Monday, February 05, 2018

The Promise & The Practice of Our Faith

Yesterday, Sunday February 4th, the congregation I serve engaged in an Association-wide project titled, "The Promise & The Practice of Our Faith."  It was designed to give our overwhelmingly white congregations an unfortunately rare -- if not entirely unique -- experience of centering the voices of People of Color.  A packet of resources was created from which congregations could craft their service.  Undoubtedly no two services were entirely alike, and yet the experience of white Unitarian Universalists hearing, unfiltered, the experiences of UUs of color was shared by all the congregations that participated.  The members of the congregation I serve spoke to me about how powerfully painfully -- and painfully powerful -- it was.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to the black UU religious professionals who contributed their time and talent in creating the materials which made this service possible.  I especially appreciate their willingness to share their stories in such honest, direct, and vulnerable ways, and to give those who create and facilitate worship in our congregations permission to share them.   So ... thank you:
Viola Abbitt, Rev. Carol Thomas Cissel, DeReau Farrar, Adrian Graham, Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson, Rayla Mattson, Rev. Rebekah Montgomery, Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout, Jae Pema-la Scott, Erica Shadowsong, Connie Simon, and Thomas.  (Thanks, too, to Rev. Erika Hewitt, the Minister of Worship Arts at the UUA, who does a fabulous job of curating the creative contributions which enrich our movement's worship.)
Even more so than usual this service embodied my belief that when we do this thing called "worship" correctly, the sermon consists of the entire service, and not just the words of the preacher.  With that in mind, these are all of the words that were heard in our sanctuary yesterday morning.

Good morning, and welcome to this convivial community.  This is a Unitarian Universalist congregation that strives to welcome all who would see this be a world in which all are welcome.  That welcome is not just generic, but personal – you, specifically and particularly, are welcome, whether you have been coming for decades or just walked through the door this morning.  It takes all of us, and each of us, to create this community, so thank you for being part of this moment.
That welcome includes inviting you to do what it is that you need to do to feel authentically present – close your eyes, take notes, knit.  Yet do be mindful that the people around you have their own needs which might differ from yours.  One thing we all need is to make sure that ours is not the cell phone that goes off during the service, so please take yours out and make sure that it is set to “silent.”  You don’t need to turn it off – some people need to be able to text or tweet to really be here – but do check that it is set to “silent.”
This is a lively congregation, and what happens here in the sanctuary, and next door in Children’s Worship and in our Religious Education programs, are just one part of what we’re about.  I encourage you to peruse the insert in your Order of Service to see what else is happening that you might want to be a part of.  (You can also go to our website – – to find out even more.)  There are a few things I would like to lift up for added attention:
<various announcements>
One last thing – some words about this morning’s service.  Congregations across the country are engaging in worship services this morning which draw on the resources created by a number of UU Religious Professionals of Color.  The effort is being called “The Promise & The Practice of our Faith, and asks the question, “What would it be like if our congregations – which are all predominantly white – were to experience worship through the voices and the perspectives of UUs of Color?  What would those of us who identify as white hear that we hadn’t before?  What would those of us who identify as People of Color hear lifted up that had never been lifted up in our usual white culture centric worship?”  The creators of the packet of resources we are using this morning described it this way:
“Our worship service this morning is uniquely prophetic: it calls to us who identify as white to listen, humbly and perhaps with some discomfort, to the lived reality of black Unitarian Universalists in our midst. This discomfort is both a gesture of hospitality to voices that have not been heard enough, and a sign that we’re growing in the right direction.
If you’re joining us today as a guest, know that you are witnessing this Unitarian Universalist congregation doing sacred work: collectively, we will wrestle with what it means to be a majority-white faith whose anti-racist intentions have not always been borne out. We invite you to witness this moment of transparency and vision, and to join us on future Sundays for a more traditional worship service.
When we are at our best, we who are Unitarian Universalists choose to make ourselves uncomfortable in the service of our meaning-making. We recognize our discomfort as evidence that we’re growing. Today, if you feel discomfort arise within you – especially if you’re white – we invite you to practice being curious, and to allow your discomfort to lead you to new learning.”
With these words of “official” welcome, these announcements, and that preparation offered, our worship can begin.  I’ll say again, it is good that you are here; it is good that we can be together.
May we join together in saying the words we say each week through which we try to express the depth of our welcome:   
Whoever you are, Whomever you love,
However you express your identity;
Whatever your situation in life,
Whatever your experience of the holy,
Your presence here is a gift.
