General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

How Can All Congregational Leaders Work Together on Justice Issues

General Assembly 2006 Event 3024

Presenters: The Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull, of First Parish in Cohasset, MA, and the Commission on Social Witness; The Rev. Gregory Stewart, of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada, Reno, NV

Prepared for by: Bill Lewis, Reporter; Margy Levine Young, Editor

This was probably one of the liveliest workshops at General Assembly 2006: attendees were asked to stand, if able, and arrange themselves along a spectrum or continuum—a line marked on the floor and numbered from 1 to 10—to represent the extent to which they felt that a defining statement did or did not accurately portray attitudes or positions on Social Justice in their home congregations. And they were asked to do this for two sets of statements containing more than sixteen statements. Whew!

At the same time, this was probably one of the most thought-provoking workshops at this year's GA: instead of receiving a set of answers to help them get their congregational leaders pulling together, the attendees got introduced to a process—by going through it—that they can use to help their board, their social justice committee, or their entire congregation discover their areas of agreement and disagreement, and the degree of their agreement and disagreement, on issues of social justice.

The first set of statements can be characterized as "Social Justice Work in Our Congregation." The "Agree/Disagree" or "Yes/No" statements in this group included comments such as:

  • "The same five people [in the congregation] do all the social justice work."
  • "Social justice? That's the minister's job."
  • "There is a social justice component in all of our programs."
  • "Our children and youth regularly do social justice work."
  • "We don't [the congregation doesn't] march. The social action committee does that."
  • "Ten percent or more of our annual budget goes to social justice."
  • "We're too small to make a difference." And
  • "If we closed our doors tomorrow, no one would notice."

The second set could be titled "Distinguishing Social Justice Work from Charity." Examples include:

  • "We work beside the poor, not for them."
  • "We shouldn't hear anti-war sermons during the holidays."
  • "Let's look at what happens [in the congregation] after the march."
  • "We don't worship to feel guilty about not doing enough."
  • "We offer Religious Education programs for at-risk and special needs kids." Or
  • "We'd rather walk over the homeless than with them."

What made the continuum exercise different in this workshop, and made the overall effort reflective, was what happened after the participants had lined up in reaction to the statements in each set. The participants were invited to comment briefly—in a single sentence or phrase, if possible—on what had struck them about the arrayals, and the statements, in the exercise they had just completed. The comments were noted but not discussed.

After both continuum exercises and both sets of statements on what had struck the people in the workshop, there would, in a congregational workshop, be a break. And following that, discussion could begin—perhaps in small groups, perhaps following a short exercise to group similar statements—on what new, different or re-designed efforts the congregation might want to adopt to make its social justice work more effective, meaningful and integrated.