Innovative Ways to Collect Donations

The First UU Church of Niagara in Niagara Falls, New York made local news with their holiday food drive. The small but active congregation used the controversy about divisive border walls to create a different narrative. They took up a collection of canned and other non-perishables and created a wall of food for those in need in the local community. President Betsy Diachun shared about how they partner with local missions to get the food to those who need it most.

They were featured on a local TV station, WGRZ, Channel 2:

This is not the first time First UU of Niagara has built a structure out of donations. Last year they created a tree out of packages of toilet paper that they then donated to local charities.

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Social Justice Learning at Home and Away

There are many opportunities for all of us to learn more about various social justice issues in our homes, congregations or at trainings and events around the region. Here is a sampler of what is available. If you know of others, please recommend them in the comments!

Learning and Participating at Home
For those who want to learn more or participate in something from home:

Participate in this year’s Common Read. The 2018-19 Common Read is Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Environment, edited by Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Jennifer Nordstrom (Skinner House Books, 2018). At a time when racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice are seen as issues competing for time, attention, and resources, Justice on Earth explores the ways in which the three are intertwined. People and communities on the margins are invariably those most affected by climate disaster and environmental toxins. The book asks us to recognize that our faith calls us to long-haul work for justice for our human kin, for the Earth and for all life. It invites us to look at our current challenges through a variety of different perspectives, offers tools to equip us for sustained engagement, and proposes multiple pathways for follow-up action. Justice on Earth is available at inSpirit: UU Book and Gift Shop. The UUA has created a discussion guide that offers Unitarian Universalist congregations, groups, and individuals a single 90-minute session and a more in-depth, three-session series. Optional slides (PowerPoint) allow groups to project the discussion and reflection questions rather than write and display them on newsprint or a chalkboard. If your congregation does the common read as a group, please share your congregation’s participation in this year’s Common Read map.

Looking for a personal or congregational outreach program? The Church of the Larger Fellowship will be sending almost 900 holiday cards to CLF members experiencing incarceration. Could you help?  Invite your social action committee or youth to write messages of hope. If you’re interested, it’s important to read a detailed list of Do’s and Don’ts at this link. CLF staff and volunteers will address all envelopes, bringing a bit of cheer to our incarcerated UU members, many of whom are lonely and without support. Questions? Reach out to Beth Murray at [email protected].

If you want a longer investment, Church of the Larger Fellowship has a Prison Ministry program. You can become a penpal, join with others as part of a community working to support prisoners or become an Ambassador. Learn more about this program at https://worthynow.org/

Trainings and Events around the Region or Beyond
For those who want an interactive experience these events may fill your desire to have learning with others:

Join the Pittsburgh Cluster for their Annual Assembly with a focus on social justice non November 10, 2018. Keynote speaker is Rev. Kathleen McTigue of the UU College of Social Justice speaking on The Faithful Resistance: Prophetic Witness in Dangerous Times. This event will include panel discussions and interactive sessions with local social justice leaders from PIIN, ACLU and other organizations to help us join the Faithful Resistance.

UU Justice Ohio General Assembly on November 17, 2018 is focused on A New Way: Building a Moral Democracy. Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign speaking on A Prophetic Voice for the Poor: Building a Movement to End Poverty. The day will include workshops on Health Care, Sanctuary, Poverty, Congregational Justice Ministries, The Promise and the Practice program, and Prison Ministry.

Note that other Legislative advocacy groups offer trainings and events throughout the year, however this is the only one we currently know about.

Youth in particular are invited to join us in Mt. Kisco, NY for UU College of Social Justice’s Activate Training. Activate Your Community: Love Resists! will offer youth, youth advisors, and chaperones an opportunity to deepen their understanding of opportunities for youth engagement in social justice activism, guided by Unitarian Universalist values and practices. Over the course of a long weekend gathering, participants will build community, explore their identities, and discern how they can show up in the world, beginning in their own communities, as agents of spiritually-grounded social change. The training takes place December 7-9, 2018

Your Central East Regional Staff are hosting a training on January 26, 2019 at UU Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, VA, on Struggling with White Supremacy Culture: Identifying Your Congregation’s Next Steps. Registration and details on this event will be available soon.

Want something more immersive for your congregation or yourself? Now is the time for congregations to schedule immersion learning journeys with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice for Spring and Summer 2019. Learn more about the journeys available to youth, young adults and adults of all ages or contact [email protected] to ask about setting dates for your congregation.

