What a delight it was to talk to DeReau Farrar, the Director of Music at First Unitarian Portland! I have admired him since I first heard his new arrangement of a popular hymn (no spoilers!), and it seems we just got started when we had to wrap up our engaging conversation. Among other things, we talked about urban congregations, musical whiplash, musical diversity, and the Association for UU Music Ministries (AUUMM).



Association for UU Music Ministries

Come Ye Disconsolate (Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway)


The theramin:

Grégoire Blanc, playing Debussy

Theme from Midsomer Murders (Celia Sheen)



DeReau K. Farrar is Director of Music at First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, which houses the denomination’s largest music program. He is also President-elect of the Association for Unitarian Universalist Music Ministries and a member of that organization’s Conference Planning Committee. He has previously served Unitarian Universalist congregations in Santa Monica and Downtown Los Angeles, California, as well as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Commission on Institutional Change. DeReau is also a regular contributor for WorshipWeb’s Braver/Wiser publication and has written for UUWorld Magazine. Prior to leaving Los Angeles for Portland in 2016, DeReau worked as a freelance music director and vocal contractor for the theater/opera, film, recording, and touring industries. His last films were HBO’s All the Way (2016) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017).

Programming Note: If you were expecting this last week, you weren’t wrong… I had some non-technical issues that caused a delay. But with this episode, we’ll be back on track for alternate Thursdays through May. Yes, I’ll be taking a summer break – be warned – but the Worship Whisperer will come back for Season Two in late August.


In this episode, I chat with Beth Norton, music director at First Parish UU in Concord, Massachusetts. We had a wonderful time talking, about singing congregations, the Association for UU Music Ministries, things they don’t teach you in music school, and the Concord Music Book.



Beth Norton has been Music Director at First Parish since 1994. Beth believes in the power of music to express what is beyond words, to deepen our spiritual experience and to build community. As a singer, conductor, violinist and folk musician, Beth enjoys making music in a wide variety of styles with people of all ages and abilities. She received her BA in Music from Smith College and her MM in Choral Conducting from the Hartt School of Music. Beth has served as the president of the Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network (now the Association for UU Music Ministries), the professional organization for UU musicians and remains an active member.

Matt Meyer has quickly become a household name, with a busy worship and workshop schedule, frequent appearances at General Assembly and other UU gatherings, and his role as Director of Community Life at Sanctuary Boston. Mat sat down with me to talk about that unique community, songleading, the act of singing together, and how we create context for singing together. 



Sanctuary Boston

AUUMM Main Conference

UU Songleaders Convergence



Matt Meyer works professionally as an itinerant UU musician and preacher, having led hundreds of services for UU congregations around the country. He is a founding member and Director of Community Life at the Sanctuary Boston. Matt is also a founding member of the Lucy Stone Cooperative and is a dedicated knitter.

Good news, everyone! I have a new editor, fellow West Wing fanatic and all around great guy, Alex Boruff! His help with the editing makes the show sound better and give me more time to curate and interview amazing guests.

And speaking of amazing guests, you’re in for a treat today – a long treat, because the conversation was just too good. My guest today is the Rev. Jason Shelton.We talked in late November about the radical shifts we’re seeing in Unitarian Universalism, creating worshipful experiences outside of Sunday morning, and the power of music to engage our faith.


Jason Shelton Music

Portara Ensemble

Portara and Carrie Underwood at the Country Music Awards

Hymn: Love Has Already Won



The Rev. Jason Shelton is a Unitarian Universalist minister, musician, and consultant. He served as Associate Minister for Music at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville from 1998-2017. In addition to Jason’s work as a composer (The Fire of Commitment, Answering the Call of Love, Life Calls Us On, and many more!), he is an active choral conductor and worship leader, and an advocate for using music as a means of creating community in multi-faith, multi-cultural environments.

Formerly a Franciscan brother, Jason received an MDiv from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2003 and was ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry in 2004. Jason is also an active participant in Nashville’s vibrant music scene as Artistic Director of Portara Ensemble, a 32-voice auditioned chamber chorus which presents a wide variety of concerts throughout the year and is in-demand for recording sessions and televised performances with some of Nashville’s biggest stars.

Sorry for the one-day delay, folks! Life happens and time is not constant, so there it is. And here it is.

Fortunately, I think the wait is worth it, because my guest is my friend Christian Schmidt, a great minister, a good friend, and a really insightful guy – even if he did call something “very unique.” In this podcast, we talked about co-ministry, sermon length, the festival of homiletics, his love of James Luther Adams, and language choices. 


Links Referenced:

“Revenge” by Elisa Chavez

The Essential James Luther Adams

Festival of Homiletics



The Rev. Christian Schmidt is, with his wife Kristin, one of the senior co-ministers of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, and lives in nearby Pinole, CA. He’s a father, husband, native Texan, singer, football fan, and devotee of barbecue, not necessarily in that order. He’s convinced it’s better to preach for 15 minutes than 25, and nothing you can say will change his mind on this. This is his first-ever appearance on a podcast.

