In Gratitude

With Thanksgiving past and the holiday season approaching, this marks the beginning of the season of thankfulness and gratitude. And so we want to take this opportunity to say Thank You.

thank you wordle

Thank you to the congregations who pay their fair share to the region and the Annual Program Fund and those who stretch to pay as much as they can. Your funds make our work possible and allow us to provide resources, trainings and support to all our congregations in the region.

Thank you to all our Chalice Lighters who make a commitment to help those beyond their own congregation with growth and outreach projects, or to recover from devastating situations. Your generosity has an impact on the lives of our congregations and members that you cannot imagine.

Finally, we could not do it without our volunteers. Those who volunteer in our congregations to make them representatives of our values in your communities. The committee chairs and members, those who plan events, congregational volunteers who help us with on the ground planning and logistics for events and more. We would not be able to do anything without our volunteers. To you we say Thank You over and over again.

So to all of you who make these many things possible, we say Thank You.
Your Regional Staff

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Sue Tabone, Cristina Sanchis, Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Rev. David Pyle, Andrea Lerner, Rev. Hope Johnson, Patricia Infante, Rev. Megan Foley, Beth Casebolt, Evin Carvill-Ziemer, and Shannon Harper

Giving Tuesday is November 28th – and the UUA has a special matching gift campaign going on. Please check out uua.org for details.

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Preparing Your Faith Community for the Unexpected

Recent tragic events are causing many congregations to pay closer attention to the safety of their people and the security of their spaces. We all like to think of our congregation as a safe space that offers sanctuary from the world beyond but churches everywhere have become increasingly vulnerable to unexpected intrusions. The chance of an incident occurring remains exceptionally low but we know that when it does happen it is devastating for victims, their families and their communities. The threat of everything from a tornado, flood or fire to a stranger who enters our space with malicious intent is remote but real and all faith communities are encouraged to engage in an open and transparent process to create internal policies, action plans and training for staff and volunteers before the unthinkable happens.

The following resources have helped our congregations develop plans and procedures for addressing threats and violent incidents:

  • Your local police department. Often, they can do a walk-through of your building and give you guidance.
  • Church Mutual Insurance Company’s ALICE Training Institute Online Tutorial. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. These tactics are broader than a “lockdown only” approach, and have proven effective for minimizing harm.
  • The Justice Technology Information Center’s Safeguarding Houses of Worship App and resources to use “in collaborating with community leaders and first responders.”
  • The Anti-Defamation League’s Protecting Your Jewish Institution is a comprehensive security guide covering not only active shooter situations, but also violent protests, threats, and surveillance by hostile groups.

As CER’s program manager for Safe Congregations, I’m interested in hearing from congregations that have developed strong policies and procedures. I’d like to share what you’ve done with other congregations. And if you’re from a congregation that’s just getting started with this work, I encourage you to begin by viewing this webinar, “Safe from Harm.”

For more resources on how to keep your congregation safe from all types of harm, check out our UUA.org Safe Congregations resources or to reach out to your primary contact. This website is in the process of revision and update, so if you can’t find what you need, just write to the UUA Safe Congregations team and we’ll get you connected.

Patricia Infante
CER Congregational Life Staff, Program Manager for Safe Congregations

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Responding to Violence in Our World

A few weeks ago I took my seat on a Jet Blue flight that would take me from San Diego to JFK in about 5 short hours. I had just left the wonderful Mosaic Makers Conference where we figured out ways to center the experience of the global majority in Unitarian Universalism—and beyond—in a world that is becoming increasingly multicultural. We made some meaningful strides in spite of the difficulties that abound.

Little did I know that my world—our world—was about to change again. While on-line in flight, I received the news of the most recent terrorist attack in New York City, the vibrant city that I live in. A truck speeding down an innocuous bike path deliberately killed eight persons, and injured numerous others—in the name of religion.

My heart, like yours, broke for the innocent persons killed and injured, for their families, on Halloween no less! A fun day. A day when typically, life is celebrated by all ages.

