An Open Letter to UUA President Morales

Dear President Morales,

I too, am deeply saddened.  This is the season of Lent, a time when we are called to look inward and examine ourselves, to prepare for Easter, a time of rebirth. So let us turn inward and examine ourselves individually and in the UUA, shall we?

I think it’s important in this work to be open and honest.  I am a cis-gendered, straight white woman. I am a fellowshipped minister serving a parish, and I serve on a District board, so I am quite familiar with governance and regionalization. The opinions here are my own.  Our current system privileges me over ministers of color, and often over LGBTQ ministers.  If I don’t recognize that and face it, I will never be in a place to change it.

My womb is not wandering, and my response to this crisis (and I do believe it is a crisis) regarding UUA hiring practices is not related in any way to the condition of my uterus. I therefore resent your characterization of peoples’ responses as “hysterical.”  Those of us who identify as women are far too familiar with this type of dismissive language.

According to your own biography on the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) website, you served on the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) Executive Committee “as the first person to carry its anti-racism, anti-oppression, multiculturalism portfolio.”  Given this credential, I would expect a more culturally sensitive response.

In fact, when looking outward, you have often given thoughtful and sensitive responses.  In February of 2010 you wrote a moving letter to the Unitarian Universalists of Uganda, praising them for their, “…courageous stand on behalf of gay and lesbian citizens…”.  In November of 2015, you urged us as Unitarian Universalists to learn to follow rather than insisting on taking the lead,  and to learn to respond, as we worked as allies with Black Lives matter (read here). In December, 2014, following the horrible decision in the Eric Garner case, you said, “…Eric Garner is dead. Michael Brown is dead. And we must raise our voices, again and again, to proclaim that black lives matter.” (read the whole statement here). You made a similar statement in August of 2014 following the Michael Brown decision.

Even when talking about the UUA, at least in general terms, and when talking about the state of ministry in congregations, you have been aware of the numbers for some time.  In the summer 2010 issue of the UU World, you wrote in “The New America“:

Yet during this time the number of minority ministers has changed hardly at all. What is even more troubling, ministers from historic minorities have had great difficulty finding and keeping positions. Why is it that in a generation the situation of women and lesbians and gays in our ministry has changed dramatically while the situation of ethnic and racial minorities has changed hardly at all?

I know that the hardest work is the work we have to do in ourselves.  The time is overdue for the UUA to do this work.  It is not enough to rest on the laurels of the 2016 Ends Monitoring Report.  It is a monitoring report.  It doesn’t say “mission accomplished.”  It will not do to “whitesplain” or “mansplain” anymore.  When those among us who have been historically marginalized are telling us that they are once again being marginalized, we cannot simply tell them they are being “hysterical.”  We must pay attention.  A good starting place will be the statement from Black Lives of UUs here and The Reflection on White Supremacy in Our UUA from the staff of Youth and Young Adult Ministries here.

The UUA, and in particular, the American Unitarian Association, has a long and ugly history of racism.  We must face it, own it, and repair it.  In 1903, the AUA published The Blood of The Nation, a horrid treatise promoting eugenics and warning against the dangers of defiling the pure white blood of Americans with inferior races.  One hundred and fourteen years on, it’s time that we stop assuming that white is default or superior.  It’s time to examine our excuses.  It’s time to do the real work.

That’s my mite. It’s all I’ve got.

Update:  30 March, 2017

Dear President Morales,

I have just read your letter to the UUA Board of Trustees in which you announced your intention to step down as President effective 1 April.  I commend you for this difficult decision. Your letter is eloquent and thoughtful, and an example of the best of ministry.  In doing this difficult thing you are setting an example for all of us in that you are putting the needs of the UUA before your own.  I share your prayer that we will come together, listen deeply to one another, and reaffirm our commitment to one another.  After all, we are a covenantal faith — what have we got if we don’t have our covenant?

Yours in faith,

The Mite-y Widow

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Immediately!

My biblical storytellng professor tells the whole Gospel of Mark. Which is impressive. It takes around two hours or so. And if you see her perform the whole Gospel of Mark, you’ll notice that so muh in the Gospel of Mark happens IMMEDIATELY!  

Immediately! Jesus and the apostles are always going here or there immediately. There’s an urgency to the word. Now I’ve been at the Unitarian Universalst Association’s General Assembly for the last week, and after visiting the Action of Immediate Witness Process once again, I have to wonder if we really uderstand the concept.  To paraphrase Inigo Montoya – we use this phriase a lot. I’m not sure it means what we think it means. And when things become contentious, that’s a particular shame.

