About the Author
Anna Bethea
Anna is an Outreach Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association. She's a practical systems thinker who also revels in exploring the woo woo. With a background in social work, entrepreneurship, and religious education, Anna melds compassion with innovation. She believes strongly that UUism is the future of faith: a natural evolution of humanity's inquisitiveness about the nature of existence and meaning.

Welcoming, Whiteness, and Pineapples

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

A friend of mine sarcastically commented the other day that it must be the year of hospitality: you can’t go far in a store without seeing all sorts of pineapple-emblazoned products.  And yet, this is also the year of attempted travel bans, denial of health care, and walls to keep people out.  So what does it mean when seemingly opposing views crop up in our wider U.S. culture?  And what cues can we as UUs take from it in dismantling the obstacles to welcoming more people of color into our congregations and faith movement?  

Things usually keep cropping up until we take care of the root causes.  So, let’s take a look at the roots of the pineapple and its connections to “welcoming.”

 

Framed vintage dictionary page with a color print overlay: a "coolguy" wearing a blue suit with a pineapple for a head, wearing aviator sunglasses
Used with permission. Rex Ephemera, LiteralPrint Etsy Shop

What’s the Context?

Pineapples have long been a symbol of hospitality.  As commonplace as they might be today, history is very clear about who the hospitality was meant for and who paid for it with their lives.  Plucked from the Caribbean, the pineapple’s rare, exotic, and evocative image was the envy of upper-class Europeans.  To have it adorn your dining table boasted of the host’s wealth and resourcefulness, and was to be enjoyed only by those who such a host deemed worthy.  And, as is often the case, real people were taken advantage of in every way to make this farce a possibility.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love pineapples.  But every time I see one as a supposed symbol of hospitality, I’m reminded of this history.  Sometimes I can let it go as a simple anachronism.  Sometimes the spirit of the welcomer is strong enough for me to look past it altogether.  But the work of figuring out the host’s intent and its eventual outcome almost always falls on me.  Is this someone I can trust to uphold my inherent worth and dignity in the long run?  Or am I just another pineapple: someone who looks different, interesting, and can be collected to bump up an image of a diversity-welcoming community?  

The very term “welcome” can be problematic, as well.  The way we use it today, there’s a connotation that we wish the “comer” well.  But when we dig into the etymology, we see another questionable history.  “Wilcuma” is the Old English root meaning “one whose coming suits another’s will or wish.”  Here again, we see the will or wish of the host centered.  And a condition placed on the guest.

This is illustrated by our tendency to wrap collection of contact information and self-identification into the welcoming process.  It becomes transactional: you will welcome me if I’ll make it easier for you and agree to receiving more information from you.  This is infinitely more difficult for someone who isn’t sure if they can trust you yet – if you imitate or disrupt the white dominant culture.  And this is where intent has to match outcome, or you will lose that trust and the welcome never truly happened.  This is about being sensitive to the timing.  Just as, when dating, you’d look for signs of interest before trying to get someone’s number (at least, I hope you would)!

 

From Good Intentions to Good Outcomes

I was recently inspired by Dr. Janice Marie Johnson, the UUA’s Director of Multicultural Ministries & Leadership.  She said, “We’re in a time that invites us to be welcoming in new ways… to find the ways to be more authentically welcoming.”  Authenticity in welcoming relationships requires mutual respect and exchange.  It’s not about the host putting on a show, proving themselves, offering diversity bonafides (I’ve been guilty of this!).  It’s not about letting guests figure out for themselves whether they’ll fit into the existing culture.  It’s all about being aware of the context of systemic oppression that a guest has to endure every day, and doing our work as hosts to make our space not just safer, but also enriching and life-giving.

It’s tricky to formulate what an authentic relationship should or could look like, given the range of cultures, personalities, and communication preferences.  In addition to being aware of how systemic oppression works, it includes leaving space for the person to have and possibly tell you their own experience.  This might look like training your greeters to remember guests and follow up after the service to hear what they thought and felt and get their contact information if they seem interested in more.  It might look like training and reminding your congregants to talk to guests or people they haven’t met yet during coffee hour rather than making guests introduce themselves in the service.

Welcoming versus Othering basic intercultural hospitality tip sheet - two columns of "Say This" and "Instead of"
Handout to use for training and awareness

If you’re a white person who’s speaking with a person of color (especially in a social context that is majority white), let your guest lead the conversation and always check for understanding.  They may have a completely different experience from what you imagine and be seeking a safe space where they can express it and be their own complex, unique selves.  It may involve long-term relationship building rather than expecting someone to trust you immediately.  Or, it might involve being ready and flexible to new ideas if someone wants to “dive in.”  Really, this is no more of a courtesy than we’d extend to people of a perceived “ingroup.”  We need to practice widening this to all guests.