My heart, like yours, breaks as I ask myself, “what can we in Congregational Life do?”

We can pause. We can express our gratitude for the positive efforts being made. We can each do something. And we can celebrate the fact that none of us is alone—we’re a team. From there, we can work with our congregations by supporting their efforts to balance the disparities that abound. We don’t have to do it all but, if we want to be part of the change that we’d like to see, we do have to keep challenging each other, not by being hard on ourselves, but by being real. I shared some of these reflections last Sunday before we paused in silence to acknowledge the tragedy.

After service, I took the train and headed to represent the UUA and the Central East Region at Rev. Audette Fulbright’s Service of Installation. I sat across from a lovely couple. Happy. Carefree. Then, all of a sudden, there was a shift in mood. A shift in tone. Tears. The news: 26 persons were killed and about 24 were injured in another church shooting, this time in Sutherland, a tiny rural town in Texas. I made it to All Souls. Just as the service began I formally shared the horrific news, paused for another moment of silence, before extending warm greetings. My heart like all the hearts gathered, broke. My heart, like yours, breaks.

And yet, I know how important it is for us to allow our grief-filled hearts to invite faith, hope and love to seep in–drop by precious drop. Allow our hearts to guide us in coming together, once again, as often as we must, to claim that we will not let fear dictate the kind of people we are and will be, in spite of the anger, the tears and the fears. Allow us to be the people who know how to respond—yes, once again—by uniting our actions, our hearts and our minds in love. Allow us to remember as we work with the larger world, our congregations, and each other, that we are part of a team, doing the work that we have each been called to do.

Yours, HOPE

Rev. Hope Johnson, CER Congregational Life Staff

If you need assistance with talking about these issues with your congregation, please refer to the UUA’s pages on Trauma Response:

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UUA Announces Promise and Practice of Our Faith Campaign

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President

The following letter was set to all congregations announcing the new Promise and Practice of our Faith campaign this month.

In October 2016, your UUA Board issued a charge to all Unitarian Universalists, calling us to invest collectively and signifcantly in the leadership and organizing of Black Unitarian Universalists.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to live the most deeply universalist aspect of our theology and to begin to overcome the limitations of our history. Our commitment to raise and invest $5.3 million for Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) recognizes that centering black leadership is crucial to building multiracial, multicultural communities and to supporting justice work that is free from white supremacy and paternalism.

Our UUA believes so deeply in this commitment to support BLUU’s ministry that it has put forth $1 million from our endowment. In June, a family joined the UUA in its fnancial commitment, making a remarkable $1 million gift to encourage and match contributions from our congregations. This family has been committed to racial justice throughout their decades as Unitarian Universalists, and is investing these funds because they agree that it is time to align our finances with our theology. They made this donation a matching opportunity because they want you to join with them and with us as we boldly build the future of our faith.

To be sure, these are challenging times. We are witnessing a demonstrable increase in hate crimes, a resurgence of the KKK, and daily political and spiritual assaults on our collective humanity. At the same time, we are opening our eyes to white supremacy as it exists in the very fabric of our story as a society and a nation. There is much that we must hold simultaneously. In this time, our commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people and our collective interdependence call for us to live, invest in, and understand our faith in new ways.

Now is the time to invest in Black Leadership and organizing within Unitarian Universalism, for this is the very leadership that can help move our faith forward in the promise and practice of beloved community – a community which practices radical inclusion within, and bold justice leadership for all beyond.

Today, I call each of you to be part of this bold commitment to fulfill the promise to support the ministry, leadership and organizing of Black Lives within Unitarian Universalism.

I invite you to share in the dream and vision of what our faith will look like when we fulfill this radical commitment, when we uphold and center the history, the voices, and the leadership of Black Unitarian Universalists.

