A White Privilege Wake-Up Call

alarm clockA wake-up call, according to the Urban Dictionary, is “when you’ve been doing something self-destructive for some time (perhaps without realizing it) before something serious happens that forces you to come to terms with what you’ve been doing and that you need to stop.”

“Something serious” happened to me last summer when I read the book, Waking Up White. Debby Irving, the book’s author, explained, “Exploring one’s relationship to that (dominant) culture is where the waking-up process begins.”

The book had a profound effect on me. As I read, I saw myself over and over again in Irving’s story. We come from similar backgrounds and went to the same college; the list of commonalities went on and on. Irving was 48 when she enrolled in an anti-racism class that would start her awakening. I was 45 when I attended the Multicultural Religious Education Renaissance module at The Mountain camp and conference center in North Carolina and was first introduced to Peggy McIntosh’s essay Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It was the first time I had ever heard of “white privilege”.

Toward the end of her book, Irving asks,

How can racism possibly be dismantled until white people, lots and lots of white people, understand it as an unfair system, get in touch with the subtle stories and stereotypes that play in their heads, and see themselves not as good or bad but as players in the system?

I have been asking myself these same questions, and it reminded of another wake-up call I experienced at General Assembly 2015 in Portland.

During the Starr King President’s lecture, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt introduced us to the term white fragility and spoke about a paper on the topic by Robin DiAngelo. She said, “I believe that whites who are serious about countering oppression and doing the work of liberation will first need to build their resilience to combat this culturally supported state of fragility, and Robin DiAngelo will do for this next generation of anti-racist work what Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay on white privilege did for the previous generation of anti-racist work.” She’s right, it’s a very powerful article.

Rev. Bray McNatt asked at the end of her talk

What are you willing to do? Are you willing to give up your silence and your complicity? Are you willing to be less fragile in your whiteness and more resilient? Are you ready to face the voice that is planted in your head and maybe your heart, and repent, turn away from the white supremacist culture you were taught not to notice, and turn toward a new way that we could build together?

Are you ready?

Next Steps!

Here are resources for you to read, reflect, journal, share, and talk about with trusted friends. Toward what actions does your reading and reflection guide you?

Towards the “Other America:” Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter, is a call to action to end white silence and a manual on how to do it. The e-book and discussion guide are provided, at no charge, by Chris Crass, an organizer, educator, and writer. He is also the author of “We Must Weather the Storm to See the Rainbow: An Open Love Letter to White UUs Struggling with Their Commitment to Black Lives Matter,” published on the Standing on the Side of Love website.

Turning Wine into Water

kegBy Bart Frost

My first congregational event as a brand new Director of Religious Education was an ordination. I was greeted with smiles, handshakes, and a keg sitting in a bucket of ice. This was my first professional gig and I had no idea about what the expectation was around drinking at congregationally-sponsored events. In the midst of a new role, in a new city, I also had to figure out which was more professional: to have just one or none at all? Then, a member of the Board offered me a beer. Taking a cue from the minister, who had a glass of wine, I graciously accepted and stopped after one.

Now, it may not seem like it, but that situation was terrifying at the time. I had to navigate new social codes and I wanted to make a good first impression. I wasn’t responsible for any youth or children at the ordination. Yet, I was worried that as a young adult Director of Religious Education, if I drank publicly I would be seen as immature and not serious about my new job.wine bottles

Alcohol plays a huge part in lubricating our society, ensuring social situations glide effortlessly with an overabundance of laughter. Alcohol is a depressant that exaggerates our emotions. Alcohol stratifies and divides: wine vs. beer, domestic vs. craft, sober vs. not. Alcohol unifies; we build bonds over drinks after work. Alcohol is holy (John 2:1-11), and something that holy people avoid (1 Timothy 3:8). Alcohol is both civilized and dangerous.

