The UUA President, Institutional Racism, Broken Covenants, and Living with Uncertainty

I first met the Rev. Peter Morales when I was a student in my second year of seminary.  We were at a collegial gathering at the church where he was then serving, in Golden, Colorado.  He was quiet, and I left the meeting not knowing all that much about him – or he, me.

Still, as a seminarian and lay leader in Denver, I admired Peter’s ministry in the nearby Jefferson Unitarian Church, and so I eagerly supported his candidacy for UUA President in 2009. My partner and I dropped in at his church for the Sunday where he announced he’d decided to run.  The enthusiasm and hopefulness in that gathering was palpable. He said, he wished that all of the congregations in the UUA could have the vitality of JUC – that the goodness they had together shouldn’t be contained in one small corner of Colorado.  He wanted to lead the whole Association in discovering and embracing what they’d created there.

The first term of Peter’s Presidency was based on this vision, where he repeatedly called on our Association and our congregations to Get Religion, Cross Borders and Grow Leaders.  I found this focus clarifying and relevant to the challenges we were facing, and a strong jumping off point for our work together.  By the time of his second term (which began in 2013), however, this vision had fallen away as the challenges of institution-building and alignment presented themselves, the ups and downs of regionalization and the insufficient funds at a national level ran their course, and the politics of our small UU world played out.  The role of the UUA President often seems to me like the most challenging/frustrating parts of large church ministry put together with the most challenging/frustrating parts of serving our smaller, most change-averse congregations.  By which I mean….it’s a job filled intense pressure, public judgment, resistance to change, suspicion of authority, and polarized thinking – as I said to the three candidates currently running for President – you must be very brave.  The job seems to me, exhausting, and often, disheartening.

I last spent time with Peter at the gathering for UU ministers serving large UU churches in Santa Barbara just a few weeks ago.  He and his wife Phyllis are retiring to the town next to my hometown in Washington state, so we talked about what that life would be like, and what he hoped for.   As he spoke of it, I felt happy for him, seeing that he was looking forward to retirement.  He shared the surreal and heartbreaking experience of needing to issue “a statement a day” on whatever recent immoral act the Trump administration had done – sometimes there were multiple needs in a single day.

I say all this to start because, I think it’s important in these moments to remember what a small community we are, how often what looks like “big politics” is actually a relatively small group of people trying to figure out how to live and be and grow together, and also that there are finally, simply people here.  Flawed, complicated, hopeful people, so wanting our faith to matter, to live into our promise – especially in this cultural moment where so many of our churches are thriving, feeling the call to do the important work of resistance, community-building, and unleashing courageous love.

Yesterday, news broke that Peter resigned his role as President, three months short of the end of his term.  For some who haven’t been following our “small world that masquerades as big politics” in the last few weeks, here are the important facts that immediately preceded his resignation.  (also check out the UU World summary here.)

  1. A few weeks ago, a hire was made in the Southern Region, for Regional Lead.  The person they hired was a white, straight, cisgender male (someone I consider a good colleague, and to whom I send my sympathy and support through this difficult beginning to his new job).
  2. The facts of that hire, however, made the leadership of the UUA wildly and disproportionately white, and male.  For an explicitly anti-racist, anti-oppression organization, this was/is a problem, and a clear symbol of the larger problem of institutional racism that most of us realize is a part of our infrastructure – an infrastructure we have committed to transform.
  3. Through letters that spread quickly online, UU Clergy and other leaders named this problem as a systemic issue that needed to be addressed, grieved the lack of progress this hire signaled, and called us to live up to our stated values.
  4. In response, Peter wrote an open letter and sent it to his staff team across the country (the President is the CEO of the UUA).  That letter, for the most part, did not  – as he surely hoped – help the situation, and instead caused even greater division.  In particular, some among us responded to his defensiveness and his use of the term “hysteria,” which has a particular cultural connotation and history – i.e. that the concerns were being blown out of proportion.
  5. It was in response to this division, that Peter resigned.

We will be electing a new President in June, so ultimately the practical impact of his resignation will be pretty short-lived.  But it is the less-immediate, perhaps less-practical impact that I believe is worthy of our reflection and consideration.

To begin: are we institutionally racist and is our system built to perpetuate white culture and supremacy? Of course.  Though we have tried, are trying, keep trying to do better, we are a part of the wider US culture, not immune to these forces.  We are also institutionally sexist, homophobic, *trans-phobic, classist, ableist – and we swim in all sorts of other isms and phobias.  Generations of Unitarians and Universalists and Unitarian Universalists have perpetuated these systems consciously and unconsciously.  This is true in our wider Association, and it is surely true in our individual congregations – including our own.

