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.