The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary. Unedited live captions of General Session III (TXT) were created during the event, and contain some errors. Captioning is not available for some copyrighted material.
Elandria Williams: Welcome Jessica York, Faith Development Director and Interim Director of Ministries and Faith Development, for the presentation of the Angus H. MacLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education.
Jessica York: Good morning. Have you ever heard it said that ours is a questioning faith? Often, when I’m giving my elevator speech—you know, the answer to, ‘Unitarian Universalism? I never heard of that religion. What do you believe?’, part of what I might say is, “If you ask ten UUs what they believe about God or ‘What happens after you die?’” you will probably get ten different answers. That is because, in Unitarian Universalism, we ask questions.
Dealing with life’s big questions is the basis of our faith development. We feel it is not just our privilege—it is our responsibility to ask the question and wrestle with the answers, individually and communally.
Now sometimes you might will hear some of us say, “The important thing is not so much the answer but to ask the question.” Yet, sometimes the answers are vitally important.
I am an Our Whole Lives facilitator and trainer. In that program, we use a Question Box. How many of you have used or created a Question Box? We tell participants that they can use the Question Box to ask any question and, at the next meeting, we will answer it. The first time the congregation I was serving offered junior high Our Whole Lives, the facilitators brought me a question from the Question Box. It was, “How do fish have sex?” They said to me, “We don’t have to answer this, do we?” And I informed them that, yes, they did, so they might want to start researching.
Some questions that come through the Question Box may seem silly, but one of the values we want to lift up is that we respect the search for knowledge. Because knowledge can sometimes lead to power.
Another reason we answer every question from the Question Box is because we believe no question is too dangerous to be asked and no truth too hard to be told.
The religious educator being recognized here today is nothing if not an asker of questions.
Last spring, they asked a question whose answer forced a hard truth: that our faith was not living up to its ideals.
That religious professionals of color were not only not playing on a level playing field, but that most were not even admitted to the ballpark. That a culture of white supremacy, inherited from the white, dominant culture, was engrained deep in Unitarian Universalism’s norms of behavior and thought.
Since that time, the question has sprouted many other questions. It has also opened space for some possible antidotes. How many of you participated in a White Supremacy Teach-in in the last year? The first one was created by three religious educators—Christina Rivera, Kenny Wiley, and this morning’s honoree, Aisha Hauser.
Now, Aisha could have stopped with just asking the question. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves, plunged their hands in deep, and went to work. Because that is what religious educators do: they do the work of sensing the margins of living our faith in this uneven, distorted, unjust world and they pull those margins out further yet.
Or, from the inside, they push those edges, stretching them—not to a breaking point, because our faith is strong—but to a place of a greater wholeness. Religious educators do this work from a deep, powerful love. A love for what we could be, together.
Bringing people together to create something more than what exists right now is ministry Aisha has been doing for a long time. After working as a social worker, they found their calling in service as Director of Religious Education at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County, Orange, NJ and Fourth Universalist Society, New York, NY and as Director of Lifelong Learning at East Shore Unitarian Church, Bellevue, WA. Aisha was a colleague of mine in the Lifespan Faith Development office for three years, writing and developing curricula and programs to bring people together in congregational religious education programs.
They have chaired the LREDA Integrity Team, a committee of the Liberal Religious Educators Association that works to try to keep LREDA true to its antioppressive, antiracist, multicultural principles.
As a religious professional and as a volunteer, Aisha has demonstrated and promoted different models of shared leadership in service to UU institutions from the UUA Nominating Committee, to the Religious Education Credentialing Committee and by co-authoring with Rev.
Natalie Fenimore a chapter in the book, Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry.
Aisha created a bystander training to empower people to intercede in bullying situations. As Aisha received more and more requests for the training, instead of marketing it for sale to UUs, they created a webinar showing others how they could hold their own bystander training.
Speaking engagements and requests for trainings from secular organizations are increasing and yet Aisha always finds time to collaborate with others toward stretching the margins of our faith, as witnessed by their work over the past several months on the team creating a White Supremacy Accountability Assessment Tool for religious education programs.
Now here is another hard truth: Asking the hard questions can make you a target for others’ fear. Aisha has been attacked on social media, has lost friends, has been labelled as hysterical and a troublemaker. No one ever said our ministry would be easy. But one of the qualifications for this award is someone who has “Brought dignity to the profession of religious education.” Aisha leads Unitarian Universalism to labor toward creating the heaven on earth we all dream of. Aisha makes me proud to be a Unitarian Universalist religious educator.
My people, I give you the recipient of the 47th annual Angus H. MacLean Award, Aisha Khadr Hauser.
Aisha Hauser: My friend and colleague Kenny Wiley wrote, "There are so many things to fight—and fight for—in the world. We mostly do a great job on climate justice and immigration. Our LGBTQ work has saved and changed lives. Black lives, too, are worth fighting for.
When the next Ferguson happens—and sadly, it will—we can and must do more. We have to show up, be willing to follow others, and be willing to change ourselves. The next call to action for racial justice has arrived. My people: Will we answer?" The UU White Supremacy Teach In movement was unprecedented in its scope, and it was just the beginning of a crucial conversation. This conversation has angered some and empowered others. It is for the first time an honest conversation. What is at stake is the heart and soul of Unitarian Universalism. We are a people of faith, a faith that demands of us reflection, determination, and yes, a commitment to justice. Centering the voices of the marginalized will be part of becoming whole as a faith and as a people.
I am grateful for this award and I thank the UUA and I share this honor with Kenny Wiley, Christina Rivera, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism and all the religious educators who collaborated together to help move this faith we love forward together.