In my years in ministry, I’ve always had with me the love of the Unitarian Universalist congregation I was raised in. So much of what I cherished about my life was encouraged by the people of the First UU Church of Columbus, Ohio.
Before I left my hometown, I was a fourth-generation jeweler in the family business. It was a great business with deep roots in the community. I sold wedding rings to the grandchildren of folks who bought jewelry from my grandfather. The rootedness — and accountability — of a community where people have “history” with each other appeals to me in times like these. My family’s business, sustained through thousands of multi-generational relationships, thrived on the daily exchanges of our word and a handshake. We spent no money on advertising. We didn’t have to. We treated our customers with respect, and our customers sent their family and friends to us.
In the evenings after work, I sang in the choir at the First UU Church of Columbus and was active on committees and the Board. After a service one Sunday, Nancy Lee, a beloved elder of my congregation, asked me if I’d ever thought about being a minister. I was at first shocked. I hadn’t thought about it. But I realized that I was thinking about ministry at work, but not thinking about work at church. I came to say yes to my call to ministry and a life full of meaning, passion, worthy risks, and amazing encounters with the holy.
When I arrived at Starr King School for the Ministry, I found my prejudices about other religions profoundly challenged. In my first semester, I found myself in a class with two Feminist Catholics. Awestruck by their dedication to a church that deeply frustrated them, I found myself drawn to a spiritual journey with a much more open spirit and more deeply rooted in compassion. Generous and welcoming people of many faiths invited me into a bigger, more joyful journey.
My wife and I had our first child during my last year at Starr King. She found a dream job when we moved there, so I became an at-home dad for several years. I discovered a playgroup that welcomed dads as well as moms, and when they found out I was a UU minister, they asked me if we could all start a congregation — turns out, they’d been talking about Unitarian Universalism before I’d even joined the playgroup. The answer, of course, was "yes," and that playgroup later became the Mission Peak UU Congregation in Fremont, California.
Having started one congregation, I accepted an appointment by the UUA to be the New Congregation Minister for the Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church in Littleton, Colorado, in February 1993. The people from other area congregations who were forming the Columbine church shared my longing to journey with an appreciation for our spiritual diversity.
I wrote about my experiences during the tragic shootings at Columbine High School. And in the years that followed, I learned a lot about the importance of spirituality for survivors of traumatic events. Spiritual trauma is as devastating as physical and emotional trauma, and so three years after the Columbine High shootings, I co-founded the UU Trauma Response Ministry. Some of the other co-founders had ministered at the wreckage of the World Trade Center in the days after September 11, 2001. Others were police and fire chaplains.
I was first called as Senior Minister to the UU Church of Buffalo in 2000. The congregation is at the heart of the vibrant Elmwood Village neighborhood, where Buffalo’s working class meets its world-class arts and music communities.
The Buffalo congregation has a great heritage of music and worship and its ministers being active in public advocacy for justice. I continued that legacy by publicly advocating for women’s reproductive rights, mental wellness, and marriage equality. I happily served that congregation for 11 years.
I fell in love with interim ministry when I served our UU Fellowship in Corvallis, Oregon. I've since served in interim ministries in Canton, NY, Rochester, NY, and the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge. I am currently the Interim Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis.
I am an Accredited Interim Minister (AIM) with the Unitarian Universalist Association and an accredited Professional Transition Specialist with the Interim Ministry Network, the interfaith association of interim clergy. I was elected by my peers to serve on the Executive Committee as Treasurer of the Transition Ministers Chapter. I have lead trainings on Anti-Racism as well as conflict resolution for my colleagues at our annual national meetings.
I am always serving our larger association in some way. I served on the board of the Trauma Response Ministry for 8 years. I have served as an internship supervisor or preliminary fellowship mentor to more than 15 ministerial colleagues during my career.
I was chosen last year to serve on the national advisory council for a new UUA initiative, Hope for Us, which is a UUA service aimed at helping congregations learn how to replace the caustic conflicts caused by supremacy culture with spiritually-grounded practices of healthy conflict.
Rev. Joel Miller