Call to UU Ministry

with Hebrew College classmates in the sukkah at Occupy Boston, 2011

I went to my first Unitarian Universalist service the same week that I started Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. I had been meaning to check out Arlington Street Church for years; I’m always curious to experience and learn from new religious experiences, and friends had told me they thought I would love ASC’s liberal energy. I went to the ingathering service and sat in the back row, feeling self-conscious. As they lit the chalice, my friend Jacob blew the shofar in honor of the impending High Holidays. I was simultaneously pleased that they were honoring the holidays and disoriented to see the ritual out of its Jewish context. I was moved by the symbolism of unity as congregants participated in the water communion. When I read the seven principles printed on the order of service, my first thought was, “Whoa. I agree with these.”

Throughout my lifetime ensconced in Judaism, I became accustomed to the disclaimers and theological gymnastics I needed to feel comfortable using traditional liturgy or adapting religious practices. I marveled at the simplicity and ease with which I could affirm those seven statements. Here, I was finding the kind of open, pluralistic, multi-faith community I’d been pushing uphill to create within Judaism — and it already existed! I was hooked. I kept coming back to Arlington Street every Sunday for two years, finding ways that my growing UU identity could enhance my Judaism and vice versa. Arlington Street became a home, the church choir became a sweet small-group ministry, and Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie became one of my beloved spiritual teachers.

Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie with me at my ordination, 2016

In my second year of Rabbinical School, the school administration started asking me to choose whether my “primary identity” was as a Jew or a UU. I tried to explain that I didn’t see them to be mutually exclusive, and both were integral to my identity. The pressure to choose increased, and I started having nightmares. I met with Rev. Kim and asked her to recommend some reading I could give to the administrators to help them understand Unitarian Universalism better, hoping they wouldn’t feel so threatened. Kim paused for a long moment, looking into my eyes. “I can do that,” she said, slowly. “But I want you to know: If ever you decide you’re ready, Unitarian Universalism would welcome you with open arms. They would relish the chance to have someone so rooted in Judaism and so committed to bringing that richness into their UU ministry.” It felt like being at the top of a roller coaster.

While it wasn’t an instant conversion, it was a crucial moment where my understanding of my call began to click into place. I started reading Forrest Church’s Cathedral of the World. I found in its imagery a beautiful articulation of my own theology — that there is one light, and it can be seen just as beautifully through many windows. I wanted to foster religious communities which saw, affirmed, and taught from a wide spectrum of sources, from world religions to secular poetry to scientific discovery. I wanted the measure of one’s religious experience to not be whether you observed a commandment or practiced in a particular way, but whether that practice made you a kinder, braver, more loving person. I wanted to be in a community which focused attention on this world to provide whatever meaning and explanations we can. I wanted a place to affirm that, as William R. Murry put it, “The goal of human beings is to become more fully human. Whatever enriches and enhances human life is good; whatever diminishes human life is evil.”

I began to see clearly that I would be able to answer my call to build these communities most freely and abundantly in Unitarian Universalist ministry. I would not be running away from Judaism but rather embracing a joyful expression of my fullest hopes and dreams for the world. I see my journey toward ordained ministry as a journey to my truest, most authentic self. I see my call as one to create spaces where we have the courage to leave behind familiar excuses and insecurities, and to go toward our true selves.

Rev. Liz Weber and I at Arlington Street Church’s Pride service

Flash forward several years. I’d transferred to and graduated from Andover Newton, and was coming to the end of my ministerial internship. It was the morning of Pride in Boston, and I’d worked for weeks on crafting our service on the theme of naming and affirming our invisible identities. Five congregants, myself included, got up in the high pulpit and started with the sentence, “I’m here to make the invisible visible.” We shared our stories of our invisible identities — among us, we were queer, trans*, Latino, disabled, neurally diverse, Jewish, lovers of dance music. We ended by saying, “So here is who I am, offered with pride. I’m so grateful to have found a community that can see all of me.” And the congregation joyfully shouted, “I see you!”

This experience was a tantalizing glimpse of my call realized. It was a day when a community demonstrated our faith through our compassion, our love, and our affirmation. It was a day of celebrating our truest, most authentic selves. It was a day that, I’m told, inspired people to make radical life choices to go to their truest selves. If my journey toward my most authentic self is one of finding my spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism and nurturing my roots in Judaism, it’s true that other folks are going through their own journeys. This is the good news of our faith: that we are here to be companions on that journey, ever calling us to return to the home of our souls.