First Unitarian Universalist Church of Berks County

seek ... nurture ... serve


April 30, 2017
Rev. Sandra Fees

Welcome & Introduction to the White Supremacy Teach In - Rev. Sandra Fees

I want to take a few minutes to share with you a little about the impetus for and pedagogy informing our service this morning. The Black Lives of UU, a collective of people of color in our UU movement, have called upon us to disrupt business as usual to address issues of race in our faith. Nearly 500 UU congregations across the country are responding to this call by participating in a White Supremacy Teach In, which for us is this worship experience.

Recent events in our larger UU faith were the catalyst. The resignation of UUA president Peter Morales, which is unprecedented in our UU history, took place amid the controversy over hiring practices at the most senior level of our association. Those hiring practices privilege white ordained religious leaders. Two more resignations followed Morales’. And the white ordained religious leader whose hiring sparked the ongoing crisis around diversity in hiring practices chose not to accept the job.

The UUA board has named three individuals to fill the interim presidency until the election of a new president in June. All three of those co-presidents are people of color.

This morning we are asked to reflect on the experiences of people of color in our movement and to deepen our reflection on our own personal experiences of race and diversity in Unitarian Universalism both here in this community and in the larger UU community. The concerns we face affect all aspects of our church life and structure.

As I was planning this service, I asked the people of color in our community to reflect on what they need and how they would like to participate this morning. Most of them have chosen to caucus separately during the worship service. They have self-identified and freely chosen how to participate, and are including children and youth of color in the caucus. Children and youth will be leaving the caucus to join religious education classes at the regular time.

Racial caucusing is important. Why? As we are learning from the Beloved Conversations Curriculum we have been engaging as a congregation for the past year and a half. Racial caucusing, and I quote:

acknowledges that our experiences in the world are deeply impacted by our racial identity, and the way the world sees us. We are all harmed by racism, but POC are harmed in very different ways than white people. By caucusing, POC can explore damaging messages and experiences of internalized racism not shared by white people, and white people can explore messages and experiences of internalized racial superiority not shared by POC. Race caucusing strengthens us in the work of anti-oppression, and allows us to build up the resiliency and groundedness necessary to forgive each other and stay at the table when things get hard in our work together, in multiracial spaces.

This White Supremacy Teach In is a unique opportunity for all of us. During this service, I invite you to practice humility, curiosity, and love.

Introduction to the Homily 

The homily today by Leslie Mac explores the journey of Black Lives of UU and the reality of being a black Unitarian Universalist in the UU faith. In this piece, she makes reference to some decisions at last year’s General Assembly. She notes the vote against divestiture from investment by the UUA regarding corporations involved in occupation of Palestine. She also notes that despite UUs adopting Support of the Black Lives Matter Movement as a 2015 Action of Immediate Witness not enough has been done to change actual attitudes toward people of color.

Homily: A Lesson in Contradictions by Leslie Mac - from the Closing Ceremony on Black Lives UU at the 2016 UUA General Assembly, which can be found here starting at 28:17:                                                                            

Reflection - Rev. Sandra Fees

When it comes to race and diversity, my first impulse is to want to figure situations out before doing anything. I want to be able to say and do the right thing before I act or speak. I do not want to do or say something hurtful. And to be frank, I sure do not want to be thought of as a racist. Or even as not anti-racist enough.

This fear leads to trouble rather than community. Rosemary Bray McNatt, a Unitarian Universalist minister of color, articulates the kind of trouble I am talking about. She writes about how Unitarian Universalism has a sometimes alienating culture that must change. She describes the following scenario in our UU communities:

If you talk about loving gospel music and you’re black, you’re stereotypical, and if you are white you are racist, and if you are Latino/Latina you are angry that the movement remains in a black-white paradigm at all, and if you are Asian, you feel invisible a lot of the time, and if you are multiracial you are annoyed that you are being asked to choose, and, no matter what your social location, you find yourself in trouble rather than in community. (“We must change: We must admit that Unitarian Universalism has a specific, sometimes alienating culture, and we must change it. Rosemary Bray McNatt. Spring 2010. UU World Magazine.)

Friends, we are in trouble. We have been in trouble for a long time. In trouble in here – in our hearts. And in here – in our church. And in our larger UU world. It is easy to look at our American culture and see that racism is alive and well. It is comfortable to launch a critique out there.

But our faith movement has had a rude awakening recently to our need to acknowledge that we UUs are in trouble. And what we aspire to is to be in community. This means moving past our fears, past our unwillingness to change, past our desire to look away, past our urge to declare good intentions, past our insistence on doing things the way we have always done them, and past our hubris in declaring victory or superiority in matters of anti-racism.

Sometimes I fear we are too polite, too nice, too proud, to get there. Our superficial niceness keeps at bay the messy reality of being human together, of being accountable to each other, of being humble.

What is being asked of us right now is instead to go deeper and farther in relationship and community than any of us ever thought possible. We do not even know exactly what that looks like. But it means learning to lead with love rather than judgment. It means learning to care more about praying for and with each other than how we pray. It means caring more about knowing each other than putting each other into comfortable boxes and categories.

It means asking harder questions without becoming defensive. How well do we do at considering the lives of people of color when we greet people at the door, when we design a worship service, when we make a congregational decision, when we hire staff, select religious education programs, and elect board members?

How well do we do in considering in every aspect of our lives, our church, our movement – whether we are in trouble or in community?

We are being called to step up and in – going deeper into the messiness of white privilege and white supremacy and anti-racism, deeper into the contradictions and tensions that exist in our UU faith.

Our congregation is on the path. Our UU faith is on the path. Yes we are sincere in our effort. But let’s not declare victory. Let’s not overstate our progress. Let’s not rest in our white privilege and the structures in which we have grown accustomed.

Let us instead keep moving in and in again. As long as people of color tell us they do not feel safe or fully included in our UU communities, we need to keep moving.

The beloved community is a cherished ideal of ours. The question is: How much are we willing to risk to enter into a very real and messy and human community of relationship and accountability? How far are we willing to move to draw closer to that dream of ours?