Our Minister

Reverend Carmen Emerson responded to the call to serve Greater Nashville UU in August 2015.

Reverend Carmen Emerson responded to the call to serve Greater Nashville UU in August 2015.



“The world owes us nothing. We owe each other the world…”
- Ani Difranco

I love the variety and unpredictability of Unitarian Universalist ministry because I love the variety and unpredictability of the people I serve: beautiful and imperfect; bold and stubborn; yearning for acceptance and belonging; striving and determined to make a difference with their hearts, heads, and hands, to give each other a just and peaceful world.

As a minister whose core theology is simply and profoundly this — we need each other — I am in good company and made better by the variety and unpredictability of those I serve. To serve you well requires that I be nimble, firm, humble, faithful, and loving…always loving.

I want to be clear that I am not speaking of a sentimental love, an obligatory love, or a superficial love of convenience and good intentions. I am speaking about a fierce and steadfast love born of trust and respect for one another and for the covenantal faith we choose to practice, together.

I am speaking about a fierce and steadfast love that gets us out of our comfort zones and into the justice- and peace-making work of loving our neighbors and showing up for the things that matter to us because, as George L. Bell wrote, “We can pretend to care. We can’t pretend to show up.”

I am speaking of the kind of fierce and steadfast love that creates and holds safe and sacred spaces where we dare to be vulnerable with one another and held accountable to our covenant, mission and vision – and therefore I am speaking of the fierce and steadfast love practiced by graceful and maturing people of faith willing to increase self-awareness and to deepen our understandings of one another because we know that this strengthens our life-affirming capacities for compassion, joyful gratitude, and transformation.

It is this last piece — transformation — that challenges us so. It can be so painful that we forget the miracle it is. “All change is a miracle to contemplate,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “…a miracle which is taking place every second.” Please know that I consider it a profound privilege to minister to you in times of transformation — bearing witness to your lives, encouraging you, teaching you, challenging you, comforting you, and supporting you — through ordinary and extraordinary times of change.

It is my style of ministry to immerse myself in the life of the Congregation. I don’t know how to do this work honorably other than to go deep with you and feel connected to you — we need each other — and this requires presence, time, awareness and healthy boundaries. It is my experience that each area of ministry — worship & rites of passage, pastoral care, faith formation, social justice/faith in action, and stewardship of our time, talent, and treasure — each area of ministry informs, influences and strengthens every other area of ministry. It is a matter of integrity.

Please know that I do not take fierce and steadfast love, or the trust of those I serve, for granted. I am reminded of the responsibilities and privileges of ministry by this framed mantra I keep on my desk: “Be strong. Be kind. Speak true.” You should know that the core impulse running through each area of my ministry with you will be this one: in the work of this moment how may I be a bold and faithful leader in service to the creative and transforming power of Love present within, among, and beyond us.

Covenant with Our Minister

I covenant with you to take exquisite risks; to be strong, to be kind, and to speak true; that we may deepen our connections to one another; practicing true compassion and forgiveness; building our courage to be vulnerable and powerful; all in the service of love and justice.

mary early-zald.jpg

Our Intern Minister

Hello! I am Mary Early-Zald, the Intern Minister here at this year. My favorite Nashville restaurant is Monell's, because we have the chance to sit around a community table, where strangers can share a meal and become friends.

If I were to sum up my ministry in one word, that word would be hospitality.

Mine is a bi-vocational internship, as I spend half my time here and half at Launch Pad Nashville, an organization who focuses on providing LGBTQI+ affirming shelter to young adults. My ministry is radical pastoral care with marginalized young people and my call is to be in solidarity with those most affected by systemic oppression, to heal its suffering- and prevent its death-dealing effects.

My theology grounds itself in the dynamic, imminent, cosmic, cellular, molecular, interpersonal, and intrapersonal power of Love. I seek to integrate a UU liberation theology with this grounding. So, I start from Love and this fuels my connection to being with folks in the margins, centering their experiences, reading text through their "eyes." Justice, then peace. Jeremiah 6:14 speaks to the importance of justice before false Shalom (peace) saying "They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying Peace, Peace, when there is no peace." So, I look forward to taking my theological grounding into caring with young people "beyond the walls," as well as congregational work in creative settings. In this, I seek to create spaces of hospitality, where all feel welcome and affirmed at the community table.

I hold a Masters of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt, and a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. I also hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Nebraska. I was born in Santa Monica, California, and have moved quite a bit; the Pacific Northwest is the only part of the Continental US in which I have not lived. I am married to David Zald, a professor in psychology and neuroscience, and our daughter is a senior at Earlham College. I enjoy musical theater, film, all kinds of music, dancing, cooking, hiking, travel, cultural studies, activism, and high intensity fitness. I am a candidate for UU ministry, planning to finish my credentialing process in Spring 2019, and hope to be ordained in August. 
I am thrilled to be in community with you. I invite you to follow my online ministry at Facebook and Instagram.


Learn More


Our Ministries

To learn more about our ministries, like Worship & Music Arts, Religious Education, Covenant Groups, Fellowship, Pastoral Care/Caring, Social Action & Outreach, and our Building and Still Springs Park, click Our Ministries.


Our Leaders

To learn more about our leaders at Greater Nashville UU, click Our Leadership.