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.

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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.

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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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Let’s Roll – Reaching out like never before in the age of Trump

The 2012 inauguration of President Obama

From the Outreach Revolution Series:

What if this moment, this time in American history, is the reason we’re here as Unitarian Universalists? That’s the thought that popped into my head with the dawn of 2017, on the heels of a very rough 2016. Religious leaders have been put on notice by the decline in church attendance and the rise of the “spiritual but not religious,” yet in many ways our engagement with these trends as Unitarian Universalists has been about us – what we want, what we hope for, what we feel. Right now, the world needs us in a different way, as the fear-filled national election and the incoming administration’s political agenda are sure to demonstrate. It’s why attendance has spiked at UU congregations across the country. We have to push outside the four walls of our congregation because the call to ministry has never been stronger, and it’s happening in the streets. I, for one, feel that this call to action has started to, er, trump our other ideas about the future. Over the last few years we’ve also started waking up our activism with the movements for black lives, immigration reform and gender equity. And now it’s time to level up.

Are you doing something for the Week of Action, January 14-21st? I hope you are. It includes a National Day of Action for Immigrants, Muslims and Refugees, the week-long #Fast4Power, the Women’s March on Washington with sister marches nationwide, the J21 Teach-In on voting rights at All Souls Church Unitarian in DC, and the beginning of our own 30 Days of Love. Here are four ways to maximize your outreach that week, wherever you are:

Be loud
Resist the pressure to normalize the Trump administration’s agenda and the way it will target people of color, queer people, women, and anyone with minority status. The whole world will be paying attention, and it matters that we as a denomination with historic stature begin to resist this agenda. Proclaim your values from the rooftops. People are starting to hear us, so don’t stop now.

With this month’s Outreach Revolution virtual care package, you can download four customizable images to promote the themes of 30 Days of Love. Share them on your personal or congregational Facebook page to show what relationship, covenant, transformation and sustenance mean to UUs who join social movements.

Find friends
Have you reached out to your community partner groups? Interfaith groups and neighbor churches? You’re going to need one another for what’s coming next. You may even need to reach out to each other as members within your congregation, to break down some silos and just make sure your fellow congregants are doing ok. Who in your community will be on the frontline of harassment from the Trump administration and its allies? You may be targeted, or you may know others who will, but in either case you will need friends in a whole new way.

Do stuff
Be out in public this week. Follow the Week of Action links to find an event near you, or maybe you already know of one! Wear t-shirts, carry banners, find a way to express your hopes and fears for the country, your community and the world. Help people who are reconnecting with your community get plugged into these actions. Remember, we need to show the love, not just say the love.

Do more stuff
Keep it up, there will be plenty of opportunities and needs. For all the people who you turn out for the Week of Action and 30 Days of Love, have a next event ready in the coming weeks or months that you can invite them to. Get in that “next ask”! Show your involvement during the Week of Action isn’t a one-off event.

Stay strong, friends. We’re headed towards tougher times, things will get worse. But maybe that’s what we’re here for, and the calling of our times will help us as UU’s become who we were meant to be. As nonprofits, religious organizations are allowed to talk about political issues and needs,* so let’s make the most of it! I believe that if we answer this call, it will lead us to the purposeful and faithful future we’ve hoped for. We’re just getting started.

Let’s roll.

 

*See the UUA’s Real Rules for more information on the actual limits of political activity by religious nonprofits. You may be surprised how much we can do!

Host a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room!

Elephant in the roomI am so proud to be part of a denomination that is focusing much of its social justice energy on the Movement for Black Lives. How proud? Proud enough to have hosted a Conversation about the Elephant in the Room with my own congregation along with our county’s Interfaith Network.

 

She’s big, she’s blue, emblazoned on the side of her body in bold letters is the word  RACISM, and she cannot be ignored. She’s heading out on a coast to coast tour, and she would love to come to your community. There are lots of ways to use her.

 

This is how we did it: At our local Gay Pride Festival this summer, we set up some comfortable furniture (and the giant pachyderm) and simply invited people to talk to each other. Some white people wore blindfolds that said “White Privilege”, a literal way to experience being blinded by white privilege while trying to understand racism.  

 

elephant-solidarity-22When the Movement for Black Lives called for a national day of action focussed on law enforcement on July 2, we answered the call by bringing the Elephant to our local police station, displaying signs to passing cars with messages in Solidarity. Many were uncomfortable with this action, maybe a bit too “edgy”. Ultimately it resulted in an ongoing positive dialogue that helped build relationship with our local police department.

