Call to Ministry

College

When I think back on visiting colleges, I know I was influenced in my choice by the fact that my Bryn Mawr college tour guide was a Unitarian Universalist. I was impressed by the school in general, but I was also excited that there was an active bi-college UU Campus Ministry Group involving Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges.

While at Bryn Mawr, I was a French Major and Pre-Med. I chose French because I love learning languages, and how they provide a doorway to another culture and way of thinking. I hoped to study abroad, which I did for six months in Strasbourg, France. I was Pre-Med because I enjoy the sciences, and I was drawn to medicine. I was thinking about becoming a doctor and hoped to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients. Outside of the classroom, I was active in the leadership of the Shakespeare Theater Group and the UU Campus Ministry Group, which I co-facilitated my junior and senior years. I also volunteered off-campus at the Bryn Mawr Hospital.

College is a time when young adults have the opportunity to explore different religions. Eighty percent of the students who were active in our UU Campus Group were brand new to Unitarian Universalism. This was one of my first opportunities to articulate our faith with those who were curious and those who were longing for our healing message. It was also one of my first experiences building and tending a UU community outside of a congregation. We worshipped, learned, played, imagined and acted together to create a more just world. Many students found a home with us.

Early Twenties

After graduation, I moved back to New York City. I worked as an intern for the NYU-Bellevue AIDS Program and as a translator for French speaking patients in all hospital departments. One big project I was responsible for was helping coordinate the opening of an offsite OB/GYN clinic for homeless women with HIV at Housing Works. In order to earn some money, I also worked as a part time evening receptionist and RE Assistant at All Souls.

Rev. Alison at Young Adults Group Meeting at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City
Rev. Alison at Young Adults Group Meeting at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City

The following year, my career shifted towards my deepest calling – to serve and lead in Unitarian Universalist communities and institutions full time. I accepted a full time position at All Souls, NYC, as the Assistant to the Senior Minister and the Director of Membership & Stewardship Development. I continued to serve the Religious Education Program as well – a highlight of that service was becoming the Youth Director. I was grateful to deepen and grow a program that meant so much to me in my youth, and delighted to mentor and learn from up-and-coming youth leaders.

One day, I remember looking around coffee hour and reflecting how I was the only one there in my early twenties. We did have young visitors, but they didn’t stick around. I thought, “What is the point of what I am doing with the youth on Sunday mornings, if there isn’t a place for young adults to connect here after high school?” I decided to start something.

I planned a reunion for the young adults who graduated from the RE Program over the last decade, and chose that time to announce the launch of a new Young Adult Group. I wanted to offer something for young adults who were raised UU and those finding us for the first time as I had done in college. Within a year and a half, we had 250 people who were engaging with our diverse Young Adult Programing.

Youth and Young Adult Ministry were a passion that extended beyond my local congregation. I was tapped for leadership as the Adult Co-Chair of the District Youth Adult Committee and the continental leadership of the UU Young Adult Network and General Assembly Young Adult Caucus. I became a trainer and workshop leader for youth, campus, and young adult ministry and led workshops around the country. I also met many other young leaders who I collaborated with and learned from what they were doing. All of us were innovating and adapting our Unitarian Universalist faith in ways that made it relevant to our peers. We were also actively engaged in integrating principles of anti-racism, anti-oppression and multicultural ministries into our work.

It started to become clear that I was not heading in the direction of medicine, I was heading towards the ministry. The call came in different ways. The youth in the group I was leading, told me they saw me as their minister and figured I would be ordained one day. The young adult group gave me the gift of my first stole (not knowing that it is an honor reserved for ordination). After our work to finalize the manuscript of his book, Lifecraft, Rev. Forrest Church invited me out to dinner to thank me for my help. At dinner, he asked, “Have you thought about the ministry? I feel like I have an Assistant Minister on staff in you, and you haven’t even gone to divinity school yet.” I had thought about the ministry off and on since high school, and now I was ready.