You are invited to gather to remember the extraordinary Wendi Winters. We invite all who knew her, especially youth, young adults, youth advisors, religious professionals from the Joseph Priestley District. Wendi attended more than 50 youth cons beginning in 2003 with her own children and staying on out of her dedication to Unitarian Universalist youth. We will gather to be together, in silence, meditation, and sharing. If you have an image of Wendi you’d like to submit for a montage, please email it to [email protected] before 4pm eastern 7/1/18. There will be a minister present from the UU Trauma Response team for personal support for anyone who needs it.
If you have a chalice or candle, please have it with you to light.
Is there uncertainty in your or your congregation? Maybe you’re in search for a new minister or wondering if you’re doing the “right” justice work or don’t know what to do with your building. Perfect. Perfect timing. This is the season of Advent. The time of waiting and emptying and not knowing.
The spiritual lesson of Advent is that the holy to be born in our lives and hearts we must make room. When we are too full of our own certainty and knowledge, there isn’t room for the surprise of the holy.
So, I invite you, in whatever ways you face confusion and uncertainty, to embrace this not-knowing as a time of spiritual growth. This is a good time in the history of the world to strengthen our spiritual muscles for living with uncertainty. Instead of trying to know, try a season of living into the not-knowing.
Times of not knowing invite us to be playful. When everything is possible and little is known for sure, play is one of the only things that makes sense. And, yes, you can and should play in your congregation. Play might look like goofy suggestions for the conundrums facing you. It might look like setting aside the pressure to solve a conflict and finding ways to connect with each other that are enjoyable. Play lets us drop our need to be right or perfect, makes room for things we might call mistakes, and lets us learn far better than anger and blame do.
Advent invites us to live into these spaces of not-knowing. Instead of rushing to find answers, we might look around and see what we think we know, might not be true. Because if we can live into these spaces of not-knowing with awareness, openness, and hope we make space for the unexpected.
Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer, CER Congregational Life Staff
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.
We 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:
It’s that time of year again! Time to sign up for Goldmine. What’s Goldmine? It’s a week long life changing experience for teenage UU’s. It’s a chance to practice leadership skills, to explore one’s values, to ponder on one’s own calling. It’s a chance to learn to lead worship and to learn more about our past. And definitely a chance to form deep bonds.
Each year something evolves. This year’s evolution is experimenting with how to bring the curriculum into the 21st century. Not with technology–we’re already doing that. But by raising new questions.
Our world is changing rapidly. The form religious community takes is changing rapidly. And the whole of Unitarian Universalism is asking big questions about this. What we’re adding this year is arranging the curriculum to invite youth into these conversations–so they’re ready to be leaders in our changing religious community. Here are some of the questions we’re thinking about exploring together:
What does it mean to be UU? Are there any requirements? Do we have a core theology? Can you be UU by yourself? Do you have to be part of a formal congregation? Or can UU’s gather in other ways and be just as UU? Does your group have to call itself UU to be UU? And if we didn’t call ourselves UU, how would you know we are UU?
What is the purpose or calling of UUism today? Do we provide sanctuary for liberals from a conservative world? Are we a springboard to action in the public sphere? Is our purpose to change the world together? Or to nurture each other?
How do we change the world? Nearly all UU’s think this is part of our job, but the how is very very different and can lead to a lot of conflicts. Is our job public activism? Political involvement? Marching? Getting arrested? Feeding the homeless? Loving our neighbor? Nurturing each other so each one of us changes the world in our own way?
What does it mean to be a leader and what kind of leaders does UUism need? Is leadership just the person up front? And if it’s not, what are the ways we need leaders that aren’t so obvious?
If you’re an adult and those sound like good questions, maybe you should be talking about them too!
Why are all those yellow shirts marching in Cleveland? They’re not all UU’s, the story is even better than that. And might help you know what to work on in your city.
You’ve probably heard about Tamir Rice, the 12 year old armed with a toy gun killed by Cleveland police. You have probably also heard about how Michael Brelo was acquitted last week after shooting 15 rounds through a car roof at an unarmed couple. You may not have heard Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill Black woman, killed in police custody the week before before Tamir Rice was. Or Brandon Jones killed a few months ago. But perhaps you’ve read reports of the Department of Justice report on Cleveland police’s pattern of unreasonable force.
In other words–like many US cities, Cleveland has a problem. Unlike many US cities, Cleveland is able to turn out religious people from across the city–white Protestants, Black churches, Synagogues, and UU’s. You may have seen the great picture in the New York Times of this scene:
That’s Rev. Wayne Arnason over on the left in the red stole. In some pictures Rev. Kathleen Rolenz is also visible. The local Episcopal Bishop is there. The leaders of the Black church are there. The leaders of the Cleveland Jewish community are there. This line is only a small fraction of the clergy that were marching in Cleveland on May 26th.