 

That’s what’s happened locally, and my local action has been inspired by what’s happening denomination wide. At Portland’s 2015 General Assembly, the Movement for Black Lives was a focus through the whole week, ending in the dramatic final plenary session where we struggled to agree on the wording to the Action of Immediate Witness titled “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement”. I was privileged to participate in the die-in where more than 200 of us were in the street, closing a busy intersection for 4 ½ minutes representing the 4 ½ hours that Michael Brown’s body was left lying in the street in Ferguson. It has not been a part of my Unitarian experience to be involved in nonviolent direct action to such an extent. I know it has been part of our history, but I’ve only been a Unitarian for 15 years!

 

I couldn’t make it to the Columbus GA in 2016, but I followed it online. And there was Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost at the Closing Worship, leading thousands of Unitarians singing “Get Ready. We Comin’”, and yes yes yes, I felt the Spirit.

 

If you feel it too and would like to bring that Spirit into your community by hosting a Community Conversation about the Elephant in the Room sometime in the next twelve months, follow the link to sign up!

 

 

This is an Action-in-a-Box project of The Backbone Campaign in collaboration with SURJ, and soon, Unitarian friends across the country! The “box” will be shipped to you with everything you need to stage a successful Conversation on Racism event. Click here to express your interest, explore dates and get your questions answered http://www.backbonecampaign.org/organize_a_beyond_denial_installation. And feel free to contact Jo Walter with questions
The #BeyondDenial Racism is the Elephant in the Room Action-In-A-Box is a terrific tool to engage in transformative dialogue on racism and white privilege, how racism continues to seep into the structures of society and manifest in our communities, engage the larger public to make commitments to do racial justice work, and practice showing up as better allies in the movement for racial equity.

 

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Jo Walter is a lay leader of the Kitsap Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bremerton, WA

How to Find Your New Best Friends – Outreach Entry Points

I bet your congregation changes lives. That’s why you keep coming back, right? So if it’s true that your congregation has something amazing to offer, how do people get to know about it, and how do they get connected?

doorwayWe know how people find out about Unitarian Universalism. They stumble across our awesome websites, they see our fabulous blog posts, they hear about our justice work in the news. Every day, I help congregations use social media, branding and other communications tools to reach new audiences. But once those new people find out about you, what happens next? How do you translate that awareness into longer-term engagement?

Entry points are a great way to introduce your congregation to new people and help them learn how to get involved. Think of an entry point as doorway into the life of your congregation. In the past, simply inviting someone to visit next Sunday might have been enough. But today, as Americans are becoming less religious, we need more ways to connect with our community that don’t feel so church-y up front. Give folks a chance to see what your congregation has to offer before they take what can feel like a big step – showing up for Sunday services.

An entry point can be any activity, program, event or opportunity where you invite new people to connect with your congregation. Here are a few key features of successful entry points:

bite sized missionBite-sized mission – Entry point opportunities should be explicitly connected to the life and purpose of your congregation. Lots of churches host yoga classes, day care programs and recovery groups, and those are all really important. But if you can’t say clearly WHY an event is a core part of your congregation’s mission, then it doesn’t work as a true entry point, and it’s just a nice but unrelated event.

friend testPass the “Friend Test”  – Would you invite your friend who is not a UU? If not, your entry point opportunity has failed the “Friend Test.” Your entry point could be too insider-y (the weekly Women’s Circle that’s met for the past 20 years) or too high commitment (a ten-week adult faith development class). You want someone who is not currently “church shopping” to feel excited to come.

Probably not Sunday morning – Though most congregations have a welcome script during Sunday worship services, the focus on visitors often stops there. For visitors, going to religious education classes can be confusing, coffee hour can be clique-y, and joys & concerns can run long. So it’s usually better to create entry points where the visitor experience is central to the design and planning (and they don’t even have to be in your building, like doing a park cleanup!). Special Sundays can be decent entry points, like an all-ages holiday service, if they are planned and advertised well.

Once you’ve got an entry point planned, promote the heck out of it! Whenever I talk to congregations that are planning to spend money on advertising or direct mail, (and I hope more do!) I always tell them to include an invitation to an entry point event. This gives you a reason to reach out, a call to action, instead of just saying “hey, we exist!” At the UUA, we’re actually working on a promotional toolkit for congregations, hopefully to be released fall 2016, so stay tuned.

