O Holy Darkness

Creative Darkness, closest friend, you whisper in the night;
you calm our fears as unknown paths surprise us with new sight.
We marvel at your bounty, your gifts so full and free,
unfolding as you waken us to new reality.

Excerpted lyrics to O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb, by Jann Aldredge-Clanton. Find out more on WorshipWeb.

Rev. Megan Foley
Rev. Megan Foley

From Rev. Megan Foley, Regional Lead

I get supremely edgy this time of year.

You can blame the upbringing in sunny and warm California and Asia if you like, or the subsequent long gray winters in New England or Ireland…but I do not like a lot of dark or cold. I work from home on many days, a home surrounded by hills, tall trees and apartment buildings, and I swear, these days I have to turn the lights on at 3 pm. Three o’clock in the afternoon. I may as well get out a paper bag to breathe into.

Our faith tradition, like many others, has a lot to say about the dark, so literally upon us this time of year, and it also has a lot to say about metaphorical dark times. There’s something scary about darkness for us diurnal humans, so reliant on sunshine and warmth for food and comfort, so reliant on our ability to see – when we can – to keep ourselves oriented and safe. Or, at least, it’s scary for me.

Poems like the ones above reorient me this time of year. Darkness is where Creation happens, and Lord knows we need some Creation in our world right now. Our known paths are heavily trod these days and don’t seem to be heading in the right direction at all.

What if we gave ourselves over, if only for a few minutes each day, for a few weeks of the year, to the idea that if we closed our eyes and unclenched our hands and jaws, a previously unseen and unknown path might open up for the people of this world? Instead of fighting the darkness, what if we considered it our closest friend, as the poem suggests? What can be done in the dim light of a wintery three o’clock afternoon that could never be done in the bright sunshine of another time of year? What can be known if we set our knowing aside and let the dark do its timeless work, just for a few months?

Bounty? Gifts, full and free? Even in winter? Forget the ads: this is what we really need for Christmas, now and always.

It’s the work of the faithful to orient ourselves so that we can receive gifts like these. It’s the work of the faithful to take the cues of the season and let a greater Creation, a greater Wholeness, restake its claim on our world.

What works of faith will you be offering this winter? What new reality will be waking in you, in your community, in all of us, come Spring?

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A New Day Rises for Your Congregation’s Racial Justice Efforts on January 26th in Fairfax, Virginia

New Day Rising Conference MemeThis past summer, I was pondering. Many of my congregational interactions went something like this: “We want to play a role in furthering racial justice work in our congregation, and figure out ways we might be contributing to white supremacy culture. We just can’t decide what to do!”

I knew we had multiple resources and success stories at our UU fingertips. But I’ve always said that lots of resources aren’t helpful if you don’t know which one to pick. How could the Central East region help congregations decide what their next step should be in furthering their racial justice work and commitments?

At the same time, the UU Congregation of Fairfax extended a generous offer to host a racial justice oriented learning opportunity. And now – long story short – an event has been born: The New Day Rising Conference, to help your congregation assess and respond to the struggle against white supremacy culture. This conference has everything you need to assess your congregation’s needs and decide on next steps, easily accessible in one place.

We’ll have worship from The Sanctuaries DC – an intentionally multicultural artistic community using art to create social change. We’ll have morning workshops run by UUA staff – Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson, Paula Cole Jones, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Rev. Sunshine Wolfe, Shannon Harper, Rev. Ian Evison and myself. We’ll have dedicated time for identity-based caucusing, a chance to gather in identity-based groups for conversation, reflection and relationship building. In the afternoon, we’ll hear from multiple UU congregations about their stories of struggle and success in a series of 7 minute TED-style type talks about what worked for them and their people (and what didn’t!), with opportunities to connect and ask questions. Through it all, we’ll host a resource fair and bookstore – a room full of resources and materials to browse, and the opportunity to order helpful books right from the Conference.

Gather folks from your congregation and come on down to the New Day Rising Conference in Fairfax, Virginia on January 26th. You’ll come away inspired, resourced, and ready to take your next congregational steps down the road towards liberation and freedom, fulfilling the promise that Unitarian Universalism makes to our people and the world. We can’t wait to see you and learn together!

Click here for The New Day Rising Conference registration page. Sliding scale fee from $20-$40 includes lunch. Partial financial waivers down to $10 are available – see registration page. Child care is available. Hotel rooms at reduced rates are available by contacting Amy Kent at [email protected].

