Ohio Issue 1 – Electoral Justice Issue

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President

Ohio Issue 1, if passed, will dismantle much of the mass incarceration system in Ohio by reducing felony drug possession convictions to misdemeanors retroactively.  This aligns with our UU commitments to resist white supremacy, embody solidarity with those harmed by the prison system and prioritize resources for people healing from substance use.  Learn more about the issue from our partner, Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

Want to help? You can even if you aren’t in Ohio or unable to attend the get out the vote efforts.

Help with phone banks and get out the votes: Sign up here

Those in Ohio or nearby have an opportunity to be the boots on the ground November 3rd and 4th.

Unitarian Universalists, including UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, and UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) will join faith and grassroots partners to canvass and give people rides to the polls for early voting on Saturday & Sunday on Nov. 3rd & 4th in Cleveland, Ward 9.

Khnemu Foundation Lighthouse Center, known as The Lighthouse (956 E 105th St, Cleveland, OH 44108), and a part of the Organizing Ohio Collaborative will serve as the organizing hub. Training will be provided at the Center and volunteers will be asked to sign up for shifts. The polls are open between 8 am & 4 pm on Saturday and from 1-5 pm on Sunday.

During the weekend, we will have opportunities to come together for fellowship, networking, and worship. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray will be preaching at the Sunday worship on November 4th at West Shore UU Church  in Rocky River Ohio before heading out with fellow UUs to bring ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Ward 9.

Sign up here if you would like to participate in the Nov. 3-4 weekend and we will send your more detailed information.

If you are interested in learning more about what is happening in Ohio, check out the UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) website for other events and trainings happening in Ohio. If you are not in Ohio but want to volunteer to help with other election trainings and events around the country, check the UUA webpage on Election Reform.

 

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Sandusky UUs Explore New Ways to be in Community

UU Firelands LogoThe Rev. Mary Grigolia has worked with the UU Fellowship of the Firelands in Sandusky, OH for four years, leading services once a month, facilitating a workshop/discussion after service and coffee hour/lunch.  But last March she encouraged them to take a different path, totally dropping Sunday services in favor of what they love and do well: social action, programs bringing on a progressive voice to a very conservative area, social gatherings, and occasionally road-tripping to other UU congregations.

 

Some background:

  1. SOCIAL MEDIA – the year before they hired their minister, they hired a dynamic young adult (Lauren Berlekamp) who put together a really fun Facebook presence. This helped to attract young adults and middle-aged adults to their social justice programs and concerts, but not to Sunday mornings.
  1. RENTED SPACE – was secured perhaps 8 years ago in the basement of a UCC church in Sandusky. It was really, really depressing. It was amazing any new-comers came back. And few did.
  1. NOT A CRITICAL MASS – the core group worked very hard to keep Sunday morning services alive. It defaulted to a handful of people, led by a woman in her 40s with two elementary/middle school-aged boys. Tragically, she died 18 months ago. And the stalwart few went into self-blame and paralysis.
  1. MEDITATION GROUP – Meanwhile, for the last 5-6 years, two of the core members have facilitated a weekly meditation group, eclectic, drawing from Fellowship members and beyond. So there is still an on-going gathering.
  1. COMMUNITY THEATER – And they are also almost all involved in the production of a vital community theater that also keep feeding their need for community and expression.
  1. BLESSING – And so as numbers dipped beneath 10 on a Sunday morning and the energy was going elsewhere (not Sunday morning), Rev. Grigolia encouraged them to reinvent themselves, committing to a series of programs (talks, concerts) for the larger community, social action programs, and social events. That is what they’ve been doing. They had a successful Jim Scott concert, celebrating the vision of Pete Seeger. And they continue to employ a young-ish adult (Rose Hollo) who maintains and energizes their Facebook and sends out beautiful, engaging Constant Contact campaigns.

They were surprised and so grateful that they could continue to be a Fellowship and to serve their community and each other without holding Sunday services.

They didn’t want to let me go, but (and) Rev. Grigolia assured them that she would be very glad to respond to whatever pastoral needs they have on a case-by-case basis, to perform weddings and officiate at memorial services. She gave and give them my blessing.

You can check out their website and Facebook page to learn more about their alternative programming.

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Cleveland UU’s Part of Interfaith Effort on DOJ Report

Why are all those yellow shirts marching in Cleveland? They’re not all UU’s, the story is even better than that. And might help you know what to work on in your city.