Here are some examples of super cool entry points:

  • Seedy Saturday, annual event to celebrate and learn about gardening and environmental issues (Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga, ON)
  • Luna Rising, community celebration of women and girls (UU Church of Charlotte, NC)
  • Hogwarts/CampUU, Harry Potter-themed summer camp for ages 6-11 (First UU Church of Austin, TX)
  • For the Love of Tiny Houses, showcase of the tiny house movement as a response to the lack of affordable housing (UU Fellowship of Redwood City, CA)
  • Play GroUUp, weekly gathering of toddlers and parents (UU Congregation of Las Vegas, NV)

Remember, entry points can be really valuable for current members as well. All these examples listed here involved members of the host congregation. If you think about the Spectrum of Faithful Relationship, events and activities planned for folks on the left side of the spectrum (your fans and friends) can appeal to those on the right side (your core members and leaders). But it doesn’t work the other way around; events planned for congregational leaders have a much narrower audience.

My final piece of advice for congregations planning entry point opportunities – always have a “next ask,” or an upcoming event you can invite people to. This gives you a reason to collect email addresses and follow up with attendees, one of the best ways to build trust and engagement. Make sure your follow-up event is connected to the theme your entry point event, which shows that you take your congregation’s mission seriously. For example, if you do a panel on the tiny house movement, then do a tiny house tour two months later (good job, UU Fellowship of Redwood City!).

So get out there, start scheduling entry point opportunities! Get the word out, have fun, and collect some email addresses. Got great ideas for entry points from reading this post? Add them to the comments below.

Water Communion Offering

water-communionA few years ago, our community was impacted by floods.  We learned quickly how devastating floods can be, especially to the most vulnerable in our community.  Though we are not near the ocean, we are surrounded by rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and know both water’s capacity to bring life, as well as destruction.  This is one of many reasons we were moved this past Sunday to use our water communion service – where we ritualize water’s healing grace – to acknowledge and hopefully offer some of that grace to our friends in Baton Rouge.  Our entire offering plate will be shared with the UU Church in Baton Rouge.  They will use it to support whatever they may need as they support their community, including directing it towards a local community organization they as they see fit.  We will be sending over $2100 from this one Sunday – a Sunday where we were honoring the gifts possible when we join together in shared community, and the ways we come into community so that we can go out and bring more love into the world.

If you haven’t yet celebrated your Water Ceremony or ingathering service, or even if you have, maybe you and your congregation will join us in taking an offering and sending it their way.   It is one small yet powerful way we can bring our water communion to life.

Unitarian Universalists from outside greater Baton Rouge want to know how to help from afar.

1.  “UCBR Flood Fund” is receiving funds to assist Members and Friends of our church in flood recovery, especially those without flood insurance coverage.   Send to Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, 8470 Goodwood Blvd., Baton Rouge LA 70806.

2.   Send contact information if you are available to make a trip to this region and assist in the actual cleanup of homes.  Local persons can send contact information if you have space to host a volunteer.

3.   Financial contributions to the Together Baton Rouge fund will help anyone who has been affected by floodwaters and who completes the survey.

 

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GretchenRev. Gretchen Haley loves serving, praying, laughing, creating, discovering and collaborating with her congregation, the Foothills Unitarian Church, in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she began as senior minister in July, at the start of her fifth year with them (work that out….).  She was lucky to join them in what they called their “3rd year of a 5 year culture shift from scarcity to generosity.”  She looks forward to being a part of growing and strengthening this vision with them as they live into their new mission statement of unleashing courageous love in Northern Colorado, and beyond.

I Reach Out to You; Will You Reach Out to Me?

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania, has become a place where “everyone in the congregation feels empowered,” says Jody Malloy, a member of the church’s executive team. It's just one of the reasons Delaware County was named a 2016 Unitarian Universalist Association "Breakthrough Congregation."
Photo from UUWorld article on The Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County in Media, Pennsylvania, which was named a 2016 Unitarian Universalist Association “Breakthrough Congregation.”

One could be overwhelmed with the sadness and the violence that is all around us. I can only imagine what it must be like for others who have experienced it first hand. What can Unitarian Universalists do to fight against the hate that is going on in the world today? I think a lot of the hate is born out of oppression. It leaves people feeling powerless and desperate, with nowhere to turn. Hate is invited in when you are oppressed, unloved and have little to loose. What I suggest is, love. We need to radicalize love.

