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Posted on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 4:02 a.m.

New minister wants to expand community efforts at Bethlehem United Church of Christ

By Ann Dwyer


The Rev. Dr. Martha A. Brunell stands inside of Bethlehem United Church of Christ where she has recently become the pastor.

Angela J. Cesere |

The Rev. Martha Brunell seems to have the qualities necessary to take over as the newest pastor at the Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor. She is educated, engaging, community-minded and -- having grown up in Vermont -- is not afraid of the snow.

Born to teacher parents who “never left east of the Hudson River,” Brunell would go with her father to the various churches where he would play the organ. But it was what she calls a “gentle nudge” that led her to go into ministry.

After receiving her master of divinity, cum laude at Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts and her doctor of ministry in preaching at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in Saint Louis, she has served parishes in Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Vermont.

While her experience is important, what stands out about Brunell is her dedication to both her congregation and community.

Many see the church as a vehicle for personal spiritual practice. But for Brunell, church is the key to helping the community.

And like the famous inn, Brunell would like to get to the point where there is no room in Bethlehem.

“We now have more space than we need for just traditional congregational activities,” Brunell said of the church. “We’re doing all sorts of questioning and wondering about ways that we might share our space.”

This includes finding activities, organization and efforts in the community that the church could work with.

“My sense is where Bethlehem is now and the questions that it’s asking and the growth that it’s willing to explore will really tap all the skills and experience and dreams that I’m carrying from 30 plus years in special ministry,” Brunell said. “And that’s pretty exciting to be able to find a place you find stimulating and interesting and challenging and rewarding.”

Having been at the BUCC for less than four months, Brunell is already inspiring her congregation.

The church has managed every week to fill the food collection barrel that goes to feeding the hungry, according to Della DiPietro, the congregation president at the BUCC. “Martha is an inspiration...She’ll lead us in new ways.”

Sheila Paton, a member of the BUCC for eight years, said that the church has always had a dedication to the community, but Brunell is “bringing it to a whole other level.”

Brunell has a long history of combining community work with her ministry experience. One of her biggest accomplishments was in helping establish Lydia’s House in St. Louis. Lydia’s House gives abused women and children transitional housing and other resources they need to move forward.

Lydia’s House has continued to assist the community for over ten years.

But even without such accomplishments, Brunell has proven to be engaging and approachable.

“She is just an amazing speaker,” said Paton. “She personally connects with me.”

“Martha is an exciting combination of energy and ideas. She is an incredible storyteller with a strong foundation in liturgy and scripture,” DiPietro said.

Her future at the BUCC is not the only exciting prospect for Brunell, though. After officiating many weddings, she will finally get to be the mother of the bride when her daughter Amanda is married in June. She has another daughter, Molly, living in Chicago.


Amy Lesemann

Sun, Nov 14, 2010 : 6:01 p.m.

It was so great to get her as our new minister! It'll be a great Christmas season.