Whether you are filled with sadness,
Overflowing with joy,
Needing to be alone with yourself,
Or eager to engage with others,
You have a place here. 
We all have a place here.
We all are welcome here.                                      
The words of our chalice lighting were written by the Rev. Rebekah Savage, who serves full time as the Associate Minister at the UU Congregation of Rockville, MD, and serves in the US Army Reserve.  She is completing a Doctorate in Ministry at Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC.  The words in your Order of Service are the last stanza. 
We light our flaming chalice as a beloved people
united in love
and thirsting for restorative justice.
May it melt away the tethers that uphold whiteness in our midst.
May it spark in us a spirit of humility.
May it ignite in us radical love that transforms our energy into purposeful action.
This a chalice of audacious hope.
This chalice shines a light on our shared past,
signaling our intention to listen deeply, reflect wisely,
and move boldly toward our highest ideals

~ Rev. Rebekah Savage

OPENING WORDS:  “Missing Voices” by Connie Simon
Our Opening Words were written by Connie Simon, who is serving as Intern Minister at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, and Contract Chaplain at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Following graduation from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 2018, she intends to pursue parish ministry.  She has offered for her words to be used in this service, even knowing that they will most likely be read by someone who identifies as white.  Her piece is titled, “Missing Voices”:
When I started attending a UU church, I was excited by the promise of worship that would draw from the arts, science, nature, literature and a multitude of voices. Indeed, some of the voices that Unitarian Universalists hear in worship each week belong to Thoreau, Emerson, Ballou, and others. Their words are beautiful, but they come from a culture and experience that’s foreign to me. When do I get to hear voices from my culture? I quickly learned that, other than the same few quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas,” it wasn’t gonna happen. I sit attentively and listen with my head to “their” voices while my heart longs to hear more of “our” voices.  
I am a Black Woman. When I look around on Sunday morning, I don’t see many people who look like me. In most of the congregations I visit, I don’t see anybody who looks like me. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t hear voices of people who share my experience. But it still hurts. I want to hear voices that tell the struggle of living under the weight of oppression in this culture of White Supremacy. I want to hear stories of trying to stay afloat in the water we swim in. I want to hear voices of Living While Black in America.
I don’t hear those voices in UU churches so I have to supplement my worship by reading black theologians like Anthony Pinn and Monica Coleman. I read Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and my favorite poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Though not a Unitarian or a Universalist, Dunbar chronicled the African American experience in the years following the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved Africans — a time of opportunities for blacks as we migrated north in droves seeking employment and education but also a time of continuing segregation, racism and oppression.
Dunbar acknowledged this tension in his writing. We hear him long for joy and prosperity while at the same time knowing that the system would conspire to keep true happiness just beyond his grasp. “A pint of joy to a peck of trouble and never a laugh but the moans come double; and that is life!” Still, he was a champion of social justice, believing that God has sympathy for the plight of the oppressed and that his grace will be bestowed not on those “who soar, but they who plod their rugged way, unhelped to God.”
For Dunbar, the struggle was real. One hundred years later, hearing Dunbar express his frustration and give voice to the contradictions of our existence as African Americans encourages me and nourishes my soul. His voice speaks to my heart. He knows my pain and understands my sadness, my fear and my rage. He understands the tears I cry as I pray for strength to get through another day in this world. He gives voice to my deep faith that real change is coming someday. He didn’t see it in his lifetime and I might not see it in mine, but I have to keep believing it’s possible.  
That’s the message many African Americans long to hear in church. I know that’s what I need to hear every now and then. Will it ever happen? Or will we always have to go “outside” to hear our voices? If that’s the case, maybe there’s no place for us in Unitarian Universalism. The thought of leaving is painful — but so is being in a faith that ignores our voices.  
OPENING HYMN  #1007, “There’s a River Flowing in My Soul”
FIRST REFLECTION:  “The Healing is Not Done” by Rev. Rebekah Savage.
Our first reflection is a sermon written by the Rev. Rebekah Savage, who wrote our Chalice Lighting.  Although these are not my words, nor my experience, Rev. Savage invited us to hear her words and her experience.  So let us all open our minds, and our hearts.  The sermon is titled, “The Healing Is Not Done.”
I play this moment over and over again in my head: the day I heard of the Thomas Jefferson Ball, hosted by Unitarian Universalists in 1993. As a person of color, raised in a UU congregation, I felt a shiver down my spine as I learned something new and unsettling about the faith that I call home.