 

Where do we begin? It seems to me that the only place we can begin is with our own hearts. I must begin with myself. Am I willing to allow love into my heart? Am I willing to look at creation lovingly?   Am I willing to manifest more love in the world? When I fail to be as loving as I should be, am I willing to forgive myself? Am I willing to forgive others? Can I set loving boundaries around behaviors that I find draining or destructive? Can I remain firm, yet act lovingly as I set healthy boundaries?

 

How might radicalized love help me to be in deeper community? It is in community that we will have our greatest impact. I am not talking about a community of like-minded people, or a social club, or a discussion group. I am talking about full mind, body and soul community.

 

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict. This is beautiful and it seems to be so far away.

 

I went on line and looked up The Beloved Community. I found a wealth of information. Josiah Royce is quoted, as is Dr. King. There are sermons from all across our Association. It is compared to The Kingdom of God, Utopia, Nirvana and the harmony of all life. We say that we are growing Beloved Community but it is easy to mistake a community where I am comfortable for Beloved Community. A community that is merely comfortable for those already there runs the risk of being the walled city on the hill.

 

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision. We cannot get there in small pockets. Therefore, the Beloved Community cannot happen merely inside a congregation. Inside the congregation is where we are fed so that we can carry out the real work in the real world. Inside the congregation is where we practice the loving promise – our covenant. Inside the congregation is where we are challenged to become, and become and become yet again. Inside the congregation is where we can lay our burden down for a moment and find comfort, but only for a moment. We must go out into the world and love there too. Our congregations do not exist in isolation. Our congregations exist in this world, this imperfect human world. This imperfect world where basic needs go unmet. This imperfect human world where oppression is the water in which we swim.

 

In this world of imperfection, what can we hope for? What is to be done? How can we make a difference? Where do we begin? What can we change? Again, we begin with ourselves, as we are. We begin with a change of heart. I reach out to you; will you reach out to me?

 

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ConnieConnie Goodbread is a credentialed Director of Religious Education, has held every lay congregational leadership roll you can imagine and has served our UUA in Northern New England, St Lawrence, Florida and Mid-South Districts – all while living in Palm Harbor Florida.  The commute was amazing.

 

A Big Night for a Small Church

Peter & Joe
UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Joe Cherry

Last week we invited the group Repairers of the Moral Breach to the UU Society in Cleveland, and it was a wild ride.

 

So often we UUs talk about interfaith work, and I do believe we try our hardest, but there so often feels like so many barriers to doing the work. So many questions about how we can engage authentically and without laying our own agenda over the work that we often stop ourselves before we begin.

 

I, too, have this concern.

 

But, when I was approached by the Repairers group I took a deep breath, I did a quick check by email with the Board of the congregation I serve and we were a go!

 

UU Society Entrance
UU Society of Cleveland, OH

The UU Society of Cleveland is a small church, about 60 people, and having this big, national movement come to us was daunting. We had about 300 people in our church last Monday, and it was definitely not church as usual.

 

The Repairers of the Breach Team is a well-oiled machine that knows what it needs to put on a good program, and they used their own social media and contacts in media to bring folks from at least 15 different congregations to our church. The result: Historic Black Churches in Cleveland, Historic Liberal Churches in Cleveland, all coming together in a church that had to rent chairs to fit everybody.

 

As minister, I try to greet every person who comes through our church door with a handshake and a how-do-you-do? I ask for everyone’s name and tell them mine as I welcome them in. It was such a joy to meet so many new people who walked through our “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Are Precious” signs as they approached our front door.

 

The service was loud and lively. I welcomed everyone to our church, and gave a short history of our ritual of lighting the chalice. I ended our chalice lighting with these words:

 

This is the 50th Anniversary of the Hough Rebellion/Hough Uprising, and our congregation was there, at 82nd and Euclid. This weekend our Black Lives Matter banner was stolen from the front of our church. Again, we find ourselves in a world in the process of giving birth to a new way of living.

 

They may steal the sign from the front of our church, but they cannot steal our determination to work for a world more fair and more just.

 

As we light our chalice this evening, symbol of freedom, assistance and faith, let our hearts become and remain open to one another.

 

After the lighting of our chalice, I stepped back and stepped out of the way.

 

The experience of having so many world-class preachers in our sanctuary was electrifying. For an evening, it didn’t matter that we hadn’t had enough chairs. It didn’t matter that people had to sit in Fellowship Hall (the basement) watching the events upstairs via live feed. It didn’t matter that our air conditioning wasn’t up to the task of 300 people alive together.

