•Search committees are asking this basic question of every applicant -- could this person be our minister? To that point, give a story which embodies your ministry:
Being raised Unitarian Universalist has been a blessing and a challenge from the beginning. My father was a UU minister serving Emerson UU church in Canoga Park, California, where I was born in 1963. About a year prior to my birth, our home was bombed. Fortunately, no one was physically hurt, but the bombing formed a backstory to my life.
The night of the bombing my father was speaking with a Lutheran minister at a Synagogue about religious rights and neo-Nazis. They both received phone calls informing them that their homes had been pipe bombed. Fortunately, the Lutheran minister’s family also escaped physical injury. The bombing suspects were members of the John Birch Society. No charges were ever made.
In response to the bombing, my father renewed and deepened his commitment to creating a more justice and equitable world. He was not intimidated. It helped tremendously that the church community, and (since the bombings made national news) others from across the country (notably including Robert Kennedy) offered support and affirmation. My father was recognized by the UUA with the highly regarded Holmes-Weatherly Award for his faith-based commitment to social justice.
The backstory revealed in this significant family event has at its core the message that prophetic ministry can be stressful, requires courage and resilience, and provides incredible gifts and blessings. I too have committed and recommitted to UU ministry; even with its many stresses and its demand for courage. My ministry has been significantly different than my father’s ministry, however, in that I have been blessed with far more love and beauty than stress. For this I am deeply grateful. My father died from pancreatic cancer when I was 23, several years before I entered seminary, so he never witnessed my ministry. However, I am confident he would be proud of me and my particular ministerial style.
I also have to recognize two other formative contributors to my story. The first is my mother, who was home with my two older brothers the night of the bombing, and who gave me unconditional love and support as I grew to become a UU minister. The other is my step-mother (my parents divorced when I was ten), who also became a UU minister after my father died. Both of these incredible women have been sources of inspiration, strength and wisdom. They have loved me into who I am today, particularly through the stresses and demands for courage.
The above events and people planted within my soul the seeds that eventually grew into the fruits of gratitude, resilience, joy, lamentation, the capacity to trust, and a vision of universal justice and equality. That story has catalyzed my deep commitment to creating community grounded in radical hospitality, where the human need for tribal relations is constantly challenged, while providing space for healing and safety for the oppressed and marginalized. My story is one of a white, cis-gendered, physically able, well-educated UU woman, but celebrates the multiplicity of identities we are gifted with on this planet. My story continues to be written. But given the beginning lessons as a UU, I know my story will be one based upon savoring and saving the earth, rooted in my rich spiritual UU soil, and reaching for the UU visions of a justice-based world.
•Why are you seeking ministry now?
I am not looking to leave my current ministry so much as I am looking for fresh energy, and to be closer to family. I have been with my current ministry since 2008, and it has been wonderful. We have loved each other thoroughly, and have accomplished a lot together. Yet, every minister needs regular infusions of energy to invite in new ideas and visions. While I can reenergize within my current ministry, I also know that my present church community may benefit from a new minister. I am entering my 23rd year of ministry, so a change now feels right on time.
Much of our family is located across the country, yet my husband and I wish to be close enough to some of our family in western Pennsylvania for short day trips. Right now, that is not possible.
•What ministry do you hope is ahead for you?
We UUs, and so many others who have yet to enter our community, have wonderful gifts and skills to offer the world. My hope is built upon a vision of ministry that provides UU community’s opportunities for people to grow into their full selves, pour themselves out as gifts to the world, and receive back the bounty of blessings. I hope for a community that truly invites a shared journey of life with all the joy as well as the sorrow.
To make this vision real, I strive for a ministry that supports my collaborative leadership style. I believe in our congregational polity and the responsibility for shared ministry between professional religious leaders and lay leaders. While there are clear lines of responsibility, I also see a vision of shared creation of community. In this vision, professional staff work with lay leaders to create an engaging community that is physically inviting, emotionally supportive and spiritually energizing, as well as intellectually stimulating.