 

You’ve probably heard about Tamir Rice, the 12 year old armed with a toy gun killed by Cleveland police. You have probably also heard about how Michael Brelo was acquitted last week after shooting 15 rounds through a car roof at an unarmed couple. You may not have heard Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill Black woman, killed in police custody the week before before Tamir Rice was. Or Brandon Jones killed a few months ago. But perhaps you’ve read reports of the Department of Justice report on Cleveland police’s pattern of unreasonable force.

 

In other words–like many US cities, Cleveland has a problem. Unlike many US cities, Cleveland is able to turn out religious people from across the city–white Protestants, Black churches, Synagogues, and UU’s. You may have seen the great picture in the New York Times of this scene:

 

Cleveland religious leaders marching

That’s Rev. Wayne Arnason over on the left in the red stole. In some pictures Rev. Kathleen Rolenz is also visible. The local Episcopal Bishop is there. The leaders of the Black church are there. The leaders of the Cleveland Jewish community are there. This line is only a small fraction of the clergy that were marching in Cleveland on May 26th.

 

Together, they are the Greater Cleveland Congregations, a group that can do things like turn out 1100 people in February to present clear demands for things to be included in the eventual DOJ consent decree. And turn out these people on a work day to be on the streets when the announcements were being made, reminding leaders that they will be held accountable.

 

View a video from the march.

 

Making lasting change is long, hard work. It is not work we Unitarian Universalists can do alone. Greater Cleveland Congregations is an Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing style organization that has put in the long hours starting in 2011 to know who the “we” is and what the “we” cares about. Greater Cleveland Congregations’ members don’t agree on everything–actually there are substantial disagreements. But they’ve identified key issues they do agree on through one on one meetings and small group forums in member congregations. They’ve come together for actions, combining behind the scenes pressure with public events that demonstrate the numbers of committed voters involved. Each congregation gives a not insubstantial amount of money to support a small staff. And the religious leaders on the Strategy Team, the Executive Team, the issue teams, and the core teams have worked hard to move their agenda forward. It’s hard work. And our three UU churches in Cleveland had been in the trenches with everyone else. And now, on key issues facing Cleveland, you’ll see Greater Cleveland Congregations’ influence, influence far beyond what UU’s can do alone.

 

And Greater Cleveland Congregations has a t-shirt–it’s yellow. You have to look closely at the pictures to see the difference between a Standing on the Side of Love t-shirt and a GCC t-shirt. There’s a message there somewhere.

 

So, what is your congregation doing to build a foundation so that if the Department of Justice is negotiating with your city police, the religious community has a strong and unified voice and can make a difference?

 

Evin Carvill-Ziemer

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And More Congregational Social Justice

We are still running stories of congregational social justice projects because we received so many great stories!

North Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Lewis Center, OH

The NUUC Social Action Committee (SAC) has been involved in numerous projects during 2014 to raise awareness, encourage participation in social justice, and provide assistance to address human needs.  Our congregation participated in UUSC’s Guest at Your Table program, hosted an Empty Bowls luncheon to raise money for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, collected school supplies to benefit students served by the Delaware County Juvenile Probation Department, and collected gifts and donations to support Montana de Luz, a faith based organization in rural Honduras that provides a home for children affected by HIV/AIDS.  Each month we donate our Loose Change Offering to an organization that provides educational awareness or support services to those impacted by social injustice.  Our monthly Fair Trade sales of coffee and chocolate support fair wages for farmers and the proceeds from sales are used to sponsor a child at Montana de Luz.

During 2015 the Social Action Committee offered several educational programs on different social justice topics to provide information to members of our congregation and the surrounding community.  Our environmental group watched “The Story of Solutions” discussed steps we can take to move toward a more sustainable future.  We showed A “Place at the Table”, a documentary about hunger in America.  We hosted a screening and discussion of  “Disruption! “. We sent ribbons for the Climate Ribbon Project with two members to  the People’s Climate March in New York City.  We also showed “Dollarocracy – The Influence of Money on Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It.”

Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst, New York

In October, our committee  offered a book reading  called an ” Innocent Man” by John Grisham about a innocent man with mental health isues, convicted of a crime and all the inequities in our legal, prison and mental health systems. Then we had a storyteller from Prisoners are People too and had a special collection for them.

Our Committee also provides a meal and chaperones for a homeless family by partnering with the UU Church of Buffalo through Family Promise.  The Buffalo Church hosts familes for a week four times a year and our church assists with one evening meal and sleep over for the family or families.

