Pastors & Staff
Rev. Gerald “Jay” Williams, Ph.D.
Hailing from Buffalo, New York, Jay despises the snow and dreams of life in Wakanda. To wit, he is pretty much obsessed with “Black Panther”—as well as the 1980s cartoon series “The Thundercats.”
Rev. Dr. Jay Williams returned to Union as lead pastor on July 1, 2018, having guided this congregation September 2012 – June 2017. An ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church, Jay has served congregations in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco, including Glide Memorial.
Williams holds a Master of Divinity with highest honors from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (2009) and the Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Harvard College (2003). In May 2017, Jay received the Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Williams’s 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. 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. Through his pastoral and academic work, Jay strives to help more disinherited folk find their voices.
Rev. Jay, a queer cisgender man, and his partner, Robert, have two crazy yorkie-chihuahuas, Bentley and Hurston.
Min. Ashley Johnson
Minister of Worship & Faith Formation
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.
Min. Nikki Young
Minister of Worship and Discipleship
Nikki currently serves at Union’s Minister of Worship and Discipleship. 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 earned her Masters of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology. She is now a PhD candidate in Practical Theology at the same school and incorporates her studies in preaching, trauma, and feminist/womanist theologies into her work at Union. She loves teaching and facilitating Union small groups and Bible studies, leading and preaching in worship, meeting to pray with congregants, and working closely with Union’s ministerial staff and leadership team to cultivate a vision of God’s justice for all people within our walls and beyond. 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 an ordinand in the United Methodist Church.
Min. Jessica Hamilton
Minister for Advocacy and Social Action
Jessica is the newest member of Union’s ministerial team and serves as its first Minister of Advocacy. In this role, she empowers the congregation to fulfill the church’s mission of justice and reconciliation through a communal and organized response to the needs of the local community and society. In a past life, Jessica did policy and advocacy work on behalf of consumers, providers, payers, and state & local governments. She is passionate about combining her faith and policy experience to positively impact communities.
Jessica is a graduate of Northeastern University where she received a Bachelor of Arts in political science. She is excited to begin her Master of Divinity studies at Boston University School of Theology in the fall of 2018.
Church Operations Officer
Cyrus Weaver joined Union in 2008 as a member and has served in a variety of volunteer roles over the years since then. He currently serves as Union’s Church Operations Officer, working closely with the Lead Pastor and Union’s leadership to broadly support Union’s vision and vitality. His main focus areas are strategy & execution, financial/administrative coordination, worship planning, and communications & technology. You can often find him operating our A/V equipment during our services or running around behind the scenes on Sundays. Cyrus graduated from MIT in 2008 with a Masters of Engineering in Computer Science degree and currently works full time as a Software Architect/Manager.
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.
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.
Director of Radical Praise
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.