CALL TO WORSHIP “With Our Hearts Wide Open” Mathew P. Taylor
With our hearts wide open
We are waiting…
…. waiting for justice
For a vaccine
We are waiting
For a way through
For the hope in ourselves
May we come into this place of wholeness
With hearts wide open
And souls renewed
May we come into this place of justice
With hearts wide open
And souls renewed
May we come into this place of healing
With hearts wide open
And souls renewed
May we all come in
READING “We Are Community” Elandria Williams “E”
The history and legacy of Unitarian Universalism are shaped as much by Emerson, Fahs, and Channing as it is by the ancestors in our congregations. We come to it through different avenues: the Internet, an invitation, reading the Transcendentalists, or as babies or little kids. I came as a fourth grader to my congregation, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. This community helped bring me into social justice struggles in the world around me and inside the UUA… My church opened so many doors because they held young people in high esteem and encouraged our leadership in the church and community. I will never forget going to our district’s Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Team meeting (the UUA’s anti-racism program) and realizing that I was the youngest person there by nearly fifteen years. My religious education teachers, friends’ parents, and spirit aunts and uncles were and still are community leaders in everything from nuclear disarmament to anti-racism/anti-oppression issues. They protested U.S. military involvement in Central America
and stood behind the parent of a classmate as she transitioned from male to female in the early nineties. They have been my inspiration as I work to support others who are called by their faith to change hearts, minds, and communities.
My church changed forever on July 27, 2008, when an armed man came into the sanctuary and killed two UU leaders, one a member of TVUUC and the other a member of Westside Church. This rocked our church to its core. When I first heard about it, I didn’t know who had been killed—my mom, my friends and their parents, or others who had nurtured me my entire life. I realized something that day that has stayed with me ever since: No matter what issues I have with other Unitarian Universalists regarding our visions of God/Spirit, justice, race, and age—at the root of everything is community, love, and faith. That day, something larger than our individual beliefs rose up in my mind. I thought of the principles, values, and family that are the connective tissue of our faith community and that held us weeks after the shooting, six months later on our sixtieth anniversary, and still today…
We are the children of freedom fighters, visionaries, and radical liberal theologians.
We are the phoenix rising out of the ashes of the McCarthy era and the civil rights, women’s, and queer liberation movements.
We are the survivors and beneficiaries of youth-led and youth-focused beliefs and programming that encouraged us to be change makers, boundary pushers, and institutionalists at the same time.
We are and will be the ministers, religious educators, congregational presidents, organizers, and social change leaders our faith has led us to be.
We wear our faith as tattoos on our bodies and in our hearts as testaments to the blood, tears, dreams, and inspirations of our community ancestors and elders.
REFLECTION “Beloveds” Rev. Maddie Sifantus
We are community, as Elandria Williams’ reading is titled. We are community, something we especially know this day when our Annual Meeting convenes to reflect back over our previous year in community (even as it has been mostly on Zoom) and do the business of our beloved congregation. The history and legacy of this place is rooted in Universalism, although for those of us gathered today in 2021, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sophia Lyons Fahs and William Ellery Channing, Unitarians all, might play a bigger part to many of you than John Murray, George De Benneville, and Hosea Ballou, some of our most famous Universalist forebears. Not to mention Adin Ballou, the Universalist minister with a huge window dedicated to him at the Milford church I served and who founded the Hopedale Community or Mary A. Livermore who we DO claim. As E said, we are rooted in our ancestors, those of Universalism, those of UUism, and those who came before us in this place.
We are a community made up of folks who think differently and act differently in many ways. But still we come together, these days on Zoom, and we do the business that keeps us going 132 years since our founding in 1889. Our building hasn’t changed much from its spot where it was built here on Main Street in 1891, other than the addition built a decade or so ago to house an office and rest rooms and a lift being added at the same time to make the upstairs accessible to all. Or whether it was covered with ivy—or not. But as a people, as beloveds if you will, we respond to the needs of our day.
We gather affirming our mission statement that you adopted some years ago: Practice Inclusiveness, Seek Justice and Foster Spirituality. These continue to be the way we express our faith and how we can move in Santa Paula and the larger world. And as a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association, we covenant and affirm the Seven Principles and Six Sources, even as they are a living document and some, including us, are considering the possibility of an 8th Principle in this recent year. Revelation is not sealed, as it says in one of our historic hymns.