You may be wondering why this gathering of UUs in 1993 struck me as a profoundly memorable and painful moment. Beloveds, this is why: attendees were encouraged to wear period clothes to the Ball to celebrate Thomas Jefferson, who attended Unitarian churches. In the spirit of welcome, those who conceived of this social gathering did not take into account the centering of whiteness by asking people to attend in period dress. The organizers forgot or ignored the fact that in Jefferson’s time, we black and brown UUs would have been slaves: property to traded and sold, brutalized and subjected.
The matter was taken up at General Assembly when delegates challenged the appropriateness of holding this event. During a plenary session, delegates voiced their concerns by reading a statement of protest. In response, the organizers and other leaders gathered to consider how to proceed and came to a decision: the Thomas Jefferson Ball would proceed ahead as planned.
I ask myself: What would I wear? Would I be a house slave, favored for my lighter skin and “good hair”? My skin is a light brown that my daughter refers to as cinnamon, a product of a beautiful multi-racial family history. Would I catch the eye of a white man who could leverage any opportunity to take my body as his property?
What would I wear? Would I have had shoes on my work worn feet? Would I have stretch marks across my belly from babies that were taken from me to sell to other plantations? Would I sing to myself faithful, mournful songs of liberation, dreaming for the day when I can taste freedom for myself and my family?
What would I wear? Would I be allowed to come through the front entrance or directed to the back, to enter through the kitchen with the other slaves and servants? Would I be allowed to drink from the same punch bowl, eat from the same platters? Would I sit with the other people of color, in a separate room or at the back of the gathering? Would I be permitted to look a white person in the eye or even speak their name?
What would I wear, dear beloved UU’s? Tell me: what I would have worn to attend this ball? What period clothes would represent who I would have been in Thomas Jefferson’s time?
When we feel something deeply and are still finding the words: OUCH.
Seriously, OUCH.
Why do I raise this deeply wounding moment in our shared UU history?
Because this isn’t just a reflection about my lived experience as a person of color in a majority-white denomination. This is also part of the story of how people of color experience sharing worship and community within our faith. It’s a chapter in the story of who we are as a people, living in this country, swimming in the waters of white supremacy and centering whiteness, supported by centuries of indoctrinations and institutional structures.
I grieve for the hurts that this time in our history caused. I grieve for those who left our communities because of how this event was handled, which broke their trust in finding spacious rest in our congregations from the pervasive, violent racism in our country. I grieve for those who, at the time, were unable to traverse the gaps in their spiritual understanding of justice and belonging. I grieve that it has taken this long to have this level of conversation about centering people of color.  
This Ball was conceived by well-meaning people, beloved kin of mine and yours, who were able to identify welcome only through the eyes of white privilege. That is the insidious nature of centering whiteness: it denies personhood and the God given right for all to be fully accounted.
To put primacy on whiteness as the default setting in how we see and experience our world means that we are being theologically inconsistent. We covenant to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, and yet we have devalued the full inclusion of too many.
In small ways, this trend emerges when music and readings for worship draw primarily from Anglo-European composers and writers and the paintings that hang in our congregations disproportionately represent our white foremothers and forefathers. We see this trend when congregational leadership is cultivated without honoring the diversity in our midst as a rich source of inspiration and prophetic messaging. We see this in considering that people of color have been a part of our living tradition for centuries — but our voices have been overlooked, silenced, or outright rejected with hostility.
I ignite my flame of justice and shine a light on this scar because the healing is not done. The healing is not done because we are still called to do the work of dismantling white supremacy culture and decentering whiteness from our bones: from our congregations, from the ways in which we interact and support each other. We are called to fulfill the promises once made in the name of faith and proclaiming Beloved Community. We are called to match our words with our actions, to bring the holy into our midst by truly and without fear honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
This is a beautiful time of opportunity, Beloveds, born of truly listening to people of color and beginning to repair the fabric of community that has been torn. Ripped asunder by years of broken and empty promises: words of good intention, unmatched by purposeful action.
I love being a Unitarian Universalist. I was birthed into this world with the calling of service on my heart; I was shaped and molded in our congregations. I also know that, as Dr. Cornell West shared with us in his 2015 Ware Lecture at General Assembly, if I have white supremacy in my heart because I was raised in this country, so do we all.
