On the Friday of General Assembly, three leaders of congregations that took Beloved Conversations were asked to share their reflections having done this hard and sacred work. Robin was one of those three! Speaking before thousands in person, and more online, the full script that Robin shared is below. It can also be found online at http://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2017/business/iii. A video of the panel is at http://smallscreen.uua.org/videos/ga2017-303-beloved-conversations-panel.
We will be offering the 8-session class Beloved Conversations: Meditations on Race & Ethnicity in September. The mandatory training for all participants (no exceptions) will take place the evening of Friday, September 22nd and all day on Saturday, September 23rd. If you are considering taking Beloved Conversations, please save these dates. Please contact Robin Pugh at email@example.com if you are interested in signing up. For more information on Beloved Conversations see: http://www.meadville.edu/beloved
Good morning, I’m Mark Hicks, director of the Fahs Collaborative Laboratory for Innovation in Faith Formation. The Fahs Collaborative is part of the educational offerings at our UU Seminary in Chicago, Meadville Lombard Theological School. The namesake for this UU non-profit is Sophia Lyon Fahs. If you’re not aware of her legacy, she was what I’d call a “redwood” in religious educator, a spirited entrepreneur who challenged the status quo about how we teach our people to integrate faith into our daily lives. She famously said, “Life becomes religious when we make it so.”
The Fahs Collaborative develops a wide array of programs designed to do exactly that. From teaching UUs how to integrate spiritual depth in social justice work, to preparing our congregations how to engage with multi-faith partners, The Fahs Collaborative brings an educator’s mind to some of the thorny and complex problems we face, not only in our congregations, but in our society.
Beloved Conversations was commissioned when one of our largest congregations asked for help in learning how racism and white supremacy block our capacity to be fully human and humane with people from different racial and cultural backgrounds, on the interpersonal, institutional, and systemic levels. From that single commission, Beloved Conversations has now expanded to over 90 UU, Jewish, and Quaker communities.
We are here today to share a few stories about what we’ve learned. And here to take us into that conversation is The Rev. Ashley Horan, the Learning Coordinator for Beloved Conversations.
In this moment, as UUs across the country are confronting the legacy of white supremacy that is intertwined in the very helixes of our faith’s DNA, we are aware that transforming our congregations is long-haul work. To sustain ourselves, and to be truly effective catalysts for transformation, we need deep wellsprings of resilience, as well as concrete skills for organizing and partnership. We need strong relationships within and beyond our congregations. We need to acknowledge that faith formation and spiritual support sometimes look different for people of color and white people, and we must minister competently and prophetically to all those who call our faith home.
This morning, a panel of leaders who have all been using Beloved Conversations as a tool for the journey will share reflections on their experiences. I want to welcome Rhonda Brown, a national Beloved Conversations Retreat Leader who has also led multiple rounds of the program in her home congregation, East Shore UU Church in Kirtland, WA; Rev. Leslie Takahashi, who has been a Retreat Leader for the Bay Area cluster of congregations, as well as in her own congregation, Mt. Diablo UU Church in Walnut Creek, CA; and Robin Pugh, Vice President of LREDA and Director of Lifespan Religious Education at the UU Church at Washington Crossing, Titusville, NJ, which just completed its first round of Beloved Conversations this spring.
First, can you each reflect on any changes or transformations that have occurred in your congregation as a result of your participation in Beloved Conversations?
Beloved Conversations gives people a new way of perceiving–like a seventh sense. Once hearts are open, people who complete the program report that they see things they had never seen before. Discrimination in the grocery store. Aggressions on public transportation. Dynamics within their own families as more and more have a mixed racial palette. We have just completed out fourth round, offering it each January to June for four years, and having about 10 percent of the congregation who have completed it. Last month we had our first alumni gathering and talked about how Beloveds could continue to change congregational culture as our new strategic plan includes an aspiration to be exuberantly multicultural. Beloved Conversations has given new tools to leaders already seasoned in multicultural dialogue, and has also travelled with some on their first journey into this conversation. About three weeks into every session people start grabbing me before service to tell me what they see now that they didn’t see before. And once woke people tend to stay woke.