Together, they are the Greater Cleveland Congregations, a group that can do things like turn out 1100 people in February to present clear demands for things to be included in the eventual DOJ consent decree. And turn out these people on a work day to be on the streets when the announcements were being made, reminding leaders that they will be held accountable.
Making lasting change is long, hard work. It is not work we Unitarian Universalists can do alone. Greater Cleveland Congregations is an Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing style organization that has put in the long hours starting in 2011 to know who the “we” is and what the “we” cares about. Greater Cleveland Congregations’ members don’t agree on everything–actually there are substantial disagreements. But they’ve identified key issues they do agree on through one on one meetings and small group forums in member congregations. They’ve come together for actions, combining behind the scenes pressure with public events that demonstrate the numbers of committed voters involved. Each congregation gives a not insubstantial amount of money to support a small staff. And the religious leaders on the Strategy Team, the Executive Team, the issue teams, and the core teams have worked hard to move their agenda forward. It’s hard work. And our three UU churches in Cleveland had been in the trenches with everyone else. And now, on key issues facing Cleveland, you’ll see Greater Cleveland Congregations’ influence, influence far beyond what UU’s can do alone.
And Greater Cleveland Congregations has a t-shirt–it’s yellow. You have to look closely at the pictures to see the difference between a Standing on the Side of Love t-shirt and a GCC t-shirt. There’s a message there somewhere.
So, what is your congregation doing to build a foundation so that if the Department of Justice is negotiating with your city police, the religious community has a strong and unified voice and can make a difference?
My son is 19 months old and his favorite topic of conversation is what noises animals make. No surprise then, that one of his favorite songs is “Old MacDonald”. At our house “Old MacDonald” has a lot of verses. There are every variety of farm animal and usually the babies too. And there are elk, bison, crows, owls, and mice. We want to add “llama” but we usually sing while driving and I haven’t looked up what a llama says or the right way to make that noise.
Here’s the funny thing I’ve noticed in myself, though: when my child makes a noise that I think sounds like the animal in question–“ruff!”–I want to say, “Right! A dog says ruff!” But why not “bow-wow” or “arf” or “bark”? They’re “right” too. And then I get thinking about how none of these nearly words sounds really sounds very much like the actual sound a dog makes.
So, why so I so automatically say “right!” when he said the word that isn’t really the sound that we don’t even all agree on? And why am I hung up on what the right noise for a llama before adding it to our song?
And here’s what I’ve been thinking: our culture is so stuck on “right”. On being right. On having the right answer. On there being a right answer that if we know and can say then we can feel comfortable and safe.
But, the thing is, we live in a world where a lot of the time there isn’t a “Right” answer. There are a lot of answers that could work and have pros and cons. And this is so true at church: Should you have standing committees or task forces that leap into action when needed and then go dormant? Should the whole congregation worship together or should children go to religious education while the adults go to a service? All good answers. Some of them are good for some churches, others for other churches. But none of them are “Right”.
As we become a more diverse society culturally and as we welcome that diversity into our churches, we need to all get better at this. The skill set we are working to train leaders in is called “intercultural competency”. These are the skills to navigate difference and instead of making everyone choose between doing it our way or leaving, forming communities in which difference is truly welcomed. At our workshops we sometimes use silly examples, but they’re real: Do women’s leggings count as “pants” (wearable with shirts one would otherwise wear with pants instead of a dress)? Who should take their hat off inside, anyone?
And we also explore, through embodied experience, some of the more difficult differences. When we’re hurt, should we say that quietly and calmly? Or express our real emotions? Both are good answers depending on the family culture you’ve been raised in. And both styles can be done healthily and unhealthily.
To form congregations that can welcome people regardless of how they feel about leggings or whether they show emotion when hurt means getting beyond “right” answers and getting down into the more interesting conversations about: What does that mean for you? What did that look like growing up? What’s the consequence for you when your way of being isn’t welcomed?
It’s not as comfortable. We don’t get to feel good because we know the “right” answer. But we do get the blessings of real relationship and getting to know the real differences already among us.
If your congregation isn’t doing intercultural competency work, look for chances to attend a training in the future. We’ll calling them “Building Authentic Diversity”.
First Unitarian in Rochester NY has made some really exciting changes in how their youth program is structured. While they have a large youth program, the philosophy of these changes is accessible to youth programs of every size. Here’s an over view from Sheila Schuh, DRE:
Based on the suggestions in Sustainable Youth Ministry, we have changed the structure of our Youth Group in significant ways-
1. Movement from a Youth Director to a Youth Coordinator/Youth Advisor Specialist Team. This model takes all the responsibility and channel of support from one director and creates a network of adults for youth to connect and work with. Youth Advisors have particular program areas they provide support for (Social Justice, Spirituality, Education, etc) We have also let go of the idea of having a highly charismatic youth director to having a coordinator who is grounded in UU values with a highly collaborative style, working with a team of passionate youth and adults to sustain membership.
