Diversity in Relationships
by Joyce Dowling
(a lay sermon given at Davies Memorial UU Church - May 2011)

In our opening reading, we see many reasons we may have in common for being here together. We didn't all come for the same reason, but I hope you could relate to Suzanne Meyer's litany.

We have some things the same, but we are a diverse congregation.

We are different in many ways
We are different in our ages.
In our backgrounds: our ancestral history
Our place of birth, our family

We are different in the places we've lived
Where we went to school
How much wealth we've had — or didn't,
Our family traditions — a few the same — but many not
That is part of the American culture.

We are different in our education,
How much we've had, what quality,
Whether we were encouraged and supported — Or left on our own.
And what we majored in or if we never went to college.

We are different in our work,
Whether we worked since we were children — or only after college.
Whether we've had many jobs — or a single career — or never worked outside of the home.

Our hobbies are numerous,
How much news we watch — or listen to — or get online.
Some are already bored with this list, while possibly others are hearing some things they have never considered.

But there is one diversity that is most common amongst us here and that makes us unique — we are people of different religious beliefs and we want to be among others of different beliefs.

We can openly discuss them w ith others here — as we often do during coffee time after the service — we share how we felt or what we thought of the sermon which often has something compelling. And even if it doesn't for you, you can listen to what other people think of it — possibly people you haven't talked to before.

There may be new people here today, or people relatively new to Unitarian Universalism. 88% of UUs have come to us from another faith background (or none at all). We are people on a journey in life, exploring how we feel and believe about the many aspects of life and the universe and things beyond our knowing. We're learning about the viewpoints others have here, and THAT is a relationship.

I've heard from many fellow UUs I've talked to at meetings, conferences, workshops & also online that, here at Davies, we're thought of as a very hospitable and friendly congregation.

There are many things we can talk about as UUs, of which others are unable. They say there are 2 things you shouldn't talk about in polite company — religion and politics. Through our principles we have a pact that we will be supportive of our search for truth and meaning, so talking about religion can be more comfortable. We often talk about politics, but we generally speak our opinions which are usually on the liberal side. That might make it feel uncomfortable for Conservatives and we do have Conservative members, so our 2nd principle of respect and compassion in human relations needs to be kept in mind during the discourse.

There are other things besides religion and politics that “polite society” doesn't discuss. — sexuality, sexual orientation, gender differences, and many issues surrounding sex, though since we're an openly Welcoming Congregation, at least people can feel open about letting us know their sexual orientation and members who are GBLTQ should be able to comfortably exist as equally as heterosexuals among UUs. But how often do we see same — sex couples hold hands or put their arms around each other?

An online UU friend who lives in the mid-west said that it feels uncomfortable for her to attend a wedding where it's not acknowledged that some people can't get married. Then others responded as to how they did recognize same-sex couples in their wedding ceremonies. I had never even considered this idea. This is just one way we can learn about how we can behave differently or share our concerns so that we can have a better relationship with people who are different from us.

We have a curriculum that many UU congregations offer at various age levels, OWL (an acronym for "Our Whole Lives") which helps us discuss sexuality more openly and understand others who are different from ourselves and to even understand ourselves better.

There are other things that we're not allowed to discuss openly in our society, depending where we are and what biases people have who we are around, including money, smoking, mental health, and RACE, to mention a few. In our small group ministries, we can talk about most of these things and in our monthly ADORE for a dialog on race and ethnicity, we can talk about race, though it is not a majority of the congregation who attend.

We may think that we're cool about racial diversity because we worship in an area that's about 70% African American and we work and play in the Washington, DC area which is more diverse than most areas. But we've found in our race discussions that we're not so different from the majority of the country when it comes to comfort around sharing our stories about racial issues.

That will be our topic in ADORE next month — the sharing of our stories. Some of us have done that in the past, and now we have new members and friends. Are we any more comfortable with sharing our stories of racial incidents? Or do you now have stories about how you look at people and situations differently since you've discovered anti—racism? We come together not to just talk to each other, but to listen to each other — to try to be more genuine.

For those of you not familiar with the term, anti—racism is not just acting non-racist, but it's doing something to help end racism.

Our congregation is recognized as 1 in only 4 of over 1,000 UU congregations that is multicultural. At the time, I was told a “multicultural” organization was defined as about 30% or more of people from a race or culture other than the majority. And yet we may not look it because when the children and teachers leave for religious education classes, so do many of our members of color and the attendance of our newer members may not be as regular as the attendance of those who've been here longer. After all, we've only had our multicultural status for about 5 yrs. now.

