Falling Off the Log

Rev. Sunshine Wolfe

“You promised Sunshine. You go first.”

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.

In the meantime:

“Cause trouble and comfort in equal measure.”

With blessings on the journey,

Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe

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Allegheny UU Church Holds Rally

Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, PIttsburgh, PA, and the Delta Foundation held a “Hope Against Hate” rally at the church after a medical office on the North Side of Pittsburgh was defaced with a homophobic slur. Speakers included Dr. Stacy Lane of Central Outreach Wellness Center, Candi Castleberry Singleton of the Dignity & Respect Campaign, Pittsburgh Black Pride, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Rev. David McFarland.

The event garnered quite a bit of press including several articles and videos that can be accessed online:

Rally held against defacement of LGBT-friendly banner on North Side

Determined to transform a “message of hate” to a “message of hope,” about 75 people attended a rally Sunday that involved signing their names and well-wishes on a North Side banner that had been vandalized Friday with words derogatory to the homosexual community.
From the post-gazette.com

‘Hope against Hate’ rally held at LGBT health care provider

From Channel 4, ABC affiliate in Pittsburgh

Defaced LGBT Sign Prompts Rally For Acceptance
The Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church is taking a stand against hate, while calling for diversity and acceptance.
From the local CBS affiliate.

Rally held after business sign defaced with LGBT hate speech

A rally was held Sunday after a North Side business sign was vandalized with LGBT hate speech on Friday. Dozens of people gathered to show their support after a sign at the Central Wellness Outreach Center’s was found with LGBT hate speech.
From WPXI in Pittsburgh

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Clusters Offer Opportunities for Collaboration and Learning

Pittsburgh Cluster Assembly WelcomeThe geography of Pittsburgh PA is challenging when trying to get from one part of the city to the other. With three rivers, a few tunnels and many bridges, it’s tempting to just stay in one’s own neighborhood. The UUs of Greater Pittsburgh challenged that tendency in the Fall of 2014 by organizing themselves into a cluster, complete with bylaws, board and an annual “Cluster Assembly.”


vail wellerOn November 7, they held their 2nd Annual Cluster Assembly at the UU Church of the North Hills.  The energy and quality programming helped them to exceed the attendance of the first cluster assembly – from 70 to over 100 attendees.


One of the reasons was keynote speaker, the Rev. Vail Weller, who was raised in the UU Church of the North Hills and is now the Congregational Giving Director at the Unitarian Universalist Association. You can watch her keynote below.

Rev. Weller’s keynote was preceded by a lovely worship service offered by the ministers and interns of the member churches who elaborated on the “crossing rivers and bridges” theme.


Along with the afternoon workshops, the day included lots of opportunities for congregations to connect and plan for future collaboration.

cluster assy logo2015-11-07 09.50.562015-11-07 09.32.30

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Pittsburgh Cluster is “Better Together”

Greater Pittsburgh Cluster Choir
Greater Pittsburgh Cluster Choir

As the choir joined voices from neighboring congregations into a rousing rendition of the Turtles’ song “Happy Together,” the cluster of UU churches in the Greater Pittsburgh area joined in their first annual “Cluster Assembly” and voted themselves into being on November 1, 2014.

Pittsburgh Cluster WorkshopThe day started with an opening worship complete with banner parade and the participation of all of the area clergy. Using the theme “We Are Better Together” they wove their past and future into a story of long-time relationship. First Pittsburgh Assistant Minister Rev. Robin Zucker looked back to 1804 when the Meadville Unitarian Conference was first formed. First Pittsburgh Religious Educator Jennifer Halperin highlighted learning together. The Rev. Renee Waun (who serves four of the cluster churches on a part-time basis) held up their tradition of marching together in the local Pride march.

Pittsburgh Cluster Keynote GatheringThe eighty or so participants spent the rest of the morning attending one of six breakout workshops on various topics, including:

  • Anita Mentzer, the Director of UUPLAN (the Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network) was available to meet with activists interested in working with other congregations in the state.
  • Representatives from four congregations shared their best Stewardship Practices with interested attendees.
  • Another group participated in a worship associate training based on Erika Hewitt’s book The Shared Pulpit and led by Rev. Zucker.

After a lovely Cajun lunch from a local caterer, the eleven congregations voted to affirm the cluster, to adopt their founding structure including a mission statement (see inset) and bylaws. All of the member congregations were represented and (and their founding dates) include:

  • Mission Statement

    UU Congregation of Smithton (1860)

  • First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh (1890)
  • Allegheny UU Church (1905)
  • UU Fellowship of Morgantown (1954)
  • First UU Church of Indiana, PA (1958)
  • UU Church of the North Hills (1961)
  • UU Church of the South Hills (1965)
  • East Suburban UU Church (1966)
  • UU Church of the Ohio Valley (1976)
  • UU Fellowship Ligonier Valley (1988)
  • Ginger Hill UU Congregation (2003)

They also elected their first Board of Directors:

  • John Graham, East Suburban UU Church
  • Michael Hennessy, UU Church of the South Hills
  • Pat Jacobson, UU Church of the Ohio Valley
  • Midge Miles, UU Church of the North Hills
  • Ron Smutny, UU Church of the South Hills
  • Kurt Summersgill, First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh
  • Mark Tomlinson, Allegheny UU Church
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