The following was a homily presented during the Re-Dedication of the UU Church of Wilmington, Delaware by Tracy Spinka-Doms, congregational president.
Today we are here to celebrate and re-dedicate our house of worship. Believe it or not, this is the culmination of work that began five years ago with a building assessment which produced our Building Condition report. That lead to a “Big Questions” session for the Board, out of which came the World Cafes in late 2016 and early 2017, where the Strategic Planning Committee gathered feedback from the congregation to help shape the path forward. Multiple scenarios were presented, and an architect was selected to help us evaluate and cost them out. In 2018, the final capital improvement plan was approved over a series of congregational meetings, and a mini capital campaign was conducted to bridge the gap in funds. Construction began in April 2019, following the AV system installation.
There were clear intentions from the congregation coming out of the World Cafe session. We said we wanted to make our church more accessible. To do that we turned a structure which presented as three separate buildings into one continuous, fully accessible structure with the installation of a ramp from the office to the RE wing and a lift from the level of the Sanctuary to that of the office. We installed mechanized, wheelchair accessible doors at our sanctuary entrance off of Whitby Road, an accessible bathroom off of the Warner room, and replaced pews with movable chairs to create flexible seating options for walkers, wheelchairs, and other spacial needs as they arise.
We said we wanted to be more welcoming, and to that end we converted single-gender bathrooms to all gender bathrooms, recognizing the diversity of gender identities and expressions.
We also had difficult conversations about what it means to feature two white men of Unitarian and American history as the only two figures on the doors of our main entrance to the sanctuary. As a congregation we listened to the perspectives of those members who are people of color, and others in solidarity with them, who shared what it feels like to enter their place of worship crossing a threshold exalting the image and words of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, whom Unitarians like to claim as one of our own, has been undergoing comprehensive reassessment, like many of our founders. We try to reconcile his place in history as a man who did amazing things for free thought and reason as a champion of freedom, equality, and democracy, and as a man who also enslaved people with a sense of entitlement, white privilege and power, trampling the rights of generations of African American families. These were not easy discussions, as we have found with many conversations around race and privilege. Following these conversations, our congregation as a community of faith made the choice to relocate the Parks doors from their prominent entryway location to Parish Hall, where we will add context to both the significance they hold in history at First Unitarian Church and also our evolving views on white privilege and racism.
In addition to the previously named, we have also
- Installed a state of the art AV system
- Installed automated, light dampening blinds
- Installed new panel doors to separate the Warner room and Parish Hall
- Installed noise-reducing panels between Parish Hall and the sanctuary
- Laid new flooring and re-carpeted the pulpit
- Installed new ceiling tiles in Parish Hall
And finally, if all goes as expected, we will be renovating the kitchen this summer.
Many people gave their time, money and talents to these efforts and we thank them all.
The money donated included a generous grant from the CER Chalice Lighter Program in February of 2019.