2016 Annual Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism: Laurel Hallman

Presented by the Unitarian Universalist Association to the Rev. Dr. Laurel E. Hallman

We need a language of reverence. We need a language of forgiveness. We need a language of reconciliation. A language of hope. A language that gives voice to despair. To name a few. That language for centuries, and in countless cultures has been metaphorical, it has pointed beyond itself to something much deeper than it could name. It is our turn to keep such language alive, hold it to our hearts, and speak to the depths of those who so desperately need our good word.
These are the words of Laurel Hallman in her 2003 Berry Street Essay.

The Reverend Doctor Laurel Elizabeth Hallman—preacher, pastor, leader, grandmother, visionary, teacher, guide, and friend—for 50 years, you have ministered to UU congregations, colleagues and communities in so many cherished ways. Builder of congregations, UU institutions and leaders, spirituality and friendships—you have brought a vision of the larger truth and a keen wisdom to everything you have done.

Born in San Francisco and raised as a fundamentalist Baptist—so serious about your faith you carried your bible on your books in high school—you learned to cultivate a spirit of soulful contemplation and purposeful intent to grow the faith. In the 1960s, you prepared to be an elementary school teacher majoring in music and social sciences. When you moved to St. Paul, Minnesota you become a Quaker, and then a friend introduced you to Unity–Unitarian Church. In the 1970s, you were part of their curriculum design team building the “Images for Our Lives” using values clarification matched with stories from many faith traditions in the 266 lessons. You came to the ministry through church administration and this religious education work, and entered theology training at Meadville Lombard in 1977, a divorced single parent and deeply experienced in Unitarian Universalism.

Before receiving a Master of Arts in Divinity from the University of Chicago and a Doctor of Ministry from Meadville Lombard Theological School, you were a chaplain in San Francisco and the John B. Wolf Preaching Scholar in Tulsa.

Ordained at Unity–Unitarian, you were first called to the Unitarian Church in Bloomington, Indiana in 1981 and then, in 1987, became the first female senior minister of a large church at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas.

You led both churches to new levels of professionalism, generosity, and spiritual depth. Throughout your career, you have pioneered your place, often in all-male settings, where clergy gathered.

With dynamic preaching and worship, a high-quality religious education program, and by helping both members and guests connect to the church in meaningful ways, First Unitarian Church of Dallas doubled to more than 1,000 members, and in 2005 was named one of the UUA’s Breakthrough Congregations.

In your justice work in Dallas, you connected with Ernesto Cortes of the Industrial Areas Foundation and helped build trust across faith barriers. You have mentored a generation of ministerial interns, trained countless board members, and addressed financial stewardship as a spiritual practice. In the 1990s, you brought Carver Policy Governance into being at First Church in Dallas—a visionary example to many large UU churches.

Your work to develop and make available a unique spiritual practice for UUs through your Living by Heart program, with your mentor Harry Schofield, has a lasting impact on us all.

Your call for us to embrace diverse and spiritually driven language in worship and faith development sustains us and challenges us to live into being the faith we are called to be. Through your collaboration on the “Whose Are We?” book and curriculum, we are further deepened to respond to theological questions of import. You remain grounded, cultivating your own deepening through continued education with the Shalem Institute for spiritual leadership.

Your leadership contribution to Meadville Lombard Theological School extends from first being a student, then in an active role in the school’s ministerial formation program, and as a trustee, collaborator, and capital campaign chair. You have been a strong advocate of high standards, willing to take on the role of supervisor both for students who showed great promise for the ministry and for those who had significant challenges. In 1997, you received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard. In 2013 you became chair of Meadville Lombard’s Pointing the Way Campaign Committee to strengthen the foundation of the school and initiate new educational programs.

Small in stature, strong in spirit, you meet each challenge with courage and conviction. You have always understood yours was a higher purpose, and so your ministry included leadership in clergy retreats, the publishing of your book Reaching Deeper, and coaching ministerial colleagues who needed your support and guidance.

Elegant and thoughtful, you model the highest standards of religious leadership in every role you undertake: lay leader, church administrator, professional religious educator, curriculum developer, parish minister, senior minister and executive of a large church, spiritual teacher, candidate for UUA President, author, mentor, and trustee.

Laurel, we must include poetry because it has been your sustenance and guide. Ask Me, by William Stafford, is a favorite of yours:

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt – ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, your leadership, fellowship, vision, words, and wisdom are powerful expressions of the best our ministries can offer the world; we are honored to recognize you with the 2016 Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.