Thursday, March 31, 2016

Fear Is Real, but so Is Hope

by Maggie Lovins, UUA Southern Region Congregational Life Staff

One need not look far these days to see people living in fear. This fear is being spurred on by many in the political arena of our country and internationally. Its flames are being stoked by vast quantities of unknowns, and the fear is palpable even to innocent bystanders. One might ask, “Is the Boogieman real?” Has he ever come to visit you when all is still and dark? Some would like us to believe in this legendary creature meant to instill irrational fear; they just serve it to us with a different name, from various locations, and with religious beliefs that might be different than ours. When we are faced with so much antagonism, fear mongering and senseless hatred how do we get our loving, compassionate and covenantal voices to be heard above the din? How do we reach out to our neighbors of varying beliefs and lifestyles and say to them we support you and are here for you like the Bay Area congregation did in Texas a few months back? 

Better yet, how do we start on an even smaller scale with our own congregational members? How do we build meaningful relationships within our walls that give us the strength, skills and stamina we need to do the work of Justice Making and building the Beloved Community in our hurting world? There are many ways we could name here, but I want to lift up an almost invisible way, a way so mundane that it is usually overlooked and not even considered a foundational piece of congregational relationship building - and that is with our congregational and Associational policies and procedures.

Now, I’m not talking about our Principles, or our Polity, or our fervent use of democracy though those values are employed in the crafting of such policies. I am talking about setting safe space for all peoples to feel welcomed, to address some of the what if’s before they become oh, no’s. I have spoken before in my blogs about safety and how it is a necessary foundational component of a healthy congregation, so forgive me as I repeat myself for the sake of safe policy making and holding each other accountable and responsible to do this needed, though not particularly exciting work, for the greater good of all and for our relationships.

One of the ways your congregation can work on some foundational safety guidelines is by participating in the Sexually Safer Best Practice Initiative. The UUA and the Religious Institute are partnering to launch this new initiative to help our congregations be free from sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct. Several features of this website can assist our congregations to do this work by suggesting policies be in place for staff and volunteer screening along with training and education for congregational members of all ages. The website and congregational program give examples of effective policies for incorporating persons with history of sexual offenses, something many congregations have no experience with and they are often caught unaware of what to do if a situation arises. The program asks for on-going commitment from the congregational leadership and members in helping maintain a place of sexual safety. Check out a short video explaining more about this program here.  I am pleased to be the Southern Region’s project manager for this program and would love a chance to work with any and all of our congregations to achieve the certification of Sexually Safer Best Practice Congregation. Drop me an email to start the conversation!

Those who know me, know I tend not to ask anyone to do something I am not willing to do myself, so in that spirit, the Southern Region is implementing changes to its own safety measures and is requiring limited background checks for the volunteers working with or on behalf of the UUA’s Southern Region staff. We are also rolling out a new Volunteer Code of Ethics that is like a working covenant between our UUA staff and volunteers. Nothing about these two additions is drastic or meant to be limiting or make volunteering inaccessible. We do not have rampant abuses to point to, but with fear being what it is and recognizing the world we live in today, this is a small display of due diligence and care on our behalf for those we are serving and who are being served. There will be more changes to our safety policies in the near future and I promise to keep all of you up to date!

We cannot stamp out fear for others, but we can work together on our relationships and being in covenant with one another. With real relationship in place in our lives the fears of the world seem a little more manageable simply because we know we are not alone. And being better together means that there is assurance that someone will be there for us if the Boogieman ever does come to visit.