We hosted a potluck for a UU minister Rev Mark Kiyimba from Uganda, He presented a documentary from Uganda regarding the abusive treatment of LGBT in his country.  His church runs and orphanage for children whose parents died of AIDS and we collected money for his work.

The UU Church of Amherst belongs to VOICE – Buffalo, an organization of faith groups, teacher’s union, many other groups that want to improve the public life in Buffalo, NY.  On Nov 6 VOICE had a public meeting and our church was represented with many other churches and groups. At that meeting we invite politicians, and those in power, along with the community and asked for their support publically on issues to improve our life here in Buffalo. This year our focus was on restorative justice,, improving the mental health in Erie County and the County Jail, We also wanted to reinstitute the local conditional release program for non-violent prisoners. At the meeting the public officials announced their support in front of about 700 people.

West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, Ohio

This year the Social Action Committee decided to honor long time member and one of the founders of the SAC, Jane Metzger, by renovating and expanding the food pantry at West Shore.  The pantry is open every Sunday morning as well as during the week.  We have two major food drives, one in October and one in February, and use the food collected to restock the pantry and also to share with Urban Hope a UU based drop in center for the homeless, and St. Paul’s church where low income and homeless people can go for assistance.

In  April we celebrated the 5th anniversary of the social action film series.  We have shown films about PTSD, sustainability and climate change, human trafficking, economic inequality, drones, women’s rights, marriage equality, and genetically altered food.  There is a regular group of attendees but we have partnered with task forces at West Shore as well as other community groups to increase the viewing audience.

We participated in Homeless Stand Down and for the third year we collected shoes to be distributed by Walk A Mile In My Shoes.  We also collected school supplies for Case School, where 10 members of West Shore regularly volunteer.  Several of our members participated in raising awareness of mass incarceration issues and hope to focus on this issue in the coming year.

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More Congregational Social Justice

Image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This month we are continuing to run social justice stories we received from congregations.

 

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Canton, Ohio

Every Sunday at 1:00, people who are hungry for a meal assemble on the lawn west of Market Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, where various churches and other organizations set up tables to distribute food and sometimes clothing to any who have gathered there.

The UCC church faithfully sets up tables and hands out a variety of hot foods every Sunday. Other groups, like ours, contribute less often. Every month there are familiar faces and new faces waiting in line.

 

On the Sunday before Christmas, we came to Kresge Square with homemade cookies and hats, gloves and scarves donated by UUCGC members and friends. There were so many cold winter accessories that we needed two tables to stack them on. It was gray, cold, and muddy. The people who came by the tables looked grimly through the hats and gloves, nodding with satisfaction when they found something that could fit them. “My little girl needs a new pair of gloves. She just keeps growing,” one man told me as he picked up a small pair of pink fleece gloves. Picking out the right pair of gloves, the hat that would fit, or a warm scarf was serious business. But when we pointed to our other table across the lawn, the table that displayed plates of homemade cookies, faces brightened. Two men pretended to steal an entire plate of cookies but returned laughing when the teens called after them. Another guy flirted with my 71-year-old mother, complimenting her on her Christmas tree earrings and asking her for a date. I like to talk smack about the Browns this time of year since so many people show up in Browns and Steelers gear.

 

On another Sunday, the weekend before Thanksgiving this year, Max and I put about 100 sandwiches and 20 juice boxes into a large plastic tub and carried it between us to the long line that snaked across the lawn as people waited for the UCC volunteers to set up their tables. It was a cold day, and we were all shivering. Those without gloves were holding them under their armpits, stomping their feet to keep them warm. The mood was more than usually pleasant, though, no doubt helped by a band of four musicians who had braved the cold temperatures and set up near a picnic table where they played guitars, violin, and a horn. The atmosphere was festive, and our sandwiches were welcomed. Our juice boxes, as always, disappeared within seconds. As Max once said to a visiting youth who wondered whether anyone really appreciates our tuna fish and egg sandwiches, “We don’t do it because we want their gratitude, we do it because they’re hungry.” But there was not one person who accepted a sandwich from us who didn’t thank us sincerely and bless us for coming down.

 

No moment during my own Thanksgiving celebration later that week made me feel as grateful, happy, and blessed as I felt to walk somewhat shyly among strangers and offer them food made by the children of our congregation.

