I had a rather unusual upbringing as a child in a Unitarian Universalist family. Both my parents were teachers for the United States Department of Defense School System in Europe, so I spent my childhood living in Norway, England, and Germany. My knowledge of our religious tradition came from my parents, reading books, and the teenage experience of watching my parents start a Unitarian Universalist fellowship on a US Air Force base.
After graduating from Zweibruecken American High School, West Germany, in 1979, I continued my education at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC. I received my BA in English in 1984, with an emphasis in creative writing, and served as editor (1981-1983) of the student literary magazine, The Cairn, and Director of the Writers Forum (1984), a program that brought regionally and nationally recognized authors to the school for workshops and readings.
One of the defining moments in my life was the death of my father in 1982. Coming as it did early in my collegiate career, my father’s death focused my thinking on timeless questions about human existence and the meaning of life and I took a number of religion and philosophy courses during this period in an attempt to come to terms with this personal loss. While the class work in this period provided a basis for my later theological study, the experience of coming to terms with loss has informed my pastoral ministry in important ways.
Following college I served in the United States Army for four years as a non-commissioned officer, a paratrooper, and an Arabic linguist with Military Intelligence. I served a six-month tour as an Arabic interpreter with an infantry battalion in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt as part of the Multi-National Force and Observers peacekeeping force. Though I was raised in a Unitarian family, it was also during my military service that I began attending Unitarian Universalist churches as an adult.
Following my military service I entered the world of business, working for two different companies in the insurance field, first in Atlanta, GA and then Tampa, FL. This experience helped me to develop important communications skills and learn how to make professional presentations. Over time, however, I found the work personally unfulfilling and turned to volunteer work as a means of spiritual nourishment. I began volunteering with the Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa and this experience proved pivotal on my journey into ministry. This charitable organization worked to purposefully transition homeless families and individuals into jobs and stable living situations, while providing recovery programs to address underlying problems with drug and alcohol dependency. In contrast to my office job, I found myself deriving so much joy and satisfaction from my volunteer efforts that I began to question whether my priorities in life were reversed.
When the company I was working for closed its Tampa office, I declined to relocate back to Atlanta and instead chose to leave the company. I moved to rural Arcadia, Florida and entered an intentional two year period of reflection. I had discussed my budding interest in ministry with the minister of the Tampa church and began attending the UU Fellowship of Charlotte County when I moved to Arcadia, where I focused my involvement in the Fellowship to educate myself about the requirements of ordained ministry. I also began volunteering with Hospice of Southwest Florida in order to learn more about the pastoral demands of ministry and ultimately served the organization as a care giver, office worker, and public speaker.
It was through my period of self-reflection, my increased involvement with a Unitarian Universalist community, and volunteer work with hospice that my call to ministry really crystallized. My spiritual impulse had been building for years, with service toward others becoming the clearest source of meaning in my life, and a deep commitment to a Unitarian Universalist community of faith became the gathering point for all that was most important to me. Ministry allows me to harness the skills I have developed through my life, such as writing, scholarship, self-discipline, organization, pastoral work, public speaking, among others, and use them in creative ways to serve a community.
I entered Meadville Lombard Theological School in September 1995 and was awarded the Frances Albert Christie Prize for Excellence in Church History at the end of my first year. I received my Clinical Pastoral Education at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Boise, ID June-August 1996. I chose Boise because my mother retired there, where she is active with the Boise UU Fellowship. During my second year of school I supplemented my regular school studies by serving as the Student Liaison to the Membership Committee of the First Unitarian Church of Chicago (October 1996-June 1997). This was extremely valuable training as it allowed me to transition from my experience as lay member of a committee (in Florida) into the position of “minister-in-training.”
June 1998), a 600+ member suburban church in the Detroit area. While aiming to develop my skills at all aspects of ministry, I focused intentionally on learning about church administration and finances. My internship at the Birmingham Unitarian Church gave me the opportunity to work within the multi-staff structure of a large, healthy, program size church. It gave me an understanding of good congregational process, strong church programming, ways of cultivating and encouraging lay involvement, and how to develop and foster good teamwork within a staff.
