Parish Minister’s Bio

The Reverend Vanessa Rush Southern
Parish Minister
The Unitarian Church in Summit

Vanessa was called to Summit in May of 2001 and started with us that August.  Since arriving in Summit, Vanessa has seen our church through the building of our new extension and a reinvigorated focus on our programming and outreach.   In 2010 the Summit congregation was named a “Breakthrough Congregation” by the Unitarian Universalist Association, was awarded the first ever Congregational Social Justice Award by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and in 2011 was a part of the fledgling “Leap of Faith” program.  Vanessa currently serves as part of the five-person 50th Anniversary Task Force of the UUA.


In explaining her personal theology, Vanessa has written: “…For me there is something beyond and within and between us all that is more than just flesh and blood, intellect and will. It is what I call God (although I am with the Buddha on this one in believing we each grab hold of only one part of this elephant and would be wise not to draw any grand conclusions from our single handful). So I know and speak from what I have experienced, open to what others have experienced, humbled always by what ultimately is mystery and paradox to me…”.

Vanessa graduated from Stanford University in 1990, with a degree in philosophy and religious studies, and from Harvard Divinity School in 1995.   Her book, This Piece of Eden, published by Skinner House Books in 2001, is currently out of print (some of it is available through google books).  Here is an excerpt:

“Physics tells us there is chaos in the cosmos, in every atom, in the wanderings of every electron. Why should our existence be any different? So, here is our new life philosophy, or at least part of it: Expect, watch for, and embrace uncertainty; dance with the madness of the cosmos, not against it; leave your door open and your heart ready for anything. In this adult world, it may be the only way, not just to survive what is inevitable but to thrive in the midst of it.”

Vanessa and her husband, Rohit Menezes, and their daughter and dog live in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Vanessa Southern at General Assembly Pulpit, June 2010 with Summit Leaders


Vanessa is on sabbatical through April 2013. You may download “A Guide to Rev. Vanessa R. Southern’s Sabbatical” by clicking here.