While the Rev. Jo Hudson begins a new job, her former congregation selects an interim pastor who sees a bright future ahead for the church
Four months after Cathedral of Hope was thrown into turmoil with the sudden resignation of Senior Pastor Jo Hudson, the church is on a steady course with an interim pastor and Hudson has begun a new job.
Hudson said change is hard but good things can come of it. She said that was a message she’s preached for years.
“Be open to where God is taking us,” she said.
And good things have happened for both Hudson, who began a new job this week, and for Cathedral of Hope, now under the leadership of a new, dynamic interim pastor, the Rev. James Mitulski.
After Hudson announced her resignation at a Sunday service in April, the board moved quickly. They set in motion a plan to replace the senior pastor based on United Church of Christ’s election procedure that included bringing in an interim pastor for a year while searching for a permanent successor. Mitulski is not eligible to apply for the permanent position.
Although hiring the temporary pastor took longer than originally hoped, Mitulski moved to Dallas from California to begin work at the church on Aug. 1. He said he expected to remain in Dallas up to 18 months.
Meanwhile, Brite Divinity School Dean Joretta Marshall announced last week that Hudson would begin work as an adjunct professor at the school for the fall semester as part of the Carpenter Initiative in Gender, Sexuality and Justice. She began teaching a class with the Rev. Steve Sprinkle this week entitled, “The Church’s Mission and the Minister’s Vocation.” In the spring she said she’ll be teaching a class in congregational leadership.
Marshall said Hudson would be preaching in chapel this fall and said she was excited to have Hudson on her faculty.
In addition, Hudson’s working with the national office of UCC as the gathering pastor for the virtual community ExtravaganceUCC.
“Every major mainline Christian denomination is looking into this,” she said.
Weekends, Hudson has been kept busy preaching at churches around the state. She filled in for a friend in Fort Worth who was away, spoke at a church in Bryan/College Station last week and will be at Cosmopolitan UCC in Carrollton this weekend.
“I’m busier than I ever expected to be,” she said.
Hudson said she’s known Mitulski for years.
“I’m thrilled about Jim Mitulski being the interim pastor at Cathedral of Hope,” she said. “I have great respect for his leadership.”
Ordained in UCC, Metropolitan Community Churches and Disciples of Christ, Mitulski set up an interim pastor program for MCC and has taken several of those positions over the years. He spent 15 years at an MCC church in San Francisco during the height of the AIDS crisis and still calls Oakland, Calif., home.
While still getting to know his way around Cathedral of Hope, he’s no stranger to the congregation, counting both Hudson and her predecessor the Rev. Michael Piazza as friends.
Even so, he said he’s amazed by the breadth of services, classes, groups and social opportunities the church offers.
“The scale is unusual and impressive,” he said.
Congregations in all three of the denominations in which Mitulski maintains ordinations are usually much smaller than Cathedral of Hope, which counts several thousand members. He said it was unusual for a UCC congregation to fill multiple Sunday services and offer communion weekly.
Before jumping into the process of finding a permanent pastor to serve the congregation for a number of years, Mitulski would like to spend time during the upcoming year celebrating the church’s history. That involves bringing back previous pastors like Don Eastman.
Eastman was Piazza’s predecessor who served in the 1980s and set the congregation on the path toward phenomenal growth while still residing on Reagan Street in the building now owned by Resource Center Dallas. “This church evolved in a unique way,” Mitulski said. “It innovated.”
And he wants current members to understand that history before deciding what the church will look like in the future.
“Then we can elect a minister to take us where we want to go next,” he said.
Mitulski said some denominations with more formal hierarchies address a pastor’s departure by appointing someone new. He said UCC requires participation by the congregation to elect the church’s new leader.
Among the surprises Mitulski found at the church was the vibrant Congregacion Latina, which he sees as an opportunity for growth that he hopes can be given the same resources and supported to the same extent as the English congregation.
“This is a year to experiment,” he said. “To take risks and give people a chance to reflect.”
He said COH was still doing what God brought it into being to do — to provide a religious home for a diversity of people and actively work for social justice.
While the LGBT community has come a long way, he said there’s still a long way to go. But he said the church and community need to take stands on racism, immigrant’s rights and women’s reproductive rights. He sees them all working hand-in-hand.
He said right-wing churches that were never against contraception have been aligning themselves with those who are. Churches that traditionally championed immigrant’s rights recently have turned their backs. And that racism and homophobia too often go hand-in-hand.
Mitulski said he was excited about living in Dallas. Now that he’s here, he sees a church that still has some healing to do but is in great shape overall.
“I’m ready to throw myself into it,” he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 23, 2013.