In the summer following my internship, I married my colleague Terasa Cooley who was then minister of the First Unitarian Church in Chicago.
After completing my internship, I returned to Meadville Lombard for my final year of school, which was devoted to researching and writing my doctoral thesis. I also accepted an offer from the First Unitarian Church of Hobart, IN to serve as their half-time Student Minister for that year (August 1998-June 1999.) The Hobart church had not been served by a settled minister in over five years and had arranged a series of one-year student ministries to serve the congregation. My experience in Hobart was invaluable because it offered me the chance to be “solo minister” to the congregation, while still finishing my education. The most important institutional achievement of my ministry was helping to position the congregation to transition from being served by a series of one-year student ministers to calling a permanent minister.
I graduated from Meadville Lombard in June 1999 and was awarded The Robert Charles Billings Prize for Excellence in Scholarship by the faculty in recognition for the work done on my doctoral thesis, which involved extensive original research focusing on the 1936 Commission of Appraisal, a critical institutional reform movement in American Unitarianism.
Following graduation, I accepted an offer from All Souls Church (Unitarian Universalist) in New London, CT to serve as their Interim Minister for one year (August 1999-August 2000.) In preparation for the interim position, I attended the UUA sponsored Basic Training for Interim Ministers (21-22 JUN 1999). This interim position allowed me to live with my wife, who was then serving the UU Church of Greater Bridgeport, CT. The New London congregation has gone on to achieve notable success, which pleases me greatly and makes me proud of them.
I accepted the call to serve the Central Unitarian Church in Paramus, New Jersey as their settled minister and began that ministry in August 2000. Central Unitarian Church is a 200 member congregation with a $388,000 operating budget and a nine member, full- and part-time, staff. Simultaneous to my moving to Paramus, my wife accepted a call to serve the Unitarian Church of Hartford, CT.
Settled ministry is both a deeply rewarding and profoundly challenging call to answer. My experience in Paramus changed me, for the better I believe, as a man and as a minister. In addition to the transforming experiences that every minister goes through in the time spent with a single community – congregational set-backs and successes, marrying children who grew up in the church, burying treasured members whom we have come to know well and love deeply – my ministry in Paramus has spanned a unique period in our nation’s history: a contested presidential election (2000), the most horrific terrorist attack in US history (2001), the launch of a controversial war (2003), and an on-going debate about the nature of our democracy, and the rights and freedoms of its citizens. I addressed each of these issues publicly, from the pulpit and in other forums, and been personally engaged in two of them in ways that I never would have imagined possible.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, three members of the religious community that I serve were in the north tower of the World Trade Center. Two escaped and one died. I was called upon to perform the memorial service for Todd Joseph Ouida, a young man who had grown up in the church, even as rescue workers sifted through the debris of the World Trade Center for some trace of his remains. His father, Herb, was one of the two survivors from the tower. The months and years that I spent ministering directly the Ouida Family following Todd’s death have changed me forever. Having borne their pain with them through that unimaginable loss, I have confidence in my ability as a pastor to minister faithfully to member families through any pastoral crisis they might face.
In July 2004, I was divorced from my wife. This was a difficult and painful experience, but one that has given me a unique perspective from which to minister to families and couples who are struggling with the all too common phenomenon of divorce in our society. I feel that I am a more compassionate and more effective pastoral counselor for having had this experience.
In early 2005 I was asked to accompany and interpret for two attorneys who are representing Tunisian prisoners in the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At first, I balked at their request, advising them to solicit the services of a more accomplished interpreter; but, they persisted and I relented. In August we visited the prison and I became the first, and only, non-military clergy-person to meet and speak with prisoners in that facility. I am convinced, by that experience as well as my study of the issue since, that the prison in Guantanamo is symbolic of a malignant cancer that is threatening the very fabric of our democracy. I have seized on every opportunity to speak out on this issue. However, the larger learning for me has been that religion holds the promise that we can gather together, and integrate fully, seemingly disparate experiences in our life for the serve of humanity and all that is good and holy. I never imagined that my military language training could make possible an act of public ministry in service of our democracy, but that is precisely what happened for me in visiting Guantanamo.