In order for our work to be truly transformational, I ask every Unitarian Universalist congregation to join in this real and lasting investment in the future of our faith. Indeed,, this is the challenge issued by the family who has pledged so generously. In order to receive the matching funds, we must raise $11 million in our congregations over the next two years.. This challenge calls us to our covenantal promise to one another, and it calls us to be bold as we return wealth historically built on the exploitation and divestment from black communities and make good on promises that were unfulfilled.

To meet this challenge, the donor family has asked congregations to pledge at least $10 per member to this campaign. (Or however you count the souls you serve.) All gifts are needed, and every gift is appreciated. If your congregation is able to reach the threshold of $10 per membe,, BLUU will receive a dollar for dollar match for your contribution.

We know that you are engaged in the often-exhausting work of guiding your congregation through the troubling daily onslaught of news. Embracing this campaign and engaging in the practice and promise of our faith is one powerful way in which we as Unitarian Universalists can lead in our communities and become the change we want to see in our world.. We hope that your congregation will join us and the donor family, and consider gifts that feel inspirational and transformational.

We are all being called to make a commitment that will create enduring impact. For, as a faith community, the investment in Black Lives is an investment in the promise and practice of Beloved Community within Unitarian Universalism. This is about who we are. It is about who we are called to be. And it is about our collective commitment to nurture a radically inclusive, justice centered, multiracial and multigenerational religious faith for this time.

Please visit our webpage www.uua.org/bluu-campaign, where you can find additional materials and resources for your congregation to use during this campaign and thereafter.

Yours in gratitude and spirit,
Susan Frederick-Gray

Congregations are asked to join in the Promise and the Practice of Our Faith by engaging in the following opportunities:

  • Schedule at least one Sunday on November 12, 2017 or February 4, 2018 (or any Sunday that is convenient for your congregation) to engage around the theme The Promise and the Practice of Our Faith.
  • Make a financial commitment in our support to BLUU that is transformational and inspirational which helps fulfill our $1 million match opportunity (double the impact of your contribution by meeting the threshold of $10 per certified member, or however you count the souls you serve).
  • Make a long-term commitment to dismantling white supremacy, racism and oppression from within our denomination and beyond, and uplifting the Black Lives, Voices, and Leadership of Unitarian Universalism.

Learn more at the UUA website.

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Pumpkins Offer Opportunity for Community and Learning

Rev. Hope Johnson at the Central Nassau, Garden City, NY Pumpkin Patch Photo by Patsy Kaplan

UUCCN, the UU Congregation of Central Nassau,Garden City NY initiated the Pumpkin Patch—outreach to our local community, the larger Long Island community, and the Navajo community in New Mexico. I’m often described as the “Pumpkin Minister” and that’s fine with me! Patsy Kaplan, VP brought this project to us thirteen years ago. It’s become our biggest fundraiser and the entire congregation “owns” the Patch!

We’ve learned about the narrative arc from pumpkins grown on Navajo land, to immigrant rights, to fair wages for all, and more. Our focus is on partnership and we now see our neighbors, near and far, through new multicultural eyes. We offer “storytelling,” face-painting, pink pumpkins to support breast cancer research, and more to our young-at-heart visitors of all ages. With time, our neighbors learn about UUCCN and Unitarian Universalism. Musicians, including UU Master Drummer Matt Meyer, perform in the Patch each year. We also offer homemade apple pies, flowers (Mums), and craft items. With a focus on sustainability, the fresh pumpkins are delivered “priced-to-size,” on consignment!!! Leftover or gently bruised pumpkins are turned into soup, bread, pies and such delights. At the end of the month, remaining pumpkins are donated to a local hunger relief organization.

