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Diversity of Ministry Initiative Settles Two New Ministers
Diversity of Ministry Initiative Settles Two New Ministers

This fall, as new ministries begin throughout the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), two are of particular interest. These ministries share the hope, anticipation, and vision of congregations who have come together to call inspiring professional religious leaders. But these two ministries are distinctive because they blaze a new trail in settling clergy of color in congregations that seek to grow in diversity and spiritual depth, embracing multiculturalism, antiracism, and anti-oppression as part of their intrinsic values and their commitment to Unitarian Universalism (UU).

Since 2006, the Unitarian Universalist Association has had a Diversity of Ministry Team (DOMT), which has worked to develop healthy, sustainable ministries with ministers of color, Latina/o Hispanic, and multiracial clergy. The effort, known informally as the DOMT initiative, has also focused on offering support to seminarians as they follow the path to professional ministry.

UUA President Peter Morales recently said, “America’s future is a multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic future. Our faith must learn to express itself in new ways. If we are to be a vital religious movement, we must develop a multicultural and multiracial ministry. The work we do today to nurture diversity in our ministry is essential.”

Responding to the challenge, the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, PA, was the first congregation to apply for participation in the DOMT initiative. Senior Minister David Herndon recalls, “We didn’t have quite enough staff to keep the people who were coming into the church, and not quite enough people to keep the level of staffing we thought we needed (425 adult members, with a $556,000 annual budget). In January 2007 it was suggested to us that we might want to become involved in the DOMT program—and I was eager to do that.” The congregation applied for the program, organized a ministerial search process, and in early June, extended an invitation to Rev. Alma Faith Crawford to candidate between May 30 and June 7. Herndon recalls, with excitement, “Our vote was 99 percent in favor of calling Alma, and she began her ministry with us on August 15 of this year.”

Rev. Crawford’s first initiatives will focus on adult religious education and social responsibility, and she is assisting with pastoral care and preaching frequently as well. Herndon says, “Alma is preaching more frequently than I am this fall, partly because she has a special gift for preaching and taught preaching at the Starr King School for the Ministry for three years prior to coming here. We wanted to showcase her” as she begins her ministry in Pittsburgh, he said.

One week after Rev. Crawford began her ministry in Pittsburgh, Rev. John Crestwell, who had revitalized Davies Memorial UU Church in Camp Springs, MD, and built a successful multiracial multicultural ministry there, began his new ministry at the UU Church of Annapolis, MD.

Senior minister Fred Muir reflects, “In many respects, John Crestwell represents the vision and the future that this 53-year-old congregation wants.” The Annapolis congregation started as a small fellowship and now has 536 adult members. “This new ministry helps the congregation grow into a vision of itself,” Rev. Muir says.

Crestwell is pragmatic about the challenges that lie ahead in Annapolis: “Davies was in an African American community which is seventy percent black. Putting a minister of color in that church was a no brainer in some sense. [But] is it possible to take a church in a mostly white community, that believes in multiculturalism, and over a period of years, create a multicultural congregation? The [Annapolis congregation’s] leadership has made it clear that it is not my job to do that, but the congregation’s—a way of deepening their spiritual commitment. As spiritual life deepens, multiculturalism grows. That is the hope.”

How will that hope be made real? Crestwell will be helping to lead worship—“adding my voice and preaching/singing, to see how we can become more diverse and attractive to others.” And he adds, “My job is to guide social justice initiatives under the umbrella of ‘Standing on the Side of Love and Justice.’ I see myself as a bridge in the community. This church has many community ministries already: the Lighthouse Shelter, (a homeless shelter) for instance. As I meet the director of that initiative, I can work with him to advance our own. The director [of that program] is coming to church on Sunday. Another member is the music director at the high school, where there are poor African Americans and others. I am going to sing with the high school kids, and they will come here and sing. Building bridges—that will be the key to this ministry.”

The Annapolis and Pittsburgh congregations engaged in much work around multiculturalism and anti-oppression before Revs. Crawford and Crestwell were called. Both congregations worked with Paula Cole Jones through the UUA’s JUUST Change consultancy. Work was also done at the church leadership level and within every part of the congregation. Rev. Alicia Forde, UUA Program Coordinator for Multicultural Congregations says, “This is an exciting time of promise for both the Pittsburgh and Annapolis congregations. Both congregations have committed to deepening their multicultural ministry and, in addition to ongoing antiracism, antioppression, and multicultural education within the community, each congregation has also committed to diversifying its ministerial staff as a step to fulfilling its larger vision. Rev. Alma Crawford and Rev. John Crestwell bring with them tremendous experience and passion for ministry. We are fortunate to have these congregations and ministerial teams willing to join in leading the way to a multicultural now.”

This year, a portion of the funds raised from Association Sunday (a denominational fund raising effort that begins October 4, 2009) will be used to support DOMT programming, including the effort that helped settled Revs. Crestwell and Crawford in their new congregations. Rev. Dr. Stephan Papa, Special Assistant to the President for Growth Funding said, “Being inclusive and working for justice have always been quintessential hallmarks of our Unitarian Universalist way in religion. Over the last number of years, delegates to General Assemblies have voted for us to prioritize racial justice. The focus of Association Sunday 2009 is ‘Growing Our Diversity’; one third of the funds raised are designated for that purpose.” Several other UU congregations are enrolled in the DOMT program, and additional settlements are anticipated in the next several years.

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