|Hello First UU!
This is Kelli McNeal, your new Congregational Life Coordinator. I am so thrilled to be joining the staff here at First UU. It was an absolute pleasure to get to meet some of you on Sunday at the Welcome table after the service; I look forward to meeting you all over the next several weeks!I want to take a little bit of space here to just let you know who I am and where I come from. I was born and raised in Sidney Ohio, about 30 minutes north of Dayton on I-75. I was a student at Ohio State from 2007 to 2013 where I got bachelor degrees in Accounting and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. At Ohio State, my love for OSU football had me cheering loud and proud in Block O, only missing a handful of games in the six years I was a student. You can imagine the culture shift when I moved to Richmond Virginia and, in Kroger Saturday morning, there was not a single other person wearing a football jersey! My neighbors quickly learned that if they heard yelling from my apartment on any given Saturday during the fall, it was safe to assume a Buckeye game was on and it was best to wait a few hours before knocking on my door to let my blood pressure drop back down to normal!
It was very hard to leave my beloved state and move to the south, but in the fall of 2013 I entered seminary pursuing a dual degree program of Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work. While I had no intention of ever entering the ministry, I felt that this combination of degrees would help me as a social worker to help my clients with their spiritual needs in addition to their other needs. However, in preparation for my second year at Virginia Commonwealth University, I was walking around my internship fair and saw a table for the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond and I thought it would be a great place to practice integrating my two degrees. I had no idea what Unitarian Universalism was, but a quick look at the UUA website I realized I may be finding a new place where I belong. I didn’t feel like my personal theology matched too well with the other students at my Baptist seminary, and I often felt like I must not be doing this faith thing right. (Growing up Catholic, I got really good at this guilt thing!) Also during this time I was planning my wedding to my fantastic husband, Jay, an ordained Baptist minister who I worked with at our seminary library. We both hoped that this new religious tradition that neither of us had heard of yet aligned with our beliefs wonderfully, would open new doors and opportunities to explore where we felt we were being called deep in our souls. (He is also now pursuing UU ordination, so I guess it stuck!)
In my first year at First UU Richmond, I was tasked with researching and discerning the idea of our congregation becoming a sanctuary congregation. I made it very clear (at least I thought I did) that I was not supposed to be a minister and I was only at the church to do the sanctuary work. But, little by little, the ministers started giving me opportunities to get up on Sunday mornings and speak to the congregation. At the end of my year with the church, I was asked to stay on to finish the sanctuary project and I joined the church staff as part-time ministerial intern and part-time bookkeeper. I still protested being a minister, but when I got up and gave my first ever sermon, everything seemed to click. My fear of “not doing this faith thing right” was replaced by a love of the people that make up our UU family. People who come from diverse faith traditions and belief systems, diverse backgrounds, all making us wonderfully unique, yet we share a common commitment to upholding principles and values of justice and equity that guide us along the journey of life. In my short time as a UU, I have grown and learned so much and I am so excited to continue growing and learning with all of you. Thank you for welcoming Jay and me back to the Buckeye state and into your church family. Please feel free to shoot me an email introducing yourself. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week!