SIGNIFICANT LIFE EVENTS LEADING TO MINISTRY
One of the most significant events in my life was an early one. I was raised by agnostic parents, who were immigrants to the United States from war-torn Germany. I was sent to Lutheran Sunday school to gain an understanding of Christianity, which my parents hoped would help me assimilate into American culture. What I most gained from the experience at the time was: an appreciation for caring religious community, the beauty of ritual, and the sense of call toward religious life.
What I ultimately came to appreciate was the contrast between that experience and my parents’ constant questioning of authority, as they sought to create their own lives with emphasis on personal integrity and social responsibility. In reflecting upon this period, I am most proud of my insistence on claiming the right to enter fully into church life through the rites of Communion and Confirmation. And, then, of leaving the church when I realized that the theology connected to these rites did not nurture my conscience.
When I started college, it was without confidence that my call to ministry was feasible. As such, I enrolled in a liberal arts program focusing on Medieval German Literature.
Shortly after entering a graduate program with the same focus, I became very ill with what was later diagnosed as: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It kept me bed-bound for over two years in the early 1990’s. The experience of (initially) undiagnosed illness, the rapid loss of control over normal everyday functions and abilities and the drawn-out recovery period, forced me to reevaluate my relationship to my physical self and to strongly held concepts of independence. It also forced me to grapple with my spiritual nature.
During the recovery period, I reconnected with practices of deep prayer and meditation, engaging with humility and gratitude, as I wrestled with letting go of how I had previously defined myself and my place in the world.
I have been healthy and symptom free since around 1997, and I now see that period of my life as a powerful learning experience. It helped shaped my personal identity and my ability to serve effectively and compassionately as a minister. It has made me take my life, and the need for consistent self-care, much more seriously.
As a result I hold the gifts of the day-to-day in deep gratitude, welcome opportunities to share and celebrate them with others, and am diligent in tending to self-care.
Working in the insurance industry (1993-2000) as a Claims Examiner, offered me a different kind of opportunity for facing issues of faith and responsibility. It also was the context in which I met my husband, George, who was a colleague and friend for seven years before we married in 2002.
Ultimately, I made the decision to leave the insurance industry and pursue the call to ministry. Initially, that entailed a two-year Interfaith Seminary training in New York, culminating in ordination in 2000. It was a fascinating, heart-opening experience for me. I truly enjoyed learning, in community, about different religious traditions and practices. What I missed, was a "call to action". And so, I found my way to Unitarian Universalism, which my mother had embraced after my father died in 1987.
Around the same time, in 2000, I enrolled in a Clinical Pastoral Education program at New York University Hospital in 2000. That experience was so affirming of my call to ministry, that I decided it was high time to finally take the call seriously. I committed to Unitarian Universalist ministry, most valuing not only the freedom for a responsible search for truth and meaning, but the commitment to principles of interdependence that call us each to active engagement with each other and our world.
I entered the Masters of Divinity program at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago in September 2001. In September 2002 George and I married in California, and I then returned to Chicago to complete the academic year. I then was fortunate enough to be offered an internship position by the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica (supervised by Rev. Judith Meyer).
My last year of the M.Div program was completed at Claremont School of Theology, which allowed me to live with my new husband and family (three stepchildren). After graduating from Meadville Lombard, and being ordained in 2005, I determined to remain in Santa Monica until the youngest child had moved on to college. This meant that I would be serving as commuting, consulting minister in the Pacific Southwest District until all three step-children were "well launched".
Below is a summary of ministry placements from 2005-present:
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Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Kern County (UUFKC) 2005-2006
My first "official" ministry after ordination was a 1-1/2 hour commute away: one year with the UU Fellowship of Bakersfield, which was engaged in unexpected search for a full-time called minister.
