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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#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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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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Resources for Understanding the History of Anti-Racism in the UUA

Some of you have asked questions about the history of anti-racism in the UUA. There are three videos we highly recommend to help you understand the history and some of the context in which our current conversations are taking place.
For its spring 2017 Minns Lecture Series, the Minns Lectures Committee hosted a group of leading and insurgent Unitarian Universalist historians, ethicists, and activists who presented their research on the historical and future trajectories of Black Lives Matter and Unitarian Universalism. Who were the African American leaders in Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist congregations? Why don’t Unitarian Universalists today know about our black antecedents? What is the relationship between this “black hole” in white consciousness about African Americans and the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement?

Curated by the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, the series consisted of two lectures:

Friday, March 31 – The Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, Affiliated Member, Meadville-Lombard Theological School, with respondent Rev. Mary Margaret Earl, Executive Director and Senior Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (UUUM)

Saturday, April 1 – The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, President, Professor of Unitarian Universalist Ministry and Heritage, Starr King School for the Ministry with respondent DiDi Delgado, writer, activist, organizer, and freelance journalist.

The struggle for black empowerment and racial justice within the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) came to a head in 1967-1970. The video, Wilderness Journey tells the story of what happened through the voices of those involved at the time. It is highly recommended viewing for those interested in understanding the history of the time. One of the speakers at General Assembly, Dr. Sanyika, was a participant in those events and referred to them in his speech to the delegates during plenary. We cannot embed the video in this blog, you will need to visit the link to watch it.
If you are interested in seeing the speech by Dr. Sanyika at GA, we have included it below:

You are also invited to attend the new monthly #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachin Curiosity Circles Webinar led by Rev. Renee Ruchotzke at 6 pm ET on Wednesday, July 6 and on the first Wednesday night of each month. This is an opportunity for our Central East congregational leaders to learn together so you can find their own theological center and voice in this important time. Wherever you stand or however you feel, we will meet and walk with you.
If you need additional resources in this time, please reach out to your primary contact.
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What on Earth is Juneteenth?

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

From its Galveston, Texas roots, the observance of Juneteenth as the African American Emancipation Day began in 1865 and has triggered a series of far-reaching events that continue to reverberate over the decades—through the present, to the future. The commemoration of Juneteenth has spread across the United States and beyond. It has also taken root in some of our Unitarian Universalist congregations.

The JOYS of Congregational Sharing in the Central East Region:

2003. I heard the word “Juneteenth” when First Unitarian Brooklyn commemorated Juneteenth with a service filled with music of the African American tradition. A block party, co-hosted by First Presbyterian, Brooklyn and First U. This wonderful inter-faith collaboration continues now and includes Brown Memorial. Topics include a wide range of social action issues from Selma to Stonewall to Ferguson; Racism/Anti-Racism; the Sanctuary Movement; Black Lives Matter; Immigration; Environmental Justice, and more.

Inspired by First U I decided to commemorate Juneteenth from the first year I arrived at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Central Nassau (UUCCN), Garden City as Minister. We began with a worship service that included a commemoration of Juneteenth. Then we included a Southern luncheon. We now have an annual Juneteenth celebration on the Saturday before Father’s Day replete with a Southern feast and a wonderful program. Each year more and from UU congregations, Interfaith groups, as well as local neighbors attend Juneteenth. This year’s program features Reggie Harris. Among other presenters have been original Tuskegee Airmen.

I suggested that Community Church UU, consider celebrating Juneteenth too! Former DRE Janice Marie Johnson started celebrating Juneteenth and honoring the ancestors from the African Diaspora about twelve years ago. Guest musicians, storytellers and singers offer education, entertainment and Southern-themed supper. Current DRE Esther Rosado continues this tradition each year and Senior Minister Bruce Southworth always attends.

Let’s recap the UU “folk process.”

First Unitarian Brooklyn has honored Juneteenth over a 19 year span, including now under the leadership of Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons. Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau for 14 years. Community Church of NY for 12 years. And Rev. Jude Geiger who was introduced to Juneteenth while he served at First U Brooklyn now honors Juneteenth each year at the UU Fellowship of Huntington where he serves as Minister.

But, it doesn’t end here. UUCCN started a sister project with “H2 Empower” years ago when one of UUFH’s members, Helen Boxwill visited Hosannah, a small village and realized that the children needed books. As part of UUCCN’s Juneteenth Celebrations, Helen has come and set up shop with beautiful hand-crafted items to help the village in far-away Ethiopia. The library now has four walls, a roof, books, computers and teachers! UUCCN is proud to have had a small part of that.

And so, the beat goes on. Are we better together? You bet we are!

Friends, it really does take a Village…. And there’s always room for the Village to grow not only at Juneteenth, but always!

Yours, Hope

Rev. Dr. HOPE Johnson
Unitarian Universalist Association
Congregational Life
Central East Region

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Is Your Congregation Participating in the #WhiteSupremacyTeachIn?

More than half of all Unitarian Universalist congregations are joining the #WhiteSupremacyTeachIn. Is your congregation one of them? If not, are you wondering what exactly this is?

Here is an overview from the Black Lives UU webpage for the Teach In:

On Sunday, April 30 or Sunday, May 7, or whatever date works for your congregation, a large, growing group of Unitarian Universalists will shift their regularly scheduled Sunday morning worship to participate in a teach-in on racism and white supremacy. On these two Sundays, you and your UU community will be participating with thousands of UUs around the country in this large-scale historic action.

