MDiv '08, met when they were students at Meadville Lombard. They were advised by other co-ministers to serve separate congregations for their first settlement. That sage advice was appreciated; Anya served at UU Congregation of Sterling, in Sterling, Virginia for a decade, as Scott served nine years at Accotink UU Church in Burke, Virginia.
Both Revs. Scott and Anya have contributed greatly to their communities and to our faith denomination. In 2007, Scott founded TUUL-Belt Ministries, a practical ministry training people with construction experience to respond to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Scott is the 2011 recipient of the Outstanding Contribution by a Minister Award from the Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice. Scott served on the Fairfax City Core Team for Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement. V.O.I.C.E. is a congregation-based community organization promoting immigration reform and economic justice for Northern Virginia's middle and low income families whose largest win was securing $60 million in relief for homeowners defrauded in the Mortgage Crisis.
Anya has helped the UU Congregation of Sterling triple it's Sunday attendance, and develop its outreach and connection to the wider community. Under her leadership the congregation grew from 53 members to 125 members plus 50 pledging friends. Together, they literally broke down a wall and added 50% more space, developed numerous new congregation-wide programs, and transformed their local community with generous donations of time and money. Anya has received awards and recognition for her interfaith work and has been elected by her colleagues to serve twice on the chapter executive team. Both Michelle and Barack Obama had Anya offer invocations at campaign events.
While working independently, they learned their own strengths and weaknesses and attuned their own ministerial identities. Over the years, Anya and Scott have relied upon one another's guidance and support. They have read one another's sermons and have encouraged and challenged one another to be their best selves. They have also worked together at district, congregational and community events and found how well their particular callings meet and merge. On occasion Scott and Anya swapped pulpits. On even rarer occasions, they were able to preach together, which they both love. They provided the program and worship at the week-long UU Mid Atlantic Community Conference in 2015. They gave the keynote at the Metro New York Leadership Institute in 2014, and they co-created the Beyond Partisan Divide Toolkit for the UUA.
This summer, Anya and Scott moved from Virginia to Montclair, New Jersey, to work together for the first time at the same congregation. Their new adventure as co-senior ministers of Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair began August 1.
The couple believe working together will build a relationship for themselves and the church. How will they address any problems working as co-ministers and living as a married couple? Anya joked, “As long as I have the last word.” Scott said, “We are working with a coach that we meet to sort of bounce off how things are going and how we can improve our working relationship.” Anya added, “I think there is a great benefit to be able to model an open and honest communication, at the same time modeling a spousal relationship.”
The Sammler-Michaels were drawn to Montclair by its history and its diversity. “The congregation was started by women who wanted to give their children a progressive religious education in the 1890s. There is that interesting germ in this place to be in central Montclair,” said Anya. “What drew us to this congregation particularly is how diverse the people are. There is a great diversity in this town and it’s reflected in this congregation. UU doesn’t normally have 10 percent African-American membership, for instance, but we do. But it’s the history of the town which openly welcomes interracial couples from the 1920s. When we met the people who are the leaders here, we saw folks who were devoted to a mission beyond keeping the church open and the lights burning,” said Scott.
The ministers will mostly give their own sermons but at times will deliver a sermon together. Their first joint sermon will be on Oct. 22, on the current and historic relationship between gender and faith.