About Me

I hold a BA in Society & Health from Simmons College in Boston and a MA in Ethics and Social Theory from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Currently, I am completing a PhD in Sociology, while I teach and serve as advisor to MDiv/MA students at Starr King School for the Ministry.  I live in Hollywood, California and travel frequently to the San Francisco Bay Area.

As semesters unfolded as an adjunct professor and doctoral student, I realized that my vocation was ministry– to serve–not simply in research or in teaching. While I was serving as a faculty member at Starr King School for the Ministry, I decided to actively pursue ministerial fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association. I completed a full-time parish internship at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego and a unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.  I will see the ministerial fellowship committee within the next couple years.

In a similar series of realizations, I became more interested in the relationships among religion/spirituality and health as I moved along the path of ministry and scholarship in sociology. I try to bring a chaplain’s heart to my research interests in medical sociology. My doctoral dissertation project is a phenomenological study (in the Heideggerian tradition) on the religious/spiritual experiences of women of color coping with congestive heart failure.

I enjoy leading worship, supporting leaders, and providing spiritual care.

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Dear UUA Board: Yes, yes, yes!

April 21, 2017

Dear UUA Board,

I woke up this morning, remembering how much gratitude I have to Black organizing and people of color led movements. I also recalled how often Unitarian Universalism has lauded itself on involvement in civil rights movements, and movements that emerged from and followed the lead of Black and brown organizers (in struggles for GLBT rights, marriage equality, women’s rights, youth movements). I sat in gratitude for how these leaders, scholars, theologians, and ministers have shaped me.

Fourteen years ago, my own role and voice on the UUA Board as the first voting youth trustee-at-large was indebted to this history in tangible ways. I recall feeling the support and the charge from youth of color organizers and their allies in YRUU and the Groundwork Collective– those who were naming their realities and putting into practice the lessons from Black and POCI movement elders in our own faith community, and those leaders across the US working across gender and class to win and struggle for racial justice. Two of my mentors and peers from that time are among you: Elandria Williams and Gregory Boyd.

I admit then it felt like immense pressure, and I felt inadequate every step of the way. When the two-year term came to a close, I sobbed through the entire Trustee farewell party. The ENTIRE PARTY. As I observe and dig into this moment and observe your meetings, I am beginning to understand more of the reasons I cried a blend of happy-sad tears that day. I am curious if some of your tears, dear Board members, are of a similar blend.

Today, I see our faith as more broken-open than broken down. I observe more opportunity than fear. I know that $5.3 million for Black Lives of UU is a big commitment, but not nearly as big as what Unitarian Universalism has already accomplished and applauded itself for, on the backs of Black, people of color, and indigenous peoples’ organizing. As a white UU, this turning point represents an opportunity to more fully inhabit my faith: to integrate the part of my faithfulness and call to leadership that have been in deep gratitude and indebtedness to Black and POC organizing, and still broken-hearted, dreaming old dreams not-my-own of what a liberating faith might look like. I know there is JOY in following the leadership of people of color in ministry and in religious education. White people have meaningful work to do, for which there is no substitute or alternative in building a Beloved Community. I am so grateful to be able to witness Black and POCI leadership, and to be listening deeply enough to follow. This is a life force. It keeps me tethered to my faith.

Uncomfortable is not a crisis. It is a necessary step in a movement of embodying the vision of a transformative faith. 
At 33 and still starting out in ministry, I hope to welcome at least a couple of generations into the religion you are unearthing and affirming right now. Thank you.

One of the most memorable imperatives I recall from my time on the UUA Board was the advice, “don’t forget to count the ‘Yes’ votes.” At times, voices supporting our actions would feel softer or quieter than the no’s, than the fear, than the threats, than the spewed and spun misinformation. There is a tremendous YES for what you are collaborating in right now–authorizing funding of BLUU, for bringing three brilliant and fiercely relational interim co-presidents, and for redesigning hiring processes — for countering white supremacy and not shying away from complexity and ambiguity. Yes, yes, yes.

I am grateful for your leadership and eager to support this transformation. Keep going!

Sincerely,

Megan R. Dowdell

Visiting Asst Professor of Ethics and Society, Starr King School for the Ministry

UUA Board, 2003-2005

UUA Commission on Appraisal, 2007-2015

 

With Open Arms and Heart

1/16/17

With open arms and an open heart, I have been on a journey of educational and vocational training since Fall 2006. Along the way, I have served Unitarian Universalism and a variety of organizations and causes. As the process draws quickly to its final goals, I keep this post updated to provide current information related to my whereabouts, activities, and availability.