Let me sum up.  Or…I have some time here…let me explain.  To begin with, our polity is congregational in nature. That means that the power comes from the poeple. The congregations elect delegates to the assembly. The assembly elects the board, the officers, and the President of the UUA. The assembly votes on by-laws. And the assembly – the whole assembly – votes on statements of conscience that speak for the whole association. A statement of conscience takes years. It has to be a study action issue. It goes back to the congregations — for study — before coming back to the assembly to be voted on as a statement of conscience.  Of course individual congregations are free to speak for themselves, but if we are going to put the force of the whole association behind something – if the President is going to speak for us – we need to vote on this as an assembly.

Sometimes in our world, there are issues that come up so immediately that there is no time to go through the normal process. Sometimes we wish to be able to speak out about something while we are at the General Assembly – because something is happening right now.  Enter the Action of Immediate Witness – or AIW.  Here’s the thing about an AIW – it’s non-binding one General Assembly is over. It has no teeth.  

The way the AIW process currently works is that people garner signatures on petitions to put AIWs before the assembly. They do this for a few days early in the assembly. Then the assembly has to vote on admitting up to three AIWs to vote on in the session. So by the time we get to actually voting up or down on the actual AIWs that have been admitted for consideration, that is, before we vote on whether or not we’ll adopt the AIWs – it’s the final day of the assembly. 

Today was the vote on the AIWs. This afternoon, in fact. The assembly was scheduled to be adjourned at 4:30 in the afternoon.  The AIW that was under consideration was Black Lives Matter. 

Now, for all intents and purposes, the UUA has already been solidly behind Black Lives Matter – under the Standing on the Side of Love campaign. But OK, I get why, emotionally, people wanted to pass an AIW about this given recent events. I get that. Here’s what I don’t get. I don’t get why this debate today got nasty and contentious. I don’t get why people were getting so freaked out about wordsmithing a document that was going to have power for another 30 minutes. I don’t get why we ended up alienating each other and falling out of covenant so that we could make sure that we said that Black Lives Matter in just exactly the right way in a document that no one outside this assembly will ever see. I really don’t understand that.

Four years ago, in Charlotte, (I think it was in Charlotte, but it might have been five years ago in Minneapolis), we came close to eliminating AIW’s all together.  We were planning what Justice GA was going to look like in Phoenix, and we wanted to keep the business of the assembly to a bare minimum so that we could mostly do justice work. And there was a motion to eliminate AIWs all together. The point was made that they have no teeth. The point was made that we waste a lot of time and energy crafting and debating these, and that many of them aren’t even immediate. Many of them are about long-standing issues that are pet causes for people. We almost eliminated them. But not quite. In the end, we had a compromise, and we suspended them for the Justice GA only. And then they came back.

Today we behaved badly. We were out of covenant with each other. And in the end it was all so that we could pass an AIW that allowed the assembly to speak with one voice for 30 minutes. Until the assembly was adjourned. This was not our finest hour. 

This is what I would like to do immediately. I would like to do away with AIWs for good. I’m sure we can imagine a better way to allow our President to speak for us during the assembly should the need arise. This is what I’d like to do immediately – but it’s too late for that. The assembly has been adjourned until next year.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

24 Farnsworth

Old and new: historic chandeliers in the upper commons of 24 Farnsworth

Old and new: historic chandeliers in the upper commons of 24 Farnsworth

Last year the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) moved it’s headquarters from 25 Beacon St. (right next to the Massachusetts State House) on Beacon Hill to 24 Farnsworth   St. in the Seaport District. Twenty-five Beacon St. had been the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association before the merger of the AUA and the Universalist Church of America (UCA) in 1961. It’s a stately, historic building, befitting it’s surroundings on Beacon Hill.

Twenty-four Farnsworth is converted industrial space. I believe it might have been a mill (but I’m not certain). It’s removed from the rarified air of Beacon Hill – down with the people in the Seaport District. It’s near the Boston Children’s Museum and the Boston Fire Museum. It’s full of exposed brick and beam and open spaces. And I love it.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the First Year Ministers Seminar at 24 Farnsworth. I loved being there. I am delighted in this move.