2. Movement from limited calendar planning with no defined aims to advanced calendar planning with defined UU balanced programming area objectives. Youth organize the calendar based on these areas: Social Justice, Education, Community Connections/Fuun, Spirituality. They have had 2 major brainstorming and slotting days this year and simply select and slot their priority ideas. Leadership and connection with intergenerational community life is built into the framework.
3. Movement from an all-youth and ad-hoc subgroups leadership model to a Child Adult Leadership Forum (leadership team, all with defined roles) which includes youth in double ratio to advisors and staff. The CALF team meets separately to handle everything from firming up the calendar to making policy decisions and trouble-shooting changes needed to best serve the group. Roles include Youth Moderator, Junior Moderator, Education, Social Justice, Community Connections/Fuun, Food Coordinator, Secretary, etc. This model supports collaboration between a youth leader and advisor specialist to help make a session’s program event happen.
4. Movement from a system in which adults hold youth accountable for violations of covenant and guidelines, to a collaborative restorative circles model. Issues are brought to the Youth Coordinator and DRE, and a team of peers selected by the youth involved go through a multi-step circle process to resolve the conflict.
5. Movement from a splintered communication system to a weekly parent newsletter, active facebook page, and pre-con mandatory meetings.
Youth continue to affirm the model and have the leadership structure in place to make organic changes as needed. They are currently revising roles needed and their definitions for the upcoming year. We are also considering how to build skills needed in leadership earlier in the RE program.
I have had the privilege of being the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst for 4 years now. As any veteran DRE knows, change is something that often needs to be approached delicately, and in small increments. For at least my first 2 years, consistency and a non-anxious presence were my main goals. With that said, I have been slowly moving toward a more cooperative and inclusive feel for our Religious education programming, and feeling the urge to pull the youth group in tighter while still allowing them the independence they so need at this age and stage of development.
For the first time since I have been at the helm of the program I decided to implement a tapestry of faith curriculum for our Senior Youth group. In previous years, the youth would attend a retreat in the late summer and loosely establish their own curriculum for the year. This year the overlying theme for our religious education program is UU Identity, and so I chose for them the curriculum titled “A Place of Wholeness”. This seemed fitting as we are also running our Coming of Age program this year, and most of the youth are also attending that.
I expected some eye rolling and push back from the youth, as they were accustomed to a more unstructured class time. I was very pleasantly surprised to find they love it! They have enriching discussions, and some have even taken on the responsibility of co-leading workshops with their advisers. They still have their social time at occasional overnights.
I have every intention of continuing with a TOF youth curriculum next year. This experience has shown me that often the youth are more open and flexible than I might anticipate, and that balancing structure with freedom can be a key element in a successful youth group.
During the week of June 16-21st, 2014 youth from First UU Columbus alongside a couple of teens from other UU congregations came together to learn about reproductive justice. We learned a lot, challenged each other, affirmed our strong beliefs in human rights, and had a bunch of fun. Our major community partner in this endeavor was Jaime Miracle from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and our primary youth leader was Eliza Steffen.
The beginning of the week brought learning about the definition of reproductive justice. Our youth created opinion statements when they first arrived- without having learned anything just yet. We handed around a bowl filled with definitions and read them aloud to one another. A panel of invited guests joined us, including young adults from the area, a UU woman from Akron, and a woman from Cleveland who later presented a program with us on the intersection of identities with reproductive justice.
We learned that the scope of this issue spans beyond pro-choice issues relating to abortion- it encompasses all decisions whether or not to have families and the access we have to raising families in healthy and happy ways. This includes a larger systemic framework in looking at who has access to healthcare, where resources are available, confronting our broken foster care system, challenging stereotypes of who chooses whether or not to have children. Choice is a complicated issue in the midst of structures that want to make decisions for us: family, culture, societal norms, identities, communities.
Our youth collected stories from the congregation for a video project. They spent hours listening, opening their hearts, and creating safe space for people to share. Each morning we would open with a worship moment, where we lit candles. One morning, we shared things we were grateful for and so many youth expressed gratitude for the courageous folks who came to share their stories with us. I echo their gratitude. In order to overcome reproductive injustice, we have to begin speaking out to heal ourselves from the shame and stigma associated with abortion, adoption, infertility, birth control, and the list goes on. The people who shared their stories took a big step forward towards creating healing in our world. When we tell our stories, chances are we are telling the stories of the people in the room.
