Rev. Mark Stringer was called as our minister in May of 2001 and began serving the following August. His inspired ministry with our congregation and in the community has modeled the spirit of the words we use to close our services each week: “open to life, expecting to love, and prepared to serve.”
In recognition of Mark’s ministry at First Unitarian Church Des Moines, he received the Unitarian Universalist Association’s 2007 Westwood Grant, an award given, according to the Association, “… to a UU minister who has shown an exceptional entrepreneurial spirit in congregational leadership…” A number of his sermons have been published in the UUA’s Church of the Larger Fellowship publication Quest and on the website of the Human Rights Campaign. In 2014, he was invited to offer the Sunday sermon at the UUA General Assembly held in Providence, RI. In 2016, he contributed an essay to the Skinner House publication, Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism, edited by Fred Muir.
Mark’s commitment to service extends into the broader community. He is an active leader in the central Iowa Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) [www.amosiowa.org], including three years of service as the board chair of Project IOWA [www.projectiowa.org], an AMOS-instigated workforce development effort that serves as a bridge for unemployed and underemployed Central Iowans into career-track employment. During his six years as a board member of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, including two years as chair, he promoted the positive, healing role of religion in public life, defended the separation of church and state, and spoke on behalf of marriage as a civil right. On August 31, 2007, in the front yard of his Des Moines home, Mark officiated at Iowa’s first legally recognized same-sex wedding, an event drawing nationwide media exposure. In 2012, the Interfaith Alliance honored him with a “Faith and Freedom” award.
A native of Akron, Ohio, Mark is a graduate of Chicago’s Meadville Lombard Theological School, for which he serves as an Adjunct Professor of Ministerial Formation. He holds an MA degree in theatre from Bowling Green State University and a BA degree in Theatre and English from Ashland University. Before discerning his call to the Unitarian Universalist ministry, Mark taught English composition at Chicago State University and communication at Ashland University. He also performed in national tours as a professional actor, and facilitated diversity awareness workshops sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. Mark lives in Des Moines with his wife Susan and their two daughters.
Associate Minister of Social Justice
Rev. Erin Gingrich began as our first Associate Minister of Social Justice in August 2014. Her newly created position was charged to organize, nurture, focus, and support our current and future ministries of justice within and outside of the church.
Erin’s commitment to social justice is woven throughout her life. She studied social inequality as an Anthropology and Women’s Studies major at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. While an undergrad, she volunteered at a homeless shelter and a shelter for battered women. In the decade following graduation, Erin worked as a community educator at a rape crisis center, served at-risk youth at an alternative high school, and directed leadership development programs for youth and adults to make desired changes in their communities. These experiences deepened her understanding and questions about social inequality, culminating in her desire to attend seminary.
Upon graduating from Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, she was called to serve as the minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston, Virginia, from 2010-2013. During that time, she engaged in congregationally based community organizing through a local affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). While a variety of tools may be used to address social problems — direct service work, education and awareness raising, advocacy and community organizing — Erin learned first-hand how congregations and groups of concerned citizens can organize their power to make difficult and much needed changes in their communities.
Since joining our congregation, Erin has focused on learning more about our congregation’s members, passions, concerns, skills, opportunities and strategies for putting our faith into action. Working with teams of members she is striving to ensure that our social justice ministries are working toward meeting the congregation’s defined ends statements.
Erin lives in Des Moines with her husband Joshua and their son. While she has lived in Illinois, Vermont, California, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, and Washington, D.C, she was born in Cedar Rapids and is excited to be exploring her home state.