While I grieve, I also have much reason to claim hope. I celebrate where we are as a people of faith because we are bravely facing the devastation and illness of “othering” people. We are looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeking a new way. I celebrate that we have the moral and spiritual courage to listen deeply to voices that have been marginalized. I celebrate that beloveds are choosing to move back humbly, to make space for an evolution in leadership and consciousness. The spark of working towards the greatest good is seen in every moment of insight as so many are waking up to our participation in centering whiteness.
Beloveds, now is our time to lead with love and make right the ways our denomination has fallen short of our shared principles. We are a powerful, aspirational covenanted people and we are being called to account for our historic moral and spiritual failings, in order to move into authentic Beloved Community.
Now is our time to harness our ability to reflect inward in order to reemerge with a power greater than ourselves that gives rise to a new day. Beloveds, with love and peace in our hearts, may it be so.
At a future service during the week of our 75th Anniversary we will be taking a special collection, and asking for even more generosity, to support the organization Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (or BLUU).  As the UUA President has said, “Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism is one of the most exciting ways our faith is answering [the call to be the whole community we strive to become]. As a national ministry for and by black-identified Unitarian Universalists, BLUU embodies a liberating community of all ages. A community that lifts up the lives, and stories and the leadership of those who have been marginalized and silenced. A community that brings hope, when hope is hard to find. And a community that calls us to wrestle with the gap between our theology and our practice in the world.
This morning the offering we collect will go to serve our work, here, to become a different kind of community working to build a different kind of world.  It will support us in further our dream of becoming, as it has been said, “a powerhouse for racial justice.”  If you believe in the promise and the practice of our Unitarian Universalist faith, and in the work of this congregation as a manifestation of that faith, then I encourage you to be particularly generous with your financial support.  The ushers will now collect the offering.
If the ushers will come forward we can, together, dedicate the offering with the words in the Order of Service:
We accept these gifts with gratitude.
May we use them wisely and for the highest good.

Our second reflection is a sermon written by Rayla D. Mattson serves as the Director of Religious Education for a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Connecticut, where she has been serving for just over 5 years. She is proud that outside of congregational life, she is raising her three beautiful children as a single mom.  Her sermon is titled, “Tired of Being Silent”:
The summer of 2016 began as an exciting one for me: I was finally going to a beloved Unitarian Universalist conference and retreat center. I’d heard many wonderful stories about it, and I couldn’t wait to bring my three children with me. On the drive there, I felt excited about spending a full week in an entirely UU space. After all, it was my UU community that so lovingly embraced me after a very painful divorce and several painful years of church shopping. I needed this week. I needed this healing.  
As UUs descended on the camp and found their rooms, I began to introduce myself to others, and thought I noticed them offering me a cursory hello before making a quick getaway. Maybe, I thought, it was hard for people to speak to me because I had my one-year old in tow. Maybe they were eager to reconnect to old friends.  
There was one other black woman at the camp who I had noticed; I was thankful we both signed up for the same program. I asked her: Was it just me or did she, too, feel a distinct coldness from the others? I wanted to make sure that I was not being paranoid.
But unsettling things continued to happen. There was an issue with my daughter in childcare:  they felt she was a problem and difficult in comparison with the other children—although a very kind person noted that she couldn’t understand how my child was deemed “a problem” when she was doing the same things all the other children were doing. Then a black child the same age as my son—12 years old—came crying to me one night. He was being bullied—but he wasn’t being heard, because the adults around him insisted that they “knew that girl and she would never say those things.” The child trusted that as a black mother, I was the only person at the camp who would listen and believe him. I brought the matter out in the open. The typical excuses followed, like the boy misunderstood what she meant and he was just being too sensitive, and it was just in fun, and nothing was really meant by her comments.
I tuned those excuses out. And I spent a lot of time alone that week. When my daughter and I walked around the conference center, I saw reminders of racism everywhere, from the statues and memorials to the paintings on the walls. It was everywhere; it was clear as day: “Your kind are not welcome here.”
I would end my strolls by going to the dining hall, only to find there was no table for me—not because there weren’t empty chairs, but because I was told that there was no room at the table for me and my toddler. The empty seats were for other people, I was told, and they couldn’t make room for me. The pattern became so distressing that on most days I considered not eating—but I couldn’t let my child starve. If my new friend was there, she always made room for me. And there were the kids.
After the incident with the young black boy, the kids came to me quite a bit to mediate things going on between them. They even took turns giving me a break from my little one. Eventually one of them would see me trying to find a table and no matter how many people were at their table, they would find a way to squeeze me and my little one in. As kind as they were, they ate quickly and were off. And again, I was left alone in the silence. As all the tables around me buzzed with talk and laughter and I sat there alone staring at my one year old.
