Institutional Change Congregation Resources
Commission on Institutional Change is charged with long-term cultural and institutional change that redeems the essential promise and ideals of Unitarian Universalism. To that effort, the Commission calls on congregations, fellowships, covenant circles, and others to engage in this work with these provided discussion guides. The questions are designed broadly in order to inspire discussion and to help reveal what is on the hearts and in the minds of Unitarian Universalists about the essence of who we are as a faith movement and who we want to become.
Review the videos and read the questions to the room. (It is likely that the answers for each question will overlap, so taking time to do them one at a time may not be useful) Respond to questions or concerns…there are no strict guidelines! The following covenant may prove useful in facilitating these conversations.
- Bring your best self to the conversation. Have good intentions, and trust the intentions of others.
- Be aware of the language that you use. Check for ableism, racism, ageism, and other –isms that might be hurtful.
- Everyone should have a chance to contribute, as they are willing and able…one at a time, allowing everyone to speak at least once if they choose to
- Discern with your faith at the center…we are not making decisions or advocating for a “side”; rather, we are sharing our thoughts and hopes for Unitarian Universalism
- Listen carefully, and when necessary, reply/ask questions in ways that deepen understanding. There are no right or wrong responses.
Mission, Vision, Values Discussion Group Guide
The following questions were discussed in break out groups at General Assembly 2018. The information gathered from participants aid the Board of Trustees and the Commission on Institutional Change and those who will be working on the Bylaws Commission which includes Article II: Principles and Purposes. These conversations will continue at General Assembly 2019 in Spokane, Washington. Review these questions with potential delegates, and make sure your congregation is represented in the discernment of our Association, as an in-person or online delegation.
- What is essential to you about being a Unitarian Universalist?
- What do our purposes and principles capture well that is essential to who we are and what we must do as Unitarian Universalists? What do they leave out?
- How could our mission, purposes, principles, and bylaws more accurately convey our vision of a future for our faith that compels us to act on our deep commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression?
- In what specific ways are we asked to transform lives, communities and the world in these times? How does our shared life in our congregations and covenanted communities prepare us to do this?
Truth, Trauma and Change in Our UU Communities
Each June, the Ministerial Conference at Berry Street selects an essayist to discuss a topic of relevance to ministry. This year’s essayist, Rev. Leslie Takahashi, spoke about “Truth, Trauma and Transformation.” Leslie is part of the Commission on Institutional Change and though the essay is hers and not an official part of the Commission’s work, it was informed by her participation in hearing the stories of those among us.
One premise of this work is that we are living in traumatic times which are much more painful for those who live with societal, racial or religious trauma.
Truth, Trauma, and Transformation: Embracing the Cracks and the Gold (PDF) by Rev. Leslie Takahashi
Berry Street Essay Response (PDF) by Rev. Sofia Betancourt
Watch or skim through the essay and then consider the following questions:
- How do the practices of your Unitarian Universalist community affirm a theology which honors all, including those with traumatic wounding?
- How do the dynamics of traumatic experience intersect with our conversations about race in Unitarian Universalism?
- How is religious wounding that people bring in from other religious communities addressed in your community? How is the religious wounding that occurs within our communities addressed?
- How can we affirm—rather than deny or belittle—the traumatic experiences of those who have been marginalized in our larger societies and our Unitarian Universalist communities?
The theme of The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly 2019 was “The Power of We.” In her thought-provoking and compassionate GA Sunday sermon, The Rev. Marta Valentin addressed this theme.
As Rev. Valentin notes, over the last few years there has been a consistent call from the GA sermons for our Association to move deeper into discernment about the direction our faith must follow to move in the direction of the Beloved Community: Now is the Time, Don’t be distracted by “Fake fights,” This is No Time for a Casual Faith. Rev. Valentin asks us to embrace the understanding that the “Power of We” rests in the South African Bantu concept of Ubuntu: I am because we are.
Read/listen to the sermon/service with these questions in mind:
Who is the “We”? What version of “we” do we uphold theologically and institutionally?
In what ways are we “reliable community”—a community of support and encouragement for one another?
Can our community turn toward the story of Black/Indigenous/People of Color UU? It is not only by knowing more facts but interpretation of facts that can unite or divide us. As Sofia Betancourt said at GA 2018: “We can never be the bearers of love and justice that the world so desperately needs if the foundation that sustains us is still perpetuating the very problem we long to solve.” Can we recognize that there are legitimate and differing interpretation of our past and present? Can we reconcile our differences in love?
How are we complicit in our own “whitewashing” of UUism? Rev. Valentin offers her own experience of re-connecting with the African, Native and Spanish roots she holds but from which she has been separated. At her Ware Lecture, Winona LaDuke said,: “How much and how brave are we in our ability to deconstruct some of the paradigms which we have embraced.”
In considering “I” culture or “We” culture, Rev. Valentin defined “We” culture as requiring speaking respectfully, upholding covenants, listening reflectively, teaching to truth and extending compassion to others we might not care for. Does your UU community operate as a “We” culture?
Rev. Valentin asks us to release what no longer serves us well as faith practices. Are there practices that you are ready to release? What new practices would you welcome into our faith?
Rev. Valentin speaks of the solidarity and survival strategies of POC UU’s. What can be learned from the experiences of People of Color Unitarian Universalists to enrich our faith institutions?
Working Effectively Across Generations Towards an Anti-Oppressive Anti-Racist Multicultural Faith
Follow along with this five-part conversation between Commission on Institutional Change Commissioner Mary Byron and Former Commissioner Caitlin Breedlove, as they discuss the subject of intergenerational movement ministry. Following each clip reflect of the questions presented by the Commission to deepen spiritually and connect in the work towards an Anti-Oppressive, Anti-Racist, Multicultural Faith.
Building up towards the General Assembly 2018, the members of the Commission on Institutional Change (COIC) decided that as a faith community, we should be centering theology and faith work as we moved into a deeper engagement with the charge received from the Board of Trustees in GA 2017. As an entry point to this task, the COIC convened a panel around the question: How do we bring to the center the task of addressing White Supremacy within our Institution and congregations, our shared religious values, traditions, and perspective? Engaging this question also lead to a second question: Can we call for the reinvigoration of Unitarian Universalist theology as a theological option committed to promoting equity as a spiritual value? To this end, during GA 2018, the Commission brought together theologian Sharon Welch, historian Dan McKanan, and ethicists Sofia Betancourt and Elías Ortega-Aponte to address these and related questions in the hopes to ignite this conversation.
In making the recording of this panel available, and providing a series of questions for discussion, the Commission on Institutional Change hopes that they serve as a starting point for deep engagements with the theological inheritance of our tradition. In our 4th Shared Principle, we declare a commitment to the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. In the spirit of this principle, we offer these materials, not as finish statements but as entry points for further discussion.
The 2018 Ware Lecture with Brittany Packnett
One of the highlights of the 2018 General Assembly was the Ware Lecture by Brittany Packnett. This was a passionate and straight-talking talk about the place where we find ourselves and where we must find ourselves as individuals and as faith community. This talk offers much for us to reflect upon as we examine the impacts of racism and white supremacy culture within our faith. We urge you to watch this and then consider having a conversation in your congregation.