Rev. Megan Foley
Regional Lead, Central East Region

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Falling Forward

Rev. Megan Foley

You may remember that last spring the UUA was embroiled in a controversy over hiring practices for staff such as myself who serve our congregations. It was a perfect storm of UU crisis: a significant portion of our UU family calling out important, long overdue problems with the UUA. A social media firestorm with plenty of blame to share. Defensiveness and poor messaging from leadership. The resignation of the UUA’s President, Chief Operating Officer, and my boss, the Director of Congregational Life. And then, a UUA commitment to once again tackle the perennial UU problem of embedded structural racism and white supremacy culture.

In the midst of all that spring madness swirled so many questions: What really happened with the Southern Lead hire? How did we get to the firestorm in which we found ourselves? And, not for nothing, how can we sift through it all and learn from it so that we might be able to do better, next time?

Last month the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change issued a report about the events of last spring that has helped shed some light on how we found ourselves where we did. Helpfully, this report also offers suggestions for how to move forward. You can read the report here.

One of the things I found most instructive in the report was the claim that our UUA structures, our chosen policies, were often seen to be archaic and unhelpful, so they often weren’t followed, with negative consequences. This reinforced what I see as a need for structures at the UUA that function and work for the people they are supposed to serve. I am committed to that work in this region and in the Congregational Life staff group as a whole. Our systems matter; they can help us do the work for liberation in the world or they can contribute to oppression and pain. I want to help us choose the path of liberation and my staff team and I are working to be sure that is so.

One of the things that was new to me and many white-identified folks on Congregational Life staff was the vastness of the extent to which our religious professionals of color feel misused and abused by our congregations. We learned and are growing to see that when those conflicts come to the attention of Congregational Life staff, we can contribute to the abuse and oppression rather than mitigate it. We in the Central East Region are doing our best to hear that and to plan ways to do better. In partnership with religious professionals of color and our congregations, we are committed to learning together how to create new paths out of the damaging practices of white supremacy culture and into a new future where all UUs can bring their whole selves to their work. This will in no way be easy; American racism is nothing to take lightly. But if anyone can do this work, even a little, as hard as it is, I think Unitarian Universalists can. We staff of the Central East Region are committed to this work, and are learning with other regions and our headquarters staff how to do it better.

We know our congregations are also committed to a future that is less racist, more liberating and more just for all. We’re excited about partnering with you on this journey too. Maybe you’re wrestling with many of the same questions the UUA is wrestling with. Maybe you’ve also had painful experiences and are trying to learn and do better, and it feels awkward and embarrassing. Let’s do this together. We UUA staff will be talking more about our learnings as we go along; stay tuned as we offer more resources and tools as well – here’s a start. In the meantime, be in touch with me or your congregation’s Primary Contact if you are looking for ways to do this work better.

It will take all of us to move us forward. No one is in this alone, and a group of people asking powerful questions in the midst of suffering and not-knowing is a group of people poised to do something important. I can’t wait to travel down this path with all of you.

Rev. Megan Foley
CER Regional Lead

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An Old Covenant in a New Way

You should have recently received information about the new formula the Unitarian Universalist Association will be using for congregational giving in the Central East Region beginning in July – a formula that uses your operating expense budget as a guide, rather than the number of members you have in your community. (Lots of information about this – including webinar/online discussion dates – can be found in your purple packet about the New APF or at www.uua.org/amplify)

I want to talk about our continued covenant of faith.  Faith, in bold with a capital F!

Unitarian Universalism is a faith of relationship and mutual support. You can feel that in your congregations. In church, you aren’t individuals who happen to be occupying the same space. You are a community, where each can bring their gifts for the good of the whole, and each can be honest about their needs, in hope that the community will support them.

Same with the Unitarian Universalist Association, as an organization. Congregations have needs – resources, consultation, a listening ear, even a shoulder to cry on sometimes and certainly a voice to help celebrate. The UUA works to support those needs with the skill set that comes from being a national organization with a view that is long, in terms of history, and wide, in terms of seeing the whole landscape of Unitarian Universalism. In order to do that work well, the UUA as an organization needs to be supported through congregational giving. We who work for the Central East Region of the UUA are supported every day by the energy, enthusiasm, creativity and love of our member congregations. And we are supported every day by the financial gifts of our congregations.

This new Annual Program Fund (APF) model has been decades in the making and represents our efforts to streamline and remain responsive to congregational needs in a changing religious landscape. It’s a model that strengthens our shared covenant – the one where each brings their gifts, so we can support each other in our shared work. This covenant is not new; it has bound us for centuries. With this change, we are stronger… so we will be able to share in the work together for centuries more.

