The Stories of 42 Ministers Who Have Served Our Church
by Mike Roberts, Church Historian
Over the past eight installments of From the Archives, we have explored the stories of all of those dedicated ministers who have served our church since its inception. We began with Josiah Waldo, our first minister. It is now time to conclude the series with the final two ministers who have served our church, namely Elinor Artman and Bill Gupton. These two have served our church for over thirty years and are well known to our long-time members.
Elinor McHale was born in White Plains, New York, on January 30, 1927, the only child of Walter and Hildegarde McHale. She was the valedictorian of her high school class and went on to graduate summa cum laude from St. Lawrence University with a degree in Chemistry. She then moved to Colorado for further studies. There she met Neil Artman, a fellow Chemistry major.
They married and moved to several locations as he pursued his PhD as well as job opportunities. They finally settled in Cincinnati in 1955 when Neil took a position with Procter and Gamble. The family eventually grew to five children.
Elinor never fit into the “corporate wife” mold. One of the ways she expressed her feminist leanings was by becoming active at First Unitarian Church, bringing her children with her to the religious education program there. She quickly became a lay leader and helped create a spinoff congregation in the suburb of Wyoming—Northern Hills UU Fellowship (known as The Gathering at Northern Hills today).
She grew more active in the women’s rights movement and encouraged the women in her life to strive for gender equality. Her next step was to take course work at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, where she finally earned the credits for a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained in Cincinnati at age 52.
Reverend Artman’s first assignment was serving as Extension Minister for the UUA Ohio Valley District. After three years in that role, she accepted a UU ministry in Kokomo, Indiana, serving there until 1987. That experience was followed by her taking the pulpit at Heritage where she offered her skilled guidance and leadership from 1989 to 2001. The UU Retired Ministers and Partners Association states that “she was known for her skills in conflict resolution and often facilitated groups in need of guidance. She became a certified instructor in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and often used this tool with church boards and congregations.” Upon her retirement from Heritage she was recognized as Minister Emerita.
Elinor’s Unitarian Universalist resume beyond the congregation was impressive indeed. She contributed to the development of coursework in feminist theology entitled Cakes for the Queen of Heaven and Rise Up and Call Her Name. She twice served as a board member of the UU Women’s Federation, and worked as a facilitator for UU Right Relations, a member of the UUA task force on congregational response to clergy misconduct, and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) Executive Committee.
After retiring from Heritage she lived in Highlands, North Carolina, and later Asheville. There, she was a consultant to the Mountain Retreat, a chaplain of the UU Musicians Network and a board member of the Women’s Heritage Society. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the Southeast District of the UUA and was also granted membership into the Clara Barton Sisterhood (a special recognition of the UU Women’s Federation).
Elinor Artman died at age 87 on March 16, 2014, following a brief illness and stroke. She is survived by four of her five children, daughters Martha, Sarah and Vanessa and son Linus. Son Chris died in 1970.
After Rev. Artman left Heritage, Rev. Amy Russell served as our congregation’s Interim Minister, during the church year 2001-2002. Rev. Russell later served six years as settled minister at Miami Valley UU Fellowship in Dayton, Ohio.
We now reach the end (for now) of the nearly two-century long story of our church’s ministers. Rev. Bill Gupton began his ministry with Heritage in 2002, and continues to serve us today, as the longest-serving minister in the congregation’s history.
Bill was born in Bristol, Tennessee, in 1958, and attended the University of Tennessee, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. He then attended the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where he obtained a Master’s degree in English. It was in Greensboro that he began working with Unitarian Universalist youth, at the church there – a calling that would, several years and many cities later, lead him to seminary.
He began his career as a UU religious professional in the early 1990s at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., as the denomination’s only full-time Youth Director. During his years in Oklahoma, he married Jennifer Sanders (herself also a Tennessee native). They moved to Berkeley, Calif., in 1994, where Bill began studies at the Pacific School of Religion. While in the Bay Area, he did his ministerial internship at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. Two months before Bill received his Master’s of Divinity degree in 1996, Jennifer gave birth to their only child, Patrick Sanders. On Fathers Day of that year, he was ordained by the UU Congregation of Atlanta.
The family moved to Ohio later that summer, where Bill served as Interim Associate Minister at First UU Church in Columbus from 1996-1999. A three-year stint as minister of the historic Olmsted UU Congregation in North Olmsted, Ohio – itself, an old Universalist church much like Heritage – followed.
In the spring of 2001, the HUUC Ministerial Search Committee (Bob Booth, Cindy Berryman-Fink (chair), Jim Crocker-Lakness, Kathy Nalepa, John Simpson, Tamara Smith, and Joan Stoffregen) recommended that Heritage call him as our 40th minister. The vote on April 21, 2002, was 84-1 in favor, and Rev. Bill has served Heritage Universalist Unitarian church ever since.
In that time, the church has seen a 50 percent growth in membership, and the introduction of multi-platform worship experiences (live Zoom broadcasts, video recording of services available on the website, etc.). A capital campaign resulted in a new kitchen, redesigned sanctuary with new technology, and a digital electronic sign at Newtown Road.
Bill’s development of and attention to a new End-of-Life Ministry at Heritage led to the creation of Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary, the Tri-State’s only dedicated natural (“green”) burial ground, which opened in April of 2020 – just at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
Now, as HUUC becomes fully operational once again following the pandemic, we look to the future. There will be other ministers. Other congregants. Other challenges, and successes. But always, we will honor our Heritage.
Image: Rev. Elinor Artman.
Image courtesy of UURMaPA.