Currently, I am available for preaching and other short-term leadership in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond. After completing clinical pastoral education at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in May 2017, I will seek a position in which I can contributes to the health and spiritual depth of communities and congregations in the greater Los Angeles area through teaching, research, and religious leadership. I will complete my Ph.D. in Sociology by Spring 2018.arm out preaching
From August 2015 to June 2016, I served as the full-time Intern Minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego, California. After my position at First Church ended, I returned to complete my doctoral dissertation (remotely) in Sociology at the University of California San Francisco and continue the final stages of attaining ministerial fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Since 2009, I have taught at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian University identity theological school and member school of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California. I have been serving in the role of academic advisor and the visiting assistant professor of ethics and society since 2014.

I am a proud member of the Greater Los Angeles Ministers (GLAM) cluster meeting in the UU Ministers Association’s Pacific Southwest Chapter, member of the American Sociological Association, and the International Association of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics.los-angeles-1675489_1920

Course: Sexual Ethics


Sexuality is sacred. 

Sexual Ethics, with Megan Dowdell, is an intensive course that examines the role of sexual health for faith communities and their leaders.

It is offered through Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union.

sexual-ethicsStudents engage key theological, ethical, and public health perspectives on themes in sexual ethics, including:

  • sexual freedom and responsibility
  • pleasure and desire
  • relationships
  • meaningful consent
  • power
  • prophetic witness for sexual justice

The course serves two purposes for graduate students: it provides a rigorous and supportive academic environment to explore these themes and relevant questions through deep reflection and the co-creation of knowledge. Also, for those students pursuing professional forms of ministry and religious leadership, it is an opportunity to develop and demonstrate their competency in professional clergy sexual ethics and promoting sexually healthy congregations.

Particular emphasis is paid to multi-religious, queer, and womanist/feminist voices on sexuality and faith. This dedication is integrated throughout the course instruction and reflected in the selected readings, forms of dialogue, and pathways to learning provided. Students will not be required to have prior experience in ethics, theology, or philosophy, but those entering without formal preparation in ethics or sociology will need to complete brief introductory reading in addition to the readings and written assignments required for the first day of the seminar. A final project will be announced and turned into the instructor at an assigned date/time.

The general structure is a week-long seminar that meets Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm, with ample time provided for nourishing food, spiritual practices, breaks, and solo study time. Students who expect to successfully complete the course should not plan to miss any sessions during the week. Also, they can expect to spend up to three hours on (at least two) weekday evenings, completing additional reading or assignments, possibly in a small group.

Educating Religious Leaders

Megan is the visiting assistant professor of ethics and society at Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union, where she has taught since 2009.

She offers a warm introduction to academically rigorous material and real-world applications of new knowledge and skills.

Megan’s pedagogical style is responsive to feminist, queer, and liberatory methods. She embraces student input and self-reflection, wishing to help religious leaders to develop embodied, critical perspectives on issues that span multiple viewpoints, contexts, and concerns. She uses dialogue, multimedia, and case study analysis to cultivate shared meaning that “sticks” with you — take what you learn in the classroom into your professional life and communities.

Courses Taught, 2009-2016

Introduction to Thea/ological Ethics

Community Intern Integrative Seminar

Health Ethics

Sexual Ethics

Dynamic Youth Ministry

Resilience & Resistance

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Prayer for Memorial Day, 2016

On Memorial Day, we honor those men and women who have died while in military service. The day also gives the opportunity to recognize living veterans who continue to struggle with their experiences overseas and the hardship of reintegrating their lives at home.

I’ve heard veterans speak of the “deaths” carried in their hearts and minds, friends they lost in combat, and the pieces of their own souls, forever needing repair and compassion.

When someone passes in our community, we often learn of their achievements, their hobbies and friends, and their fully human lives.On this day, we recognize veterans who served and died, honoring their fully human lives, dedicated and vulnerable, courageous and fragile.

As the memorial poet John McCrae writes: “In flanders fields,” they “lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved.”

 5/29/2016

Would you like to use my words?
Please use full citation for print and web. Please use my name for worship or speech. If you can, send me a message to let me know.

A Desire Prayer

Spirit of Life, help us to see that each life is a miracle,

how our expression of ourselves is not simply born at birth but emerges as our genes and this wild human existence intertwine.

Show us that who we love, what we love, and why, are woven in a rich plaid tapestry of identity and desire.
Help us to become deeply connected to each other’s soul.
Help us to call each other by our “true names.”
Help others to see us.
Help us to stay open, humbly see the beauty in each person’s expression of themselves
on any given day.
Help us to affirm the patchwork of qualities

that make us who we are

that make us happy

that make us beautiful.

