Senior Minister Donna Schaper



Senior Minister Biography

The Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, formerly at Coral Gables Congregational Church in Miami and before that at Yale University, is Senior Minister for Judson Memorial Church on the corner of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, New York City. She began this post in 2005, will be ordained 40 years in 2014. As an elder, she is passionately concerned about leaving the next generation well-prepared for all they have to face.

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Schaper’s purpose in life is to provide spiritual nurture for public capacity. She likes to “kick hope into high gear” and show people what is possible through the magnificence of human community strategically focused and spiritually filled. Her plan at Judson is to be a steward of an extraordinary legacy and to carry the church into the 21s century in terms of organization, vision, resources and courage. Schaper is no stranger to controversy, having led her Miami congregation through an institutional transformation that opened it to gays, Jews, anti-war protests, significant membership growth and fund and fun raising on behalf of the poor and outcast. Her 31 published books tell the tale of her interfaith marriage, her pioneer as an ordained woman, her quiet spirituality and noisy activism. One of the first women trained by Saul Alinsky, the founder of community organization strategies, Schaper has focused on issues of political and economic development and interfaith and open rituals which support action for social change.

 At Judson she has pioneered work with the New York City New Sanctuary Movement to protect those immigrants being detained or deported unjustly as well as making Judson a home for Occupy and Occupy Faith. She has continued Judson’s legacy as a haven for women who insist on the right to choose an abortion and opened the building to countless groups, including Hudson River Clearwater, Domestic Workers and Sex workers organizations, while maintaining its work on harm reduction kits, support for GLBTQ people and especially for homeless gay youth. She has initiated cooperation with NYU, especially through its Spiritual Life Center, now across the street, and has pioneered multifaith liturgy with the campus ministries at NYU. She has presided over a growing congregation and Sunday School and developed a community ministry program which has over seven years a total of 43 year long interns who are prepared to do Judson’s brand of public ministry from a parish base. She has also nurtured the arts through Bailout Theater, a site for emerging artists to perform in a cabaret atmosphere, while also bringing free food to the growing numbers who come, and developed the “Gym at Judson,” a work-out space for the arts.
 In these days when many reduce Christianity to its right wing version, Judson is an increasingly visible and alive alternative. Judson is an “early” church. It is a post denominational church, with many Jews as members and dually affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches. It is a traditional church – in the sense that it follows the Jesus of the bible who privileged the poor and outcast, the sinner and not the saint. When Italians first came to the lower East Side, and many said that they smelled, Judson opened a health clinic for them. Before many other churches affirmed homosexuality, Judson did. When others thought ordaining women was unbiblical, Judson did it out of a conviction for open interpretation of scripture. When others spoke of addiction as though it were a sin, Judson members gathered on Wednesday nights to create bleach kits to reduce the harm of drugs. When others poured concrete over scripture, Judson kept its meaning alive in jazz, making Al Carmine’s art sing here. When others threw the word “sacrilege” around, Judson used its meeting space to talk of drama, sex, suicide, Aids, needles and prostitution.
Judson’s former minister, Howard Moody, founded Clergy Consultation, which helped women get safe abortions. In that same period, a health van circulated in the village to help prostitutes and others get health care. Judson was early in affirming what main stream Christianity is just now getting around to noticing. While issues of homosexuality and poverty rock the churches, Judson relies on its history and tradition. These are traditions of innovation and of “firsts”; they are also in the classic Judson style of incubations and midwifery. Judson continues its mission of doing what others won’t do. It follows its other pastor, Al Carmines, in an ongoing support of emerging artists. Bailout Theater and Magic time, as well as the gym at Judson, express the best of Judson’s fusion of the arts, politics and spirituality, all based in a congregation of real people who provide mutual care for each other. 
“When a church gets sad and its deferred maintenance starts to show, “Schaper said, “Sometimes it is because it has lost its way. Sometimes it is because it committed the sin of giving more to the community than it could afford. Whatever happened, when the new comes, there is an excitement. When a church is restored – with the elegance and simplicity and light that Judson now again enjoys – a signal of hope permeates the entire community. The building starts to talk: it says we are here to stay. And that is true of Judson. We are here to stay, to remain and edgy and alert to the needs and power of the great community that surrounds us, including the fire eaters right outside our door on Washington Square. We love the energy of the city and want to add our lights to its lights, our fire to its fire. Yes, we need a new elevator. And yes we need a new roof. And we trust God, the community and each other to raise the energy that will raise the money to keep us going for a long, long time.”
“You could say Judson is under new management, “said Mary Meyer, president of the congregation or whoever. You could also say that our tradition on Washington Square South is innovation and that we are returning to it with renewed vigor. Last year Al Carmine died, leaving us the great legacy of his music, art and dance. This year, we see that the best is yet to come. We are reopening our doors and our brand new dance floor, inviting the community to come and dance on it.”
Judson believes with the World Social Forum that “another world is possible.” We are one with Mary Oliver who says that we stay stable, like a canoe, by rowing towards, not away, from the embattlement. To turn the boat around is to live a life of fear not of love.
On Wednesday nights here, 17 year olds join 85 year olds to make bleach kits. Sounds like something that would happen in an ordinary church? The first part yes, but not the second yes. Judson is an extra-ordinary congregation, moving into the new century with a sense that the best is yet to come. Where else is life so revered (in a pro-choice church) that the daily Iraqui body count shows up on the main sign of the building, with US and Iraqui deaths side by side?


