Tapestry of Faith: Resistance and Transformation: An Adult Program on Unitarian Universalist Social Justice History

Handout 3: Characteristics of Racially Integrated Unitarian Universalist Congregations

By the Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed. Used with permission.

The following are characteristics of congregations that have successfully opened their doors to and attracted substantial numbers of African Americans.

  • They are all in urban areas — New York, Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, and Prince George County. In the book American Mainline Religion, Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney (Rutgers University Press) write, "Living in urban areas, in the Northeast and West, and moving away from the state in which one was reared were associated with interracial worship."
  • They are in communities with a large middle class. Unitarian Universalism is a middle class religion with one of the highest education, income, and status levels in the county. Those attracted to Unitarian Universalism fit this mold.
  • The minister and congregation are visibly and vocally concerned with issues of race relations and justice.
  • The congregation has a vision of being racially diverse and the leadership is intentional in their support of that vision. The congregations that succeeded in becoming more racially diverse took specific actions to become inclusive, often against internal resistance or fear, and stuck with it until racial diversity became part of their identity.
  • These congregations incorporated the African American experience into their worship life. Community Church of New York had African American ushers and welcomed African American musicians and writers to contribute to the worship experience. Others have racially diverse choirs with a repertoire drawn from African American, as well as other, cultural and musical traditions.
  • It took time. These congregations all stuck with their vision of racial diversity for decades.

Having African American leadership is a significant element in successfully becoming a racially diverse congregation, but it is not as important as these other factors. Historically, Community Church in New York began to integrate in 1909 but did not have its first African American minister until it called an Associate Minister in 1948; Chicago began to integrate in 1947 but did not call an African American associate minister until 1973. Washington, D.C had an African American religious educator beginning in 1958, eleven years before the arrival of David Eaton, their first African American senior minister.