January 28, 2015

I Am Starr King: An Interview with Jessica Clay

Jessica Clay

3rd Year, M.Div. Student

Student Body President (2014 – 2015)


What inspired you to become a religious leader?

I found Unitarian Universalism when I turned 30, and I felt like something was missing in my life. I took an online quiz, “What religion are you?” And it said: ‘Unitarian Universalist.’ I had never heard of that before. So I went to a congregation—I was living in Baltimore at the time—and I felt like it was my place.

And then I moved to Santa Monica within a couple of months and I happened to move into an apartment that was two blocks from the UU congregation there. And started getting really involved in it. The more involved I became, the more I fell in love with Unitarian Universalism and the ways that it is helping to support people, to nurture community, to do social justice work, and to encourage spiritual growth. Everything I got involved in just made me fall more and more in love with Unitarian Universalism. I taught R.E.; I was on membership and leadership committees; and I was co-chair of the Green Committee. And I just loved being involved.

A congregant approached me one day—I think I was pulpit hosting at the time—and he asked, “Have you ever thought about ministry?” And I was like, “No!” Because I thought that to be a minister you had to be like Mother Teresa—and I was certainly no Mother Teresa. And then I did a lot of self-work — a lot of therapy and reflection on who I am, how I want to be in the world, and how I see myself moving and sharing my gifts with the world. And after a lot of reflection I decided on ministry.

Why did you decide to study at Starr King?

It was important for me to study at a Unitarian Universalist seminary, because I felt that the education I could receive there would be different from other seminaries. I looked at the available options, and when I looked at the Starr King website the school really spoke to me. And I am from the Bay Area originally. I moved away at 16. So when the opportunity presented itself to study at a Unitarian Universalist seminary that was in the Bay Area, it felt like Starr King was where I was supposed to go. It was like returning to my childhood roots and a deepening of the new Unitarian Universalist roots.

What do you do in your role as the Starr King Student Body President?

I have regular meetings with the Dean of Students, Lindi Ramsden, and I really try to facilitate students’ involvement in the school and a healthy culture of students within the school, and for students to feel like faculty and staff want to hear what they have to say and are approachable. I encourage students to speak with them directly. Sometimes students will mention things to me that do not necessitate a full meeting, and then I can bring that to staff or faculty. So it is really a way of improving communication in the school — everything from ‘The printer is broken’ to ‘This is something that I am needing.’ I attend faculty meetings once a month and bring these needs there to say ‘This is what the students are needing,’ and discuss it with the faculty.

I also facilitate student body meetings, which are held monthly and where we discuss things like how to use the student body money that comes from student body fees on things from whether or not we want to put on something like the Vagina Monologues, to stocking the student food cabinet for hungry students, to doing social justice projects. Really to find ways to use this money that supports students—both low residency and high residency students—and supports the school to really put our values out into the world.

What do you hope to do with your Starr King education going forward?

Change the world (laugh)…I have so many answers to this. I come to this as a second career [first career as an Occupational Therapist]. So I hope to use this degree to find work that is meaningful that helps to heal the world. And I hope to continue to support Starr King long after I have graduated, to stay connected to it and support future students as well.

But in terms of the concrete, I want to be a UU minister. And as to what my ministry will look like? I feel like there are unlimited possibilities of where it can take me. But it will be with a good grounding from Starr King and in anti-oppression work—really focused on who is not at the table and making sure that there is space and opportunities for them.


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