Ministry

Ministerial Internships

Alison Miller, All Souls, Tulsa, 2004
Alison Miller, All Souls, Tulsa, 2004

The summer after divinity school, I interned as a Chaplain for two floors at Mass General Hospital – the Burn, Reconstructive Surgery Unit & ICU and a General Medical Unit for patients without insurance. It was an incredible privilege to journey with individuals and families through their struggles with trauma, illness, loss, and recovery. I was grateful to be back in a hospital setting once again, drawing on the power of presence, listening, conversation, prayer and meditation as vehicles for healing.

When Rev. Marlin Lavanhar invited me to serve as the Intern Minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I enthusiastically said yes! I hoped to serve in an area of the country that was culturally different from the Northeast and was thrilled at the chance to learn from a vibrant, innovative Unitarian Universalist community flourishing in the Bible Belt.

Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar & Rev. Alison Miller, 2010
Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar & Rev. Alison Miller, 2010

As the intern, I had opportunities to observe, participate and lead in all aspects of congregational life – preaching, pastoral care, different styles of worship, religious education, community engagement, leadership, administration, and strategic planning. That was the year that All Souls began to forge a relationship with Bishop Carlton Pearson and Higher Dimensions, which set them on a course for becoming an even more spiritually and racially diverse congregation.

At the end of the internship, I was asked to stay on as the Summer Minister. It was a year of deep personal and professional growth, and I continue to be blessed by all I learned from Marlin and the many mentors on the staff and in the lay leadership.

 

Assistant Minister, The Unitarian Church of All Souls, NYC

Rev. Forrest Church and All Souls, NYC invited me to come back and serve as an Assistant Minister the year I was in search for a settled ministry position. What a blessing to be able to serve my home congregation now as a professional minister! What grace to be ordained in the fall of 2004 by the community in which I first experienced my call! In my role, I oversaw community building, community service, advocacy programs, the Church Council, and young adult ministry (including launching a campus ministry at NYU). I also led worship, offered pastoral counseling, and taught classes.

 

Senior Minister, Morristown Unitarian Fellowship

Alison’s Service of Installation, Morristown, 2005 Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, & Rev. Vanessa Southern.
Alison’s Service of Installation, Morristown, 2005
Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, & Rev. Vanessa Southern.

In 2005, I was delighted to be called as Senior Minister of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship. Our shared ministry has been a powerful partnership for over ten years. We are a spiritually alive, growing, and justice centered congregation. While it is impossible to describe a decade of ministry in a few short paragraphs, I will do my best to share some of the highlights.

We have grown in numbers, in spirit, in community, in stewardship, and in impact. Last year, we were honored for our contribution to the growth of Unitarian Universalism by the UU Metro-NY District with the O. Eugene Pickett Award. Yes, our numbers of adults, children and youth are significantly increased, but that only tells part of the story. The increase in attendance and participation is a byproduct of growth goals we set for ourselves in a strategic vision and plan.

Alison leading a Buddhist loving-kindness meditation during a Sunday Service
Alison leading a Buddhist loving-kindness meditation during a Sunday Service

When I arrived, the congregation was wrestling with the humanist-theist divide. As a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, I celebrate and lead from a deep understanding and appreciation of the pluralism in which our faith is grounded. Today, our congregation ministers to atheists, theists, agnostics, people who draw from the well of wisdom in the world’s religions, science, poetry and human experience. Rather than draw lines between us, we ask how we can help one another go deeper in our respective practices, questions, and sources of wisdom. Embracing the pluralism of our faith has allowed us to welcome new members who come with diverse religious beliefs – often within the same family.

The Jewish Holiday of Sukkot
The Jewish Holiday of Sukkot

We have increased opportunities for connection and intimacy as we have grown larger. I have been at the heart of many of these changes working with lay leaders. We launched covenant circles, coordinated neighborhood groups, and created online community building through social media. We have expanded our learning programs for adults and families, offer a variety of spiritual practice groups and a monthly midweek renewal service. We are intentional about being a seven-day a week community.

We have collaborated to increase stewardship and generosity. Annual Giving has climbed steadily, and we held a successful Capital Campaign yielding over 5 times Annual Giving – $2.3 million – for renovations and expansion of our facilities. This has allowed us to better fund programs, increase staff, and more fully utilize our property.

Alison speaking at Marriage Equality Rally
Alison speaking at Marriage Equality Rally

We have become a sought after community partner when it comes to addressing injustice and the pressing issues of the day. We are leaders in community service working to alleviate hunger, homelessness and poverty. We are advocates for changing the systems that create the haves and the have-nots. I take my role as a community and faith leader seriously. I have actively engaged with our lay-leaders to organize and be a voice for justice on LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, anti-racism, anti-gun violence and environmental stewardship.

