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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Falling Off the Log

Rev. Sunshine Wolfe

“You promised Sunshine. You go first.”

I looked at the telephone pole 30 feet in the air on a mountain where we were 5,000 feet above sea level. She was right, I had promised that if asked any of the Coming of Age youth to do something, I would do it too. At that time, the ropes course was months away and barely worth my notice. Now, here it was. Very real and very high.

Did I mention I’m afraid of falling? It’s not heights. I can be high- it’s falling.

Our task, while harnessed for safety, was to climb up, walk across the phone pole that narrowed to six inches on the other side and then walk to the middle. All of that seemed reasonable and doable. The next part, so much not. We were to stand on the middle of the beam, lean backward, keeping the rope on the harness tight, until we were very nearly upside down and then to “swing” safely to the ground. All the while, looking upside down at the desert valley below.

For the record, I survived. And the teen who insisted I go first did it and survived.

Why do I share this story in a blog post introducing myself as the newest Congregational Field Staff in the Central East Region? First, because this job feels as big as that moment. Intense, terrifying, exciting, and totally worth it. Second, because I make the same promise to you. I will not ask you to do anything I am not willing to do. Of course, I won’t be asking you to fall off a rope’s course willingly, but I am aware that much of what we are asked to do in our congregations can feel just as intense.

I come to this work because I believe that our congregations have the potential to heal and energize our world. Finding the healthiest path is sometimes amazing and easy and everything we want it to be. More often, it is messy, hard, and a challenge to our very core.

I came to this denomination in my 20s. As a child, I was raised by my atheist father, my eastern Cherokee and Seminole mother, and Catholic grandparents. My mother kept religious texts and symbols from many different religious traditions and paths around the house. In many ways, I was raised a U.U. without every seeing a church. Within two years of joining my first congregation in Tucson, AZ I was hired as the Spiritual Development Director (Coming of Age, high school, and adult religious education). In this job, I discovered the call to interim ministry.

I went to Starr King School for the Ministry to become an interim ministry. In the last six years, I’ve served congregations in Montgomery, AL, Alton, IL, and Syracuse, NY as interim minister. I have completed the certification training for The Interim Ministry Network. It is work that I love and yet…

I have watched regionalization roll out across the denomination and seen the great health and connection it has brought to congregation after congregation. I have been impressed and supported by regional staff. When this position opened, I jumped at the opportunity.

I want our congregations to be the healthiest places they can be so that they can do their good work in the world. As Congregational Field Staff, I think I am especially well placed to do this with you and your leaders in concert with an amazing team of Regional Staff dedicated to work with you.

I will be working with 30 congregations across Ohio and western Pennsylvania. In addition, I will be the primary Regional Staff Lead for the Summer Institute, supporting the Commissioned Lay Ministry Program (Hope Johnson will be lead), and collaborating with regional staff to form a conflict resolution team responding to incidents of conflict with religious professionals and leaders of color. All of this helps build connection and healing and growth for our members and our movement.

I bring to this work, experience of attending and/or working with Unitarian Universalist congregations in nine states and four regions, experience as a religious educator and a minister, and experience working on particular programs as well as systemic process. I simply love systems theory even with its challenges and complexities. I’ve taught and created curriculum around anti-oppression and anti-racism work. I have specialties in governance/board work, after-pastor congregations (where professional misconduct has occurred), countering oppression work, religious education, creative worship, and collaborative leadership. Working with this region’s congregations, I look forward to expanding my knowledge, experience, and skill.

I am based in Columbus, OH and will be traveling quite a lot. That said, I am available for phone, Zoom, and in-person meetings when needed. If you have questions about how I can support you and your congregation, please feel free to reach out.

In the meantime:

“Cause trouble and comfort in equal measure.”

With blessings on the journey,

Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe

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Help First UU Society of Marietta Sponsor Interfaith Dialogues

The Three Amigos

A Minister, a Rabbi and an Imam walk into a bar…  We’ve all heard it but this time it’s not a joke. Pastor Don McKenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Sheikh Jamal Rahman were brought together by 9/11. “The Three Amigos”, as they call themselves, provide an entertaining presentation designed to bring people together, while respecting each other’s differences. Their approach to inclusive spirituality provides a foundation for personal and communal healing. They start with the premise, “Everyone’s truth is true.” They add that “To try to convince someone of something else, is a significant waste of time.” They begin their conversation with this question, “You mean there is nothing I can possibly say that would influence your belief? That’s how it is with me too. Now let’s talk.”

