Report from the Regional Youth Caucus

A couple weekends ago (on President’s Day weekend) CERG youth had our very first regional caucus at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg on Clover Lane! Our goal was to have youth and adult representatives from each district meet and figure out how to organize ourselves before the regionalization process happens- what type of programming we want to have, forming regional youth leadership, changing geographic boundaries, and more.

CER VerticalWe began programming on Saturday with a quick and informative overview of the regionalization process and changes that will come with it with David Strickler, who is on the Ohio Meadville Board of Trustees. For the rest of the day, we divided up into two sets of “focus groups” to discuss various issues related to regionalization in smaller groups and then present them, which ended up being very productive. We decided to form a regional YAC committee of youth and adults from each district to organize future CERG events and serve as a resource for youth leadership from each district/cluster. Additionally, we hope to have two major CERG events each year- a community con in the fall and then a themed event later in the year, like a smaller leadership or social justice event. Although we don’t have a formal structure for letting youth from each district/cluster attend cons for another district/cluster, Lars Dahl made an incredible interactive Google map of each church that has held cons, chaplain trainings, and other youth events in recent years for us to look at (see his contact information at the bottom of the page if you would like access to this resource).

However, I think one of my favorite pieces of programming was a noisy and competitive group game of “UU Jeopardy” to wind down after a long day of discussions and meeting. The game featured  difficult questions on UU history, geography, and the structure and leadership of General Assembly (thanks to GA Senior Youth Dean Andrea Briscoe, who is also the regional co-dean for JPD). When all was said and done, the team entitled “Egg” emerged victorious.

Please look out for more information about the formation of a regional YAC (planning to happen by the end of the school year) as well as future regional youth events coming soon!

By Eliza Steffen

In the meantime, if you have any questions about the caucus or the annual CERG con, please contact:

Eliza Steffen ([email protected]) for OMD
Andrea Briscoe ([email protected]) for JPD
Hannah Rigdon ([email protected]) for MNY
Lars Dahl ([email protected]) for SLD

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Standing for Justice

The West Virginia House of Representatives has passed a “Religious Freedom” bill. You can read an article about this on the Think Progress website.

The bill still has to clear the senate and the governor, but one of our local UU ministers has already written a letter to the editor addressing the issue. Rev. Rose Edington, Minister Emerita of the UU Congregation of Charleston wrote the letter below. You can also read it on the Charleston Gazette-Mail Website.

Religious Freedom act restores discrimination

Rev. Rose Edington and partner, Rev. Mel Hoover

Editor:

I have been an ordained minister since 1975. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with discrimination.

In our democracy, religious freedom is the freedom to worship (or not) according to your choice and your conscience. This means that the state cannot dictate how to conduct any denomination’s or religion’s worship service, nor what may be said during worship services, nor how you choose to worship, whether it be in a grand cathedral, your humble home or any place of worship in between.

No “restoration” to freely worship is needed because nothing has been taken away. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has not changed.

For those who need to discriminate to practice their religion, they may freely do that within their places of worship. Businesses, which are open to the public, are not free to discriminate. Business owners could choose to practice their religion based on their answer to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” as found in the story of The Good Samaritan, and the teaching from Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have thereby entertained angels unaware.”

Personally, as a member of a multiracial family, I am all too aware that the statements being made today by people who use religion to discriminate against others because of their sexual orientation are the same kind of statements used by people to discriminate against others based on the color, or perceived color, of their skin a generation ago. It was wrong then. It is wrong now.

The Rev. Dr. Rose Edington (Unitarian Universalist)
Charleston

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Racial Justice In Community: Don’t Do It Alone!

RR vigilLast summer when the clergy of Montgomery County, Maryland realized that each was working on racial justice and Black Lives Matter issues in their congregations and communities, and each was struggling with the tensions, hopes, challenges and opportunities that racial justice work presents, they decided to try something new. They formed a group where they could bring their work, their hopes, their plans, their struggles, their fatigue and worry, and gather strength from each other. Their hope was that their monthly meetings would provide support, inspiration, and joint action. So far, it has.

