Rev. Dawn Cooley Joins Our Team!

Rev. Dawn Cooley stands at the pulpit at UUA GA 2-16

Welcome, Rev. Dawn Cooley!

By Dawn Skjei Cooley

One of my favorite things during seminary was the pulpit supply I did to earn a little extra cash. I traveled up and down the Prairie Star District (now part of the MidAmerica Region) visiting Unitarian Universalist congregations: small, medium and even a few large; lay-led and minister-led. All told, I have led worship in about 40 congregations in over 10 states.

Many times, after the service, some subset of the congregation and I would sit down to lunch together. I would engage them in conversation around what it was like to embody Unitarian Universalism in their town. What were their challenges? What were their successes? As I listened to them, I grew a deep appreciation for how our faith is incarnated in different locales. And I fell in love with almost all of the congregations I visited.

During this time period, the late 90s and early 2000s, the times were changing for congregations. Technology was just starting to be used to augment the worship experience, but most of these congregations didn't have their own projector or screen. I began to travel with my own, thrown into the back of my car. Like many changes, sometimes my use of technology was met with enthusiasm, and other times with deep dislike. It was fascinating to watch how congregations adapted.

Fast forward a decade. I have just finished a lovely 7-year settlement as minister of First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY. It was a wonderful match, and we did excellent work together. There were many, many things about parish ministry that I found very satisfying. And yet, over the past few years, I have felt my vocation shifting. The religious landscape has changed in this country. Attendance at church is down, giving is down in many congregations, and it is often difficult to find volunteers. There is a saying that congregations are still ideally structured for church life in the 1950s, but this reality is long gone. One question now drives me: how do our Unitarian Universalist congregations continue to best embody our faith and adapt to these changes?

Last year, as a part of my desire to wrap my head around some of these changes, I applied and enrolled in a Masters program focusing on Nonprofit Administration. Congregations aren't the only entities seeing these changes; nonprofit organizations are too. But in some ways, nonprofits seem to be adapting better. I want to learn whatever I can and try to apply my learning to church life.

The more I immersed myself in this shifting religious landscape, the more I remembered the pulpit supply I did, and how wonderful it was to meet Unitarian Universalists across states and districts and to hear their stories. And I wondered how I might share my learning with congregations more effectively – to help our Unitarian Unilateralist congregations adapt to all these changes. And so it is with great joy and excitement that I am now joining the HallelUUjah Team here in the Southern Region.

I look forward to getting to hear what Unitarian Universalism means to your congregations, and how you embody our faith in the Southern Region. What are your challenges? What are your successes? I can't wait to hear.

About the Author

Dawn Skjei Cooley

The Rev. Dawn Skjei (SHAY) Cooley believes that Unitarian Universalists are called to "Love the Hell Out of the World" and tries to practice this on a regular basis. She is passionate about helping congregations adapt to the changing cultural religious landscape.

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