For all that is our life! by Rev. Andrew Clive Millard
The Mountain is a beautiful Unitarian Universalist retreat and leaning center in far western North Carolina, and the Southeastern UU Ministers Association meets there twice each year. I am not able to go every time, and what made it all the more special when I went in November was that the featured speaker was the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed. Mark is a UU historian, best known as the author of a number of books that are essential reading for anyone serious about knowing UU history, including Black Pioneers in a White Denomination and The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism.
Most of Mark’s workshops at the SEUUMA meeting were on the subject of religious ritual. At first glance, of course, “ritual” is still something of a dirty word amongst UUs today, particularly if we only understand ritual to mean prescribed ceremonies that are rigidly followed and offer no warmth or deeper meaning. However, in the course of Mark’s workshops, we quickly recognized that today’s Unitarian Universalism is steeped in ritual, from lighting the chalice to singing the children out, from times of silence to passing the offering basket. No longer are UU services “a university lecture and some classical music”. From greeting people as they come through the door to holding hands at the end of a service, everything is intended to deepen the spirituality of community.
Mark’s final workshop was a review of UU involvement in the civil rights movement, how we went to Selma and, from the high of marching with Dr. King, how we fell to the low of broken promises to African American UUs. The parallels with our own time, some fifty years later, are striking. After all, we find ourselves in a dangerously similar position now, having made a commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement at General Assembly two Summers ago and then being called to account at GA this Summer for not having really done anything to follow through on that commitment.
Mark’s point was that when UUs were engaged in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s, we had no sense of ritual, no spiritual grounding for our work, no religious context. We were, to all intents and purposes, unrelated individuals who happened to show up to the same event, with little congregational or denominational identity to bind us together, next-to-no spiritual or religious resources to ground us. Mark’s point was that we have those resources now, so we don’t have to make the same mistakes.
I bring this up because, later this month, two buses full of UUFP members and friends will be going to Washington DC for the Women’s March on Washington. It is truly gratifying that so many of you are answering the call to participate in this inclusive event that will bring together people of all races, creeds, economic classes, abilities, gender identities and sexual orientations to declare in a diversity of voices that women’s rights are human rights.
Taking the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed’s lesson to heart, though, I want to put our participation in the march in a religious context, to give it spiritual grounding and, yes, even bring some ritual to it. We are not just unrelated individuals who will happen to show up to the same event. We will be engaging as a congregation.
In preparation for the march, then, we’re planning a workshop to do just that. In order to allow as many people as possible to attend — and you don’t need to be going to the march to participate in the workshops — we’re offering it twice, at 7pm on Tuesday, January 10th and at 10am on Saturday, January 14th. Both times it will be in the UUFP’s Sanctuary Building and will last for ninety minutes. Youth are encouraged to participate and there’ll be childcare for younger children. Facilitated by our Community Minister the Rev. Jennifer Ryu, our Student Minister Walter Clark and myself, we’ll share our individual motivations for joining the march and what it means to participate as people of faith (and, specifically, as UUFP members and friends). We’ll also discuss gender issues (e.g. the Women’s March being open to people who do not identify as women) and intersectionality (i.e. the interlocking and mutually reinforcing oppressions and privileges of sexism, racism, classism, etc.). There’s no need to RSVP, but please do plan on attending the workshop on one of the two dates we’re offering it.
The Women’s March on Washington promises to be a historic event, and I am thrilled that the UUFP will be so well represented. Let’s plan on showing up as the “church of the open mind, the loving heart and the helping hand” that we know ourselves to be!