As a teenager growing up near Boston, Frank Hall thought about being a minister.
Only one thing stopped him: He didn’t believe in certain things. Like the Apostles’ Creed. Or the virgin birth.
“A lot of those ideas had to be metaphors, right?” he says.
But while teaching at Wellesley High School from 1962 to ’69, and being drawn into the anti-war movement, Frank also became a Unitarian Church youth group advisor.
His beard and activism as a draft counselor landed him in some trouble with school administrators. A minister who helped mediate the dispute told Frank, “You should be a minister.”
“I don’t believe in God!” he replied.
That seemed perfect for Unitarians. During 3 years at Boston University School of Theology he also served as assistant minister of a small, socially active congregation. Noam Chomsky was a member.
He was called to Attleboro, where he spent 12 happy years as senior minister. In 1984 the Westport Unitarian Church contacted him. Frank was not interested in leaving, but one Sunday afternoon he drove down, by himself.
He found an open door. A lifelong poetry lover, he stood at the pulpit in the stunning building surrounded by woods, and recited lines from Emerson and Whitman.
“I felt an amazing sense that this is where I should be,” he recalls.
He’s been here ever since.
This Sunday (June 9) Frank Hall delivers his last sermon. He’ll be feted the following Sunday (June 16). Then the 73-year-old retires — though he has no plans to leave Westport.
He looks back on 3 decades of association with “an amazing group of people in this church.” He has felt warmly welcomed — despite what may be a unique admission from a minister.
“I make no apologies for my theology, or lack of it,” Frank says. “I could be who I am here.” His was a ministry of poetry, he says.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Frank admits. “This is not Kansas anymore. Fairfield County is not New England. It’s New York.” For a lifelong Bay Stater — the 3rd of 9 children, and son of a roofer — that took some getting used to.
But he brought a sense of stability to the church on Lyons Plains Road, he says. He did it by being “spiritual, without the theological baggage that goes along with that. Most clergy don’t like to hear ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious’ — that’s not a good customer — but spirituality can be expressed in many ways. Books and music, for instance.”
Frank says the Westport Unitarian Church’s sanctuary — with its physical connection to the outdoors — is another expression of spirituality.
The sanctuary was the site of Westport’s 1st gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies, during Frank’s 1st year here in 1984. He is proud of his role in making the Unitarian Church a welcoming place for the LGBT community.
He is proud too of the congregation’s growth. During his tenure the church introduced a 2nd Sunday service, and hired full-time religious education, music and social justice directors, as well as a paid youth advisor. Nine members of the church have moved from the pews into ministry.
During his ministry, Frank held dozens of 6-week sessions with small groups. They talked about spiritual journeys. Frank’s journeys also took concrete form: He took 29 “coming-of-age groups” (14-year-olds) to Boston, touring important sites in and around the birthplace of Unitarianism.
He cherishes his friendship — and regular meetings — with other clergy. “We’re a real support group for each other,” he notes. “We’re on the liberal spectrum, but they say I’m off the spectrum.”
Retirement will include spending time with his wife Lory, a hospice worker. He also hopes to publish.
“I’ve written 1,000 sermons, but I’ve never published anything,” Frank says. He’s eager too to revisit the 4 journals he filled during a 5-month sabbatical, 20 years ago. He drove across the country by himself, in a VW Vanagon, enjoying detailed conversations with many people he met. He envisions a book that’s “not just a travelogue, but an inner journey.”
Five years ago, Frank was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He wanted to work 5 more years. His neurologist said, “No problem.”
“It’s worked out,” Frank says. “I feel blessed by my work. I feel blessed, as Robert Frost wrote, that I could unite my vocation and my avocation.
“It’s been a great run. A great trip. Now I’m ready to start a new chapter.”