Thursday, we traveled to Cleveland to learn about to women’s clinic Preterm. This clinic focuses on care for the whole patient, providing medical services alongside mental, emotional, and spiritual care. As we took a tour of the facility, we not only saw rooms where abortion procedures are performed, but also had a chance to see their Reflection Room where women are invited to take time to meditate and pray and take part in practices that sustain them. We heard from a constitutional law attorney about the history of reproductive laws in the United States. And then it was on to the Dittrick Medical History Museum, which currently features an exhibit detailing the history of contraception and will soon expand their portion on the history of childbirth practices. It was an extremely full day.
During Columbus PRIDE at the end of the week, our group of 12 youth had the opportunity to march with First UU’s group and then moved on to tabling for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. We asked people to sign postcards telling Governor Kasich to stop legislating our bodies by limiting access to reproductive services. Our youth collected over 200 postcards to send along.
This project was both multi-generational and helped our congregation learn more about what reproductive justice means.
Our next Justice Week is June 15th through 19th, where we will be learning about economic justice and racial justice in our local community. If you are interested in participating, please contact Lane Campbell, Director of Religious Education, at [email protected]
Videos produced in the 2014 Justice week are below!
Selma is now. That is what Common and John Legend had to say at the Oscar’s and what many others have been saying as our nation marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic and transformative events that unfolded there in 1965. The work of Selma isn’t done.
The work of Selma isn’t done because voting rights are still being contested. Two years ago the Supreme Court chose to take some of the most important teeth out of the Voting Rights Act. And now, several states have instituted new voter identification requirements which have been widely reported to decrease voter turnout amongst people who are poor, the elderly and people of color.[i] Selma is now.
The work of Selma isn’t done because systemic, institutionalized racism persists. This past week the Department of Justice released their report investigating allegations of civil rights violations in Ferguson. Their report is scathing; it reveals that both the police department and the courts were involved in violating the constitutional rights of African Americans on a repeated and consistent basis.[ii] The details from Ferguson are on our minds now, but this isn’t just a Ferguson, MO problem. Selma is now.
Fifty years ago many Unitarian Universalists heeded the call to go to Selma and this weekend so many more are in Selma commemorating those historic events and reflecting on where we are led at this moment in history. Our response in Selma is a proud chapter for us, but it couldn’t have been predicted. Some of us have been reading Mark Morrison-Reed’s book The Selma Awakening. He makes plain that while Unitarians and Universalists and then eventually Unitarian Universalists have long held life affirming values, for a long time there was a gap between our values and our practice. Yes, there were Unitarian and Universalist visionaries working for abolition, women’s rights, children’s rights, prisoner’s rights, the rights of the mentally ill, peace, health care, education and in most every other major social justice movement since the mid 19th century. However, they were not the majority. And the leadership of the visionaries was countered by the leadership of those who we now would say were standing on the wrong side of history, love and justice.
So it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that we would respond to Selma with such great vigor. Mark Morrison-Reed says the reason it happened as it did was because that moment in history helped expose the gap between values espoused and values in practice. The images on the nightly news brought to the attention of those who would notice the dissonance between what they said they believed and what they did. Many Unitarian Universalists realized in that moment they could no longer accept the dissonance. They wanted to align their lives with their beliefs and so they felt they simply must go to Selma. They went despite the risk. Along with so many African American civil rights activists, two UUs were killed – Reeb and Liuzzo. Those who returned from Selma were transformed by their experience. They were changed by all they had seen and heard and felt. They went home speaking of an experience of wholeness and with an urgent need to devote themselves toward the pursuit of more wholeness in this fractured world.[iii]
Here we are 50 years later and the struggle continues. Yesterday Rev. William J. Barber, the leader of North Carolina’s Mass Moral Movement spoke to those assembled in Selma. He is a man who embraces intersectionality, only he calls it fusion justice. By that he means we all need to be in the work of justice together. One oppression is connected to another and we can’t leave anyone behind. He says the work he is leading isn’t about right or left, Democrat or Republican, it is about morality. If we don’t have voting rights, healthcare, quality education, adequate food or shelter or civil rights protection for all people, who are who going to leave out? That is a moral question, he says, and the only moral answer to the question is nobody. We are not going to leave anybody out.[iv]
That is what Unitarian Universalists say matters to us. It is not enough to simply say what we affirm. To be whole, we must also find ways to put our values into practice. Those who have taken that step before us say that it was worth the risk. They helped to change the world, yes, but they were also changed in profound and powerful ways that made their lives better, more meaningful, more whole. Part of what Morrison-Reed concludes in his book is that people can’t really think themselves into that kind of transformation. For that kind of transformation we need not only to think but also to feel and to act.
So on this 50th anniversary of Selma, learn about the systemic racism that still persists., read about the findings in the Department of Justice report from Ferguson or watch the video of the speech Rev. Barber delivered yesterday. And then consider what can you and your church do to be part of the moral movement for justice?
Sermon excerpt by Rev. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer delivered at the Kent UU Church March 8, 2015