I was ordained into the Unitarian Universalist ministry on 8/8/2020.
Prior to my ordination, my professional life spanned three master’s degrees and a career as a librarian in the field of children’s books and young adult literature. The details are in my Curriculum Vitae.
In a nutshell, I have lived in…
- Lincoln, Nebraska (18 years),
- Central Iowa (4 years),
- Washington, DC (3 years),
- Madison, Wisconsin (26 years), and
- Southeast Wisconsin (3 years).
Here’s a longer, more personal version:
The Religious House
I was three years old—the youngest of three daughters—when my family moved into a corporate living arrangement called “The Religious House.” The year was 1972. The place was Lincoln, Nebraska. The sponsoring organization was The Institute for Cultural Affairs. Eight years prior my parents had returned from Liberia after serving in the Peace Corps; they were no strangers to defying the cultural expectations of their rural Nebraskan upbringing. Moving our family of five into a large house with 25 others was, indeed, seen as unusual by our relatives, among others.
As members of this Christian ecumenical community, we would recite the call and response rituals for our communal meals, worship together at our weekly House Church with shared songs, and participate in a daily bedtime ritual. At this young age I was invited to reflect on life and to make meaning out of those reflections. Many of those songs, rituals/prayers, methods of reflecting, and grassroots leadership roles remained part of my family’s culture once we left The House at the end of a year.
The United Methodist Downbeat
Back in our ranch-style single-family home, my family attended weekly worship, Sunday School, and special events at a United Methodist church. Through this entity I received my first Bible, broke bread across generations, went through confirmation, learned about tithing, engaged in social justice activities, got involved in the youth group, engaged in sacred ritual, and developed meaningful friendships. Our family’s time together during worship services became what I have come to explain in musical terms as “the downbeat to my week”—the Extraordinary Time that helped mark the beginning of a new week. Throughout my life since then, I have sought out that dependable downbeat and have navigated through my life with its reassuring presence.
Given the role of the church in my family of origin, my mother’s decision to enter into the United Methodist ministry when I was becoming a teenager was not that surprising. My teenage self had mixed feelings about her new profession: though proud that she was challenging the gender norms of the time, I felt personally inconvenienced by her busy schedule, clearly seeing the demands placed on ministers and feeling resentful of the requirement that she work on holidays and weekends. I vowed to work a 9-5 job.
Finding Unitarian Universalism
My teenage sensibilities were also attuned to perceived hypocrisies in The Church. For example, knowing that my uncle was gay, I was confused to learn that the United Methodist church treated gay folx as second class citizens. “I thought we were to love our neighbors as ourselves,” my logic went. Plus, if we were all created in the image of God, then gay people were also God-like.
In high school I began exploring Unitarian Universalism—and I was delighted to find a faith community that not just tolerated gay people but celebrated them. What a relief it was for me that Unitarian Universalism embodied progressive social and moral values while also nurturing the kind of spiritual life within a multigenerational community that I appreciated from my childhood. Additionally, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning allowed me to explore and embrace theologies not previously accessible to me.
Racial Justice and Queer Family-Building
Grinnell College (in Iowa) and Howard University (in the District of Columbia) filled me with new insights and growth. Racial justice became a passion of mine (read more on my anti-racism page), leading me into portions of Washington, DC’s African American communities.
Five years after graduating from college, I jumped on the opportunity to discuss race and racism within Unitarian Universalism by taking a Journey Toward Wholeness class at my new congregation. Besides learning about the complicated history of our faith’s relationship with racism, I also met a woman who would eventually become my wife, Bev Buhr.
In addition to holding a similar analysis about systemic oppression and white privilege, we also shared similar values around family and faith. Bev was the single parent of a 9-year-old at that time, and I knew that I would be committing to both of them when we decided to have a wedding.
As of this writing, we have been together for over two decades; Bev continues to inspire me, for she embodies compassion, life-long learning, and generosity. Our offspring, now in their 30s, also makes me proud with their creativity, tenacity, and community-building gifts. My parents and sisters, with their open hearts, have embraced my family of choice as their own. These relationships as well as a handful of others with ministerial colleagues and friends are great blessings in my life.
My family has supported me not only in my social justice passions but in my career moves as well. Until 2017 I worked with great satisfaction as a librarian in the world of children’s and young adult literature. This career gave me the time, space, and opportunities to glean many lessons that I bring with me into ministry. For example, I
- thrive on integrating stories, art, and music into worship and rituals;
- believe that direct communication and access to information can support transparent and collaborative decision making;
- encourage imagination and creativity, especially when we are pushing ourselves in uncomfortable ways;
- easily utilize technology to connect people in new ways; and
- perceive others’ aptitudes and my own as being complementary rather than adversarial.
What a gift it is for me to be able to weave my previous career into my ministry!
Answering My Call
At mid-life (hoping to live into my 80s or 90s), I finally admitted to myself that I had a persistent inkling: I was meant to serve in an even larger way. Could it be that the lay leadership I was practicing through JRUUC was preparing me for professional ministry? I decided to go “listen to that still small voice within” at Meadville Lombard Theological School, a Unitarian Universalist seminary.
Despite my previous hesitancy, all of the pieces seemingly fell into place at seminary. Professional ministry – specifically in a congregational setting – is indeed my life’s call. My gift for working with people, my commitment to collaborative justice-making, my desire to pause amidst the chaos and give thanks for the little details and big pictures of life, my ongoing explorations about the Divine and Sacred — all of this is possible through answering my call to ministry.
Personally, I clear my head and heart by riding my bike, making art, cooking, and gardening. I also love me a corny joke.
In my life, I strive to embrace the mysteries and messiness that are inherent to co-creating Beloved Community. Namely, I continue to explore the internal and communal work for Collective Liberation, for anti-oppression work is on-going. For me, it includes being in relationships with members of marginalized communities and following their lead with humility.
Such work will never be completed in our lifetimes, yet the process itself is where I believe salvation becomes possible. Activism must be fed by spiritual depth—and spiritual practice must be changed by anti-oppression work. This work we do together requires our courage—and it is enthralling and essential. I look forward to joining with others who are also curious about and committed to engaging in such work.