Reflections on the Leading Edge Conference: Igniting Social Justice through Worship and the Arts (Middle Collegiate Church, April 21 – 24, 2012)  

By guest blogger Taquiena Boston, Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness 

Middle Collegiate Church in New York’s East Village is an intentionally multiracial/multicultural and LGBTQI inclusive congregation committed to equipping leaders for a world of radical welcome and inclusion of all people.  This past April I joined about 30 of my fellow Unitarian Universalists at Middle’s sixth annual Leading Edge Conference – “Igniting Social Justice Through Worship and the Arts” — where many of us got “ignited” to bring our learning and experience back to our UU congregations.

As a member of the Multiracial/Multicultural Transformation Team at All Souls/DC, I have learned through experience that lay leaders play a substantial role in supporting the multiracial/multicultural vision for the congregation.  At the Middle Conference three roles were highlighted:

  1. Support clergy and staff in leading change in the congregation.  Lay leaders understand that ministerial leadership and congregational staff need to be on board with the vision, and that hiring needs to reflect a multicultural vision.  However, clergy and staff alone can’t transform the congregation’s culture.  Lay leaders are also required to project, support, and model the congregation’s multicultural vision.
  2. Hold forth the vision of multicultural community in the congregation – speak it, share it, and continue to articulate why we (the congregation) are doing the change.  Listening to the congregation, working to create broad-based coalitions of support in the congregation, and addressing conflict effectively are essential change management skills for transforming congregations.
  3. Examine what is blocking us as leaders from supporting change.  In her 10 Strategies to Grow a Multiracial/Multicultural Congregation, Middle’s Senior Minister, Rev. Jacqueline (Jacqui) J. Lewis, said that lay leaders as well as clergy and staff have to have a clear sense of direction, a clear sense of accountability, and a clear sense of call.  But sometimes our “stuff” can get in the way.  “Stuff” can include our own biases, growing edges, skills gaps, inner conflicts and grieving around change, and spiritual emptiness.  Professional and lay religious leaders build solid co-leaderships when they dream, study, and play together as well as work together.

A few more “sparks” of insight from the Leading Edge Sessions:

Why Worship?  Worship is what makes the church unique.  Worship brings the religious life into focus. (Stephen Cady, Igniting Millenials to Do Social Justice)

(When I) share story . . . I become vulnerable.  (When) the leader becomes vulnerable (it gives) permission for the community to be vulnerable.  (Miguel de la Torre, Storytelling, Theology, and Justice Making)

Prophetic preaching comes from listening (James Forbes, Prophetic Preaching: Igniting Social Justice)

Don’t rush implementation.  You can’t fake welcome. (John Janka, Changing Culture Through Worship)

Media is our public pulpit.  Who is your congregation outside your church walls?  What do they read, stream, podcast? (Jacqui Lewis, Igniting Social Justice Through Worship)

Singing songs from other cultures in worship makes people aware of communities beyond the congregation. (Barbara Lundblad and Janet Walton, Re-Imagining Worship)

Stewardship is responsibility to and for humanity. (Kathy LeMay, Raising Change: Opening Hearts for Stewardship)

The date of the next Leading Edge Conference is April 13 – 16, 2013.  I’m already registered.


Taquiena Boston is the Director of Multicultural Growth and Witness.  The blog for Multicultural Growth and Witness may be found here.  For resources from her staff team go here.



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Tandi Rogers

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