It is always surprising to me that this is surprising.  Perhaps it is because we confuse the Unitarian Universalist faith with the Unitarian Universalist Association.  But our faith is not the same thing as the institution of the UUA. The UUA is – to use the great descriptor from Theodore Parker – the transient.  The UUA is a human creation, limited by human imagination, human ego and yes, human sin.  But our faith is not limited, nor transient – but rather calls to us with the vision of what is permanent – that we might serve on behalf of abundant life, for all – serve on behalf of justice and liberty, for all – that we might imagine a world free of racism, sexism, homophobia – a world free of all of these and other interlocking and oppressive forces – and to work towards such a world’s reality.  That we might still journey in covenant together – even when we do not agree, even when our hearts are broken, even when we can’t see our way through.

There is almost always going to be a disconnect between the lofty promises of our faith, and the on-the-ground reality of our congregations, and our Association.  This is what faith means in a covenantal association.  Inherent to a covenant is the awareness that it will be broken.  We will betray one another, and ourselves. The promises are too big, and we are too – human. What covenant asks of us is not to perfectly fulfill our ideals, however – but when things fall apart, to do the hard work of naming what has been broken, what the injury has been, to learn and listen and to try to understand.  And then, ultimately, covenant invites us to restore the relationship in a renewal of promises.  This is what faith means as a Unitarian Universalist.

Which, I guess, is my way of acknowledging, I wish that Peter would’ve been able to hang in a little longer. I wish he would’ve been able to model how we can and will mess up – even publicly – and yet the broken promise need not be the end of the story.  What’s more, his leaving indicates that somehow he was singularly or supremely responsible for this broken covenant – but surely that is not the case.  We are all a part of bringing us to this moment, and we all need to look at our own selves, and our own assumptions and privileges, and do our own work – that we might all keep attempting to bring our vision and our reality just that much closer to alignment.

But, he wasn’t able to hang in.  For reasons only he knows, he decided to step back.  And so we’re left with a feeling of uncertainty – and quite a bit of confusion as UUs across the country who haven’t been paying attention to the “inside baseball” details that led up to this try to make sense of why the UUA President resigned.

What I’ve learned from the past few months and our congregation’s experience of responding to brokenness and uncertainty, is that people are going to have all sorts of feelings – and we aren’t going to agree about how we can or should respond to this moment, or the ones that come next, or the ones after that.

And yet, as Rilke says, “no feeling is final.”  The important thing is that we make space for all our feelings, and try not to resolve anything too quickly, or try to make everything seem all better when it isn’t, or to try to make agreement where there is none.  It is so much harder to live into the words we say so often than we realize:  that we need not think alike to love alike. Or in Ballou’s version, if we agree in love, then no disagreement can do us any injury – but if we do not, then no agreement can do us any good.

The love that Ballou is describing – the love we are called to “agree in” – is that greater love, that courageous transcendent love – the agape love that fuels and binds our covenant, and that calls us on.  This love – however – becomes really hard to access when we’re anxious, when we’re uncertain, when we’re shocked – and when we wonder if the gap between what we long for and what we are will ever lessen.

So our task ahead, as an Association, and as Unitarian Universalists, remains a spiritual one. The challenge is to stay connected to this deeper love, this grounding and animating force that holds us, still.  And it is to resist the urge to make everything all better and all right too quickly (what theologically we might call, cheap grace) – and instead use this time of uncertainty and the questions that have been raised as a great learning opportunity for how we could be even more who we say we are, that we could build the skills we’re going to need to do the really hard and deep work our faith truly calls us to do.  To seek justice, love mercy, and travel humbly – with one another, with this faith, with courageous love, still urging us on.

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Foodbank @ Foothills Serving Deep Need

From Rebecca Parish

foodbank-photo-trio
Apparently, the news is getting around — Foodbank @ Foothills serves 100 households! Volunteers Needed!
It was a somewhat chilly, cloudy, rainy sort of Mobile Pantry that Foothills hosted on Sunday, March 26, but we had record attendance anyway. We had at least a dozen new households register with the Food Bank for Larimer County and served A NEW RECORD OF 100 HOUSEHOLDS!!
It takes many hands to make this great work happen, friends. And lately, we haven’t had quite enough hands (we had about 20 volunteers for that 100 households served). We are counting on this community to step up with the volunteers to make food insecurity less of a reality for our neighbors. MAKE NEW FRIENDS WHILE MAKING A DIFFERENCE! You can get more information & SIGN UP TODAY at foothillsuu.org/foodbank.

