Mavericks of Ministry
2006 Building Unity Award recipients Michael and Faith Moran
Fear is powerful. Reverend Michael Moran remembers when it altered his life forever. He was a third grader. “I was brought up in a traditional Irish Catholic family, but I departed theologically very early on,” he said diplomatically. Rev. Michael Moran, this year’s co-recipient of the Building Unity Award, was especially close to his Protestant grandfather on his mother’s side. As a youngster he was taught to believe that if you weren’t Catholic, you were going to hell. “The kindest man in my life was my grandfather on my mother’s side of the family,” Moran said.
With his stomach in knots and fearful for his grandfather, he raised his hand and asked, “Even if someone is kind, they will go to hell?” When the reply was yes, he knew it couldn’t be right. “I knew God was bigger than that,” he said. “That was the crack that grew over the years.”
For Moran’s wife and co-recipient of the award, the call to service seems to have been inborn. “Faith was always a seeker who knew her calling, even as a little girl,” Moran said. Moran’s was a religious family. His wife’s wasn’t. Raised in a family of not-so-religious Baptists, each Sunday Faith would ask to be taken to church and dropped off. When the couple became acquainted, they discovered how much they had in common. Two Texans, they were born 35 miles apart. As young children, both were profoundly disturbed by segregation.
“When we were dating 30 years ago we talked about what kind of a church we wanted,” he said. “We were both turned off by the bickering, or spiritual puffery that happens in some churches. We wanted a church where people of all faiths could come together.”
Their vision hasn’t always been appreciated. While living in Tacoma, WA, the couple experienced this antagonism directly. The Morans ministered to a small congregation down the street from a very large church, whose minister, according to Moran, “just didn’t like us. We were referred to as ‘that church down the street’ and were labeled ‘a bunch of spiritual misfits and mavericks,’” explained Moran.
Upon reflection, Moran agrees with the assessment. “To be a maverick is defined as one who answers his own calling and has left the herd,” Moran stated. “We have gone off—those of us that are called to this kind of ministry—and have been called to follow our own divine voice.”
The couple began religious studies in 1984. They were ordained at Unity School for Religious Studies at Unity Village, Missouri, Michael in 1987, Faith in 1988. “We started searching for a more expansive concept of God which we found in Unity,” Moran explained. “We started as an independent interfaith church. And then we took it one step further and became a unity church with a very interfaith focus.”
“Our churches have always had an interfaith focus,” Faith said. “That’s our passion.” Eight years ago, after serving congregations in Kansas, Missouri, California and Oregon, the couple founded Sacramento’s Spiritual Life Center, a church whose representative emblem, the Oneness Symbol, is “a statement for peace, inclusiveness and respect among all love-based spiritual paths.”
Due to a medical condition, Faith retired two years ago, but remains an active participant on Sundays and according to Michael is “the heart” of the church.
Sister Hansa of the Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center explains Faith’s role in making Spiritual Life Center unique. “This has been a calling for Faith, a vision that all faiths should be together,” she said. “We don’t have many of that type of ministries in Sacramento.” Dexter McNamara, Executive Director of Interfaith Service Bureau (ISB) notes the important role the Spiritual Life Center plays for all persuasions. “Within their own congregation they’ve provided an opportunity for people with a variety of faith backgrounds or lack thereof to find a real home within the spiritual community,” he said.
By encouraging the dialogue of working together among the different faiths of Sacramento, whether through Habitat for Humanity or feeding programs, the Morans have, according to McNamara, become a vital part of the community. “By the way they live their lives, they epitomize what it means to be people of faith,” he said. Reverend Dr. David Thompson of Westminster Presbyterian Church thinks one of the Morans’ most important contributions has been to get things done. “It’s been their steady support for all interfaith initiatives that bring about understanding across faith communities that result in practical actions of compassion,” he said.
The couple expressed surprise and gratitude for the award. When pressed they say they’re most proud of the service work they’ve accomplished, especially the building of the first interfaith house two years ago in Oak Park. “When you start this you’re not thinking about awards,” Moran said. “So this is an acknowledgement for us, an affirmation that it’s been a good way for us to serve.”