I was a child of the fifties, a youth of the sixties, a young adult of the seventies. I grew up in Lodi, in the Central Valley of California, amid walnut orchards and vineyards. My parents encouraged me to engage in all the things I was good at. In high school, I threw myself into journalism, and enjoyed working on the yearbook staff as copy editor. We had a page in the yearbook dedicated to religious life, and I remember a heated argument in the staff room about whether to publish a photo of a family kneeling at the altar rail or one of a simple stained glass window—which, being more inclusive, I thought would be more appropriate. Our advisor watched the confrontation of values from his desk, with a knowing twinkle in his eye.
Around that time, my mother had discovered the First Unitarian Church of Stockton. The minister, the Reverend Harold Schmidt, had marched in Selma with Martin Luther King and also in Delano with Cesar Chavez. His sermons were intellectually stimulating, and we enjoyed singing new words to familiar hymn tunes. I felt inspired.
My college transcript reflects several shifts in direction. I continued active involvement with the yearbook at Cal, and served as editor of the Blue & Gold in 1970. Although this was an extracurricular activity, I did consider it my career path for awhile. My experience of peace and justice movements of the late sixties shaped in me a desire to embrace a career that would contribute to social change, and I knew journalists play an important role in this.
At the university, I was also drawn to literature, foreign languages, and premed classes. At the same time, I had an abiding interest in Arthurian legends, perhaps inspired by the Broadway production of Camelot, with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet. My fascination with medieval culture led eventually to a doctorate in Comparative Literature and Medieval Studies. For my thesis, I researched the piety of lay people as reflected in stories preserved in thirteenth-century manuscripts. As a graduate student and later as an adjunct, I taught at several Bay Area colleges for twenty-nine years in departments of English and world literature.
The call to ministry, which had been there from the beginning, became clear to me as I completed a year as president of my home congregation. My upbringing was not especially religious: my parents had decided not to have me baptized, because they wanted me to make up my own mind about religion when I was old enough. My maternal grandmother, however, wanted to be sure I knew from an early age that Jesus was my Lord and Savior. As my faith developed in adolescence, I left her teaching behind, but I was deeply influenced by her zeal and her Christian charity.
In recent years, I've learned more about my grandmother's story, and recognize in her the roots of my call. She struggled against the oppressive family situation in which she was raised, and brought up three children as a single parent in the early twentieth century. When I knew her, she was a respected elder of a church she had helped found, leading Bible study in her living room. I feel connected with many female ancestors who worked hard at transforming the world in contexts of stifling patriarchal dominance. In addition to my grandmother, these include such figures as Queen Jadwiga of Poland, Unitarian abolitionist and feminist Caroline Healey Dall, and Civil Rights activist and youth organizer Ella Baker.
As heir to such a lineage, I am called to cast a vision of ministry that builds just and sustainable community within and beyond the walls of a Unitarian Universalist congregation. I believe healthy, nurturing, and uplifting congregational life has transformative power, for ourselves and for the world. In community, mutual acceptance and encouragement can help us as individuals to cultivate wholeness for the sake of connection, learning, and spiritual growth. The way this vision of ministry might come to life depends on the particular character and circumstances of a given congregation. It animates my spirit to explore the possibilities.