Minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colo., sees growth, social justice as priorities.
Morales, who has served as senior minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church (JUC) in Golden, Colo., for seven years, sees growth as the top issue that the UUA faces. “The potential for us to be a vital participant in American religious life and really touch the lives of tens of thousand of people is a very real possibility,” he said during a recent phone interview.
Morales first served JUC from 1999 to 2002. From 2002 to 2004 he worked as the UUA’s director of District Services. In 2004 he returned to JUC, where he currently serves. Before entering the ministry, Morales worked in journalism in various capacities as a reporter, editor, publisher, press owner, teacher, and consultant. He has a Master of Arts degree in American Studies and a Master of Philosophy degree in American Studies from the University of Kansas, and a Master of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry. He has served on the UUA’s Board of Trustees, the UU Ministers Association executive committee, and the steering committee of the Latino/a UU Networking Association.
Morales left his job at the UUA in 2004 because he disagreed with the UUA’s approach to growth through marketing. “I didn’t feel like I had a lot to contribute,” he said, “and that I could do more good in growing our movement doing the kinds of workshops I had been asked to do [on congregational hospitality], like at UU University.”
Morales believes that growth is best accomplished at the congregational level, through simple acts of hospitality. His church has grown from 400 to 770 members in the past decade. “A lot of it is becoming aware of the visitor, paying attention to who they are and what their needs are,” he said.
But hospitality is something that must be practiced at an institutional level as well, Morales believes. “What we need as a movement is something that goes far beyond normal management changes, programmatic tweaks, and a shifting of resources,” he said. “The change we need is much deeper and is a cultural-level change.”
One of the ways Morales hopes to implement this change is by reaching out to congregations. The role of the president is key here, he said. “To begin these changes the president has to have a very active engagement with our congregations and a consistent vision of a much more engaged, much more welcoming Unitarian Universalism.”
Social justice issues are central to his idea of engagement. “In my mind, growing the movement and being a positive force for tolerance, understanding, freedom, and action go hand in hand,” he said. “Our ability to engage effectively in social justice work is not only the result of our growing but actually contributes to it.”
Morales is also committed to reviewing the ministerial formation process starting with the recruitment of ministers.
While hospitality is a practice Morales hopes to improve among congregations, the passion for Unitarian Universalism already exists there, he said. “What we need to do as a movement is to unleash that passion. We need to help direct it, to organize it, to lead it.”
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.