Rev. Denise Cawley

Dear UUCCWC Family:

Beloveds, I am so happy to be your new minister. Getting to know some of your leaders has been a delight. I have been meeting with your regional and national leaders at the UUA to be ready to both hold your history and execute your vision to make beautiful ministry together when I start on August 15, 2020.

I am a collaborative strategic leader. I am here to help you build capacity, expand your hearts, and connect you with one another through worship, pastoral care, and social justice. I am looking forward to getting to know all of you as we jump into the 2020-21 church year. I believe spiritual practice is integral to living. I care about using worship and ritual to center ourselves. I am an artist and I use visuals in ministry to meditate and communicate. (Watch a great example of how I do that in my ordination video

I come to you at a time of great change both in the congregation and in the world. Following a minister who was with a congregation as long as Rev. Christine was, might bring excitement and worry. I get that. I know we can only move at the speed of trust. Pandemic makes life more complicated. I will spend time listening and bringing a sense of curiosity about who you are and how you view the world. I am interested in learning your stories, hearing about how you interpret your personal theology and discovering how you put your faith in action. I want to hear you express the vision you have for UUCCWC in your own words.

At this time, you budgeted for a half-time ministry. I will not be able to do all the things a full-time minister does, even though I will want to. Please help support me in that.

I live in Milwaukee, WI with my thirteen-year-old son Aidan and my two fluffy dogs Henry the Bearded Collie and Teddy the Havanese.

I will be serving you virtually. I have experience doing that, as the UU congregation I have served for two years in Kenosha, Wisconsin also did all ministry virtually since Covid-19 shut-downs.

My history includes providing spiritual and emotional care chaplaincy at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. I have been a pivotal player in diversity, inclusion, marriage equality and voting rights for three decades. Ask me about working with the ACLU on landmark marriage equality cases. I support transgender and gender non-binary victims of violence through my relationship with FORGE and I created a transgender ministry at Bradford UU. I identify as queer and started one of the first and largest LGBT community centers in the country over 20 years ago. I also returned there to do turn-around public relations, capacity building and fundraising when that center was in trouble seven years ago. I trained lay leaders and ministers at The Salvation Army in a 13-state region in issues of anti-racism and LGBT equality, helping them to create more inclusive ministries. I have worked on justice issues in both rural and metropolitan communities, working with business, government and non-profit leaders.

Whether I was holding the hand of an un-homed young mom, teaching interview skills to a Black transgender youth or helping an unemployed former executive access health-care, all the resources I could connect them to meant nothing if the person didn’t feel loved or like they were part of a vital community. Frequently, trauma from their faith of origin prevented them from feeling worthy. I went to seminary because accompanying people through their darkest hours was a wakeup call to my soul. I was a long-time Unitarian Universalist and a lay leader. My call to become a fellowshipped UU minister went from a persistent whisper to a howling demand. I was credentialed by the Ministerial Fellowship Committee last year. I graduated with a Master of Divinity from our largest UU seminary – Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, Illinois where I studied subjects like Humanism, Buddhism, Queer and Feminist Theologies, trauma response, pastoral care, ministerial arts, Christian History, Biblical Studies and UU History.

Covid-19 postponed my ordination three times but it finally took place Sunday, July 26th. After signing our ministerial contract Friday, July 24th, I asked your leadership to wait to release my name to you because ordination is such a significant event and I wanted to be able to be fully prepared for the holy day and properly present for my introduction to you. The ordination had over 30 ministers and lay leaders sharing messages, art and music. You can watch the ordination– there is a message for you all in the “Call to the Congregations” that the Reverend Erik David Carson gives toward the end of the service. Access the video of the ordination here on the front page of the website: – just scroll down and watch it on the front of the website. Also, the ordination program is here.

I love walking by big bodies of water. My art is a vivid part of my spiritual practice. I am also a renowned fiber artist in the Midwest. Here are a few examples:

Ministry is a way for me to combine my greatest loves of advocacy, social justice, art, reading and writing into my life’s calling, to inspire people to love.

I look forward to meeting you all and creating beauty in our ministry together.


Rev. Denise

Learn more about my theology here.