Alison and Morristown Unitarian Fellowship Members Show Up for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol, Trenton, NJ
Alison and Morristown Unitarian Fellowship Members Show Up for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol, Trenton, NJ

It has been a decade of learning, loving, growing, changing, celebrating, experimenting, and leading in all areas of congregational life – worship, pastoral care, religious education, governance, staff development, lay leadership development, capital projects, and social justice. I am so blessed to have shaped and been shaped by such a creative, loving community as the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.

Below you can read about highlights of current long term volunteer work for the community and our denomination. For more details about past and current volunteer leadership, please visit the My Experience section of the website.

 

Leadership in the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship

I am dedicated to growing Unitarian Universalism and to building UU communities and institutions beyond the congregation where I serve as the called minister. I have volunteered for seven years for the Church of the Larger Fellowship because I am inspired by its mission to reach Unitarian Universalists in new places and to augment the faith experience for those of us in congregations.

Many of us have two congregations – the CLF and a brick and mortar congregation. I am Chair of the Board of Trustees since 2014 and have served on the Board since 2011.

As a leader in the congregation, I work with our Senior Minister, Meg Riley, and the staff to support and facilitate the changes that lead us to be nimble, relevant, and engaging. This has been a time of rapid change as we have expanded the reach of our ministries with people online, in prisons, in their homes, in the military, in the work of Black Lives Matter, and all around the world.

Before joining the Board, I served the CLF on the Ministerial Search Committee, and in 2005 I was part of the team that launched the Church of the Younger Fellowship (CYF) – an online ministry that served young adults.

 

Interfaith Organizing through the Morris Area Clergy Council

Rev. Alison Miller serving as a chaplain for the “We Belong Together” Pilgrimage
Rev. Alison Miller serving as a chaplain for the “We Belong Together” Pilgrimage

Our faith is about deeds not creeds. Unitarian Universalism beckons us to be involved in the work of justice, wholeness and healing what is broken in our individual lives and society at large.

Engagement with the wider community has been vital to my ministry throughout my time in Tulsa, New York, and Morristown. I have been an active leader in the Morris Area Interfaith Clergy Council since I arrived, including serving as Chair.

“We Belong Together” Pilgrimage 100 Immigrant Women walking 100 Miles
“We Belong Together” Pilgrimage 100 Immigrant Women walking 100 Miles

 

One of the larger projects I have been involved with as a faith leader was co-chairing an interfaith coalition focused on immigrant rights and economic justice that founded Pathways to Work. I am currently on the Clergy Council’s Racial Justice Taskforce focusing on community dialogue and criminal justice reform.

 

Institutional Change Work with United Way of Northern New Jersey

I have led and supported institutions as they move forward to make changes to remain culturally relevant, just, and vibrant. As a community leader, I have been engaged with United Way for a decade. I served on the the United Way of Morris County’s Inclusion Committee for four years as we set goals to transform the larger institution in ways that are more representative of the diversity in our region and to have greater accountability to the communities we serve.

Following that, I became one of the founding Board Members of the United Way of Northern NJ, which was created out of the merger of six area United Ways (including the one from Morris County). United Way of Northern New Jersey is a $15 million community impact organization focused on reducing inequality in Income, Education and Health.

As a board member these last six years, I have participated in policy, vision and strategy development through the merger, the shift to Policy Governance, and been part of an important shift towards how we measure success. We are careful to look not only at dollars raised, but also how we are achieving goals that improve the lives of lower income individuals and families in New Jersey.

 

Advocacy and Institutional Development with UU Legislative Ministry of NJ

Alison co-leading a prayer vigil opposite a “Pro-America” Anti-Immigrant Rally
Alison co-leading a prayer vigil opposite a “Pro-America” Anti-Immigrant Rally

I am on the Board of the UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey and President of its Public Policy Network. We are actively building this relatively new institution through stewardship, strategic planning, investing in staff, engaging new members, and developing a legal advocacy project.

Alison with Senator Cory Booker at a forum on Criminal Justice Reform featuring the UULMNJ
Alison with Senator Cory Booker at a forum on Criminal Justice Reform featuring the UULMNJ

We are focused on dismantling racism as an underlying issue impacting our six areas: economic justice, environment, reproductive justice, immigration reform, gun violence prevention, and criminal justice reform.