In 2015, the UUA General Assembly voted to adopt support for the Black Lives Matter movement as part of our denomination’s commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression. Since coming here as your senior minister I have been concerned about our need to become active in this work. Our Eliminating Racism Discussion Group has been a good start in helping us learn to discuss the issue of racism and our part in living in a racist society. Sensing that there was more work to do, I am arranging for a select group of congregants to participate in a program through the Fahs Collaborative on Religious Education of the Meadville/Lombard Theological School entitled “Beloved Conversations”. We will run that program this winter.
In the meantime, African Americans continue to be killed in our streets. This coupled with the strident rhetoric coming out of the presidential campaign, is leaving some of us concerned about what we can do to be part of the solution. I felt that we, as a congregation, needed to take action on this sooner rather than later. And so, on Sunday 25 September, I announced to the congregation three steps we can take to be a part of the solution.
The first was to follow our Intern Minister, Lara Fuch’s leadership in learning and acting through the curriculum Defying Hate that was launched with the showing of the Ken Burns film, “Defying the Nazis” on PBS. Lara is initiating contacts with the Islamic Mosque in Norwalk as well as other interfaith contacts. This dovetails nicely with the “Building Bridges” curriculum our middle schoolers are doing in visiting other places of worship this year. In addition, she and David Vita are setting up a partner church relationship with an African American congregation in Bridgeport through our membership in the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport.
The second action I proposed was for some of us to participate in the Beloved Conversations Program this winter.
And finally, I proposed that we declare our solidarity with those who are marginalized by racism and poverty by putting up a banner along Lyons Plains Road that proclaims “Black Lives Matter”. This banner would be our intention to further support the Black Lives Matter movement in Fairfield County and beyond.
I realize this is controversial. Even as there was applause for the idea on Sunday there were some who were shaking their heads. The usual objection is that this is divisive and unnecessary. After all, don’t all lives matter? My short answer to this is “no”. All lives will matter when black and brown lives matter as much as white lives matter. Nevertheless, I believe we should hear from those who disagree with this direction in our ministry and so I have arranged for a meeting after each service this Sunday to hear from everyone who would like to speak on this topic. These 30 minute meetings, which I will facilitate, are known in Quaker meetings as “listening circles”. I have used them before to great affect. We will gather in a circle in the East Wing at 10:15 & 12:15 and after I have explained why we are taking this action, each participant will have up to two minutes to address the issue. There will be no discussion and no cross talk. I will end with a short closing.
The Board should also know that we will be informing the press of the banner being placed. David Vita and I are working on several talking points to explain our position to the community. To the best of my knowledge this is the first BLM banner in Westport. I fully expect the banner to be vandalized. We will continue to place another banner in its place after reporting that to the press. I will also announce that each time our banner is vandalized I will make a contribution to either the national BLM movement or the NAACP. I will be the only designated spokesman for the church in this effort.
I take this action as your called minister in hopes that despite the discomfort we might feel around this effort, in the long run we can have a positive impact on those in our community to work towards justice.
Yours in Faith and Service, Rev. John
Rev. Dr. John Morehouse
The Unitarian Church in Westport
10 Lyons Plains Road
Email: Rev. Dr. John Morehouse
Phone: 203-227-7205 ext. 12