I’ll admit, I didn’t know what to expect on my first Sunday at the Fellowship of the Pennisula. I had a few vague ideas: there would be a lot of handshaking and introductions, there would be two worship services and there would be coffee. Coffee is a constant at most churches on Sunday and the good thing about UU congregations is that the coffee is usually free trade.
I was not expecting to be there until 9:00pm.
The Friday before, Joanne Dingus went door to door in the neighborhood behind the fellowship and put up 200 flyers which invited black members of the community to use the sanctuary as a healing space to deal with the recent shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas. The flyers specified that the sanctuary would only be for people of color. Allies were encouraged to come, but would be outside of the sanctuary in the library.
I can’t imagine this was an easy thing for any predominately white congregation to do. It would be so much easier to claim the sanctuary as a healing space for all people, both black and white, claiming that everyone needed to process these events. To claim that now more than ever we need to work together and not apart. However, BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism) put out a request that UU congregations set aside safe spaces for black organizers. A space where they could mourn and grieve and be themselves, for no matter how well intentioned an ally is, sometimes you just need to be with people who fully understand what you are going through. The need for these safe spaces came up at General Assembly this year and was topic of some debate. I am guessing that the atmosphere of General Assembly and the youth caucus calling the UUA congregations into accountability influenced Joanne’s decision a bit.
Maybe not. In either case, I am glad that she distributed those flyers.
Saturday afternoon, I saw a post on Facebook that let me know about the safe space event the next day. After I read the details, I looked at my wife and said, “I’m going to be late tomorrow. I need to be there for this.” I needed to be there for two reasons. First is that I believe in this cause. I believe that the systemic racism in America culture needed to be called out and culled in. I believe that Black Lives Matter. While some congregations debate about hanging a banner on their building, I have hung one on my own house in a predominately white middle class neighborhood (and had it stolen once). I needed to be there to witness and support.
The second reason is that I needed to see how important this cause was to UUFP.
You did not disappoint me.
I counted a dozen different members and friends of the congregation who came out to show support for the cause. I heard testimonials of people who were heartbroken and in dire need of community. There were people emotionally stunned and numb by the fact that black bodies are still being devalued. There were people there who just wanted to do something, people who wanted to make a difference.
So on my first working Sunday I got to see you in action. I got to see how you respond to a crisis. Going home on Sunday night, exhausted and tired, I felt that I had found “my people.” People who wanted to do more than hang a banner or march down a street (though these things are important as well). I saw a group of people who realized that their faith is not solely a belief that one keeps, that faith is a verb, something that needs to be lived out. Lived loudly and fiercely.
It is my belief that a strong religious community lives their faith out into the community. In her final sermon to this congregation, Chris Hockman quoted a mentor of hers, the Rev. David Hicks MacPherson, “we have the power to transform the world!” Rev. Dave is my mentor too. He told me the importance of living out one’s faith, of going out and changing the world and creating heaven on Earth. His vision and passion are one of the reasons I am in the ministry. He convinced me that if I live out my faith, I could help to change the world. This Sunday, I saw UUFP living out their faith and trying to make their community a better place.
And that makes me so excited to work with you for the next 9 months!