In the 19th century, Unitarians were at the forefront of the abolition movement. We are proud of that.
A century later, many of us were likewise in the forefront of the civil rights movement. Among the 30,000 who marched with Dr. King in Selma in 1965 were
“about 500 UU lay people and about 250 UU ministers. The ministers who went to Selma represented a quarter to a third of all UU ministers in full fellowship. Add to that the dozens who spent time with the Mississippi Summer Project, the Delta Ministry Project, and other efforts in the South afterward; those who led their communities’ response; and the dozen ministers who participated in the UU presence in Selma through the summer of 1965. It isn’t a stretch to estimate that half of the 710 UU ministers in full fellowship were actively engaged in this struggle.” (Mark Morrison-Reed, "Selma's Challenge, UUWorld, 2014 Winter)We are proud of that, too.
Yet we have not always been noble.
In the 1920s the first two African American Unitarian ministers, Ethelred Brown and Lewis McGee both encountered continual discouragement and resistance from the denominational leaders at the time who saw no place for a black man in the pulpits of their predominantly white congregations.
In 1968, just three years after so many UUs had transformative experiences in Selma, our General Assembly was torn apart over race issues.
Our denomination through the years has launched a number of initiatives to raise the consciences of UUs on race and encourage racial diversity in our congregations. In 1996, the program called “Journey Toward Wholeness” began.
In response, here at Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, the minister at the time, Rev. Shannon Bernard, called together a group of church members who began the program we call “In The Spirit Of Truth.” In The Spirit Of Truth (ITSOT) has been meeting on the first Sunday of the month at Community Unitarian Church for 19 years. In the year and a half that I have been with this congregation, I have joined them about half the time.
At our In The Spirit of Truth gatherings, we sit in a circle, pass the talking stick around, and take turns sharing our thoughts and our feelings about any form of bigotry or prejudice. There may be a particular issue or episode from history or the recent news that serves as a topic for the day, or there may not be. The name, In The Spirit Of Truth, comes from the recognition of the need to learn
“to speak the truth to each other as we perceive the truth without fear of censure, to listen to uncomfortable feelings below it, and to see ourselves in others, to see others as ourselves, and to gain insights into the experiences of others which would help us to live our principles in an increasingly diverse world.” (Mary Lane Cobb)For nearly 20 years now, In The Spirit Of Truth has been gathering at Community Unitarian Church and providing a context for participants to share how they have experienced the racial divide – or, as the project expanded, any divide based on prejudice, or that produces discrimination.
For those who speak in the Community Unitarian Church pulpit, the Spirit of Truth stands visibly before them. For those who gather in her name on the first Sunday of the month, she is embodied in the faces and the words and hearts – the broken and healing; bleeding and living; shining hearts – of those who speak, listen, and hold one another respectfully, no matter what is said.
In that sharing come surprises. We may be surprised by what we hear others saying -- or by what we hear our own voice saying. We learn our truth, we connect with others through their truth, and the healing of the wounds of racism, wounds inflicted by a divide-and-subjugate strategy of landowners more than 300 years ago, begins.
The bandages of programs, the splints of institutions, and the sutures of social justice will fail without the salve of truth – the awareness of what is so, shared knowledge of how things are. To all the members of Community Unitarian Church -- and, indeed, to every resident of Westchester County who may be reading this blog: if you have not been a part of In The Spirit Of Truth, or if you haven’t for a while, for your own sake and for all our sakes, go. Participate. Be moved, perhaps to tears. And begin to be healed.
May it be so.
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This is part 4 of 4 of "The Spirit of Truth"
Click for other parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Audio (with slideshow) on Youtube: CLICK HERE