Minister, Unitarian Church of Lincoln Nebraska
Minister, Unitarian Church of Lincoln Nebraska
Originally from East Lansing, Michigan, I followed a long path to ministry, joining Peace Corps and starting a career in the nonprofit world before recognizing that ministry in the Unitarian Universalist Association was how I could best express who I was, while channeling my idealism into a faith and organization I have been a part of for fifteen years.
Unitarian Universalism is in a critical position right now. For fifty years, we have struggled with defining what we are not as an institution– not Christian, not creedal, not fundamentalist- sometimes at the expense of making a positive case for who we are as a faith. We are at a moment now where, I believe, the UU faith is uniquely positioned to speak to our broader society. American society is becoming increasingly pluralistic, and surveys of my generation express both a frustration with traditional forms of creedal religion and a longing for community. Unitarian Universalism can speak to that longing and frustration in a way few other denominations can, as we find ways to create communities based not on some dry statement of belief, but on shared appreciation of each individual and a shared search for meaning.
In 2017 I began serving as called minister at the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska
First Unitarian Church of Baltimore
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock
Carolinas Medical Center, Levine Children's Hospital
Wesley Theological Seminary
In the summer of 2010, I returned home from two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Lesotho, in Southern Africa. While those years are now a positive time that I look back on, I was deeply troubled by the experience. Rather than the appreciable impact I had hoped to have, I left Lesotho not knowing if I had made any amount of difference in either people’s lives or the material conditions in my village. In the months before I left one of my closest friends was assaulted on her way to a grocery store. After I got home, another volunteer friend of mine was shot and killed in a mugging. And while I didn’t yet know it, I was growing increasingly sick myself.
I joined the Peace Corps in 2008, immediately following my graduation from St. Mary’s College (a public school despite its name, part of the University of Maryland). I had majored in Political Science and Religious Studies, and while I was considering whether or not to go to seminary, I decided to take a few years to discern what I should do with my life. Peace Corps felt like a good place to do that work, while also helping to make some positive difference in the world, however small.
By the time I returned to the United States, I had decided definitively against ministry as a career. My time in Lesotho had, I thought, pounded out any optimism I had about the world or the possibility for an individual to create systemic change. I struggled with faith; theodicy is a challenging question in the best of times, and the reality of a country with an adult HIV infection rate approaching 50% was traumatic to experience firsthand. Within a year of my return, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I spent much of 2011 in an out of the hospital, working towards a degree in Public Policy on a fellowship for returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
During this time I maintained my membership at First Unitarian Church of Baltimore. My parents brought me and my sister to a UU congregation for the first time while I was in high school, and while my family did not remain Unitarian Universalist, it quickly became a durable part of my identity. Even though I had decided against pursuing seminary, when I moved back to the States it seemed natural to join the UU congregation where I lived.
As is probably the case in many call stories, something unexpected happened. I was drawn to the words and music I heard at First Unitarian, from Adrienne Rich, to “We’ll Build a Land,” to Rheinhold Neibuhr’s writing on theology, grace, and forgiveness. At some point over the course of my chemotherapy treatments it felt like a conscious choice: I had every reason and right to be angry at the world and how my life had gone. Losing friends, having cancer at 25, the world was not fair and would not be. But ultimately that is a hard way to live. Better then to embrace faith and hope even in the face of all that the world throws at us: faith despite, or maybe because of, all evidence to the contrary. I applied to seminary from a hospital room.
The six years since have been a time of formation. In my last months in the Public Policy program in Baltimore, I met my wife, Stacie. As soon as I announced I was going to seminary, the minister at my home congregation suggested I serve in several capacities as a lay member. In Baltimore, I was a member of the board, participated in a congregational visioning process and oversaw its implementation. I did my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, NC, working on a pediatric oncology ward as well as spending on call shifts overnight in the main hospital.
For the last two years, I have worked as the full-time student minister at The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock (UUCSR). Shelter Rock is a large congregation, and I have had the opportunity to work as part of a four-person ministry team, learning from each minister here in different ways. It has been a rich experience, and while I am excited at what the next step will be, I have grown to love this congregation and its people.
We bring our whole selves to the work of ministry. My life over the last decade has not been the easy by any common definition, but it has been rich in experiences. Each experience has shaped me in some way, and each contributes to the ministry I am called to. My work in Baltimore gave me a clear understanding of the ‘fierce urgency of now,’ while the time I spent in Charlotte showed me the resilience and joy of children, even in the midst of suffering and fear. My time at Shelter Rock has given me many mentors, and an education in congregational systems and administration. I look forward to bringing all of who I am into my next role.