  • To provide spiritual encouragement for public capacity in individuals and communities.
  • To renew the practice of public ministry in congregations and communities
  • To reduce racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty and injustice in measurable ways.
  • To increase democratic participation in human rights.

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Senior Minister, Judson Memorial Church, New York City, 2005 –Present
Bricks Without Straw Consultation Service: Fund-Raising, Organizational Strengthening
Executive Director, Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, 2004
Fund Raising Consultant, Still Speaking Initiative, The United Church of Christ, 2004
Senior Pastor, Coral Gables Congregational Church, Coral Gables, Florida, 2000-2004
Associate Conference Minister, Western Area Massachusetts Conference, 1993-2000
Pastor, First Congregational Church, Riverhead, New York, 1987-1993
Executive Director, The Urban Academy in Chicago, 1983-1987
Pastor, First Congregational Church, Amherst, Massachusetts, 1980-1983
Associate Chaplain, Yale University, 1976-1980
Urban Minister, Tabernacle Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1974-1976
Associate Pastor, First Congregational Church, Tucson, Arizona, 1972-1974

Regular Liturgist in multi-faith situations, as in Morocco on a tour of scholars of Abrahamic Religions, at the World Parliament of Religions in South Africa, at the UN Meeting on Women In Beijing, in Prague, London, Italy and Mexico Volunteer

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Interim Ministry Training
Non Profit Leadership, Tannenbaum Fellow, New School, 2008
Writing Workshop at St. John’s University, Summer, 2007
American College of Preachers, Fall Fellow, the Washington National Cathedral
Minnesota Summer Institute for the Humanities, 2003
Nonprofit Management Seminars, School of Business Administration, University of Miami, 2003
Doctor of Ministry, Hartford Seminary, 2000
Coolidge Fellow, Association for Religion and Intellectual Life, Columbia University, 1998
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, M. of Div., 1973
University of Chicago Divinity School, M. A., 1971
Gettysburg College, B. A., 1969
Extensive Field Training as Community Organizer, 1969-1973
Clinical Pastoral Education, National Institute of Mental Health, Washington, D.C., 1972
Public Access Television, Producing, Writing and Directing, 1989
Spanish Language learned in Mexico at Cuernavaca, 1972

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Preacher and Teacher in Residence, Stanford University 2011
Hartford Seminary, Public Ministry, 2011
Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Regular Blogger
Gardening and Spirituality, Frequent workshops at different sites each year.
Auburn Seminary Women’s Preaching Course, January 2007
Instructor, “Parish Ministry in the 21st Century”, Union Theological Seminary, ongoing
Pacific School of Religion, Summer Instructor in Public Ministry, 2007, 2009
Fosdick Convocation on Preaching, 2006
Lecturer, Yale Divinity School, “The Sense in Sabbath,” 2004
Preacher, The Chautauqua Institute, Chautauqua, New York, 2004 2008, 2012
Presenter, “Spirituality For Skeptics,” The Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, 2004
Presenter, the National Association of Visual Artists, “Sacred Space,” 2001
Preacher and Lecturer, Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, 2000
Keynote Speaker, The Dovetail Institute on Interfaith Families, 2000
Keynote Speaker, American Association of Pastoral Counselors (ACPE), 1996
Delegate, European College and University Chaplains, Budapest, Hungary, 1993