I ask you to recommit and to re-prioritize your support for one another and this collective faith through your contributions to the Annual Program Fund, which make the work of the UUA possible. Your congregation’s full contribution is needed so that all of our congregations can receive the support that they are depending on, and so that our Association can meet the challenges of our time.” ~ UUA President, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

  By the Rev. Megan Foley, CER Regional Lead

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The Flowers of Turbulence

Rev. Megan Foley

I have not enjoyed spring this year in Washington D.C., where I live.

I usually love the mild days of April, May and June in the Mid-Atlantic, where we have long stretches of blue sky days in the 70s.  Rather than seeing how much heat or cold I’ll need to accommodate on any given day, I can leave my windows open and my socks off, eat meals outside, and rely on things being consistently peaceful and pleasant.

This year, it’s been either cold and rainy or hot and rainy. May had no days with highs in the 70s, but plenty in the 50s and some in the 90s. It’s been less physically uncomfortable than it’s been just unreliable and largely gloomy. No peace, no thoughtless pleasure this year, just the same old weather variation I manage all year long.

Unitarian Universalism has been like this for me this spring, too. Many days, it’s been gloomy to be a UU. We’ve been angry at each other, rude to each other, and unsure of what will be next for us. We’ve suffered losses and grief in the extreme at the headquarters level. For some of us, we’re awakened to a painful reality that others of us have been living with for far too long. Every day this spring brought something new and challenging in our faith.

At the same time, I experienced pockets of love and support this spring that have surprised and sustained me. Colleagues who reminded me of the importance of my work. The joy of regular churchy things like ordinations and worship. The gratification of the White Supremacy Teach In both in a congregation and among UUA staff. The dawning hope that change might be possible when I honestly had not thought it was.

It has not been a spring to relax with open windows and thoughtless inattention. But the flowers of spring bloomed just the same; the days have stretched longer behind the clouds; the world is still warming, in fits and starts. Summer comes no matter the rockiness of the approach.

Perhaps the task at hand isn’t so much to long for days of pleasure and peace when those are clearly not to be found. Maybe our work is to look for the flowers that are determined to bloom for us in the weather that we have.

Rev. Megan Foley
CER Regional Lead

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From Your Regional Lead: Prepping for General Assembly

One of the things I’ve been doing to prepare for General Assembly this year is to work through these excellent preparatory materials provided by the Planning team. As the GA webpage puts it, “General Assembly in New Orleans will awaken and deepen the commitment of Unitarian Universalists to the power and possibility of working in solidarity with those on the margins. [Here] are resources to help you prepare to enter fully into that experience.” Now that the UU conversation about white supremacy has intensified, preparing for GA in this way seems even more important. I’m doing as suggested, exploring the resources in each of the five sections (Encountering New Orleans; Understanding Intersections of Race, Class and Economics; Enhancing Capacity to Build Relationships; Centering the Experiences of People of Color; and Examining Whiteness) to get a broad overview.

I’m personally invested in centering the experiences of people of color. As a leader in Unitarian Universalism, I’ve had no shortage of opportunity to immerse myself in white culture and a white orientation to the world. I get really animated when I can participate in opportunities where the experiences of people of color are centered, instead. I learn more from those times than I would from reading ten books!

What is your next step in “awakening…the power and possibility of working in solidarity with those on the margins”? You aren’t going to dismantle white supremacy in yourself or in the world all at one time. Where’s the right place for you to start? What can you learn about this week that will make a difference? Seeing the world with new eyes can be enormously rewarding. Your efforts will benefit us all. Plus, if you bring your completed resource list to the UUA Expressway at GA, you can get a ribbon to commemorate your learning!

Megan Foley
CER Regional Lead

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Thoughts in a Turbulent Time

Rev. Megan Foley
Rev. Megan Foley

Sometimes you sit across from people you know well, even people you love, and you just cannot believe how far apart from them you feel. You can’t believe how much you disagree. In between you is so much pain. So much misunderstanding. So much … distance. It’s tempting to turn away and move towards those who seem more compatible, to whom you feel closer in spirit, or in story.  To create an enclave of other people who look like you, who think like you, and who agree with you.

But our Unitarian Universalist theology is always, in all cases, that all human beings belong to one and the same family. This past week I’ve been really struck by the words of Rev. Theresa Ines Soto, who wrote: All of us need all of us to make it. Thanks, Theresa.

Let that soak in. All of us need all of us to make it.

So if there are some of us who feel they’re perennially excluded, then we need to change until that’s not so. All of us need all of us to make it. And if there’s someone you’re particularly upset with, you’re still bound up with that person. Their future is also your future. UUs at our best don’t pick and choose. We’re all “all in”.