We started our first BC Workshop in the fall of 2013 . The first thing that Beloved Conversations did was to create a firm foundation to deepen the discussion and commitment to racial justice at East Shore. Beloved Conversations also gave attendees the opportunity to join together and take action to combat racial injustice. In 2015 a small group of Beloved Conversations attendees decided to organize a public witness group to support Black Lives Matter. The group meets every Sunday at a busy intersection near the church and display signs of support. That’s when the real racial justice discussion began. As people became challenged or curious about the Black Lives Matter Movement, Beloved Conversations attendees started a monthly dialogue for our congregation called “Conversations About Race,” which has created a forum for deep and honest discussions about racial issues. Our last discussion was held the week before the White Supremacy Teach In and was attended by over 50 members of our congregation. Beloved Conversations has been a catalyst which has helped East Shore to learn, grow, and engage in our community in a much more powerful way.
Our congregation’s racial justice work had been dormant for a decade, but we called a new minister in summer 2015—the summer of Ferguson. 25% of our congregation began Beloved Conversations a week after the election, and wrapped up the program right before the White Supremacy Teach In. Our congregation has changed tremendously over the last three years, but Beloved Conversations gave us the container we needed to do this work well.
Our participants were 30-80 years old, and, though everyone didn’t end up in the same place, everyone undoubtedly moved further along the continuum of understanding privilege, race, and white supremacy. Allies and advocates were created. Members of Color were re-energized. Relationships were fostered. Investment in what the church can do in the world and how we can be brave for and with one another has been felt in every corner of the congregation – this is true about conversations about race but so much more.
One of our facilitators of color said, “White people are beginning to see what has always been visible to congregants of color. Early on in the program, there was a lot of defensiveness when people of color would name things about how white privilege plays out in church. A mere few months, I notice the open dialogues; the willingness to challenge long held assumptions and be true allies. I love that my small group has chosen to continue to meet because of the positive transformation, genuine conversations, and a commitment to racial justice work. “
Reflecting back on your Beloved Conversations experiences, what resources–spiritual, infrastructural, programmatic–do you and your congregation need to sustain yourselves for the long-haul work of dismantling white supremacy?
One reason I am an advocate for Beloved Conversations is that it teaches white folks that they can learn about oppression without using their fellow congregants of color as their only teachers. You can watch a movie or read a book or watch a TED talk or go to an art exhibit, and through that, the stories of experiences different than yours can jump out and enter into dialogue. This is important, because people of color in our faith so often end up being the teachers– being the accountability mechanisms– doing the “spiritual domestic work,” as Rev. Dr. Rosemary Bray-McNatt puts it. Our UUs of color need their own conversations—about how we have internalized the messages of the dominant culture and how they have damaged our own senses of power and agency our own sense of whether our leadership. We need rescue and healing from the funhouse mirror distortion which is leadership as a person of color in this Association, and we need places where we can talk authentically about the pain of our lives and our families’ lives without someone saying. “Wow, your life is a mess.” Oppression has a long half-life, and trauma is transmitted generation to generation. For us to live into our wholeness we need spaces of deep healing; brave spaces, where pain can be heard and held.
As a lay leader one of the most important resources I work with is our minister. The deep work of tackling racism requires a level of introspection that can be daunting at times. I am fortunate to have great support from our minister who makes herself available to provide pastoral support for workshop attendees and facilitators. For the long-haul work of dismantling white supremacy, we need to find ways to give voice to the experiences of People of Color in the wider UU community which can help white UU’s gain a better understanding of what changes are needed. In addition, I would love to see an expansion of the Beloved Conversation network of attendees and facilitators to connect, share best practices and build additional modules.
Our congregation finished Beloved Conversations just over a month ago, but we’re focused and excited about what’s next. We’ve created a People of Color circle that meets once a month for spiritual deepening and connection that can be, but doesn’t have to be, about this work. Maintaining this space, and creating other forms of support for our members of color, will continue to be vital to our work and the health of all in our community.
Going forward, we hope for something that will attract draw people who are resistant or afraid into racial justice work. We’re also yearning for a next step curriculum that keeps those who are committed (but weary) engaged and resilient within a community they sometimes would rather not work so hard in.
Lastly, we have learned a lot about what we want to change to address white supremacy within our congregational system (which can feel overwhelming); but we don’t have many or any resources on how it could look. We’d love to be mentored by another UU community that has made successful cultural changes to model ourselves after.
Thank you Rhonda, Leslie, Robin, and Ashley for sharing your inspiring insights.
We all know that racism is as old as history itself. We also know that dismantling racism at all levels in our lives requires both skills and deep spiritual resources. Beloved Conversations is one important tool in our toolbox for combating white supremacy. Ushers are passing out a handy educational resource to support your congregational efforts. Stop by BOOTH # xxxx and sign up for an Information Session or to schedule Beloved Conversations in your community.