—by Erin Dubois

 

First Universalist Church of Rochester, New York

Members and friends of the First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY, recently contributed nearly $500 to Interfaith Impact of New York State through a pass the plate for justice emphasis during a Sunday morning service. Interfaith Impact is a state-wide advocacy network composed of Unitarian Universalists, Reform Jews and progressive Protestants who advocate on state-wide issues. The particular focus of the contribution was on stopping hydrofracking in New York State.

 

Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland

Newly called minister Rev. Joe Cherry has brought a different way of giving to the community. In an acknowledgement that the minister’s ministry is never solely to the members and friends of the church, nor contained to the walls, Joe has asked his congregation to tithe some of his ministerial time. Through a lottery selection of organizations suggested by members, he is giving around four hours a week to organizations outside the church.

 

North Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Lewis Center, Ohio

The NUUC Social Action Committee (SAC) has been involved in numerous projects during 2014 to raise awareness, encourage participation in social justice, and provide assistance to address human needs.  Our congregation participated in UUSC’s Guest at Your Table program, hosted an Empty Bowls luncheon to raise money for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, collected school supplies to benefit students served by the Delaware County Juvenile Probation Department, and collected gifts and donations to support Montana de Luz, a faith based organization in rural Honduras that provides a home for children affected by HIV/AIDS.  Each month we donate our Loose Change Offering to an organization that provides educational awareness or support services to those impacted by social injustice.  Our monthly Fair Trade sales of coffee and chocolate support fair wages for farmers and the proceeds from sales are used to sponsor a child at Montana de Luz.

 

During 2015 the Social Action Committee offered several educational programs on different social justice topics to provide information to members of our congregation and the surrounding community.  Our environmental group watched “The Story of Solutions” discussed steps we can take to move toward a more sustainable future.  We showed A “Place at the Table”, a documentary about hunger in America.  We hosted a screening and discussion of  “Disruption! “. We sent ribbons for the Climate Ribbon Project with two members to  the People’s Climate March in New York City.  We also showed “Dollarocracy – The Influence of Money on Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It.”

 

 

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Social Justice Stories Continue

This month we are publishing stories of congregational social justice work as a way we can inspire each other. This month we have two stories of new projects from smaller congregations.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Utica, New York

Our Social Action Committee came up with a program called “Project Up & Out” that has exciting potential. We will be partnering with Thea Bowman House in Utica to sponsor a family for a year. The staff of Thea Bowman House is in the process of identifying a family for us and spending time with them to learn what their specific needs are . Once their needs are known, volunteers from our congregation will step up to offer support in the specific areas the family identifies such as ESOL, adult education, interview preparation, financial literacy mentoring, etc. Congregants will also contribute a set amount financially to pay for school supplies, clothes and other needs the family has throughout the year. Students from Hamilton College will be studying Project Up & Out to measure our goals and outcomes and to determine whether or not Project Up & Out is an effective and sustainable model for helping families get out of the cycle of poverty. The Youth of our congregation will be delivering updates throughout the year on Project Up & Out. If the outcome is positive, the Social Action Committee hopes to document the model to be used throughout Utica. The congregation is excited about this project and eager to make this the main focus of our Social Action work in 2015, though other initiatives will continue.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Oberlin, Ohio

We have now been in our new building over 2 years.  From the beginning we have seen it as allowing us to undertake social justice projects that were not possible without a building.  There are three programs that we have chosen because they fitted the space requirements and because we had special people in our congregation with the interest and skills to make the projects succeed:

POWER's Greg JonesPOWER is a successful environmental organization started by one of our members, Cindy Frantz.  Its purpose is to assess by invitation the energy use of area homes, and after assessment to work with the homeowners to increase their energy efficiency.  Funding for the program was cut, and POWER was faced with firing one of their 2 employees.  They appealed to OUUF for space so they could drop their office space and keep their employees.  We found a small room with space for their files and for interviewing clients.  We have been pleased to have them in our building.

Students at Oberlin High School have a fine LGBTQQIA  group, but the students in Lorain County do not.  One of our members, Nancy Boutilier, felt this was a service OUUF could provide.  She volunteered to be the advisor, and, along with a few other members, formed a drop in center.  It is OUUF’s Welcoming Congregation safe space called Café Q, with monthly meetings at OUUF. They had their first meeting this fall, and students are beginning to drop in.