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Laguna Beach (UUFLB) 2006-2008
The following year I began a co-ministry with the UU Fellowship of Laguna Beach, CA (1-1/2 hours south), as "Congregational Life Minister". When my co-minister announced her resignation for family reasons, I was invited to renegotiate my contract for the second year and to take on the primary role of "Worship Life Minister". The success of that year resulted in my being invited to serve the congregation on a full-time basis, which my family commitments in Santa Monica could not accommodate.
YEAR OF COMMUNITY MINISTRY 2008-2009
As such, and in recognition of my own long-standing interest in focus on certain social justice issues, I decided to seek Affiliate status through the Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society and pursue a year of Community Ministry (2008-2009). My work with the congregation included year-long support of the Long Range Planning process through creation of a new Vision and Mission Statement.
The Community Ministry consisted of focus on mental illness, homelessness and addictions, in part through internship with a local mental health agency: StepUp On Second (Santa Monica, CA). It allowed me to learn about direct service to individuals dealing with mental illness, homelessness and/or addictions; to learn about the lives, interests, strengths, struggles and concerns of these individuals; as well as to learn about the organizational/financial/community outreach and volunteer support aspects of a non-profit.
The term of September 2008 - June 2009 was broken down into 2 parts:
Part 1: Sept - Jan: 2-3 days per week in Member Services
I conducted screenings for potential new members and intake interviews, offered meal assistance and was available to members and staff for a variety of needs.
I initiated, designed and led weekly groups in December called "Whole for the Holidays", providing an opportunity for shared reflection on the joys and challenges of the winter holiday season, including sensitive exploration/celebration of the holidays (Chanukah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwaanza, New Years)
In support of supporting Step Up as a safe/welcoming environment for all, I initiated, designed and led a Celebrating Diversity Town Hall Meeting: introducing members and staff to concepts of identity and difference, with a focus on strengthening self-identity, as well as supporting appreciation for diversity within this community and the wider world.
As followup to this, I initiated, designed and led a popular weekly Celebrating Diversity Focus Group, offering in-depth exploration of racism, classism, sexism, genderism, homophobia, ableism, etc.
Part 2: Jan - June
A. 1 day per week in Member Services
When the above series was completed, I initiated, designed and led a weekly Human Intimacy Focus Group: supporting understanding of the many aspects of healthy intimacy, including self-awareness, communication skills, how to begin and end relationships, healthy boundaries, communication, safe sex. etc.
Recognizing the need for a followup to the safe sex session, I initiated contact with an agency specializing in sex education and HIV testing and recommended that Step Up make use of these services.
During the course of the year I supplemented these experiences through extensive reading and participation in numerous conferences and workshops on homelessness, addictions, mental illness & spirituality...taking all of these learnings to the wider community through Sunday worship services at Unitarian Universalist congregations throughout California and Arizona (some of which followed up with direct financial contributions to Step Up).
In addition, I helped found the Pacific Southwest Addictions Ministry: a Unitarian Universalist organization of ministers and layleaders dedicated to providing education and support to individuals and congregations dealing with addictions. In this capacity, I was asked to offer a national-level workshop in June to train UU ministers who specialize in helping other ministers live and serve ethically, and to provide support to those having difficulty in this area.
Part 2: Jan - June
B. 1 day per week in Development
Designed a Speaker's Bureau for the Development Office, including: a list of potential speakers and a list of community agencies with whom to build relationship; a sensitive and educational PowerPoint presentation on Step Up's focus of Help, Hope & Home; a series of forms to guide the process of outreach (from initial expressed interest, to guidelines for speakers, and evaluations).
To kick start the Speaker's Bureau I presented at the Salvation Army Symposium. Also, I was asked to offer a special "community building" presentation to Silvercrest (a senior facility neighboring Step Up On Fifth, with NIMN concerns about their new neighbors), which resulted in improved relations and a plan to build mutually satisfying opportunities for continued engagement.
2009-2010 SAN FERNANDO VALLEY CLUSTER MINISTRY
In 2009 I took on the newly formed part-time position of San Fernando Valley Cluster Minister-at-Large: organizing a group of lay-leaders from our five area congregations in order to assess our collective needs and resources, and to provide supportive inter-congregational programming. This included thrice-yearly Vespers services, an inter-congregational picnic, and a leadership worship.