Pineapples can be enjoyed by everyone.  And hosts’ intentions don’t have to be at odds with the outcome their guests experience.  The nuanced but pivotal difference is authentic relationship and a willingness to be transformed.  Dr. Janice Marie Johnson points out that “There’s no common notion of welcome. Wherever we go, it looks different.”  I’m interested to see what images of hospitality look like in the next 500 years – ones that don’t have roots in colonialism and white supremacy.  May we sow new seeds of welcome that bear fruits for our collective liberation.

Check out Multicultural Welcome: a Resource for Greeters for more depth, including workshop activities you can use for training in your congregation.  You can also use the Welcoming versus Othering handout for greeter training and congregational awareness.

Look for the Unbuilders

by Natalie Briscoe,

Congregational Life Field Staff for the UUA serving the Southern Region

One of my favorite teaching stories is “The Carpenter and The Unbuilder.” The main character of the story is the Carpenter, who is the most skilled tradesperson in the whole country. The Ruler hears of the Carpenter’s accomplishments and sends an invitation to come to the palace for dinner. The Carpenter, who is used to construction, spends a long time – years even – preparing for the journey. Etiquette lessons, new clothing, and classes in politics and current affairs all must be acquired before the journey can even begin. Once the trip is underway, the Carpenter finds many reasons to stop along the way: building elaborate, beautiful, and – most importantly – comfortable houses to stay in. The Carpenter often allows fear of the unknown and of their own inadequacy stall the journey. These detours keep happening until one day, the Carpenter meets the Unbuilder. The Unbuilder shows the Carpenter how to dismantle, take apart, and “unbuild” the structures around them so the journey can continue. The Undbuilder teaches the Carpenter that it is impossible to reach the Kingdom if these things we have built – no matter how beautiful – keep distracting us. Sometimes we aren’t building homes; we are building prisons.

This story is a metaphorical telling of our journey through Faith Development.  We begin at home, learning what we can trust, what we can rely on. We hear the stories of who we are, and we learn to tell those stories to others. We come to know these stories as part of our history, our identity, and our legacy. We build lots of structures – churches, curricula, pedagogy, programs, worship services, polity, governance – around the truths we hear in these stories. Our love of the story, the story that informs who we are, transfers to a love of these structures we’ve built. They are comfortable to the Carpenters. The Carpenters learn to recognize other Carpenters, the people who are skilled at building like they are. They tell them the stories, and together, they make something bigger than themselves. Individuals spend a lot of time in this building stage as Carpenters and often leave a great legacy of structures behind them. James T. Fower, the author of “Stages of Faith Development,” calls this stage “Synthetic-Conventional.” It is a community-based stage, where building a community of those who know our stories is important to us.

Eventually, on our Journey of Faith Development, we meet the Unbuilder.  The Unbuilders can be inside our UUA and outside; inside of our member congregations and outside; inside our own souls, and outside. Meeting the Unbuilder, in the metaphorical sense, ushers in the stage Fowler would call the “Individuative-Reflexive Stage” of Faith Development. The things we built with such care and time must be deconstructed. Where once they were vehicles to bringing the story to life, they are now the things which stand in the way of our journey. We must take them apart in order to remember what about them was so important to begin with. This part of the story – this Stage of Faith – is scary and often very painful. We have worked so hard to build these structures. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to see them torn down. And yet, if we don’t do this, we are stuck. Our stories and the values they represent are held captive to the structures, and we become unable to move forward on our Journey to a deeper Faith.

The moral of the story is this (and it is more true this very second than ever before):

Unitarian Universalists have long misunderstood themselves in the context of religious mission.

The purpose of the church is not to have the church.

Unitarian Universalism can save the world, but we don’t let it. We lock it away in scaffolds and structures. We confine it to process and systems. We build walls to hold it prisoner. We keep our mouths closed when we should scream. We keep our hands still when they should work. We let fear guide us instead of love.

That is wrong. This structure, this church, this building, this person – none of that can contain the whole of Unitarian Universalism. The purpose of the church is not to keep its structures in place. The purpose of the church is to be the institutional incarnation of Love on earth. And it grows organically out of the needs of the people who are transforming the world through active, forceful, and fearless creation of love and justice. Saving the world leads to the need to feed the souls of those who are DOING it. The work comes FIRST, the structure comes SECOND – if at all.

Tearing down the structure only destroys the mission if the mission wasn’t there to begin with. If the work is clear, and we understand ourselves to truly be the builders of the beloved community, then this process won’t destroy us. It will set us free.

