I looked at the telephone pole 30 feet in the air on a mountain where we were 5,000 feet above sea level. She was right, I had promised that if asked any of the Coming of Age youth to do something, I would do it too. At that time, the ropes course was months away and barely worth my notice. Now, here it was. Very real and very high.
Did I mention I’m afraid of falling? It’s not heights. I can be high- it’s falling.
Our task, while harnessed for safety, was to climb up, walk across the phone pole that narrowed to six inches on the other side and then walk to the middle. All of that seemed reasonable and doable. The next part, so much not. We were to stand on the middle of the beam, lean backward, keeping the rope on the harness tight, until we were very nearly upside down and then to “swing” safely to the ground. All the while, looking upside down at the desert valley below.
For the record, I survived. And the teen who insisted I go first did it and survived.
Why do I share this story in a blog post introducing myself as the newest Congregational Field Staff in the Central East Region? First, because this job feels as big as that moment. Intense, terrifying, exciting, and totally worth it. Second, because I make the same promise to you. I will not ask you to do anything I am not willing to do. Of course, I won’t be asking you to fall off a rope’s course willingly, but I am aware that much of what we are asked to do in our congregations can feel just as intense.
I come to this work because I believe that our congregations have the potential to heal and energize our world. Finding the healthiest path is sometimes amazing and easy and everything we want it to be. More often, it is messy, hard, and a challenge to our very core.
I came to this denomination in my 20s. As a child, I was raised by my atheist father, my eastern Cherokee and Seminole mother, and Catholic grandparents. My mother kept religious texts and symbols from many different religious traditions and paths around the house. In many ways, I was raised a U.U. without every seeing a church. Within two years of joining my first congregation in Tucson, AZ I was hired as the Spiritual Development Director (Coming of Age, high school, and adult religious education). In this job, I discovered the call to interim ministry.
I went to Starr King School for the Ministry to become an interim ministry. In the last six years, I’ve served congregations in Montgomery, AL, Alton, IL, and Syracuse, NY as interim minister. I have completed the certification training for The Interim Ministry Network. It is work that I love and yet…
I have watched regionalization roll out across the denomination and seen the great health and connection it has brought to congregation after congregation. I have been impressed and supported by regional staff. When this position opened, I jumped at the opportunity.
I want our congregations to be the healthiest places they can be so that they can do their good work in the world. As Congregational Field Staff, I think I am especially well placed to do this with you and your leaders in concert with an amazing team of Regional Staff dedicated to work with you.
I will be working with 30 congregations across Ohio and western Pennsylvania. In addition, I will be the primary Regional Staff Lead for the Summer Institute, supporting the Commissioned Lay Ministry Program (Hope Johnson will be lead), and collaborating with regional staff to form a conflict resolution team responding to incidents of conflict with religious professionals and leaders of color. All of this helps build connection and healing and growth for our members and our movement.
I bring to this work, experience of attending and/or working with Unitarian Universalist congregations in nine states and four regions, experience as a religious educator and a minister, and experience working on particular programs as well as systemic process. I simply love systems theory even with its challenges and complexities. I’ve taught and created curriculum around anti-oppression and anti-racism work. I have specialties in governance/board work, after-pastor congregations (where professional misconduct has occurred), countering oppression work, religious education, creative worship, and collaborative leadership. Working with this region’s congregations, I look forward to expanding my knowledge, experience, and skill.
I am based in Columbus, OH and will be traveling quite a lot. That said, I am available for phone, Zoom, and in-person meetings when needed. If you have questions about how I can support you and your congregation, please feel free to reach out.
As sometimes happens within the Army Reserve, Rev. David Pyle informed the UUA this week that mission changes have led to his unit not taking a Chaplain overseas on their upcoming mission, and as such he would not be going on leave from the UUA as planned. Since Central East had already made a commitment to Paula Cole Jones for the year, we inquired into other staff groups to see where David might best serve our congregations in the coming year. The New England Region had an opening, and we’re delighted to announce that David will serve there for the year, and then plans to return to CER in August 2019 as planned. The UUA is pleased that we were able to work together to maintain our commitments to staff while also honoring our commitment to military chaplaincy, as David will continue to serve as an Army Reserve Chaplain at Fort Dix, NJ. A special thank you to the New England Region for their flexibility.