Help us to welcome the stranger and the outcast,
help us to see each other whole.
For this and more, we are so grateful.
Amen.

12/6/2015

Would you like to use my words?
Please use full citation for print and web. Please use my name for worship or speech. If you can, send me a message to let me know.

Course: Health Ethics

January 2016. Health and medicine lie at the intersection of thea/ologies, morals, and our bodies. This course draws from theological, philosophical, and sociological perspectives to examine the foundations of bioethics and the complexities of health, illness and health care. Through analyzing ethical principles, moral questions and clinical cases, the course will address key issues in bioethics, such as death and dying, access to health care, medical research, reproductive justice, and social movements for health. Special attention will be paid to cutting edge discussions of social determinants of health and the perspectives of historically marginalized communities. Through this interactive course that maximizes the use of exciting web and multimedia resources, religious leaders and scholars will equip themselves with the biopolitical knowledge and skills to reflect on the sacred–and the controversial–with their faith communities.

A live, in-person or web-based, seminar, in which we:

  • center the perspectives of historically marginalized people;
  • disrupt the boundaries of ethics and ministry;
  • redefine and define again the multiple terms of “life or death” issues;
  • build supportive community of religious leaders concerned about health, illness, and bodies
  • connect bioethics to public ministry, social movements for health, and what we value

This course is offered through Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

Course: Counter-Oppressive Sociologies

Fall 2015. Rich sociological traditions offer tools and knowledge for dismantling systems of oppression, creating social change, and building just faith communities. This online course offers an introduction to the critical analysis of social behavior, organization, and institutions for faith leaders and religion scholars. Students engage foundational texts and empirical research relevant to human experience as well as religious tradition, in order to develop theoretical and substantive bodies of knowledge as well as interpretive skills. Focus areas include feminist theory, affect, postcolonial thought, biopower, social movements, and critical race theories, among others. In each weekly unit, central questions address the nature of human action; the role of State power and ideology; notions of self, “other,” and agency; and systemic oppression and social change. The course requires weekly on-line discussion and frequent live video sessions. Students complete a final project by producing a photo essay as part of an online exhibit.

My Teaching Philosophy

I am a feminist doing interdisciplinary work in ethics and sociology in undergraduate and graduate education, as well as community and congregational settings.

My objective is to provide public, pastoral and collaborative teaching that ultimately promotes the health and wholeness of communities and vulnerable populations.

I guide students in responding to womanist/Black feminist challenges to traditional or well-represented scholarship and using intersectional methods to address real-world ethical and social problems. #blacklivesmatter

I am inspired by my personal experiences, relationships and observations, which keep me grounded and hold me accountable to anti-racist, feminist methodologies, pedagogies, and community organizing.

I bring an enthusiasm about the relationships between congregational life, ministry-activism and academic scholarship to my teaching ministry.

Pedogogical Framework

I value structure and freedom equally in my approach to course design and classroom management: providing safe containers for critical engagement with scholarship, and the opportunity to cultivate knowledge that spills out onto the streets.

I value rigorous academic work and inviting joy in the research and writing process.

I believe the classroom (on-line or residential) is an opportunity for mutual appreciation, serious inquiry, and application of theoretical and substantive material to professional and ministerial contexts.

I encourage further academic study to reward one’s passions and develop engaged scholarship that contributes to emerging and ongoing dialogues about important moral and societal issues.

My courses invite:

  • Praxis – rigorous reflection and action that takes place within the classroom as well as in coalition building among students and groups/individuals outside of the academy walls;
  • Co-learning and Peer support – built-in opportunities for collaborative work among students and an environment of collegial support for writing, research and leadership;
  • Marginalized voices – including voices other than those of the instructors, seeking out sources that are excluded from and challenge traditional/overly represented scholarship;
  • Historical consciousness – teaching and learning takes place in a socio-historical context, in which courses are building blocks toward lifelong learning goals, resting on shoulders of other teachers, ancestors and traditions;
  • Rigorous, counter-oppressive research – intellectual work that is accessible, anti-racist, anti-oppressive and liberatory is necessary to create/sustain just communities.

Beyond Interdisciplinary – Interstitial

I often teach through an interstitial lens, exploring the “negative” and “unexplored” space among disciplines and areas of academic and professional interests.  I recognize the need for education to violate traditional norms in order to find the place where students might come together to produce knowledge that adequately responds to issues of justice and care.