More than 20 years ago, Rev. Alan Taylor helped the Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church near Seattle build their own worship home.
On a whim, he printed bumper stickers with the message “Grace Happens,” and passed them out to congregants.
In 2003, Rev. Taylor moved to Oak Park, Illinois. At Unity Temple, the longtime social justice advocate developed a refugee resettlement program and mental health awareness team. His congregation combined civic engagement, legislative advocacy and charity work.
Rev. Alan Taylor
Rev. Taylor then worked with Live Free Illinois, a Black-led, faith-based non-profit working at the intersection of gun violence prevention and the criminal justice system.
He transformed Oak Park’s Community of Congregations into a more active multi-faith body that engages Chicago’s West Side, advocates for undocumented immigrants, and addresses the history of race in the community.
A few months ago, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport’s search for an interim minister to replace Rev. Dr. John Morehouse caught Rev. Taylor’s eye.
He was content in Oak Park. But he knew UU Westport’s pioneering activists Jerry and Denny Davidoff from their national leadership, and offered his name.
Three hours later, the search committee called. They had a great, relaxed conversation. When Rev. Taylor noted that he would not uproot his 15- and 12-year-olds from their home, the Westporters were unfazed.
Rev. Taylor and the leaders worked out a hybrid model. He will carry out his duties both in person in Westport, and virtually via email, Zoom and phone from his home office in Oak Park. He serves in partnered ministry with UU Westport’s longtime minister of music, Rev. Ed Thompson.
Last month, he made his first trip to Westport. On the third day, he opened the vestments closet. There, on a top shelf, was one of his “Grace Happens” bumper stickers.
“That confirmed that I should be there,” he says.
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport.
Rev. Taylor grew up in a UU fellowship in Bakersfield, California so small it had no minister. At Pomona College he was drawn to religion and philosophy, but figured that — like many members of his family — he would teach.
After college he spent 8 months in India, focusing on traditions that bring Muslims and Hindus together. He spent 3 years as a counselor for abused children with emotional difficulties, then was inspired into the Unitarian Universalist ministry in Oakland.
After seminary at Starr King School, he served in Worcester and Littleton, Massachusetts. Calls followed: first to Woodinville, then Oak Park (where the temple, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905 and considered by some architects to be the first “modern building” in the world, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site).
Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois.
Now he’s in Westport.
And still in Oak Park.
Fortunately, Rev. Taylor says, his new church has a great tech team and system. He looks forward to helping — in person, and via technology — Westport’s UU congregation figure out their core values, and what they’re looking for as they search for their next settled minister.
He’s signed on for one year, with an option to renew. The process could take 2 to 3 years, he says
In Westport, Rev. Taylor is meeting the many types of people in the UU church. There are corporate CEOs, he says, and others who were “dealt a poor hand in the world.”
One big surprise: the number of congregants who love music and art. “This is a highly creative congregation,” he says. They are “highly committed and deeply invested” in their UU church.
But everyone joins for different reasons.
“Some are there for the social connection. Some are there for the music, or the social justice work,” Rev. Taylor notes.
“But this is not a social club, a music club or a social justice club. It is first and foremost a faith community that makes possible all those things.”
His first sermon, earlier this month, started outside. A sudden storm moved them indoors.
That was an apt metaphor. As Rev. Taylor learns the history of his new church, he realizes tat it has been buffeted by storms — “a fair amount of conflict” — over the past decade.
But the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Westport has weathered those storms. Now he will help them look ahead.
Meanwhile, of course, “Grace Happens.”
Click below for Rev. Taylor’s first full service in Westport. His sermon begins at 25:20.