This announcement was posted by the New England Region:
Join Us in Welcoming Regional Colleague, Rev. David Pyle
New England Region Congregational Life staff is committed to supporting the health and vitality of Unitarian Universalist congregations in New England. Since joining the team, my focus has been to build on the high level of service currently provided by team members to congregations. One way of doing that is to increase effectiveness and efficiency by enhancing capacity and capability. With that in mind we will be partnering with cross-regional colleagues over the coming church year to fortify our services and program offerings, while assessing operational needs.
I am pleased to announce that we will enjoy the partnership of Central East Regional colleague, Rev. David Pyle for one year beginning August 15. David brings a strong portfolio of skills and a wealth of experience to our Congregational Life staff, specializing in congregational governance, the arts of ministry (worship and pastoral care), church staffing, large church support, and professional staff misconduct response and recovery. David is a current member of the UUA Disaster Response Committee. He also serves as a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain at Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. Before joining UUA staff, David served as a minister for congregations in California, Michigan, and Illinois, and as a Church Administrator for a congregation in Texas.
Please join us in welcoming Rev. David Pyle. We look forward to his contributions and spiritual leadership as we strengthen support for New England Region congregations.
We are delighted to announce that Paula Cole Jones will be joining the Central East Regional staff for one year as field staff, to fill in for Rev. David Pyle as he deploys to the Middle East. Paula is a lifelong UU who has been serving our faith for decades, and we are looking forward to having this year of partnership with her. She will begin work with us on August 13th and will be with us until August 2019.
Paula Cole Jones is a management consultant and group facilitator and has worked in non-profit organizations and for both the federal and local government. She began her career in natural resources and soon found that her passion lay in inspiring people to work for change. She believes that we can do most of what we, as a group, agree upon. Give her a group of people, and she will give you a result.
Paula is a lifelong member of All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, DC. Her professional work within the Unitarian Universalist community spans 20 years. She has had a wide range of opportunities at the district, regional and national levels of the UUA. Many of you may know her for her work in racial and social justice. It is rare to get hands-on experience working with so many different parts of an organization. These experiences contribute to her institutional knowledge and have provided her a deep and wide reserve from which to draw.
She served six years with the Joseph Priestley District and now returns as a staff member of the Central East Region. She looks forward to working more closely with ministers, lay leaders and congregations for the coming year, and renewing old connections and forming new ones.
In serving UU congregations, she is committed to preserving the health, diverse membership, culture, progressive values, justice ministries and community relations of the church for generations to come.
Paula served on the board of the UUA’s Skinner House Books and her writing has appeared in several publications. She co-authored the 8th Principle for Unitarian Universalists.
She is a former competitive martial artist and a certified research scuba diver. Paula likes good music, travel, movies and flowers. You can reach Paula at [email protected].
“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. (W.E.B. DuBois)
For me, now is the accepted time and the appropriate season to retire from my work with the Central East Region as a congregational life consultant as of April 15, 2018. This was decision was not made lightly. There are a number of personal, health and deep family issues that have combined to make this the right decision for me and my family at this time.
Don’t give up hope. You’re not alone. Don’t you give up. Keep moving on. (Melanie DeMore)
There have been amazing changes in the Central East Region since I first came in 2007 as the District Executive for Ohio-Meadville District (OMD). There is more support for our congregations and resources to draw upon than we dared dream about 10 years ago. The Central East Regional staff, along with other Congregational Life staff, provides and will continue to offer outstanding service to our congregations and our movement. The Central East Region will continue to keep moving on in partnership with each other and with the talented UUA professionals who serve our congregations and UU movement.
Lift up your eyes Don’t you despair. Look up ahead.
The path is there. (Melanie DeMore)
I will certainly miss working with you all – the congregations and the church leaders I have come to admire and love. I count many of you now as friends. While I will be retiring from the UUA, I will continue to serve our UU movement as the part-time Executive Director of UU Justice Ohio. This is another decision that was not made lightly. But this new ministry path will fit within the limits of my family’s needs and concerns.
It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. (W.E.B. DuBois)
I am excited to walk this new path of life as well as move into a new part-time justice ministry in Ohio. I believe strongly that the times we now live in call us to lift up our voices and values in the public sphere.