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“You can’t Evict the Occupy Spirit,” Huffington Post, 2011
“Why I Changed my Mind: Trinity Church and Occupy,” Religion Dispatches, 2011
“Twenty Ways to Keep Sabbath,” Pilgrim Press, 2011
“Is Consensus Possible on Immigration among People of Faith?” Religion Dispatches
Sacred Chow: Holy Ways to Eat, Hanson McNanamey, 2010
Forty Days with Howard Thurman, Augsburg, 2009
Living Well While doing Good Church Books, 2009
Grass Roots Gardening: Rituals to Sustain Activism, Nation Books, 2008
A Holy Vulnerability: Spiritual Resources for People With Cancer, ACTA,2005
Prayers for Easter and Lent , Abingdon, 2005
Spiritual Resources for People With Cancer, ACTA, 2004
Brookings Institution, "Greater Miami Prosperity Campaign,” 2004
Prayers for Advent and Christmas, Abingdon, 2003
Sacred Speech: A Humble How To, Skylights, 2003
When A Parent Dies, Cowley, 2003
Art of Spiritual Rock Gardening, Paulist, 2001
Labyrinths from the Outside In, Skylights, 2001
Prayers for Children, Liguori, 2001
Altar Call, On DE privatizing Congregations, Abingdon, 2001
“Life Is Too Short to be White”; National Public Radio, 2000
“Prayer In the News”; National Public Radio, 1999
Spiritual Orphans & Spiritual Heirs: Raising Interfaith Children, Crowley, 1999
Sabbath Keeping, Crowley,1998
All is Calm, St. Mary’s, 1998
Alone, But Not Lonely, Twenty Third Publications, 1998
Sabbath Sense: A Spiritual Antidote for the Overworked, Innisfree, 1997
Overcoming Racism: A Dozen Strategies, Credence Cassettes Audio Tape, 1997
Fatigue as a Friend, Credence Cassettes Audio Tape, 1997
Why Write Letters? Pilgrim, 1996
More Than Bread: The Church and Higher Education, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries,1996
Giving, Forward Movement Press, 1995
Why I Tithe, Liguori, 1994
Calmly Plotting the Resurrection, Pilgrim, 1994
Hope for Hard Times: Sermons, Abingdon, 1993
“Bricks Without Straw” in Eleanor Scott Meyers, ed., Envisioning the New City, Westminster, 1992
Stripping Down: The Art of Spiritual Restoration, Luramedia, 1991
Common Sense for Men and Women in Ministry, Alban, 1990
A Book of Common Power: Narratives Against the Current, Luramedia,1989
Superwoman Turns Forty, LuraMedia, 1988
“Streets to Dwell In: A theory of Public Ministry (manual for Urban Academy in Chicago), 1986
“Methods of Supervision for Public Ministry”, Journal of Supervision for Ministry, 1987

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Lilly Endowment, Clergy Renewal Grant for Sabbatical 2011
Union Square Award for Founding New Sanctuary Movement in NYC, 2011
Gettysburg College, Honorary Degree, 2009
Hartford Seminary Significant Ministry Award, 2004
Garden Golden Globe Writing Award, 2003
Free Speech Award, People for the American Way, 2004
American College of Preachers, 2000
Sonoma County Writer’s Award,1995
New York State Council on the Arts, Writing Grant, 1993
Puffin Foundation Grants (2) for Writing About Women in Religion; 2nd time to cover UN Conference on Women, Beijing, 1993
Distinguished Alumna, Gettysburg College, 1993
Long Island Council of Churches, Citizenship Award, 1988
Mayor’s Award for Fighting Poverty, Tucson, Arizona, 1973