Don’t get me wrong. I love history – I love old buildings (although 24 Farnsworth is old) and I love stately. But I think it’s not always the best choice. Sometimes it’s better to be with the people.

Beacon Hill is lovely. But we UU’s, we have a bit of a problem sometimes with our self-importance. We can get a bit full of ourselves. Do we really need to be right next to the Massachusetts State House? Is that really the hub of the universe? And do we really think, like the waining of the British Empire, that we’re all that? That we still have so much sway that Massachusetts just can’t make a move without us? Perhaps we ought to be looking more toward collaborating with other faith communities instead of touting our own sway. Perhaps we ought to be looking – dare I say it – beyond Massachusetts!

And then there are the Universalists. We are not the only religion to have formed by the merger of two or more denominations. Often, when this happens, the new denomination finds a new headquarters so as not to subsume one or more of the partners into a more powerful partner. We, however, moved the new association right into the headquarters of the American Unitarian Association. The time is long-overdue for us to acknowledge Universalist contributions to the UUA. We deserve a home that is a genuinely Unitarian Universalist home – not just a Unitarian place where Universalists are invited to bed down on the sofa.

The history has moved along to Farnsworth. There are historic brass and silver chandeliers hanging in the upper commons (the second-floor lobby just outside the chapel) amid the exposed beams and brick. There are antique grandfather clocks. There are the stately portraits in gilded frames. And there are the rotating digital portraits in newer gilded frames, as well. Well, it is the 21st century.

It’s old and it’s new. There is technology everywhere – so UUA field staff are able to attend chapel virtually. There are open work areas, and plenty of meeting rooms. Lots of places to eat and walk (try the breakfast at Flour if you go). It’s accessible by mass transit. It’s not perfect yet, but it could be.

Good move, UUA.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

Fellowship

Pardon me I’m a tad giddy. I saw the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association yesterday morning, and, pending a few contingencies (such as finishing my degree), they have granted me ministerial fellowship. I’m in. I will be able to ask a congregation to vote to ordain me – and then to be ordained. This has been a long road.

I started seminary in 2008. Sometimes I tell people that when I started seminary there were only 17 books in the Bible. Back then I was working full-time. Don was healthy. Things kept changing and we rolled with it.

Don got sick. We talked about how and when I would finish. I kept going. People kept supporting us when Don was too sick to do all the supporting. Don died. Friends and family gathered round. I couldn’t possibly sink because I was being held up by so many people.

So yesterday was what it’s all been leading up to.

Now, the way this works is that the denomination (the association) has the power to bestow fellowship, but only a congregation can ordain a minister, because we have congregational polity. So why fellowship? I mean, couldn’t you just go and ask a congregation to ordain you without all the interviewing and everything?  Well, yes, you could do that. But a minister who is ordained by a congregation without having fellowship is only ordained for that specific congregation. The ordination isn’t recognized by any other congregation.  Also, without fellowship, it’s not possible to participate fully with ministerial colleagues and in complete covenant with the association. So fellowship is important.

So this MFC thing, it’s a big deal. Ministerial candidates (that’s what I am until my ordination) and seminarians talk about the MFC A LOT. There are online support and study groups.  There are reading lists. We agonize about our sermons (we have to preach a ten minute sermon to the committee before the interview). We agonize about the questions we’ll be asked. About what we’ll wear. About what our first question will be (the candidate is allowed to choose her or his own first question).

And then the day arrives. And up until this moment everyone has been telling us that the committee really does want us to do well, but it still feels scary. And yet, I could tell that the committee really wanted me to do well.

Leading up to yesterday, my colleagues, my mentors, my classmates, my parishioners have all been telling me that I was ready, that I’m already a minister, that I would do great. That kind of support was key. It really was key.

And then there was my friend Rev. KS.  She rocks. She was my support person. You’re allowed to bring a support person with you. The wonderful Rev. met me near the appointed place and we walked over together. She kept telling me she believed in me. She gave me a big hug. And then she did her most important work after the interview.

Here’s the thing about going to the MFC. After you go in and preach, and then you answer questions – for about an hour, you go back into the waiting room and they talk about you for what seems to be an eternity. For any of you who might be Bible geeks, I will tell you it was long. It was like, 40 long. And the funny thing is, I think in my case it was actually 40 minutes. And that part is maddening. And then they call you back in.