It might be easy to point to the shared activities of the recent Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend as a measure of success. The members of the group, which now includes clergy, religious education staff, and Congregational Life staff, decided to coordinate their Martin Luther King weekend activities and Sunday messages to align with racial justice work of the modern age. The weekend included:

  • All five congregations invited to participate in the Friday night Black Lives Matter worship service and vigil at River Road UU Congregation;
  • All five preachers connecting their Sunday morning comments to the 50 year anniversary of King’s Ware Lecture at the UUA General Assembly, which called UUs to stay awake during the revolution. The congregations shared a common chalice lighting and chalice extinguishing words.
  • All five congregations invited to participate in the Sunday afternoon interfaith, multicultural worship service and celebration to celebrate King’s birthday, held at Cedar Lane UU Congregation. (See photo).
  • All five congregations inviting their families to participate in Sunday evening dinner table discussions about racial justice, using a discussion guide for either young children or youth and adults created by the religious educators;
  • All five congregations invited to participate in Monday’s County Wide MLK Day Celebration.

multifaith worship serviceThe weekend’s unprecedented coordinated action was a wonderful outgrowth of the group, but is not the primary product that the participants are hoping to achieve. Rather, the participants are hoping to continue to strengthen and support each other for the long haul of successful racial justice work, building relationships that will enable them to act promptly and effectively to ongoing situations.

As Rev. Lynn Strauss, Minister of the UU Congregation of Rockville, MD, remarks, “As our congregations began work on Black Lives Matter, and each of us were experiencing similar challenges separately (such as destruction of our banners and signs)  it made sense to me to collaborate, to share our experiences, our hopes, our intentions…to support one another.” Her colleague, Rev. Rebekah Montgomery, Assistant Minister at the UU Congregation of Rockville, adds, “It is a true luxury for me to be able to drink deep of the shared wisdom of this group.”  And Rev. Liz Lerner Maclay adds, “[I]t’s a brilliant way to leverage our work towards far greater impact in our county and region; it makes us much more powerful, and it reinforces that we are not alone in our imperatives and values, that we have spiritual kin with us in our work and aspiration and that we can help each other – which gets us closer to making the difference we are all striving for.  Better together.”

Racial justice work is hard, messy, rewarding, and couldn’t be more important. Do it right: don’t do it alone!

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Using the UUA Website Template

Several of our regional congregations have taken the plunge and tried out the new website template created by the UUA for UU congregations. We talked with two webmasters who have made the switch about their experiences and here is what they had to say.

UUCC website front page The UU Congregation of the Chesapeake’s site was moved by Dee Delauder. You can view the site at theUUCC.org. Here is what Dee had to say about the template and the moving process:

UUCC website front pageWhen the UUA released the custom template designed by the Outreach Team I was overjoyed. I’ve been wanting to migrate to a better design and a more dynamic website for years. I had reached the limits of my coding knowledge. Finally someone else did the hard stuff for me. All I had to do was add content.

My old design was a static HTML page with navigation to other pages. My web editor was Microsoft FrontPage, now it’s not supported, but it still works. And I used an FTP client to upload updates. It worked great but the site was flat an uninteresting.

Moving to WordPress was not an easy endeavor for me for two reasons.

  1. One, I had never worked with WordPress, so the learning curve was very steep.
  2. And two, I discovered my Web Host’s server is windows based, and not very good with PHP based documents. The better platform would have been a Unix server. It took me about 4 weeks and 4 rebuilds to finally get our new site built and able to replace the old site. And I still needed to pay my Hosting company’s tech support to get me up live.

I would recommend using this template only if it serves the greater good four your church. A good template alone will not necessarily attract visitors to your church. It only provides the functionality for your presentation. A top notch presentation and careful use of text and images with the UUA theme for congregations can do the trick.

Things I like: I do not need to use an FTP client and a web editor like front page any more. I can edit and update the website from anywhere, with any device, as loan as I can get on the internet.

I also like how easy it was to create a members only section where I can store secure documents that only our congregation should have access too.

There is one piece of advice I will throw out. I’ve browsed around the UUA theme forum, and I follow the UU WebLab on Facebook and I see people trying to make the template do something that is not in the design. You really need to understand what the template will do and won’t do. But most of all, unless you are a CSS guru or a scripting wizard, you have to be willing to work with what you get.

I say 3 cheers to Chris Wulf and the design team for being so diligent in their design. This is a great product for UUCC.

First UU Society of Syracuse’s website was moved from their old wordpress site to the new template by their minister, Rev. Jennifer Hamlin-Navias. You can view their site at  www.firstuusyr.org

Syracuse website front pageWhat made your congregation decide to move to the new template? Our previous website had been set up several years previous.  The design needed updating and an improved aesthetic.  Our old site was really designed for members to use.  The new UUA theme is definitely easy for our members to use, but the Home page is more geared for folks who are looking for a church.  If you think of your home page for your website as your “storefront” we now have one that is attractive and inviting.  And the UUA is providing this for free. (Ed. note: there is a small charge after the initial introductory free period).

How did you find the experience of moving the site from your old design to the new one? I found the experience of moving from our old design to the new theme relatively easy.  The UUA provided a webinar on it and that helped a lot.  I was a little familiar with WordPress so that did help.  That being said I do not know how to code.  It took time to do the change over.  I had a 9 hour train ride that I did about 80% of it.  I would guess that the whole move over took about 12 hours of my time.