We’ve learned through our regional work that we really are “Better Together!” So, this year there’s a new “Pumpkin Minister” in town—the Rev. Jude Geiger, Minister of the UU Fellowship of Huntington, NY. Here’s their story: “While challenged with organizing a fundraiser that draws from the community, not from our members, we kept running into the hard reality that our building is too off the beaten path to get drive by traffic. We wanted to have a Pumpkin Patch fundraiser, but needed a location with lots of drive by traffic. With the encouragement of Patsy Kaplan, UUCCN’s Pumpkin Patch Coordinator, we found an off-site location. We are renting the lawn of the local American Legion Hall. Although people may stop in thinking it’s a fundraiser for the Hall, they soon learn about us, and that their purchase helps us, the American Legion and the Navajo Nation in NM where the pumpkins are grown. We love the charity helping charity aspect of this, and our customers do as well. Actually, The Garden City Congregation also benefits because the company gives them money based on what we make because Patsy is mentoring us. It’s a charity win-win.” We’ve also mentored UU congregations in Stony Brook, NY; Meridian, CT and beyond…. Ah, the fields of orange beckon…. come visit, Garden City or Huntington, and En-JOY!!!

Rev. Hope Johnson
CER Congregational Life Staff and Minister, UU Congregation of Central Nassau, Garden City, NY

Family Fun at the Pumpkin Patch. Photo by Patsy Kaplan
Sales Volunteers by Fernando Rivera

 

Huntington, NY Church Volunteers unload the truck for their Pumpkin Patch
Huntington, NY Pumpkin Patch set up.
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#UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn Fall 2017 Dates Announced

In the last few weeks, Unitarian Universalists have responded alongside interfaith and activist partners with love and resistance to overt white supremacists in Charlottesville and across the country. In April, May, and June, 682 of the 1,038 UU congregations–and 32 other UU communities–held UU White Supremacy Teach-ins.

Through public witness, education, and introspection, our faith is coming to understand that fighting white supremacy means both resisting its most blatant forms “out there,” and disrupting its systemic manifestations within.

The first round of teach-ins brought moments of triumph, awkwardness, fierce debate, powerful revelations, joy and pain for Unitarian Universalists of color, and much more. The Teach-In team again calls our siblings in faith to action to continue the work of growth and learning. On Sunday, October 15th or Sunday, October 22nd, join together with UU communities nationwide in Part Two of the UU White Supremacy Teach-in. Our power and reach are magnified when we come together.

The Teach-In Team is collaborating on building three different “tracks” for congregational lay and clergy leaders in which to situate their communities. Some UU churches lean towards being intellectual, academically inclined places; others are full of activists, and still others are places that “love church,” but are hesitant to enter the waters of the social justice and most are a mix of all three. In the coming days, an assessment tool will be forthcoming, which will help those planning your congregation’s Teach-In to choose a track. Webinars, Sunday morning worship, children’s chapel, religious education, high school youth, and other resources, lesson plans and more are coming soon, friends. You can find the resources on the Teachin website, uuteachin.org.

Some ask, “Why give up another Sunday for ‘social justice work’ and ignore spirituality?” For us, the answer is clear: for the oppressed, there is no such thing as separating social justice and spirituality. Combating overt white supremacy and white supremacy culture is a theological endeavor for our faith–from the top of the UUA, to each individual in every congregation and community. We treat it as such—and on October 15th, 22nd, and every day between now and then, we call on you to join us. Register your congregation’s participation today at the Teachin website.

In faith,
Aisha Hauser, Christina Rivera, Kenny Wiley, and the UU White Supremacy Teach-In Planning Team- consisting of religious educators, lay and ordained clergy and UUA staff

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UUA Names Two Books as this Year’s Common Read

Each year, a committee of the UUA selects a book to be the Common Read. Having one common book that individuals and congregations can read together along with a study guide can build community in our congregations and our movement by giving diverse people a shared experience, shared language, and a basis for deep, meaningful conversations.