How do the common narratives around alcohol play out in your congregation? How do they play out for the entire UUA? A little over ten years ago, I helped the General Assembly Planning Committee draft the following policy for GA:

No alcoholic beverages will be served or allowed at any Planning Committee sponsored event. All events during General Assembly offering alcoholic beverages must also offer attractive non-alcoholic beverages with equal accessibility and prominence. No alcoholic beverages will be served to anyone under the age of 21. As a community we are committed to GA being a safe environment and all attendees are encouraged to support this goal.

A few years later, I met with the Youth Ministry Advisory Committee as a representative of the General Assembly Planning Committee. They wanted to discuss the alcohol culture at General Assembly, because it is common knowledge that getting a sponsor who is willing to not drink during all of GA is extremely difficult. This was not the first or last time the issue had arisen. For many who attend, General Assembly is a professional conference where old friendships are renewed or new networks built over drinks.

Our alcohol culture resides deep within our congregations. Colleagues have shared with me struggles in their congregation about whether or not alcohol should be available at their congregational retreat. There are too many stories about minors having to be hospitalized for alcohol poisoning because alcohol was left in the open and not monitored. Once when I was Director of Religious Education, I found leftover wine from a congregational dinner in the youth room. It was hidden behind a bookcase by a well-meaning person who didn’t want to leave it in plain view. Luckily, the youth group was on a hiatus at the time.

Ask yourself: How does our society’s culture and attitude towards alcohol affect and influence (pun intended) the life of your congregation?

Here are more questions you need to talk about with the leadership in your congregation:

  1. Is it legal to serve alcohol for [x] event? Many states, cities, and towns required a permit for the sale of alcoholic beverages. In some places, this extends to ticket sales that include a glass of wine or beer with dinner. Do your research and consult a lawyer.
  1. How does alcohol consumption further the mission of our congregation? Are you serving wine as part of a ritual, such as communion? Does it have a spiritual function or is it serving social needs? If it is related to your mission, what alternatives are being provided for those who have to drive, for youth, or for sober participants? How are you creating a welcoming space for them?
  1. Is having alcohol present preventing members of your congregation from being fully present in the community? Are you excluding sober members and youth because they are uncomfortable with the way alcohol is consumed? Also, is alcohol so present that it clouds decision-making processes? Mad MenWhile we aren’t responsible for others’ sobriety, we can make it easier for those who are sober to be in our spaces by not having alcohol or having attractive non-alcoholic options in prominent places. In an inclusive and welcoming community, we don’t push people away because they ask us for help. If a member of our congregation comments that the presence of alcohol is disturbing, we have a responsibility to listen and act. Alcohol should never be present at committee meetings or business meetings; this isn’t the Mad Men Era.

These are just the first questions to ask as you evaluate the influence of alcohol in your congregation. As you delve deeper, you might seek out additional resources like the ones below. Has your congregation recently discussed its alcohol policy? Tell us how it went in the comments!

Next Steps!

Find out about Addictions Ministry on UUA.org

Read and share Restored to Sanity: Meditations on the Twelve Steps, by Ken and Cathlean (Skinner, 2014. Read a Call and Response post about the book.

Explore Safe Congregation resources and engage your congregation’s leadership in conversations about policies and norms.

About the Blogger

Bart ProfileBart Frost currently serves as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at the Unitarian Universalist Association. He has served a number of our congregations in volunteer and paid roles before joining the UUA in 2014. In his former life, Bart managed a wine bar in New Orleans, and retains his sommelier certifications. Reach him on social media:

Facebook: Unitarian Universalist Youth Ministry; The Hub: Young Adult UUs

Twitter: @bartfrost; @YaYAUU    Instagram: @instayayauua

Our Whole Lives Visits the National Sex Ed Conference

Last fall, I shopped for owl-print clothing online. I waded through countless options until landing on a grey dress with a big white owl at the hem; a dress made of fabric of covered with bright blue owls, and pink pajamas printed with brown owls. Meanwhile, Amy Johnson, MSW, the United Church of Christ (UCC) OWL Program Coordinator, bought PJ’s to match mine, as well as a black dress adorned with appliques of patchwork branches and owls.