I imagine Meg Riley beams any time two of her former fellows do something together – so get ready, Meg, because two of us have conspired and the result is today’s podcast!

My guest is the Reverend Joanna Fontaine Crawford, who serves Live Oak UU Church in Cedar Park (a suburb in North Austin, Texas.  We talked about technology and what we learned as fellows with the Church of the Larger Fellowship, verboten words and growing up with Unitarian parents.

Last fall, Joanna wrote about the way Live Oak does “whole church worship” at her blog, Boots and Blessings, and we talked a lot about what that looks like in practice.



Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford is a second-generation UU and a seventh generation Texan, a Venn Diagram not often seen. The church she serves, Live Oak UU Church in Cedar Park (a suburb in North Austin) has taken the hashtag #ThatKindOfChurch as their motto, and they’re that kind of church that has children in the entire service at every service, with children and youth often leading hymns, doing readings, and other liturgical elements (as well as spontaneous dancing in the aisles). She and her spouse Tom have four children, but she realizes there may be more effective ways to grow Unitarian Universalism.

I chat with one my favorite fellow michief makers, the Reverend Madelyn Campbell! We chat about showing up, deepening our experiences, and of course Madelyn’s passion, storytelling. 



Network of Biblical Storytellers 

Madelyn’s book, Guide to Storytelling for Military Chaplains



Rev. Madelyn Campbell has been serving as an interim minister in UU congregations for the last four years. She’s currently serving as Interim in the Channing Memorial Church in Ellicott City, Maryland. She’s a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, where she also earned a certificate in the arts and theology, with a concentration in drama and storytelling.  She is a Certified Master Biblical Storyteller, currently the only UU who is a certified biblical storyteller, but she’s hoping to change that.  In her spare time, Madelyn is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree through Wesley Theological Seminary at Wesley House in Cambridge University, England.  She’s pretty sure her project will involve storytelling. She loves Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and has definitely used both in worship.

It was so much fun hanging out with religious educator and UUA Board member Tim Atkins! We chatted about children in worship, storytelling, thinking orange, umbrellas, and the thing that brings Time and I together every May, the Eurovision Song Contest.


Links referenced in the Podcast:

Eurovision Dance Break: 

(and bonus link to my favorite Eurovision Song Contest winner of all time: 

Think Orange:   

Andy Stanley’s Communicating for a Change 

BYU CHoir and Orchestra performing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing: 



Tim Atkins serves as the Director of Lifespan Religious Education at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church. Tim worked for an educational services company in Atlanta for eight years before joining the Morristown (NJ) Unitarian Fellowship, where he served as instructor, curriculum writer, and regional teacher trainer. He previously served the Church of the Larger Fellowship as their Director of Social Media, and as a youth advisor and Religious Education teacher at his former home congregation in Atlanta. He spends his spare time writing, playing board games, trying to change the world, and attempting to reason with his cat Dorothea.

Get ready for another great episode! Rev. Erika Hewitt and I didn’t talk about a ton of things she knows a lot about – like officiating weddings, or multi-generational worship, or designing large scale worship, or life in small town Maine… this time. But we did talk about creating moments, holding energy, theological fights, the challenges of itinerant preaching, and intimacy. 



Erika Hewitt is the UUA’s Minister of Worship Arts and Editor of Braver/Wiser, a weekly spirituality series. In addition to serving the UUA half-time, Erika also serves as the recently installed minister of the Midcoast UU Fellowship in Daramiscotta, Maine, and is a terrific wedding officiant.

Her book of theme-based ministry resources, co-written with educator Becky Brooks, will be published in 2019. Erika’s previous books are Story, Song and Spirit and The Shared Pulpit.

I first knew of Gretchen thanks to her amazing calls to worship, but wow I didn’t know she was some kind of clerical super hero! We talked about creating worship that meets folks where they are, what it means to try new things, generation gaps, surrender, and dance!


Here’s the Rev. Gretchen Haley’s bio, in her own words…

“I’m in my 7th year serving the Foothills Unitarian Church where I am lucky to be a part of an incredible staff team that creates and leads worship and a bunch of other mission-driven ministries together, and where we all feel committed to discovering and creating the liberal church that will serve the emerging future.  I have a couple of degrees and some foundational experiences in theatre, which shape my passion and understanding of worship – especially the justice fueled experimental fringey work of new play development. Equally influential was an encounter with the amazing Kay Northcutt in 2011 that shifted what I understood what we were doing in worship, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime worship experience (think: labyrinth, feet washing, Dr. Seuss, Rosa Parks prayer stations, and more) in the chapel at Candler School of Theology in 2008. If I could get paid to just write calls to worship for people, I might say yes to that.”