Serving the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos 24 hours a day

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By Kirsten Laskey

The Rev. John Cullinan jokes with his congregation at the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos that his job is something that he wanted to do since he was 5 years old.

The truth is, Cullinan grew up Catholic and after college he attended a Unitarian Church in Milwaukee. It was there that he found his life-long career.

Although in some respects the job seems to last 24 hours, Cullinan still looks forward to Sunday mornings at church.

“I enjoy leading worship on Sunday,” he said, “that’s the highlight of my week.”

Cullinan began working at the local Unitarian church in August 2007; he replaced Rev. Dale Arnink, who served as a part-time transition minister from 2006-2007.

Previously, Cullinan said he worked as a lay-leader in Milwaukee. He attended the seminary at the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.

Cullinan explained that while the church was responsible for filling the position, the Unitarian Universalist Association Transition Office helped to match him with the Los Alamos church. He traveled to the church in February 2007 for an interview and to conduct an actual service in Santa Fe.  

In April, Cullinan said he returned to the church to spend time with the congregation before they voted on whether to hire him.

Several changes have occurred since the congregation agreed to hire Cullinan. The biggest changes, he said, were going to a two worship schedule and hiring Alicia Solomon as the musical director.

Cullinan explained the two worship schedule, which includes one service at 9 a.m. and another at 11 a.m., is being conducted on a trial basis and the congregation will vote on whether to continue this schedule at the end of the year.

He added that before Solomon, volunteers served as the musical director. Her debut, Cullinan said, went “remarkably well.”

Other changes could be on the horizon. This week, church members will be voting whether to pursue a new building project.

The local Unitarian Church has experienced a lot of changes since it was first established in early ‘50s. Cullinan said it was first lead by lay-leaders. The transition from lay-lead to a minister can be difficult because lay-lead congregations are very independent, but Cullinan said the local congregation did well with the change. He did joke, however that the congregation “challenges me on a weekly basis.”

Ideas may be challenged but there is a place for every belief inside the Unitarian Church. Cullinan said in the church, the concern is not on people’s beliefs, but how they live their lives.

“You come on a Sunday and are just as likely to sit next to a Buddhist as an Atheist,” he said. “There’s a wide variety of religious beliefs coming together every week and our main concern on Sunday morning is our commonalities and how we’re going to get along together in the world.”

The community is invited to be a part of this church. In fact, this week is “Bring a Friend to Church.” Cullinan said he will be doing a short introduction about Unitarianism at each service.

Cullinan said he enjoys being a part of this church. “I like being in a tradition where I can draw my text from just about anywhere.”

He added another highlight is guiding people in figuring out what their beliefs are and putting them into practice.

Being in Los Alamos is another plus. He said he and his wife enjoy the scenery and climate as well the great schools for their two children.

When he is not working at the church, Cullinan said he dabbles in art and creative writing.