Reflections: Get To Know the New DRE

by Amanda Uluhan, Director of Religious Education

Please read this letter sharing some things about my life with you all. As we begin a new fall season here at the church, I look forward to getting to know you all more as well. Please join me in our fall programs for children and youth! I’ve worked at East Shore Unitarian Church for nearly four years, being hired in the fall of 2016 as the High School Youth Programs Coordinator eventually growing into the Religious Education Programs Coordinator. Now serving on the Staff Leadership Team, as Director of Religious Education (DRE), I am grateful for my expanded leadership in service and my ministry to the children, youth, and families at East Shore. I look forward to continuing our long-standing tradition of encouraging an ethical upbringing and a vibrant congregational life by investing in multigenerational programming.

My ancestors were religiously eclectic and varied, with some staunch Atheists, Agnostics, and devotedly non-religious; others were Jews, Catholics, and Congregationalists. I, however, was raised Unitarian Universalist. My parents found Unitarian Universalism like so many young families do, coming from the disparate religious traditions and secular-leaning households, yet still wanting the bounty and bonding a community of faith can offer.

When I was a toddler, my parents reconnected with UU at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Monmouth County, in Lincroft, NJ. We loved their multigenerational community with a vibrant and young religious education program, strong female minister and strong female religious educator.

In elementary school, I was enraptured by pagan and wiccan traditions, with a natural affiliation to the outdoors and the tactile and sensory abundance of the animals, plants, and soil that surrounded me. In my childhood congregation, I remember our Secret Pals program, getting stickers and letters in the mail from a congregant, and then at the end of the program, revealing my new friend. I remember learning about world religions, studying the Bible, The Old Testament, and a bit of the Quran. We also had an annual winter wreath making fair, bending bows and singing songs, which I still recall fondly.

Later, with a love of cooking, food, and animals, I became a vegetarian and spent a lot of my time exploring and learning about the subtle nature of sentient creatures and the unseen psycho-spiritual realms such as paranormal activity and ESP. I remember, so clearly, my fascination with the hidden nature of the universe and the budding interest in our interconnectedness.

In middle school, my life was marked with a move out West, to Redmond, WA, resettling to my mom’s family of origin location. We began attending East Shore, and I participated in the Coming of Age program. In high school, I participated in East Shore’s youth group, youth conferences, and some special events. I remember several adult congregants who mentored me, and made a positive impact on my own self-awareness and confidence.

Alongside my participation in spiritual growth, I also took on activism, something I found to be born directly out of our Unitarian Universalist principles. I remember Columbine and the mark of the first major school shooting. In 1999, I was in music class when my teacher announced she wasn’t going to be there the next day because she was attending WTO protests. In 2001, I woke up on September 11, having just visited New York City and the World Trade Center several weeks prior, to news of the airplane hijacking and crashes. I was shaken and devastated. Each event filtered into my nervous system and buried itself in my body. I recall these life-changing, collective traumas to help me hold more gracefully the service and ministry I do in the world. I was compelled to do something to help.

In high school, I formed a group called Students for Peace, and organized walkouts, demonstrations, and participation in the mass movement against the war on Iraq in Seattle. I knew I wanted to make the world a more peaceful place. The Seven Principles are an integral part of my core being.

While receiving my undergraduate degree from the University of Washington, I studied Comparative Religion and Comparative History, and became particularly interested in the relationship between social movements, religion, and systems of power and politics. I actively explored Meeting Houses and the Quaker tradition, continued participation in some Unitarian Universalist services, and reached outside of the Christian tradition into Buddhist, Hindu, and Pagan traditions. I practiced several forms of meditation, including Sri Chimnoy, Vipassana (insight), Shambhala, and Transcendental Meditation. I also learned from Hare Krishnas, Vedanta Hindus, Kundalini Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Reclaiming Wicca traditions. Throughout these diverse and pluralistic religious explorations, what I continued to seek was found—community, awareness, and meaning.

Using spiritual practices of meditation, deep inner reflection, silence, and ritual and celebration, have helped me to overcome personal suffering, guide my life’s direction, and grow my ability to serve.

Married to a Muslim man and recently becoming a parent, I am entering into a new chapter of my life as a parent in a multifaith, pluralistic family. Both of my parents, Lynn Roesch and Arthur Knapp, are and continue to be active members of East Shore. You’ll find my mother involved in Indigenous Allyship and social justice ministries, and my father, a lifelong guitar player, involved in music. My husband, Melih, is often in the background, helping me to understand religion outside of my implicitly Christian lens, and volunteering behind the scenes for the children and youth programs. His faith in me is steadfast. Thank you, East Shore friends and families, for your continued companionship on our shared spiritual journey. As your Director of Religious Education, I look forward to learning more about each of you and to growing our support of Unitarian Universalist children, youth, and families.