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Just Peace Coordinator, New York State Conference
Founder and President, New Sanctuary Movement, New York City, 2006 – present
Board of Directors, United Church of Christ, Florida Conference, 2003
Board of Corporators, Hartford Seminary
Chair, Interfaith Clergy, National Conference of Christians & Jews, 2002 – 2004
Mayor’s Healthcare Access Task Force, 2002-present
Board of Directors, The South Florida Theological Center, Miami, 2000-present
Board of Directors, American Congregational Association, Boston, MA, 1997-2000
Frequent Preacher at Hampden County Jail, 1993-2000
Corporator, The Hartford (CT) Theological Seminary, 1993-present
Chair, Public Affairs Committee, Long Island Council of Churches, 1988-1993
Board of Directors, Women’s Theological Center, Boston, MA, 1988-1993
Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church of Christ, 1989-1995
Vice Moderator, United Church of Christ, 1979-1981

Married to Warren Goldstein, mother of Isaac Luria, (1983) and Katie and Jacob Goldstein (1985). 

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What Donna Sees and Hears Regarding “The Judson”

For most people, Judson Memorial Church is an idea more than a reality. “I just love the Judson,” people say, usually meaning they love the idea of the edge, of risks taken and buildings still standing, of epic utopian dreams incubating social change and artistic expression. Others think Judson is a Bohemian hideaway, in the heart of the heart of the village, which village is in the heart of the heart of a great global and globalizing city. A little musty, rustic looking but actually Italian, the building sits on the South of Washington Square Park, amused at what it sees all day long, every day. It is known for the artists, writers, dancers, and actors who gather in its several basements to share food and drink and ideas. Arcade Fire “played” Judson before it went to Madison Square Garden.

Judson is also known for a moral rigor, which marries trust in your own creativity. It is a place where we find BOTH creativity and its disciplines. Eat your heart out, Peter Elbow. You say writers rarely do both. Judson does. It elicits your trust and creativity – and then asks you a lot of hard questions, most of which you can’t answer. You leave, nevertheless, more alert to what it takes to be alive.

Many argue that they tapped into their creativity in the vaulted meeting room or the basements. Others say they were afraid of the people at Judson: they were so intense about something like truth. You can’t be too smart here – but that competition for the clear is joined by enough coffee and smiles that you are able to forget about it, for minutes at a time.

Judson is a local ingredient with national and international significance. It is safe space for research and development for national denominations and national movements. Both Rauschenberg and the Guardian Angels started here. You figure.

To me, Judson is a catalytic congregation of a couple of hundred people who worship on Sunday mornings at 11 in what can only be called a kind of church you never heard of. Anti-nostalgic with a big past, Judson retains its artistic personality and religious roots, while integrating new people on a nearly daily basis. Here you can learn to trust and shape your creativity, along with other people up to the same purpose.

For what do I hope, knowing this place and now having it as part of my heart and my own illustrious past? Keep Judson weird and different. It is a place where, mercifully, nobody is that impressed if you are queer. It is instead a time/space of good coffee, cool people, hot church.

I have come in years to love Judson. In a fast city, Judson is slow. Judson takes its time. It is, also, often early to scream on behalf of a robust future for the church and nation. As I write, we are protecting the right of Moslems to pray where they want to downtown in New York City.

Founded, along with Riverside Uptown, by John D. Rockefeller, to be a different kind of church downtown, Judson enjoys change. Clean water for the first Italian immigrants or establishing the right to choose an abortion, ministry to prostitutes and drug users, keeping undocumented immigrants with their families, talking to the parents of thrown away gay kids from Iowa, pick your unpopular cause and you will Judson people there. It has been a working fountain since 1895.

If you were to stop by this week, you could join a Community Supported Agriculture program and get food grown by an upstate Moslem Farmer, or help an undocumented immigrant stay in the country, or find some new music or drama at the Bailout Theater or make a 'safer injection kit' to reduce harm among drug users. You might be invited to dance in a “Flash Mob,” and mime a same sex marriage in the middle of Washington Square Park. Or participate in a “Pop Lab” which is populist bible study, support group, consciousness raising face to face encounters with people as confused and alert as you are. On the last Sunday of the month you could bring stuff and take stuff at the Really Really Really Free Market. You might also find some inspiration, snug and safe in the Village’s hidden – and open – heart. You might find yourself saying, “I just love the Judson.”

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55 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012 | phone: 212-477-0351 | fax: 212-995-0844