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UU Amherst Dedicates Free Food Pantry

Two years ago, UU Church of Amherst, NY member Maria Ceraulo read a story online about a “Little Free Food Pantry” and thought, “Huh, we should do this,” and began floating the idea to her congregation. The congregation applied for and received a very generous grant from the Network of Religious Communities of Greater Buffalo. They also found a partner to help operate the pantry, Congregation Havurah, who shares space with the UU congregation.

On Sunday, September 30, the pantry was opened. Members of all ages came early to stock the panty and ready it for the blessing after the service. The congregations primary contact, the Rev. Renee Ruchotzke co-led the service with the congregation’s settled minister, the Rev. Michelle Buhite.  After the service the congregation gathered underneath the portico where the new pantry is accessible to all. Maria and other leaders instrumental in the project participated in the grand opening, and Rev. Michelle gave the blessing. The grand opening and dedication was covered by local media, including on the local news channel. https://www.wgrz.com/article/news/local/new-food-pantry-opens-in-williamsville/71-599502862

Food Pantry Dedication by Rev. Michelle Buhite.

Today we begin a new thing.
Today we lift up a new way to embody our mission
to foster more compassion and justice in the world,
by committing ourselves to feed the hungry in our community.

May those who have, share from their abundance.
May those who need, find nourishment for body and soul.
And may we recognize that we are all givers and receivers –
all in need of the grace of human kindness
and a word of hope and encouragement.

May it be so.

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We Need Churches

Paula Cole Jones

The communities where we live and work and go to school are constantly changing.  The nation and the wider world is constantly changing.  There is so much that we do not control.  We face everyday challenges as we go through the various phases of our own lives and the lives of family and friends.  And in these challenges there are many opportunities for us to stretch and grow.

I grew up in the UU church, All Souls in Washington, DC.  It helped to shape me.  In my younger years I was skeptical about organized religion.  It was my belief that we don’t need to go to church to be good people, and there was no guarantee that people would be better because of church.

Somewhere along the way, my attitude changed.  My appreciation for what the church had given to me deepened and I wanted to give back.  The more I got involved, the relevancy of the church in people’s lives and in the wider society became more apparent.  I started to see churches as critical centers of community life that  tend to important individual, family and community needs.  The church is where we mark certain cultural and life transitions: child dedications, graduations, marriage, anniversaries, and celebrations, caring and memorials when life comes to an end.  It is where we bring our joys and sorrows and know that we are not alone.

In addition to my own lived experience, I had an interesting window that helped to shift my understanding.  Most Sundays I attended services with my mother.  We processed sermons together and attended meetings.  She was usually the first person I called to bat around some new ideas or to make sense of confusing feelings.  At the same time, my daughter was being raised as UU.  I was seeing church through three generations at one time.

When my mother retired from teaching, the church community became more central to her life.   There she could find people she loved, inspiring messages from the pulpit, music to soothe the soul.  She could count on our church for continued intellectual engagement, and being active in a caring community contributed to a healthy emotional life.

At one point, I became evangelical in my belief that everyone needs to belong to a church.  I wanted to shout from the rooftop, everyone needs to belong to a church, no matter what church it is!  There are things that are essential to our lives and churches are perfectly suited to be centers that contribute to quality of life for each of us.

Recently, someone shared that they joined a UU church, after the last election.  They found us on the internet and knew they had found their people on the first visit.  There are many others who are in need of sanctuary, community or safe harbor in a troubled world.  The program year is well underway and the next election is approaching  Let’s keep building healthy ministries and be ready to welcome newcomers.

Paula Cole Jones
Interim CER Congregational Life Staff

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UU Fellowship of Newark Receives Get Out The Vote Grant

Catriona, Dounya, one of the involved youth, and Karen working on their Instagram outreach.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark in Newark, Delaware, led by members Karen Barker and Catriona Binder-Macleod, recently applied for and received a $500 grant from the Fund for UU Social Responsibility to collaborate with the Delaware League of Women Voters in working with youth to Get Out the Vote in 2018. They will be educating and empowering not only their own yoUth groUp to help the public get information they need and register to vote, but also students from Newark High School, Newark Charter School and the University of Delaware.

The youth participating in the program will be trained to register voters and will be spreading the word about VOTE411, the League of Women Voters’ fantastic new website (http://www.vote411.org). In October the congregation will also be working with youth on getting out the vote.

Grants like this are available to any congregation. The Fund for UU Social Responsibility is awarding grants of up to $500 are available for congregational 2018 Get Out The Vote projects! Unitarian Universalist congregations frequently support the democratic process in a nonpartisan manner by participating in voter registration drives, providing nonpartisan educational materials or forums for voters, or by volunteering to help registered voters get to the polls on election day. The deadline is rolling and you can apply between March 15 and November 1, 2018. Grants will be available until the fund is depleted. Applications and more information are available online. You can also contact them at [email protected] or (617) 971-9600.

