Welcoming our new Intern Minister: Taryn Strauss
I grew up in Oak Park, IL, and then my family moved to Knoxville, TN for middle school and high school so my mom could serve her first parish. As a middle schooler in a very racially and class-diverse congregation, I always had a lot of “tips” and “pointers” for the DRE, harboring a desire for the church programs to be more synced, and to simply do more in the larger community. We all have a particular way we love. I love something by working to improve it, so more people can love it too. That’s how I love Unitarian Universalism. I want to make it stronger, healthier, more relevant, more powerful, and more beautiful, so that more people will be welcomed into its loving embrace.
In my mid-twenties I accepted a position as Director of Religious Education at the UU Church of Asheville. I grew the RE membership, added three staff members, and expanded the position to include adult faith development. Nothing at the Asheville church felt like work; it was all joy and fun and community. I began to feel called to make the UU church even stronger and more authentically diverse in every way. In 2011 I was hired to serve as Director of Religious Education at the UU Church of All Souls in NYC. A year later, I knew I had to start my formal divinity school education.
I attended Union Theological Seminary while serving All Souls NYC, where I doubled the size of our RE program, and cultivated a second hour of RE called “Art as Spiritual Practice.” I recruited teaching artists from around the city to explore their art with the children as a tool for spiritual deepening. At Union, I studied under Dr. Cornel West and Dr. James Cone, father of Black Liberation Theology. In my second year, I served as an intern minister at Middle Collegiate Church in Lower Manhattan under Rev. Dr. Jaqui Lewis, where I helped launch a Sunday evening “Art and Soul” arts-based worship experience.
All the while, I occupied Wall Street, I marched for Black Lives and protested the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. I travelled to Raleigh for Moral Monday protests with Rev. William Barber. I continued to return to the intersection of art and activism, because I believe in the power of beauty and creative expression to inspire and provoke transformation in individuals and our world. I studied Theatre of the Oppressed techniques under its founder Augusto Boal shortly before his death; from him I learned to invigorate our activism with embodied theatre, and our worship with playful confrontation.
I completed my Clinical Pastoral Education at Beth Israel, a community hospital on the Lower East Side, serving the ER, ICU, and infectious disease floors. I provided a regular guided meditation in the units psych floor and met with patients and their families, learning alongside a religiously diverse class of students.
One month after graduating from UTS with my Masters in Divinity, concentrating in Psychology and Religion, I gave birth to twin boys, Townes and Langston. My husband James Richards is a musician and Public Relations director who also, as it turns out, is a superb father to our sons. We all moved from Brooklyn to Atlanta one year ago. We are city folk who love to eat on Buford Highway, see art, live music and theatre as much as possible. I take hip hop dance classes in my spare time.
I am thrilled to be joining the staff of UUCA as a ministerial intern. UUCA is a vibrant, creative nexus of thoughtful and devoted Unitarian Universalists who care for their community and want to love it into transformation. As a play director, the best quality I could ever hope for in an actor was that they were “game.” This meant they were up for anything: ready to play, be silly, confront fear, look inward, and were open to be humbled and affected by the other players. UUCA is ‘game,’ and I am profoundly honored and excited to serve and co-create our transformation with you.