Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities are invited to:
- Understand the reasons the report was commissioned and the events that led up to its commissioning.
- Explore why the community or congregation has chosen to engage in studying its recommendations.
- Take actions toward implementing the recommendations.
Deciding to Study the COIC Report
Widening the Circle of Concern: Report of the UUA Commission on Institutional Change must not be viewed as simply an academic exploration into the current state of the prevalence of White Supremacy Culture within Unitarian Universalism. A mere sociological interest in the Commission on Institutional Change (COIC)’s findings would be an insult to the commissioners’ hundreds of dedicated hours of work and would treat as entertainment the re-traumatization of those who gave painful testimony. Instead, as a people of faith, Unitarian Universalists must approach this report with the humility and resolve of a truth and reconciliation council. We must understand that, as a “living tradition,” our faith’s survival depends on its relevance, and relevance depends on accepting and addressing the truth of the findings of the Commission. To fully accept this truth with integrity requires action at every level of our movement.
Initiation of study/action and advocacy for it might come from a ministry team, other staff, a social justice committee, or established or emerging lay leaders. In any case, the study/action effort should be understood as a ministry effort related holistically to the entire faith community.
Before convening a dedicated group within your community or congregation to study and respond to the COIC report, it is recommended that:
- The congregation is informed about the report and encouraged to read it in its entirety.
- Sunday worship has invited and guided deep exploration into why this community or congregation wishes to be actively involved in the changes recommended by the Commission. Worship may have raised questions such as:
- What is the history of communities of color within our city and state? What role has our community or congregation played in that history?
- What are predominant attitudes toward the work of “widening the circle” within our community or congregation?
- What possible pushback will we witness? Who is likely to push back? How will others of us respond?
- Leadership—ministry team, staff, and lay leaders—are certain that they have sufficient “buy-in” of the community or congregation. The prevalence of white supremacy culture ensures that, in our faith communities, there is likely to be some resistance. However, if a sizable and/or influential contingency of the congregation objects to this undertaking, leadership must first devote time to some pre-work. We recommend you develop a strategy to educate across the community on the need for and the importance of racial equity work before moving into this study/action.
Forming a Task Force
Once the above recommendations are resolved, leadership may convene a group of volunteers to study and lead congregational response to the COIC report. The group should include members who are trusted by the community or congregation to become a sort of “task force” which will help develop and oversee enactment of the recommendations of the Commission well beyond the discussion prompted by this guide. For this reason, the need for an open-ended commitment of time and energy must be made crystal clear to volunteers before they agree to join the study/action group.
The first session includes a covenanting process based on “The 8 Guidelines for Equity and Inclusion” from VISIONS, Inc. Since some of the questions in this Study/Action guide may elicit difficult conversations, covenanting (and re-covenanting) is important to bring the group back to our original intent and commitments. Choose or pre-screen trusted leaders who have a track record of skill and commitment to these or similar guidelines.
Implementing the Study/Action Program
There are eleven sessions in this guide, each corresponding with chapters of the COIC Report. The recommended time length for a session is 90 minutes.
At this writing, during a time of global pandemic, it is recommended that all meetings happen virtually. For this reason, it is recommended not to attempt a discussion of more than one chapter per meeting to avoid over-doing screen time.
The task force or group may want to choose a couple of capable co-chairs or co-facilitators to lead the group in interacting with each chapter. You should choose co-facilitators who have an interest in ending white supremacy culture within Unitarian Universalism. Or, the group may decide to share the responsibility of facilitation equitably, on a rotating basis.
It is important for the group to commit to the process of this guide in its entirety and to read and consider each chapter of the report in sequential order. Adhering to the process will help to fully ground the congregation or community’s transformational work of implementing the recommendations.
Ensure that each member of the task force receives or purchases a copy of the Widening the Circle of Concern report – either in print from the inSpirit UU Book and Gift Shop or the free copy available on UUA.org. The copy available through UUA.org also includes audio clips of each section being read aloud.
Notes to Facilitators
Each session asks that a recorder be appointed to document the group’s responses. In your final session and after this program of study/action, the facilitator will use a compilation of recorders' notes to revisit concrete suggestions that participants have made for the congregation to respond to the COIC recommendations. Make sure notes are taken and saved with this future need in mind.
Each time, before the group gathers, facilitators should take the time to reflect personally on the quotes and questions they will present: Meditate or journal about any hopes and anxieties for the process and its outcomes. Reflect on the holiness of transformative change work. Enjoy humility and gratitude for the opportunity to take on this role.