Congratulations to Karen and Catriona and the UU Fellowship of Newark for successfully completing their grant request and for this great project.
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New online course: Transgender Inclusion in Congregations

Is your congregation ready to take your welcome to the next level?

Our movement has come a long way with regards to LGBTQ inclusion, but there’s a long way left to go. A recent survey of trans UUs found that only 28% feel that their current or most recent congregation is completely inclusive of them as trans people. The average UU congregation was recognized as a Welcoming Congregation in 2004, almost 15 years ago, and has not done any deep, intentional work since to challenge assumptions and unintentionally unwelcoming aspects of congregational life when it comes to the full diversity of LGBTQ communities.

My dear friend Rev. Mykal Slack and I, both of us trans faith leaders, have personal, painful experiences of this. I was raised within Unitarian Universalism, and yet I have never found a congregation where it felt like I could get my spiritual needs met. Mykal found Unitarian Universalism later in life and has similarly struggled to feel like there is a place within this religion for all of who he is.

So we are issuing an invitation to congregations that are serious about changing this narrative: we’ve released an online course that we hope congregations will engage with as whole communities: “Transgender Inclusion in Congregations.” This is not limited to “trans 101”—rather, it’s a comprehensive, six-session online course for individuals, groups, and congregational teams that are committed to transformation.

Each of the course’s six sessions includes a 45- to 60-minute pre-recorded lecture by me and Mykal, reflection questions, and resources that take the conversation deeper. In addition, we will be holding regular live video chats for all current or past course participants.

The course is offered on a sliding scale to both individuals and whole congregations. There are lots of ways that congregations can engage in it holistically and we encourage you to get in touch with us if you have any questions or want to strategize. Once a congregation purchases the course, all of its members get access to it for as long as we run it (which will likely be several years), so the course can be taken by multiple groups over time.

I hope you’ll join me and Mykal in working to transform the experience of trans people within Unitarian Universalism. In the process, I guarantee that all of us will be transformed. Find out more and sign up here.

In faith,
Zr. Alex Kapitan
Transforming Hearts Collective

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A Traditional Ethics for a Sustainable Future

Photo: Blue Sky Permaculture Farm, Montague, MI
Photo copyright Renee Ruchotzke/UUA

We are living in a time of great change, where the forces of greed, selfishness, and fear have been unleashed and the future is unclear. We religious liberals can play an important role in influencing the conversation in a way that can shape the future with the counterforces of generosity, mutuality, and love. Unitarian Universalists have many partners in shaping our future, and we can learn a lot from one another to amplify our shared values and voices.

During my recent sabbatical (thanks to the generosity of our UUA and your Annual Program Fund gifts) I spent time doing a deep dive into Permaculture, which Mike Feingold described as “revolution disguised as gardening.” As part of that study I completed a two-week Permaculture Design Course with Peter Bane, Rhonda Baird and Keith Johnson at Blue Sky Farm. I’ll share more in future blogs but for now I want to talk about ethics.

We currently live in an a society based on ethics that condone exploitation of people and extraction from nature. Most aboriginal cultures and other traditional societies have ethics that are based on values that are in alignment with our notion of Beloved Community. Permaculture has adapted them into three (plus one) central ethical principles:

1. Earth Care

This principle aligns with the UU seventh principle: Reverence for the interdependent web of all existence. In practice this means:

  • Being good stewards of the earth, from micro-organisms in the soil to the biodiversity of species, each one having intrinsic value.
  • Increasing biodiversity is an imperative
  • Humans, as part of the community of beings, should limit our impacts by doing no further harm, conserving and restoring what is left, and consuming without waste.

2. People Care

This principle aligns with the UU first principle: Respect for the inherent worth and dignity of all people. In practice this means:

  • Our institutions should be human-centered, encouraging material and non-material well-being for all.
  • Power should be decentralized and localized (such as in our congregational polity).
  • Individuals in communities should be encouraged to take personal responsibility, initiative and practice self-reliance.

3. Fair Share

This is the principle that is the key to the future, and is where the revolution shows up.

  • We need to live in the spirit of mutuality, generosity and trust in one another and in nature’s abundance.
  • We need to articulate and address the limits to growth, consumption and population.
  • This will require a commitment to living simply and scaling back to sustainable economic principles based on the notion of the common good.

Transition-Aware (the plus one)

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

In the past, many permaculture practitioners did so outside of the mainstream culture. But this way of being in the world offers hope and a workable model for how humans can address climate change. But even if we have a workable solution, we can’t implement it until we know how to foster a paradigm shift among fellow humans.

