what in the World?
Contents: May/June 2002
Youth, young adults, racial minorities, and those who suffer
The following questions, based on this issue's contents, are designed to stimulate spiritual reflection and adult education group discussions.
by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley
RACIAL RECONCILIATION IN CINCINNATI. In 1938, the American Unitarian Association's representative, the Rev. Lon Ray Call, said the Church of the Unitarian Brotherhood in Cincinnati was in a "rowdy neighborhood" and recommended that the AUA not recognize its African-American minister, the Rev. W.H.G. Carter ("A Step Toward Reconciliation," page 24).
Question: If an uncredentialed UU minister of African, Asian, Native American, or Latin American heritage were to start a storefront church in an impoverished neighborhood in your city or town, how might members of your congregation respond? What issues might arise?
In researching the history of the First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati, members learned that in the nineteenth century, "most respected members at the time had profited, at least indirectly, from the slave economy." And when the church historian learned how Carter was treated, it surprised him. He says, "My feeling was, 'My God, where have I been?'"
Question: Do you know the racial history of your congregation? How might you or members of your congregation respond if they unearthed an embarrassing history of racism within their own ranks?
In her speech during W.G.H. Carter Reconciliation Weekend at the First Unitarian Church in Cincinnati, Starita Smith ("His Rightful Place," page 31), Carter's great-granddaughter, said, "In recent years, there has been a wave of apologies to black people for everything from slavery to neglect of Africa. . . . So, what changes now?" She said that an apology for past wrongdoing is fruitless without a commitment to address present-day injustices.
Question: How might a commitment to racial justice best be expressed today? What forms of reconciliation do you feel are appropriate acknowledgement of past wrongdoing? How do you feel about reparations?
PAYMENTS TO RIOT VICTIMS IN TULSA. Payments to riot victims in Tulsa. "One hundred thirty African-American survivors" of a 1921 race riot in Tulsa received checks at Easter from Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries' Committee Against Racism, with the UUA making the first donation, of $20,000. "It would appear to be one of the first times in U.S. history" that payments "have been made to survivors of racist violence" writes Donald E. Skinner ("UU News," page 45). The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa and chair of the Committee Against Racism, says the payments are "an act of conscience by the religious community." In addition, there are bills in Congress "to establish a national commission on slave reparations" and to "formulate a national apology for slavery."
Question: How do you feel about the UUA and UU congregations paying victims of the 1921 Tulsa riot? What does the initiative mean for us as Unitarian Universalists? How do you feel about an apology for slavery, and the broader effort to compensate "the descendants of America's slaves" as initiated by the Reparations Coordinating Committee?
THE SOURCE OF SUFFERING. Essayist Phil Simmons, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, accepts Buddhism's first Noble Truth: to be human is to suffer. He writes, "I've grown suspicious of perfection, seeking not a perfect life but a full one" ("In Praise of the Imperfect Life," page 34). It may be that "all things, good and evil, are divine, all part of the sacred dance of creation."
Question: To what do you attribute suffering, hardship, or evil? Has personal or global suffering strengthened or weakened your relationship to God or to the divine?
RAVE WORSHIP AND OTHER ALTERNATIVES. Deep jazz that "takes folks down into a deep spiritual space and then lifts up the spirit with hope and rhythm." Ekstasis, the Greek root of the word "ecstasy," in which "people gather in a semi-dark room and move" to techno dances music "while visual effects . . . are projected onto the walls." Don Skinner writes about these and other new forms of worship in Unitarian Universalist congregations ("Alternative worship styles draw younger crowds," page 48).
Question: Have you experienced any of the alternative forms of worship described in Skinner's article? If so, what made it a Unitarian Universalist worship experience? If not, how would your congregation respond? Is alternative worship a good strategy for congregational or spiritual growth? Why?
SUPPORT FOR YOUNG ADULT MINISTRY. UUA President William G. Sinkford ("Our Calling," page 5) cites a recent encounter in which a UU college student spoke of the emptiness she felt and how much she longed for a UU community on September 11. There is no Unitarian Universalist presence on her campus, and many others as well. "For decades," writes Sinkford, "too few of our youth and young adults have remained committed to Unitarian Universalism. We simply have not been providing enough bridges into our congregations for the youth who grow up UU."
Question: Is your congregation involved in supporting a campus ministry near you? Does your congregation actively support young adult ministries? If so, in what ways?
The Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley is adult programs director for the UUA Department of Religious Education.
Copyright © 2002 Unitarian Universalist Association