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

Soul Work: Creating Welcoming Multicultural Unitarian Universalist Communities (I)

General Assembly 2009 Event 2038
UU University Multicultural Track, Part I

This workshop is one of six parallel tracks offered at Unitarian Universalist (UU) University as part of the General Assembly programs this year. About 400 people signed up for this track.

The Soul Work track was organized by a team consisting of the Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde, the Rev. Deborah Holder, the Rev. Devorah Greenstein, India McKnight, the Rev. Leslie Takahashi-Morris, Matt Meyer, and the Rev. Patricia Jimenez. The workshop presenters were Joan Schoenhals and Jim Turner, consultants from the Boston-based VISIONS Inc.

The opening worship was led by the First Unitarian Church of San José, CA, with the opening hymn “Come, Come, Whoever You Are” sung in English and Spanish. The Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones, Senior Minister, gave a short lesson in the Spanish pronunciation of the soft “v” and the soft “b” and Spanish Worship Coordinator Roberto Padilla led the congregation to recite the Spanish verse once through before the hymn was attempted.

Track organizers each took turns reading short affirmative statements and purposes for this track, followed by another reading by Jones about language as both barriers and bridges. The Rev. Lauren Smith’s “Story for All Ages,” with congregational participation, featured different animals making music together to create a cacophony of sounds, a metaphor for multiculturalism.

Roberto Padilla’s reading reflected upon the difference between a door and a house. Seeing only the door to a house doesn’t reveal the whole house, an analogy to knowing someone superficially. He shared stories on how he, as a Spanish-speaking physician, has helped to create changes in the diverse, multiethnic, multicultural neighborhood of San José and asked, “How much time do you have? What can you change in this time?”

Following the hymn “De Colores,” sung in both English and Spanish, Jones talked about the project Juuntos (Junto is Spanish for “together”) at the San José church that has helped build relationships. The first such retreat consisted of seven pairs of hand-picked participants from different ethnic backgrounds who spent time together sharing deeply their stories, pains and humor. These retreats “felt like heaven” to those who participated.

The sermon was about the joy and challenges of a multiethnic, multiracial family, using anecdotes from the movie “Rachel Getting Married” where Rachel (a white woman) and her fiancé Sydney (a black man) planned to be married and the multiracial family gathered together for a rehearsal dinner. Beneath the joy and anticipation of the wedding, there were undercurrents of racial tension.

Although the major part of the service was conducted in English, Spanish words and phrases were sprinkled throughout like spices. After the service, the congregation was asked to reflect to themselves whether they felt uncomfortable during any part of the service.

The track presenters introduced themselves. Joan Schoenhals (a white woman) has been with VISIONS for 22 years. She is a Counseling Psychologist, originally from Canada. Jim Turner (a black man) is a Clinical Psychologist and has been with VISIONS for more than ten years. He lives in Oakland, CA, and is the father of four sons. Their goal for the afternoon was to offer a common language and to provide us with tools to engage in dialogues about race and racism. They went over the guidelines for dialogue, definition of terms, target and non-target groups, behaviors exhibited for various “-isms,” and processes for change.

Since the participants span a wide range of experiences from those who have never been exposed to antiracism work at all to those who have not only attended many such trainings, but have themselves conducted similar trainings, the two sessions conducted by VISIONS consultants were received with mixed feelings. However, the sessions were designed to bring everyone up to the same level to progress to the next level, and so were a necessary part of the programming.

In the afternoon small groups of 3-4 people shared their experiences of being oppressed and/or being affirmed, using the guidelines and tools for dialogue. Small group discussions were centered around one of five real-life scenarios of UUs or visitors to UU congregations being marginalized.

The five-hour session was broken up with two music-and-movement breaks led by Matt Meyer, who, by explaining the historical and cultural context of the songs being used, not only avoided cultural misappropriation, but also brought greater appreciation and enjoyment to all participants.

Finally, before the end of day one of this Soul Work track, participants were asked to take a moment to reflect upon the afternoon’s experiences and write a letter to him/herself with a commitment to take one action step towards creating a welcoming Multicultural Community when they get home.

Reported by Kok Heong McNaughton; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

Part II >