Introducing Interim DRE Jessica Place

UUSM Interim DRE Jessica Place

We are delighted to welcome Jessica Place as our Interim Director of Religious Education. Jessica comes to us after having served as the Director of Children and Family Ministries at Westwood Presbyterian Church. Before her tenure with that congregation, she began her professional religious education career as a Children’s Ministry Assistant at Denver Community Church.

She is a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Divinity in North Carolina–the first university-based ecumenical divinity school to begin with no formal denominational affiliation. There she earned the prestigious Master of Divinity degree. She is also a graduate of Northern Arizona University where she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Women’s and Gender Studies.

The Interviewing Committee was impressed with her depth of knowledge and experience with children, youth, and family ministries, her commitments to progressive religious witness, and her embrace of our unique Unitarian Universalist approach to religious education and spiritual life.

Jessica shares: “I feel privileged to serve this community as Interim Director of Religious Education. Those folks I’ve gotten to meet so far have all greeted me with kindness, open-mindedness, and a genuine enthusiasm for sustaining and growing the Religious Education programming at UUSM. I’m so glad to hear that I’m coming into a community that understands the importance of nurturing the growth of its youngest members. It speaks to the way you treasure each person’s inherent worth, no matter their age, and to a forward-looking vision that will help nurture young people’s continued commitment to the values of this church.

“While I have discussed theology and ethics with ministers and scholars, some of my favorite conversation partners have been children. They approach new information and experiences with the “beginner’s mind” that grown-ups have to work hard to be able to return to. Their natural openness and curiosity genuinely inspire new insights in my own spiritual explorations. While my feet were first planted in Christianity, a tradition which still inspires me, as I grew I found new insights from the wisdom of mystics across world religions, earth-centered spiritual practices that prioritize embodied experience and liberatory action, and non-religious thinkers and revolutionaries that help us see the world in new ways. I hope to use everything I have learned in my journey to help provide young people and their families with an inclusive and welcoming space to explore new ideas, and to engage with our diverse world with curiosity and compassion.

“I am so excited to begin this part of my journey with this community, and I look forward to getting to know everyone better! A few things to know about me – I love yoga, going to concerts and live theater, and reading a good book with my cat Beatrice. I live with my wonderful partner James, a songwriter and baseball fan, and we are looking forward to our wedding this fall!”

I would like to offer deep gratitude to our Interviewing Committee for sharing the ministry in facilitating the interviews and checking references and then offering their unanimous support for her hiring. Specifically, I would like to thank Vilma Ortiz, Beth Renderio, Shanna Shaked, Larry Weiner, Cynthia Littleton, Linda Van Ligten, and Jason Buhle. We had a wonderful team working on behalf of the congregation!

I would also like to thank Gar Allen and Dan Nannini from the Personnel Committee for their detailed attention to reviewing and revising personnel documents throughout this process.

Her many references sang her praises and noted she was authentic, honest, collaborative, thoughtful, inclusive, creative, organized, fantastic with children and families, and possessed a long litany of distinctive skills and gifts. Everyone thought we would be lucky and blessed to have her professional leadership here at UU Santa Monica.

DRE Group shot
James Witker, Interim DRE Jessica Place, Linda Van Ligten, and Dr. Susan Hendricks on May 26th,.