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UUA Gets Strategic with Inter-religious Organizing Initiative

Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. Peter Morales participated in the November 18-20 gathering of the Inter-religious Organizing Initiative (IOI), a network of national organizing groups, funders, and eleven religious denominations supporting congregation-based community organizing (CBCO). Over fifty leaders and representatives of denominations met at the Lutheran Center in Chicago, IL, to discuss the opportunities and challenges of CBCO. The meeting, hosted by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Rev. Mark Hanson, brought together a wide spectrum of Protestant and Jewish groups along with Unitarian Universalists.

“I found it inspiring to be with faith leaders who are committed to acting from a spirit of deep compassion and in partnership,” said Morales. “We come from different traditions, but we are united by our desire to join hands in our work for healing and justice.” As the leaders explained their commitments to CBCO, Morales took special pride in pointing out that one of every eight Unitarian Universalist congregations is involved in CBCO, which is a higher level of involvement than in many other denominations.  

“Denomination leaders and local clergy all find that CBCO not only transforms our cities and neighborhoods, it also transforms our congregations,” explained UUA Congregational Advocacy & Witness Director Susan Leslie, noting a central theme of the meeting. “The sense of community that comes through working together for justice revitalizes congregations, by giving congregants a shared purpose. And when we revitalize our congregations, we have the power to change the world.”

That theme was emphasized at the meeting’s opening session, a panel featuring three Unitarian Universalists: Leslie; Rev. Lydia Ferrante-Roseberry of the Boulder Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Lafayette, CO, leader of Metropolitan Organizations for People (MOP), and president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Council on CBCO; and Kathy Partridge, a leader in the local organizing committee at the Boulder Valley Fellowship and Executive Director of Interfaith Funders. Other Unitarian Universalist leaders at the IOI gathering were Rev. Linda Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, VA, who is a leader of local CBCO affiliate VOICE; Rev. David Carl Olson of the First Unitarian Church in Baltimore, MD, who is a leader in local CBCO affiliate BUILD; and Rev. Ned Wight, director of the Veatch Program at Shelter Rock. The Unitarian Universalist delegation was one of the largest at the meeting.

During a denominational caucus, the UUA’s CBCO Team discussed ways that the relationship between the UUA and individual congregations engaged in congregation-based organizing could be strengthened. Rev. Morales committed himself and the UUA to “put a spotlight” on these activities in order to support and promote CBCO in congregations across the country. Again, the theme of congregational revitalization surfaced as a prominent benefit of CBCO. Several participants noted that congregations with strong commitments to serving their communities are more likely to engage and energize their members, and to attract new members.

A highlight of the meeting was the closing spiritual reflection by Peebles, who told the very moving story of her own spiritual journey, leading to her present role as a Unitarian Universalist minister and community organizing leader. While some are moved to organizing by hope for a better future, Rev. Peebles told the group, others recognize that we cannot predict what the future may bring, so they focus on the present moment and heed the call to act out of love. “Give yourself to love,” she sang, summing up the mood and message that pervaded the group throughout their three days together.

About the author: Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a leader of the Boulder Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Community Organizing Network and Metropolitan Organizations for People.

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Last updated on Monday, December 13, 2010.

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Mark Pelavin, Rev. Sharon Watkins, Rev. Christopher Johnson, Rev. Peter Morales, Bishop Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop, Rev. Charles Mock, and Bishop Hee Soo Jung.

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Rev. Ned Wight, Rev. Lydia Ferrante-Roseberry, Kathy Partridge, Susan Leslie, Rev. Linda Peebles, and Rev. David Carl Olson formed the Unitarian Universalist delegation.

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