A Presence of Love on the Streets of Fort Collins

From Foothills Member Anne Fisher

I have been a volunteer for Homeless Gear for a little more than 4 years.  I volunteer for two of their programs — Street Outreach and the One Village One Family program.   When I first started coming to Foothills 2 years ago, I quickly became engaged as the Homeless Gear Village Liaison to Foothills.  As many of you know, our Villages have now accompanied seven adults and 24 children into stable housing.  I have served on three Village, two with Foothills.  I hope some of you will consider joining a Village this year.

Today, I would like to share some of my experiences with the Street Outreach program.  You may be less aware that there are three of us from Foothills that go out once a month.  Our goal is three-fold:

  • to build relationships – providing hope and companionship
  • to deliver life-sustaining supplies – food, warm clothing, blankets and sleeping bags in the dead of winter, and tarps and rainwear in the pouring rain
  • to connect the homeless to available resources – making referrals to other services that are available in our community

Not long ago, I met a young woman who was living out of her car.  When I talked to her, I learned that, until recently, she had been living with her abusive father.  She had decided she had had enough.  Because she had nowhere to go, she is now homeless.

As we talked, I sensed her strength.  Obviously, she had the strength to move out of an abusive home.  I asked her if she had a job – many of the people we meet do work, but they cannot afford housing based on their low wages.

She did not have a job, but said she wanted to get one.  I referred her to the Homeless Gear Hand Up program that successfully placed 193 people into jobs last year and 39 so far this year.

On another cold night, we met a woman and her husband, complete with a stereotypic shopping cart.  In the cart were two large black bags that I assumed were their life’s belongings.  She was dressed in a skirt and blouse, and a lightweight sweater – not much clothing for the anticipated 14 degree temperatures that night.

It turned out that those two black bags were indeed her prized belongings – they were her two children, 5 & 6 years, who were fast asleep in the cart.  We gave them food, warm jackets, hygiene products, and talked. We got them connected with the Murphy Center for Hope where we can hope they get case management and other services to help them move on.  Maybe, one day, they will become a candidate for the One Village One Family program.

What I have learned is that the homeless are often the victims of circumstances – they have been laid off from a job or are veterans from Viet Nam, Iraq, or Afghanistan who now suffer from PTSD.  But ultimately, the people we meet are people like you and I.  They ask for relatively little.  They are vulnerable, often alone, and I am constantly overwhelmed by how incredibly grateful they are for little we can offer.  I also know that by reaching out with courageous love and building these relationships with people experiencing homelessness, I have been transformed.

One Village One Family (OVOF) Update

by Jane Everham and Anne Fisher

The church’s seventh OVOF family will end participation in the mentoring portion of the OVOF program soon.  This is always a bittersweet time for the Village – saying, “Good-bye.” This single mom and two teen girls are now securely housed in an apartment in Loveland. And they are in the process of qualifying for a Habitat for Humanity house. The mom has paid off many bills and has a plan for being out of debt very soon. She is eager to start a savings account, an act that is both symbolically and literally important to our OVOF families.

Between 2015 and December 2016, Foothills congregants formed seven Villages, and those Villages mentored seven adults and 24 children into stable and secure housing. Our Village members have supported a family for at least 6 months, serving as mentors, advocates, and sources of moral support – often their greatest need.

Many of our OVOF Village members at Foothills have been on sabbatical for a while now. Who is ready to accompany a new family?  Are you new to the congregation?  OVOF may be your path for engaging more deeply in our efforts to reach out with Courageous Love. There are families available and Foothills mentors have had an incredible impact on our community.

What we do:  Each Village is made up of four to six FUC congregants who agree to accompany and support a homeless family for 6 months.  The Village meets with the family once a month for a couple of hours each time. The Village Lead agrees to contact the family once a week. The church has raised funds (up to $1500) that can be applied for the Family’s initial down payment on rent – that alone can make a difference between remaining homeless or being able to move into stable housing. Then our job is to guide them onto a path of independence and self-sufficiency. Sometimes that includes sharing information about budgeting or accessing community resources, but more than anything, we often “just listen.”  In my experience with the two families I have worked, both have been very grateful for all we do for them AND they always comment how much it means to them that we meet with them and give them the opportunity to problem solve – and vent.

Stay tuned for new OVOF updates:  Homeless Gear is also in the process of expanding the OVOF program to include support for individuals and families that are coming out of Domestic Violent situations.  They will be partnering with Crossroads Safe House and taking referrals directly out of their 8-week shelter program to make the transitioning process smoother and more robust.  Once they exit the program at Crossroads, they will be paired with a Village consisting of two to three volunteers that would help them with finding housing and give them continued support throughout the following 6 months of the program.

If you are interested in signing up again or for the first time, contact Gretchen.

 

No Buyer’s Remorse Here

From Stewardship Team member Peg MacMorris

We are now in the middle of our Stewardship Campaign – Answering the Call of Love. I am Peg MacMorris, part of the Stewardship Team, and I want to tell you some of my story.

