In March she announced her retirement plans and said after 14 years of service, it’s time to let someone else take the reins.
“I will very much miss my work and my ministry. It’s been an amazing experience to be in leadership during this era,” she said. “On the other hand…it’s time to retire and regain a new vantage point on life. I suspect that at some point in the future I will find other ways of exercising my ministry, but for now I could use a little rest, a little restoration.”
It’s not easy summing up her decade-and-a-half long ministry. Crabtree’s worked on local sustainability projects, has publicly opposed the death penalty, brought the UCC’s 2007 General Synod to Hartford, traveled to Korea and to Columbia and in 2009, she won the battle against breast cancer. She also helped her husband, David, fight stomach cancer last year.
A Connecticut native, Crabtree was working on the West Coast as the conference minister of the California-Nevada Southern Conference when she felt the call to return to her home state.
“This conference (The Connecticut Conference) had gone through a very hard time. It had gone through all kinds of conflict and I was out there in California watching it from afar and my heart was just being wrenched,” she said.
Rev. David Peters, senior minister of Roxbury Congregational Church, explained that when Crabtree came to the conference, churches were struggling to find ways to maintain relevance in a changing world.
Crabtree said when the search committee contacted her about the position, she couldn’t say no.
“This is the conference that raised me,” Crabtree said. “It was at Silver Lake that I experienced my call to ministry. It was this conference that shaped my understanding of the nature of Christian ministry and the nature of the church and for them to call and say ‘we really need you,’ it was not something I could turn my back on.”
When she took the leadership role in 1996, she quickly got to work creating what she calls a “top notch staff,” and began working to resolve the conflicts within the conference.
“Her enthusiasm for the church it pretty infectious. She has a deep love for the what the UCC stands for. There are going to be some tough shoes to fill,” Peters said. “We’re really going to miss her. It’s going to be a great loss for us, we gained an awful lot from her.”
Rev. Richard Koenig, chair of the board of directors, said, “I have witnessed her deep devotion to the churches, her love for the conference as a whole, her commitment to be a faithful steward, and her abiding faith in Christ Jesus. Davida has been the right person, called at the right time, for the people of God here in Connecticut.”
Crabtree described herself as a gangly, awkward teenager who was too shy to deliver a book report in front the classroom. In 1959, when she announced to her peers that she wanted to become a minister, she was scoffed at. Girls, her classmates told her, couldn’t be ministers.
“I looked at those supposed friends, put my hands on my hips and said ‘Oh yeah? Wait and see.’ In many respects I look back at that, and it was their resistance and me getting some starch in my spine that was the real moment of call,” she said.
Today, Crabtree can be described as anything but shy. She blogged about her breast cancer journey at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/davidacrabtree, where she revealed intimate details of her treatment. She’s been an advocate for open and affirming churches, has been a prayer warrior for Korea and for Columbia. She’s traveled to both countries and a small town in Columbia is named Villa Davida, after her.
Though it’s hard to let go of the work she’s done over the past 14 years, Crabtree said she trusts the search committee will find someone with special gifts to lead the conference into a new era.
An interim will lead the conference as a search committee is developed and begins seeking a new leader.
On May 2 at 3 p.m. a celebration for Crabtree will be held Old State House in Hartford. The public is invited.
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