Unitarian Universalism is primarily white. Angel, who is African American, noted that at General Assembly, our annual meeting of UUs, the percentage of non-whites is eerie in comparison to this church, especially when she wasn't with the people-of-color caucus as she was at previous GAs.

Most congregations of all denominations are still segregated. According to Pew Research only 7% of American churches are racially integrated. Martin Luther King said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week & that was about 50 years ago. Why is it still that way today and what can we do about it?

We recognize racism as primarily an institutional problem, but churches ARE institutions. Our racial problems are subconscious and unintentional. People who have been here longer are mostly white and sharing our power can be difficult. We may be willing to do it, but it might not be obvious since we're still majority white. Our leading UU ministers of color, and those who advocate for anti-racism, tell us we should be able to talk openly about race in our congregation if we're truly multicultural and anti-racist.

I know what some of you may be thinking, we need to just be color-blind. Being color-blind has been said to be the ultimate goal — when racism has ended in our society, we will look at each other and only see individuals. That may be a worthy goal, but we are not even close to ending racism, so being color-blind is a privilege we cannot afford. What is better is an honest view of who we are which includes the color of our skin. When we're honest about it, we may be able to see how our society has affected our thinking about skin color and other features and make assumptions about people whom we don't truly know. Only then can we learn to stop racist thinking and behavior.

An example of this happened here shortly after this congregation decided to embark in a diversity growth plan. When we were enjoying refreshments together after church, some women were speaking together about a convenience store owner being killed near their neighborhood. One woman, who was white, said that she thought the reason for it was the increase in the black population. Another woman, also white, quickly called her out for her racist remark. Now THAT's an act of anti-racism. The latter woman felt bad about what she said, though. The two women were friends and it bothered her, the way in which she spoke to her. She decided to call her and talk to her to see if there were hard feelings. Being true to our beliefs can be a hard thing to do, but we don't expect people to be perfect, we just hope they'll be "authentic".

Diversity means "different", and "differences" will lead to conflicts. In order to avoid serious ones that could interfere with this haven that was described in our opening reading, we have to learn how to talk to each other openly but respectfully and learn to understand about our differences. Our UU congregations are starting to do this by developing Right Relations Covenants, which is a process of deciding how we should treat each other and to create an agreement that will help us do that. You'll be learning more about creating a covenant from Rev. Bruce as it is in our plan.

There is so much to learn. Four of us from Davies attended a workshop yesterday, which was sponsored by the Chesapeake Unitarian Universalist Growth Committee whose acronym is CHUUG [pronounced "chug"] which is a group of 31 UU congregations in the Northern Virginia-DC-Baltimore area. The workshop was entitled "Transformational Hospitality: Welcoming Change, Welcoming Diversity" with the Multicultural Growth Director of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). There is so much I could share from that, but I took videos and have a list of resources to share, so I'll just share this one thing for now:

The definition of "multiculturalism" from a "Strategic Review of Professional Ministry Report, published by the UUA that was created through the dedication of many staff members."

"Multiculturalism means nurturing a religious community where people of all races, ethnicities, and cultures see their cultural identities reflected and affirmed in every aspect of congregational life — worship, fellowship, leadership, governance, religious education, social justice, etc. Multiculturalism means that we create religious homes where encounters between people of different cultural identities intersect with Unitarian Universalism to create a fully inclusive community where, in the words of a vision statement adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA) Leadership Council, "all people are welcomed as blessings and the human family lives whole and reconciled."

"Multiculturalism means that one cultural identity does not dominate all other identities; that people are able to participate in their faith community without denying or hiding their cultural identities, that the role of cultural identity is part of pastoral and prophetic ministry; and that leaders have the competency to understand how their multiple identities and socialization influence their values, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and interactions with others."

I wrote most of this sermon before I read that statement. Our leaders at the UUA don't know it all when it comes to developing multicultural ministries. It reminded me of something Rev. Naomi King stated, in the UU Growth Lab on Facebook, after she attended the multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-class church track of an evangelical church planters' conference. "There's no cookie-cutter here. There are guiding principles, but there are no templates, because each of our congregations needs to reflect the larger community where we are — where we truly are — in leadership and followership, in worship and in study, in sharing and in caring, in justice and in mercy, out of persecution and into peace, out of fear and into love."

Our mission at Davies includes being a multicultural and loving congregation. It sometimes seems like we're almost there, but we can be so much more. Why aren't there more of us? I know at least one person who would be more willing to come here if we had a covenant, because relationships are about feelings and trust. When we truly can trust each other in all our diversities, we can be in the kind of relationship where we can go to each other when we are in need. Just as our closing hymn says, we would like to be able to say and really mean it, "just call on me when you need a hand."

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