If we truly want to build the Beloved Community we dream about, we must dare to experiment, to risk, to organize and even engage in new strategies of nonviolent confrontation to speak a very necessary truth to today’s chaotic power.
I hope to try and respond to this call as best I can with my (post-retirement) work in UUJO.
Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” (W.E.B. DuBois)
I have been proud to serve the Ohio-Meadville District and Central East Region.
I feel I have been part of an great effort to plant seeds of an increasingly powerful, effective and healthy Unitarian Universalism in our region.
You gotta put one foot in front of the other
And lead with love. (Melanie DeMore)
Not only do we lead with love, but we leave with love – And I leave carrying love for all of you and our UU movement deep in my heart.
Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Columbus, OH
The Central East Region is pleased to announce that the Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe will join our staff team as Congregational Life Staff starting August 6, 2018. We’ll be making adjustments to who is managing which programs and some primary contacts may be shifted as Sunshine joins our staff so stay tuned!
The Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe is an Accredited Interim Minister in Training currently serving their third interim congregation- May Memorial UU Society of Syracuse, NY. Ghe hails originally from Indiana where ghe learned to sing, dance, and cause trouble- the social justice kind. Ghe is currently a member of TRUUsT (Transgender Religious professional Unitarian UniversalistS Together) and DRUUM (Diverse Revolutionary Multicultural Ministries).
Sunshine is committed to helping congregations become the healthiest versions of themselves so that they can do their important work in the world. Ghe has served many congregations throughout the country first as Spiritual Development Director at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson. Ghe served as intern minister at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Cleveland, OH and then completed a Chaplaincy Residency at Indiana University Health Hospitals. Ghe has also served as Interim Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery, AL and First Unitarian Church of Alton, IL in the St. Louis metropolitan area. During gher service in Alton, Sunshine was active with the resistance movements in Ferguson, MO. Before seminary, Sunshine worked for five years as a Case Manager with homeless adults searching for employment in Tucson, AZ. Sunshine has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, and a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry.
Sunshine enjoys silliness, board games, music of all kinds, and thunderstorms. Ghe particularly likes to go hiking, color mandalas, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where a small handful have gone before. In other words, ghe’s a science fiction geek with a specialty in Star Trek.
Sunshine identifies as genderqueer and transgender and uses any third gender pronoun including they/their, ghe/gher, and zi/hir.
One of the joys of serving Unitarian Universalism as a member of the Central East Regional Staff has been the commitment of the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association and the members of our congregations to my also serving as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves. Combining these two ministries has made me better in both of my roles, and I have been grateful for the support I have received from our Regional Lead, Rev. Megan Foley, from my colleagues on the Central East Regional Staff, from the members of the Association’s Leadership Council, and from Unitarian Universalist ministers and leaders in the congregations of the Central East Region.
Some of you may have noticed a position vacancy announcement for a 1-year Interim position on the staff of the Central East Region. The reason for this opening position is that I have been designated for deployment to the Middle East as a part of Operation Spartan Shield, to serve as a Chaplain in Medical Command. It is my intention to go on unpaid leave from the Unitarian Universalist Association beginning sometime in July (depending on training requirements) and to be away from the UUA for approximately one year. Through the summer I will be focused on completing some necessary training requirements, as well as being available for my soldiers and their families. I will be traveling to the Middle East in the fall and will be there for approximately 9 months. I expect to return to serving as a member of the UUA Staff during the summer of 2019.
Though I did not volunteer for this assignment, I will admit to being willing to go. Though I have deployed several times as a soldier, I have never deployed as a Chaplain, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do that before the end of my military career. Though I cannot share much about the mission, I will say that it is in-tune with my personal faith and with my Unitarian Universalist Values. I will be with a team of Medical Command soldiers who were specifically selected for this mission, many of whom already know me as “their” Chaplain.
I want to thank the leadership of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who have been very supportive through this time and who have expressed a commitment to my having a job when I return home… a blessing that not all of my soldiers or fellow chaplains have. I also want to thank all of the friends and colleagues who have offered to be supportive to my family during the time that I am away. It is good to be a member of this faith community, and I know that I am not taking on this mission alone.
And, I want to thank all of those who are considering applying for the Interim position on the Central East Regional Staff. Knowing that the congregations I serve will be well cared for by the whole Central East Regional Team will allow me to focus on making sure I am part of our saving lives overseas, as well as making sure I come home. If you are interested in the Interim position, please look at this PDF.
