The Center for Courage & Renewal is pleased to announce the selection of Terasa Cooley as its next Executive Director. She will join the team on May 30, 2017, with a brief overlap with Terry Chadsey who is retiring after eight years. The selection was made after an extensive national search and selection process.
“Terasa’s experience with human and collective transformation is a great fit,” said Ken Saxon, a Courage & Renewal facilitator and Board member, who led the search committee. “She’s a proven change agent who has advanced important work in the world in complex networked organizations, and one in particular.”
Terasa formerly served as Vice President for Program & Strategy at the Unitarian Universalist Association (Boston, MA) where she was responsible for all program offices, advocacy campaigns, board reporting and strategic initiatives. In her 12 years with UUA, she also held positions as District Executive and Director of Congregational Life. From 1990-2005, Terasa was a senior minister in Detroit, Michigan, Chicago, Illinois, and Hartford, Connecticut. Most recently, Terasa was an organizational development consultant with a special focus on organizational diversity and effective board functioning. Her clients ranged from local to international non-profit organizations, including Think Equal, The Precious Project, Heller School of Management, and The Sanctuaries DC.
Terasa noted, “In this time of political polarization and social and personal insecurity, people are desperately looking for a way to bring about wholeness within themselves and in the world surrounding them. The Center serves just such a need. To help lead an organization that brings practices to the world for deep social impact will be immensely gratifying.”
At the UUA Terasa oversaw the work of the international office which included an NGO in India and a UN affiliated office, so she greatly looks forward to engaging with the Center’s world-wide network.
The search committee voiced their enthusiasm:
“Terasa possesses an innate appreciation for the principles and practices that distinguish Courage & Renewal,” said Courage & Renewal Board Chair Estrus Tucker. “She has an engaging vision for our collective future.”
Ileana Jiménez shared, “I’m overflowing with excitement about this appointment. I’ve been on a number of searches and rarely do I feel such a clear sense of a person who will take us to a new level of innovation and creativity. Terasa has an awakened quality of consciousness.”
Added Loie Lenarz, “When I think of Terasa, I think of the quote by Frederick Buechner because her deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
Terasa received her doctoral degree from Hartford Seminary where her focus was on strategic planning and leadership development. She earned a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School and her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas – Austin. Terasa is incredibly excited to move from Boston to Seattle and to explore the Pacific Northwest.
A Short Interview With Terasa
Q: What do you know about the Center for Courage & Renewal so far?
The work of Parker Palmer came to me in my first year of ministry, offering much needed wisdom to one trying to build a religiously diverse community of spiritual sustenance. The Company of Strangers was the first book of his that I read. I often gave out copies of Let Your Life Speak to those struggling with life’s questions and I have used his methodology in much of my teaching and training throughout my career. My own spiritual life and sense of calling has been immeasurably informed by Parker’s gentle exhortations toward wholeness.
Q: You mentioned to staff that when you left UUA, you didn’t expect to stay in the spiritual arena. But then you saw this job opening. Could you say more about that?
After years of working with the ethereal goal of bringing about spiritual transformation, I was craving a chance to help create much more substantial change in the world. You know: concrete, measurable things! But the deeper I got into my exploration of this opportunity the more I realized that I still feel called to help people work with their deepest selves, as that is the only way true change really happens.
Q: What are some other ways you have felt connected to Courage work?
I come from a family of teachers and so The Courage to Teach was very inspirational to me. My mom taught for fifty years, starting out in a one-room schoolhouse in Texas when she was 17. I was inspired by her ability to embody a curious presence. My grandma was a circuit teacher in Minnesota in the 1920s and 30s. Both women had to really embody a kind of teaching that was separate from institutional structures. They knew how to live from the inside out, and I admired that immensely.
Q: How did you end up in ministry instead of teaching, then? And why did you shift from leading congregations to working in the national association?
My call to ministry actually came when I was in college and working on political campaigns. I worked for a very progressive state office holder who constantly wrestled with the compromises the political life forced him to make and I became very disillusioned with that world. I majored in English literature and was encouraged to pursue an academic career, but that felt too distant from real life for me. I started going back to a UU church and found myself very drawn to the world of meaning making. UUism is a very liberal and social activist denomination and was a comfortable fit for someone who was not traditionally religious. So it was kind of a process of “not this, not this, but this!”
After 15 years serving congregations, I became absorbed by the question of how institutions can change and what kind of leadership change requires. I did my doctorate in strategic planning and wanted to take this learning further afield. I was asked to become a district executive where I could teach other congregations and leaders what I had learned. And then I was recruited to become the national Director of Congregational Life to oversee a major structural organizational change. From there I became the top strategist for the UUA and loved engaging with all different kinds of programs and helping align them with an outward facing message. Can you tell there’s a theme of engaging with change here?
Q: How will you begin to gain an understanding of the Center’s work and the work of the global Collaboration?
What I’ve learned through all my experience of change is that relationship is key. Change processes are necessarily emotional and must be recognized as such. That’s why I’m excited to start getting to know people by going on a listening tour. When I can’t meet face to face, I like using video rather than phone. I want to experience the myriad kinds of applications of Courage work that people are engaging in.
Q: What can you tell us about your global/international experience?
In my last position I oversaw the work of the international office and was introduced to a whole new world of global consciousness. I became struck by how limited our North American vision seemed to be and was inspired by many of our global partners for the courage they showed. I traveled to India to witness the work of an NGO that we managed and came away with a very different understanding of social change.
Q: Do you have a favorite poem or quote that reflects your views on courage, social justice, or leadership?
I’ve always been inspired by Vaclav Havel and all that he teaches about hope in the midst of despair. One of my favorite quotes of his is “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” Especially with what we are faced with today it is a constant reminder to me of the demand for courage.