All of us need all of us to make it, even when we can’t see how. This is our Unitarian Universalist faith statement, the thing to lean into when we don’t know what else to do.  To believe otherwise puts us at a disconnect that keeps us from our true potential at best, and proves dangerous at worst.

I hope you’re also feeling a lot of complex emotions about Unitarian Universalism and about the UUA, because to feel otherwise wouldn’t be honoring the full story. I hope you’re feeling sad, because there’s been a lot of hurt and pain. And, in the midst of that, I hope you’re feeling that your call, as ever, is to heal the disconnections that you encounter, within our denomination, and beyond. To do less is to do our faith a disservice. And to create connection where connection never existed before—that is holy work—the work of shared Unitarian Universalist ministry in all of its fullness.

Rev. Megan Foley
Central East Regional Lead

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Focused Church

Who knows why our Central East Region staff decided to schedule our congregational check-ins for February this year? What a surprising opportunity it turned out to be to see how congregations turn from crisis and overwhelm to resolve and commitment.

I happened to have planned a video call with DC area clergy for the day after the election. What a surprising crowd turned up. It seemed that everyone wanted to be together in an incredibly tender time. They were a shocked and overwhelmed lot. They were afraid for the vulnerable among us. They wondered how they would craft their Sunday message when they themselves were struggling. They wondered how to minister to both the devastated Democrats and the unseen but present Republicans. They were confused and hurting.

Contrast that day to what I found from my calls just three months later:

  • “Our pews are full of people seeking meaning and sustenance.”
  • “We used to have a scattershot approach to justice work. Now we’re really focusing.”
  • “Our stewardship campaign is going strong.”
  • “We used to fight over stupid things. Now we pull together.”

Folks, people and systems are resilient. We thought we had to make resilience happen, but it turns out that it happens on its own. That’s the nature of human recovery, and thank goodness for that.

What will our congregations do next with this focus and resolve? Will we breathe a sigh of relief and fade back to our old, perhaps less directed, perhaps less effective ways? Or will we learn the lessons these times have to teach?

I think we’ve just re-learned what focused church can do. It comforts and strengthens those who suffer and those who work hard at recovering. It is a place where love and compassion are planted and sprouted so that those who participate are at their best in the rest of the world. Church can serve as a countercultural beacon, declaring through words and action that no matter what happens out there, love wins in here.

Don’t forget that what you do matters, you are not alone, and your Central East Region team is here to help. May we keep the resolve and focus that have been hard won over the past few months. May we see our value more than we ever have, and use our power more than we ever did. May our churches be the shining light that both welcomes us home and lights our way forward.

Megan Foley, CER Regional Lead

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Fall Interview Report: What did our Advisory Council find?

The Central East Region has an Advisory Council of lay and ordained volunteers who work with the Director of Congregational Life, Rev. Scott Tayler, to both assess the needs of our congregations and to track the effectiveness of our regional staff in meeting those needs.  The Advisory Council completes targeted, in-depth interviews each fall, and does a broad survey of congregations each spring.  This is what they found in their Fall 2016 interviews.

There were three focus topics for the fall interviews:

  1. Relentlessly Useful Administration questions (10 interviews; 5 Congregations)
  2. Start-Up Workshops/New Ministry Support (10 interviews; 5 Congregations)
  3. New Annual Program Fund Plans  (15 Interviews; largely directed by the Stewardship and Development Office of the UUA.

Here’s an overview of what the Advisory Council learned:

  • There is a strong connection between our congregations and their Central East Region regional staff, especially through primary contacts. Congregants and congregations clearly go to their primary contacts to gather resources.  That connection does not need to be face to face.  Some congregations are worried our primary contacts may not be supported enough.
  • Administrators and clergy clearly need help with the practicalities of payroll, staffing, state taxes – all aspects of managing the “business” end of church.  It is hard work and the congregations don’t feel they have the skills.
  • Our congregations are very worried about money.  Stewardship is changing.  Churches seem to be saying that the new, younger folks don’t understand or participate in the traditional way of raising money.  Congregations seemed focused on attracting younger members or people with children.  They’re either proud they’ve got younger members or they’re worried that they don’t.  At the same time, when congregations talked about younger members, they often mentioned that their per-unit pledge had dropped.
  • Congregations were not eager to talk to the Advisory Council about the Annual Program Fund, the way the congregations fund the UUA. (Learn more at http://www.uua.org/giving/apf/basics) There was a low level of understanding about the APF.  For the most part, just a few leaders or the minister knew about it and anchored the rest of the congregation.  There was a real hunger for more information about the Annual Program Fund, with congregations wishing for resources like videos or a full Sunday service package, or for the UUA to come to their churches to inform them.
  • Ministerial Start Up Workshops, traditionally offered by regional staff at the start of a new religious professional’s tenure, are appreciated by congregations.  There is not much consensus on the best timing of ministerial start up workshops.  Some thought they were best timed for right away in the new relationship.  Others thought it was better to have them later, after the religious professional and congregation had time to get to know each other.  There was a desire for a follow up check in later, if there was an early start up workshop.
  • Congregations seem to have a growing understanding of clergy and sexual misconduct and how that impacts congregational health.  They also have a growing understanding of congregations’ behavioral and emotional systems and how anxiety affects a congregation.

