You may remember that last spring the UUA was embroiled in a controversy over hiring practices for staff such as myself who serve our congregations. It was a perfect storm of UU crisis: a significant portion of our UU family calling out important, long overdue problems with the UUA. A social media firestorm with plenty of blame to share. Defensiveness and poor messaging from leadership. The resignation of the UUA’s President, Chief Operating Officer, and my boss, the Director of Congregational Life. And then, a UUA commitment to once again tackle the perennial UU problem of embedded structural racism and white supremacy culture.
In the midst of all that spring madness swirled so many questions: What really happened with the Southern Lead hire? How did we get to the firestorm in which we found ourselves? And, not for nothing, how can we sift through it all and learn from it so that we might be able to do better, next time?
Last month the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change issued a report about the events of last spring that has helped shed some light on how we found ourselves where we did. Helpfully, this report also offers suggestions for how to move forward. You can read the report (PDF).
One of the things I found most instructive in the report was the claim that our UUA structures, our chosen policies, were often seen to be archaic and unhelpful, so they often weren’t followed, with negative consequences. This reinforced what I see as a need for structures at the UUA that function and work for the people they are supposed to serve. I am committed to that work in this region and in the Congregational Life staff group as a whole. Our systems matter; they can help us do the work for liberation in the world or they can contribute to oppression and pain. I want to help us choose the path of liberation and my staff team and I are working to be sure that is so.
One of the things that was new to me and many white-identified folks on Congregational Life staff was the vastness of the extent to which our religious professionals of color feel misused and abused by our congregations. We learned and are growing to see that when those conflicts come to the attention of Congregational Life staff, we can contribute to the abuse and oppression rather than mitigate it. We in the Central East Region are doing our best to hear that and to plan ways to do better. In partnership with religious professionals of color and our congregations, we are committed to learning together how to create new paths out of the damaging practices of white supremacy culture and into a new future where all UUs can bring their whole selves to their work. This will in no way be easy; American racism is nothing to take lightly. But if anyone can do this work, even a little, as hard as it is, I think Unitarian Universalists can. We staff of the Central East Region are committed to this work, and are learning with other regions and our headquarters staff how to do it better.
We know our congregations are also committed to a future that is less racist, more liberating and more just for all. We’re excited about partnering with you on this journey too. Maybe you’re wrestling with many of the same questions the UUA is wrestling with. Maybe you’ve also had painful experiences and are trying to learn and do better, and it feels awkward and embarrassing. Let’s do this together. We UUA staff will be talking more about our learnings as we go along; stay tuned as we offer more resources and tools as well – here’s a start. In the meantime, be in touch with me or your congregation’s Primary Contact if you are looking for ways to do this work better.
It will take all of us to move us forward. No one is in this alone, and a group of people asking powerful questions in the midst of suffering and not-knowing is a group of people poised to do something important. I can’t wait to travel down this path with all of you.
Rev. Megan Foley
CER Regional Lead