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How I Built This: Rev. Aisha Ansano and Nourish UU

(Image: Nourish UU, Rev. Emily Conger and Rev. Aisha Ansano)

How I Built This features inspiring interviews with Glean Network Alumna, exploring the victories, obstacles, challenges, and breakthroughs that characterize the Spiritual Entrepreneur's journey. This month, we are honored to feature Glean Network Alumni (START Cohort 4), and founder of Nourish - UU Dinner Church Consultants, Rev. Aisha Ansano

What is Nourish UU?

Nourish UU helps communities cultivate thriving dinner church ministries that nourish people in body and spirit through food and ritual. Nourish ministers Rev. Aisha Ansano and Rev. Emily Conger lead worship services and retreats, offer consulting services, and share resources through our newsletter and Nourishing Network. We work with religious professionals to understand the needs of their communities and leverage our expertise and creativity to meet those needs.

(Image: Nourish UU)

Tell us about the “Genesis Story” of Nourish UU. What were its origins? Why did you decide to build this? Why now?

I came into START planning to plant a new church community, something I had been thinking about and planning for a long time. Joining START was the final push I was giving myself in order to make it happen. However, as the pandemic came to the US and changed the ways the world worked, it became clear that a new church where people show up to cook and eat together was going to have to wait. My colleague Rev. Emily Conger was the minister of a dinner church community, and we had been occasionally checking in about dinner church ministry in Unitarian Universalist spaces.

When we talked toward the start of the pandemic, we realized that we had the experience, time, and energy to offer dinner church-inspired worship and consulting to our colleagues who were overwhelmed by the huge shift of moving church online.

We held a webinar to talk with religious professionals about what they might need, and have been hard at work ever since!

(Image: Nourish UU, Rev. Emily Conger and Rev. Aisha Ansano)

What has been the most rewarding experience of building Nourish UU so far?

The feedback from our clients! We’ve been able to provide services that they haven’t had the bandwidth to do themselves in these particularly challenging times, reimagining online retreats, installations, and worship services to deeply nourish their communities and the religious professionals themselves. It is really rewarding to be able to relieve some of the stress our religious professional colleagues are holding, to be able to say to them, “Let us care for you and your people,” and then to hear from them that it has re-energized them, given them time to rest, inspired them to try something new.

What has been the most challenging experience of building Nourish UU so far?

The constant shifts because of the pandemic have made it hard to plan very far ahead. In the spring, we started talking about how we might need to pivot our online offerings as folks got ready to be back together in person. In the summer, it became clear that online was going to be necessary for longer than expected. We’re taking everything slowly and as we need to, holding our big picture dreams with the realities of shifting circumstances—it can be exhausting. I think this would be true on a different scale without the pandemic—things are always shifting—but the pandemic has definitely made it even more challenging.

What were your intentions coming into the START cohort? How did your experience with START support you in your journey?

My plan was to learn skills, find resources, and build my own confidence to a place where I was ready to take the leap to plant a new church community.

The opening retreat was very powerful, and I left with a commitment that I would have some sort of launch by April.

The pandemic changed my plans drastically, but I felt as though I had the skills, resources, and confidence to try something new. When a colleague floated the idea of offering consulting and worship leading services to other religious professionals, my time at START had equipped me to say YES and try it out.

(Image: Nourish UU, Rev. Emily Conger and Rev. Aisha Ansano)

What is one piece of advice you would give to anyone entering START, or taking some of the first steps with their start up?

One of the most helpful steps for me was to really narrow down who my target audience for my ministry was, digging deep into specifics about the population segments I wanted to reach.

While the groups I am working with through Nourish UU are not the same as the groups I planned to target with a dinner church plant, my partner and I were able to reuse the exercises to really narrow down and figure out who, specifically, we were wanting to work with, what services they might need, and how to best advertise to them.

Are there any resources/hacks that particularly help you in your leadership role that you would like to share?

One practice that has been really important through our work together is that no matter what big project deadlines are looming or how many emails we have to answer, Rev. Emily and I always start our time together with a personal check in. It helps remind us that whatever might be stressing us out or exciting us about our work, we also have other things going on in our lives that are important. It helps keep everything in perspective!

Visit the Nourishing Network website and learn more about what they do


Learn about START, our 10-week entrepreneurship incubator taught by Columbia Business School faculty. Deliver your vision into the world while building a sustainable business model to shepherd its growth — and yours.


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