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Preparing for Multicultural Ministries

General Assembly 2008 Event 3021

Presenters: Rev. Sofia Betancourt, Rev. Keith Kron, Paula Cole Jones & Taquiena Boston, introduction by Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde.

In this increasingly multicultural world, Unitarian Universalists are called to be intentional in leading the way towards becoming a global faith religion through creating multiracial/multicultural congregations. To help congregations towards this goal, several initiatives at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) are now available or are being field-tested.

Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde is Program Coordinator for the Multicultural Congregation initiative. She opened by introducing the panelists:

  • Paula Cole Jones is JUUST Change consultant for the UUA. JUUST Change is a program that offers resources and consultation to congregations, meeting them where they are in their anti-oppression work.
  • Rev. Sofia Betancourt is program director of Racial and Ethnic Concerns, the part of the Identity-Based Ministries (IDBM) program that provides leadership in the development of strategies and resources to make Unitarian Universalism welcoming, affirming and inclusive of people of color.
  • Rev. Keith Kron was director of the former OBGLTC (Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns) which has been folded under the umbrella of IDBM. He is now the director of the Beyond Categorical Thinking program, which helps congregations in search to think outside the box during their search process.
  • Taquiena Boston is director of IDBM. She is currently overseeing the field-testing of the emerging curriculum Building the World We Dream About.

Paula Cole Jones asked participants to envision the headlines in their regional newspapers when their congregations are getting “unstuck” in their anti-oppression anti-racism work. She shared headlines from Thomas Jefferson District such as, “Davies Memorial UU Church experiences growth under leadership of Rev. John Creswell, a black minister,” and “Congregation adopts a 5-year strategic plan to becoming multiracial/multicultural.” What would our headlines and stories be?

Sofia Bentancourt gave a historical overview of the denomination's cultural transformation from a predominantly white mono-culture to the present. Racial justice work began long before the 1961 merger with the 1790 Universalist resolution for abolition of slavery. Since then, there have been incremental steps in the UUA's resolutions, positions taken and Actions of Immediate Witness towards racial justice, including the most recent 2006 Response Resolution which states,

“Resolved that the delegates to the 2006 Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly are charged to work with their congregations to hold at least one program over the next year to address racism or classism and to report on that program at next year's General Assembly.”

The Diversity of Ministry Initiative is a national program of the UUA whereby trained staff members will be working with congregations committed to calling a minister of color. The goal is to create 12 such ministries in 12 congregations over a five-year period beginning in late 2006. So far, there are 4 such congregations. Currently, there are 49 fellowshipped ministers of color 35 of whom are serving congregations. There are 50 seminarians of color preparing for ministry. Most UU congregations are not ready for them.

Keith Kron drew parallels between homophobia and racism within UU congregations. Typically, Kron said, UUs think they are smarter than they actually are, and think they are further along in their anti-homophobia/anti-racism work than they actually are, and so they don't think they need to do the work. Why? Because “We have done it; we are smart, and everyone is welcomed anyway.” The numbers matter, Kron said. If there are only a small number of GLBTQ folks, the congregation is fine with it. But if the number starts to become significant, straight people get very nervous. They fear becoming a gay church. The number of GLBTQ members has remained small in our denomination, smaller than in the general public. Similarly, he has heard more racist remarks in congregations where either there are hardly any people of color at all, or where there are a significant number of people of color. There are four categories of people spread over the continuum between racists on one hand and anti-racists on the other:

  1. Those who really “get it.” They know that the work is a life-long journey and that they will be doing it the rest of their life.
  2. Those who sort of “get it.” They think that the problem will be “solved” in a few years. Once they've “done it,” they can move on to tackle something else.
  3. Those who think hearing about it once in a while on Sundays is all they need to do.
  4. Those who are actively resisting. They believe that racism doesn't exist in our congregations.

In his work as Beyond Categorical Thinking consultant, Kron continues to come across remarks such as, “Ministers of color aren't smart enough to serve us,” and “They won't feel welcomed here. They don't know what they are getting themselves into.” According to Kron, the truth is that it's the congregation that doesn't know what it's getting into.

“We are writing a new chapter,” said Taquiena Boston, referring to preparing the way for our ministry to becoming multicultural. We are working against conventional “wisdom” and against all odds according to church growth experts. Only five to seven percent of religious organizations are multicultural, of which 50% are intentionally so. The other 50% is circumstantial due to the fact that their communities are undergoing transitions. These 50% will soon become mono-cultural again. The diversification of a congregation from mono-culture to multicultural is a process that can take 10 years to accomplish. Somewhere into year three to five is the period when most people will experience intense frustrations. Diversification embodies the following:

  • Diversity in membership requires diversity in ministry.
  • Diversity is not the goal. It must be a integral part of the congregation's larger mission.
  • It must be intentional, and is reflected in every aspect of the congregational life.
  • There must be diversity in all aspects of worship.
  • Staff and leadership reflect diversity and model competency.
  • The congregation is in a continuous learning mode. It is not static.
  • There must be intentional outreach to the surrounding community, ministering to those outside the sanctuary.
  • Multiculturalism engages the reality of racism within the congregation as well as in the larger society.

Workshop participants were then asked to take a moment to pledge one thing they will do to help their congregation towards becoming multiracial/multicultural, and to share this with a neighbor.

Reported by Kok Heong McNaughton; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, September 27, 2012.

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