Traditionally, UUs are most comfortable with intellectualism, relying on professional clergy to be a trusted authority and source of information. However, that traditional, intellectualized authority paradigm no longer works in our fast-changing, and stressful lives, crammed with information overload. While there will always be some desire for an authority figure or figures to lead worship, and all that flows from worship (classes, meetings, dinners, adventures, support groups, service events), the community should focus on being physically inviting, emotionally supportive, spiritually energizing and intellectually stimulating.
•Share your ministerial presence and leadership style.
I have been described as both energetic and calm in my ministerial presence. These seemingly contrary characteristics represent the spectrum that I regularly tap into, depending on the needs of the moment.
For a worship that is intended to be inspiring and creative, I strive to tap my core body energy and use it to gather people into a bonding and rejuvenating experience. For times when a calm, non-anxious presence is needed, such as with pastoral care, or in a tense meeting, I breathe into the center of my heart. My goal is to be authentically me, while guiding or supporting those around me. Awareness of my power to help and support, not harm, is fundamentally crucial to a healthy ministry.
My preferred leadership style is collaborative. I believe the church belongs to and is the people. I am there to help facilitate the growth of individuals and the community helped by my training and years of experience. There are times when I am needed to be more authoritative, but always and only when the authority has been granted or earned. There are times when I need to hold someone accountable, speaking truth when it may be hard to hear. I do so with kindness and clarity. There are times when I may need to step back, particularly when I need to decenter my Whiteness or when a volunteer wants to step into a new leadership role. There are times when I need to head the call of humility when I find myself needing to listen, and to be curious and learn. I welcome these experiences with gratitude and delight, for I have found that boredom lies at the heart of being a “know-it-all.”
Underlying my ministerial presence and leadership style, is a deep respect for and study of the principles of power and authority. I believe we all have power; the capacity to effect change where it would not have occurred on its own. We all need to learn how to use our power to bless this world and help it heal. If we are not consciously aware of our power, we are more likely to cause harm upon beloved and stranger alike. Authority, as I understand it, is both earned and granted by others. I earned authority through my education, ordination and Fellowship as a UU minister. I was granted authority by my current congregation through their call to be their minister, through the Letter of Agreement, and as their CEO through the Bylaws and the Board of Trustees. Some believe, I earned more authority when I graduated with a Doctor of Ministry degree. More authority, often results in more power to effect change.
It is also of note, my current congregation has a high percentage of military, retired and active duty, as well as federal employees, and thus they do not have the typical anti-authoritarian UU characteristics. It has taken some adaptation on my part to accept the power and authority that congregation has bestowed upon me. I have tried to accept that authority with humility, grace and regular checks on mutual accountability. We have gotten a lot done working together.
Radical hospitality is the act of looking at our dominant culture, above the surface and below the surface, and identifying barriers to inclusivity. By above the surface and below the surface, I mean conscious and unconscious behaviors and words. Like an iceberg, most cultural norms lie below the surface. We’re usually not aware of them, until someone, usually from outside the culture, notices, gets curious or turns away. Those cultural norms may present barriers to those with disabilities, are mental health consumers, have addictions, people who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, are non-binary or trans, are young, old, do not have a college degree, do not have a job or enough money to pay their rent, or have a home to live in or a place to shower. Understanding and changing culture is exhausting, and absolutely necessary to fulfill the call to our faith as Universalists – so that all may be saved.
I am deeply committed to working to eradicate cultural norms, particularly White supremacy, that serve only to support White privilege. Since my early ministry, I have taken and then offered classes and programs about countering oppressions and the intersectionality of oppression. I stay actively engaged in reading, and taking classes and workshops offering the latest lessons on what I as a White, cis-gendered, able-bodied minister can do to be an ally of the oppressed, or to decenter myself, so that the marginalized and oppressed can live full, creative lives. At my current church, I have frequently preached on racism, transphobia, mental health and addiction issues, and classism, including participating in the UUA’s 2017 Teach-In organized by Black Lives Matter, UU. I am currently working with a church member to create a new curriculum on race and racism. That curriculum may be out in 2021. We have recently launched an Anti-Racism Committee and I offer a brief weekly message via email on learning about racism and how to dismantle White supremacy culture.