Dealing with the Flaws

tennis racquet and ballsI love tennis. I play it whenever I can (rather badly) and I am an avid fan. If there is tennis on TV, that’s what is showing at my house. I follow a number of the athletes, I’m on top of the news from the sport, I know exactly where the tour is going next, I have every tournament’s app on my phone.

But…

Let’s face it. This is a sport created by upper class white European men. It started in France and most of the rules were created in England. It has a deep tradition that has made it difficult to respond to changes in cultures and our changing understanding of the world. It’s been slower to adopt technology than other sports. It has its flaws.

One of those flaws is that many of the rules are vague and are up to the umpire to decide if they need enforcing. So while on paper the rules of tennis may seem fair, the enforcement of the rules can vary widely. Implicit bias can certainly enter the court as the umpire makes those decisions. Case in point is the US Open’s Womens Final this month. Serena Williams was given three code violations during the match, the final one for arguing with the umpire, which cost her a game and potentially the match.

I’m not going to debate whether or not Serena Williams broke the rules. What I want to point out is how the system made it possible for the rules to be enforced unfairly. As many male tennis players stated on Twitter, they have said much worse (oh so much worse!) to the same umpire and not been called for a code violation. So why was a woman? Here is an example of where implicit bias seemed to have taken hold. The umpire was reacting to an angry black woman. Not a tennis player. Was he trying to put her back in her place? Whether the umpire’s reaction was to her gender, her race or a combination of the two, no one knows. She only had to be judged to the standard in the umpire’s head, the ideal female tennis player.

Tennis is an example of our greater society that we’re currently living and working in. In our society there are rules that we all follow without thinking. There are rules that are vague that we enforce upon those around us in different ways depending on how we read the situation. We don’t usually take into account the culture of the other person or if the expectations or ideal in our head is inappropriate. We react. This is what we’re talking about when we say we’re fighting the white supremacy culture that’s in the water we swim in. We’re fighting against the centuries of cultural norms that are very white European in our expectations and trying to open up our minds to other ways of doing things. What other new ideas and innovations and ways of doing things are we missing out on because we’re focused on doing things they way they always have been? How many voices have we silenced? How many innovative ideas have we lost?

Changing the rules will only go so far. We have to change our minds, re-learn behaviors, and adapt how we react. That’s not easy for anyone at the best of times. But we will not see a world that is fair and equal for all until we do.

Because of this I will continue to work towards the Beloved Community and challenge white supremacy culture when I see it. Even in my beloved sport of tennis.

Beth Casebolt
CER Operations Manager and Communications Consultant

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Be That Spark

Recently we highlighted the Central East Region (CER) Chalice Lighter Program, sharing the HOW of applying for growth focused grants, and now we want to focus on WHY you as an individual should support this grant program.

Think for a minute, and recall a time when you helped a new dream into reality. What an amazing feeling of joy, love, even power – To know that the part you played made a difference! Maybe you rang doorbells for a candidate for public office, sharing your passion for positive change with your neighbors. Maybe you donated time and energy to a building program for low income housing. Maybe you were part of a circle of people that formed a new congregation, built that sanctuary or RE wing, called your first settled minister.  Congregations don’t get there on their own, of course.  A much larger community helps them on their way through sharing space, loan programs, producing curricula and hymnals, and support for ministerial formation, to name just a few of the myriad ways our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations works to grow our faith.  Together, we all are the UUA, congregations and individuals, dreaming of a better society.  It’s work that we must do over and over, together.  As the poet Adrienne Rich says, we “cast (our) lot with those, who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”

In our busy lives, we have only so much time and energy for large projects.  Most of us do, however, find time to contribute every day in small loving ways to build for the future.  We conserve energy, recycle, follow the news, support organizations whose actions move our values out into the world.  The Central East Region Chalice Lighter Program is one way we can do this! Individuals and couples as Chalice Lighter subscribers contribute three times a year to fund UU dreams.  We issue the “calls”  in September, January and May, though some prefer to donate a larger amount once per year. Every gift is appreciated, and together those gifts have amounted to $180,000 in grants in the past year alone!  We want to build on this success, and we are inviting you to be part of the spark that lights the way to a brighter future.

The CER Chalice Lighter Program was formed from the separate Chalice Lighter Programs of four Districts of the UUA – Ohio-Meadville, St. Lawrence, Metro New York and Joseph Priestley.  Representatives of these four geographic areas meetthree times a year to consider growth-minded project applications from congregations or clusters of congregations seeking to share our faith more effectively.  The program partners with congregations to expand/improve buildings, plant new congregations, create new or expanded staff positions, and realize innovative initiatives that attract/retain members and promote justice, compassion and spirituality.

We’ve recently partnered with congregations funding accessibility projects like ramps and elevators, restoring a steeple, increasing religious education and membership staff from half to full time, and in our long history in the districts, provided new start congregations five $20.000 grants over time at different stages of their growth for a total of $100,000. We are touched by the thank you notes from the congregations, including this one that said, “Hot Dog!!!  Thank you so much!  This will really enhance our ability to grow and serve our NE Ohio community.”

Some readers here are already part of the Chalice Lighter subscriber community, mainly those who participated in the district programs, and we know we have not yet realized our potential to fund congregational dreams.  In October, you will receive a personal invitation to subscribe to CER Chalice Lighters, via email with the subject line “Be That Spark.”  Be watching for it!

Of course, there’s no need to wait – we invite you to subscribe here!  Need more information? Check the FAQ page on the CER website.