Would you recommend that other congregations make this switch and why? Yes.  The cost is reasonable, there is a support community with this theme and so it is easier for me to get answers to my questions.

Do you have any advice to congregations who are considering making this switch or words of wisdom? If I could have done it differently I would have gotten a group together and worked together to make the change.  It would have been fun to sit around our laptops and each work on updating different sections of the website.  It would have gone faster and it would mean that there would now be a group of folks in the congregation who knew the inner workings of the website.  Also I used a wordpress plugin that allowed me to set up a “Site under construction” while I was updating the site.  I thought that was better than having people go to the site while I was updating I think that would have been confusing to them.

Do you have experience with moving your congregation’s site to the new UUA WordPress Template? If so, please share your experiences in the comments below.

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Does Your Congregation Have A Black Lives Matter Banner?

The UUA has created a webpage with a google map that shows which congregations have a Black Lives Matter banner hanging at their building. Please check the map if your congregation displays one and see if you are on it. If not, let us know.

River Road UU Bethesda, MD

(see more congregational sign photos, many from CER congregations at the Standing on the Side of Love website)

We’ve written about the challenge many congregations face when putting up a Black Lives Matter banner before. Rev. David Pyle wrote a blog post last fall titled Taking Action in Black Lives Matter that received a number of comments. If your congregation is weighting the issues around displaying a banner, please read that post.

This week we bring you a newsletter column written by Rev. Hope Johnson, CER Congregational Life Consultant and part-time minister of the UU Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, NY. This is her story of the struggle she personally and her congregation experienced with this decision.

Rev. Hope JohnsonDear UUCCN,

Over the past few years, I’ve been ambivalent about “lifting up” Black History Month at UUCCN. On the one hand, I honor, celebrate, and live Black History every single moment of my life. On the other hand, most of you have no need or reason to do so and would not relate to this in an everyday way. So, I have allowed Spirit to be my guide on this one….

I have been actively seeking to dismantle racism on the larger platform, through my service to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations and the UU Ministers Association, through my ministry in the Living Legacy Project, where I lead Pilgrimages following the route of the Civil Rights Movement, and through my ministry wherever I find myself.

I’m a generalist like the old-time family doctor. There’s never been a need to center the work here at UUCCN when there are so many other pressing needs to be addressed. And so I pulled back, held back, and only sprinkled this passion of mine “every little once in a while,” as Lead Belly (and Sweet Honey in the Rock and UU Pete Seeger…) used to say.

Then, something happened: Black Lives Matter gained momentum as a movement. The UUA affirmed it at our last General Assembly. Here was Dave Coddington, UUCCN president, voicing the urgency of the movement during a conversation we shared while talking about the wayside pulpit. He was almost matter-of-fact as he suggested putting up a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign for the month of February—Black History Month. My heart stopped. Then it skipped a beat. I looked at him and wondered if I’d heard right…. “What did you say, Dave?”

“Hope, we need to put up a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign for Black History Month.”

My mouth went dry. I thought I was going to faint. This caused me to reflect deeply. And then—I can’t believe I did this—I spilled out every reason why we couldn’t do that.

“Dave, I don’t believe UUCCN is ready for this.”
“Dave, we got the OK for our congregational sign on our building after three years of waiting. Let’s not push our luck.”
“Dave, are you serious???”

I finally slowed down. I stopped babbling…and my eyes filled with tears. I told Dave that this was one of moments I would remember as long as I am able to think clearly. I was bursting with pride! I explained that in many ways, just hearing what he had to say meant that we as a congregation were at a place where we were living into the legacy that Rev. Amy Beltaine, our former Intern Minister, and John Hanc, UUCCN member and Newsday columnist, had reminded us about. I knew at that moment that a chunk of my work had been fulfilled.

And, as I thought about it further, I had to acknowledge that I was uncomfortable. I sought counsel from colleagues, family, and friends. I knew that I had to confess that I had been prematurely excited. “Dave,” I wrote by email, “It has to be BLACK LIVES MATTER.” Period. We can’t dilute the message. And we exchanged emails. And we decided to include the word because…. BLACK LIVES MATTER BECAUSE ALL LIVES MATTER.

“All right, Dave. Let’s do it!” We brought it to the Board of Trustees at our last meeting and the Trustees and other leaders were with us. We’ll see what happens when the sign goes up. But we are united in the certain knowledge that this is the right thing to do. It’s the “UU Way”!

It is with deep appreciation that I continue to journey with you as we honor Black History Month. Thank you.

Yours, Hope

 

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