Amy Johnson and Melanie Davis in their OWL finery.
Amy Johnson and Melanie Davis in their OWL finery.

We picked out these items to help people at the December 2015 National Sex Ed Conference in New Brunswick, NJ, identify us easily to discuss Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education, the curriculum jointly published by the UUA and UCC and fondly nicknamed OWL. We wore our dresses to host an OWL Special Interest Group (SIG) the opening night of the conference. We wore the PJ’s to the “Bedtime Stories” event featuring milk, cookies, and children’s author Robie H. Harris reading from her books, two of which are used with children’s Our Whole Lives curricula. I wore the gray dress when we co-presented a workshop titled, “Five Ways to be a Faith-Sensitive Sexuality Educator.”

Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education is a comprehensive curriculum used not only in UU and UCC congregations, but also in community-serving organizations, private and charter schools, public schools, private homes, and other settings and faith communities. Our Whole Lives is secular and promotes the values of Self Worth, Sexual Health, Responsibility, Justice and Inclusivity. Curricula are available for grades K-1, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, Young Adult, and Adult. When used in UU and UCC congregations, Our Whole Lives it is supplemented by Sexuality and Our Faith: A Companion to Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education, which puts the educational content into the context of each faith tradition’s values.

OWL-print PJs
OWL-print PJs

Over the years, increasing numbers of congregations have used Our Whole Lives as a form of outreach, inviting members of their larger communities to participate in the program. As a result of our interest in helping congregations create welcoming spaces for non-members, Amy and I developed a workshop for the 2016 UUA General Assembly titled, “Faith-Sensitive OWL Programming for Community Outreach.” Our workshop for the National Sex Ed Conference was a modified version of the workshop we will offer in Columbus this June.

We were pleased that close to 50 people attended our workshop, even though it started at 8:30 am the morning after several late-night events. Attendees came from settings ranging from faith communities to public schools. During the workshop they learned how to work with sexuality education curricula, including OWL, in ways that acknowledge learners’ diverse religious and faith perspectives. We presented simple techniques that reduce the likelihood participants will either opt out or tune out of valuable information because their own perspectives are not recognized. By the end of the workshop, participants had learned how the difference between understanding and agreeing affects the learning process; they could demonstrate the difference between a fact, a belief, and a value; and they could identify five ways to acknowledge different perspectives without distracting from a curriculum’s core values.

The 2015 conference was the first at which we hosted an OWL Special Interest Group (SIG), which attracted about 30 people who used the opportunity to ask us questions about implementation, best practices, upcoming plans, and the use of the curriculum in settings other than congregations.

In addition to activities shared with Amy, I co-presented a three-hour pre-conference seminar with Robin Goldberg-Glen, PhD, MSW, with whom I am co-president of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University. Our program introduced many issues that will be addressed in the Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Older Adults curriculum, which is currently in development.

This was the third time the Our Whole Lives team has presented at the National Sex Ed Conference. We are thrilled that the Our Whole Lives program has a place at this prestigious conference. And, we are excited each year to see so many of our facilitators and trainers proudly sporting OWL ribbons attached to their name badges.

I don’t know when I might wear my owl-themed clothing again, but I do anticipate that Amy and I will continue to present programs that increase understanding about the Our Whole Lives curriculum and, in the process, support its current users and introduce this wonderful sexuality education resource to potential users.

Next Steps!

