Craig Nowak: Following the Spirit
The town’s Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Society is welcoming a new reverend in Craig Nowak, whose experience and proven leadership have energized the congregation. Craig’s spiritual path is a long and interesting one, that landed him amongst a welcoming community he is eager to serve.
Craig and his husband Kevin ran and continue to operate a successful antiques business in upstate Connecticut, but Craig has always felt a pull toward the ministry and his spiritual calling.
“In my mid-30s, I went back to church after being away from church for a long time. I started to get involved, and it’s kind of a long story. But I’m gay, and there were all these things, like trying to ban same-sex marriage at the time, that I wanted to be involved in because that was an issue for me. I tried some political action initially, actually to try and deal with the anger I was feeling around that,” says Craig. “The political action was okay, but it wasn’t really quelling that anger that I was feeling. Then I thought that I really need to do something about this. So, I began looking into churches and where I might find a faith home; especially then, there wasn’t many options. When I stumbled upon Unitarian Universalism, I thought this might work because they had such a great reputation for being welcoming. It was very welcoming, and I felt accepted right away and didn’t have to apologize for who I am.”
Unitarianism or Unitarianism Universalist teachings are a bit out of the mainstream of religious thought, according to Craig. However, at its core, the faith focuses on acceptance and tolerance as its basic values, with little emphasis on ritual or hierarchy.
“The hallmark of Unitarian-Universalism is that, whereas most religions are united around a common belief, they have certain unifying beliefs. Unitarian-Universalism is different because we don’t have that part. What we have is a congregational covenant; we are agreeing to come together and explore our ideas about religion and spirituality, and God or not a God, and we agree to be in a respectful relationship with one another. So, that’s what brings us together,” says Craig. “It’s not about everybody believing in the same thing; it’s about coming together and agreeing to support one another in our search for truth and understanding. I believe the main point of our religion, as one of our forebearers once said, we are congregations where we practice what it means to be human. So, I think that sums it up for me. It’s about getting along with one another despite our differences, and differences can be things to celebrate too; they don’t always have to be divisive. That’s another aspect of our tradition that is important, learning to appreciate difference rather than insisting we all be the same.”
Craig says it didn’t take long for him to understand how important his faith was to him and what his next step would be.
“So, I kept going and got very involved with the church; about 18 months, 24 months in, I was sitting there listening to the minister preach, and I got this sense of ‘Oh, you should do that.’ But I was like, I’m not going back to school, I was never someone who really fancied public speaking or anything like that,” says Craig. “But the thought kept bugging me, and I went to the minister and expressed my thoughts, and she said I should really listen to that. And, eventually, I found a spiritual director who happened to be Buddhist who was very helpful, and the journey evolved from there.”
Craig followed his heart via the Hartford Seminary. He eventually began his education, which led him to the Andover Newton Seminary, which has since become part of the Yale Divinity School to obtain his divinity degree.
“I thought, I’ll try a couple of classes there and found I really enjoyed it, and all the professors encouraged me, so I kept going and went as far as I could there with their program. Then I continued on at Andover Newton, and it was a pretty long and intense process,” says Craig.
Craig spent time as chaplain for Hartford Hospital, a rewarding but challenging position.
“I did that as a chaplain resident for a year, which I really enjoyed,” says Craig. “I enjoyed it, but I really wanted to look for a parish after that, because I had enjoyed my previous work at parishes. It is definitely difficult. In a hospital, you are encountering people of all different beliefs and faiths, and people with no particular faith. What I enjoyed was finding out what was important to people and listening to what their concerns are, what their joys were, what their regrets were, and listening to where people are. If it’s one thing I feel like I’ve learned in the ministry, it’s that people never really get listened to. They’ve been told a lot of things, but I don’t think they really get listened to. I found my chaplaincy was a great opportunity to listen to people and be with them where they are. I really feel that was a privilege. For the most part, they are looking for you to heal them or save them; they just want someone to listen to them.”
Craig served as minister at Brookfield Unitarian Universalist Church in Massachusetts for a decade, while also assisting as a consulting minister at an affiliate fellowship in Storrs.
“I had a wonderful time with both places. They were both really nice congregations. I enjoyed working with them, but when Madison became available, I just thought it was a time for a change,” says Craig. “The shoreline is near and dear to my heart. Both from the antiques perspective, because we go up and down the shoreline, but also growing up. My parents had a boat growing up; my parents always had a boat, and I am very familiar [with] and have many fond memories of the shore. The area of the shore has always felt like a home to me.”
Craig says that the values and beliefs of Unitarianism, which encompass simple human engagement and respect, are needed now more than ever.
“There are a lot of, not necessarily politically liberal, but simply socially liberal ministers around. And I think that is something positive. Many people equate religion now with bigotry, and that can be true in some cases, but we want tolerance to prevail…but it is challenging, and it is disheartening to see some of the hate that prevails,” says Craig.
The Madison Unitarian Universalist Church is located at 297 Boston Post Road. All are welcome to attend services on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. For more information, call 203-245-8720 or visit www.shorelineunitarian.org.