I met a woman here in Selma — a fine, strong, intelligent woman. She’s savvy, and involved in racial justice, and politically conscious. She’s a motivated, connected activist, and she’s in it for the long haul.
She’s also NOT a Unitarian Universalist.
She’d never heard of us before she was invited to this conference about Selma, this commemorative event that we dared to call “Marching in the Arc of Justice.” Upon receiving the invitation, she thought she’d look up exactly who these Unitarian Universalists are.
She looked up the brand new UUA website.
And she looked up her local UU congregation’s website.
That’s all she knew about us before traveling to Alabama.
I found myself holding my breath as she told me this story. What did she glean about us from these two websites? I know a lot of effort has been put into rolling out the new uua.org, and apparently she found it useful in locating her closest congregation.
But when she went to that local website — what did it tell her?
Was it your church’s website? I’ve seen some websites that are beautiful articulations of our faith, and others where I can dig for an hour without figuring out much of anything beyond last month’s “presentation” titles.
I relaxed a little when she told me, with enthusiasm, that she’s looking forward to visiting her local church. Whatever she saw online, it encouraged her not only to agree to attend this conference, but also to commit to visiting that church when she comes back.
But then the next words she said, though meant to be celebratory, made my anxiety jump again:
“I think I’ve found my people at last!” she said.
Now, you would think that such a statement would delight me — and to an extent, it did. I’m thrilled to hear our faith tradition’s message is getting out into the world, reaching a new audience, spreading new hope, breathing new life. That part is wonderful.
And then I imagined all the wide and varied UU congregations this woman might walk into. I imagined her coming home from this incredible conference — her heart overflowing with powerful messages from some of the best black preachers in the country, and her spirit singing from the experience of marching in a giant mass of humanity across the Edmund Pettus Bridge — and I imagined how she might feel, what visions might be dancing in her head when she arrives home, and, with great anticipation, walks through the doors of that congregation.
And I wanted to ask, dear reader — how will she be received, if the congregation she walks into is yours?
You already know she’s a woman. Would it make a difference if I told you she was twenty — or seventy? Are you assuming she’s white? Or black? Or Native? Or Latina? Or Asian? Does it matter to you if her parents were immigrants? Or if her grandparents could remember slavery? Or if she grew up as a Daughter of the American Revolution?
When this woman walks through the doors of her local UU congregation, brimming with this fierce hope that, after years of believing she was alone, she’s finally — finally — found her true home, a faith where the flame of justice burns brightly, how will her fierceness be received?
Will you try to tame her? Will you ask her to conform to your way of doing things? Perhaps you’ll invite her, on her first visit, to join your Social Justice Committee, which meets on the third Wednesday of every month. Or, heaven forbid, I hope you don’t ask her to start a Social Justice Committee.
You see, I don’t want us to disappoint her, and I don’t want us to use her up. She understands that relationships take time to build — I think she’ll give us some time to get to know her, and for her to get to know us. And she certainly understands that the work of justice doesn’t happen overnight.
But I hope that this congregation — whoever you are — can embrace her (and her history, and her passion, and her ideas, and her deep longings). I hope, when she arrives unannounced at your door, that you have already begun the work, that you have a group building racial justice among your people.
I hope that, whoever she is, you warmly invite her in, that you sit with her in worship, that you introduce her to your friends at coffee hour, and that you make sure she knows you’ll be keeping an eye out for her next Sunday morning. I hope you go out of your way to make sure she’s encouraged to attend social functions, to build relationships.
In short, do everything in your power to make her fall in love with your congregation.
Offer her a feast to feed her spirit.
Shine your light so she can grow her soul.
Then you’ll be in the right place to serve the world by jumping into the work of racial justice together.
So I invite you to wonder, dear reader — is she coming to you?