Tending to Repair

By Hilary Allen

A black and white photo from the March on Washington, with a crowd of protesters, the reflecting pool, and the Washington Monument in the background.

A few weeks ago, I joined Joe, Meck, and our Region’s Spiritual Leadership for Culture Change Community of Practice (join anytime!) for a conversation onTending Our Tradition through Reparations. We were looking at how this practice of Spiritual Leadership invites us to bring forward the gifts from our tradition’s past and reconcile where Unitarian Universalism has fallen short.

During introductions, someone commented in the chat that they hadn’t known UU congregations were working on reparations.

I was shocked.


What about the Reparations section in the Commission on Institutional Change’s “Widening the Circle of Concern” report?

Or the 2022 Action of Immediate Witness?

Or the 2009 General Assembly event “Truth, Repair, and Reconciliation: What We’ve Learned"?

Or the 2007 Responsive Resolution?

Reading their message in the chat that day was a great reminder that just because I think something is ubiquitous, doesn’t mean that it is.

For the record, UU congregations are working on reparations. (I’ve included links to lots of New England-based work below.) These folks are engaging the work of repair — mining their histories, exploring choices and actions of predecessors, and relinking broken relationships.

And yet, even with all this powerful tending of tradition going on, there are some that still don’t know it’s happening. To be clear, this reflection is not about that person’s comment in the chat or about putting knowing on a pedestal. It’s about timing as it relates to repair: no one is first and no one is last.

Earlier this year, I was companioning the Restoration & Repair Working Group at First Parish in Arlington, MA as they were in deep discernment about how best to invite the rest of their congregation into their work. Having spent the better part of a year constructing a statement, they were now considering how to have the congregation vote on their drafted “Affirmation of Reckoning and Repair.”

As you can imagine, there was a spectrum of opinion about what to do. Some team members felt the group needed to slow down and respond to questions and concerns from their fellow congregants. Other members felt that they had come too far to stop now and needed to pass the resolution — and yesterday! The group had to work together to decide what was their "sacred when."

Was it more faithful to attempt leading the congregation into a challenging risk?

Or would it be just as fruitful to give it another year to let the work further saturate into the congregation and allow for even greater buy-in? 

Would waiting cause them to lose momentum?

Or would pushing through cause more friction than would be helpful?

These questions have become familiar to me through my connections to justice-making through the years. Essentially, we are always weighing the clock, trying to gauge pace when, in truth, anytime justice is deferred is too long. We have to proceed anyway, to repair our ancestors’ missteps and misdeeds, knowing that the seventh generation will surely say we moved too slow.

The move towards reparations, towards mended relationships, towards societal repair, is always both too late and too soon. There will always be some people just discovering the work. And there will be others shocked that just when they thought they were the last, more people are coming in. I’m grateful for the reminder that when tending our tradition, there is no beginning and there is no end.

If you are part of a White settler-colonizer church, please consider registering for an upcoming offering of the 5-session training series for “Sacred Reckonings.”

And get started today on the 2023 UUA Common Read “On Repentance and Repair” by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg!

New England Congregations Exploring Reparations

About the Author

Hilary Allen

Hilary began her tenure on Congregational Life staff in 2013 and is part of the programmatic team bringing the Practices of Spiritual Leadership to UU congregations. Originally from the Carolinas, Hilary delights in those magical facilitation moments when a group experiences some new insight or...

For more information contact .