The 2013 recipient of the Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action is Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, FL.
Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater (UUC), FL have a legacy of social justice since the congregation’s founding in 1951. A leader in the civil rights movement and desegregation in Florida, the congregation advocated for justice and change throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
UUC was one of the earliest congregations to receive the Welcoming Congregation designation, and throughout the 1990s expanded their justice ministry to include the Partner Church Program, an interfaith response to local hunger and homelessness, and anti-racism workshops.
After Rev. Abhi Janamanchi was called as their minister in 1999, the congregation adopted a social justice council model with four foci: economic justice, environmental justice, human rights, and congregation-based community organizing with FAST (Faith and Action for Strength Together). The congregation also designated liaisons with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and Interweave. They used the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA’s) Social Justice Empowerment program to organize and strengthen their social justice ministry.
Today UUC has an active, diverse, and dynamic justice ministry. For more than thirteen years, the congregation has had a vibrant partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), since the group’s inception. Their partnership has evolved from supporting CIW boycotts to organizing more broadly for compassionate immigration reform on the state and federal level. Through the congregation’s connection with CIW, UUC became involved in a successful effort to stop Arizona-like copycat legislation in Florida, with Rev. Janamanchi testifying against anti-immigrant laws proposed for the county.
Since 2002, UUC has advocated in support of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queeer) individuals including supporting the transgender city manager of Largo, FL who was unfairly fired for her identity. The congregation has been actively supporting freedom to marry and rallied to defeat the 2012 amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage. UUC has embraced Standing on the Side of Love campaign and participates in 30 Days of Love annually.
Environmental justice has been another priority for UUC for more than ten years, and in 2012 the congregation became a certified Green Sanctuary congregation. Conscientious of their footprint, the congregation revised policies on recycling, water conversation, energy use, ethical eating and support of the Fair Trade Coffee Program in 2009. UUC hosted the International Association of Religious Freedom’s annual conference in 2010 which had an environmental justice focus. Most recently, the congregation has planted a permaculture vegetable garden that has doubled in size in the last two years.
Additionally, the congregation has nurtured strong interfaith ties in the community. Rev. Janamanchi was instrumental in organizing the Tampa Bay Interfaith Coalition, which has held series of programs to promote interfaith understanding and cooperation as well as interfaith services for a variety of holidays and vigils in response to disasters and tragedies, ranging from September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Wisconsin Sikh gurudwara shooting, and the Newtown shootings. UUC also organized voter education and registration events in 2012, and provided educational opportunities on Florida constitutional amendments.
As part of a conscious effort to honor social justice ministry as a spiritual practice, the congregation has a monthly ‘social justice testimonial’ during their Sunday service. Its purpose is to inform the congregation about their social justice ministry and how they are living out their values as a faith community. The report is videotaped and posted on the congregation’s website as well. Highlights from 2011-2012 include the multigenerational holiday project that purchased presents for 130 children whose lives have been impacted by AIDS, participation in Occupy Tampa’s interfaith services, joining the NAACP for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, supporting immigrant farmworkers with a rice-and-beans collection, a rally and march for jobs, ongoing sale of Fair Trade products, and preparing to host a Green Fair in April. By sharing the justice ministry report during Sunday worship, the congregation remains connected with the important ministry they are engaging with in their community.