Our most ambitious project is to join with a large group of Oberlin and Lorain County churches to host homeless families under a program called Family Promise.  Fourteen selected families are in the program for 60 days during which they have skills training at a central site and look for housing.  The job of each church is to give a week several times a year providing the families meals and a place to sleep.  The children are bussed to their own schools.  Our first week is December 28 to January 4.  Although OUUF is a small group, and a number of us are out of town for the holidays, we have managed to fill all 56 slots with the help of some friends.  We are fortunate that the Oberlin Methodist Church is our partner, and they are providing the breakfasts and lunches as well as large quantities of equipment and supplies.

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Congregations Create Unique Stewardship Plans Part 3

This month we are featuring the innovative ways congregations handle stewardship issues. This was started with the Up Close issue for November where featured three congregations with unique stewardship plans. Last week we featured two more here, today we feature the last along with some quote from staff and a congregational member about APF and District Fair Share. If your congregation has a new way of handling stewardship, please let us know in the comments.

First Unitarian Cleveland Changes Its Style

First Unitarian Church Shaker HeightsAfter nine years conducting its annual stewardship campaign by letter and phone/email follow up, the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland changed to personal solicitation for the 2014 – 2015 fiscal year.  The reasons for this included a desire to:

  • Increase the number of donors, average gift per donor, and overall support.
  • Build relationships and understanding through conversations that were about more than just fundraising.

Leadership came to understand that one of the keys to a successful personal stewardship campaign was the availability of volunteer “callers” –  who would approach fellow members to discuss the church’s impact and needs and ask for a specific level of support.  They also learned that these callers must have an understanding of the case for support and, most importantly, the ability to listen to better connect members to their church and the church to its members.

Church leadership recruited 39 volunteer callers who gathered for a Saturday orientation where they learned more about the campaign theme “Celebrate UUnique!”  and  received support material, tips and techniques for  conducting meetings, and engaged in role-playing sessions. A campaign kickoff celebration followed a week later to “officially” introduce the campaign and volunteer callers to the congregation.  Also, a “Why I Am Here” campaign enlisted members to briefly address the congregation on Sunday to share why they valued First Unitarian.

The results were heartening:

  • Average per-member giving increased by over 12%.
  • The campaign raised $27,456 more than the previous year.
  • Members developed and renewed relationships with fellow members.
  • Lines of communication were opened to ensure better fellowship for years to come.

This coming year, First Unitarian will expand on this success and make “Why I Am Here” a year-round program.

APF/District Fair Share

Staff are often asked about how congregations should present APF or District Fair Share in their budgets and to their members. Here are two responses to this question, one from a UUA staff person, one from a CERG Threshold Congregation member.

From Stefan Jonasson’s comments that congregational scarcity mentality is the CAUSE, not the EFFECT of financial decline.

“Congregations which do not give away at least one-tenth of their budgets to something beyond themselves — including the denomination and community benevolences — will never have enough money to look after their own internal needs. Generosity to the denomination and the larger community they serve models generosity for congregants and inspires them to be generous in their giving, whereas withholding support encourages similar behaviours on the part of members. Members learn either generosity or scarcity from the priorities established by their congregation and its leaders.”

This quote comes from the UU Growth Lab Facebook group, when someone was asking whether to include APF/District Share inside a congregational budget or ask members to contribute separately, a Metro New York President of a Threshold congregation said:

“Mechanically we use the procedure xxx articulates (APF as integral to budget). But the relationship angle is important. The congregation (not the individual) is the member of the UUA, I highly recommend that you do not talk about UUA dues being assessed on a per “member” basis. Deciding to be a member of our association is a congregation’s job, not an individual’s job. (Individual members make this decision as a group through the “democratic process”.) When a congregation decides to be a member, it decides to pay dues. Other methods of determining dues could be used. Talking to individual members about UUA dues drives weird behavior on the part of congregants – like people deciding they would like to save the congregation some money and not be an official member…which is very unproductive. UUA dues are a very small part of the cost of our ministry at UUCMC, Lincroft. I want our congregants to financially support our whole ministry…which by the way includes being a member of the UUA. (Side note: Our 7 principles actually define the relationship between the congregations and the UUA and among congregations – they are not statements about individuals’ actions. Interesting, yes?)  I think of UUA dues like this: Whatever mechanism the UUA uses to determine dues will be artificial and subject to a certain amount of gaming. I have a vague preference for the head-count model, and I think transition to any new model needs to be handled carefully. But here’s the more important thing: The UUA provides valuable important infrastructure for our congregation, therefore I am always an advocate for my congregation paying our dues. (Ditto for our district).”

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