As Unitarian Universalists, we covenant not only to affirm and promote the worth and dignity of every person, we covenant to welcome them. To risk relationship, to invite change, and to strive always for the Beloved Community.
Our Principles remind us that we affirm justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. We promote acceptance of one another. We affirm the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We promote the right of conscience and the use of democratic process. We share the goal of peace, liberty, and justice for all. And we covenant to respect the interdependent web of existence.
Every one — every single one — of our Principles encourages us to become more welcoming. And by “welcoming” I do not mean only the Welcoming Congregations Initiative, through which congregations affirm their support and welcome of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans folks. I mean welcome in the broadest sense.
My passion for welcome emerged in part from the welcome I received in other religious traditions: the Benedictine’s radical hospitality, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s service to the Dear Neighbor Without Distinction, and the simple welcome I have received among Quakers. Each of these communities has shown me a bit of what welcome can be, a bit of what community can be. I have seen in each of these cmnmunities a welcome–however imperfect–that has inspired my hopes for our UU congregations.
Welcome is at the heart of what we do as people of faith. And welcome is also something we Unitarian Universalists struggle to do well.
Throwing Open the Doors
I long for a more radical welcome than we UU’s generally offer. I long to throw open the doors, dance in the streets (metaphor? maybe, but maybe not!), and frankly proclaim the good news of Unitarian Universalism:
Whether non-theist or theist, Goddess-worshiping or humanist, Christian or Jewish or Hindu, you are welcome! You are welcome! You are welcome!
You are welcome to search. You are welcome to be yourself. And by being yourself, an affirmed member of the community, you are welcome to change that community. It is the welcome that changes us that we fear, that we resist, and that can only shift if we soften our hearts.
The Blessing of Diverse Community
As a congregant and staff member at All Souls Church, Unitarian in Washington, DC, I was blessed to be part of a multigenerational, multicultural, multiracial faith community. That congregation is not multiracial by chance. It is so because of decades — decades — of anti-racist, anti-oppressive work. It is so because a white minister challenged the congregation to call an African-American minister in the 1970’s.IT is because of the 23-year ministry of that called minister, Rev. David Eaton. It is so because of the desegregation work the congregation did in our nation’s racially divided capital.
This work, this risk-taking, is not only the work of the 1940’s and 1970’s. It is not only the work of our more racially diverse congregations. It is our work now. It is the chance to address the inequities and horrors of the New Jim Crow incarceration crisis. It is the chance to work for humane relationships between people with and without documentation. It is a chance for us to work to make real change in how health care, child care, working wages, and wealth distribution happen in our nation. It is a chance for us to be the beacon of hope and truth Unitarian Universalists aspire to be.
I also know that all of our congregations are diverse in important ways we often overlook. Each of us inhabits a constellation of identities and experiences, and we bring them all to congregational life. While we acknowledge our inherent diversity, we also need to address the places our congregations are homogeneous, where we need to hear new voices, different voices, voices of those who are absent from our Sunday assemblies.
Diversity is about invitation, hospitality, and welcome, as well as about our shared and different perspectives and experiences. Diversity is about reaching out past ourselves and our own stories to reach those who seem most different from us, in whatever ways.
What Can We Do?
How do we put this welcome into practice?
We must have the courage to make attempts that may not work. We must risk change and risk misstep. We must risk knowing those we don’t yet know, haven’t yet encountered, and don’t understand. And we must teach our children in ways that most adult UU’s did not learn.
We need multigenerational learning communities committed to justice at every age. When all our children, whatever their races, grow up knowing what race, racism, and white privilege are about, we grow into a stronger, more anti-oppressive community. When we can speak openly about money, class, and socio-economic division, we become a stronger, more welcoming, empowered community. Initiatives like Beloved Conversations, A Dialogue on Race, Jubilee, Harvest the Power, and Standing on the Side of Love are a powerful way for our congregations to promote just and equitable interactions among people.
To be an anti-oppressive community we must remember that this is deeply spiritual work. It is worship. It is song and painting and collage. It is seeking others out, as well as welcoming them in. It is being willing to literally stretch out our hands, offer our names, and say, “Welcome. I’m glad you’re here.”
This process is a lot of work — but it is also play. The coming together of a community that is committed to bringing out Beloved Community is a beautiful, exhilarating thing. May we enjoy the ride together!