The challenges, the call, and the opportunity of this moment in Unitarian Universalism and in the broader US American society are compelling. Unitarian Universalists must be prepared and willing to look inward, examining, exploring, and acting to dismantle white supremacy culture in our association, in our congregations and groups, and in ourselves.  At the same time, we must be prepared and willing to look outward and act to lift up Unitarian Universalist values in the political and civic challenges of our time. After much deliberation, the Common Read Selection Committee has chosen two books for this year’s Common Read:

  • Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry, edited by Mitra Rahnema (Skinner House, 2017), centers the stories, analysis, and insights of a number of Unitarian Universalist religious leaders of color as they explore how racial identity is made both visible and invisible in Unitarian Universalist communities. Centering offers help with the inner work of today’s Unitarian Universalism
  • Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want, by Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen, (Beacon Press, September 2017) lifts up the importance of democracy itself. It examines the anti-democracy movement that led to the Trump presidency, then offers a vision and call to action to save the democracy we thought we had and to take our civic life to a place it has never been. Daring Democracy provides a vision and practical guidance for advancing our justice-making work in the public square.

We invite you to make time to read both, and to work with others to organize discussion groups in your UU community.

In addition to providing a study guide and a way on the UUA website for congregations to share their events related to the Common Read, this year we have a special opportunity to involve the authors of Daring Democracy in a conversation. UU religious leaders are invited to meet Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen, co-authors of Daring Democracy, hosted by the UUA and Beacon Press from 11 a.m. to noon (Eastern) on Wed., Sept. 20 at 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA and via live webcast.

Learn more about the Common Read program and the books selected at the UUA website. You can also find past Common Reads and their resources. Past common reads include The Third Reconstruction, Just Mercy, Reclaiming Prophetic Witness, Behind the Kitchen Door, The New Jim Crow, Acts of Faith, and The Death of Josseline.

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Defending our Freedom of Religion for All

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.” I remember these words of Dorothy Day as I think about the work we must do- all of the small and large steps we must take –  to end hatred and bigotry in our nation.  And the small victories that we celebrate, such as the recent cancellation of the ACT for America anti-Muslim rallies.   The cancellation of these anti-Muslim, Islamophobic rallies is one small step toward building the inclusive, welcoming society we dream about.

The city of Columbus, my home, and our nation are at their best when we come together from all faith traditions, all ethnicities, all backgrounds to support one another in creating a positive future for our children and ourselves.   We know that we can do better when working together to address the issues that hold us back from the promise of progress.

ACT for America was originally scheduled to gather in Columbus on Sept. 9.  This rally and others like it have been cancelled, mostly likely in consideration of assured counter-protests by people like me.  ACT for America is now one of the largest anti-Muslim groups in America.  They falsely claim that American Muslims cannot be loyal US citizens and that they want to impose religious law on all Americans; Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew and others alike.   This would be a huge surprise to the Muslim Americans who serve faithfully in our military, in our state and local governments, in the US Congress and more.   Years ago, bigots said the same thing about Roman Catholics, like President John Kennedy, and Catholic canon law.  They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

ACT for America is one of many hate groups that are trying to force us to give up our bedrock, historical American commitment to freedom of religion. All the while, the hide behind twisted claims of freedom of speech designed to cover over destructive hate speech.

As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I trace my own religious ancestry back to the Pilgrims.  Freedom of religion is etched into the deepest DNA of this religious heritage, and it is etched into the foundational DNA of our nation.

We know we can do better.  We know we can bring together the strengths of all of our people and all of our faith traditions to address the many social issues we face today.  Only by realizing that we are truly stronger together can we truly make our city, state and nation the land of love, peace and progress that my Pilgrim ancestors and we dream about.

We need to stand up together to put an end to hate.  Together, we have that power. As Dorothy Day also said: “A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Rev. Joan Van Becelaere
Columbus OH
Executive Director, UU Justice Ohio and CER Congregational Life Staff

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Love Resists Assists Congregations In Social Justice Work

Have you heard of the Love Resists Campaign? The Love Resists Campaign is activating people of faith and conscience to resist the criminalization of our neighbors and communities, and create a safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable world. The campaign offers a prophetic approach to responding to this political moment in the United States, helping to build the wider movement of resistance. That approach includes powerful principles to ground your justice work which, together, help us live up to who our values and principles call us to be – expand sanctuary, grow solidarity, raising your voice.

