Senior Minister

Rev. Christopher Thomas Bell

I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. My religious roots were in the United Church of Christ, a liberal Christian denomination and the closest Protestant cousin to Unitarian Universalism. I attended Sunday school and was active for a short time in a youth group during my high school years. However, in my teen years I began to question some of my traditional Christian beliefs, especially after taking a class in philosophy.

Although I had no firm career goals when I graduated in 1985, I was interested in journalism and international studies, partly as a result of spending some time in Europe. I decided to attend American University in Washington, DC, but soon realized that this was not the place for me. I moved back to Cleveland and enrolled at Cleveland State University. There I discovered First College, a small liberal arts college within the College of Arts and Sciences where I was able to pursue a multi-disciplinary education through small seminars and extensive writing. I became interested in religious studies, and I completed my degree in that field. I became especially interested in Zen Buddhism and began my practice in that tradition, which I continue today.

Throughout college, and for many years afterward, I waited tables and bartended. My former wife, Dr. Rita Butterfield, and I began attending services at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, and we were married there in 1992. Rita brought our daughter Caitlin to our marriage and I adopted her soon after the wedding. We were very lucky to stumble across West Shore; it was recommended to us because of the music, and we had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, my life was changed that day. Having majored in religious studies, I was amazed to find that I had never heard of Unitarian Universalism, and I want to make sure that never happens to another seeker again!

In 1993 our family moved to Boulder, Colorado. I initially studied Buddhism at the Naropa Institute, but decided not to complete a master’s degree in Buddhist studies there. This was partly because of the birth of our son Aaron in 1994, and partly because I was concentrating on Zen practice under the tutelage of Richard Baker-roshi. I worked in several great restaurants, then as a wine salesman, which brought me to Sonoma County occasionally. (How’s that for karma?) Our family joined a UU Fellowship in Boulder and became active members. It was during this time that I decided to heed the quiet but enduring call to be a minister that had been growing in my heart since we first discovered Unitarian Universalism. I am in love with this liberal religious way of life and I want to share it with the world.

I pursued my studies for the ministry at Harvard Divinity School, and eventually served as president of the UU student group there. I was very active in the First Parish Church in Cambridge, where I co-chaired the Membership Committee, led the annual Stewardship Campaign and was the staff leader of a free meal program. I served a two-year internship at the First Unitarian Society in Newton, Massachusetts where Rev. James Ishmael Ford (a one time member of the Santa Rosa congregation!) was my mentor. I now practice under the guidance of Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, who is the guiding teacher of CityZen, which meets here at UUCSR.

I was ordained in July 2006, shortly after being unanimously called to serve as minister here at UUCSR. This is my first settled ministry, which started in August 2006. I was formally installed by the congregation in May 2007.

During the past nine years I have been engaged in a variety of community organizing efforts, including the congregation’s present involvement with the North Bay Organizing Project, and I am a graduate of the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Santa Rosa program. I have served in a variety of leadership roles in the local UU Minister’s Association chapter, and I am currently a Board Member of the Pacific Central District of the UUA, and I serve on the Appointments Committee of the national UUA Board of Trustees. 

I live in a Co-Housing community with my son, who attends the Santa Rosa Junior College. My daughter lives in North Carolina with her husband and my beautiful granddaughter. In my free hours I enjoy making and listening to music (mostly rock-and-roll), spending time in the great outdoors, reading, and serving my two beautiful cats.

After nearly a decade of ministry here at UUCSR, I can say I still think the best is yet to come. I am excited by our steady growth and the energy and positive spirit of our membership. We are known in the broader community as a force for social justice. We have a excellent staff, many of whom have been here nearly as long as I, and lay leaders of the highest caliber. Our volunteers give countless hours to keep our institution strong, and all with a smile on their face. I feel so grateful to be the minister of this remarkable UU congregation.

I welcome you to our community and I look forward to meeting you!

My current duties are described in the Covenant for Ministry below. 

UUCSR COVENANT FOR MINISTRY 2014 – 2015

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Santa Rosa, hereafter UUCSR, and the Rev. Christopher Bell, hereafter the Minister, jointly enter into this Covenant for Ministry, effective January 15, 2015.

This Covenant is subject to the laws of the State of California and the Mission, Vision, Covenant and Bylaws of UUCSR. It has been drawn up in the spirit of the Principles and Purposes of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and in accordance with the Code of Professional Practice of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association.

The intention of this Covenant is to set forth the current responsibilities, authority and obligations of the Minister in relationship with the congregation. The terms of this Covenant may be changed at any time with the mutual consent of the Minister and the Board to reflect changes in policies, goals, and actual practice.

