Even before Charlie Dieterich was laid off from his job as a consumer electronics engineer at RCA Laboratories in Princeton, his suspicion had started to grow that the work he had done for 30 years was not his true calling.

So when Dieterich found himself jobless in November 2005, at the age of 50, he decided to make a radical career change. He decided to become a Unitarian Universalist minister.

"I said, 'I don't want another one of these jobs, I want to do something for me,'" said Dieterich, who lives in Galloway Township."Not for money, but something that I'd been wanting to do. It had been growing over the years that I wanted to do this. I had the chance and I took it."

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Charlie Dieterich, a lifetime member of the denomination, was ordained as pastor in a ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Jersey on Sept. 30. The ordination marked 242 years to the day since John Murray gave the first American Universalist sermon in what is now Lacey Township.

While it wasn't until the ceremony that Dieterich was officially ordained as the church pastor, he has been leading the congregation since Sept. 1 of last year. While the church has had some struggles in finding the right minister, the last year has made it clear that Dieterich is their man.

The UUCSJS congregation prides itself on its independence and freethinking ways, so finding a pastor who could facilitate its goals, rather than direct them, was key, said pastoral search committee member Marsha Hannah.

"He was the most flexible, the most willing to come in without a lot of ideas and expectations and to really kind of listen to us," said Hannah, who lives in Galloway Township. "I think that was an important thing, that we needed was someone who was going to listen to what our needs were and then kind of try to accommodate us in the best way possible."

Dieterich's ordination was the culmination of a long journey for the 13-year-old church to establish its identity. Formed in 1999, the church bounced around from rented space to rented space for nearly a decade before moving in 2008 into its permanent location, off South Pomona Road in Galloway.

Before Dieterich's arrival, the church had been without a pastor for a year and a half. While the church is directed largely by its congregation, Dieterich has introduced some initiatives that have gained traction, implementing monthly themed lessons and encouraging greater community involvement.

The congregation has also expanded significantly in the year since Dieterich was hired, and on Sept. 30 welcomed 16 new members into its congregation. Dieterich's leadership, member Primrose Reeves said, is to be thanked for this.

"People hear about things, they come," said Reeves, who lives in Little Egg Harbor. "Now he speaks two Sundays a month, generally, and if they get that Sunday and they meet him, it just brings them in and they just keep coming."

Dieterich has had some experience in the ministry outside of seminary school - he has interned at churches around New Orleans and was chaplain at the East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie, La. - but this is his first foray into leading a congregation of his own.

The things he has to learn to be a success in this role are the intangibles that can't be taught at seminary, but Dieterich said he's eager to take on the challenge.

"(I need to) learn how to be present, and much more than learning the answers and the Bible verses and other texts, verses, things like that," Dieterich said. "Learn how to be present. So that's what I've been practicing with these folks and I'm really proud to be able to take forward this new job and take on these new responsibilities."

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To learn more

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Jersey Shore holds services at 10 a.m. Sundays. For more information, see uucsjs.org.

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