We are excited to welcome the Interfaith Amigos to Appalachia, an area that is among the least diverse culturally, religiously, and ethnically in the US.  Our goal is to build personal connections with those of different faiths, increasing understanding of faith traditions outside of our own, enhancing thirst for information and gaining a greater sense of welcoming and acceptance.

As our area becomes more diverse, there is a pressing need to learn about the growing number of residents coming into our community. Even more important is to get to know some of them personally so that our fears, suspicions, prejudices, and pre-conceived notions can be re-evaluated in the light of genuine friendship.  We must not only build bridges to newcomers, but also seek to understand the faith that these persons hold dear. We could all benefit from the sincere engagement of interfaith dialogue.

This project involves:

  • Four public presentations presented at Marietta College and Ohio University (2 each), Nov 10-12, 2017
  • A new course called Interfaith Dialogue: Finding Common Ground at Marietta College as part of the Institute for Learning in Retirement, including a visit to Arab-American Museum in 2018
  • A film Festival focused on interfaith issues
  • A coalition of local book clubs reading books on the interfaith issues
  • Interfaith Religious Education taught at local churches
  • “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” added to the essential reading list at the Marietta Reads
  • The World Religions course adding interfaith dialogue and visits to a mosque and synagogue
  • Articles on interfaith dialogue released to the local media during and after the event
  • The office of student engagement to plan and conduct interfaith service projects in Marietta
  • Marietta College Bookstore purchasing 200 copies of “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith”
  • Establishing local interfaith dialogue groups throughout the area
  • Continued service projects and incorporation of interfaith dialogue in local college courses

We already have raised over $10,000 and need an additional $4,000. Please consider helping us make this a successful event! Learn more and donate at the Faithify website.

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Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore

Lifetree Gathering at North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH
Lifetree Gathering at North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH

That’s the title of a recent book written by Joani and Thom Schultz.   The title shouldn’t shock many of us anymore. There is a lot of evidence for its assertion. According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding other things to do and places to be on weekends.  We also know that somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year. Some researchers put that estimate higher, between 8,000 and 10,000 churches closing.

The “Why” in the title is a question with a variety of answers.  We know there are a number of factors involved: changes in the way people regard Sunday services,  demographic changes,  different ways we now view volunteering, competition on weekends, fewer young families with children, and more.  Some people feel spiritual but no longer find institutional church meaningful.  Some don’t want to be in a place where they feel judged for who they are or what they believe.  Some are not certain and won’t commit till they have had more time to consider.   Others are simply not interested.

So inviting people to come to a church on Sunday morning when that’s one of the last places they want to be might not always be an effective means of outreach.  There are other ways, however, we can use to invite people into meaningful spiritual community that are not focused on Sunday morning.

A number of faith communities from different traditions are experimenting with spiritual Conversation Cafes.  One of the best known of these Cafes is “Lifetree Café.”  These 60-90 minute weekly Cafes focus on guided dialogue on a wide variety of topics in an intentionally welcoming, open, “non-churchy” atmosphere.  They are often held in coffee shops or tavern party rooms or libraries or other non-church spaces to eliminate the ‘stigma’ of being inside a church building.   Participants are invited from the sponsoring church and through Facebook and Meet Up and personal friend-to-friend invitation.

Lifetree gathering at a local Panera, North UU Congregation, Lewis Center, OH

These Cafes are a little like small group ministry, but there is no expectation that the same people will show up each week.  Instead, each Café begins with a short introductory exercise that assume people do not always know each other – yet.  Then the following program is designed to lead to deeper levels of discussion and relationship building, moving eventually into some form of spiritual question.

North UU Congregation in Lewis Center OH has been experimenting these past two months with the Café format and is using Lifetree Café curriculum (sometimes with small edits to maintain a general UU orientation.)  People who have experienced these North UU Cafes have found the chance to meet and engage in dialogue with non-church people meaningful and feedback has been supportive.  But participation has varied widely depending the topic.  The established curricular topics are very general and, in light of the major social issues facing us today, some topics have seemed relatively inconsequential.

