Guest blogger Yashasvi Janamanchi attended the Unitarian Universalist Association Multicultural Leadership School (MLS) this July. This post is an excerpt of Yashi's reflections from the youth-led worship at his home congregation of Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church. -ed.
While I was at MLS, I learned a lot of things, one fact in particular shocked me. Our faith is 87% white. Maybe this doesn’t surprise a lot of you, but it did surprise me. I knew we had a white majority, but I didn’t think it would be that big. The even sadder part is that a lot of people at MLS were surprised that we had that many people of color. This was surprising, and it didn’t start to make sense until I talked with my father about it. Now, I want everyone here to close their eyes and imagine something. You’re a person of color, you could be black, Hispanic, Indian, Chinese, I don’t care, just some sort of person of color. Now I want you to think of any Unitarian Universalist church, it can be Cedar Lane, it can be Rockville, it doesn’t matter. If you are a person of color, I still want you to picture a UU church. Now, I want you to look at this church, and ask yourself what at this church would make you feel like you’d be an included contributing member of the community?The people? I’ll say it again, we are 87% white. Yes, these people are nice people, but you’re still not around people like you, people you can really feel comfortable with, people without privilege.
Anyways, what else? The service? I’d like you to look at the average UU service and tell me what you see that would appeal to people of color.
The music: Look, I love our hymns. "Blue Boat Home" is something I can always sing and feel happy, but you know what? A lot of our music is very, and pardon my language, “white.” Yes we have “We Shall Overcome,” we have “Honey in the Rock.” Our hymns aren’t soul music, they’re choir music. And that’s the last thing you want in a religious organization.
The message: We have a great message. And yet, how do we say that? How do we tell people that? I’ll tell you how. We tell them with long-winded services and superfluous readings. Look, I love coming to church and hearing the sermon, and there are times where it has made me feel close to God, close to this Earth. But a lot of the time, all I do is understand. Think about it, in Hinduism, there’s singing and active participation from those praying. Our prayers are even sung. In Islam, everyone prays together and moves together. Even in some forms of Christianity, which is where we got our ideas of services from, you can shout out an "Amen" if you feel so spiritually moved. Here, you’re looked down upon for interrupting the minister.
A few days ago I was talking with my father about this reflection, because honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. He asked me a couple questions to help me get an idea of what I wanted to say and what I felt like I should talk about. There was one question he asked me that stood out to me. If I were to take him, my family, and my friends out of the equation and use only my knowledge and experiences up to this point, would I continue to be a UU, or find something different? And you know what? Despite everything I just said, every problem I have with this faith, my answer is that I’d still be a UU. Because I’m proud to be a Unitarian Universalist. Yes, I have my reservations and my problems with this faith, but that’s because I care about our religion. That’s because we are so close to being this haven of tranquility and equality, so close to being this picture of what society should be. And it’s especially frustrating because we are an amazing group of people. Our belief is something that so many people can resonate with, we shouldn’t be bogged down by these issues. Now look, I’m not smart enough to know how to fix these problems. But I am smart enough to know that we have a problem and that no one person can fix them. If I learned anything in Boston, it’s that community is the most important thing within our faith. We need to be together on this, we need to be on the same page. We need to be able to say “No matter who you are, you can find your spiritual home here.” I think we’re close. All it takes is a little work, and a little change.
My name is Yashi Janamanchi. I am Indo-American, I am a Universalist-Hindu, and I identify as a heterosexual male. I too, am Unitarian Universalism, and I too, am Cedar Lane.