Retiring in 2014, after twenty-eight years as Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, and forty years of Unitarian Universalist ministry, The Reverend Drew Kennedy is now the Society’s Minister Emeritus. During Drew’s tenure the congregation tripled in size to 800 members and 228 children to become the 12th largest UU congregation in the country while building upon a strong legacy of progressive social justice involvement with the community.
Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Drew earned his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from the University of Michigan, and his Master’s and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Meadville Lombard Theological School, a Unitarian Universalist seminary affiliated with the University of Chicago.
Drew was active in various denominational and community affairs, serving on various boards and community organizations advocating for LGBT rights, assisted suicide, separation of church and state, mental health access, nuclear disarmament, economic justice, and women’s reproductive freedom. In the early 1990’s, Drew helped found and for six years served as Vice President of the Milwaukee Clinic Protection Coalition, ultimately successfully prevailing both in the courts and in the streets for women’s reproductive freedom in Milwaukee.
In 1998, Drew was honored as one of the Wisconsin ACLU’s “Civil Libertarians of the Year” for his opposition to the so-called “school choice” program through which parents can use public funds, represented by “vouchers,” to fund the education of their children at private, parochial Church-based schools outside of the public school system. Serving as a plaintiff for the ACLU, the case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, but was lost.
In 2009 the Reverend Dr. Kennedy was awarded the UUA Central Midwest District’s Jean Kapuscik Award for Excellence in Ministry, and in 2014 was awarded the “Distinguished Alumni/ae Award of the Year” by Meadville Lombard Theological School.
During his tenure here, Drew was interviewed on National Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, ABC World News Report, and appeared on various local television and radio programs. Twice arrested for civil disobedience, Drew was most recently arrested in January 2003 in a planned protest against the anticipated war in Iraq.
In 2004, Drew went on a five-month sabbatical, learning about leadership in larger churches and traveling to Nepal. While in Nepal, he trekked for fifteen days amidst breath-taking scenery in the Himalayas, reaching 13,500 feet and safely avoiding both the Maoists and the avalanches. Drew also studied Tibetan Buddhism for ten days at Kopan Monastery, a large Tibetan Buddhist monastery high on a hilltop outside fabled Kathmandu.
In addition to an abiding interest in classical Buddhism, Drew loves poetry, had a twenty-year spiritual practice of annual ten-day silent retreats and a twelve-year practice of T’ai Chi.
While active in a wide array of progressive causes and spiritual practices, it was always the power and poignancy of Drew’s pulpit addresses that sustained his ministry. Upon retiring from active ministry in 2014, with encouragement from the congregation, Drew had a book of sermons published called, Playing Soccer with Buddha: Unapologetically Progressive Views from 25 Years in the Pulpit. Copies are available at Amazon.com.
Drew is happily married to church member Lois Wesener, and has two grown children and three grandchildren from a previous marriage. Lois and Drew live in Shorewood. In retirement, Drew does some occasional pulpit guest appearances, while mentoring several younger ministerial colleagues. For fun, Drew is doing lots of reading and is an avid, year-round soccer and pool player.