UUCSR looks to its Minister for a) spiritual leadership and initiative, b) assistance in setting and articulating its vision, c) professional and inspired performance of the many duties of ministry, and d) oversight of UUCSR’s programs in collaboration with UUCSR’s Board of Trustees, staff, and committees.

The minister’s role in the life of a congregation is primarily that of spiritual leader. As such, the minister is expected to nurture an intentional spiritual life for himself. The congregation should respect the minister’s need for daily devotion and prayer and/or reflection and periods of study. To the extent the minister is well-grounded in his faith and religious life, he will more effectively lead others.

The Minister and UUCSR share responsibility for the leadership and ministry of UUCSR. We recognize that the relationship between UUCSR and the Minister must be grounded in open communication, mutual trust and respect, good faith, and open and fair process.

Although the Board of Trustees is responsible for the establishment of goals and policies on behalf of UUCSR, it strives to establish these goals and policies in a partnership with the Minister. A respectful and harmonious relationship between the Board and the Minister is essential to the well being of the congregation.

The Minister will attend and participate in the meetings of the Board, of which he is an ex-officio non-voting member. He will have a regular place on the agenda for reporting on ministerial activities, thoughts and concerns, and will submit a written monthly report to the Board.

The Minister and the Board will share the responsibilities for administration. Therefore, the Board and the Minister will organize and delegate these responsibilities in accordance with UUCSR’s Bylaws, and the skills and interests of the Minister and Board members.

The Minister will supervise the Administrator, the Choir Director and the Pianist, according to the guidelines of the Human Resources Committee.

The Minister will supervise, and collaborate with, the Director of Religious Education in fostering the growth and quality of the religious education program for children and youth.

The Minister will attend all Congregational meetings, and will submit an annual written report to the Congregation.

The Minister will be a member of the Committee on Shared Ministry.

The Minister may participate at any time as an ex-officio, non-voting member of all committees and task forces created by the Board. The Minister will determine the proper level of involvement in such groups to insure that programs are consistent with UUCSR’s mission and goals.

The Minister will preside at the Sunday Services, taking one Sunday off per month unless on vacation or study leave. Planning for these services shall be done in coordination with the Worship Associates. On some Sundays, the minister may elect to exchange pulpits with another UU minister. The Minister will strive to honor UUCSR’s desire for a diversity of worship service programming.

The Minister shall have complete freedom of the pulpit. The Minister is expected to freely express his/her values, views, and commitments. The Minister may join any organization, advocate any cause, and participate in any activity as an individual subject to the strictures of the Code of Professional Practice of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. The Minister may speak for the congregation as a whole when authorized to do so by UUCSR, or when such statements are in accord with past decisions and current commitments of the congregation.

The Minister will serve members in their needs for pastoral care, including crisis intervention and visitation of the homebound, sick, dying, and bereaved, both directly and in conjunction with UUCSR’s own Caring Connections program. The Minister will maintain awareness of his/her own limitations, and will refer members for professional counseling and other specialized services as appropriate.

The Minister will provide ceremonial services, rites of passage and counsel to members of UUCSR without fee or honorarium. When such services are provided to non-members, such fee or honorarium may be set by and is the property of the Minister.

The Minister will lead Scripture Study, and, if time allows, other adult education classes in collaboration with the Adult Religious Education Committee.

The Minister will co-lead the Youth Group.

The Minister will participate in orientation sessions with new or prospective members as able, and meet with them individually as part of the Path to Membership.

The Minister will contribute regularly to the Newsletter.

The Minister will participate actively with UUCSR during all major fund-raising activities. 

The Minister will serve on the Pacific Central District Board and the Appointments Committee of the Board of Trustees of the UUA.

The Minister is encouraged to act in the community beyond UUCSR on behalf of liberal religious values, particularly with the North Bay Organizing Project.

The Minister will maintain regular office hours, flexible enough to meet the needs of the congregation.

The Minister will maintain one entire day per week, including the evening, free of all congregational responsibilities (usually Friday) and one additional day devoted to study and writing (usually Wednesday) wherein the Minister will be available only for emergencies. We recognize and encourage the Minister to set aside a sufficient number of hours for personal needs and self-care. The Committee on Ministry is particularly charged with ensuring this.

The Minister is encouraged to attend General Assembly, District Assembly, UUMA Chapter meetings, and other professional gatherings, continuing education events, support groups and study groups as necessary to strengthen and support his Ministry.