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Falling Off the Log

Rev. Sunshine Wolfe

“You promised Sunshine. You go first.”

I looked at the telephone pole 30 feet in the air on a mountain where we were 5,000 feet above sea level. She was right, I had promised that if asked any of the Coming of Age youth to do something, I would do it too. At that time, the ropes course was months away and barely worth my notice. Now, here it was. Very real and very high.

Did I mention I’m afraid of falling? It’s not heights. I can be high- it’s falling.

Our task, while harnessed for safety, was to climb up, walk across the phone pole that narrowed to six inches on the other side and then walk to the middle. All of that seemed reasonable and doable. The next part, so much not. We were to stand on the middle of the beam, lean backward, keeping the rope on the harness tight, until we were very nearly upside down and then to “swing” safely to the ground. All the while, looking upside down at the desert valley below.

For the record, I survived. And the teen who insisted I go first did it and survived.

Why do I share this story in a blog post introducing myself as the newest Congregational Field Staff in the Central East Region? First, because this job feels as big as that moment. Intense, terrifying, exciting, and totally worth it. Second, because I make the same promise to you. I will not ask you to do anything I am not willing to do. Of course, I won’t be asking you to fall off a rope’s course willingly, but I am aware that much of what we are asked to do in our congregations can feel just as intense.

I come to this work because I believe that our congregations have the potential to heal and energize our world. Finding the healthiest path is sometimes amazing and easy and everything we want it to be. More often, it is messy, hard, and a challenge to our very core.

I came to this denomination in my 20s. As a child, I was raised by my atheist father, my eastern Cherokee and Seminole mother, and Catholic grandparents. My mother kept religious texts and symbols from many different religious traditions and paths around the house. In many ways, I was raised a U.U. without every seeing a church. Within two years of joining my first congregation in Tucson, AZ I was hired as the Spiritual Development Director (Coming of Age, high school, and adult religious education). In this job, I discovered the call to interim ministry.

I went to Starr King School for the Ministry to become an interim ministry. In the last six years, I’ve served congregations in Montgomery, AL, Alton, IL, and Syracuse, NY as interim minister. I have completed the certification training for The Interim Ministry Network. It is work that I love and yet…

I have watched regionalization roll out across the denomination and seen the great health and connection it has brought to congregation after congregation. I have been impressed and supported by regional staff. When this position opened, I jumped at the opportunity.

I want our congregations to be the healthiest places they can be so that they can do their good work in the world. As Congregational Field Staff, I think I am especially well placed to do this with you and your leaders in concert with an amazing team of Regional Staff dedicated to work with you.

I will be working with 30 congregations across Ohio and western Pennsylvania. In addition, I will be the primary Regional Staff Lead for the Summer Institute, supporting the Commissioned Lay Ministry Program (Hope Johnson will be lead), and collaborating with regional staff to form a conflict resolution team responding to incidents of conflict with religious professionals and leaders of color. All of this helps build connection and healing and growth for our members and our movement.

I bring to this work, experience of attending and/or working with Unitarian Universalist congregations in nine states and four regions, experience as a religious educator and a minister, and experience working on particular programs as well as systemic process. I simply love systems theory even with its challenges and complexities. I’ve taught and created curriculum around anti-oppression and anti-racism work. I have specialties in governance/board work, after-pastor congregations (where professional misconduct has occurred), countering oppression work, religious education, creative worship, and collaborative leadership. Working with this region’s congregations, I look forward to expanding my knowledge, experience, and skill.

I am based in Columbus, OH and will be traveling quite a lot. That said, I am available for phone, Zoom, and in-person meetings when needed. If you have questions about how I can support you and your congregation, please feel free to reach out.

In the meantime:

“Cause trouble and comfort in equal measure.”

With blessings on the journey,

Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe

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Lead with Courage and Confidence

Our church needed a new roof and we didn’t have the money to pay for it. We had a member who yelled at people during coffee hour. New members weren’t stepping up to volunteer, let alone be leaders. When new people did step up, their ideas were ignored.

These were the kinds of challenges that I faced when I first stepped into a leadership position. I went to every local workshop offered by the UUA, and read every book in the church’s small library, but I kept making mistakes. Other leaders suggested I attend EAGLES, the Eastern Great Lakes Leadership School, but I didn’t have the money nor the vacation time.

That was over 20 years ago.

Since then, I felt a call to the ministry of Leadership Development, with the vision of having EAGLES-caliber leadership development available to all leaders, not just the ones with the money and vacation time.

The result? The UU Leadership Institute.

Your national UUA Congregational Life staff now offers a series of core leadership courses to equip your leaders with tools and wisdom so they can lead with courage and confidence.

  • Centered Leadership Part 1 focuses on what it means to be a part of a faith community grounded in covenant, both practically and theologically.
  • Centered Leadership Part 2 helps to widen leaders’ understanding through thinking systemically about the interconnected web of relationships that makes a congregation. It also helps leaders understand how their functioning in the congregation can impact the health and vitality of the congregation.
  • Strategic Leadership describes how good governance, strategic planning and feedback loops can enable the congregation to develop habits that reinforce health and vitality.
  • Adaptive Leadership provides a more nuanced understanding of systems thinking which is essential in the ever-changing world of the 21stcentury.

Each 8-module course is offered at a low cost of $30 each. Registered participants receive notifications every two weeks as each new module opens. Participants who register later can access “released” modules and catch up with the rest of the class.

In faith and service,
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

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