We recommend you visit the Love Resists website for ideas, resources and examples for how you and your congregation can participate in the campaign.

Sections of the website include:

  • An About Us section that describes the principles of the campaign, its values and the sponsoring and supporting organization. This campaign was created by the UUA, the UU Service Committee, the UU College of Social Justice and Standing on the Side of Love.
  • Sign your name to the Declaration of Conscience to commit to putting Unitarian Universalist values into action to resist hate, fear and bigotry. Get regular email updates, opportunities and stories from this joint initiative of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC).
  • A section on Expanding Sanctuary.  As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us. Find how you can act in solidarity by promoting sanctuary, safe spaces for people under threat.  Includes examples for policies, lists of sanctuary communities you can connect with, and resources to help you learn more about this action.
  • Recommendations for Expanding Solidarity. People of faith and conscience know now is the time grow relationships of solidarity between those who are being targeted because of their identities and those who identify as their allies. This solidarity is most effective when we listen to and make central the leadership, insights, and experiences of people who are most threatened by a history of injustice and the current political climate.
  • Spiritual Centering resources for those working towards justice. As the long arc of the universe bends towards justice, it is our spiritual and moral center that keeps us grounded. In this section, you will find wellsprings of hope, inspirational words and stories, and prayers and meditations to carry with you on the journey.
  • Tips for Leading Congregations as they navigate these decisions and this work. Religious communities and congregations are rising up to take action all over the country. People of faith and conscience know that we cannot remain silent when our values are threatened, and that we must work together to push back. Here are key resources for people who are in a professional or lay leadership role in congregations, to help them mobilize their community through the Love Resists Campaign to raise their voice, grow solidarity and expand sanctuary.
  • Find Love Resists Updates for current actions and calls for what are current issues that need immediate attention due to the issues being taken up by Congress and the President. The current action involves the possible cancellation of DACA.

How can we as Unitarian Universalists adequately respond to the challenges to our communities? We say #LoveResists.

 

 

 

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Interfaith Anti-Racism & Anti-Supremacy Work in Bellville, OH

In Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, interfaith classes confronting White Supremacy were developed in response to the larger community’s clear lack of understanding on issues of racism.

Rev. Scott Elliot with the First Congregational UCC Black Lives Matter Banner before it was stolen.

In Feb. 2016, First Congregational UCC raised a Black Lives Matter banner on the outside of their church. The Church was vandalized and the sign was stolen. Rev. Scott Elliot, pastor of First Congregational called the police, and was astonished when the responding officer said, “#BLM movement is “officially connected to terrorism by the government” and that the message’s terrorist nature likely upset the community…”

Rev. Scott probed further, seeking the name agency that placed #BLM on the terrorist list. The officer could not find it, and subsequently apologized for the error.

This was significant event, and it needed a real, compassionate response. At All Souls UU in Bellville, the church draws from both Richland and Knox Counties. The congregation felt a responsibility to help. All Souls UU reached out to Rev. Scott to offer assistance, the result was the development of a Fall 2016 9 week study group confronting the issues of White Supremacy and White Privilege.

This new collaboration then led to an interfaith service celebrating the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. And this led to the development of a Spring 2017 class on issue of White Supremacy that included more local area faith communities, including the Apostolic Faith Church, Beulah Apostolic Church and the Mount Vernon Zen Community.

These classes were led by a collaborative interfaith team (Rev. Scott Elliott of First Congregational UCC, Father David Kendall-Sperry of St. Paul Episcopal Church, Pastor Will Humphrey of All Souls UU, Rev. Denise Marikis of Gay St. UMC, and Pastor Eddie Massey of Apostolic Faith Church.) This pastoral partnership will continue this fall with goals of continuing education for the larger community and increasing the involvement of county/city officials.

This story appeared in the UU Justice Ohio Newsletter last week and was contributed by Rev. Joan Van Becelaere.

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