The Board of Trustees, however, was in crisis mode.
After passing a sleepless night, many of them were gathered at the church to plan how to do the unthinkable: inform the congregation that their beloved, brilliant, energetic minister... had committed suicide.
The Board President had already put out the call to nearby UU ministers in Newport News and Williamsburg for guidance, who in turn contacted Rev. Pupke of First UU Richmond.
It was Rev. Pupke, arriving not long after the other two ministers, who assessed where the Board was at and helped them determine what needed to be done. It was Rev. Pupke who ensured that each Board member took a little time for themselves that day and who helped set up for opening the doors that evening to grieving congregants. On Sunday, Lay Pastoral Associates from the Richmond congregation were in attendance to provide assistance in counseling.
Rev. Pupke helped the Worship Services Committee fill the pulpit during an intentional year of healing. She provided support so the congregation didn't lose the momentum it had gained during the previous year. With the countless miles driven between Richmond and Norfolk, the phone calls, emails, meetings, support for lay leaders and congregants -- and cheerleading even the small milestones the Norfolk congregation achieved -- the Richmond congregation and Rev. Pupke formed a bond with the Unitarian Church of Norfolk that proved we are stronger when we work together and we can help each other grow. Not just in numbers, but as Unitarian Universalists and as people joined together in a common quest to spread joy, love, and peace.
In fact, we're excited to announce that as part of the momentum we built during this difficult time, we have purchased and are renovating a new church home, which we plan to move into in 2018. This would not have been possible without Rev. Jeanne's support.
Below are just a few of the Norfolk congregant's endorsements of Rev. Jeanne Pupke as the best candidate to serve as the UUA President.
Allen Perry, President: Reverend Pupke is a wonderful person. She has a bright soul and an insightful nature. All that's wonderful but it's not the main reason I'm making this endorsement. She has a quality so incredibly hard to find - Leadership! She has the ability to bring people together. To lead people through even the toughest of times. She inspires and empowers others to good works. She brings together diverse groups and forms new bonds. She does all this with a quiet demeanor and a smile. She gets the job done and manages it all with a smile. She empowers others to do the good works needed and supports them. This is what we need in a leader.
Her leadership has a flowing quality. Like a gentle hand guiding us through the darkness. If there is a candidate that can lead us through these current troubles and bring us out on the other side better she is it. I have been lucky enough to see her commitment first hand. She will help to bring us together. She will help to focus us. She will help us to form a better UUA.
Susan Elizabeth Gullixson, Church Administrator: I met Rev. Jeanne Pupke at my church, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk, VA, when we lost our minister, Rev. Jennifer Slade, to suicide/depression. Rev. Pupke, along with other regional UU ministers, arrived to work with our Board, congregation, and employees. For a year she managed to keep our congregation and staff healthy and running while serving her own congregation in Richmond. The drive from Richmond to Norfolk is a stressful, traffic-filled two hours each way. We desperately tried to “mind-will” her to stay with us forever.
The Jeanne I got to know was a strategic thinker with a plethora of assorted experiences. She starts her meetings with an inspiring tone, so it is easy to find yourself prepared for what more she might have to offer. She is quick to build trusting relationships which lead to strong partnerships and collaborations. She brings her WHOLE self to the role of Reverend.
I can’t compare her to the other candidates for the UUA. The process of becoming a leader can take several years, and is often based on knowledge, experience and position. I can, however, tell you about the Jeanne Pupke my church was fortunate enough to get to know and love. Her impact on us will be remembered forever. She was available to our church for teaching leadership to a new board, preaching once a month, running in with a tray of brownies just in time for a celebration, organizing and rebuilding our membership and running the classes. In addition, she offered pastoral care; I often watched people come in crying and leave with smiles and dry eyes. She did all this on a volunteer basis.
Am I biased? Of course, once you get to know her, you will be too.
Richard Anderson: I support Jeanne Pupke for UUA President. I and many others in our church were strongly impressed by how she came to the aid of our congregation after our minister committed suicide. Rev. Pupke came on a regular basis to lead services, worked with UCN lay leaders to keep us going, and helped individuals deal with the shock of the event. Her steady support of our church in its dark time is a strong testament to her people skills, leadership, and spirituality.
Tesse Ellis: Two years ago, when our minister passed away, the church in Richmond came to assist us. They provided us with choir, services, ministers – everything we needed to keep going.
It was a trying time for me, because within a month of our minister dying, my father passed away. I was grieving doubly and it was very difficult for me. One of the reasons I continued to come to church was because we had the support of Jeanne Pupke and First Church Richmond. When I joined the UU church of Norfolk, it was Jeanne Pupke who shook my hand.
I am so appreciative that we had the support of another congregation in this difficult time, and that’s why I support Jeanne Pupke for President of the UUA. She knows what it means to be in relationship.
Chanelle Gontarz: I believe in building relationships that matter. Our denomination can be a beacon of hope and progressive values, and those strong relationships are vital. I believe in a UUA that is capable of building these relationships, and that is why I support Rev. Jeanne for President of the UUA.
When my congregation was in crisis, Rev. Jeanne was there for us to provide counsel. When my own life was in crisis, Rev. Jeanne was there to provide comfort. She will do the same for our Association, and will fight for our values tooth and nail.
Support Rev. Jeanne: support these strong relationships and our values.
Andrea Kline: Jeanne Pupke swooped in when my congregation suffered an unbelievable tragedy, the suicide of our beloved minister. She guided, organized, supported, hand-held, loved, enlisted others and stayed with us to make us whole again. She is an extraordinarily skilled person who balances managerial and organizational skills with compassion, love, joy and humor. She is the right person to lead UUA through these difficult times.
Kathryn Perry: Jeanne Pupke is the rare leader who can get people (me!) excited to attend stewardship committee meetings. Reverend Jeanne was incredibly generous with our congregation after our minister passed away unexpectedly. She offered invaluable pastoral care, wise counsel with specific tools to strengthen our internal systems and our relationships with other congregations, and regularly filled our pulpit with worship services we were proud to invite visitors to attend.
With support from Rev Jeanne and the other UU ministers, sister congregations, and UUA staff she helped rally around us, we not only survived our year after the loss of Reverend Slade- we emerged an even stronger congregation. During that period, we completed an ambitious stewardship campaign, kept searching for our new building, and even continued to grow our membership. She is, as others have mentioned, the "total package".
Rev Jeanne connects with youth, is a tireless advocate for social justice work and individual spiritual growth, serves as a thoughtful mentor who grows the faith, and does it all while effectively leading a large organization. She has the ability and skills to manifest a uniquely UU vision for our world. We would all be blessed and lucky to have her represent us as our Association's President.
Additional members of the Unitarian Church of Norfolk who endorse Jeanne Pupke:
- James R. Early
- Gary Copeland
- Sheryl Cooper
- Elisa Dickon
- Charles Dieterich
- Nancy Duncan
- Sharon Harrell
- David Howell
- Stephanee Howell
- Julie Hurst
- Pat Ives
- Ron Lovell
- Janet Marvel
- April Meadows
- Rick Peterson
- Peggy Pickford
- Stacia Sanders
- Ken Saucer
- Martha Shore
- Douglas Throp
- Ann Willever
- Barbara Zimmer