Pastors & Staff
Rev. Dr. Jay Williams
In September 2012, Rev. Dr. Jay Williams became the lead pastor of Union, a historic and progressive faith community in Boston’s South End. Union is an urban, multiethnic, lgbt-affirming church that has been a Christian witness of love and justice for over 200 years. He now provides pastoral leadership to the same congregation that nurtured him as a member during his college days a decade ago.
An ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, Pastor Jay has served as the pastor of Glendale UMC in Everett, Massachusetts (July 2009 – September 2012) and assistant minister of Metropolitan Community UMC in Harlem, New York (June 2007 – June 2009). Moreover, he has served widely as a board member of denominational, ecumenical, and community agencies. The call to service inspires Jay’s life work “to seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people”, as vowed in ordination.
Pastor Jay received the Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in May 2017. The dissertation, entitled “Unholy Ghosts in the Age of Spirit: Identity, Intersectionality, and the Theological Horizons of Black Progress,” develops a constructive theology of spirit that rethinks hope, courage, and vitality, premised on insights from W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Howard Thurman. His work explores the meaning of “Spirit” in black cultural discourse at the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality: particularly how spirit-talk has been a marginalizing language of power. With research interests in theology, social ethics, and African-American religion, Jay strives for his work to help more disinherited folk find their voices.
Pastor Jay received the Master of Divinity degree with top honors from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (2009). Prior to seminary, Jay was an assistant vice president in the private banking division of Merrill Lynch. He earned the Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in the Comparative Study of Religion from Harvard College (2003). Emerging from his activist work fighting genocide in Sudan, where he twice traveled to help liberate modern-day slaves, Jay wrote his undergraduate thesis on the role of religious rhetoric in Sudan’s civil war.
Pastor Jay loves reading (which is good, considering he’s a doctoral student), running, and working out; his yorkie-chihuahua pups, Hurston and Bentley, like to keep him company while writing. He is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the Ron Brown Scholar Alumni Association. Although he proudly hails from Buffalo, New York, where his family resides, Jay despises the snow. Last but not least, Jay is a colossal fan of the 1980s cartoon “Thundercats”, which has changed his life, and he is strongly considering getting a Thundercats tattoo really soon.
Pastor Jay is a queer cisgender man.
Min. Jordan Harris
Jordan Harris is serving as the Assistant Pastor here at Union Church. Currently he is working towards ordination as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. Jordan earned his bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies at Eastern University outside of Philadelphia and earned his Master of Divinity degree at Boston University School of Theology. Jordan’s passions include preaching, studying the Bible, and using storytelling as a spiritual discipline. He is excited to be at Union and always up for exploring new and different ways to serve God and God’s people.
Min. Ashley Johnson
Ashley is a recent graduate of Boston University School of Theology where she earned a Master of Theological Studies degree. Prior to her current role at Union, Ashley also served as Union’s Director of Christian Education for several years and Union’s Minister of Worship and Faith Formation.
Ashley attended Spelman College in Atlanta, GA where she studied Psychology and Child Development. Upon Graduation in 2007, she entered the Department of Education at Brown University. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown and has had the pleasure of serving as an elementary school teacher for seven years.
Ashley’s mission in life is to help young people, especially children of color, to flourish and to encourage them to listen for and respond to the voice of the Divine as we all work towards greater peace and justice in our communities and in the world.
Ms. Nikki Young
Minister for Worship, Faith Formation, and Leadership Development
Nikki currently serves at Union’s Minister for Worship, Faith Formation, and Leadership Development. Previously, Nikki was also the ministerial intern here at Union as part of her contextual education. After studying English Writing and Sociology in Northern Illinois, she made her way to Boston where she is earning her Masters of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology. Nikki is currently pursuing ordination as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. When she’s at the church, you can find her writing a never-ending stream of papers and drinking excessive amounts of coffee. Nikki is thrilled for the opportunity to serve in such a unique and dynamic place like Union!
Ms. Amber Youhouse
Executive Assistant & Church Administrator
Amber Youhouse is currently pursuing her master of theological studies at Harvard Divinity school, where she is concentrating in women, gender, sexuality, and religion. She focuses on feminist theology in the Christian tradition and religion’s impact on women and lgbtq persons in politics and society. Amber is a proud alumna of Wellesley College where she studied political science and religion. Amber is grateful to have found her Union family, and enjoys bringing both feminist theology and her Sunday school pet project, Bible journaling, to Union.
Mr. Plamen Karadonev
Director of Music
Born in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, Plamen Karadonev comes from a musical family. His father Dinko Karadonev was a choir director, educator, and accordionist. Plamen started playing the accordion at age five. He later fell in love with Bulgarian folk music and soon began playing the piano.
A Berklee College of Music Scholarship brought Plamen to Boston in January 2001 where he found a whole new world of musical adventures. In the United States he has performed with some of the most respected jazz musicians currently on the scene including Randy Brecker, Gene Perla, George Garzone, Hal Crook, Dave Liebman, Jimmy Cobb, Richie Barshay and many more.
Mr. Willie Jones Jr.
Associate Director of Music
Willie Jones Jr. joined Union in February 2016 as our Associate Director of Music. As a child, Willie was both heavily influenced by gospel music and classically trained while playing euphonium in his middle and high school bands. He studied jazz piano under Dr. Keith Javors in Jacksonville, Florida before making his way to Boston. During the past 10 years, Willie has served as a consistent musician for the Harvard Kuumba Singers, toured with jazz saxophonist Kelly Shepherd, and served as pianist and vocalist for various churches. A current full-time public school music teacher, Willie holds a Bachelor of Music Education from The University of Massachusetts-Boston.
Ms. Angela Nelson Whetstone
Director of Radical Praise
Mr. Fabio Pirozzolo
Fabio Pirozzolo is an Italian drummer, multi-percussionist and singer. Originally from Terracina, Italy, he started his career as a folk percussionist, playing Italian frame drums tamburello and tammorra, in one of the most famous folk groups in his area. This experience gave him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe, playing concerts and giving lectures on regional Italian frame drum techniques. A summa cum laude Berklee College of Music graduated, he performs in virtually any genre of music from jazz to world music to rock.
Mr. John Vidal