The Rev. Alison Miller, candidate for UUA president, emphasizes power we have to heal one another.
The Rev. Alison Miller, candidate for UUA president, at the 2016 General Assembly. (© 2016 Nancy Pierce)
At the age of 16, the Rev. Alison Miller was diagnosed with cancer and given a 3 percent chance of survival. Her youth group from the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City sometimes met on the pediatric ward of the hospital where Miller was a patient so that she could continue to participate. She says 150 congregants gave blood for her.
“Literally the blood of Unitarian Universalists courses through my veins,” said Miller, a candidate for president of the UUA, in the election to be held at the 2017 General Assembly in New Orleans. “The power we have to heal one another and bring life in times of despair is very present for me, and my call to leadership is connected to that.”
Miller was nominated to run for president in January 2016 by the UUA Presidential Nominating Committee. After a second nominee, the Rev. Sue Phillips, withdrew from the race, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray announced she would run by petition and was certified in April. A third candidate, the Rev. Jeanne Pupke, was certified as a petition candidate in June. (UU World is profiling each candidate in the order they entered the race. Read the profile of the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray.)
Miller’s parents became UUs at All Souls after meeting the Rev. Walter Donald Kring, the only clergyperson they’d found willing to marry her Protestant father to her Jewish mother without demanding one of them convert. Her father died two years before Miller’s cancer diagnosis. Losing her father, then facing death herself, offered her personal experience in suffering and compassion—and in the power of Unitarian Universalism to unite people across differences and help people heal.
“Having had those experiences helped me to connect to the grief and challenges that others may be going through, whether an illness, a transition, or dealing with the ills of racism, sexism, or homophobia,” said Miller. She was ordained a UU minister in 2004, a year after graduating from Harvard Divinity School.
For Miller, solidarity with others means advocating for marriage equality, income equality, immigrant justice, and for efforts to end gun violence in politically conservative Morristown, New Jersey, where she is in her eleventh year as senior minister of Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.
“I believe I am the person who can lead us in saying a resilient and relevant and robust ‘Yes!’ to our faith,” said Miller. “I feel called to shape the future of our faith in ways that invite us to grow in spirit, to create powerful change, and to lead with love.”
Under her leadership, the Morristown fellowship has grown from 240 to 350 members and from 75 to 115 children. Last year it won the O. Eugene Pickett Award for Numerical and Institutional Growth in its district. Annual giving has increased each year, and a capital campaign raised $2.3 million, more than five times annual giving.
Before coming to Morristown, Miller served as an assistant minister at All Souls in New York and was an intern minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her congregational leadership also includes founding a young adult group at All Souls in New York, which quickly grew to include 250 people, and co-chairing a UU campus ministry while she was a student at Bryn Mawr.
Her leadership within the faith began when she was 15, when she worked as a religious education assistant, and includes working for the UUA on its “Mind the Gap” fundraising campaign for youth and young adult ministry. Today she serves as president of the Church of the Larger Fellowship board. She sees CLF as “the mission arm of our faith,” including in its prison ministry. “It’s a doorway for many people to find Unitarian Universalism,” she said.
Miller serves on the board of the UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey. She also sits on the board of the United Way of Northern New Jersey, where she works on issues of income inequality and access to education and healthcare. She is a member and former chair of the racial justice task force of an interfaith clergy council partnering with the NAACP and black churches to reduce the use of force by police officers and increase antiracism training for cadets. She helped found an immigrant rights resource and community center, and was a strong advocate in turning the tide away from a local policy that sought to deputize local police as immigration law enforcers.
“I feel called to lead institutional change so that new people can find a home with us, people who often find themselves on the margins or on the other side of the walls of our faith,” she said, “and so that we can be engaged with members of the wider community to create just changes. Another element of our success is how we take our values out in the world, which touches the lives not only of UUs but of many other people who might be so glad we are there but might not want to become UU.”
Miller is married to a third-generation UU, David Snedden, a middle-school science teacher. They have a 4-year-old son, Asher. alisonforuuapresident.org
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.
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