A true calling, and reason to get out of bed on Sunday mornings

by Charlene anuary 28, 2010 – (http://www.thedailyleicester.com/)

Ever since Doreen Oughton saw the Bob Newhart Show in junior high school, she wanted to make a living by hearing people’s stories. And she does do that. She listens to stories – and relays them – as the minister of the Leicester First Congregational Church. Oughton was ordained in the United Church of Christ this past November.

But it took a while to get there.

Born and raised the middle child of a big family in Medford, Massachusetts, Oughton grew up Catholic, but stopped going to church after Confirmation. Her family wasn’t particularly religious, and she found it to be fairly irrelevant in her life when she was young.

After graduating high school, she worked in the graphic arts department during college, and she found it more lucrative to find a job in that field after graduation. She did typesetting reports for Congress in Washington DC, and then moved on to a graphic design firm in New York City. That paid the bills, but it didn’t feed her soul, so to speak.

“At some point,” says Oughton, “I wondered how I got so off track from my career goal, which I still had. I returned to the Boston area for grad school in counseling psychology and got a Masters from Northeastern University.”

Working in addiction treatment for 16 years, most notably at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, she also got involved with the church and found herself wanting to spend time with people in deeper ways. “But I wanted to be more overt about my faith and what it meant to me,” she adds, “something not appropriate as a therapist.”

One week, when her pastor needed a Sunday off, Oughton was offered the pulpit, and continued to fill in now and again. “I was thrilled by the process of studying the scripture passage,” she says, “and figuring out how to apply it to my life and the life of the church. It was the most fun I’d had in a while and started thinking then that it would be wonderful to be a minister. I harbored this thought for about two years before I said it out loud.”

When the feedback supported her fire for preaching, and someone specifically suggested to her that she go into the ministry, she confessed her secret. She enrolled in one class at a time at Andover Newton Theological School, and loved nearly all of them, cutting back her hours at Mt. Auburn to fit two to three classes at a time. It took Oughton seven years to earn her Master of Divinity degree, all while clocking in nearly 36 hours a week at Mt. Auburn.

“I am also divorced,” she says, “and shared custody of my two now-teenaged sons. It was tough on them with me so busy and having finances so tight.

“I loved preaching,” she continues, “and another event that had a big impact was the first time my pastor prayed with and for me. She made God’s presence palpable to me. It was so different than when I prayed alone, and I thought I wanted to be able to pray with people. This experience of praying with others continued to be a real high in my chaplaincy internship. I also needed an excuse to get out of bed on Sundays instead of lazing around and reading the paper all day.”

Leicester First Congregational Church (formerly the Leicester Federated Church) needed a minister a few years ago, and Oughton came in to meet with the search committee. She originally envisioned working in a big city setting, but the wonderful connection in Leicester brought her here. “I think the actual fit between congregation and pastor is more important than location,” says Oughton, who is living in Westford until her children finish high school. “Leicester seems like a wonderful place, and much of it reminds me of my childhood in Medford – genuine people, very warm. I look forward to settling here.”

The ordainment was no easy process. It required working with her home church in Westford, which ultimately had to recommend me in order for her to be accepted on the road to ordination. She also was interviewed by the Committee on Ministry, meeting with them once a year and writing papers on various topics to submit. Oughton also underwent a psychological evaluation, and did two years of field education and a chaplaincy internship. Toward the end of seminary, she had to submit to the committee an ordination paper. This little “paper” is 20 pages covering a variety of aspects in theology. Once approved by the committee, then the Ecclesiastical Council listened to a summary of her paper, submitting queries about it. The United Congregational Church will not hold an ordination ceremony until the person has a call (job in the field. Once Oughton settled in at Leicester, she contacted the Association. Another ritual called an Installation, where the congregation and pastor covenant with one another, will take place on April 25.

She too, acknowledges that it’s getting harder to get the younger generations interested in religion. It’s off their radar, she says. Her own son even describes himself as agnostic, and doubts the divinity of Jesus. Still, she hopes he changes his mind, as she did in her mid-30s.

A self-described “big crybaby,” Oughton is often driven to tears when preaching, or Christening a baby, or performing a ceremony. She’s had to learn to talk through her tears. People move her, and she hopes she moves them in some way. When a friend once asked her why people are so messed up, Oughton explained that she thought it was a miracle that most are even able to get out of bed. Last week, even, while vacationing in Florida, the gentle breeze blowing from the ocean across the deck of a restaurant, a delicious plate of food, her fiancée, the wine made her cry.

It’s all about perspective.

“We have tender hearts, and everyone carries so much more than what they show,” says Oughton. “I really feel God’s presence at certain moments reaching out to them, embracing them. And with baptisms there is that whole lineage thing – parents, grandparents, children, aunts and uncles, all these connections that point to this intertwined web of life. It’s so rich and beautiful. I am humbled by it.”

For Oughton, she genuinely feels she is part of everyone’s family in the church, and is endlessly moved by people’s suffering and struggles, of their pain and their joy, their hope and persistence. All of it, she says, is beautiful.

“I am endlessly inspired by the people here,” Oughton says of the Leicester church, and the town. “They are so warm and generous in every way – with their time and resources and affirmation and welcome. I love having to keep myself sharp with studying the bible, a confounding book to anyone with a mind. The church itself is so gorgeous, and that feeds my soul also. I love that my fiancé Quentin can be so involved in the church. It is something we share. It also helps me to be a better person.”