Deep questions about faith led the Rev. Gaye Ortiz on a lifelong spiritual search.
She found her place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, and on Aug. 1, she became the developmental minister.
“What I believe is this place nurtures our souls, so that we can go out and transform the world,” she said.
Ortiz’s journey began after her military family settled in Augusta when she was 9 years old.
She grew up in the Southern Baptist church, and though she loved going to church, she felt something was missing.
At 16, she joined the Roman Catholic Church and for a while, she found what she was looking for.
“To me it was an exciting time,” she said. “It was in the early ’70s, when the Vatican II had just happened. The second Vatican Council had really thrown open the doors of the church.
“There was a lot of talk about liberation theology and for me, the idea of social justice – still – is something that is at the core of how I express my faith.”
After she graduated from Glenn Hills High School, she married her high school sweetheart, and the couple moved to the United Kingdom for her new husband’s job with the Department of Defense.
“That’s where I did all of my theological training,” she said.
She earned a bachelor of arts in theology and media from Leeds University and did an internship at the BBC.
Her first job, as an unpaid intern, was to select albums for Sunday morning hymns for the BBC radio station.
“Eventually I started producing and interviewing people for the Sunday morning program,” Ortiz said.
Then she was host of a couple of programs, including a six-week live, hourly series.
Meanwhile, she continued her studies, completing a master’s degree in theology at the University of Edinburgh and then a Ph.D. at Leeds.
For her doctorate, she studied the relationship between the Catholic Church and the film industry.
Ortiz taught theology and religious studies, “but always with an element of media and communication in it,” she said.
In 2002, after teaching in the United Kingdom for 10 years, her husband, Wil, took early retirement and the couple moved back to Augusta so Ortiz could help her mother care for her ailing father.
“I thought my career was over,” she said.
Meanwhile, she had become increasingly disenchanted with the Catholic faith.
“I kind of felt that in the early 2000s, or the end of the 1990s, the church left me,” she said.
“It became very reactionary. A lot of the promise of the Vatican II, I felt, was just lost. I was seeking somewhere where frankly, I felt at home.”
Ortiz began teaching communication and cinema classes at Augusta State University (now Georgia Regents University’s Summerville campus) and was invited by a colleague to visit the Unitarian Universalist Church.
She immediately felt at home.
“The people who are here welcome anyone who wants to walk in their path,” she said.
“We have seven principles, and the first principle is that you affirm the worth and dignity of every human person. That’s not easy to do but it’s a great ideal. And then we have the seventh principle, which is the interconnectedness of all being, so that whatever you do has an impact on the earth and on everyone else.”
With those two principles to guide them, members of the congregation are free to follow whatever religious path they choose.
Some are Christians, some are Buddhists, some are Humanists, etc., she said.
“So our religious practices are much more (focused) on doing than on believing,” she said.
She served two years as a minister at the Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church before returning to the Augusta church to take on her current job as developmental minister.
Her goals are to develop leadership within the congregation and helping members discover their talents to better serve the congregation.
Because she has been a church member since 2005, the transition has been smooth.
“I can’t imagine how hard it must be for a minister
who doesn’t know their congregation to come in and learn names while still keeping the machinery going,” she said.
Ortiz has used her interest in social justice and in film to help develop, along with members of the Progressive Religious Coalition, a First Sunday Film Series, which screens documentaries that explore issues that affect
the public and offers the opportunity for discussion.
“As much as I can, I involve film, because people love film and they love to watch film, so it’s easy to teach through film,” she said.
“It’s also easy for them to then explain what they see in film, because no two people see the same thing, and that’s always good to get people discussing issues.”