Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What I do...

It is not uncommon for someone to ask me, after I explain that I am a minister and a sexologist, "but what exactly do you do?"

Let me tell you about this week.

On Sunday, I did a training for religious education teachers on sexual abuse prevention in church at my home congregation, the Unitarian Church of Westport. After worship, I also did a program for parents of our middle schoolers on talking with them about sexuality issues.

Today, the Religious Institute is convening an outstanding group of fourteen theologians and clergy to develop a new "Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Sexual Difference." We'll begin with a reception this evening hosted by Union Theological Seminary and will work together tomorrow to develop a theological framework for understanding sexual orientation and gender identity and calling for full inclusion. I am so looking forward to working with such people as Rev. Dr. Marvin Ellison, Bangor Seminary, Rev. William Sinkford, the President of the UUA, Dr. Mary Hunt, WATER, and Rev. Barbara Lundblad, Union Theological Seminary on creating this project.

On Friday, I will represent the religious perspective at an invitation-only colloquium sponsored by Columbia University's School of Public Health on the limitations of abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs.

And then I'll leave for Atlanta for the national conference sponsored by National Advocates for Pregnant Women. I'm one of the closing plenary speakers on Sunday morning, and will address faith based perspectives on pregnancy and childbirth.

During this week, I will have the opportunity to address sexual abuse prevention; parents as sexuality educators; sexual orientation and gender identity; adolescent sexuality; reproductive health and rights; and women's health -- all issues that I care deeply about. I am so grateful for my ministry and for those who support the work of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.

Minstry and sexology -- yes, they do go together.


The Emerson Avenger said...

As someone who is concerned with sexual morality and justice you may find this new blog about how the UUA and its Ministerial Fellowship Committee (mis)handles clergy sexual misconduct to be of some interest.

Pam said...

I would love to read or hear your comments to the advocacy for pregnant women's conference. Will these be available at any point? (I am a childbirth educator and breastfeeding counselor and am interested in faith-based approaches to questions of childbearing and childrearing.)

baby221 said...


Just wandered on over here from a comment you left on the Newsweek article, and this post of yours caught my eye. WOW! I wish we'd had someone as sexually-positive as you in my parochial high school; our "sex ed" classes were pretty much limited to preaching abstinence (because girls who have sex too much are like tape that eventually loses its ability to "stick," or roses that've lost all their petals, etc.) and discussing in grave detail the horror of STDs (all of which were unavoidably communicable, nearly always undetectable until your bits n' bobbles rotted off, and none of which were treatable and/or curable). Having finally gotten a proper, body-positive sexual health education in college, it's been something of a desire of mine to go back to my high school and -- well, do what you're doing, pretty much. I think kids these days need messages like yours, ones that are open and honest without attempting to breed shame or fear.

Anyway, that's more than I really meant to write, but I just wanted to say thanks for all the good work you're doing and godspeed :)

Berrysmom said...

Debra, I must confess I'm just a bit envious from my perspective as a UU parish minister. Back in the olden days, PM (pre-ministry), I worked as a mid-level manager for Planned Parenthood in southern California. The work was very clearly focused on a limited number of issues (though the tasks were remarkably like ministry--raise money, work with volunteers, do PR, public speaking, counseling, etc.)

Now that I'm in the parish (have been for 12 years...), I find the wide range of responsibilities to be somewhat distracting. One minute I'm reading in preparation for a sermon, the next I'm attempting to keep two people from biting each others' heads off, the next I'm in a counseling situation over the phone, the next I'm writing copy for the Adult RE brochure. or the new web site.

We say that ministry is the last stronghold of the generalist, and most of the time I like that, but at times I wish I could focus really passionately on one area, as you do in your ministry.

Keep up the good work.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner said...

Berrysmom, thank you. There are times I similarly "envy" my parish minister colleagues who get to develop indepth relationships with a congregation. I am endorsed by the Unitarian Church in Westport, so I do have a congregational home, but I sometimes wish I had more time to preach and offer pastoral care. But, yes, I am very blessed in the ministry I am called to.