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

 

_____________________

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.

 

It Starts And Ends In Love

The following post by Rev. Cynthia Cain was first featured by Standing on the Side of Love.

 

Dedication of Black Lives Matter sign on August 23, 2015. Sign was defaced 10 days later.
Dedication of Black Lives Matter sign on August 23, 2015. Sign was defaced 10 days later.

Not long after I returned from the events in Selma, marking the 50th anniversary of the historic march it became clear to me, even though I was an interim pastor at the UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore, that there was a compelling need at this time for a renewed civil rights movement, and for liberal congregations like ours to speak out and stand up, and we could no longer stand by in silence. Most important among the narratives and images that I brought back from Selma were the words of Mark Morrison-Reed, when he told us that it all begins with relationships; the powerful teachings of Opal Tometi, one of the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and the warmth, affection, and tenderness expressed by the families of James Reeb, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Clark Olsen, and Orloff Miller.

This great love, a love for humanity, for justice, for goodness, a genuine faith and a passion for what is best in humanity permeated the time we spent together. Walking toward that bridge amidst a throng of thousands, holding the hand of my adopted boy Seth, a child who lives with autism, I felt that day part of a great sacrament. I felt that a promise was made, to carry that spirit of love back to every town and city from which we had come.

Walking toward Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma 50th Anniversary march
Walking toward Edmund Pettus Bridge during Selma 50th Anniversary march

Soon, we formed an Anti-Racism Task Force. We talked about what we might do: study, have forums, outreach, a partnership with a mostly Black congregation. I knew that other UU congregations had put up banners saying, “Black Lives Matter,” so I threw out the query, almost as a kind of provocative idea: Would you suggest we post a sign? How about protesting by the road if there were an incident in this community? It was a surprise, then, when the team members, unanimously, said, by all means. And since this team consisted of some of the founders and most highly respected members of the congregation, we stepped out, with Love. It wasn’t just an idea, but something I felt deeply embodied in these ten or twelve people: they meant it.

I was out of town when the Board unanimously approved the sign. I was at General Assembly when the task force planned and held a beautiful vigil for the victims of the massacre at the AME Church in Charleston the Sunday after the shooting. But I had returned by August 23rd when we had an afternoon ceremony, attended by new allies and friends in the community, to dedicate our sign. The relationships we had begun to build already showed.

The entire afternoon was about love: for me, the image that captured my heart was that of a young, African-American boy from the neighboring AME congregation to which we had sent flowers after the shootings holding hands with an elderly Black gentleman, the father of one of our members, as we sang, “We Shall Overcome.”

I believe that we lived into our best selves that day.

 

Children from St. Paul AME & UU Congregation at Sign Dedication
Children from St. Paul AME & UU Congregation at Sign Dedication

Yes, we have been viciously attacked on Facebook and threatened. Yes, the sign was defaced, scrawled over with white paint by vandals. Yes. We hung it back up after we found it could not be cleaned. Each decision we have made has been to respond with love, not fear. If your congregation has, or is interested in, putting up a banner check out this resource page on The Power of the Black Lives Matter Banner.

I refuse to listen to the messages of hate and scorn. I refuse to listen to the rhetoric that calls “Black Lives Matter” a hate-filled, cop-hating movement. For us, they are three words that send a signal to the world: we care, immensely, and we intend to live into these words with actions that show it. Indeed, our task force has worked diligently to build relationships with law enforcement, and to learn more about their challenges as well.

Task Force members & Rev. Cain with Atlantic City officers on weekly walks through the neighborhoods of AC. We have joined the ACPD & community organizers all summer.
Task Force members & Rev. Cain with Atlantic City officers on weekly walks through the neighborhoods of AC. We have joined the ACPD & community organizers all summer.

I sincerely believe that it is the nefarious design of institutional racism in this land, in which all white people are complicit, that has kept many of us from deep and genuine encounters with people of color. And it is only through proximity, and through building relationships, in which we listen, and open our hearts to love, that this will begin to be reversed.

I have learned this: as you build genuine relationships, you will stand up. As you make a stand, and take a stand, genuine relationships will follow. But you have to show up, and show up, and show up. This isn’t a flirtation, or a whim. White people, even liberals, have deceived, let down, and disappointed People of Color, and Black people specifically, in organizing for racial justice throughout history.

Don’t go in unless you intend to stay in relationship. And once you know, really know, the truth, you will never be complacent again, until all are free.

I feel so blessed to be a part of Unitarian Universalism in this time, when we are awakening to the new Civil Rights movement, and when we can be the people who show up, and stand, and move, with Love.

deface

Our sign (two sides) on Pomona Road across from the entrance to Stockton University. We replaced the sign with damage after it could not be cleaned, feeling that was a “teachable moment” and people needed to see how far some were willing to go to shut down this conversation. We are currently planning forums with a primarily Black Methodist congregation in AC.