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Openly gay man officially introduced as minister

Published November 8, 2006

The Rev. Manish Kumar Mishra, with microphone in center, performs the benediction during his installation service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg on Monday. Mishra, who identifies his relligion as Hindu, which renounces homosexuality, said the church gave him a religious home.
[Times photos: Dirk Shadd]
The Rev. William Sinkford, left, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, shares a laugh with the Rev. Manish Kumar Mishra.


220,000 U.S. members of the Unitarian Universalist Church

620,000 identify themselves as Unitarian Universalists

The Rev. William G. Sinkford, the first African-American to head the predominantly white Unitarian Universalist Association, attends as many installations of new ministers as he can.

Sunday, he made a special effort to be in St. Petersburg, where the Rev. Manish Mishra, a Harvard-educated, openly gay, former diplomat with a South Asian, Hindu heritage, officially became the new minister of the local Unitarian Universalist Church.

Sinkford gave two reasons for his presence. First, Mishra is a friend, he said. Second, his denomination wants to make sure it nurtures its minority ministers. "The success of these ministers is very important to me and Unitarian Universalism and we're working hard to help them succeed," he said.

That commitment was evident Sunday with the unusual presence of both Sinkford and the denomination's moderator. Clergy and laity from Unitarian Universalist churches from Florida and various parts of the country also traveled to St. Petersburg for the service.

Mishra, 35, is the son of orthodox Hindu Indian immigrants. He was ordained in 2005 and most recently was the interim associate minister at the Unitarian Church in Westport, Conn.

In addition to a master's degree from Harvard Divinity School, the former diplomat has a bachelor of science in foreign service from Georgetown University and speaks seven languages.

Before Mishra's installation, Sinkford talked to Neighborhood Times about Unitarian Universalist involvement in some of today's most controversial issues.

Top among them, he said, are marriage equality for sexual minorities, the Iraq war, global warming and Darfur. Just 18 months ago, Sinkford, 60, was among those arrested in front of the Sudanese Embassy during a protest against the Darfur genocide.

"It's an exciting time for Unitarian Universalism," Sinkford said. "For too long, we have allowed the values of the fundamentalist religious right to be the only religious voice in the public square and although they have a perfect right to express their point of view, it certainly is not the only religious point of view."

The Unitarian Universalist denomination has no creed and accepts all faiths and beliefs, including paganism. Followers are guided by a set of principles. The organization, which has opposed discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals since 1970, was created when Unitarians merged with Universalists in 1961.

Sunday, a smiling Mishra entered his church at 719 Arlington Ave. N, part of a joyful procession that set the stage for the afternoon's celebration with the South African song, Siyahamba, which in English means "We Are Marching in the Light of God."

Gini Courter, the denomination's moderator, said the St. Petersburg congregation has chosen well. The church, which was founded in 1914, took a number of steps to prepare for its new minister, she said. By refurbishing and renovating its 1929 Spanish revival building, the congregation has "created a place for growth" to become a stronger religious presence in St. Petersburg.

During last weekend's service, Mishra's mentor, friend and former supervisor, the Rev. Mary J. Harrington of Winchester, Mass., described him as "a finely cut gem."

She praised his integrity, ability to listen and boundless energy and told members of his new congregation to mix and meld Mishra's gifts with their own for the journey ahead.

[Last modified November 8, 2006, 07:31:16]

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