Announcing New Pacific Western Regional Staff
It is with great pleasure that we announce three new Pacific Western Regional staff members.
Eric Bliss, Jan Christian, and Jonipher Kūpono Kwong bring us years of experience as Unitarian Universalist (UU) religious professionals working in congregations and with programs and projects at the district, regional and national level. We will benefit from their extensive relationship in PWR and their awareness of our Regional Collaboration commitment. We are confident that our congregations, elected leaders, and staff will appreciate their new perspectives, good questions and the opportunity to see our work through new eyes.
In July, all three staff will be in place and getting acquainted with congregations and leaders across the region. Happily, we will be able to introduce Eric, Jan, and Jonipher along with the continuing Pacific Western Region (PWR) staff at 2015 General Assembly in Portland during our PWR Regional Ingathering on Wednesday, June 24 at 5:45 PM.
Many fine and qualified Unitarian Universalists applied for these three positions. We were blessed with abundance and with many difficult decisions. The leaders and staff of PWR look forward to new and continuing partnerships with everyone who indicated their interest in the well being of our religious tradition in the west.
We invite you to learn a little about our new staff members.
Eric Bliss, Youth Ministry Specialist
Eric Bliss, Pacific Western Region Youth Ministry Specialist, is a native of Knoxville, TN, where he grew up attending both Westside Unitarian Universalist and Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Churches. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and Teacher’s Certificate in the states of Tennessee and Utah. As a career educator, Eric has taught secondary science classes from Ecology—to Chemistry—to English as a Second Language. Eric has been active in UU leadership virtually his entire life, beginning as a YRUU group leader, eventually becoming a youth mentor, coordinator, director, and advisor at places such as The Mountain, NCCJ’s “Anytown,” Ferry Beach, Quuest Youth Camp, and GA Youth Caucus. Eric has served as the Mountain Desert District (MDD) LREDA Chair and also as the Chaplain to Youth in MDD. First Unitarian Society of Denver was Eric’s most recent place of employment, where he served as the Director of Religious Exploration for six years. Eric is currently a member of the Fahs Collaborative Guiding Team and is on UUA Summer Seminary Staff. He is the loving father of a beautiful boy, named Hollis, is an avid soccer fan and coach, loves skateboarding, playing guitar, and exploring the outdoors.
Jan Christian, Congregational Life Staff
This June, the Rev. Jan Christian celebrates the end of thirteen years of shared and transformative ministry with our congregation in Ventura, CA. Prior to that, she was an active lay leader for almost ten years, winning her the PSWD’s Unsung Hero Award in 1995. She also created Arizona’s first independent affiliate of the UUA—Unitarian Universalists for Juvenile Justice—and founded the first UU Day at the Arizona Legislature.
Prior to entering the ministry in 2002, Jan worked for decades in and around Arizona’s social services and juvenile justice systems. She served as Executive Director of Arizona’s Select Commission on Juvenile Corrections and also co-created Arizona’s first independent juvenile justice advocacy program. She also taught for seven years in the College of Public Programs at Arizona State University.
During her ministry in Ventura, she served for eight years on the Unitarian Universalist Fund for Social Responsibility and received the UUA’s Holmes-Weatherly Award (for social justice work) and the Westwood Award (for creative and entrepreneurial ministry).
She holds a Master in Counseling degree from Arizona State University and a Master of Divinity degree from the Pacific School of Religion. She is passionate about helping our congregations work more intentionally, collaboratively, compassionately and boldly.
Jonipher Kwong, Congregational Life Staff
The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong is an ordained minister with the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) whose over decade-long ministry has led him to the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu, Sepulveda UU Society and Temecula Valley UU Community. Denomination-wide, he’s served on the UUA’s Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Committee and Western Regional Sub Committee on Candidacy. In 2014, Rev. Kwong had an opportunity to co-lead a Just Recovery Trip to Haiti in his capacity as Program Leader for the UU College of Social Justice.
Born and raised in the Philippines, most of Jonipher’s adult life was spent in California and Hawai’i. He was the Executive Director of the Counseling & Spiritual Care Center of Hawai‘i and API Equality-LA. Raised in an ecumenical background, Dr. Kwong values his pluralistic upbringing – from Evangelical to United Methodist, Episcopalian to Calvary Chapel. He was christened at a Gospel church and baptized as a Chinese Mennonite. He’s even been influenced by Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn, spending an entire week at Plum Village in 2011.
Dr. Kwong obtained his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Claremont School of Theology, specializing in worship and Process-Relational Theology. He graduated with a B.A. in Film Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Prior to getting “the call,” Jonipher worked in the film industry for three years, followed by two years as a Graphics Specialist at McKinsey & Company in Los Angeles.
Jonipher lives with his husband Chris Nelson. Together, they have the unique distinction of being the first same-gender couple to legally marry on December 2, 2013 at 12:08 a.m. in Hawaii. When he’s not out trying to save the world, Jonipher enjoys watching cheesy melodramatic movies, traveling to exotic locations ahead of climate change, and composting as a spiritual practice.