“Congregational Conversation” The Language of Inclusion

A few Sundays ago, Reverend Barnaby spoke about the importance of words and how they can be unintentionally hurtful. He used as an example the hymn we occasionally sing: “Standing on the Side of Love”, which many disabled persons feel unintentionally excludes them. In response, the composer changed the title to “Answering the Call of Love”. Several members of our congregation had strong opinions about this change.

Unitarian Universalism is a religion characterized by the diversity of its congregants, who come from a wide range of spiritual, social, physical and economic backgrounds. We attempt to incorporate this diversity into all aspects of our congregational life, by using language in our music, sermons and other spiritual practices which recognizes that diversity and, to the extent possible, allows all of our members and friends to feel comfortable and welcome.

Our efforts to be inclusive to all can lead to some inspiring, frustrating or even irritating moments. It is an ongoing, evolving effort as our society, and its use of language, changes around us. On Sunday, October 15th, the topic of our Congregational Conversation (after the Service) was “The Language of Inclusion”. We heard your opinions about how we express ourselves as a denomination, recognizing that it represents a challenge for us to learn and to grow as we confront the diversity of backgrounds of our congregation and aspire to make everyone welcome at CVUUS.

If you would like to do some research, one excellent summary can be found on the UUA website at:  https://www.uua.org/lgbtq/welcoming/ways/200008.shtml.

How Should We Do Social Justice?

On February 19, 2017 our Congregational Conversation was on the topic “How Should CVUUS Do Social Justice?” After an introduction to the history of social action at CVUUS, we discussed:

  • What does social justice mean? What does it look like?
  • What are the characteristics of projects that would work for CVUUS?
  • Who would decide, and how, what projects CVUUS works on?
  • How else can we support individuals taking action?
  • Do we take action on UUA initiatives? Read and propose signing: Declaration of Conscience.
  • Do we need a Social Action Committee? If so, what would it do?

Comments from attendees:

  • We are feeling overwhelmed. Everything needs everybody’s attention, and we can’t do that. Feels like she’s trying to do what she can, but feels removed, pampered and privileged. Economic injustice, health care, addiction, justice system. We are always willing to jump in and get started, but are we being reflective? Listening? Checking in with the people getting our services? We need to follow up with what we’re getting involved with and evaluate it.
  • It feels like there’s tension around whether we should pick a topic to focus on or keep doing a lot of a  little things. Like Freedom to Marry, collective action can accomplish more and build a sense of community (working together in many different combinations). Is there value in trying to find a unified theme that we’re all working on, a shared passion to tap into?
  • I feel proud about the work with Freedom to Marry and stand as a congregation we took; appreciates that many individuals are involved in social action groups (homelessness, refugees, affordable housing). Likes the freedom to carry out social action missions according to own agenda and values.
  • What is our niche? How does it fit in with our faith tradition? Is there a deepening or further questioning process we can do to help ourselves stay emotionally and spiritually healthy? How can we help each other stay energized, positive, active, engaged?
  • I feel pretty happy with what CVUUS is doing these days in the community; encouraged and grateful. Misses doing an event for Black History Month; would like to reinstate this (sharing his experiences as a black man in the ‘60s and ‘70s). Next year is the 50th anniversary of Mr. Rogers –would like to do something here at CVUUS to commemorate this anniversary.
  • I value sharing stories in a larger community; I would like to do a community choir in the fall preparing Negro Spirituals and MLK plus Mr. Rogers celebration. January 2018? Single performance, open to the community. Shares an internal tension (like with Abi) about doing things externally motivated and internally motivated –how do we shape our work when there are so many things to do/ problems to solve;
  • I had a career in social and environmental movements; feels ashamed that I haven’t been as involved as she’s been in the past. Wonders if the community of CVUUS demonstrates such care and commitment that she feels “off the hook.” Doesn’t know what to do –feeling overwhelmed. There’s too much/ too many issues to tackle.
  • How much do we take what we’re doing from the outside world’s agenda/calendar? Does social action at CVUUS involve doing things year around? Can we extend the work beyond the “scheduled” holidays and events?
  • I feel pulled between long term efforts and crises that arise (pipelines, refugees, etc). Some efforts need extensive amounts of work and commitment (environment, immigration, racial justice) which need our support but we can’t necessarily expect to do this work. What can we do in the sort term? Long term? We can keep our spirits up here while trying to figure out what to do.
  • I feel confused about the organizational structure of CVUUS –as a relatively new member, had no idea what was going on in terms of social justice. How can we be more clear with new visitors about how to plug in to social justice work? Beyond the website –can we have 4 umbrella things that people can get involved in, see who the point people are. Importance of doing deep reflection and self examination with BLM Ally group on a spiritual level. All the things we are expected to know in terms of social justice –can we have a Sunday service about this? Get into the mess of what it feels like to grapple with what we’re expected to deal with right now? Grapple with how we plug in, “unearth our human selves.”
  • I have ideas about  CVUUS recognition of what we’re doing/working on; can we continue supporting other issue through “official recognition” like public statements/ banners/ etc? Some issues we can take unified stances on, some we can’t. This will give us more power in our efforts.
  • Can we have a group that is willing to meet to talk about what we’re struggling with, how to find and put our best voices forward, organize all the many things we’re doing. Help the congregation organize.
  • Local action is important; the need is right here. Can we set short term goals in our work? Ways of gauging our work and sharing our work with others. How can we be more visible and public about this work we’re doing with the community?
  • We need to acknowledge our confusion and grapple with it –stay local. Admit our helplessness and that we can’t afford to be helpless for long. We had been seeing some progress in terms of social services and justice
  • There is racism, misogyny and hate in this community; feels overwhelmed by the negative treatment/ response she’s gotten from others in this community. Feels like it’s happening all over again –we should not be having to talk about gay rights, women’s rights, etc. She is working on leveling the playing field between the large upper class and large lower class in Middlebury. Working on addressing issues of poverty in Middlebury (lunch program in summer) –feels buoyed by coming to CVUUS to do her work in the larger community.