So they tell you right away. Because if you had to sit there while they explained everything but you still didn’t know whether you had fellowship or not you might lose your mind. So I didn’t get a perfect number, but I got a good enough number. I got fellowship. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being called.

And that’s what happened yesterday. The MFC affirmed my call.

I’m grateful. And did I mention giddy? I’m not quite as ridiculously giddy as yesterday, but I’m fairly giddy.  And relieved. And I think I understand now why God doesn’t light up the whole path at once. I think I’d have run in the other direction!

That’s all I’ve got.  That’s my mite.

Opening Myself Up To Others

In just a couple of weeks (well, two weeks from tomorrow, actually), I will be meeting with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) as I seek fellowship in order to become an ordained minister. No sweat, right? Yeah, sure.

This is how it works. I sent them a packet. My packet is 99 pages long. That’s not a huge packet. Some are longer. It has a bunch of essays (tell us about your theology; tell us about your call; tell us about religious education, stuff like that). It has five letters of recommendation which were all shared with me. It has a psychological evaluation. It’s called a career assessment, which is ministerial speak for psychological evaluation.  That assessment itself required two letters of recommendation, took two days on site, plus about eight hours of prep work (psychological instruments and essays), and cost a lot of money. And I had to go to New Jersey to do it. It contains my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) final evaluation from my CPE supervisor, as well as my self-evaluation. It includes my parish internship mid-term evaluation. It has every transcript from every post-secondary school I’ve attended. Both undergraduate degrees and all four graduate programs I’ve been in – including the two I never finished. Oh, yeah, and it has 17 competencies. Competencies are areas that the MFC believes we should be, well, competent in. Each has to fit on one page. We are required to have 16, but I chose to do an additional one. These are such things as Bible proficiency, pastoral care, leadership and administration, and all sorts of other things that ministers have to know. There’s a reading list that I had to certify. Also a criminal background check. I am happy to report that I am not a criminal. I was pretty sure about that, but now it’s in writing. That’s about it. For me, it adds up to 99 pages. It was a lot to put together.

As difficult as it was to put the packet together, though, that wasn’t the hard part. No, the hard part for me is going to be opening up.  Here’s what’s going to happen on March 28 at 9:15 a.m.  I’ll be met in the waiting room by my escort, a member of the committee. I’ll go in and be introduced to everyone and we’ll shake hands.  I’ll hand my escort my first question. (I get to choose my first question). Then they’ll ask me if I’d like someone else to actually light the chalice, or if I’d like to do it myself. Unitarian Universalists do this thing where we light a flame in a chalice. The flaming chalice has been a symbol of Unitarian Universalism since about the 1960s and has been associated with Unitarianism since at least World War II.  I’ll probably ask someone else to do the lighting while I say the words that I’ve chosen for the lighting.

Then I’ll preach my sermon that I’ve written especially for the MFC. This is a ten-minute sermon. I’ve been working on this sermon for a while. I preached it to some friends yesterday, and to my supervisor and some people on my internship committee today and got some good feedback. I think I’ve got the sermon down. Pretty much.

After the sermon, well, that’s going to be the tough part. That’s when they start questioning me. Oh sure, they might ask me some questions about church history, or religious education theory, or world religions (well, based on my sermon, I’ll be very surprised if they don’t ask me about world religions), but the main things they’ll ask me about will be my packet. About me.

This is what I did on Friday – I had a mock panel. They gave me good feedback. They told me to be more human. To open up. To be more vulnerable. All the stuff I hate to do in a panel type setting. It’s funny, I can do that here all right. I open up in this blog all the time – and people read this all around the world. But here’s the thing about that – I’m doing it here on my own terms. No one here has an agenda. Well, maybe I do sometimes, but no one else does. I’m just writing what I want to write. Saying what I want to say. Sharing what I want to share.

I’m going to be vulnerable right now – right here. Are you ready? OK. My parents had a really nasty divorce and they took me to competing therapists mostly to get ammunition to use against each other in court. So for me, opening up to people in a formal setting feels artificial to me. I feel like people have an agenda and are looking to get something. I suppose it doesn’t really feel safe.

So in two weeks, I’m going to have to suck it up. I’m going to have to open myself up, even though I don’t like to, because God has called me, and this is what’s required. So I’m practicing here and now. I can do this. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

If you have a spare moment on March 28 at 9:15 Eastern Daylight Time, feel free to say a little prayer for me. I’ll be sure to let you know what happens in this space.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.