One critique I have of Permaculture is that—although it’s based on principles that align with traditional societies—almost all of the leaders, authors and teachers have been white men born before 1955.  There is a recognition among the rising leaders (as well as many of the elders themselves) that this grounding in “The Patrix” (White Male Supremacy culture) is something they need to address.

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
CER Congregational Life Staff

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UUs Participate in March for Our Lives

Fifty people left UU Fellowship of Harford County early on Saturday, March 24 for the rally in Washington, D.C. The experience seems to have resonated with the students who attended as well as the adults.

“Today (March 24) was very inspirational to me, and to others all across the world. This is something only we can solve, and today was a great stride towards success. Old sins cast long shadows but not in our case. We can use our past to brighten our future, only if we stand together and act as a whole body who wants to make a change.” So said 14 year old Aaron Knight, an 8th grade student at the Tome School in North East, after participating.

Mary Jane Price organized the trip. When asked what her motivation was for going, she responded, “TIME Magazine has called 1968 “the year that shaped a generation”. I believe that 2018 may well be the year that shapes this generation. As someone who lived through the Viet Nam war protests, the Kent State killings, the assassinations of RFK and MLK – I will never forget those times, and they forever changed me. Now I have the honor, and obligation, to help our young people navigate our current political and social climate – and discover what is within themselves, and what they are capable of. My respect for the ways in which they are stepping forward is boundless.”

Valerie Greene, a dental hygienist in Bel Air, had difficulty reflecting on the day without tears coming to her eyes. She was so impressed that kids who had gone through this unbelievable trauma were so courageous and articulate expressing their goals for removing assault weapons, also known as weapons of war, from being sold to individuals. She went on to say that one time a man tried to ignite a bomb in his shoe on a plane and even though he was unsuccessful, 17 years later we are still removing our shoes in order to board a plane. However, assault weapons have killed hundreds and nothing has happened yet.

Liam Gallihue, a 15 year old from Havre de Grace has a plan as to how a change will happen. Although he isn’t old enough to vote, he plans to encourage his friends to talk to their parents about voting for representatives who do support the goals of: banning assault weapons, stopping the sale of high capacity magazines and closing loopholes in background checks. His mother, Suzi Gallihue,  went on to say that, “If 800,000 people can stand in silence (during Emma Gonzalez’s speech), the world can be changed!”

“Witnessing first-hand the determination, courage and conviction of so many young people gives me hope for our nation’s future. I believe this march will be noted in history books as a turning point for changes in gun laws — on par with historical marches to end the Viet Nam War, racial segregation, and suppression of women’s rights,” was Belcamp resident and former school administrator Olivia Spencer’s reaction to her experience on the 24th.

Lisa Nickerson, from Havre de Grace, attended with her college professor son Evan, and she was equally moved. “To see ‘our’ children in such pain broke my heart. Saturday’s rally gave me hope that adults who have turned a blind eye to the NRA’s corporate greed are now awake. And, that our youth will hold us all account.”

“From my perspective, the courage, strength, passion, and eloquence exhibited by these students is awe inspiring. Where most kids are afraid to get up in front of a classroom, these kids are standing up in front of the world” was the reflective take-away of Maureen North, former teacher and administrator from Bel Air.

Other UU Churches around the region also participated in DC or at local marches.

First UU Columbus sent a bus filled with 20 youth, 3 young adults and 13 adults to Washington DC for the March 24 March for Our Lives led by Rev. Eric Meter and Sylvia Howe. They enjoyed the hospitality of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, VA. The youth raised funds for over half the cost of the trip through donations from the congregation.  They held a bake sale and sign-making party for the entire church to participate.

First UU Columbus also had a great delegation of folks meet up with many other UUs from Central Ohio to attend the local march in Columbus, OH.  The Washington DC youth rode overnight back from the march and reported that they learned a lot about gun safety and gun violence. They shared their reflections about their experiences on Sunday, April 8th, at First UU Columbus as the congregation marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

The photos below are from the Columbus Trip.

The UUs for Social Justice in Washington DC also participate and took photos. Executive Director Pablo DeJesús said:

“March For Our Lives was an inspiring rally here in D.C., especially for the beauty of all ages living our UU values together, with the youth leading the way, and the diversity of those voices. Glimmers of a beloved community indeed! I heard talk about transforming the rally event into a movement against ALL gun violence, about making the rally moment into an inflection point in the debate. I heard youth talking about the power of their future votes, and a readiness to hold elected leaders accountable at the ballot. I heard a desire to change American culture from favoring gun safety locks over safe schools and safe communities. Fundamentally, I heard our youth in a collective declaration ‘we are our changemakers’ echoing the refrains of ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for’ and ‘el pueblo unido, jamás serávencido.’  As we UUs discern how to help the youth transform the Good Trouble (Rep.J.Lewis D-GA.5th) activism of these rallies into concrete advocacy, I urge us to embrace our denominational history on the gun issue, build upon that intellectual and moral foundation, and support sustained federal advocacy to help bring about the vision of this new generation of changemakers.”