How many people would like to come together again, on this topic?

Almost everyone raised their hand.

About 15 people gathered after church on March 26 to continue the conversation on how CVUUS could or should do social action. Here are some notes of what we talked about.

What are our goals? What’s the point of CVUUS doing social action?

More involvement

Educating ourselves about issues and about opportunities for action

Organizing for action

Expanding our connections with the community

Connecting people with existing efforts

Identifying and working together on a single issue

Working on local needs

Multigenerational action, with diverse participants, including college students

Spiritual grounding in radical love

How do we do this?

A more diverse community would drive more social action.

Extend the Caring Network to the entire community, not just CVUUS members and friends.

Give college kids rides to CVUUS to encourage them to come. Also from other places?

Include a personal testimony every Sunday about social action, so people can see what each other are doing and to put a face on the groups we could join.

Identify how our UU principles inform and support our work.

Connect with new folks to welcome them — “each one teach one.”

Continue the social action focus that’s part of the Harry Potter curriculum in RE, so kids will continue to have it next year.

Do we choose one project or issue, or do we serve as a clearinghouse for many projects and issues?

Educate ourselves and think about our exclusive statements (“We all feel… we all think…”), while sticking to our principles.

Resources: www.uua.org/showthelove and www.uua.org/conscience

Have compassion for people with whom we disagree while still fighting their behavior.

Don’t “other” people with whom we disagree.

Get out of our liberal/UU bubble.

Invite friends to church.

Have a Gospel Sunday.

Make a more direct connection our share-the-plate donees: both kids and adults can do volunteer projects to help local organizations.

April 8th is a classism/racism workshop. What other issues should we have workshops on?

Create more opportunities for fellowship, like Circle suppers and potlucks.

Several Race and Class Conversations Hosted

We’ve discussed race and class in several of our 3rd Sunday Congregational Conversations and invited Chuck Collins to join us for a special worship service on economic inequity in January . His book is available in our library.

The following are personal reflections from several Board members who attended the Oct Class Conversations workshop:

The workshop helped me understand how our early class experiences influence our current response to class differences.  In one exercise, we reviewed class indicators – education, income, housing – and placed ourselves on the spectrum of “class” based on our childhood experience. As I looked around the room, I realized most of us felt uncomfortable being assigned to one specific class because of the stereotypes that we associate with these classes. Following that exercise, we examined our stereotypes and how those stereotypes affect our communities, including our faith community.  Reflecting on our relationship to class and class differences will help us move toward greater understanding of people from different class backgrounds and strengthen our social justice work.

– Mary Conlon

My attitudes about class are complex and not always as transparent as I would like them to be.  Along with race, it is an issue that presents moral dilemmas and stereotypes that even today I can find difficult to navigate.  Giving me voice and the safety to speak, the workshop allowed me to share for the first time in a public venue my struggle as I moved out of my working class background (where most of my family still resides) to a professional middle class.   It was liberating to share with others my move from one class to another has not been an easy one.  For me, this workshop was as much a personal journey as it was looking at ways I could be less “class bias” in my actions and deeds here at CVUUS community.

— Mike Greenwood

I have long believed that organized learning in our faith community is a powerful change agent. This workshop demonstrated how important it is that our learning engage both our minds and our hearts about how classism affects our congregation and community. The facilitators gave us a chance to start on an action plan which we hope will be a way of thinking and feeling about this issue in everything we do, rather than creating a new stand alone initiative. We need to stand together on this topic, that touches us all, in order to organize change. “Enthusiasm is easier caught, than taught.”

—- Laurie Borden

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