I was recently sent a list of questions intended to inspire a press release in support of my new position as Minister to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City. Here are the responses (press release text to follow soon!):
1. You say your mother instilled in you a love of learning. What was your early life like? My father worked shifts, so my mother was the primary influence in my early childhood. She put great focus on creating “learning-experiences-on-a-shoestring” for me and my brother and sister. Every week we took field trips to museums, parks, concerts and community events. And every spare moment we were curled up with a box of books purchased at rummage sales. During those rare family dinners, when all were present, conversation ranged across all disciplines – from ancient history to current events, poetry to philosophy. I was motivated to contribute to those conversations, not only with questions, but also with information and ideas. (My mother, for whom English was a second language, went back to school at 40 for her BA and went on for her MA after that. She’s 83 now and continues to inspire me with her passion for learning.)
2. What are your spiritual roots? And, why Unitarian-Universalism? My spiritual roots lie in a deep curiosity about and reverence before the natural world. I remember gazing at the stars during childhood camping trips, my parents singing softly by a fire, telling stories of ancient people who had likewise been awed by them. I remember my father telling me that my bones contain stardust and that every living thing is related – that the very air we breathe once filled the lungs of dinosaurs! I remember being told that each grain of sand was once part of a mountain, worn down by time and the elements. All of this opened my eyes, my heart and mind to life’s mysterious, precious, grandeur. My lifelong study of world religions, while lifting up diverse perspectives and practices, affirmed a shared unity and obligation to life. Unitarian Universalism is the context in which I feel best empowered to explore that unity and to live up to that obligation.
3. You found your way into ministry through chaplaincy—a desire to be of service to people at their most profound moments of need. How did that idea get started in you? I’ve always found myself drawn to life’s deeper questions and challenges, to the joys and sorrows that tend to be hidden in the secret chambers of the heart’s memory and the mind’s imagination. Often, when people find themselves unexpectedly thrust into an awareness of life’s fragility (through loss of a job, ability or relationship, through illness or death), the desire and ability to keep all that tucked away tends to dissolve. There is a startlingly profound and perplexing yearning to connect with meaning and purpose, to face one’s highest hopes, deepest fears and greatest potential. Chaplaincy encourages presence to that which is most true about life – much of which is universal, while being utterly unique. I consider it a deep honor to walk with those undertaking that journey. Those experiences and conversations nurture and sustain my own faith.
4. It’s hard to leave a career in mid life and adopt an utterly new path—especially one that requires substantial schooling; loss of income; uncertainty about future income, etc. What was that decision like for you? I actually felt “the call” to ministry when I was very young. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to find the right “context” (Unitarian Universalism) and faith in my own ability to contribute something meaningful to this Living Tradition. It wasn’t until after a significant illness in my 30’s that I realized it was time to “stop avoiding” the call to ministry, and to get serious about life. I set off to seminary in 2001, carrying along all my doubts and fears. These many years later, I can say that the doubts and fears still tug at my sleeve. But my faith in the journey is strengthened. And so is my joy.
5. What drew you to this congregation? Among your other choices, why this one? While at Regional Assembly in San Jose last year, I commented to a colleague on what I experienced as an extremely rich UU culture in the Pacific Central District. She jumped up from her seat and said “oh, you’d be perfect for UUFRC!” That planted the seed. When I got home, I did a lot of research – and even drove up a couple of times to see the community. When the time came last year to engage in a full search, I applied to several positions all over the country, but kept feeling drawn back to UUFRC – which was known to be a creative, “healthy congregation”, with a history of being in right relationship with ministry. In re-reading the UUFRC congregational packet, I was moved by a stated willingness to articulate the “ambivalence” this congregation currently has about growth. I found this refreshing, as it indicated an awareness that deep reflection and conversation is still needed, and that there is a desire to engage in that process with a new minister. I appreciated that honesty. At that point I withdrew my applications to the other congregations and “put all my eggs in the UUFRC basket”!
6. What are your dreams for UUFRC? What do you most want to accomplish here? My main dream right now is that we can spend this year truly getting to know and appreciate one other. It’s important to me that I understand not only how you function as an organization (the ins and outs of committee work, what works/what doesn’t, and how you’re connected to the larger RWC and UU community, etc.), but also to begin to know individuals, their hopes, gifts, fears, commitments and connections with one another and this faith tradition. (Of course I also want people to get to know who I am, to be patient with my growing edges and supportive of the commitments I bring!) I’ll be doing what I can to be an authentic, grounded, caring presence to membership, to model covenantal right relationship, to support existing UUFRC goals/programs and Staff development, and to connect meaningfully with the wider community. It is my dream that wounds (old and new) can be openly unbound and transformed, that individual and collective UU identity will unfurl and inspire greater visibility in the wider community. This world needs to feel the influence of Unitarian Universalist values writ large.
7. How does your family view this move? My daughter has been telling me for years that I’m more “NoCal than SoCal”, and George has been wanting to move to the Bay Area all his life. We have a lot of family living in the area and are excited about the prospect of deepening those relationships, as we settle in. My mother, who lives in New York, is not quite as happy – because we used to have regular phone dates during my 2-hour commute to the congregation I was serving (now I’m 5 minutes from church and less likely to call from the car). That being said, she’s delighted for me, and looking forward to visiting in December.
8. What are your impressions of Redwood City? How does it differ from Santa Monica? I very much enjoyed Santa Monica’s casual outdoor beach culture, with hippy shops and yoga studio’s on every corner, but found it extremely difficult to connect with people in an authentic way, to put down roots. My hope was that moving to a “smaller community” would allow me to do that. Since my arrival in Redwood City, I’ve been deeply moved by the friendliness, the genuine kindness, of total strangers. While out and about, walking our dogs, people greet each other and stop to chat. Neighbors have even been by to welcome us and orient us to the Peninsula. I miss some of the offerings of Santa Monica, but I’m also delighted with the RWC downtown area and all the outdoor activities offered here, as well as with the fact that you can take the train to San Francisco and that Half Moon Bay is just 20 minutes away.
9. What’s on your Bay Area to do list? Over the years, each time I’ve visited San Francisco, I’ve mostly just visited friends and made a pilgrimage to the Grace Cathedral labrynth. Beyond that, I haven’t really seen very much. I’m looking forward to visiting Starr King School, going to museums and walking over the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d love to explore the Redwoods and find favorite hiking trails – and places to replenish my spirit, when I have a day or two free. (Right now I’m still trying to find a primary care physician, a dog kennel, and a good boxing trainer!)