Carlson is committed to creating better services for youth and young adults.
Hurricane Katrina left an indelible mark on the Rev. Erik David Carlson’s career.
When the hurricane hit New Orleans in 2005, Carlson was moving to Chicago to attend Meadville Lombard Theological School to train to be a hospital chaplain. Two years later, while serving as a ministerial intern at Community Church Unitarian Universalist of New Orleans, he changed his plans.
As Carlson served Community Church, as well as First UU Church of New Orleans and North Shore UU in Lacombe, La., he saw the power of parish ministry. He was drawn to pursuing it himself, despite sometimes working 100-hour weeks, ministering to people who had lost their homes and their communities.
“I still draw upon it,” said Carlson, who is now minister of the UU Church of Stockton, Ill. Since June 2011, he has served as the trustee of the Central Midwest District on the UUA Board of Trustees. He continues to be impressed by “the amount of good that a tiny group of UUs could accomplish, despite having to rebuild their city, their houses, their communities, and their church. Their actions speak much louder than their couple hundred voices would indicate.”
Carlson grew up in Unitarian Universalism, primarily attending the Birmingham Unitarian Church in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. When he was very young, he also attended First Parish in Concord, Mass., while the Rev. Dana Greeley was minister. Now 34, Carlson has long been active in the youth and young adult movements of the denomination. “Youth and young adult culture is how I came up as a UU,” he says. “It’s incredibly valuable, and it’s a ministry that has to constantly be changing. It never ceases to be one of the most important things that we do.”
He met his wife at a young adult spiritual retreat. Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, who has worked for the Central Midwest District as youth and young adult coordinator and as an elementary school art teacher, now serves as program director at the UU Church of Rockford, Ill. “Kimberlee is involved and committed to the ministry as well,” Carlson said.
Prior to his current term on the UUA Board of Trustees, Carlson was the board’s young adult observer, representing the Continental UU Young Adult Network. He served on the board task force that drafted language for a bylaw that will shrink the board to 14 from 26 members in 2013. “I knew what I was getting into,” Carlson said.
One of his goals for his work on the board is to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition to a smaller board. “We have a unique opportunity in these next 16 to 18 months that other boards don’t have. We are all lame ducks and have a limited amount of time. If we can have in place the systems necessary for a smaller board and a more regionalized district staff structure, we will have been successful.”
He also says the board must create a better structure to support youth and young adult empowerment, campus ministry, and services for historically marginalized communities and people of color of all ages. “I’d really like us to have some vision as to what our ministry to and with marginalized communities looks like and how that will be institutionally supported,” he said.
The true test of whether this board has been successful, he said, is what the UUA looks like “in 2016, 2019, and 2025.” “We’re moving in some very positive directions. I think the 2012 General Assembly is a great opportunity and a litmus test as to what this movement will be.”
Carlson is chair of the board’s Communications Working Group. For 10 years, he ran a website design company called Revoluution Media, which creates websites for UU organizations. He helped create the website for the Church of the Younger Fellowship, along with Jonathan Craig. The work Carlson and Craig did on FUUSE.com, a social media website for young UUs, earned them both the UUA’s Donna DiSciullo Award for Young Adult and Campus Ministry in 2005. (That website is now defunct.)
Carlson’s Web experience informs his communications work with the board, as does his belief that good governance should be transparent. He said he is looking at ways the board can communicate better with UUs, particularly using electronic media. “It’s a challenge of Policy Governance to find ways the board can have conversations with the association’s members and also speak with one voice on official decisions and policies,” he said.
Carlson describes his real passion as “doing our ministry well—touching people, healing people, and helping communities grow more into themselves.”
He works to balance his commitment to the larger denomination with his work at the Stockton church. “As a parish minister, I rely on the volunteer leadership of my congregation to help direct my activities and our goals as a congregation to keep me on task,” he said. “It’s very important for our paid religious professionals to model volunteer leadership.”
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Michelle Bates Deakin, a member of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, Massachusetts, was a UU World contributing editor from 2006 to 2011 and a UU World senior editor from 2011 to 2014. She is the author of Social Action Heroes: Unitarian Universalists Who Are Changing the World (Skinner House, 2011) and Gay Marriage, Real Life: 10 Stories of Love and Family (Skinner House, 2006).
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