Religions come together in Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ames


Chris Jorgensen/Iowa State Daily

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames (UUFA) sits on Hayward Ave.

Talon Delaney

Atheists, Christians, Wiccans and people from all walks of life form a single Ames congregation. This proverbial melting pot sounds like a setting for cutthroat disagreements, but instead manages to bring people together.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames (UUFA) believes in full theological inclusivity. People of any faith can visit them and share ideas about humanism in modern times.

It’s all about living in a way that will leave the world in a better state than when we came into it, and that’s becoming harder each day,” said Rev. Kent McKusick, UUFA minister.

He believes it’important for people to reconcile dire issues in these times of tension and division.”

During a Sunday sermon on Sept. 10, McKusick brought attention to the effects of climate change when he discussed devastating forest fires and hurricanes afflicting the U.S., and a problem of “indifference to others” in light of the president’s DACA repeal.

“We support our fellow Unitarian Universalist organizations that serve as sanctuaries for immigrants,” McKusick said, and added that UUFA unfortunately lacks the proper amenities to offer the same services. 

The fellowship sits along natural slope with trees and shrubbery in its Hyland Avenue backdrop a stone’s throw east of Iowa State’s campus. Here, the congregation meets throughout the week, and McKusick ministers the occasional sermon concerning issues of local, national and international relevance. 

McKusick is the third minister to serve the UUFA in the organization’s 65 years. Sarah Carlson, an ISU grant coordinator and member of the fellowship, remembers times when services were held without a “leader.”

“We’d all meet on Sundays, and we still had structure without a leader, but as our fellowship grew, we thought it would be a good idea to choose a minister,” said Carlson. Unitarian Universalist fellowships receive applications from potential ministers, and choose the best fit for their congregation. 

Carlson is now a lay leader for UUFA and serves on the chair of Sunday Services, and she isn’t the only member of the ISU faculty who visits the congregation. McKusick’s predecessor, Brian Eslinger, taught part-time at Iowa State during his ministry, and now works full-time as a professor of religious studies. 

“[The UUFA] tries to create a religious community that respects all paths and beliefs,” Eslinger said. He believes the fellowship is an accepting place to grow, even for people who grew up without religious traditions. 

McKusick’s path to Ames was a winding one. He suffered from polio in his early childhood and struggled with disabilities early in life. However, he pushed the limits of his ailments and became a ski instructor in his teens. McKusick later became a river guide in the northeastern wilderness. 

After a river rapid injury forced him out of work, McKusick took a job as a banker, and performed with a theatre troupe in his night-life. It was around this time McKusick lost his greatest “spiritual guide” with the death of his mother in the late ’90s. 

“I was raised Methodist, but I was always a bit of a heretic,” McKusick said. “I learned a lot from my mother, and I had a lot of spiritual problems after she died.” 

In a chance sequence, a Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Maine invited and welcomed McKusick to their congregation after hosting his theatre troupe. Later, McKusick was fired from his position as a banker and pursued a seminary at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California. 

 “I can feel my own beliefs being molded along with the people I minister,” McKusick said. 

Before coming to Ames, he was ordained by two Unitarian Universalist fellowships in New Hampshire. He’s been with the UUFA for almost six years, and lives along the outskirts of the Ames city limits with his husband, James.