UU Church Today, Society & Culture, Practice & Voice, BeyondBelief

A Liberal Religious Educator’s Fall Conference

I had the honor and privilege of spending the better part of a week this October in Alabama with close to 150 of my fellow Unitarian Universalist Religious Educators from across the continent.

During this spacious and intentional time together, we spoke of the many different places from which we had come and the obstacles we each face. We talked about what it was like to serve our congregations as we struggle to come out of the pandemic. We shared best practices and learned from each other’s mistakes. We traveled together to the Legacy Museum…

“You are standing on a site where enslaved people were warehoused.”

(A collection of videos may be accessed here: https://eji.org/videos/)

…and the Lynching Memorial in Montgomery…

…and visited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where four young girls were killed on their Youth Sunday in 1963.

During this time together we promised one another and especially our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) colleagues that we would stand up with and for them whenever the opportunity should present itself.

And such an opportunity has. 

The Seven Principles

You may or may not know that there are seven principles that UU congregations, including All Souls, covenant with the Unitarian Universalist Association to affirm and promote …

  1. 1st Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. 2nd Principle: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. 3rd Principle: Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. 4th Principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. 5th Principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. 6th Principle: The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. 7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

At our conference a few weeks ago, the Liberal Religious Educators, along with more than 100 other congregations in the past several years, have added an eighth principle to our covenant:

“to affirm and promote… journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

This principle feels like it requires additional action on my part. While I have been on a path of intentional intercultural competency since 2008 when All Souls and New Dimensions merged with the idea of creating a new kind of worship and sanctuary, this principle calls for to me to seek spiritual wholeness. That is why I am writing to you. I would ask you to join me in this journey, because I don’t believe I can reach spiritual wholeness on my own. I can only reach it if everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, can come. If we all WORK to CREATE, to BUILD (this is not a passive agreement about accepting and respecting – it’s about doing the do – dismantling and rebuilding) a diverse multicultural Beloved Community.

Working to Dismantle Racism

And before we get too far in, please let me clear up two possible misconceptions. First, change won’t happen overnight. Our congregation has been actively working on this since 2008, and we’re still figuring things out. And second, we will never be done. This work will not be finished in my lifetime nor yours, but we can make progress.

My parents and our church made huge efforts when they sent me and many from my generation to the first integrated magnet school in Tulsa in the early 1970s, but they tried to instill in us the idea that that racism was a thing of the past. Now we know better (racism was and is still very much alive), so we do better. We know that while the concept of Race was a social invention, that RACISM (discrimination, bigotry, inequality, systems of inequity) is real and has detrimental consequences. So, we commit to “accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”

We can tell our children the whole truth. (And in this paragraph especially, I am speaking to the melanin-challenged readers like myself; those with warmer complexions are generally forced to face these realities at an early age whether they or their parents want them to or not.) We can model a growth mindset. We can help each other learn. We can tell each other when we may have crossed a line. We can ask when we’re not sure where the line is. We can make mistakes, and we can ask forgiveness. We can show up for one another and stay at the table. We CAN dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.

This is my life’s work. Please join me in discussions this winter about helping our congregation to approve the 8th Principle as we join with other UU congregations across the continent to covenant with one another and with the Unitarian Universalist Association to make it a priority in our lives and institutions to dismantle racism and other oppressions.

With love beyond belief,

Shannon Boston

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”—Maya Angelou

Shannon Boston is the Executive Director of Lifespan Religious Education at All Souls Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is a lifelong member of All Souls and has served as the Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Team for the continental Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA).

We will be offering freshly updated REWIRE (a course for white people to unlearn racism, explore racial identity formation, and learn how to be effective allies for racial justice) and SHADZ (a course for those who identify as BIPOC to help equip participants with tools to heal racial trauma, uncover and rediscover racial value and worth, and effectively combat individual and systemic racism and cultivate anti-racism allies) courses this Spring.  Please contact Shannon at sboston@allsoulschurch.org to learn more and to get on the list for an upcoming Zoom class.

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