  • Visit Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education ­webpages to learn more about the curriculum.
  • Going to General Assembly? Attend our workshop, “Faith-Sensitive OWL Programming for Community Outreach” to learn how to make your program as inclusive as possible.
  • Attend the National Sex Education Conference, if you are an Our Whole Lives facilitator or trainer, a health or sexuality education teacher, a health researcher, or someone curious about state-of-the-art sexuality education. The conference is hosted each December by the Center for Sex Ed, which is the national education division of Planned Parenthood of Central and Greater Northern New Jersey. The 2015 conference attracted 770 attendees from across the US and about two dozen other countries.
  • Read about Religious Diversity in America, as explained by Randall Balmer, Professor of American Religious History, Barnard College, Columbia University.
  • Explore religious diversity by reading a Pew Research Center article on Global Religious Diversity

About the Blogger

Melanie DavisMelanie Davis is the Our Whole Lives Program Associate in the Faith Development Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Keepsakes in the Attic

Our attic needed to be emptied for an insulation project. We brought down boxes and boxes of clothing that had once belonged to our three grown children. It all needed to be sorted for saving, discarding, or recycling—a huge, overwhelming job that I intended to get through as quickly as possible.

dragon costume
The homemade dragon costume, found in the attic.

Touching the individual items soon slowed me down: The tiny outfits I had knitted for the children’s baby dedication ceremonies. The Halloween dragon costume a church friend helped me finish in time, the October I had my appendix out. The neon orange and lime green Easter dress (with black lace trim!) that I made at my daughter’s request one year… the tie-dyed T-shirts from UU camp at Ferry Beach. As I moved through the piles of clothes, I began to savor. Here in the fabrics were memories of my children’s growing up years, the small events that helped to shape who they are today. Here folded in boxes were tangible reminders of my growing, too, as I learned how to parent—and then learned again and again, as each child, each age and stage, offered their unique delights and challenges. I found moments of deep joy and gratitude in the midst of a chore I had dreaded.

These artifacts from our family’s earlier years and the stories behind them pointed over and over to our full-immersion participation in Unitarian Universalist faith community. When we interact with children and families in congregations, camps, and conferences, we help to grow and shape not only the children, but ourselves—their parents and caregivers—in a life-long journey of becoming. The rituals and celebrations that families share in a faith community mark the times of our lives and set them apart as cherished memories. Many of those experiences and moments leave artifacts, the sort that tend to end up in an attic: art projects, photos, hand-stitched clothing, treasures found in nature on a memorable day. Some we may discard when we no longer need them to remind us of how we are shaped by our communities. Some, we may may keep as tangible touchstones for a very long time.

What keepsakes remind you of the communities that have touched you? Are they tangible items, or perhaps stored carefully in memory and story? Take a moment to bring them out of storage, either literally or in your mind’s eye. Remember, reflect, and be grateful.

Next Steps!

The Tapestry of Faith curriculum Families invites middle- and high-school youth to reflect on the meaning of family and use photography to explore who families are together.

The Multigenerational Ministry web pages on UUA.org offer suggestions for making worship, learning together, and congregational life more inclusive of parents and families in our congregations.

Let the Ceremony of Light Begin

Christmas candlesTwo weeks ago, I was part of an interfaith gathering where we asked one another, “What is weighing on you? What signs of hope are you finding? How do you see God’s spirit moving in the world?” One by one, people named the troubles that swirl around our communities and our world: racism, violence, despair, poverty, xenophobia, selfishness. We named those things which offered hope and promise. We sat in silence until someone remarked that we all seem to be waiting, waiting for hope and joy to be reborn in our hearts. Waiting and longing, in this advent season, for a sign that peace on earth is coming, and that good will among people is possible.

Unitarians and Universalists are well represented among the architects of our contemporary North American Christmas season. Our faith is evident in the way we celebrate the season: love reaches out beyond our own families; hope can be found in the most unlikely of places; our human hands can do the work of making this world a better place for all people. Even in the face of voices and events that suggest otherwise, Christmas offers us a chance to affirm together the vision that shapes and challenges us as a people of faith.

My family and I will be among the thousands who will head to our Unitarian Universalist faith community on Christmas Eve to hear an ancient story, to sing familiar music, to take in the beauty of candlelight and greens on a dark winter night. And we will be there when children holding lit tapers are charged with bearing the light, bringing it to others, bidding the assembled community to follow the star:

Tell them the star means wisdom,

Tell them the star means kindness

Tell them the star means understanding,

And leads to a vision of a fairer world.