And, until I go on leave in July, I am still serving as a member of the Central East Regional Staff, and the work I have already committed to doing with congregations will be accomplished before I leave. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you all before I go, and again when I return.
Chaplain (CPT) David Pyle
8th Medical Brigade, 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support)
Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island, NY
2018 is upon us and your Central East Region staff team is looking ahead to a year of change, growth, and continuity. Rev. Joan van Becelaere will be stepping down from Congregational Life work in April and while we already miss her (and are wringing her brain for all her knowledge and experience before she goes), we’re also imagining our team with a new staff person in place.
Are you drawn to the work of supporting and equipping our congregations? Interested in creating connections and amplifying our faith’s prophetic voice? Want to dive into our efforts towards creating diverse staff teams, and lend your particular perspective? Fascinated by the opportunity to work with our congregations in Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and upstate New York? You might be just the right person to join our team!
If you think you might be interested in this work, please check out our job description and send your resume and cover letter to [email protected]. Don’t wait; we’re reviewing applications now for a start date between mid April and late August.
May all of your changes be good opportunities as well in this coming year!
The Central East Region has some staffing changes we want to announce.
First we want to welcome Amy Kent, our new CER Events Coordinator, who started work on January 2nd. Amy is a committed Unitarian Universalist, who has a passion for planning and organizing events and programs. She has spent the past 5 years working in workforce development, helping individuals in the Allegheny County Jail get training and jobs in the manufacturing sector. Her belief in the inherent worth and dignity of everyone was a guiding force in working with individuals overcoming several barriers. Before that position, Amy worked as office manager, church administrator and even travel agent. She is the mom of a high school senior who along with her husband have raised UU at the South Hills UU Church in Pittsburgh.
She has taught RE, chaired the service auction and served on the board of trustees. Active at Summer Institute, a UU week long family camp, Amy was on the planning committee, served as chair and most recently has been registrar. When Amy isn’t working she loves sports, Broadway musicals and travel.
So welcome to Amy! You can find her contact information on her UUA webpage.
And with the welcoming of Amy, we say good-bye to Sue Tabone, our regional administrator. Sue started out as the District Administrator for the St. Lawrence District and moved into the regional position after the regionalization vote in 2016. She is retiring to spend more time with her family, enjoy her garden and several other things – her list keeps growing!
We say a very warm thank you to Sue for her years of service and we very warm welcome to Amy as she joins our work.
Spring 2016 Central East Region Congregational Life Advisory Council Survey
Now that our staff has transitioned to being UUA employees, you’ve probably heard about the Congregational Life Advisory Council (CLAC). We gather feedback from congregations, professional groups, clusters and other constituencies and share these specifics with our regional staff and Congregational Life at our UUA to shape priorities and programs in our region.
The CLAC has completed our high level spring survey here in our Central East Region. We are grateful to the 149 folks, who participated in our spring survey. Thanks much for your help. Now we will like to share some findings from this survey.
You’ve let us know that our Central East Region congregations are getting real, concrete help from staff. 64.6% of participants reported that participation in district/regional events, programs, and/or coaching somewhat to very extensively shapes the way their congregations approach important issues. Congregational stewardship, leadership development, and social media communications were the most valued programs offered by regional staff. In addition, over half of survey participants, who are active in their clusters, found this work to be valuable to very valuable. It is perhaps no surprise that youth programming was consistently well-liked.
We’ve also heard you express hunger for stewardship information and creating income streams outside of pledging to take church into the 21st century. Another need identified by participants was a clearer, more transparent expression of services available and events scheduled within our region.
We will share your full feedback with our Central East staff, so they may move forward with a good context of your experiences to shape priorities for the coming season. Again, thanks to everyone who participated in our high level spring survey here in our Central East Region.
The CLAC will meet soon to plan for our fall engagement of in-depth conversations with selected representatives of our region around specific topics. Please be willing to spend an hour or so with one of us, if you receive an invitation to participate.
Now that your CLAC has completed and reported out on our first year of activities, we hope you are as excited as we are about our new direction and potential. Unifying our staff has allowed our congregations access to stronger services and has allowed our staff to have a fairer and more empowering experience.