This call to action and worship comes from a growing network of UUs–religious professionals and and lay leaders from both within and outside congregations–led by UUs of color and white UUs working together.

Over the past few weeks, many have been responding to calls by UUs of color to look critically *within* our faith communities–including hiring practices, power brokers, and cultural habits–for the ways racism, sexism, and white supremacy live.

Why change your worship plan? Many of us work in congregations, and know that such shifts require work and can challenge our comfort levels. That’s precisely why we feel it’s important. We believe that hundreds of UU churches signaling to their own members and to the larger community that “our faith takes racism seriously, especially within our own walls” will push our faith toward the beloved community we all seek.

Whether your UU community has dozens of members and children of color, or just about everyone is white, the commitment to combat white supremacy must be strong and urgent. Battling racism in its many forms is not easy. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it takes a commitment to disrupt business as usual.

It’s not too late to join in. Need help? the Black Lives UU website has a list of resources and has had webinars to assist folks with the planning – you can listen to the ones that have past. Worship resources are now available thanks to Kenny Wiley at http://tinyurl.com/luumzou.

If your congregation is not participating, a map of those who are is on the Black Lives UU website. If your congregation is participating, please make sure you add your name to the list.

The UUA endorses the Teach In and other efforts to move us closer to truly inclusive community.  If you have questions, please get in touch with your CER Primary Contact.

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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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Juneteenth Celebrations

JUNETEENTH is a time for reflecting and rejoicing. From its Galveston, TX origin in 1865, the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States, and beyond.

 

CER has at least four congregations that host Juneteenth celebrations: First Unitarian Brooklyn, where I first learned about Juneteenth; the Community Church of New York UU; and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau (UUCCN); and the Community UU Congregation at White Plains. Each celebrates in its own way.

 

Juneteenth 2016 (4)
Rev. Hope Johnson, Matt Watroba and Brenda Carpenter.

At UUCCN’s recent 13th Annual Juneteenth celebration! Southern Dinner and Commemoration Program began with the Maafa (Holocaust of African Enslavement) through the early days of slavery, to the Movement (the civil rights era) from Selma to Garden City, and beyond. Matt Watroba, Detroit’s Number 1 Folk Musician; and Brenda Carpenter, Storyteller brought the Juneteenth to life. Events like this offer opportunities for congregations to get together. Eight UU congregations attended along with representatives from the community.

 

How can we bring congregations together? What can we do to connect more directly with “the community.” We really are better together.

 

Yours, HOPE

 

Rev. Dr. Hope Johnson

Congregational Consultant

Central East Region

 

Also serving as Minister,

UUCCN, Garden City, NY

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Racial Justice In Community: Don’t Do It Alone!

RR vigilLast summer when the clergy of Montgomery County, Maryland realized that each was working on racial justice and Black Lives Matter issues in their congregations and communities, and each was struggling with the tensions, hopes, challenges and opportunities that racial justice work presents, they decided to try something new. They formed a group where they could bring their work, their hopes, their plans, their struggles, their fatigue and worry, and gather strength from each other. Their hope was that their monthly meetings would provide support, inspiration, and joint action. So far, it has.

It might be easy to point to the shared activities of the recent Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend as a measure of success. The members of the group, which now includes clergy, religious education staff, and Congregational Life staff, decided to coordinate their Martin Luther King weekend activities and Sunday messages to align with racial justice work of the modern age. The weekend included:

  • All five congregations invited to participate in the Friday night Black Lives Matter worship service and vigil at River Road UU Congregation;
  • All five preachers connecting their Sunday morning comments to the 50 year anniversary of King’s Ware Lecture at the UUA General Assembly, which called UUs to stay awake during the revolution. The congregations shared a common chalice lighting and chalice extinguishing words.
  • All five congregations invited to participate in the Sunday afternoon interfaith, multicultural worship service and celebration to celebrate King’s birthday, held at Cedar Lane UU Congregation. (See photo).
  • All five congregations inviting their families to participate in Sunday evening dinner table discussions about racial justice, using a discussion guide for either young children or youth and adults created by the religious educators;
  • All five congregations invited to participate in Monday’s County Wide MLK Day Celebration.

multifaith worship serviceThe weekend’s unprecedented coordinated action was a wonderful outgrowth of the group, but is not the primary product that the participants are hoping to achieve. Rather, the participants are hoping to continue to strengthen and support each other for the long haul of successful racial justice work, building relationships that will enable them to act promptly and effectively to ongoing situations.

As Rev. Lynn Strauss, Minister of the UU Congregation of Rockville, MD, remarks, “As our congregations began work on Black Lives Matter, and each of us were experiencing similar challenges separately (such as destruction of our banners and signs)  it made sense to me to collaborate, to share our experiences, our hopes, our intentions…to support one another.” Her colleague, Rev. Rebekah Montgomery, Assistant Minister at the UU Congregation of Rockville, adds, “It is a true luxury for me to be able to drink deep of the shared wisdom of this group.”  And Rev. Liz Lerner Maclay adds, “[I]t’s a brilliant way to leverage our work towards far greater impact in our county and region; it makes us much more powerful, and it reinforces that we are not alone in our imperatives and values, that we have spiritual kin with us in our work and aspiration and that we can help each other – which gets us closer to making the difference we are all striving for.  Better together.”

Racial justice work is hard, messy, rewarding, and couldn’t be more important. Do it right: don’t do it alone!

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