The staff of the UUA Faith Development Office wishes you and those you love a holiday season that renews and strengthens you for the journey ahead!

Next Steps!

Unitarian Universalist readings, meditations, chalice lightings, and blessings for winter holidays can be found in the Worship Web. You might especially want to check out the UU Advent Calendar, by the Reverend Ralph Roberts.

5 Values of Great Teams

You might not think that an historic resort on an isolated island would be the perfect place to talk about dynamic, innovative and faithful teamwork; but you’d be wrong! Last summer, 160 UUs came together for Lifespan Religious Education Week on Star Island and had a transformative experience in shared leadership that is now going viral.

Religious educators enjoy a porch chat at Star Island RE Week.
Religious educators enjoy a porch chat at Star Island RE Week.

Under the weekly theme of “Collaborative Leadership: Stronger Together,” we dreamed, learned, played and sang our way into a new model for UU faith development. We started by talking about how religious communities are changing in America. We recognized that religious education has been a big attraction families to join our congregations. And we noted that religious education is a team sport – it takes volunteers, staff, parents and kids to make it happen. But the magic of the week was that we brought these three strands together in a vision of how faith development can lead the way forward for UUs, fueled by creative and committed teams. Our mantra for the week was “the world is changing, teams are a key, and religious education is a growth strategy.”

I served as the week’s “emcee,” working with the other presenters to embody the collaborative spirit. Our framework was the best-selling book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, which we UU-ified by translating those dysfunctions into the Five Values of Great Teams. Here they are: Trust, Engagement, Commitment, Accountability and Achievement.

5 values

Throughout the week, we realized that, even though UUs often talk about the ways groups and leaders fall short, we rarely say what great teams look like. Our discussions particularly honed in on the first value, Trust. As we built trust together that week, something shifted and the students became the teachers. As workshop leaders we stepped back, and watched creativity emerge from the group that led to an evening vespers service that I’ll always remember. We left the week on fire with our passion for building great teams that can help our congregations adapt and feed the spirits of team members.

For one week on Star Island, we didn’t just talk about collaboration – we felt collaboration deep in our bones. That feeling is a better guide for building great teams than all the analysis and theories in the world, because we know how teams can empower their members to achieve great things.

Next Steps!

If you’re thinking “wow, I wish I had been there,” then I’ve got good news: you can listen to an audio podcast of the week. Supported by a grant from the LREDA 21st Century Fund, it includes theme presentations, exclusive conversations and interviews with workshop leaders. Download the week’s podcast here.

Explore the offerings at summer religious education weeks at UU Camps and Conference Centers: Star Island, Ferry Beach, and The Mountain are three who offer such programs.

About the Blogger

Carey MacDonaldCarey McDonald is the UUA Director of Outreach.

A Humanist Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us! This is a time of religious celebration. Christmas music is playing on the radio and in stores and restaurants, and nativity displays are everywhere. Many of our UU congregations have nativity displays as well. Our choirs sing Christmas carols, and we have special Christmas Eve services. Some of our congregations, those with a significant Jewish demographic, also have Hanukkah celebrations. It is a lovely time of year indeed!Winter Sun

Unfortunately, these celebrations, however lovely, do not speak as well to a cohort of Unitarian Universalists. The 2008 American Religious Identification survey determined that about 40% of Unitarian Universalists described themselves as “secular,” rather than “religious.” Often self-identifying as humanist, these UUs sometimes watch these festivities from the sidelines, experiencing a sense of disconnection and displacement. I have had many conversations with UU humanists, lay leaders and ordinary members, as part of my involvement with the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association. They have shared that this sense of disconnection not only undermines how humanists experience their Unitarian Universalist community and their UU faith identity, but also makes humanists less inclined to support congregational programs, projects, and priorities. There are new forms of faith communities, such as Sunday Assembly groups, which offer specifically humanist-oriented celebrations; some humanists are exploring or joining-these communities, leaving Unitarian Universalism. Thus, I urge Unitarian Universalist congregations to pay attention to integrating humanist-friendly programs and events into the holiday celebration season.