2009-2010 Unitarian Universalist Church of Verdugo Hills
In 2009 I also began a new half-time ministry with the UU Church of Verdugo Hills, a family-sized congregation seeking to grow through focus on standardizing quality of worship, creating sustainable organizational infrastructure (mission, bylaws, policies, job descriptions, etc.), and expanding congregational identity as part of a larger UU context. The success of this ministry was marked by the congregation’s decision to further invest in its future by allocating funds to raise ministerial hours.
2010-2014 Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Clarita Valley
In 2010 I began a new half-time ministry with a young (eight-year old) congregation with approximately 60 members, following its first and only minister: the UU Church of the Santa Clarita Valley.
The first year of this ministry was focused on cultivating a shared understanding of congregational Unitarian Universalist identity, helping to rectify financial discrepancies, assess infrastructure, increase transparency and bring energy to the religious education program. Within that year a Committee on Shared Ministry was formed, the financial status was vastly improved, the congregation connected with the SFV Cluster, led a workshop at district Assembly, created a new youth program as well as a lay-led adult religious education program – growing in depth and numbers.
The second year of this ministry was focused upon strengthening personal spiritual experience, primarily through a new theme based ministry, as well as a continuing focus on the children’s and teen program, and an assessment and reorganization of congregational mission and structure. The congregation ordained a new minister this year – Rev. Tera Little!
The third year of this ministry focused on the long-standing goal of acquiring, setting up and promoting a multi-used space, which had been funded by a Chalice Lighter’s Grant several years prior. This lead to collaboration with a local domestic violence center and the initiation of new programming (drum circle, meditation group, new teen events, film series, etc.). Infrastructure was strengthened through policy creation, funding both Outreach/Publicity efforts and Leadership Development, and the formation of a Strategic Planning Team.
The focus of this fourth year of this ministry is on connecting members with the larger community, through focus on Unitarian Universalist values, the congregation's mission, and identified needs in the wider community. The call has been to "be bold" - and part of that boldness involves engaging everyone in conversations about the connections between our values and our actions, as well about what's been getting in the way of having a strong presence in the wider community. The tagline for this initiative, championed by an ever-increasing percentage of the congregation, is: Bold Values, Bold Sharing, Bold Action!
2014-2017 Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City
In 2014 I was called to settled ministry in Redwood City. We spent the first 1-1/2 years focusing on the meaning of and potential for covenanted "shared ministry" through worship, workshops, and a creative arts project resulting in a beautiful mobile displayed in the sanctuary. The Installation Ceremony was January 31, 2016. Monthly themes helped inspire worship services, book reads, and deep personal reflection and growth. Worship services were creative and collaborative, enhanced by a wide variety of in-house musical talent, beautiful altar displays and other visual images. Focus on the "spiritual practice of activism" brought new energy not only to the congregation's Green Sanctuary and Welcoming Congregation identity, but also to new areas of focus such as the Tiny House and alternative transportation movements and our collaboration with the UU Church of San Mateo in the anti-racism program, Beloved Conversations. Due to increasingly debilitating symptoms related to Lyme Disease (contracted may 2015), in June 2017 I resigned from this position in order to better focus on tending my health.
As part of my renewed commitment to self-care, I am currently exploring new models for ministry, seeking affiliation status with a local congregation while enrolled in a training program for Interfaith Spiritual Directors. Please see the page dedicated to the unfolding of that exciting new community ministry!
Throughout, I have continued to welcome opportunities for pastoral counseling, pulpit supply, rites of passage (weddings, etc.) activism, facilitation of congregational leadership development and other forms of ministry. I have served as mentor to several ministerial candidates, co-founded the PSWD Addictions & Recovery Ministry, and serving as Good Officer and as Vice President of the PSWD UUMA Chapter).