 

What mattered was that we were alive, together.

 

Photo Gallery of the Event:

James Forbes
Rev. Dr. James Forbes
Traci Blackmon UCC
Traci Blackman, United Church of Christ
Stories of Witness
Stories of witness
William Barber II Telling Truth
Rev. Dr. William Barber II
closing prayer
Closing prayer

 

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RevJosephMCherryphoto2Rev. Joe Cherry is a giant history nerd and unapologetic evangelist for Unitarian Universalism. When he’s not out sharing our good news, you can find him engrossed in research at the Western Reserve Historical Society, practicing his clarinet, or in his basement quilting studio.

 

That’s Camp. That’s Church. That’s faith.

quuest-indoorsLast week I was the only adult of color on a 16+ person staff for QUUest church camp in CO. There were 14 youth of color at high school camp.

 

Being the only staff Person Of Color (POC) during this week of violence, protest, and grief was the toughest challenge of my professional life.

 

I’ll say this: The choice between white fragility and solidarity really matters.

 

We had 14 young people of color who were terrified that they or family members or friends might be the next hashtag, and we had folks who seemed more concerned about the camp schedule/their idea of what camp ought to be.

 

The POC high schoolers spent a lot of time in POC-only space last week. It was hard and healing.

 

At first the group feared gathering. It’s unusual for them to be around other POC, and they worried about dividing the camp. Quickly they saw that it was most important for them to *take care of themselves* and be in community. They ate, laughed, grieved and sang–together.

 

They got close not just through mourning Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the officers in Dallas, but through seeing that they are not alone. It was life-changing, life-affirming space. They found and made home.

 

I was the lone adult POC supporting them. Luckily several of our white adult/youth staff members helped. Predictably, that wasn’t true of everyone.

 

As the schedule kept changing, as tragedy and need to process kept “getting in the way,” though several were supportive and helped the schedule shift, some folks expressed frustration–with me, with the prospect of losing camp traditions, with the POC-only space, and more.

 

I badly want white UUs and other progressive folks to know and see that carrying out white supremacy isn’t always obvious. It can look like never asking “How can I help?” or “How are you holding up?” It can be never asking “I wonder how this black person is handling two black persons’ murders.”

 

It looks like responding to a white person’s statement of “next year Kenny can’t be the only POC on staff” with “beware of affirmative action,” like there aren’t fifty other wonderful religious professionals/young adults of color we couldn’t pay and have join us.

 

If you take nothing else from this status, take this:

 

I’ve attended camp since I was four. It means eeeeeverything to me. We can get stuck on whether to sing Rocky Raccoon or I Wanna Linger at Bridging, or whether it’s Good Friends or Dear Friends (it’s obviously Good Friends ‪#‎SWD4lyfe) or whether moving talent show/coffeehouse back a night messes up the flow of camp, or who knows what else. I say this as someone who *loves* traditions.

 

Camp, and church, and faith, are about showing up for people when they need us. It’s about finding compassion even through our frustration. It’s about loving hard and saying “how can I help?” It’s about letting people cry and weep and holding them as they do.

 

I barely made it through this week, friends.

 

I called and texted UU adult POC like Elizabeth Nguyen (UUA’s Leadership Development Associate for Youth and Young Adults of Color) and Jamil Scott (Director of Religious Education serving First Unitarian Society of Denver) in tears over and over because I didn’t think I could be what the youth of color needed and because the killings brought such grief.

 

Alicia Forde (UUA’s Professional Development Director) drove two hours on one night’s notice to spend Friday with us so I wouldn’t be alone and so the youth could be with a minister who shared their experience.

 

That’s camp. That’s church. That’s faith.

 

If we’re not doing that for each other–supporting others when we’re less directly affected, and sitting together in hard times, and driving or moving to be there for each other–then I have to ask: what’s the rest of it even for?

 

I fail at this all the time. I’ll fail at this tomorrow no doubt. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.

 

To my UU and human families: I love you. To my POC UU fam: as we’ve said and sung to/with each other so many times this summer, I need you to survive.

 

May we demand more of one another, be kinder to one another, and remember why we gather.

 

_________________________

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Kenny Wiley is a UU World senior editor and director of faith formation at Prairie Unitarian Universalist Church in Parker, Colorado. His writing has also appeared in the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, and Skyd Magazine.