I was born in Fort Worth, Texas on November 30, 1971. My parents both had been born into working poor families during the mid-1930s; I was their only child. We lived in a town called Kennedale, a suburb only a few miles from Fort Worth. But it felt like the small, semi-rural town that it really was (and still is). My family fit in well in this lower-middle-class community—my dad was a truck driver, while my mom stayed home to take care of her only child.
Religiously, though, my family had little in common with the evangelical Protestantism common to the (mostly) working-class white southerners there, as we were unchurched. I came to completely reject organized religion, and the theological ideas I heard coming from the religious communities of my hometown. By the time I moved from Kennedale to Denton (about 40 miles north of Fort Worth and Dallas), to begin my undergraduate studies at the University of North Texas (UNT), I was a committed atheist who wanted no part in any religious community. I started my undergraduate career in 1990. I completed my Bachelor’s and Master‘s degree in philosophy, but it wasn‘t giving me a sense of wholeness, which still seemed lacking.
January 1994 was a time of major transitions in my life. In January, I had my first major religious experience (which changed my atheism to theism), and I went to church – the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I joined two months later, and remained a member there until I graduated seminary.
Soon, I was thinking about ministry. I began putting together my seemingly disparate drives—to think & teach, comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable—into a coherent call to preach and inspire religious reflection, offer pastoral care to those in need, and engage in prophetic work in the larger community. In the meantime, I took a university job as an academic advisor. I filled my other hours with a great deal of church lay activity, and justice work in the community.
I soon reached a point where I needed to put the various pieces of my life and calling all together. So in the Fall of 2000, I started work on the M.Div. degree at Brite Divinity School, of Texas Christian University. This seminary enriched me, by throwing me into a broadly ecumenical environment. Any “Christ cringe” I might have had left over was eliminated, replaced by a respect for the amazingly diverse Christian religious tradition I was immersed in for almost five years. My ministry internship early in my seminary career, in the healthy, dynamic Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge in 2002, affirmed my call to ministry more strongly than I could have hoped. I finished seminary, and was ordained and fellowshipped, in Spring 2005.
[Note: the remainder of my biography focuses on the churches and other ministry settings in which I have served. These paragraphs note the major issues I faced in each ministry, and highlight some of the experience and learnings I gained from them. More information on such experiences can be found in the pages on preaching and worship, ministry in the congregation, and ministry in the community.]
Right out of seminary, I accepted an opportunity to do a chaplaincy residency, spending a year as a full-time hospital chaplain in the suburbs of Fort Worth. The experience was powerful - especially the lessons I learned serving the psychiatric unit - but convinced me that I needed the community of a congregation to serve in ministry more effectively and authentically.
This led me to accept a 1-year interim ministry, at First UU Church of San Antonio. This ministry was rich and rewarding, further confirming my decision to return to parish ministry. The church struggled with finances, and the end of a long-term pastorate where relationships between minister and lay leaders had slowly deteriorated. I helped to provide a calm, steady presence, with a new approach to the congregation's worship. This was deeply rewarding work for me, but the one tension was that the new person in my life could not come with me. Suzi's work as an academic librarian kept her anchored in Fort Worth, while I served over 250 miles away in San Antonio. Fortunately, the relationship between Suzi and I still grew, and we married in May 2007.
My first called ministry was in College Station, Texas (100 members). The congregation discerned its identity more clearly through a successful mission and vision process in my second year with them, and became more involved in community service work, such as the CROP Hunger Walk (for which I served as local organizing team leader). Nonetheless, my desire to function as a change agent at this earlier, less experienced point in my ministry career was frustrated by those who viewed the church as a bunker to protect themselves against the intense conservatism of the region, rather than as a beacon for liberal religious values in the community. As I had not yet developed the ministerial experience to navigate these challenges, this led to my discernment that transitional ministry work was a better match for my gifts and call at that time than settled ministry.
I entered what then was called the Interim Ministry Guild in Spring 2011, and have served various congregations as interim minister through to the present day. I moved from Texas to serve the UU Church of Greensboro, in central North Carolina. This was a church with significant recent conflict, resulting in a church split. I worked with them to further their work at transforming the congregational culture around conflict. We also implemented a new church governance structure, which moved the minister to chief of staff and clarified lines of accountability, particularly between governance functions and ministry functions. And we navigated a change in the religious education staffing. We also unpacked some of the lingering, decades-long aftereffects of clergy sexual misconduct that occurred well in the church's past.
I next served as Interim Sr. Minister at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, in south-central Pennsylvania. This church was in the unique position of having two church campuses - one urban, one suburban - and holding worship at both. I worked substantially with them, completely revising their staffing structure so they could more effectively live into their ministry at each building. I also did substantial work with the board to more fully engage the Policy-style Governance system they have had in place for years, but never truly lived out. Sadly, the congregation was plagued with money problems, as the result of a 5-year decline in membership and pledging, which hindered some of the change work we sought to engage together.
Following this, I was in Memphis, Tennessee. First Unitarian Church - better known throughout the Memphis community as "The Church of the River" - had just concluded the successful, 32-year ministry of Rev. Burton Carley when I arrived for their interim ministry. They were healthy and stable, but accustomed to some ways of doing church that no longer served as well as they had 20-30 years earlier. Work with the church board increased their role in making big-picture decisions for the congregation, and better articulating and documenting their policies. And after listening to several members, it became clear there was a hunger in the congregation to become engaged in social justice work in the community in ways they'd not previously been. After I preached on this issue and invited interested members to come forward, a social justice team was organized within the congregation for the first time in recent memory.
I then moved to the Olympia UU Congregation, in Washington's state capitol city. The minister I followed had only served there 8 months, and his leave-taking triggered conflict between the board and some long-time members. I helped them to work through that conflict, and to implement more fully the new governance structure they had voted in the previous year. Interestingly, including my ministry internship, this was the third state capitol in which I served. I'll be happy to discuss with interested search committees, the similarities I've experienced between them that differ from other congregations.
Currently, I serve the UU Church of Boulder, Colorado. They struggle with maintenance costs in their aging building, grief over the unexpected departure of a beloved minister, and struggles over volunteer burnout - especially related to their intense work over the last two years, hosting an undocumented immigrant in sanctuary. We successfully hired a new staff member, to replace a staffer who left shortly after the previous minister, and are beginning exploration of a potential capital campaign for building renovations.
These experiences have prepared me to move forward with increased confidence and renewed enthusiasm, as I explore my next ministry, now in a settled context.