My service to the congregation in Paramus afforded me the opportunity to craft a unique and authentic preaching style, hone my pastoral skills, experience public ministry in a powerful way, and cultivate an effective approach to working with both lay-leaders and professional staff in a church. While the congregation has struggled in the years since my departure, I continue to feel a deep affection for and connection to the congregation that ordained me and the many members that I grew to love over the years of serving them.
In late 2007 I was approached by the Search Committee of the Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, PA and asked to apply for their Senior Minister position. I was subsequently called to that church in April 2008. While the ministry did not end well – I was asked to resign by the Board of Trustees – the experience has been enormously beneficial for me.
At the Main Line Unitarian Church, I served as Senior Minister and Executive (under Policy Governance) of a 628 adult member congregation with a $958,000 operating budget and a fifteen member, full- and part-time, paid staff. I was responsible for all operations, including all programming, staffing, budgeting, fundraising, and facility maintenance, in addition to being responsible for the spiritual care and feeding of the members and member families.
In my first 13 months of service, I shepherded the church through the economic collapse of 2008, the dismissal of a beloved staff member for embezzlement, the departure of the Family Minister and Youth Coordinator (together) to another church, and the preferring of charges against a lay-leader for sexual misconduct. Over the following two years I developed monitoring metrics to comply with the Board of Trustees new Ends (under Policy Governance) and restructured the church staff. In four of my five years of service the church posted a budget surplus and funding for social justice outreach was substantially increased through the creation of the Offering Outreach program.
While I enjoyed broad support among the church’s membership, the combination of my sometimes strained relationship with the Board of Trustees and some criticism of my management style led the Board to ask for my resignation. I chose to resign rather than engage in a potentially divisive public fight with the Board and, in retrospect, feel that was the right choice.
I resigned effective 30 June 2013 and took the following year off from active ministry as a time of intentional reflection, restoration, and renewal, during which I made dramatic improvements to my physical and spiritual health. I emerged from my experience at Main Line wiser, happier, and with a renewed passion for life and commitment to ministry.
In August 2014, I began a one-year interim ministry with the Unitarian Church of Lincoln, Nebraska, a 298 adult member congregation with a $345,000 operating budget and a six member, full- and part-time, paid staff. When I arrived, the congregation was using a rented Methodist church while its own facility was undergoing a $2,000,000+ renovation. This was a valuable experience of ministering to an extremely anxious congregation through a stressful period. In mid-December, the congregation returned to its renovated home and I planned a January ceremony of building rededication at which UUA Chief Operating Officer Harlan Limpert, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, and newly elected Nebraska State Senator Patty Pansing-Brooks all spoke. In the spring, I testified before the Judiciary Committee of the Nebraska Legislature in opposition to bills aimed at restricting women’s reproductive right.
In August 2015, I began a two-year interim ministry with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, New Jersey, a 342 adult member congregation with a $647,000 operating budget and a nine member, full- and part-time, paid staff. Following a 20-year settled ministry, the congregation needed help cataloguing its strengths and idenitifying the challenges and opportunities before it. I have worked closely with the Board of Trustees to review its governance model, assess its organizational structure, and strengthen communication with the congregation. I helped to create a standing Stewardship Committee to coordinate all fundraising in the congregation and in 2016, the annual fund drive saw an 11% increase in pledges. The congregation is poised to call a new settled minister to lead it into the future.
I will complete my service in Montclair on 31 July 2017. Today I look forward to serving in a new ministry that will allow me to use my knowledge, experience, and abilities in service of a congregation and our Unitarian Universalist faith.