Longtime minister at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, Rob Eller-Isaacs, dies at 70

Everyone should have a spiritual practice, some sort of daily routine to ground them, according to Rob Eller-Isaacs, a co-minister of Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul. Many parishioners view this as one of the greatest blessings they have gotten from the Eller-Isaacs ministry since he frequently assisted them in growing their own. Eller-Isaacs’ own spiritual activities as a Unitarian Universalist preacher included singing, memorization of poetry, Tai chi, reading, writing, and prayer.

Cancer-stricken Eller-Isaacs passed away last month at the age of 70.

He knew the lyrics to hundreds of songs from all genres and religious traditions.

His daughter, Hannah Franco-Isaacs, said that when you were in the Unity Church sanctuary and the entire congregation was singing, you could hear his voice above everyone else in the space, for better or evil. And each time it did, I would turn to the person I was in church with and ask, “Can you hear that?” Someone else attending the ceremony who was positioned somewhat near to him would start giggling when I made eye contact with them.

On November 7, 1951, Robert Lewis Eller-Isaacs was born in Chicago. He and his wife, Janne Eller-Isaacs, co-ministered Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul for more than 20 years. He received a metastasized bile duct cancer diagnosis in February, and he passed away on July 23.

He was a founding member of the Chicago Children’s Choir as a youngster, which has now grown to include thousands of members. His dedication to diversity and his lifelong passion of singing were inspired by it. When he was still a young adolescent, this and other Unitarian Universalist organizations gave him a feeling of ministerial calling.

He never completed his undergraduate degree since he traveled during his college years, attending events like the World Peace Conference in India. He graduated from the Unitarian Universalist Starr King School for the Ministry in his early 20s with a master’s degree in divinity. A religion that rejects dogma, upholds an inclusive spirituality, and has a long history of social justice activity is unitarian universalism.

Franco-Isaacs said that Franco-Isaacs “really sincerely felt that there are no other people’s children, that you love everyone as if they were your own.

Eller-Isaacs was a longtime friend of Jen Crow, a senior pastor of the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis. She said that the foundation of his ministry was the idea that no one else’s children exist.

He frequently used that as a rallying cry in his sermons or speeches. Just the fact that we are all accountable to one another, that there is no separation, and if we can learn to love everyone with the same intensity with which we love our children or someone else close to us, it will transform our hearts and transform our behavior.

According to Janne Eller-Isaacs, her husband had his heart repeatedly crushed by our society’s flaws even though he believed in the potential of a multicultural world.

He thought that the pursuit of spiritual growth and social justice were inextricably linked. He believed that the statements “I’m an active minister” or “I dwell in the life of the Spirit” were serious flaws in ministry. No, you have to do both, it said.

Rob held the position of president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association for two years and was a prominent member of the country’s UU community. The couple spent over 20 years serving in Oakland, California, before starting their ministry in St. Paul. Rob served as the Oakland Commission on Homelessness’ initial chairperson there. He continues to assist the homeless in Minnesota in his capacity as co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign Minnesota. His ministry placed a strong emphasis on racial justice, and he played a key role in getting $5 million in financing for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism.

In order to address institutional racism and a lack of diversity in the church’s membership and leadership, the Unitarian Universalist church commissioned an audit in 2017. “That means not shrinking when I’m worried I’m going to be labelled a racist, patriarchal, old pastor,” Eller-Isaacs said in response to the criticism.

He was deeply loyal to his family, according to his wife. In June 2021, the two retired to Portland, Oregon. He was eagerly anticipating retirement, she remarked. When the grandkids entered our house, he would smile.

A service will be held in Portland on September 10 at 3 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church of Portland, and in St. Paul on September 17 at 3 p.m. at Unity Church-Unitarian, 732 Holly Ave.

Both services will be broadcast live, and information will be provided on the CaringBridge page for Eller-Isaacs.

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