The work of social justice and action lives throughout our congregation, and the issues on which we are working are innumerable. The brightest spot of hope that I have seen in recent days in Unitarian Universalist social justice is a community acquaintance’s comment about UU congregations being “the people who show up.” I hope that this will be our social action – showing up for the people who ask us to, in times that compel us to, and for the natural world that weeps. We can take many approaches, but we will be known by our actions and our willingness to be present when our presence has been requested, in relationship with the people who have asked. I think we best reflect our tradition’s heritage when we leverage our community’s assets and resources to perform concrete actions. Rather than an approach that condemns others, highlighting their failings, I am interested in the work we can do to make positive changes in our own lives and in service to our relationships with those around us.
One of my favourite songs from young adult community I first learned in a workshop on women’s leadership in ministry. I have come back to it many times for personal reflection and congregational singing. “Do not walk in front of me, I may not follow. Do not walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and hold my hand. Together we’ll be walking in the path of HaShem.” This song speaks to the shape that I imagine my ministry taking, particularly as it relates to social justice.
I want to learn about Westside’s connections to other community groups, to our history of justice and action, to the relationships we have formed and the ones we want to nurture. While there are issues that draw and compel me, my work is to support you in yours, and to find ours. We can do work together, as a community, gathering in shared purpose, and integrated through our adult and children’s programs. We can also do work as a network of individuals, recognizing that in any congregation, there are often as many justice issues as there are people in the pews and we can build skills for organizing and share information without each issue becoming a congregational priority. And we can do the personal work that makes so much of the rest possible.
My approach to anti-oppression work, as with most other areas of my ministry, is strongly relational. It’s also very personal, having been marching my whole life with dear friends and folks with myriad marginalized identities who have been oppressed. It’s also personal in that I recognize too often that there are still places where I don’t recognize my privilege, places where I’ve unconsciously made mistakes, places where I’ve offered equality rather than equity or failed to honour the intersectional experience and centered the dominant group. In short, there are still places in me that I need to find courage to acknowledge and strength to work through. We all have these places, and my ministerial approach is not to shy away from them, not to indulge white or male fragility at the expense of oppressed peoples, but to offer myself as someone who is learning and working and willing to try again with anyone who is coming along.
My ministerial responsibility is to help the congregation to recognize the collective dimensions to anti-oppression work – identifying the ways in which our system, our tradition, and our practices can create or contribute to patriarchal, white-supremacism and colonial oppression, and to seek to remedy those. Also to be an effective ally/accomplice to folks with marginalized identities, inviting their leadership and seeking accountability. My ministry can’t simply have an anti-oppression Sunday, it has to be woven into all of the work we do.