Ken Collier, who searched the breadth of the nation for happiness and spiritual stability and who has served as minister of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara for the past six years, is retiring from his post this July.
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the final months of World War II, Collier grew up in Delaware in a Presbyterian household. He received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, and for several years he taught the subject at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. “But I wasn’t happy with academe,” he said. “The academic lifestyle just didn’t fit me. For me, teaching was like putting a left shoe on a right foot. There’s nothing wrong with a left shoe, but it just wasn’t going to be comfortable to walk in.”
In 1975, Collier’s first wife suggested he join the ministry. “It seemed like a great choice for the way I like to be in the world,” he said. “Helping people, and living and working with them. It was obvious to me that’s what I needed to do for the rest of my life, and when you get to that point, you really have no choice.”
He trained at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley for three years, beginning in 1976, and was ordained in 1979 as a licensed minister. He then traveled with his family to North Carolina where Collier offered his talents to two churches-one in Durham and the other in Lynchburg, Virginia. With three daughters and his wife to support, times were not easy, he said. “We eked out a living, and that was the case for several years and for several more churches until I went to Palo Alto in 1991.”
By then, Collier was a veteran minister. He had climbed the ranks to a relatively large church. The money was better, he said, but most importantly of all, his career path had fulfilled his deeper callings. In August 2001, he moved to Santa Barbara and signed on with the Unitarian Society, and today, on the eve of his departure, Collier finds himself fully satisfied. “Spiritually, this job has kept me well fed, and that has allowed me to feed my congregation. This has been a wonderful and exciting church.”
But as much as many of the Unitarian Society’s members have come to rely on Collier’s wisdom, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s Code of Professional Practice requires Collier remain away from the congregation for the next two years while the succeeding minister solidly emplaces himself or herself in the position.
“When a minister leaves, it’s very important that the bond between him or her and the congregation be broken,” he explained. “We’ve seen the recipe for a failed ministry is when the previous minister stays around while the next minister is trying to assimilate into the job.”
For Collier and his current wife, Anne, this means a fine opportunity to travel, and they hope to spend the autumn in Wales. Collier also looks forward to tackling several book projects.
“I’m ready to move on,” he said. “I’ve by now given this job half my life, and there are still other things to do.”