Humanist-themed celebrations during December can help those who don’t find meaning in the Christian nativity story mark the season within their congregational community. UU humanists I speak with prefer at this season to celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, as a science-based holiday. Indeed, a movement called Secular Solstice has risen up within the last few years that draws many humanists out of Unitarian Universalist congregations during the holiday season. Why not take steps to satisfy the needs of UU humanists for community, belonging, and celebrations within our own religious communities and context by having a UU Solstice celebration? Celebrating the solstice within our congregations would draw not only humanists, but others as well.

A UU Solstice celebration would offer a wonderful occasion to reflect on what the last year has meant to participants as individuals. Participants can be asked to share about the most meaningful event in the lives, and what it meant for them. They can reflect on how these life events and experiences inform their personal sense of meaning and purpose, especially in the context of their UU identity and community, receiving support for this reflection process from other participants in the celebration. Participants might also use science-informed strategies to consider their broader sense of meaning and purpose, and how the understanding they gain can inform their personal journey going forward. To this end, I have developed a number of helpful tools, detailed in Next Steps below. Especially helpful would be the app that evaluates one’s sense of meaning and purpose, which participants can take at the beginning and end of the event, and keep taking throughout the year.

Celebrating the solstice within the UU context would provide comfort and support, and a sense of community and belonging to UU humanists during the holiday season. It would help ensure that UU humanists are engaged and generous, develop their UU faith identity, and increase their commitment to their UU community. I hope you consider integrating this celebration into your own congregations!

Next Steps!

Explore Find Your Purpose Using Science, by Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, a free e-book (worksheets and implementation tools available for an additional fee). Links can be found at UUCARDS (UU Curriculum and Resource Developers). More information about Finding Your Purpose through Science can be found on the Intentional Insights website.

Review “Humanism: Just Us…and Everything Else,” a workshop from Building Bridges, a Tapestry of Faith program for youth. Consider adapting the workshop for youth and adults.

Review the Humanist Unitarian Universalists page on UUA.org.

Read Reason and Reverence: Religious Humanism for the 21st Century, by William R. Murry, available for purchase at the UUA bookstore, and apply humanist insights to your life.

About the Blogger

Gleb Tsipursky photoDr. Gleb Tsipursky, author of Find Your Purpose Using Science (2015), currently worships at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbus, Ohio. He is president of Intentional Insights, a nonprofit that empowers people to refine and reach their goals through providing research-based content to help improve thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns. He is a tenure-track professor at Ohio State University and a member of the Decision Sciences Collaborative there.

Reclaiming the Heart of Humanity

A UU, two Hindus, and a Baha’i walk into a Christian Ethiopian restaurant.

The opening line to a culturally insensitive joke?

No, my last dinner at the Parliament of the World’s Religions.

In October, I attended the fifth Parliament in Salt Lake City. This one followed two Parliaments in Chicago (1893 and 1993), one in Cape Town (1999), one in Barcelona (2004), and the most immediately previous one in Melbourne (2009). This Parliament’s theme was “Reclaiming the Heart of Humanity: Compassion, Peace, justice and Sustainability.”

I decided to attend before learning the the UUA was a sponsor of the Parliament. Interfaith work just makes sense to me. Perhaps it is because I have had so much opportunity to be part of multi-faith communities. Jessica York at parliament

I was raised by an unchurched Christian mother, who taught me God is Love; Jesus was sent to earth to show us how to love; What we need to do is to try to emulate that love as best as we can; Don’t worry about the other rules. Her lack of denominationalism and non-judgmental attitude opened the way for me to be accepting of a broad range of beliefs. I spent time as a Catholic and an agnostic. I learned about Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. I loved reading about the gods and goddesses of other religions. Unitarian Universalism enabled me to belong to a faith with people of diverse theologies. I have siblings who are Catholic and Baptist – including a Baptist bishop – and I live with a Jewish partner and a UU atheist daughter. For more than a decade, I served on the board of an interfaith non-profit working to prevent homelessness in my city. Mostly recently, I learned of the work of Reverend Dr. William Barber and the Forward Together Movement, a grassroots movement based on moral imperatives, not strict religious lines.

