Call for Contributors: Building A New Way

Image of an open book opening into the ocean and shining sun.

The "Building a New Way: Moving from Tokenism to Authentic and Diverse Religious Leadership" Incubator Journey: Supporting Collective Healing, Collective Transformation, & Collective Wisdom

Co-led by the Revs. Manish Mishra-Marzetti and Nancy McDonald Ladd

Unitarian Universalism has, since the mid-1800s, been expanding who has access to recognized roles of religious leadership, both lay and ordained, in our congregations and UU institutions. Folx who identify as female, gay, lesbian, queer, bi, gender-fluid, trans, differently abled, and/or as being of non-majority races and ethnicities, folx who are from under-represented generations and/or class backgrounds, as well as folx who openly embody a specific mental health status are increasingly in important leadership roles within our movement, publicly leading UU institutions, programs, boards, and congregations, even as they are pegged as being 'different.' This difference is often celebrated, even extolled, while the leaders themselves navigate complicated dynamics of reactivity for inherently pushing up against implicit Unitarian Universalist cultural expectations of what leadership is 'supposed to' look like, sound like, and feel like. This reactivity exacts an underappreciated toll on the mental health and spiritual well-being of the leaders placed in such a position. What this often results in is the symbol of diverse leadership being celebrated, while the reality of leading within Unitarian Universalism from that place of diversity can come at a huge cost.

This pattern is well established in our movement, with few intentional resources aimed at specifically addressing the underlying needs: recognizing and supporting the challenges/stresses of leading within Unitarian Universalism while embodying qualities identified as 'diverse'; naming and working with the changes and perceived losses in shifting implicit cultural models of religious leadership; and affirming, celebrating, and 'normalizing' the inherent possibilities and vibrancy of a significantly expanded leadership table.

This call for participants/contributors is an invitation to a shared journey. We hope to create an 'incubator' experience that is part celebration of the leadership of those involved, part fun, and part community-building, recognizing that the toll on those embodying 'difference' often manifests as demoralization and exhaustion. We seek to nurture a shared experience that holds the seeds of healing, joy, and a sense of support. The outcome of this journey will be a Skinner House publication, tentatively referred to here as Building a New Way: Moving from Tokenism to Authentic and Diverse Religious Leadership, which will contain both the individual and collective wisdom of this projects' participants, in service to the ongoing growth of Unitarian Universalism. In tandem with participating in the incubator experience, each selected participant/contributor is asked to commit to authoring an individual chapter/essay of approximately 1,500-2,000 words.

We anticipate selecting 20-25 participants in this shared journey, though interest in this project may be greater than that. For this reason, we ask interested individuals to commit from the start of the journey to the participatory, incubator nature of the experience, which will occur over the fall of 2021 and the spring of 2022. Interested participants/contributors are asked to:

  • Submit a precis by July 15, 2021 (or earlier) of the experience you can bring to this project: Which UU leadership experience? What identities, backgrounds, and/or core life experiences did you bring to it? What were the stresses or challenges you encountered in modeling leadership that represented something 'different' for Unitarian Universalism? What wisdom emerged through that experience? Were you able to help shift implicit, systemic models of leadership? If so, in what ways and how? This precis can be as brief as a paragraph, but please no longer than one page. Each submitted precis will be reviewed by the project co-leaders (who are also the co-editors of the eventual anthology) as well as by Skinner House Books.
  • Commit to joining with others in this journey. Pending final selection of the participants/contributors, please pencil in the following dates for the virtual incubator experience: Friday, September 24 (tent. 7-9pm Eastern); Saturday, September 25 (tent. 12pm-1:30pm Eastern); Monday, October 25, Monday November 8, and Monday, November 22 (all tentatively from 7-8:30pm Eastern). The dates indicated are definitive; the timings may be adjusted once we know the proportion of participants in different time zones and their work-life scheduling needs.
  • Commit to submitting a complete chapter/essay by January 31, 2022 or earlier. To allow time for the virtual incubator experience to unfold, we ask that participants not draft their full chapter/essay until the end of November 2021 at the earliest.

The project co-leaders seek to craft an anthology that brings alive the experiences of a variety of individuals who have not just struggled with breaking into religious leadership (professional or volunteer), but who also have wisdom to share related to what has worked and what has been possible in shifting implicit models of leadership.

Rather than taking the viewpoint of 'expertise' or 'best practices' in this incubator journey, we will ask participants to stay grounded in their unique circumstances and personal 'knowing,' recognizing that 'what has worked' and 'what is possible' are adaptive, context-specific questions, the responses to which are constantly evolving as we grow individually, as the communities/institutions we serve change and grow, and as our movement collectively grows.

Chapter/essay authors will also be invited to help develop reflection/study questions for inclusion in either an Appendix or at the end of each individual chapter, geared towards supporting ongoing learning at the institution, community, or individual levels. (What questions or issues might need to be grappled with locally before, or in tandem with, making choices that expand the leadership table? How can we bring greater preparation, intentionality, joy, flexibility, and adaptability to that process?)

The Building a New Way Incubator Journey will be co-led by Revs. Manish Mishra-Marzetti & Nancy McDonald Ladd, who also serve as co-editors of the eventual Skinner House anthology, tentatively of the same name. If you are interested in participating in this shared journey and contributing to this anthology, please contact the co-editors with your expression of interest, as outlined above, by submitting a precis by July 15, 2021 or earlier.

Skinner House's submission guidelines are as follows:

  • Only original writings will be accepted. Submissions must not have been previously published or be part of another anthology.
  • Submissions should be approximately 1,500-2,000 word essays/chapters.
  • In submitting your work for publication, you will give Skinner House Books your permission to publish your writing both online and in print.
  • Submission of a precis or a full essay/chapter does not guarantee that it will be published. All submissions may be edited.

Participants/contributors whose submissions are published will receive from Skinner House Books: a complimentary copy of the book, a modest honorarium (expression of gratitude/appreciation) for published chapters/essays, and a modest honorarium for participating in the Incubator Journey. In addition, we hope that participants/contributors will experience a sense of being honored and uplifted—a sense that their professional or volunteer journeys within Unitarian Universalism have mattered—and a knowing that on the other side of struggle/stress/challenge there can be healing and wisdom that supports us all.

Please address all correspondence, questions, expressions of interest, and draft contributions to both Rev. Manish Mishra-Marzetti (manish@uuaa.org) and Rev. Nancy McDonald Ladd (nladd@rruuc.org).