___________________

 

by Natalie Briscoe,

Congregational Life Field Staff for the UUA serving the Southern Region

Natalie received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 where her focus was on learning and perception across the lifespan. She received her Master’s Degree in counseling and human development from the University of North Texas in 2002. She has amassed over a decade as a Religious Educator, serving first as a Children’s Program Coordinator and then as a Director of Religious Education for two churches, one in North Texas and one in Seattle, Washington. In 2012 Natalie received both the Ruth Clark Award for Service to Unitarian Universalism and the Norma Veridan Award for Outstanding Contributions to Religious Education. She has served on the Congregational Life Field Staff for the Southern Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association since 2013. Natalie is married to her best friend Sean Briscoe, and the couple have two children, Ian and Ayla.

 

Outreach: Do they need us, or we them?

by AJ van Tine

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

The current social and political climate presents Unitarian Universalists with an opportunity, as well as a challenge. We are overwhelmed by the need to reach out to support those affected by recent racist, heterosexist, transphobic, and Islamophobic policies, and counter with our Unitarian Universalist message of radical love and beloved community. In times like these, how do we stay grounded in our core purposes for reaching out and not get swept up in the latest news cycle, as relevant as it may be. Why do Unitarian Universalists want to reach out?

girl looking out from door
Photo via Pixabay

One reason to reach out is to be loud about our values of love and justice – to evangelize. Evangelism isn’t about recruiting; it says that we have good news for the world, and that we should spread it! We have a truth to share because it may benefit others. Unitarian Universalism may not have a single creed that we want others to adopt, but we do have a message of hope. Our principles describe a vision of an equitable, peaceful, and justice-filled world. We can call this the “they need us” approach, although we know more accurately that they do not need you and me as individuals, but they need the message that we share.

On the other hand, there is a “we need them” approach. This is the seventh principle kind of “we need them.” More than the practical logic that we can accomplish more together than separately, it is the recognition that we have always been inherently interconnected to one another. When we try to achieve our vision of diverse and equitable community with only the people we already know, through networks and methods we are already familiar with, we fall short that very vision which calls us on. The act of outreach is not merely a means to the beloved community, but it is actively how we create it.

Of course, the truth is that these two approaches are not opposites. They are deeply intertwined aspects of outreach. I strongly believe Unitarian Universalism proclaims a saving message that our country is in dire need of today.  If we are to stay true to the content of this message and spread it far and wide, we have to be on guard against talking only to ourselves. Opening our hearts and doors to create vibrant relationships with new people and their communities is both the method and the message.

This isn’t easy. It requires being brave and putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable, and we always want to articulate our message as clearly and powerfully as possible. The good news is you are not left on your own! Here are some social media graphics you can use to spread the good word.

Why outreach? Because it is by building relationships and diverse community that we can transform ourselves and the world. If it is true that we should be the change we wish to see in the world, then our congregations can start the process by practicing radical hospitality within our walls and by preaching love outward into the larger society.

___________________

AJ van TineAJ van Tine is a field education student completing an internship at the UUA. He is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist from Virginia with an aspiration for ministry, and in his second year at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife Ada, who is also a lifelong Unitarian Universalist.

More Like a Marathon than a Sprint

From the Outreach Revolution Series: sign up to get shareable social media graphics, learning experiences, and join other UU outreachers like you.

Growth isn’t always about numbers and getting more people in the door, as has been the premise of this blog all along.  But there’s no denying that the act of growing Unitarian Universalism will always require us to focus outward while simultaneously nurturing capacity and spirit inward.  As more UUs ramp up the exercise of living their values in the political world, the Rev. Dr. James Kubal-Komoto shares the results of some studies that will train us for a marathon.

___________________

Unitarian Universalists by the hundreds and perhaps by the thousands participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and in sister marches in cities across the United States to stand up for our shared values of compassion and justice for all people. I suspect this was the largest Unitarian Universalist public witness since the 1963 March on Washington. A weekend later, Unitarian Universalists across the country participated in demonstrations again at our nation’s airports.

Will this level of participation continue in the weeks, months, and years ahead, or will it fizzle? It may depend on three things:

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Xmas CTA: Engaging visitors during the holidays

This post (and its customizable social media graphics!) is offered through the monthly Outreach Updates. Sign up here to get your outreach virtual care package each month. 

It’s hard to believe it’s already December, after what’s been a grueling November for many of us.  And yet, time marches on.  The holiday season calls to us, asking us to lean in and integrate our current circumstances with the joy and abundance that usually highlight this season.  Your congregation will also see an increase in visitors, especially for special holiday services that appeal our neighbors who aren’t regular churchgoers.  They come to you because you help them bridge the gap between tradition, cultural expectations, and a liberal worldview.

