One thing the Search Team has been able to read, that you haven’t, is Sarah’s Ministerial Record — her answers to specific questions. We thought you might find it interesting, so we’ve excerpted a few sections for you here.
Give a story that embodies your ministry:
In December 2016, when I was doing community ministry in the mothers and children’s wing of our local homeless shelter, I discovered that the kids were forbidden to have a Christmas tree because it was a safety hazard. There was nowhere safe to put a tree without it being potentially toppled over by one of the babies. Several of the older children told me, sadly, that it didn’t feel like Christmas because they were in the shelter.
I got 50 feet of fake pine garland from a thrift store, and with a hammer and nails, created an entirely flat Christmas tree on one of the walls. The kids made ornaments, and we decorated it.
Although preaching and prayer are two of the most visible things a minister might do, so much of ministry occurs “offstage,” in unexpected situations which call for creative ways of doing ministry. Nailing together that flat Christmas tree helped restore a sense of the passing seasons, a sense of celebration and wonder, and a feeling of normalcy and dignity for those children – all of which are in keeping with my religious values. In my ministry, I try to meet people where they are and attend to their particular spiritual needs – and to a four-year-old who has lost their home, getting to enjoy sparkly ornaments in December is a real and valid spiritual need that restores meaning and order to the world.
The spiritual needs of my congregants since then have been, at times, just as unique to their situations. Though I can’t always run out to the thrift store to pick up opportunities for divine grace, I am ever mindful that the way forward might require creativity and inspiration.
What ministry do you hope is ahead for you?
I hope to serve a lively and engaged congregation that cares just as deeply about community bonds as they do justice. I hope that my ministry is one of joy and celebration, of having fun and breaking bread together, of art and creativity – as well as one of support, encouragement, coping, and resilience through all of life’s seasons. I hope to be in a collaborative ministry setting, with colleagues and staff I respect and trust, as we work together to serve and enrich our community. I also hope to be a prophetic voice in our denomination and larger world, as we work to live out our dearest values of justice and liberation.
What role would you see yourself playing in the larger community?
In our current political era, it is more important than ever that Unitarian Universalist ministers be a public voice for what is good and right. I am ever mindful that I represent not just myself, but my church, and I endeavor to do so in a way that reflects well upon my people.
Community partnerships and interfaith relationships are vital to our resilience and quality of life. In my ideal ministry setting, I would frequently represent the church in acts of public witness and justice; forge relationships with other faith communities and community organizations; and respond as needed to public crises and calls for action.
How have you seen change happen in a congregation or community? What role would you see yourself playing in congregational change?
Recently, I have seen many Unitarian Universalist congregations embrace anti-racism and anti-oppression work, having taken on the task of educating themselves, and working hard to change culturally. As a minister, I see my role as being part educator, part guide, and above all a facilitator working to empower the church to make positive and heartfelt changes in accordance with their mission and values. I favor working alongside my people, rather than implementing things from the top down; theologically, I believe in meeting people where they are, and journeying together. Often, congregations already have a sense of the changes they would like to make to live up to their ideals. Part of the role of the minister is to help identify resources, educational materials, and models of change to assist them.
Tell a story that deepened your understanding of what ministry is:
In the wake of the mass shooting in El Paso, an alt-right group in Eugene held a rally downtown called the “Guns, God, and Trump” rally. (Later, they changed the name to “Guns, God, and Liberty.”) It was held across the street from Eugene’s beloved Saturday Market – which is attended by many families with children. It was also held on the same day as Eugene’s annual Pride festival. The participants were openly carrying assault rifles.
I attended the rally in a collar, and physically separated protesters and counter-protesters to prevent violence. While “holding the line” with a newly formed de-escalation team who appeared alongside me, I talked with the men with rifles. I asked them why they were there; I asked them to reconsider; I asked them to please leave; I told them I wouldn’t hurt them, but neither would I move.
I had not expected, before the rally, that I would wind up ministering to the people I was there to oppose. But I did. The experience deepened my understanding of the complexity and difficulty of a public, prophetic ministry.
Describe briefly your ministerial approach to children’s religious education:
As members of a religious community, children are just as important as adults. I believe children should be taken seriously and treated with respect. Religious education is more than babysitting; it is a place to nurture the spiritual lives and religious identity of our youngest members. I enjoy working with children, and involving them in worship and church activities. When children make noise during worship, I am heartened and encouraged that the community is thriving and healthy.
For me, children’s programming would ideally be tied to the same worship themes as the rest of the church – so entire families would be considering the same topic, on developmentally appropriate levels. I am a big fan of all-ages educational opportunities, particularly in hands-on projects that allow for many skill levels. I am mindful of the “implicit curriculum” of a church culture, and what it teaches children about their place in the community.
Describe briefly your ministerial approach to interfaith / community work:
I have enjoyed warm relationships with several other faith communities and community organizations in the Eugene area, in part because I think Unitarian Universalist ministers are called to live out our values in the public square, and in collaboration with others – not just keeping to ourselves. Some of the community projects I took on this past year include a stuffed animal drive for the pediatrics department of a local hospital; assisting with a local diaper drive for low income families; a whole-church service project making care packages for unhoused women; giving the interfaith blessing at the city’s holiday tree-lighting; and helping with our local transgender advocacy group’s annual gala.
Describe briefly your ministerial approach to incorporating music, the arts, and creativity into congregational life:
I’m an artistic creative liturgist while being attentive to the function and purpose of each element of worship. For me, worship services are a sacred time set apart from ordinary life – and music, art, and poetry help make that time more sacred and extraordinary. But even outside of worship, in everyday congregational life, engaging with art helps create opportunities for engaging with the holy, for seeing our world in a different light, for moving outside our normal frame of reference and understanding. For me, there is no religious life without art and music.
Describe your theology and the role of the ministry in a congregation that has multiple theologies:
As a minister, my role includes encouraging the spiritual growth of my congregants even when it takes them in a direction that differs from my own theology. For that reason, I find it important to be familiar with (and at least somewhat conversant in) a number of theologies that are not my own – including paganism, Christianity, and atheism.
My personal theology is:
- Universalist, in that I believe that all people are worthy and that concepts such as Hell and original sin are both cruel and untrue;
- Unitarian and panentheist, in the sense that I believe all things exist in an interconnected unity (including whatever is divine) and that the is spark of the divine is evident in all things;
- religiously naturalist and humanist, in that I revere the natural world and do not believe in supernatural forces outside the observable universe;
- liberationist, in that I believe that if there was a God, They would surely side with the suffering and oppressed at every turn;
- and my theology often aligns with process theology, in that I believe creativity and beauty are the underpinnings of meaning in the universe.
How do you give and receive feedback?
I receive feedback graciously and with gratitude, especially when I’m in the wrong – I would rather find out as soon as possible! I especially appreciate clarity and directness. I give feedback with the dual understanding that it can be both necessary and it can hurt. I am mindful of others’ emotions, and how wide the gulf can be between helpful intentions and painful feelings. I try to give positive feedback at every opportunity. I do not believe anonymous feedback is helpful in churches, as relationships are so vital to church.
What else would you like to say about your ministry and ministry skills?
I take worship arts very seriously, but I also like to have fun. I think church should be a joyful place where we can also laugh, even in dark times. The number one feedback I get about my preaching, week after week, is that I am able to balance humor with serious subject matter.