I was born and raised in South Jersey, midway between Philadelphia and the Pine Barrens. Although my siblings and I were raised without religion, we were raised with a surplus of wonder and awe. In our household, no interest was considered unusual or a waste of time. To be interested, to be fascinated, to want to learn more about the world, was the best way to be alive. My father came to this country as a refugee, which has informed my sense of justice.
As an adult, I attended Rutgers-Camden for undergrad, and later for my first graduate degree, where I studied English and linguistics. In between, I spent several months in Azerbaijan studying at the Azerbaijan University of Languages on a Critical Language Scholarship from the US State Department. The experience had a profound effect on my reverence for the unique unknowability of every human experience, and my respect for the preciousness of human lives everywhere.
Though encouraged to apply for a job in the foreign service or intelligence upon my return, I instead returned to bartending, a career that I held for over ten years. I alternated between tending bar and working in editing and publishing into my 30s, while living in Philadelphia, not far from where I grew up. Although I was not involved in religion at the time, I believe my ministry truly began at the bar, as I spent a decade listening to people tell me their darkest secrets and most joyous news.
In 2011, I was volunteering for an independent poll observer organization, when I walked into a small neighborhood church that also served as a polling place. I felt an actual chill, and was overcome with a feeling that this was where I needed to be. The experience led to my joining the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration, a diverse and historically Universalist church in Philadelphia.
There, I served as a worship associate for three years before answering the call to ministry. In 2015, I was working toward a PhD in linguistics when a series of personal tragedies and catastrophes made me rethink how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. On a break from school, I left bartending and spent a month and a half hiking and camping in forests all along the East Coast, building campfires in the rain and figuring out what I should do. And the conclusion was that although I still loved bartending and studying languages, neither the bar nor academia where where I was meant to spend the rest of my one wild and precious life.
For the rest of that Master’s degree, I took poetry worships for my electives, and by the time I was ready to answer the call to ministry, I made a deal with the divine that I would only do so if I could still write. I applied to seminary and MFA programs in poetry at the same time, thinking the decision would be made for me. Instead, I was accepted to both, which is how I wound up moving to Oregon in 2016 for my MFA, while simultaneously enrolling in the low-residency MDiv program at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago. Last summer, I took part in the prestigious Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop’s first Spiritual Writing session.
As part of my formation, I was required to take one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a 400-hour internship as a hospital chaplain. I immediately loved the work, and wound up going back for two extra units. Over those three units, I served in the ICU, Pediatrics/NICU, and finally the locked behavioral health unit, with weekly trauma shifts in the Emergency Department throughout. I felt so deeply fulfilled by pastoral care – in the Emergency Department in particular – that I strongly considered become exclusively a chaplain, hoping to focus on trauma.
However, my time at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene convinced me that my work is in the parish, forming longer-term relationships and shepherding an entire faith community through the seasons of their lives. After my two-year internship, I was blessed to be hired back as the Coordinator of Outreach and Engagement, while still preaching regularly. I have brought my passion for pastoral care to my work in the parish, and now I almost can’t imagine that there was a time when I didn’t have a church to love.
In my congregation, I gained experience leading rites of passage (such as weddings and funerals), leading services throughout the year, and implementing social justice projects.
In addition, my religious values draw me toward liberation. I believe that I have a sacred obligation to work for the liberation and full inclusion of the marginalized and oppressed, both within our faith communities and in human society as a whole. My ministry is thus both pastoral and prophetic.
Outside of ministry, I enjoy hiking, gardening, quilting, long-distance train travel, excellent food and cocktails, and keeping pet snails. I try to make it back to New Jersey to visit my family every couple months. My wonderful partner Ed works in tech, and although he is not a church-goer, he has been known to bake cheesecakes for church functions and drop them off when nobody is looking.