Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summertime in the Southern Region

by the Rev. Carlton Elliott Smith

When I was a minister serving just one congregation, I looked forward to the summer as a time to regroup and reflect. After General Assembly in late June, July and August held the promise of vacation time and study time. Some years, those months were a time to move when I was transitioning from one congregation to another.

The annual cycle moves differently since I became one of the Congregational Life Staff. Instead of activity slowing down during the weeks between GA and Labor Day, the tempo increases, as we prepare for the four Presidents’ Convocations, the Dwight Brown Leadership Experience (DBLE), the Southern Unitarian Universalist Leadership Experience (SUULE), and the Southwest Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute (SWUUSI). None of us is directly involved in all of these events, but we share collective responsibility for creating meaningful contexts where Unitarian Universalists of the Southern Region can learn from one another.

As I write, I am on a 16-day road trip that started with co-leading Presidents’ Convocation in Birmingham with Gail Sphar. We had 13 participants, each of whom demonstrated strong leadership and a definite commitment to living out our UU values. I have them now as partners in doubling the number of participants at the B’ham PC next year, and and we have challenged the other 2015 Presidents’ Convocations (Dallas, Orlando and Raleigh) to do the same!

© Nancy Pierce/UUA
In collaboration with the Multicultural Growth and Witness office at our Unitarian Universalist Association and extraordinary UU ministers and lay leaders in North Carolina, the UUA Southern Region was very well-represented among the hundreds of Unitarian Universalists who showed up for the This Is Our Selma voting rights rally led by the NAACP NC in Winston-Salem July 13. Our President, Rev. Peter Morales, was among the featured speakers, along with NAACP NC President Rev. William Barber II, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Rev. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church in New York. I’m very grateful for the tremendous efforts and skills of the team that helped the UU contingent be so strong, including the SR’s own IT and Communications Specialist, Christine Purcell and Event Coordinator Kathy Charles. Other members of that organizing team were Ticie Rhodes of the Raleigh congregation; Rev. Lisa Schwartz, Latonya Richardson and Janet Loew of the Winston-Salem congregation; Susan Leslie, UUA Advocacy and Witness Director; Roz Pelles of NAACP NC, and; Laura Williamson of All Souls Church, Unitarian of DC. I convened the weekly meetings of this group in my role as primary social justice contact on the Southern Region, and could hardly have been happier to see how beautifully it all came together. And thank you to my SR colleague, Kathy McGowan, for welcoming me to collaborate with folks in North Carolina while she was serving at Midwest Leadership School.

Next week, I will join with three of my ministerial colleagues who serve on the Worship Arts Team for our UUA General Assembly to review the worship services we helped craft for Portland GA, and to begin coordination for GA 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. The last full weekend of the month, I will be in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Movement for Black Lives Conference. I look forward to sharing more with you all as we continue to deepen our commitment to justice, equity and compassion for all people, including those whose lives are most expendable in our current social climate. To read my recent blog post on the Standing on the Side of Love website relevant to Black Lives, click here.

And, lastly, I look forward to seeing some of you at the Dwight Brown Leadership Experience in Denton, Texas, in August.

The summer months are more hectic now than they were before I became Congregational Life Staff. I’m glad for the people and the relationships that make the Southern Region such a vital and dynamic place to be.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

It's a Mystery and a Paradox

by Kathy McGowan, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

“I am only one
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.“ 
---Edward Everett Hale, 1822 – 1909

As I flew over the rocky mountains on my way to our annual General Assembly in Portland, I was in total awe of the the beauty of this country. I felt multiple things. I was grateful for the opportunity to view this magnificent land from the air. I know this is something that so many of our citizens will never see. I was thankful that I am a citizen of this country due to no effort on my part. I was born here and, therefore, get to enjoy the privileges and freedoms that go along with that random occurrence. Mostly I had the feeling of how small and insignificant I am in comparison to these majestic beauties. I really felt that in the large scheme of things I have no real rights or significance. It was one of those “once in a lifetime” moments where I felt all alone and extremely connected at the same time.

It is in these paradoxical moments that I draw on my Unitarian Universalist faith the most. I have learned that we can hold two conflicting concepts without going into a spiritual tailspin. My religion allows me to find my own way through these times. I can do my searching in community and in that, I find a balm to calm my soul. I am not alone.

As we gathered in Portland among 5,000 of our Unitarian Universalist community, I had the common GA emotion of happiness to see familiar faces and smiling Unitarian Universalist strangers. I always feel joy in singing our Unitarian Universalist songs with so many others. And yet while I was feeling these pleasant emotions I was also had feelings of frustration and anger. We often seem to be spending time on the same issues as we have for years and not feeling enough urgency about issues of our current time. I was sitting in the giant hall surrounded by my people when across my phone came the news of black churches in the south being burned. Why were we not talking about that? Where among the 5,000 was the outrage and pain that I was feeling? I, once again, felt small and insignificant but this time without the feeling of connection.

The very next morning I awoke to the news regarding the decision by the Supreme Court to declare same sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster! Once again my eyes were filled with tears, but this time, not of sadness and despair, but of joy, relief, and pride. Our UUA president said from the stage of the general assembly that he knew that this decision was made possible in great part because of the work of UUs over the years. WE had made a difference.

So where does all of that leave us?  I am left knowing that even though we are a small denomination we are important. And yet, we cannot change the world by ourselves. I know that we, as a people, would sometimes rather be right than be effective.  We must let go of our hubris in order to make the world a better place. 

We must work for more love in the world. The world needs more of our Unitarian Universalist values. We must be willing to work with partners that do not think like us to bring about valuable change. As Cornell West said during the Ware lecture in Portland Saturday night, “Justice is what love looks like in public”. 

For now, let us celebrate. Let us forge relationships with those that share our values. Let us listen to one another with loving hearts and open minds for there is more love to take into the world.