I Sing Myself Sun, 19th August, 2017
My short essay submitted as part of my application to Seminary - an exciting time of change in my life!
My life has been one shaped and inspired by religion, but not in the usual, linear path. Like concentric waves from a stone dropped into a still pond, my initial experiences started small and narrow, eventually expanding to embrace a wide universe of love and diversity.
My participation in church life began as a youth in a traditional small-town Baptist church in Fairland, Indiana. A lover of music from early childhood, I volunteered to serve the church as its pianist at age 14 and did my level best to move worshipers to come forward to the altar to claim salvation. After losing touch with my traditional faith and family influence during my college years, I gradually shed my conservative values, replacing them with a love of the world, a respectful agnosticism, and a fascination with religions and culture very different from my own.
I met my wife in Washington, D.C. and we were married in her faith tradition, Unitarian-Universalism. Upon relocating to her family’s hometown of St. Louis, I quickly embraced the UU practice of congregational, covenantal religion founded on the worth and dignity of all people. It was in the UU church that I was able to reclaim Jesus – this time in a historical context – along with the Buddha and Coyote, Theodore Parker and Olympia Brown, and many other sources of religious and spiritual truth.
There were three key influences that set to work on my life: Lay led worship, music and theatrical performance, and liberation from the straightjacket of hetero-normativity.
Our minister Rev. Thomas Perchlik was a particular influence on my lay-led worship experience. I supported his ministry on the Worship Committee, and I was entrusted with developing and leading several lay led services during the church year, and also (in conjunction with my family) for several more informal summer worship services. Rev. Perchlik inspired us with his story telling, often including Native American stories about Coyote and other vivid characters, and often played his Native American flute to set the mood for worship.
Service themes I developed included the joy of pilgrimage in Transylvania (which I experienced for myself in 2007), the meaning of marriage, Unitarian-Universalist superheroes and LGBTQ themes. I explored freely, including writing original songs, poems and prayers, creating several videos to accompany worship, and self-publishing my creative work in a blog/website www.geospirituality.com .
As part of my service with the Partner Church Committee, I developed a series of musical theater events to teach Unitarian history in poetry, music and song. It was a “trilogy” produced over several years, including distinct explorations of phases of Unitarian development in Transylvania, England and the United States. These productions were time-consuming and exhausting, but the thrill of pulling them off and creating unique entertainment and learning experiences for our congregants was the most rewarding amateur work I have done.
The church was also instrumental in supporting my coming out as bisexual/gay, which I did in a lay led sermon from the pulpit in 2013. (http://www.geospirituality.com/on_welcoming.html) The first inspiration was the example of a gay interim minister who also came out late in life, who taught me, as someone who was already becoming attracted to ministry, that I first had to be honest with myself, my family and my community about who I was. And the second inspiration was the comforting presence of the Welcoming Congregation movement that would educate our traditional congregation and seek certification (now achieved) as a Welcoming Congregation by the Unitarian-Universalist Association. Together, both experiences created a path for me to integrate my sexuality and my spirituality.
My leadership experience is broad and diverse, including participation on the church board for a three-year term and leadership of several committees, serving alternately as the chair of the Music Committee, the Partner Church Committee and the Welcoming Congregation Committee. One of my most cherished accomplishments, after spending 23 years in the human resources consulting field as a professional communicator, is my ability to form strong interpersonal relationships with both colleagues and clients. It seems I am the consultant most often called upon when there’s a “difficult” client who needs tending, and I’m usually the one who ends up coaching and mentoring the “problem employees.” When I encounter these supposedly challenging people, I see them as multi-dimensional individuals, not cardboard cutouts, and through empathy I can quickly discern what makes them tick, what they value and what they need most.
I find myself today at a crossroads and feel ready to finally bring all these diverse life experiences into a fulfilling life of parish ministry, where my focus will be creating meaningful experiences for people. The number one thing I have to share with the world is my diverse perspective on —or should I say, perspectives, plural. I have lived as a conservative fundamentalist and as an Obama-loving social democrat. I’ve lived as a straight, married man and as an out-late-in-life gay man. I’ve lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast, as well as in the United Kingdom. I’ve experienced the joy of family, as a kid with more cousins that I can count, as a wide-eyed newlywed, and as a father of two beautiful children—soon to get reacquainted with life as I share a newly empty nest with my wife and life partner as we turn toward caring for our now-aging parents.
I hope to have the opportunity to count United Theological Seminary as among my life’s companions, to guide and inspire my future life of service to all those people who need love, comfort and inspiration. Thank you for considering my application.