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!