Learn more about the Congregational Life Advisory Council (CLAC) at their webpage.

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Capital and Northern Virginia Cluster Clergy Release Statement

The clergy of the Capital and Northern Virginia Clusters released this statement this week in reaction to the ongoing violence in the United States.

Dearest congregations,

Design by Shane Montoya, using Wordfoto App. From UU Media Works.
Design by Shane Montoya, using Wordfoto App. From UU Media Works.

We are your clergy–those Unitarian Universalist and Ethical Culture clergy serving congregations in the DC metro area–and we want to write to you in this time of national anxiety and pain. Every week it seems there is another mass shooting or another terrorist attack. America has seen an increase in hate speech and racist and xenophobic language. And we are in the midst of an election season that holds challenging possibilities for our country, and encourages anxiety about our future, both as a nation, and a people united.  We have been hearing from you, our members, about how it feels to be living in this world: scary, disheartening, hopeful, disturbing, disorienting. We feel this, too, and just as you have turned to us, we have turned to each other.

As colleagues, we are working together to coordinate our response to these times, sharing information about healing spaces and vigils, and supporting each other in ministering to you, our communities and the world. We wanted you to know that just as none of you stand alone, neither do we stand alone; indeed, this is a time that reminds us how grateful we are to be connected to each other, part of a engaged religious movement which reaches across the country.

Beginning in September, many of us will be offering a shared moment of connection and meditation during our Sunday services. We will ring a bell three times, inviting all into a space of solidarity and support with each other, remembering all who have been lost to violence in the week past, and honoring our commitment to a different world. As you experience that bell ringing in your congregation on Sunday morning, know that Unitarian Universalists and Ethical Culturists across the area are experiencing it as well, and that we are united in our care for this country and its people.

You are the reason that we have hope: your work for justice, your faith in humanity, your commitment to our shared  values and beliefs.

We are grateful to serve you, and we are grateful that we do so as part of a larger whole. May we remember our connection to each other, may the long arc of hope keep us connected in these challenging times and may that connection sustain us and lead us forward.

  • Randall Best, Leader, Northern Virginia Ethical Society
  • The Rev. James Gibbons Walker, Chaplain, UU Fellowship of Southern Maryland
  • The Rev. Louise Green, Minister of Congregational Life, River Road UU Congregation
  • The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, Minister, UU Congregation of Frederick
  • The Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig, Associate Minister, UU Congregation of Fairfax
  • The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, Senior Minister, Cedar Lane UU Church
  • The Rev. Dan King, Minister, UU Church of Loudon
  • The Rev. Christina Leone-Tracy, Faith Development Minister, UU Church of Annapolis
  • The Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd, Senior Minister, River Road UU Congregation
  • The Rev. Aaron McEmrys, Senior Minister, UU Church of Arlington
  • The Rev. David A. Miller, Senior Minister, UU Congregation of Fairfax
  • The Rev. Rebekah A. Montgomery, Assistant Minister, UU Congregation of Rockville
  • The Rev. Dr. Susan Newman Moore, Acting Senior Minister, All Souls Church, Unitarian
  • The Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles, Minister of Faith in Action, UU Church of Arlington
  • The Rev. Amanda Poppei, Senior Leader, Washington Ethical Society
  • The Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael, Minister, UU Congregation of Sterling
  • The Rev. Scott Sammler-Michael, Minister, Accotink UU Church
  • The Rev. Lynn Strauss, Senor Minister, UU Congregation of Rockville
  • Hugh Taft-Morales, Leader, Baltimore Ethical Society
  • The Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker, Minister, Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church

More clergy will sign onto this letter upon their return from summer leave; it represents the collaborative work of the entire DC metro area.

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