Ring Out The Old

By Wren Bellavance-Grace

bell with red ribbon tied on it

It’s the waning days of 2022 as I write this; it will hit your inbox in early 2023. The turning of the Gregorian year begins with January, named for the Roman god Janus, the god of two faces - one looking ever backward, one looking ever ahead. God of transitions. Of liminal spaces. Of moving out of one time and into another. God of the threshold in between.

The last weeks of December were littered with countless wrap-up stories: “Best Movies (Books) (Songs) of 2022!” “Hottest Trends of 2022!” Some of these people, places, and things will stand the test of time and will still be influencing our culture and institutions 50 years from now. 1973’s American Grafitti still very much informs our zeitgeist. But does anyone remember The Last Detail, from the same year’s best movies list?

At the same time, we turn our attention to setting New Year’s intentions. Gym memberships soar, we choose a word to live by, and once again I promise to eat less sugar! Let’s just say, some of these intentions last longer than others.

It seems to have been a normal human impulse to engage in this process of taking stock, of looking backward and dreaming ahead, for at least several thousand years now. We often do this as individuals on the occasion of our birthdays (especially those that end in zero’s…). In the United States at least, New Year’s is a time when we share this personal process in a collective way. This kind of collective reflection on and reckoning with the places we we have been, and discerning where we want to go, is also beneficial for communities like our congregations.

We in the New England Region call this intentional process, the practice of Tending to Tradition. It’s one of the practices of Spiritual Leadership we are all called to through our Unitarian Universalist faith. This practice calls us to honor the values, rituals, and traditions which our ancestors built and refined over centuries. It also obliges us to reckon with our ancestors' words, deeds, and failures to act; those which have caused great harm to be done, and injustice to flourish. It calls us to shape and evolve our Unitarian Universalist theology into a worthy gift to bequeath our descendants several generations hence.

This month, we want to share with you an example of this practice in action.

Members of the UU Church of Akron, Ohio began looking around their church building as they explored the proposed 8th Principle. They noticed a poster which had been hanging on a church wall since 2001, when it was purchased at General Assembly in Cleveland. The poster, titled “100 Unitarians and Universalists Who Made A Difference” has also hung in the halls and RE classrooms of many New England congregations - maybe yours is one of them. These folks noticed that of the 99 names and faces on this poster (99 names, and one empty spot titled, “+ you!” to make 100), a whopping 97 were white; 73 were assigned male; and only one was identifiable as gay. They brought some curiosity to this poster. How had these people been chosen? Whose history did this represent and whose UU history was invisible through these choices? And crucially, which 100 ancestors might we choose to lift up today?

The 8th Principle Transformation Committee undertook a deliberate study of those first 99 ancestors and one by one considered whose legacies they would wish to carry forward in the next iteration. They removed a whole group of names which had been on the original poster in spite of the fact that they could not be confirmed to have claimed to be Unitarian or Universalist in their lifetimes. They removed a few more who, while they were confirmed to be our ancestors in faith, had also participated “in egregious acts against humanity... slavery, exploitation.” This created space for other ancestors in faith to be considered.They researched a variety of sources for Unitarians and Universalists who, because of their race, gender identity, or affectional orientation might not have been fully recognized for their gifts in their lifetime, yet whose achievements are commendable to us today.

The result is a thoughtful, beautiful, and edifying poster, worthy of any RE classroom or church office wall. It is also an inspiring example of one congregation looking closely at what their building space says about who they are and who they mean to be.

What is in your congregation’s meeting spaces? What story does it tell about the ancestors you have come from and who you mean to be? What better time than this dawning new year to bring curiosity to these questions. How will you help shape the faith we will bequeath to our grandchildren’s children?

How Unitarian Universalism grows and evolves begins with the questions, curiosity, faithfulness, and values we bring to tending our tradition today.

Explore the new poster and the accompanying supplementary document here

About the Author

Wren Bellavance-Grace

Wren works with the New England Region team to support congregations across New England with particular experience in Safer Congregations, faith formation, and spiritual leadership.

For more information contact .