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Morales returns for church celebration

Posted: Tuesday, Sep 22nd, 2009

Former Sentinel publisher now head of UU church

Former Sentinel publisher Peter Morales left Cottage Grove to attend seminary school in the mid-90s. And has he been busy since.

Morales returned to Cottage Grove briefly Saturday for his first visit in 13 years as president of the Unitarian Universalist Church, a theologically liberal religion characterized by its support for a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” He preached Sunday at the congregation in Eugene that introduced him and his wife, Phyllis, to the church community he had longed for.

Morales’ time at the Sentinel began in 1989. After four years’ ownership of the Rogue River Press, his interest in community news brought Morales to Cottage Grove as a consultant and trainer in the brand-new field of desktop publishing. He served as publisher until 1995 as his daughter attended Cottage Grove schools. During that time, Unitarian Universalist friends implored him to give the church a try.

“I had always wanted to be a part of something like a church community,” he said. “But I had found most churches to be far too rigid and conservative. I liked that the church is not creedal. You are not asked to say that you believe in A, B, C or D. The church doesn’t tell you what to believe, it emphasizes an individual search for spirituality.”

As his involvement with the church increased, Morales left Oregon to minister to a congregation in Colorado.

“There is a tradition of freedom of the pulpit,” he said. “Because the church came from the Protestant tradition, the services are similar. We have hymns and sermons, but the sermons tend to explore one person’s point of view on life and social issues.”

As Morales became more involved in national issues within the church, he began to entertain the idea of running to become its president. In June of 2009, he prevailed in a tightly contested campaign.

“It’s a pretty amazing thing for someone who’s only been a minister for 10 years,” he said.

Morales said his experience with community journalism may have been the edge he needed to excel at the job.

“The real difference may have been that not many ministers have experience in larger organizations and their management,” he said. “The experience I gained at the Sentinel has proved extremely valuable.”

Morales also drew parallels between the actual work of a publisher and his current position.

“The ability to communicate clearly and directly is terribly important,” he said. “And community journalism plays a role in bringing people together to discuss what’s important and to arrive at a common identity and purpose. Being an editor or publisher is being a referee and participant in such a discussion, trying to set an agenda based on common values and sharpen a sense of those values, and that’s much of what we do as a congregation.”

Morales said he doesn’t have many of the ties to Cottage Grove he fostered those many years ago, but that he still gets his taxes done at Hoyer Accounting.

“I’m still the same person I was, hopefully a bit mellower,” he said.

He said a desire to expand the demographic of the church—most of its congregants are college-educated and white—is a goal of his administration. He also champions equal rights, especially for immigrants.

“I believe this country is addicted to scapegoats,” he said. “We tend to lurch between them because we have to believe everything has one cause, and that’s tragic and dangerous. There’s always been a belief that one group is the cause of our problems. It would be pretty hard to pass a law discriminating against blacks or homosexuals today, but it would not be hard to get anti-immigrant legislation passed.”

For the complete article see the 09-23-2009 issue.

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