And we consider also the work and the controversies of the Association in recent years which resulted in the establishing of the Commission on Institutional Change and the releasing of its report at this past June’s General Assembly, “Widening the Circle of Concern.” I preached on it on September 6 with Rev. Betty as my Worship Host and said at the time that we would be revisiting it as time went on. If you are interested in what I said on that occasion, you can read it on our website where many of our sermons are posted. Erik Halseth’s sermon on the 8th Principle is also there. You may also wish to attend the Social Concerns Action Committee which considers the issues raised by our Mission as well as well as these days thinking about how to consider the 8th Principle. To remind you, the proposed language that some congregations are using is: “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote: journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
To remind you, the Commission on Institutional Change was charged by the General Assembly back in 2017 to “conduct an audit of the power structures and analyze systemic racism and white supremacy culture” with our Unitarian Universalist Association. As you might imagine, this was no small task and not without its detractors. It took some very hard work and three years to produce the report and it is still early days for the congregations and communities affiliated with our Association, not to mention the various parts of its power structure to grapple with its findings. For me as a member these last 8 years of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, we have been doing work in this area the whole time I have been on the committee, knowing that going back in time that it was one of the thresholds that kept out our Black Indigenous and People of Color—our BIPOC—not to mention our earlier LGBTQ folks. Other thresholds were congregations not hiring religious professionals of marginalized identities.
As I said in September I have seen positive change and have hope that it will continue into the future of our denomination. Part of that hope these days comes from the work of this Commission, the depth of their assessment and its recommendations. Beloveds, I believe that if we study this report and grapple with white supremacy culture we all swim in we can be part of that anti-oppressive, ant-racist and multicultural future many of us have working on for years, if not our whole lives. We are called to widen our circle of concern and “look forward to a time when accountability, multicultural awareness, and inclusive language are becoming the new normal…” The Commission believes…in fact is convinced…that “what is at stake is nothing less than the future of our faith.”
As we gather today, this day of Annual Meeting, as this historically Universalist congregation, we can say that what is at stake is nothing less the future of who we want to be as a congregation. Every year at annual meeting by our budget and our choices, we are making choices about the ministry of this place and the way we express our faith in 2021 and going forward. I can hear my Dad saying, (and it would have been his 114th birthday one week from today), “Madeleine, you have to put your money where your mouth is.” How does what we do and what we spend our gifts, time and treasure on put forward our Mission? Even as we thank our Board, our Finance Committee, the Canvas and each one of us who has contributed in their own way, how do our decisions week to week and at Annual Meeting further the practicing of inclusiveness, seeking justice and fostering spirituality? How do they create our beloved community.
Let’s just take the first phrase, “Practice Inclusiveness”. One of the recommendations of the COIC report is for congregations (and the Association) to find new structures to provide leadership education to UU leaders which will include multicultural hospitality practices as foundational? One of the actions under that recommendation is to “curate and amplify best practices for training ushers and greeters, board members, worship assistants, and other lay leaders in intercultural competency.” What would it mean if once we are back in the Sanctuary that, more than singing Spirit of Life/Fuente de Amor in Spanish that we had a greeter who could speak in Spanish if needed? Or another action called for is to “contract with the identity-based groups such as DRUUM, TRUUsT and EqUUal Access to develop a new certification program for congregations ready and willing to take on the work of being diverse, inclusive, and equitable. Such a process could make sure there is congregational dialogue about these issues as educational experiences to help create a common vocabulary and analysis of what is needed.” For me this Action not only fits into our call to Practice Inclusivity but also to Seek Justice and for me, all learning, especially learning that leads to our mutual liberation, beloveds, is Fostering Spirituality.
A quick aside as I get ready to wrap this up: DRUUMM means Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries. It was founded in 1997 and as they say on their website, “While people of color are inspired by the liberating messages of Unitarian Universalism, congregational life often does not reflect diverse worldviews or cultural practices. Often congregations are not committed to the justice struggles of communities of color. This can leave people of color feeling invisible and isolated.” How do we Seek Inclusiveness with that in mind?
TRUUsT means Transgender Professional Unitarian Universalists Together. They say, “We are TRUUsT! We are trans Unitarian Universalist religious professionals. We encompass many genders, races, ethnicities, abilities, classes, ages, and sexualities; we are diverse in terms of spiritual belief, practice, and ministry; and we understand our work for liberation as intimately tied to all efforts to dismantle oppression within Unitarian Universalism and our wider world.”
EqUUal Access says, “We are Unitarian Universalists living with disabilities, our families, friends, and allies coming together for a common purpose: To enable the full engagement of people with disabilities in Unitarian Universalist communities and the broader society.” They do many things but one focus is providing communities to be barrier free and inclusiveness. And there is a lot to that as those of you have been around for a while know from your time of putting in the lift so that folks who couldn’t do the stairs could get in to the Sanctuary. As we know, our bottom floor is still not accessible and our hearing devices have fallen into disrepair. There is more work to do to practice inclusion.
There is more I could say about how we can be a Beloved Community and live out our mission, all the while knowing that we are small so things need to be well thought out and imagine if more of you stepped up, beloveds, to help address these things and more. I end with these words of E, “We are and will be the ministers, religious educators, congregational presidents, organizers, and social change leaders our faith has led us to be.” And I add these words from our skylight, “Beloved, let us love one another.” Beloveds, let us love one another.
Blessed be. And Amen.