Consequently, the North UU Café volunteer team has decided to create its own conversation café curriculum beginning March 2017.   They have been discussing the use of topics that are more immediately relevant to current social and political developments, with the expectation that these may be more inviting to both congregational members and non-members.  But the Conversation Cafe dialogue format is something they want to keep and cultivate and expand.

This experiment in outreach is still  in development and it will be evaluated continuously as the team moves to create new curricular topics.   The experiment has already highlighted the fact that Sunday morning in a church building is not the only time and place where meaningful spiritual community can be created.

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First UU Columbus Reproductive Justice Week  

            During the week of June 16-21st, 2014 youth from First UU Columbus alongside a couple of teens from other UU congregations came together to learn about reproductive justice. We learned a lot, challenged each other, affirmed our strong beliefs in human rights, and had a bunch of fun. Our major community partner in this endeavor was Jaime Miracle from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio and our primary youth leader was Eliza Steffen.photo 4 (5)

The beginning of the week brought learning about the definition of reproductive justice. Our youth created opinion statements when they first arrived- without having learned anything just yet. We handed around a bowl filled with definitions and read them aloud to one another. A panel of invited guests joined us, including young adults from the area, a UU woman from Akron, and a woman from Cleveland who later presented a program with us on the intersection of identities with reproductive justice.

We learned that the scope of this issue spans beyond pro-choice issues relating to abortion- it encompasses all decisions whether or not to have families and the access we have to raising families in healthy and happy ways. This includes a larger systemic framework in looking at who has access to healthcare, where resources are available, confronting our broken foster care system, challenging stereotypes of who chooses whether or not to have children. Choice is a complicated issue in the midst of structures that want to make decisions for us: family, culture, societal norms, identities, communities.photo 2 (4)

Our youth collected stories from the congregation for a video project. They spent hours listening, opening their hearts, and creating safe space for people to share. Each morning we would open with a worship moment, where we lit candles. One morning, we shared things we were grateful for and so many youth expressed gratitude for the courageous folks who came to share their stories with us. I echo their gratitude. In order to overcome reproductive injustice, we have to begin speaking out to heal ourselves from the shame and stigma associated with abortion, adoption, infertility, birth control, and the list goes on. The people who shared their stories took a big step forward towards creating healing in our world. When we tell our stories, chances are we are telling the stories of the people in the room.

Thursday, we traveled to Cleveland to learn about to women’s clinic Preterm. This clinic focuses on care for the whole patient, providing medical services alongside mental, emotional, and spiritual care. As we took a tour of the facility, we not only saw rooms where abortion procedures are performed, but also had a chance to see their Reflection Room where women are invited to take time to meditate and pray and take part in practices that sustain them. We heard from a constitutional law attorney about the history of reproductive laws in the United States. And then it was on to the Dittrick Medical History Museum, which currently features an exhibit detailing the history of contraception and will soon expand their portion on the history of childbirth practices. It was an extremely full day.

During Columbus PRIDE at the end of the week, our group of 12 youth had the opportunity to march with First UU’s group and then moved on to tabling for NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. We asked people to sign postcards telling Governor Kasich to stop legislating our bodies by limiting access to reproductive services. Our youth collected over 200 postcards to send along.

This project was both multi-generational and helped our congregation learn more about what reproductive justice means.

Our next Justice Week is June 15th through 19th, where we will be learning about economic justice and racial justice in our local community. If you are interested in participating, please contact Lane Campbell, Director of Religious Education, at [email protected]

 

Videos produced in the 2014 Justice week are below!

 

 

 

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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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Columbus Ohio Sponsor Prayer Walk

We are continuing posts of social justice activities of our congregations this month.

In response to the police involved deaths of people of color, interfaith leaders in Columbus Ohio, including Unitarian Universalists,  a Prayer Walk for Justice on January 10th 2015. These are clips from the media who covered the event.

 

From Channel 4, NBC, WCMH-CBO –
For article – http://www.nbc4i.com/story/27819581/faith-leaders-walk-for-racial-reconciliation

And an article about the event in the Columbus Dispatch.

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