And why not embrace religious pluralism? Our faith, which seeks wisdom from holy books all over the world, has a unique role to play in bridging religious differences. Many attendees of the Parliament – UUs and non-UUs – understood this, too, through their knowledge of the work of Jenkin Lloyd Jones and other Unitarians and Universalists who were instrumental in working with others to create the first Parliament. I feel our faith calls me to be a bridge builder.

How delightful it was to find myself at the Parliament, where everyone sees themselves that way. All brought our curiosity about others’ religions and how each religion calls us to witness and work for justice. We brought a desire to find ways to use both our commonalities and our differences to create a more peaceful and just world. We mourned collectively for the injuries of our world and made heartfelt commitments, as people of faith, to try to heal them. We shared lunch together at Langar, a meal free to all that is part of the Sikh tradition, sang together, and learned together at hundreds of workshops. The photo is of me and my new Hindu friend from Australia, Mangalam Vasan. She was one of the dinner partners.

Our June 2016 General Assembly’s theme is “Heartland: Where Faiths Connect.” So I’m wondering: where and when have you connected with a multi-faith community?

Next Steps!

Watch video recordings of portions of the Parliament.

The UUA’s booth at the Parliament was used to create short videos inviting participants to talk about their faith traditions. View the gallery here.

Rev. Dr. Barber was a keynote speaker at a UU conference in March in Alabama. You can find links to the video of his presentation, as well as a study guide and small group ministry session based on his keynote in the Marching in the Arc of Justice Toolkit.

Southern Witness: Inspiration from Our History

Southern Witness CoverHow would your congregation respond if a bomb threat forced you to shorten the post-service reception welcoming new members and re-locate child care for the stewardship dinner that evening? In March of 1965 Unitarian Universalists in Birmingham, Alabama, responded to such a threat with a 45% pledge increase.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, the Rev. Ken MacLean was entrusted with coordinating local logistics when the Poor People’s Campaign brought 500 to 800 people through town on their way to Washington in May of 1968. Ken phoned church member Janet Porter and asked, “Can you feed a thousand people tomorrow?” The people were fed.

All of us who venture into social justice work worry about whether our commitment will stir fierce opposition, either within the congregation or in the wider community. We feel frustration when even the strongest, best planned action yields no immediate visible results. In the worst cases, our justice-making actions stir massive pushback but achieve little or no clear change.

As we meet the justice-making challenges and commitments of our own time, it may be comforting to become better acquainted with the lives and work of our co-religionists 45 to 65 years ago in the southern United States. They operated in a context in which it could be a bold and revolutionary social justice action just to have a non-segregated church service. The pushback could take the form of job terminations for church members, or even, on rare occasions, violence. While Unitarian Universalists sometimes face opposition when taking a stance for justice today, the strength and viciousness of the opposition is unlikely to come close to that of the Civil Rights Era.

In 1965, I was serving a northern congregation, but went south and spent two weeks in Selma. Although my presence and civil rights work had only a minute impact on the events there, it was life-changing for me. In 1969, I moved to Jackson, Mississippi, and began serving as minister among people who lived with and were immersed in issues of racial justice every day. What I learned changed my life even further. I’ve been collecting stories of southern Unitarians and Universalists of that era ever since. Many of those stories have wound up in Southern Witness: Unitarians and Universalists in the Civil Rights Era.