Have you ever made a sizable purchase and then thought, “ OMG, what have I done? Can I really afford that?” This “Buyer’s Remorse” is surely a common reaction to a big expenditure.

I want to say here that I never experience Buyers Remorse in response to my church financial commitment.

Why? I think it is because I want to support all of the good things the church is doing (all the social justice programs, the choir, the RE program, outreach and caring, as well as Sunday services) and I can’t imagine that any other use of the money would bring me more sense of fulfillment and gratitude for being a part of such an endeavor.

When I first joined a UU Church in 1986-87, I remember that although no one asked me to pledge, I took my income tax refund that year and sent it to the church. I was a single Mom at the time and not very flush with money, but I knew that the “bonus of several hundred dollars” I had just received would be well spent in supporting church programs. I appreciated what the church provided me and my young children in terms of grounding and support in a new community.

Over the years, my participation in church programs has grown and has included significant positions of service and leadership in each of my church communities. (Foothills Unitarian is my third UU church.) I know more about the programs at the church, about church finances and what the dollars that I contribute can do to help those programs. I am so grateful to be part of a church that stands up for justice in many ways as it reaches out to help the homeless and immigrants, AND works on difficult problems like Climate Justice. I feel spiritually grounded each week by attending Sunday services led by our two amazing ministers and receiving the musical gifts of our choir and other musicians.

 
Now in this time at Foothills, there is tremendous need to open our doors to so many in the community who are looking for ways to connect and act for the good of our society. Our church is opening its doors widely and I love that. Last year I doubled our commitment from the previous year, and have no remorse. I am grateful that I have the resources to share with this church community and will increase again. I have learned that being generous brings me joy.

General Assembly – this year in New Orleans

Each June, representatives from our UU Congregations gather together for our annual General Assembly (GA) to learn and worship together and to conduct the business of our association.  This year, GA is in New Orleans and will run from Wednesday June 21st through Sunday June 25th.  Find out more information about the programming here.

It is a powerful experience to gather with other UUs from all over the country, and beyond – to feel the power of being with others far beyond our own congregation, and the power of our faith in all its different forms, and our core similarities.

As a large congregation, we are allotted 12 delegates who are responsible for voting in any business matters.  This year we are electing a new President of the UUA, so this role is especially important.  If we have more interest than delegate slots, we will designate delegates based on the following preference order:

  1. Members currently serving in elected positions in the congregation who will be continuing into next year (i.e. Board, Nominating, Personnel, etc.)
  2. Members currently serving in non-elected ministry roles in the congregation (i.e. Belonging Team or Stewardship Committee…)
  3. Members who are potential leaders for either 1 or 2 type roles in the next few years
  4. Based on order of expressing interest (still must be a Foothills member)

Delegate status is not required to attend GA – in fact many attendees prefer not to be tied into attending all the business elements and so attend as a non-delegate.

Are you interested in attending GA this year? As a delegate, or as an attendee? All are welcome to attend.  Limited scholarships are available.

If you are interested, or if you have questions, contact gretchen@foothillsuu.org.

Looking forward to spending some time in New Orleans and representing our congregation at our General Assembly!

 

TWO WAYS TO SAVE TAXES WHEN PAYING YOUR PLEDGE TO THE CHURCH

If you’re planning how to pay your pledge for 2017-18, here are two ways to fulfill your pledge and SAVE ON TAXES!

  1. Give appreciated securities (stocks or mutual funds). When you transfer securities DIRECTLY to the church, you avoid capital gains tax, and you are able to give the appreciated amount as a gift. If you sell the securities yourself and give the proceeds to the church, you lose this tax benefit.
  2. Donate part or all of your RMD. If you are older than 70 ½, and you have an IRA, you must take a “required minimum distribution” from your IRA each year. This is taxable income. However, under current tax law, you are allowed to use part or all of your RMD as a charitable gift. That portion will not be taxed.

Important info about a gift from your IRA: The IRS does not allow you to avoid taxes on your RMD and also deduct the gift as a charitable donation. Only one or the other. Therefore, this option is most useful for people who do NOT itemize on their tax return. Please contact Cherry Sokoloski (below) for more information, and also consult with your CPA or other tax advisor.

If you plan to pursue one of these options, please let Cherry or the church office know so we can explain the process.

Remember, to receive the tax benefit, you must transfer securities directly to the church, instead of selling them first yourself. The church will then sell the securities. In the case of a gift from your IRA, it can be cash or securities, but again, it must be transferred directly from the IRA to the church.

Your friendly coordinator for gifted securities,

Cherry Sokoloski:  970-484-5705 or LCSoko@Q.com Church office: 970-493-5906