These photos were taken by UUSJ during their participation in the March:

Below – UUs gather at All Souls Unitarian in Washington DC to make signs. Pictured is Community Minister Rev. Karen Scrivo, UUSJ Board Member for Goodloe MD, who is busy coordinating her people by cell.

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Below – March participants move along the street towards one of the entry points.

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Below  – Signs from the March. Two of the UUs in this photos are key UUSJ volunteers.

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Below: UUSJ Executive Director Pablo DeJesús is interviewed by the news (in the black hat and jacket), also pictured is Key UUSJ volunteer, Lavona Grow, to his right and UUC Arlington SJ/Youth staff, Elisabeth Geschiere, in the sunglasses

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Living Our Values – Congregations Collaborate to Support LGBTQ Youth

Our five congregations in Westchester participated in the Prideworks for Youth Conference on March 14, 2018. Prideworks is an annual county-wide conference for about 500 LGBTQ youth and allies, and UU’s have been an important part of the conference in its almost two decades of existence, when it was called “Healing the Hurt.”

UU Youth, DRE’s and ministers have offered workshops, served on the board and planning committee, and volunteered in many ways. After the example of one of our youth groups, collections are held annually in all five congregations, ranging from a plate share to a youth group bake sale. Today, these congregations are the largest financial supporter of Prideworks.

Several years ago, the youth were greeted outside the conference by demonstrators who were holding the most hateful signs. Our UU’s in attendance vowed to be a more welcoming presence, and have ever since welcomed school buses with a Standing on the Side banner and cheering UU’s.

This year there was a total of 20 volunteers from all five congregations, workshops were offered by Rev. Michael Tino of Mount Kisco and Anthony Arrien of White Plains. Three congregations have members of the Planning Committee and DRE Tracy Breneman, serving Hastings on Hudson and Mount Kisco, is a member of the board and one of those primarily responsible for the success of this major initiative.

Most importantly, LGBTQ+ youth feel affirmed, connected and celebrated. Our UU values in action!

See the photos from the day below:

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Making Holidays Relevant Today

Barbara Ford – Prayer

Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Rev. Hope Johnson. Photo by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

Spirit
I
n these times of limitless grief
We have but two choices

Our hearts can break
Or
They can break wide open

The broken heart can fall
Clutching and desperate
Into a deep chasm of loneliness

The heart broken open
Joins with the pain
Of a million other hearts
And knows
Finally
That it is never alone.

May we choose
The communion of broken hearts
Over isolation

And with that choosing

May we act together in love
Toward the healing
Of the Heart of the World.

February. Black History Month. I celebrate Black History every day of my life so I find it odd to devote one month in the year to celebrating Blackness.

I am keenly aware that many Unitarian Universalist congregations struggle with what to do all month. This month. With the escalation of obvious racial injustices, coupled with our Unitarian Universalist commitment to dismantling systems of white supremacy, it is important to honor and to commemorate the painful legacy of the Black experience in this country. And yet, it is important to keep the hope for a more just future alive, not only by praying, but also by doing.

Valentine’s Day is one of February’s special days. A day when Love is celebrated, commemorated, longed for, or…. Though it only lasts for 24 hours it permeates the entire month of February offering each of us another opportunity to share the love that we have within our hearts—even, or especially—when they are, or have been broken. Valentines Day, like Black History Month, should be celebrated every day of the year.

And there is Washington’s Birthday, commonly called Presidents Day that began as the celebration of President George Washington’s Birthday as a Federal Holiday in 1885. With time it came to celebrate all U.S. Presidents. Then over the years it has somehow become one of the biggest sale weekends in this country. I do wonder what is really being celebrated this Presidents Day, but that is another blog-post….

I encourage congregations to embrace the joy—and the challenge of finding meaningful ways to make holidays relevant to today. This might well be a good time to involve all ages in a shared project—finding new stories that bring our UU values to life; perhaps creating a timeline, or a service project. Consciously taking a difficult decision to live our values. There are many resources available through uua.org. And, there’s still time to work on something special this February. And, remember that there are eleven other months ahead….

Rev. Hope Johnson

 

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