Sunday, May 20, 2007

Finding Our Way Home: Unitarian Universalists of Color

(L-R Rev. Shuma Chakrarty and seminarian Catie Chi Olson)

Finding Our Way Home
By Qiyamah A. Rahman

On April 12-15, 2007 approximately forty Unitarian Universalists gathered from around the corners and recesses of the United States of North America, including one globetrotter from Geneva, Switzerland. Billed as a “retreat” the gathering was a “life line” “a shot-in-the-arm” for one of the smallest identity based groups within the movement and denomination of Unitarian Universalism, seminarians and ministers of color. Many of the individuals present had gathered two years ago for the historic first retreat. Two years later some individuals known to each other mostly by name, emails, conference calls and long distance check ins were worshipping, singing and breaking bread over conversations and in between networking.
Bill Sinkford, UUA President, was one of the invited guest speakers. Bill, himself, an African American, talked about some of the pioneers whose names are not as well known to us as some others that have been more visible in our movement and denomination. Sinkford knows first hand of some of the racial tension that our movement and denomination has engendered and endured over the years. The Black Empowerment Period caused Bill Sinkford and other African American UUs to leave in record numbers which to this day have never been fully recouped. Years later, Sinkford was among the few African Americans that returned to Unitarian Universalism.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term “retreat” refers to a “get-away.” Thus, in part, ministers and seminarians of color were able to momentarily step away from their usual tasks and responsibilities. But ultimately they were not able to escape the reality that this movement and denomination that they derive so much fulfillment and satisfaction from, also is the source of a great deal of frustration and yes, disappointment. Such stress take its toll on ministers and seminarians of color. Ultimately, UUA leadership and seminarians and ministers of color were not able to ignore the serious attrition rates sometimes resulting in painful departures and ugly silences that tend to be the norm in UU culture. Hence, the “retreat” to nurture relationships to cease the troubling pattern while providing a respite for seminarians and minister of color. Relationships within UUism are no different from any other faith community, that is, meaningful intimacy is established and developed through interactions. However, that is not always possible for seminarians and ministers of color that are spread out so widely in a movement and denomination that spans all fifty states. Yet, it has become essential for ministers and seminarians of color to be able to get together more frequently than the annual gathering at General Assembly. However, the opportunity to do so assumes adequate professional development budgets and funds for those not in settlement nor currently ordained. So it was with gratitude and joy that we gathered for a brief while before returning to our various destinations around the country. Before doing so we were able to fellowship with our brother, Rev. John Crestwell at Davies Memorial UU Church where the members were treated to the presence of the largest number of ministers and seminarians they have probably witnessed outside of General Assembly. I know that John was proud to have us bless his sanctuary with our presence and we were proud to be present in his home congregation that he pastors. Much thanks to Rev. Dr. Michelle Bentley for making the weekend possible. Kudos to you Michelle for all that you so tirelessly do! (Rev. D. Neil Shadle)
Blessed Be!