Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

UU church tabs pastor with military background

The Rev. Patricia Owen says she hopes to bring energy to the congregation at Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa.

Courtesy of Unitarian Universalist Church

The Rev. Patricia Owen says she hopes to bring energy to the congregation at Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa.

The Reverend Patricia Owen grew up a country girl playing in the woods and fishing in south- central Virginia.

As a teen, she felt a connection to theology and spirituality, though her local Baptist church didn't offer answers to her many questions. At age 15, she told her mom she wanted to become a preacher.

In 1985, after a brief time at Virginia Tech University, Owen joined the Air Force. She served in active duty for nine years; then transferred to the National Guard. Through the years, Owen kept quiet about identifying as a lesbian, a part of herself that also separated her from the traditional Christian church. In 2008, she retired from the military.

This year, Owen began a new career, as an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church. In September, she took on the role of settled minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa, a position previously held by the Rev. Sara Zimmerman and interim pastor Doak Mansfield.

Owen and her partner of eight years, Christina Arnold, whom she married in June, settled in Tampa with their three 18-year-old cats.

I spoke to Owen, 50, about her personal journey and the new job.

What led you to pursue UU ministry at this point in your life?

I found my first UU church in 2003 and knew that I was at home. It wasn't long before the little voice calling me to ministry gave me a second ring. In 2006, my congregation in Richmond, Va., called a new minister who would become my mentor in the journey to ministry. I also met my partner in that congregation. Without the support and love of those two and many others, I wouldn't be here. I went back to school to finish my bachelor's in 2010 and immediately started work on my master's of divinity at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.

What role did your faith play during your time in the Air Force? How did your military experiences shape your religious views?

I was un-churched during most of my military career. I realized that the church that I was raised in didn't really have a place for me and that journey alone can be heartbreaking. I realized after my enlistment that I was a lesbian and continued to serve under secrecy for my entire career. My faith for the most part was the faith that I could survive and the deep, unshakable belief that I was worthy of love, of respect and of a future.

My military career has shaped several things for me. I wanted nothing more than to serve my country and did so with the knowledge that I could have been kicked out because of the ideology of homophobia. Living that gave me an understanding of living as the other, the unwanted, the mistrusted and the feared. Any time we create the other we operate out of fear, and we can do better. Religion means to bind together and that is the work we should be doing, not creating more distance from one another. As a leader, I am collaborative. I'm not in the habit of barking orders. Leadership as an invitation to others to step into their potential is my style and that was honed in the military.

And our military does more humanitarian work than most people are aware — being present in times of disaster, helping those in need, being hands, feet and shoulders when people are weary. In that sense, I've still got my combat boots on. Each of us is called to serve. We must answer as best we can. Or not.

Why did the Tampa position interest you?

This congregation appealed to me for several reasons. They are resilient. They are grounded in covenant and a generosity of spirit. They are capable of expressing great joy and of addressing the deep need we have to build a more equitable and just world.

What was the selection process?

The short version is that a search committee of eight members elected by the congregation interviewed me via Skype, then invited me to Tampa to meet with them in February. In April, they invited me to be their candidate for ministry. I spent a week with the congregation which culminated in a congregational vote that affirmed their calling me as settled minister.

What will you bring to the position and the church?

I hope to bring energy.

What does UU mean to you?

Unitarian Universalism is my community of salvation. People loved me for who I was and am, and that love moved me into ministry. Unitarian Universalism is not a tradition that dictates to me what it is I should believe. It is, at its heart, an invitation to see theology, as Richard S. Gilbert says, not to become divine, but to become more human.

Who do you think the tradition attracts and why?

Seekers. … This is not a static faith. It is attractive to those who seek answers and know that answers will lead to more questions. It also attracts those who have a sense of the inequity we experience in the world. I remember being a kid in my little church and a new, young minister was hired. He invited the African American church up the road to worship with us one Sunday morning. That new, young minister didn't last long. Sadly we don't have to look far to see a continuation of inequality, mistrust, suspicion and fear in our world. I believe people who want to learn, grow and help dismantle centuries of systemic inequality are looking for Unitarian Universalism. And we are waiting for them.

What are your hopes for the Tampa UU in years to come?

That together we be co-creators in a wonderful future.

What changes do you want to make?

At my request, my office was painted a different color. That is quite enough for now.

What do you like most about Tampa?

The chances of me having to cancel Sunday services due to snow are remarkably slim. Seriously, I'm loving it here. People are really friendly. There is culture and growth. We love sports and there is plenty of that. We love being outdoors. We can't wait to kayak. Did I mention the snow that doesn't happen?

For more information, visit

Contact Sarah Whitman at [email protected]


Franciscan Center anniversary

The Franciscan Center of Tampa, 3010 N Perry Ave., celebrates its 45th anniversary with special events Tuesday through Oct. 3. An official anniversary celebration will take place at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 3 featuring celebrant Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Guests must RSVP for the free event by Tuesday. Other events for the week include a First Responders Luncheon, the Blessing of the Animals and Labyrinth Prayer Walk. For dates, times and more information, visit

UU church tabs pastor with military background 09/23/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 10:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series


    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena


    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack


    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.