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Meet Rev. Joe Cherry

Rev. Joe Cherry is a Unitarian Universalist minister originally from Detroit, Michigan. His ministry is informed by overcoming many obstacles throughout his life -- from nearly dying during a lifesaving scoliosis surgery at age 12, to being the first in his biracial family to achieve a bachelors and graduate degree. He practices ministry with a deep sense of community and interconnectedness informed by his lived experience and those who have lifted him up to make his dreams possible.

Rev. Joe is deeply committed to social justice and service in the communities in which he lives. He has served on several non-profit boards and the UUA nominating committee. Prior to ministry, Joe served as a non-profit administrator for HIV/AIDS clinics and worked as a religious education professional. 

Joe lives in North Easton, Massachusetts with his husband, Rev. Denis Paul, and their dog, Toulouse.

The most important part of Sunday is not the words I'll preach; it's how we feel when we're together.

- Rev Joe. Cherry

About Me

I have done a lot of hard things in my life. I am the first man in my family to graduate from high school. I was the first person in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. I am the only person, to date, with a graduate degree. I was the first in my family to leave our home state to further my education. 


I came out of the closet as a gay man at the height of the AIDS epidemic in North America. The people at the community center told all of us “new” gays that the average life expectancy for a newly out gay man was 2 years before he died of AIDS. 


I claimed my identity as a religious person, and then a religious professional in a world where it was often easier to be gay in church than to be religious in the gay community, due largely to the way that many religious people have abused, and continue to abuse, us.


And I did none of these completely on my own.


This deep-rooted awareness of community and connectedness infuses my very being. It is within this deep knowledge of interconnectedness that I practice ministry.

Congregations are places where we can learn and teach lessons of deep interdependence. Places where we can be challenged to grow, comforted when struggling, places of laughter and life’s lessons.


The way I walk in the world has a lot to do with the struggles I’ve overcome, and the knowledge that I didn’t get through those struggles on my own.

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With, with, with.


It is with the help and companionship of so many that I have achieved my dreams. 20 years pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in American History focusing on Protestant Religious Movements and a minor in Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. A Master’s of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School, located across the street from my church, where I gave my first public sermon.


From there I was able to spend a summer internship with the Old Chapel Unitarians in Dukinfield, England, and a year-long internship with the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, BC.

During the summer I was on my way to my internship from Chicago to Vancouver I met the man I would marry, the Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul. At the time, Denis was a street minister in San Francisco with the Faithful Fools

I returned to the States to live with Denis, and from there we moved, with our dog Toulouse, to Modesto, California to my first parish position. I was their interim minister and when it came time for that relationship to conclude, both Denis and I accepted positions in Northeast Ohio.

Congregations are places where we can learn and teach lessons of deep interdependence. Places where we can be challenged to grow, comforted when struggling, places of laughter and life’s lessons.

I have been a part of 9 congregations in my time as a Unitarian Universalist, 8 of them as some form of minister (Student, Intern, Interim, Parish). This experience -- combined with my non-profit work before seminary -- has helped me see each congregation has their own way of doing church; their own beauty and challenges.

My home congregation is the First Unitarian Society of Chicago, nestled in the South Side of Chicago in the neighborhood of Hyde Park. I maintain my membership there and it is where I think of when someone asks me where home is. I first walked through the front doors of that church when I was 28 years old. I had been a largely unchurched person, and I had never heard of the faith that I would one day dedicate my life to. 

It was in the church where people older and wiser than me saw something I didn’t see myself. They molded me. They grew me into leadership. It started small, with teaching the sixth graders. From there I was asked to run for election to our Religious Education Committee, and other opportunities came along the way.


A decade later, when I told my church I had to resign from the Board of Trustees because I was entering seminary, the church matriarchs said to me, with love, “We knew it all along.” And then they said “We need to make one thing clear: we raised you, and we plan on claiming you. We are going to ordain you into ministry, and no one else.”  

First Chicago is an integrated church. When I joined in 1996, Polly McCoo, who had been the first Black person to join the church in 1940, was our matriarch. The Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed grew up in this church and he calls me his Little Brother. Though it seems funny to think of a 28-year-old “growing up” in a church, it was during my time in the church that I very much became the person I am today.

I know that my home church, like all systems, has its flaws, but it is in the sense of belonging, of communal responsibility, one person to and for another, that has taught me the potential of church life.

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Parish Ministry

Unitarian Universalists of Falmouth

Falmouth, Massachusetts

Interim Minister, 2021 - Present

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cleveland

Cleveland and Shaker Heights, Ohio

Senior Minister & CEO, 2019-2021

Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland

Cleveland Heights, Ohio

Parish Minister, 2014-2019

UU Fellowship of Stanislaus County

Modesto, California

Interim Minister, 2012-2014

Unitarian Universalists of Merced

 Merced, California

Consulting Minister, 2012-2014

Unitarian Church of Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Ministerial Intern, 2010 - 2011

Old Chapel Unitarians

Dukinfield, England

Summer Intern, 2009

Micah's Porch

Chicago, Illinois

Student Minister, 2007 - 2010

Selected Professional Experience

HIV/AIDS Project at University of Illinois, Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

Administrator, 2004 - 2007

Beverly Unitarian Universalist Church

Chicago, Illinois

Director of Religious Education, 1999 - 2001


Meadville Lombard Theological School

Chicago, Illinois

Master of Divinity, 2011

University of Illinois

Chicago, Illinois

Bachelor Degree, American History, 2007

Continuing Education

In ministry, the work of learning is never done.

Since seminary I have worked to further my training every year, not only to keep aware of changes in education, but to continue to learn from both senior colleagues and new ones. There are also many informal occasions where education happens, casual conversations, email exchanges and group gatherings.


Here are some of the more formal trainings that I have taken in the last decade:

  • Family Systems Theory Part 1, The Bowen Center for the Study of the Human Family

  • Family Systems Theory Part 2, The Bowen Center for the Study of the Human Family

  • Executive Leadership for Ministers, Howard University, School of Business

  • The Work of the Pastor, Interim Ministry Network

  • The Work of the Congregation, Interim Ministry Network

  • Beyond Trans 101: Being a Clergy Ally

  • Beyond Categorical Thinking Trainer Training

  • Non Violent Protest Procedures: The Poor People’s Campaign

  • Liberal and Liberation Theologies in Dialogue, Harvard Divinity School

  • Serving the After Pastor Church, UUA Training

  • Ministry in the Public Square, UUMA Continuing Education Week

  • Our Whole Lives ("OWL") for grades 7-9 and 10-12

UU, Interfaith & Social Justice Service

Together we'll examine to examine both the world and our place within it.


While Unitarian Universalists do not have a creed, or a common dogma, we share a common drive to make the world into a place that is more fair and equitable for all. 

UUA Nominating Committee

Elected and served for 6 years. 3 years as chair. Implemented new leadership development practices.

Community Leadership

Served on boards of local non-profits such as The Ohio Poor People’s Campaign and engaged in addressing LGBT and women's rights, homelessness, and racism.

Ministerial Formation Network

Vocational Director, Discernment Partner and Mentor for new ministers.


Member, covener, and regular participant in gatherings for religious professionals of color.

Learn about my ministry

I seek to be a faithful and trusted companion to the congregations I serve.

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