AUGUSTA — The Rev. Carie Johnsen has left the pulpit at Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta — but just for a month.

Johnsen is headed to Wales, in the United Kingdom, as part of a ministerial exchange across the Atlantic Ocean. Coming to Augusta will be the Rev. Alun Dafis, minister of Brondeifi Chapel in Lampeter, Wales.

The ministers plan to share their countries’ cultures with their host parishioners in hopes of fostering greater understanding of others as part of their shared interest in social justice. They also will explore how being a Unitarian, in their respective host countries, compares to their own religious practices.

One thing Johnsen already has discovered is that, at least in the Wales congregation she’ll be visiting, church leaders seem to spend much less time organizing official church activities. They spend more time being together in community, while still managing to put together church services.

“Here, we spend more time organizing and planning the activities of the church,” Johnsen said. “They have a casualness about it, but in the end (church services) still happen.

“I love the way in which church and community comes together in Wales, without a lot of organizing. I think we can learn a lot from them, how to come together in less formal ways,” she added. “It’s powerful, it’s meaningful, and they don’t expend as many hours organizing themselves as we do.”

The two ministers will not just exchange congregations, they’ll also swap homes and vehicles for the month.

So Johnsen will be staying with Dafis’ wife in the couple’s home in the small fishing village of New Quay, and Dafis will live in Johnsen’s apartment, with her cat, in downtown Augusta.

Dafis is bilingual and, Johnsen said, speaks excellent English. But Johnsen said she doesn’t speak much Welsh — though she did learn some in a weeklong intense Welsh language immersion program during a previous trip she made there.

She said churches in the congregation where she will be serving all have a service in Welsh. She won’t be conducting any services in Welsh, but she still will lead church services during her time overseas.

“I know enough to sound funny, for people to laugh at me when I try to do the ‘double L'” of Welsh pronounciation, Johnsen said. “I’ll lead services in different ways. I may learn enough (Welsh) to do a prayer and fumble my way through it.”

One aspect of services Johnsen anticipates Dafis will conduct in Augusta, which would be a first for the church, is Communion. In the U.S., the Unitarian Church is no longer part of the Christian Church, and thus its services don’t include Communion. In Wales, Unitarianism is still very much a Christian faith, and parishioners thus still take part in Communion.

Johnsen said the Augusta church draws a mix of people, including Buddhists, atheists, Methodists and Christians, and she speculated Christian members of the church will appreciate the chance to have Communion at the church.

Johnsen traveled to Wales on a sabbatical in 2015, and she delved into her ancestry while there. Many of her ancestors hail from Wales. They included her great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Morris, who was born in Ffestiniog, Wales, in 1853; at the age of 16, she traveled with two siblings to the United States to settle on the frontier in Iowa. Her ancestors Samuel, John and Morgan Howells all migrated from Wales to America in the 1850s. Her great-great-great-grandmother Margaret Morgan, who was born in the village of Gwynfe in 1821, moved to America in 1851 after marrying John Howells in 1848, settling in Wisconsin. Her great-great-great-great-grandmother Anne Daniels was born in Gwynfe in 1801 on a farm Johnsen visited on her last trip to Wales, married Samuel Howells in 1818 and moved to America in 1853 to settle in Wisconsin.

Johnsen said that while visiting her ancestral village in Wales, she learned about the persecution her ancestors, and Unitarians, faced for their religious beliefs.

“During my time in Wales, I began to better understand that persecution and why my ancestors left to come here,” she said. “It’s important our congregation realizes there are people who, in the last century, faced severe persecution for being Unitarians.”

Johnsen has asked Dafis to talk to Augusta parishioners about the prosecution of Unitarians in the U.K.

She hopes also to bring back a greater sense that the local churchgoers here are part of a wider, global faith community.

“Like us, they’re a small but mighty denomination, and are really committed to social justice issues of the time,” Johnsen said of Unitarians in the U.K. “This is an opportunity to help us, as a congregation, to understand there is really a global faith community to which we belong.”

Dafis, who could not be reached for comment for this story, is a musician who plays the piano and the accordion, and a talented cook who previously ran a Thai restaurant for many years.

Johnsen said Augusta parishioners should have opportunities to see Dafis’ skills in both those areas, especially music.

“I love to sing on Sunday mornings, but I really don’t have musical talents to share, so that’s one thing I’m excited about, for this congregation — Alun’s musical talent,” she said. “We have 22 people in our choir. We have a very musical group here, so that should be a wonderful experience.”

And local Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta members will get a chance to check out Welsh cuisine and tunes Saturday during a planned Welsh dinner from 6 to 7 p.m. for members, followed by music, folk dancing and a video presentation, open to the public from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the sanctuary.

Johnsen said she has no concerns about leaving her flock at the church for the month.

“This is a really strong congregation, and we have a shared ministry, so we don’t believe any single person takes up the ministry,” she said. “We share responsibilities for everything, so nothing should fall apart because any one of us is gone.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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