Coastal Virginia Unitarian Universalists’ New Pastor Adjusts To Pandemic

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Viola Abbitt

In normal times, the congregation of Coastal Virginia Unitarian Universalists (CVUU) in Virginia Beach would have gotten to know their new settled minister over shared potluck meals and after-service Sunday coffee hours in the church social hall. But COVID changed those plans. With in-person gatherings suspended, Rev. Viola Abbitt has had to rely on technology to foster connections with her new congregation, using telephone calls, Zoom, and the occasional physically-distanced meeting. 

Rev. Viola joined the staff last August and was officially elected as CVUU’s Settled Minister in early November. Since she has been at CVUU, she has conducted many Sunday services entirely on Zoom. 

“Moving in the middle of a pandemic and being constrained by the necessity for physical distancing has been very difficult. We have all needed to be really intentional about making the connections necessary to get to know one another, and I think it has been working.” 

Rev. Viola chose to relocate to Virginia as a newly ordained minister from her home state of New York, not just because of her love for the congregation, but also her love for the area. She entered professional ministry after working for more than twenty-five years as an attorney.

Before she entered full-time ministry, she last worked as the Director of the Office of the Ombudsman for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. There she led a division whose core mission was to protect and promote the legal rights of youth in the juvenile justice system. Prior to fulfilling her call to ministry, she considered that position the most rewarding she ever held. 

Even though Rev. Viola spent her childhood and early adulthood ensconced in the teachings of a Christian denomination, she found her true place within Unitarian Universalism. 

“As my faith developed and grew, I came to the realization that what is ultimate is hard to fit into any particular doctrine, and it is perhaps not done justice if one tries to do so. Today, my personal theology has a much more expansive view, and I value ongoing personal spiritual development. While I believe that there is some energy or force that binds the universe and connects us all, humanism and religious naturalism are important aspects of my theological orientation,” she says.