An outreach mindset asks us to open ourselves to the experience of meeting people where they are.  Especially now as people are looking for groups which will uphold hope and love for diversity in beliefs, culture, and identities, we as Unitarian Universalists can meet that need.  But an outreach mindset also asks us to risk our own comfort, to show that we’re interested in their welfare beyond just a holiday encounter.  We have to invite them into a mutually transformative relationship.  That’s where an XMAS CTA comes into action!

Use this and other UUA-branded backgrounds for your messaging and event announcements. Click the picture to download from Google Drive.

A Call to Action (CTA) is anything that invites someone to deepen their engagement and relationship with you.  And they’re essential for you to plan thoughtfully ahead of time.  When someone’s looking for a faith community to celebrate the holidays with, we want them to have an open and clear invitation to your congregation.  When they’ve come to visit, you want them to walk away knowing a little bit about who you are and what you offer that fits their ongoing needs.  After they visited, they need to know that you’re looking forward to seeing them again – that they’re wanted and welcome.

 

Before…

  • Social Media Engagement.  Whether people decide to attend a holiday service, you can engage your members, their friends, and your wider community through your congregation’s social media presence.  Being a strong voice for liberal values in your community this December will help sow goodwill and merriment in your community, while also building awareness about your congregation.  You can use these ideas and adapt them to other holidays or specific to the types of services or events your congregation has planned.
  • Schedule Your Posts.  Make a Facebook event.  Use our free holiday graphics to post a visually appealing invitation to your service or event with clear information.  Schedule them or make sure to post several times… a few weeks, a week, and the day before.  Engage your members and ask for commitments from some of them to share and invite their friends on social media or personally.

During…

  • Have a Specific Ask or Invitation.  Don’t overwhelm your guests with a lot of announcements or tell them all about your committees.  Decide with greeters, staff, and other lay leaders to make one specific call to action.  If it’s relevant, you can highlight any new sermon series or themes you’ll be exploring in January.  Be consistent in your messaging.  Fewer choices often help people feel comfortable with a clear path to engagement.
  • Plan a Specific Event for Holiday Visitors.  If you can, plan an entry point event in the near future that will meet the needs of your holiday visitors.  Although inviting them to a specific church function is better than nothing, you want your visitors to feel that you’re there for them.  The more barriers they feel in learning the UU lingo or having to get comfortable in a sea of strangers, the less likely they are to come back.  Think about if you were visiting your congregation for the first time during the holidays, what would you be most inclined to come back for?  Your congregation may already be engaging in post-election actions for justice, so that’s a great place to start. Or what about a newcomers or Intro to UU group starting in January?  A coffee  and tea gathering with the minister?  A new parent group with childcare?  Find where your unique offerings and ministry can provide, and match it with the people you’re most likely to meet during the holidays.
  • Invitation to Reflect and Connect.  Perhaps during the service, or through visitor cards, ask people what their needs are.  Acknowledge that the holidays sometimes ask a lot of us, and that we’re here to listen and find ways to meet those needs.  During the December holidays, many people are looking for warmth.  If you’re providing a New Year’s related service, you may also have them reflect on their skills and strengths, and how they want to contribute to the world around them.  In January, people are often ready to be transformed and develop healthy and life-giving habits.

After…

  • Offer a Gift.  Buy or ask volunteers to donate some baked goods, candies, cards, UU CDs, books, or any other small, inexpensive gift.  The Principles and Sources bookmark or the new UU World Seeker Issue may be good choices if you don’t have something available locally.  Attach a card with your congregation’s service times or invitation to a specific event for visitors.  This lets people know that you consider it a privilege that they chose your congregation to visit.  It’s a way to thank them for sharing themselves with you, even for a short visit.
  • Follow Up.  Setting up a series of 2 or 3 short automated email follow-ups lets visitors know that you’re still thinking of them and would like to connect again.  It’s also helpful for staff, who may be taking time off for the holidays and won’t be able to follow up until January.  Include a specific invitation in these emails, as well.

 

As always, practice empathy and make adjustments based on a visitor’s individual needs.  Understand that you’re holding space for complex needs.  Some are there to celebrate.  Some are hopeful.  Some are weary, tired, or at wit’s end.  And most are likely holding some combination of these at once.  We’re here to walk alongside, listen, and work toward a dream of what we want our lives and communities to look like in the future.  Next year, you’ll have an even better idea of who your congregation attracts during the holidays.