Then one evening my youngest finally settled down enough for me to attend evening worship. I was so excited; I grabbed my lantern and journeyed to the chapel. The guest speaker spoke so eloquently talking about what he called “the elephant” in the space—how the camp was rooted in racism. His words brought me to the edge of my seat. I was thrilled and excited: I hadn’t been paranoid! This white man saw what I saw. He was naming my hurt, my truth and I was elated.
As we left worship, my heart felt light. In the darkness that surrounded us, the voices started. I heard campers—who couldn’t see me, a black woman, listening—agree that it was one of the worst services they had been to at the camp. And how they couldn’t believe he dared to say those things. And how they, who come to the chapel to be uplifted, did not want to have that kind of mess thrown in their face.
I melted into the darkness that surrounded us. That night I cried myself to sleep.
When I left the camp at the end of the week, the knot that had formed in my stomach started to ease.
Once home, I shared my story—my truth—with multiple people who were connected to the camp and its programs; people who I believed might use my experience to make future conferences and retreats more welcoming. I even offered to teach, to add some diversity to future retreats. I was told by each person that they would pass on my information and have someone contact me so they could get a better idea of what happened and how I felt so it wouldn’t happen to others. That never happened. I sent several emails and responded to all the surveys and asked to be heard. But as usual when I bring up concerns about race, there is only silence in response.
Fast forward nearly a year, and the approach of another summer. My oldest two children chatted excitedly about going back to the camp. Although I had explained that it took two years of funds and planning to go, they were still hopeful that we could make it work for this summer. I felt anxious; I felt guilty; and I could feel the knot creeping back into my stomach. I wanted them to see their friends and go back to a place that they come to love—and yet, I could not see myself stepping foot in that retreat center.
I broke down one day: I shared with my oldest two children my experiences the previous summer. Their father is white and at times I choose not to tell them things that I feel would cast a negative light on white people as to not give them negative feelings towards their family or be torn about their own genetic make-up. But I could be silent no more. And as I shared with them my experiences and my time at the camp, they sat there not saying a word but staring at me with silent tears rolling down their cheeks. They asked me why I didn’t say anything during our week at the camp. Why hadn’t I shared with them sooner?  Like a lot of parents, I answered that I wanted to protect them and not give a negative light to such an enriching experience they had had.
My oldest child then asked me if I often sit in silence and hold in the pain. I answered him truthfully. I answered with a “YES.”
Many times as a black woman, I hold in my pain and my experiences to protect others. To keep and hold up the white fragility that I have been taught, or rather trained, to value more than my own feelings and my own experiences—more, even, than my own needs and self-worth. I have been trained to minimize myself, my light, my voice. To Just grin and bear it. To put up with it because I should know  that they mean well. Or I didn’t want to seem too sensitive or be the “angry” black person in the room.
But I’m tired of being silent. It’s a heavy load to carry day in and day out. Sometimes, I’d like to take off my blackness and pick it up another day; sometimes it’s just too heavy a load. But I can’t, so I press on. So, I ask this question whenever someone will listen, “Who is standing in your dining hall looking for a seat at the table? And can you make room for them too?”
A MUSICAL RESPONSE:  #1031, “Filled With Loving Kindness” 
The stories we have heard so far this morning are so radically different that the experiences many, if not most, of us here have had, they paint a picture of a Unitarian Universalism that is almost, if not entirely, unrecognizable.  They are so different as to be almost unbelievable, yet they are part of our shared, whole, Unitarian Universalist reality.  So we’re going to take a moment of silence now, so that we can take into ourselves these truths many of us would rather not have to face and, perhaps, so that they can take root in our spirits.  In this silence, I encourage you to look at any push-back you might be feeling, any resistance, any disbelieve, any pain.
LITANY:  “The Promise That Binds” by Viola Abbitt
This morning we will share a litany written by Viola Abbitt, who is a candidate for the Unitarian Universalist ministry, and a seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School. She is currently the ministerial intern at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Greater Springfield in Massachusetts, and a board member at Unirondack.  “The Promise That Binds”
Loving inclusion has been an elusive goal within our congregations.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
Many hearts have been, and often continue to be, broken, time and again.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
The names of many of those of us who helped to make this denomination great were erased, their existence forgotten.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
The pulpits and pews which should have been warm and welcoming, were instead sometimes cold and unforgiving.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
People who were considered pillars in their communities, were sometimes considered pariahs within the walls of our congregations.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should have been enough to bind us together in love.