Reading the stories can’t be the same as living them. But it can help us know that others before us have experienced and survived severe controversy and opposition. It can also help us to remember that work for racial justice, today echoed in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, is serious business, and will ask many of us to move outside our comfort zones and grow into deeper understandings and longer commitments. A seemingly short-term success (feeding a thousand people tomorrow!) sprang from practiced collaboration. Significant long-term change may depend on years of work before getting visible results. These stories can provide inspiration and wisdom for today’s Unitarian Universalists in the ongoing work of racial justice.

Next steps!

A reflection, discussion, and action guide for Southern Witness is available on UUA.org. The guide, written by Deborah Kahn, with plans for a single session or for a three-session series, invites today’s Unitarian Universalists to make connections between the stories told in the book and the justice work of our own era. Organize a group in your congregation to read Southern Witness and then to gather and use the guide to help you draw wisdom from the book and act for racial justice in our own time.

Offer Workshop 11, Civil Rights, from Resistance and Transformation: Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History in your congregation.

Watch the film Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay, and gather with others to discuss it using the youth-friendly discussion guide available on UUA.org.

About the Blogger

Gordon Gibson

During his more than forty years in Unitarian Universalist ministry, Gordon Gibson has taken part in voting rights demonstrations in Selma, served as the only Unitarian Universalist minister in Mississippi from 1969 to 1984, and co-founded the Living Legacy Project, which leads pilgrimages to civil rights sites in the South. He is a past president of the Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society.

Military Ministry: Welcoming All Souls in Our Congregations

Welcoming people into our congregations takes a conscious effort. Being open to their stories, accepting them in their differences, and allowing their presence and experiences to transform us can be difficult, even when a person’s stories seem similar to our own. But, when a person brings a set of experiences that are new or different, challenging our own assumptions, it takes more than conscious effort to be welcoming. It takes training and preparation.

photo by Paul Barfoot
photo by Paul Barfoot

Many people who have a military background seek, and often struggle, to find a place in our congregations. A military member, not feeling connected to services at the chapels on base, finds their way to the local Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday. A veteran whose service was decades in the past wonders if the stories of their time in uniform would be welcome in their UU congregation. A military spouse whose loved one is overseas is looking for an accepting and affirming community to be a support during this difficult time of separation. A parent whose child is serving in the military questions whether their UU church can really understand what it feels like to be both proud and frightened at the same time.

I was one of those veterans who wondered if my Unitarian Universalist congregation would be able to hold the stories of my military service. I wondered what my fellow UUs would think of me if they knew I thought about returning to military service. I found some who did understand, but I also encountered many good-hearted people who just did not have the experience to understand the struggle I was going through. I wondered if my religious community was big enough to hold all the stories that were mine.

This Veteran’s Day, make time to consider the role that your congregation might play in the lives of military people, veterans, and their families. What contributions might their experiences make to your own Unitarian Universalist community? How can your congregation seek to grow in your ability to welcome those who are connected to the military? There are resources for training and preparing a congregation for this work available online in the UUA Military Ministry Toolkit. Your congregation can explore and uncover the stories of military service and connection from those already in your congregation. You can also prepare to welcome those beyond our congregations who are looking for a faith like ours. The workshops and materials in the program help congregations and individuals name and explore the assumptions about those connected to military service that may be keeping us from being truly welcoming.

For it is only when our stories, all of our stories, are included in our religious communities that we best express being the faith of All Souls.

Next Steps!

Review the Military Ministry Toolkit for Congregations. Invite other leaders in your congregation to consider growing in capacity to welcome those with military connections.

Become familiar with the Military Ministry of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, our Unitarian Universalist congregation without walls.

Explore the UU Military Facebook page.

About the Blogger

Rev. David PyleRev. David Pyle is the District Executive of the Joseph Priestley District of the UUA, and a member of the Central East Regional Staff of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group. He is also a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain serving at Ft. Dix in New Jersey. As an enlisted soldier, he served in Latin America, Germany, and as a Peacekeeper in Bosnia-y-Herzegovina.