Rev. Dr. Todd F. Eklof is a Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane. Here we talk about his life, work, and views.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was early life like for you, e.g., geography, culture, language, religion or lack thereof, education, and family structure and dynamics?
Rev. Dr. Todd F. Eklof: I was born in San Francisco, CA in 1964, and grew up in the Bay Area. I grew up mostly in Pacifica, CA, just south of SF, from the time I was 5-years-old until I left home at 18 years of age. I grew up in a poor neighborhood, in a small 1250 square foot house, in what must have been among the earliest integrated communities in the U.S. It was rough for the first years because our parents often passed their fear and prejudice on to us, all of us, white kids, black kids, Hispanic kids, Chicano kids, Filipino kids, Samoan kids, Iranian kids, and so on. But eventually we all grew to be friends despite our parent’s anxieties, and today I’m proud to have been among the first generation of kids growing up in integrated neighborhoods to have also helped elect our country’s first African American President. Integration works. I wish our country, as a whole, was still as segregated as it is. I was an English speaker who grew up in an unchurched family, though I became a Born Again Christian in my early teens and began attending church then. I was part of a blue-collar family with a working dad and stay home mother. My father was an abusive man, probably an undiagnosed and untreated paranoid schizophrenic, which made life Hell for my mother, myself, and my three siblings. I hated school, mostly because I was fearful of the world, lacked confidence, and was, thus, easy prey for the school bullies. I’m a high school drop out because of it.
Jacobsen: What levels of formal education have been part of life for you? How have you informally self-educated?
Eklof: I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Communications, a Master of Arts in Religious Studies, and a Doctorate of Ministry. In addition to my formal education, I delight in continuing to self-educate, largely by reading and researching areas that interest me, as well as, occasionally taking formal classes or training. I’m a certified member of the APPA (American Philosophical Practitioners Association), have attended theologian Matthew Fox’s school, The University of Creation Spirituality, and most recently completed the Executive Program at Singularity University. I started off as a Southern Baptist minister, for a very short period, but left Christianity while still in seminary. I became a Unitarian Universalist shortly thereafter, in 1989, and reentered the ministry in 1999 as a UU.
Jacobsen: As a Minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane, what tasks and responsibilities come with the position?
Eklof: I prepare and conduct worship services, provide pastoral care, officiate weddings and funerals, engage in the larger community through both involvement and social action. At UUCS, I’m also the Acting CEO, which means I’m responsible for managing the staff, budget, and general operations of the church. That’s the mechanical explanation. Day to day, my work changes constantly due to emerging needs that seem to always be coming up.
Jacobsen: In terms of the inclusion of women into religious traditions, the Unitarian Universalists appear much better than many other religious or non-traditional religious worldviews. What is the status of women within the formal teachings of the Unitarian Universalist Church?
Eklof: The UU religion is noncreedal, meaning it has no formal teachings, about women or anything else. However, we share many common values, including the belief we should respect, included, and empower everyone, regardless of identity, including females. Universalists, in particular, were the first official religion to ordain a woman in the U.S., Olympia Brown, in 1865. Some of the most renowned women’s suffragists were associated with Unitarianism, like Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Dix, Margaret Fuller, Clara Barton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Julia Ward Howe. Our female ministers have been increasing in number since the 1960s, and today outnumber males. During the past three years, the number of new ministers has been about 80 percent female.
Jacobsen: Women need the support of men in the current renewal and revival of the women’s movement. How can the Unitarian Universalist Church, if supportive, become a part of this?
Eklof: As evidenced by my previous response, the UU religion is already part of supporting the move toward women becoming more equal and empowered in our communities and our larger world. This is part of our general commitment to making sure this is so for all marginalized people, regardless of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race, religion, politics, class, etc., etc. We have a long way to go yet, but like many people committed to creating a more fair and just world, we’re working toward it, have made some headway, and will continue to do so in our individual relationships, congregations, communities, and in the world at large.
Jacobsen: What are some of the important teachings, and social and community-building activities, of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane?
Eklof: Again, as a noncreedal religion, we don’t have formal teachings. However, we’re very proud to have a religious education program that teaches our kids to be well informed and open minded early in their lives. We are the only congregation in town that offers K-12 age appropriate sex education, not only to our members, but to the community at large. OWL (Our Whole Lives) is a successful sex education course that was developed nationally by Unitarian Universalism. We are engaged in many social and social justice activities in our community, many of which we also support financially through special collections. We are members of the Spokane Alliance, an organization that partners with other churches, educators, and unions to work together on our common concerns. Some of our members were among those in our community to first promote birth control (when it was still illegal), bring Planned Parenthood to Spokane, start NOW, help shut down the Hanford Nuclear reactor, and were crucial to passing marriage equality in Washington State, to legalize marijuana (cutting the number of police stop-and-searches in half). Most recently we’ve helped pass cutting-edge environmental legislation, stop executions in Washington, and have a program to help bail out and pay legal expenses for people in our community arrested by ICE. As a congregation, we have an active social life among ourselves, much of it informal, through the friendships that have formed through many years of working together in our larger community.
Jacobsen: Moving further into 2019, what do you see as the important activist activities of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane?
Eklof: There are, of course, the obvious concerns continuing to plague us all, like Global Warming, income inequality, homelessness, systemic racism, rising healthcare, education, and housing costs, and so on. We also remain attentive to needs and issues as the unexpectedly emerge. Acts of gun violence and the racist desecration of religious buildings are examples. Given the coming 2020 election, politics is also heavy on our minds.
Jacobsen: Any recommended reading on Unitarian Universalism for those with an interest in it?
Eklof: The books written about our nebulous and evolving liberal religion are either too academic, or sparse. Instead, I recommend people read and research about us online. Read Wikipedia and go to individual church websites. Read or watch a few sermons and services. Then go visit churches in your area. It’s a better way to get a real feel for what the religion is about.
Jacobsen: How can people become involved with the donation of time, the addition of membership, links to professional and personal networks, giving monetarily, exposure in interviews or writing articles, and so on?
Eklof: The best thing to do, if one is interested, is to begin by attending a UU congregation for a while. Get a feel for it, as I say, then decide if it works for you or not. Like any church, one can be involved by simply attending services or functions and activities, as well as choosing to volunteer for various committees and projects. In most congregations, financial support is a term of official membership, though the amount is up to the individual contributors. We do have a national Association that also allows our members to be involved on a larger level with the organization, including many social justice organizations, like the UU Service Committee. As for publications, I’m afraid UUs are the worst self-promotors, largely because we’re not hung up on ideology, which means we don’t have any need to convince others “we’re right.” Most the time people “discover” us on their own, saying, “I think I’ve been a UU my whole life, I just didn’t know it.”
Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts based on the conversation today?
Eklof: I appreciate your interest in our little liberal religion. We represent far less than even 1 percent of the population. You’d be lucky to find one UU in a group of 300. Yet, when people ask me, “How big is your church,” I sometimes respond by saying, “About as big as a stick of dynamite.”
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Rev. Eklof.
Eklof: It’s been my pleasure!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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