Many of us straddle two worlds: one of filiation and one of faith.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should be enough to bind us together in love.
Our beauty is that we are all different, and yet not different from one another.  None of us should be considered exceptions, nor should we be subjected to baseless assumptions.
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, should be enough to bind us together in love.
The future of this faith is reliant on and belongs to all who embrace religious liberalism. Let us never forget that…
We are a covenantal people, and the promise of our faith, which was enough to bring us together, is enough to bind us together in love.

Our Parting Words were written by the Rev. Kimberly Quinn Johnson, who serves as the ordained minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork. She notes that among her specialties are anti-racism and youth ministry.  Her piece, titled “Black Joy,” begins with a poem by Barbara A Holmes:
Joy Unspeakable
is not silent,
it moans, hums, and bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe….
For our free African ancestors,
joy unspeakable is drum talk…
For enslaved Africans during the
Middle Passage,
joy unspeakable is the surprise
of living one more day…
For Africans in bondage
 in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is the moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor…
Joy unspeakable is humming
“how I got over”
After swimming safely
to the other shore of a swollen Ohio river
when you know that you can’t swim.
When theologian Barbara A. Holmes talks about “joy unspeakable,” she’s talking specifically about how the contemplative practices of the Black church have sustained Black people in America through suffering and survival. More than referring to a particular church or denomination, this experience is collective and transhistorical. It’s also a different expression of Black religion than I’m expected to exhibit, as a Black woman.
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a particular mode of black worship projected onto me: the more charismatic modes of Black worship that we’re so familiar with—the shout, the stomp, the song. That particular style of Black worship sometimes strikes me as a caricature of joy—a shallow stereotype. I see this in the expectation that more “black” worship will bring more lively singing, more rhythmic clapping, more energetic worship. I see this in the anxiety that more “black” worship will bring more lively singing, more rhythmic clapping, more energetic worship. The shout. The stomp. The song.
But this caricature—this stereotype—is a narrow sliver of the complexity and the richness of black spirituality and black worship.
The modes of black spirituality that are most powerful, nourishing and nurturing for me aren’t the stomp, shout or song. Instead, I think of the rock, the sway, the bend, the moan, the hum. And I think of these things done in community. I marvel that in the midst of sadness and sorrow, in the midst of feeling the effects of generations of trauma wrought by racism and white supremacy, we can still find joy with each other. We are finding joy in each other.
I call it Black Joy because I am Black and it is the joy that I have been familiar with my whole life. It is the joy that I have learned from Black people. It is the joy created through our collective healing — our laying down of burdens, to be picked up and shared by our people, our community. This is not joy in spite of suffering — a mask put on to hide pain, an armor put on to push through pain. This is an embrace, holding and soothing us in our suffering. This Black Joy, is joy created through our being together. This Black Joy reminds me that I am not alone, that trouble don’t last always, that I am held and carried forward by a power beyond what I can comprehend.
I call it Black Joy, but I want to offer it—to the extent that it is mine to offer—to this faith. One of my gifts to Unitarian Universalism is the suggestion that joy is ours. We are the people who commit to justice, equity, and compassion. We are the people who aspire to world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. We are the people who affirm our interdependence with each other and the universe itself. I want to challenge Unitarian Universalism and Unitarian Universalists to claim Joy.
Unitarian Universalist Joy will require a different way of imagining ourselves and a different way of being with each other. Claiming the possibility of Unitarian Universalist joy requires making space for the surprise that Holmes describes. Claiming the possibility of Unitarian Universalist joy requires slowing down to hear the talk of the drum—pausing to move to the rhythms of the drum. Unitarian Universalist joy requires opening to the possibility of the mystical encounter. Unitarian Universalist joy requires embodying this faith differently than many of us are accustomed to.
HYMN OF GOING FORTH #95, “There is More Love Somewhere”
The words of our Benediction were written by Kimberly Quinn Johnson.  The repeated, and well-known, words, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” originate with June Jordan, from her work, “Poem for South African Women,” which she presented at the United Nations on August 9, 1978:
We are the ones we have been waiting for.*
We are not perfect, but we are perfectly fitted for this day.
We are not without fault,
but we can be honest to face our past as we chart a new future.
We are the ones we have been waiting for.
May we be bold and courageous to chart that new future
May we have faith in a future that is not known
We are the ones we have been waiting for.*

Pax tecum,