Religious Journey

Family of Origin

My paternal grandparents came from Poland to Detroit around 1915, to take advantage of Henry Ford’s landmark offer of $5 a day. They lived in the US for more than 60 years and never learned to speak English.

I was raised there, in Motown, the fourth of five kids in a working-class family in the 1970s; I was the first woman in the family to get a liberal arts degree and the first to openly question Catholicism.

I grew up with a profound religiosity: good people take time every day to contemplate the good, to help those in need, to correct mistakes. We strive for love and justice.

For my parents, that religious fervor focused on Jesus and complex Catholic theologies that never quite made sense to me. Starting around age 8, I had to reject that ideology – but I never let go of the deep religious commitment. The twin commandments – to love the God of my understanding with my whole heart and to love my neighbor as myself, held across world religions – oriented my life as a child, and they have ever since.

Becoming a UU

A roommate at the University of Michigan in the 1980s had been raised UU, and her description intrigued me. I visited the UU church in Detroit.

After a journalism internship in Washington, DC, and two years working in publishing in Detroit, I ventured to New York City in the 1990s, where a friend from the Michigan Daily (student newspaper) helped me to get my dream job as an editor at Ms. Magazine. I worked there for five happy years.

Journey to Ministry

Over time, the daily grind of bad news at Ms. wore me down; I longed for a post-feminist vision of human equality. At the same, I began volunteering to feed the homeless at All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan. I soon joined the church and helped to create a new young adults group. With guidance from Rev. Forrest Church, I discerned a call to ministry, and Harvard Divinity School offered a scholarship.

While at Harvard, I worked as an editorial assistant at the UU World and as Special Assistant for Public Witness to UUA President John Buehrens. I completed my hospital chaplaincy at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in the summer of 1997, and I did a one-year, part-time student ministry at First Parish Lincoln 1997-98. I followed that with a one-year, full-time intern ministry at the UU Church of Reading, under Rev. Jane Rzepka.

Starting a Family, Working as a DRE

I graduated from Harvard Divinity School in June 1999. That same month, I married James Intriligator, who had just completed his PhD in neuroscience at Harvard. By that fall, when I was ordained by First Parish Lincoln, I was expecting our first child, a son named Eli.

James began to work as a consultant to internet incubators (which create new internet companies), while I stayed home with Eli for a year. Over time, we decided that we wanted to raise our kids nearer to our families, so we moved to Los Angeles (James’s hometown) in February 2001. I found a 3/4-time position as the DRE at the UU Church of Santa Monica, CA. Two years later, our daughter Lily was born.

Living Abroad

After the internet “bubble” burst, my husband James decided to return to academia, and he found a post for which he was uniquely qualified – in Wales, in the United Kingdom. We decided to try it, for 3-5 years maximum, while the kids were small.

James thrived there. As a pioneer in the new field of consumer psychology, he earned tenure and many teaching awards. But because he specialized in an interdisciplinary approach, he couldn’t get a US university interested in bringing him back stateside.

I tried many ways to find meaningful work in Wales. In 2005, after the birth of our third child, Quinn, I studied the Welsh language, in order to find work locally, to no avail.  I helped to found a new Unitarian fellowship in our town, one of only a few new groups in Britain in the last 200 years. I worked in a local high school, and I earned a credential to practice as a freelance funeral celebrant for the British Humanist Association; I conducted about 20 funerals in 2009 and 2010.

Then I discovered a program that funded PhD studies via public/private research partnerships. I pitched a project to use crowd-sourced media content to build community and drive tourism to ancient heritage sites in a depressed local county. I won a scholarship from the  EU and I developed an innovative, crowd-sourced website project. I finished my PhD in digital media for community engagement in 2015.

During that period, I also worked as the communications officer for the tiny but nationwide volunteer network called “2020: Growing Unitarianism in Britain.” We worked to raise funds, both to plant new groups and to renew older, flagging Unitarian congregations across Britain.

In July 2013, while still living in Wales, I saw a job posting at the UUA for an Online Strategist, a person to help the UUA develop, refine, and coordinate its web presence across its departments. I was hired. I worked mostly from home in Wales and flew into Boston for one week in every six.  In June 2014, UUA management created the new post of Outreach Director, and my position was discontinued.

Across the 13 years I lived in Wales, I felt a constant pull to return to the US — to my culture and to the UU ministry I always felt called to pursue. But I felt I couldn’t move my children back without a job and health insurance, and I felt unsure about entering the UU search process from abroad, without recent US church experience.

Returning to the US

In November 2015, in Wales, I was once again searching online UU job postings, I discovered a post at Follen UU Church in Lexington: Director of Community Engagement. I was well qualified for the work: a blend of membership, leadership development, and communications. I was hired, and in January 2016, I moved with my younger son, Quinn, from Wales to Lexington, MA. Six months later, after Eli and Lily finished the school year and James was hired at Tufts University, we were reunited here in the US.

I loved working at Follen Church. Landing there, after so long abroad, was one of my life’s greatest blessings. It’s a healthy, energetic congregation, full of committed and highly-skilled volunteers, and together we did transformative anti-racism work and overhauled adult education offerings.

I still longed to be employed officially as a minister full-time, to have my training and experience acknowledged and embraced by a whole congregation. In 2017-18 I joined the search process and was called to be minister to the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church.

It has been a challenging, rewarding, amazing 6 years at Melrose. In my first two years we added 34 new members. Then the Pandemic struck, and we pivoted to online and then hybrid services. For me, the tech updates were weren’t difficult, and I love it that our services are now available live to members who are traveling or home-bound. But, at the same time, our RE program suffered, when kids and parents grew frustrated with the ebb and flow of in-person programs during lockdown. We have lost some families.

Over the past two years, we’ve worked through a congregation-wide effort to update and re-cast our vision and mission, to experiment with family-friendly worship, and to streamline our governance structure.