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Meet Kathleen Owens of First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kathleen Owens.

In June 1873, Mrs. Lydia Horton (with husband Alonzo) started a Sunday school in downtown for the education of liberal values for San Diego’s children. A fully functioning church building was establish 1883 offering worship services at 10th and F Streets. After this building burned down in February 1895 the next building, Unity Hall, was built in 1895 on 6th Street. From their earliest days, they understood the need for faith in action, and were active in social justice for the people living in San Diego. One of their earliest projects was A Home for Girls in the Low-Bracket Salaries in 1911. The Church leaders were concerned over the plight of the working young women in San Diego being employed at wages below the level at which they could live; they called a meeting to organize a charitable association to help them. In 1956, the congregation voted to build a new church on Front and Arbor Streets. It opened for worship in the fall of 1959. It was built with growth in mind. Fast forward to the Civil Rights Movement and their ministers Peter Sampson and then John Rustin Clark, preached for civil rights for African American and went to Selma, respectively. Unitarian Universalists are a progressive, liberal faith that centers around principles that lead to a values-based life. They believe in deeds, not creeds and are open to the fact that truth is found in many places and experiences. In the late 1970s through 2002, under the co-ministry of the Revs. Drs. Tom and Carolyn Owen-Towle, First UU Church grew in number and impact in San Diego justice work. They were active in creating a safe place for the LGBT community, supported affordable housing acts, was a founding member and supporter of the UPTOWN Interfaith Service Center (1983), created the San Diego Peace Resource Center (1980), was active in Planned Parenthood and also with the United African American Ministers’ Action Council. In 2004 the Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube was called as the Lead Minister and under his ministry in 2008 First UU Church opened their second campus in Chula Vista. They broadened their interfaith collaboration and deepened their ministry to young adults and young adults on college and university campuses. In 2013 the congregation called the Rev. Kathleen Owens, the church’s first openly lesbian as their lead minister. Under her leadership, the congregation continues to thrive in social justice action, develop new community partners, continues to give 85% of their Sunday offerings away to local nonprofits whose work reflects the congregation’s values and experiments with a variety of worship styles to meet the needs of a changing and diverse population, who often identify as spiritual but not religious. Bi-lingual services (Spanish and English) at their Chula Vista congregation are primarily led by Rev. Tania Marquez.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road from 1873 to present has not always been a smooth one. There are always challenges when a group of diverse people (diverse in ideas, religious identity, culture and political identity) come together. What strengthens our community is not a unity of religious belief or creed but a desire to live by the principles of our faith, a faith that affirms and promotes: the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregation and in society at large; the goal of world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all; respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Today the Mission of our congregation is to create community, nurture spiritual growth and to act on our values to help heal the world. We long to be relevant and responsive to the needs of San Diego.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego is known for showing up when a faith voice is needed in combatting the injustice in our region. We offer worship services that invite people to bring their whole selves into community. We welcome ALL to our services…including people of all races and cultures, all sexual orientations and gender identifies, people of all occupations, mental and physical abilities – All are welcome here. We don’t tell you what to believe but encourage you to live a life of compassionate curiosity and growth.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The continued intentional diversity of staff and ministers to meet the diverse needs of a growing congregation.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 4190 Front St. San Diego 92103 or 970 Broadway in Chula Vista
  • Website:
  • Phone: 619-298-9978

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