Paul is a fourth-year student involved in community ministry in the context of neighborhood building. His home congregation is the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.
My parents are Quebecois and moved to Hartford, Conn., right before I was born. I was brought up just north in the mill town of Enfield, where most everyone was Catholic and working class Polish, French or Italian. Growing up in Enfield informed a lot of who I am today and my ideas about class, religious identity and public life. As a kid, I imagined myself being either a priest or a teacher. But by the time I was in my teens, I fell in love with residential architecture. Once I was a teenager and realized I was queer, that pretty much put a nail in the coffin about my becoming a priest.
In my early adulthood, after getting a degree in architecture, I joined my family's business as the project manager and designer in our residential design/build business. Our goal was to build higher quality, more stylish houses in the area than people thought they could afford. But as a designer, I was more concerned with integrity of materials, the way houses related to their neighborhoods, the way people move around between houses and the impact of cars on our daily lives. I didn't recognize it at the time, but I saw my work as a public ministry. My customers on the other hand, were much more concerned about square footage and the number of outlets in their garage.
Frustrated, my partner Seph and I moved to the Bay Area with two friends. Together we bought a single-family house in the heart of the gay Mecca, the Castro Village, with the idea of building an intentional community there. But after four years and the events of 9/11, it became really clear that just having lofty ideals and being a "good person" wasn't enough for me spiritually. Influenced by the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and his writings, I knew that Unitarian Universalism was the faith tradition for me. But I was terrified to walk in the door, knowing it would be the beginning of an intense commitment I wasn't ready for. When I finally did go to the Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco, it only took a matter of months before I made the decision to become a minister. Working for Habitat For Humanity and against the death penalty were great causes, but I realized that I had to stop making things into a ministry when people didn't want to be ministered to. I had tried to do it this in my building of other people's homes and then my own. I finally realized that I would be better able to build sustainable communities in the context of being a minister.
At Starr King, I have most enjoyed Dr. Alicia Forsey's history courses, where I have had the chance to look at my own background as one of dissent and second-class status, and to then examine the ways that Transcendentalism has provided moral justification for suburban sprawl. Dr. Rosemary Chinnici was my religious touchstone on the faculty. She was instrumental in helping me integrate my ethnic Catholicism into a viable Unitarian Universalist theology.
The best part about being at Starr King has been the opportunity to serve as student body president. The worst thing about being at Starr King has been the opportunity to serve as student body president. This is just one of the paradoxes in which grace has manifested itself in my life, and grace is where I find God.
Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward