TeachIn2 Resources - Worship Track
The way we worship tells us a great deal about who we are as a place and as a faith community. That’s why our ask was for congregations to shift Sunday morning programming--including worship--to signal that y’all, like UU communities all over the country (and beyond!), are willing to shift “business as usual” to address this in a spiritual way, and not just with conversation.
Greetings from Aisha Ansano, an-about-to-be-Rev living in the Boston area, and Kenny Wiley, a UU World senior editor and Black Lives of UU leader in Denver! We are two young adult UU leaders of color, and, with the help of Anna Bethea, Elizabeth Nguyen, Luis Catalan, Rhea Brown-Bright, Colleen Lee, Nancy Combs-Morgan, and Gail Forsyth-Vail, we’re bringing you a host of resources to help you plan your October 15, 22, or otherwise upcoming worship service and UU White Supremacy Teach-in.
If you helped plan your community’s first teach-in, you likely know that we created a worship guide for it. We thought it important to make another one. Our hope is that this guide helps you--clergy and religious educators and lay leaders alike--to assist your community in having a worship that feels and lives and experiences instead of just thinks.
For the Google Doc version of this guide, click here.
We’ve split up the resource guide into five parts:
Our hope is that this worship you create, using options we share and also drawing on your own experience, centers voices and people of color, while also helping participants not just think about challenging white supremacy culture, but to feel and embody the struggle.
Wondering questions for worship
How do I help people in my congregation see activism as spiritual, faith work, rather than sometime separate?
Where in our tradition do we ground faith-based activism work?
What is church for? Why do church?
Who is church for?
For those last two questions, what we want folks to think about is, Who is your particular church actually serving? Does that differ from its ideals? We’re not just talking about the number of people of color in the pews, but also about the norms, and style, and customs of your church. Who feels welcomed? Who feels like they’ve been specifically included?
On a recent Facebook post, Kayla Parker, minister of the UU Congregation of Charleston, West Virginia, wrote, “It's way easier for me to theoretically say ‘what’ church is about - and can get pretty idealistic in great ways. But the ‘who’ makes me, at least, a little more honest. Who was that sermon actually for? Talking and discussing things in terms of that question brings us down to earth in ways that I think are helpful. And yes, helps us (everyone, but I'm talking particularly white people in power) realize that we naturally make things just for us all to often.”
That tendency to make things “just for us”, which we feel is pervasive in Unitarian Universalism, is why we feel strongly about helping teach-in participants have a different worship experience.
Words from Emerson, as well as a conversation between Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, may be helpful in honing in on what we’re hoping to convey in this worship guide, and what we want coming through in your teach-in. First, words from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1838 Divinity School Address, familiar to many UU leaders:
I once heard a preacher who sorely tempted me to say, I would go to church no more...A snow storm was falling around us. The snow storm was real; the preacher merely spectral; and the eye felt the sad contrast in looking at him, and then out of the window behind him, into the beautiful meteor of the snow. He had lived in vain. He had not one word intimating that he had laughed or wept, was married or in love, had been commended, or cheated, or chagrined.
If he had ever lived and acted, we were none the wiser for it. The capital secret of his profession, namely, to convert life into truth, he had not learned. Not one fact in all his experience, had he yet imported into his doctrine. This man had ploughed, and planted, and talked, and bought, and sold; he had read books; he had eaten and drunken; his head aches; his heart throbs; he smiles and suffers; yet was there not a surmise, a hint, in all the discourse, that he had ever lived at all.
Worship needs to impact us emotionally, spiritually...we need to feel that the preacher has “lived or acted,” in Emerson’s words. We’ve often heard UUs of color say something like, “Unitarian Universalism is my theological home, but I don’t feel much in worship.” Especially when talking about white supremacy, we are hoping you’ll help folks enter into “heart space” as well as “head space.” We want to be able to say more than “oh, that was nice!” at the end of a UU service. We want to “laugh, think, and cry,” as the late North Carolina State men’s basketball coach Jim Valvano said.
Maya Angelou turned forty on April 4, 1968. She had planned a big party in Harlem, with many of the day’s black intellectual elite among the guests. History had other ideas; Dr. King’s assassination sent Angelou into a weeks-long depression. It was fellow writer James Baldwin who helped her dig out of it. Angelou recalls Baldwin’s assistance in her book A Song Flung Up to Heaven, where she writes that laughter and ancestral guidance got her through:
There was very little serious conversation. The times were so solemn and the daily news so somber that we snatched mirth from unlikely places and gave servings of it to one another with both hands. . . . I told Jimmy I was so glad to laugh. Jimmy said, “We survived slavery. . . . You know how we survived? We put surviving into our poems and into our songs. We put it into our folk tales. We danced surviving in Congo Square in New Orleans and put it in our pots when we cooked pinto beans. . . . [W]e knew, if we wanted to survive, we had better lift our own spirits. So we laughed whenever we got the chance.”
This story is deeply familiar to many folks of color, within Unitarian Universalism and beyond it. The laughter, the camaraderie in the kitchen, the art and music...these are the things that sustain us and keep us on the road when things get tough.
Clapping. Verbal talkback. Length of service.
Something I do when I lead worship is I say, “Multiple forms of expression are welcome here. If you like to sit quietly and listen deeply with your eyes closed, I’m cool with that. If you talk back to the preacher, that’s welcome, too.”
At the Black Lives of UU convening in New Orleans in March, just over 100 black UUs--and some “UU-adjacent” activists--came together and worshipped. I mean, my goodness. We danced, swayed, sang, sat silently, prayed, raised hands in praise, and so much more.
We sang some of the “regular” UU hymns. We sang some Christian hymns. Some prayers began with “Spirit of Life.” Others began with “Dear God.” Some folks danced in the aisles. Others listened quietly.
Why does this matter as you and your worship team prepare your teach-in? It is essential that you know that there’s no one way to be a black UU. The stereotype is that every black person wants to pump their fist high in the air as the pianist cranks “When Our Heart is in a Holy Place.” The truth is, some of us do. Others would rather be stuck at an overpriced restaurant for three hours with Clarence Thomas than show outward emotion in worship.
What matters is that you and your team help build a space where it’s clear that different expressions of worship--of being--are welcome. Again, you know your community’s culture. Ask, maybe even out loud in worship, “Would we really welcome someone saying ‘preach it, Rev!’ or ‘Well..’ every fifteen seconds? And if not, what might that say about us?”
2. Grounding Words
The words you use to open your worship service go a long way towards setting the tone for the service. Think about how you want to get things going. Do you want people to be in a reflective mood? A participatory one? What ideas, themes, and topics do you want to bring into the room?
Maybe what your people need is a reminder about whose leadership is key in racial justice work. In the below reading, Aisha reminds white folks that no matter how much work you are doing in the struggle for racial justice, at the end of the day you always have the ability to disengage from it--and people of color don’t. The work of racial justice, and of healing, must be led by the people whose lives are affected by it, with allies and accomplices following that lead:
No matter what tactics and methods racial justice activists use, the general response of society will be a collective head-shaking and tsk-tsk-ing — because what people are actually complaining about are not the specific tactics that are being used in the struggle for racial justice, but that the struggle for racial justice exists at all.
I imagine that for most people, the immediate reaction to that statement is defensiveness. “I really don’t think that the struggle for racial justice shouldn’t exist,” some might respond. “I just think there are better ways to go about it than blocking traffic and making me late for work. I get annoyed and frustrated and it really doesn’t convince me to join your fight.”
What, exactly, is going to convince that person to join the fight? Picket signs on the side of the road? Then they’ll just think, “Look at those troublemakers disturbing the peace over there,” as they drive on their way to work. Then they'll promptly forget about it.
It’s not the specific methods that are making people uncomfortable. It’s the fact that the struggle for racial justice is seeping into their awareness in ways that they can’t ignore.
Think about it in terms of this metaphor: You're visiting a foreign country where the customs are very different from what you are used to, and the language is different, and some of the things they do are not only different but make you feel deeply uncomfortable. As a guest in that country, it is not for you to say that the things that people who live there are doing are wrong. Instead, your role is to learn, to pay attention and try to understand how things work, and to adapt. But if you do something that goes against their norms, it's also your role as a guest to not insist that they let you do things however you want to do them. It is your role as a guest to pause and consider what you’re doing.
White people tend to be visitors to the struggle for racial justice, ones that aren’t forced to be there but can choose to come in and leave whenever they like. People of color reside in the struggle for racial justice by virtue of their race. As people who are constantly in the struggle, people of color have the right to make claims on what they find okay and not okay, what they see as helpful and not helpful.
A potential litany/responsive reading: Dr. King’s “I wouldn’t stop there”: This is from Dr. King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” delivered April 3, 1968 in Memphis. Can be read responsively with great energy, getting people participating in the service from the beginning. This reading can help people visualize where we’ve been and where we may be going, which fits in with our hopes for the worship:
Leader: Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God's children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land.
Congregation: And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there.
Leader: I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.
Congregation: But I wouldn't stop there.
Leader: I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders.
Congregation: But I wouldn't stop there.
Leader: I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg.
Congregation: But I wouldn't stop there.
Leader: I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation.
Congregation: But I wouldn't stop there.
Leader: I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but "fear itself."
Congregation: But I wouldn't stop there.
Leader: Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy."
Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick.
Congregation: But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in a way that we, in some strange way, are responding.
Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."
An excerpt from Laura Mariko Cheifetz’ Race Gives Me Poetry, talking about the belongingness of identity, and the differences between racial identity and racism:
"No person from Asia shows up in the U.S. and automatically feels linked to people from other Asian countries. What binds us together? American racism. Racism is about dehumanizing us, but racial identity isn’t bad. Racism strips me of my humanity, and racial identity hands it right back. Racial identity is beautiful. Racial identity is powerful. God made us different and lovely and through the ugliness of white supremacy, some of us have found belonging.”
You could invite your folks to think about relationships and how they can influence change with these words from Micky ScottBey Jones:
"relationship is the sandpaper that wears away our resistance to change. Relationship is the abrasion that agitates enough to make a way forward. Relationship – consistent and ongoing encounter with people and perspectives different than our own – it smoothes the way for the sacred, even as it rubs us raw."
A short reading by Rev. Mel Hoover, found in Been in the Storm So Long, a collection of poems, prayers, and meditations from Black UUs:
We can dare to face ourselves in our entirety,
to understand our pain,
to feel the tears,
to listen to our frustration and confusion, and
to discover new capacities and capabilities that
will empower and transform us.
Another choice from Been in the Storm So Long is by Rev. Thandeka, who writes about despair and hope in the world:
This common world I love anew
as the life blood of generations
who refused to surrender their humanity
in an inhumane world
courses through my veins.
From within this world
my despair is transformed to hope
and I begin anew
the legacy of caring.
From Wade McCree, Jr. in Been in the Storm So Long, words about what it means to be religious.
If one fights relentlessly against injustice, want, hate and every form of exploitation, then one is a religious person. The love of God is not expressed by ritual or ceremony, but by loving.
And one last option we want to offer from Been in the Storm So Long (though there are many other pieces in the book that you should check out!)--these words from Jacqui James about darkness, reminding us that the dark can be a good thing:
Welcome darkness. Don’t be afraid of it or deny it. Darkness brings relief from blinding sun, from scorching heat, from exhausting labor. Night signals permission to rest, to be with our loved ones, to conceive new life, to search our hearts to remember our dreams. The dark of winter is a time of hibernation. Seeds grow in the dark, fertile earth.” -Jacqui James (Been in the Storm So Long)
From Rev. David H. Eaton, the first Black minister to serve as senior minister of a large UU church, from “On Living in the City.” He offers words about possibilities and truth:
"To be creative we must begin to nurture sensibilities to all sources, not just those that are respected and safe. We must be open to every human possibility, to truth from every source, not just from scholars and persons we consider enlightened. We must learn to recognize truth regardless of where it may originate and from whom it may come."
An option from our hymnal for opening words: reading #580, the words of Mark Morrison-Reed about the task of religious community.
The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice. It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community
It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.
A beautiful poem by Rev. Marta I Valentin:
Spirit of the circle that is Love,
as we twirl in this dance that is life
we give thanks for reminding us each day
of our task of ministering to each “other”
with a searching glance,
a safe touch,
a generous smile,
a thoughtful word...
Thank you for reminding us
that we are always building our beloved comunidad.
Thank you for reminding us
that through our covenant with you
we covenant with each “other”
and are made whole.
Words from Laila Ibrahim in Bless the Imperfect: Meditations for Congregational Leaders, which remind us of the why of church:
Because we are not in church to be with people who want to sing the same music, or rally for the same cause, or attend the same retreats. We are in church to learn to love better…. We disagree, we annoy, we flake out on one another. And we worship, we support, we hold, and we affirm one another…. This is really only one choice: between imperfect community and no community. Again and again, we are all called to choose to commit ourselves to building a more just, more diverse, and yet ever messy and imperfect beloved community. -Laila Ibrahim, Bless the Imperfect
A piece from Rev. Leslie Takahashi in Voices from the Margins: An Anthology of Mediations (which offers many other good readings as well!):
Walk the maze
Within your heart: guide your steps into its questioning curves.
This labyrinth is a puzzle leading you deeper into your own truths.
Listen in the twists and turns.
Listen in the openness within all searching.
Listen: a wisdom within you calls to a wisdom beyond you and in that dialogue lies peace.
Rev. A. Powell Davies, a White Unitarian minister, reminds us what church and worship are for:
“For what is a church but dreams and hopes and yearnings? And what is worship but the longing of the lonely human heart?"
3. Embodied Practice
This first suggestion for an embodied practice to use in worship was written and developed by Anna Bethea (pronounced Beth-AY), UUA Outreach Associate and a Japanese-American woman. The Felt Sense of White Supremacy:
There is a body of work that focuses on the implicit associations we make in our bodies tied to emotional response. These associations are our “gut” reactions, and take precedent over and are often more powerful than our rational intellect. If we are to change the way we perceive ourselves or others, it’s helpful to come to terms with what our bodies are telling us about our beliefs and narratives. This is helpful for both people of color and white folks, as there are often oppressions and messages we’ve internalized from the dominant culture all our lives. For reference: https://transitionnetwork.org/news-and-blog/roots-white-supremacy-bodies/
The following reading may be especially powerful if the audience is asked to close their eyes as they feel comfortable, to remove visual distractions. If you’d like a more meditative experience, you can replace references to specific sensations with “How does your body feel when…” and the “Or” lines with “Perhaps you’re numb…” and “Perhaps your whole body aches.” Either way, preface it by saying there is no right or wrong way to feel. It’s the meaning that we make about the sensation (or lack thereof) that can be the opening to understanding our own implicit responses. Be open to exploring the meaning with others you’re close to and respect.
Does your heart feel pierced when another person who looks like you or looks like your brother is gunned down, a spectacle commissioned by the people who swear an oath to protect your community?
Does your mouth go dry, your throat close up, when you come face to face with a realization of your own perpetuation of white cultural norms or an ignorance of other worthy ways of being?
Or are you numb all over b/c your body has decided this is too much for you to bear? Your mind says go, your body says no.
Does your stomach churn when tu familia is hunted down and expelled from the places they risked to go to carve out a better life?
Do your arms go numb when you feel helpless to do anything to console, to mend, to fix the injustices you see all around you?
Or does your whole body ache, telling you to close into yourself, to cut ties with a world that is just… too much?
These are the effects of white supremacy on our bodies. Yours and the others in this room.
There is a place where these can be healed - in a beloved community which sees, hears, and experiences these ills alongside you and chooses to care, to get involved, to connect.
This beloved community is the place where you can reclaim your time to process the horror and the disconnect the rest of the world would rather sweep under the rug.
This is where you can belong because you are loved, not loved because you belong.
In a beloved community, you’ll be reminded of some truths that transcend the chaos and the oppression that the dominant culture denies:
That your body is... free.
Your mind is... free.
And your love is … a gift, ready for the giving in every moment.
You are the one we’ve been waiting for to take part, build, and bolster this community for any who seek refuge.
adrienne maree brown offers a practice for “if you are overwhelmed with fear and terror,” which you can offer in worship. This practice is pretty different from the rituals we typically do in UU churches, but there is power in getting people face to face and participating in ritual together:
“it’s also a great time to stop being polite. be loving, kind, direct. but most of all, be truthful – full of the capacity to speak the truth when you see and feel it.
i remain fascinated by us, anticipating how we will move beyond reactionary rhetoric and action, to build our connections and move forward from our deepest love and longing.
if you are overwhelmed with fear and terror, find a friend, sit face to face, and do this together:
first, take turns naming your fears and/or griefs. let feeling come with them. with your hands show where the fears live in your body. mirror each other, so you both get the experience of seeing your grief on another.
second, place your hands on your bellies and take turns naming things that make you feel resilient. imagine those things filling you up. rock and roll a bit, make more room for resilience inside yourselves.
third, offer gratitude to each other for both having the complexity to hold grief/fear and resilience in the same miraculous body.
one day at a time. one brave, loving, radical day at a time.”
Invite people to participate in morning prayers to the universe, your ancestors, your guiding spirits, with offerings and suggestions from Francisca Porchas.
For 30 Days of Love 2017, Caitlin Breedlove offered a series of practices for commitment and sustenance. They include:
‘Map of Leaders’ Morning Meditation, which includes writing the names of leaders whose work our collective success is tied to, and sending them salutations
Living on the Side of Love: “For Unitarian Universalists ‘Standing on the Side of Love’ has been a rallying cry for faith in action. But what does living on the side of love look like when loving is hard, enraging, boring, scary? What are ways that you are living on the side of love in your daily life?”
‘Willing to be Transformed’ Annual Ritual, a practice of brainstorming ways to transform and grow in the service of justice
Bitterness Purge Ritual, sharing the bitterness we want to let go of and gratitude for partners who are willing to bear witness and help us grow
When We Win Artistic Practice, creating art in response to the prompt “Imagine yourself sometime in the future. You are walking down a familiar street in a place you know. What do you see and experience that let’s you know that freedom & liberation has come? That reparations, equity and justice have been woven into the fabric of your interactions and your environment?”
Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken of the UUA Youth and Young Adult Office offers Spiritual Practices for White Anxiety aimed specifically for white folks.
Some of this we carried over from the first guide.
First, some words from the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen of the UUA Youth and Young Adult office, about a song that some UU religious professionals of color (and others) have come to find incredibly meaningful:
I first heard the song below at Finding Our Way Home 2017, the gathering for UU religious professionals of color, at the beautiful child dedication for Rev. Mykal Slack and LeLaina Romero’s amazing baby Zora. Tet Gallardo, the Balazs Scholar 2016-2017 at Starr King School for the Ministry, taught it, offering these powerful words and melody by Shoshana Jedwab for us to sing as people of color, for people of color, as a commitment to each other and to bless a new life. I taught it later to the Thrive Young Adult community who sang it to each other we struggled as diverse young folks of color with the ways we’ve pushed apart by colonialism, colorism, patriarchy. I learned it with a beat, lots of tears, more than a lot of smiles, and the sweetness and power of knowing that even the pains of this world are no match for family. - Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen
A recording can be found at minute 1:07:40 of this recording, sung by Rev. Marta Valentín. (Note: at the moment, the video is only accessible to UUMA members signed into their accounts. We are trying to determine if it will be made public..but until then, please find a friendly UUMA member who can share it with you!)
Where you go I will go Beloved,
Where you go I will go
Cause your people are my people
Your divine my divine
Minute 1:07:40 by Shoshana Jedwab sung by Rev. Marta Valentín
Dr. Vincent Harding, who was a friend and advisor of Dr. King’s, and wrote Dr. King’s ‘Vietnam’ speech delivered on April 4, 1967, was a legend and a mentor to so many folks worldwide, and especially in my city of Denver. In Denver circles, he is widely credited with spreading the song “We Are Building Up A New World,” sung to the tune of “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” and it’s used often at activist and spiritual events in my city. In some settings, people sing the first verse again instead of the third verse. Your call. It’s a beautiful song that calls us to the enormity of the task ahead, and also gives us courage for the journey:
We are building up a new world
We are building up a new world
We are building up a new world
Builders must be strong.
Courage, sisters, don’t get weary
Courage, brothers, don’t get weary
Courage, people, don’t get weary
Though the way be long.
Rise, shine, give God glory (x3)
Children of the light.
Spanish version (permission given by Rev. Anne Dunlap for one-time use):
We are building up a new world
We are building up a new world
We are building up a new world
Builders must be strong…
Construimos un mundo nuevo///
Fuertes somos hoy…
Courage, sister, don’t get weary
Courage, brother, don’t get weary
Courage, people, don’t get weary
Though the way be long
Valor, hermana, no se canse
Valor, hermano, no se canse
Valor, pueblo, no se canse
Fuertes somos hoy.
Rise, shine, give God glory
Rise, shine, give God glory
Rise, shine, give God glory
Children of the light
Levanta, brilla, Gloria a Dios///
Pueblo de la luz.
Dr. Vincent Harding/Rev. Anne Dunlap
Olam chesed yibaneh, an offering from folks of IfNotNow, a movement led by young American Jews for freedom and dignity for all, including those living in Palestine. The song is adapted from Rabbi Menachem Creditor, who wrote it after 9/11. The words mean, we will build this world with love.
Another offering from IfNotNow is “We Rise,” inspired “by the powerful, prayerful resistance Batya LEvine witnessed and experienced at Standing Rock. This song is an attempt to remember and to hold that model of resistance in our hearts and in our minds.”
We Rise… humbly hearted
Rise... won’t be divided
Rise... with spirit to guide us
In hope, in prayer, we find ourselves here
In hope, in prayer, we’re right here!
We Rise… all of the children
Rise... elders with wisdom
Rise... ancestors surround us
We Rise… up from the wreckage
Rise... with tears and with courage
Rise… fighting for life
(Chorus & Repeat verse 1)
Another song found on the IfNotNow soundcloud, and sung in this video by some UUs is Courage my friend, you do not go alone. We will go with you and sing your spirit home. The song comes from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
A song from Plum Village, a Mindfulness Practice Centre in France founded by Thich Nhat Hahn: And when I rise/fall/stand, I will rise up/fall down/stand tall, like a bird/leaf/mountain, powerfully/gracefully/peacefully
UU young adult Colleen Lee, a freshman at the University of Missouri (go Tigers!!) compiled this list of favorite hymns of her and her UU age peers that help people feel deeply:
rising up like a phoenix from the fire
I Need You To Survive (there is more information as well as a video later in this document)
#1023 Building Bridges
#131 Love Will Guide Us
#348 Guide My Feet
#389 Gathered Here
A powerful song for people of color to sing together, sung here by activists in Durham, NC:
I know they’re watching
I know I know
From the first teach-in guide, some thoughts and guidelines on music for your worship teach-in:
“Does it feel like stealing or does it feel like honoring?”
I’m not a musician. I have been to a lot of services. I have seen white churches do “black music” beautifully. Perhaps the most moving rendition of “Da Nos Un Corazon” I’ve heard was in a predominantly white space. Context matters a great deal. Giving folks a bit of backstory on where a song originates
I have only a few “probably not” suggestions, and even these are subject to overrule in certain cases.
Lift Every Voice and Sing
We Shall Overcome
If your worship team can’t decide whether to sing something or not..just pick something else.
On Lift Ev’ry Voice, also known as the Black National Anthem, I’m part of a group who just thinks it always feels weird in predominantly white space. That song means so much to me that I think, unless a group of black congregants or worship leaders really wants it sung, it’s just better left alone by most UU groups. Feel free to email () for further conversation, if you like!
Aisha offers a thoughtful reflection on Lift Ev’ry Voice, if you decide to sing it: http://www.uua.org/worship/words/reflection/reflections-lift-every-voice-and-sing
We Shall Overcome *can* be powerful. I also think it’s one where it is comforting to folks who lived through the civil rights era. It’s not a song you hear at Black Lives Matter actions, because overcoming “someday” just feels too passive to a lot of folks.
Research the songs you include. I’ve been at services where “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is the Anthem or the closing song and Michael McDonald is credited as the song’s original singer. Like, what?
“I Need You to Survive” is, among other things, the unofficial UU person of color anthem for many of us who have gone to national UU events in the last few years. The most popular version in many circles was performed by Dr. Glen Thomas Rideout (along with many other talented musicians) at the closing ceremony of the 2016 General Assembly in Columbus, OH. If you go to the 35:34 mark of the video online, you can hear--and share--Rideout’s important words before the song, as well as some truly transcendent singing.
Teach-in 1 song guide, built in collaboration with the Rev. Jason Shelton and John Hubert. Gratitude to Jason and John for spending time to help with this!
Here's a list of hymns that might work for this moment, broken out according the liturgical need each hymn might meet. If I had to pick just one, it would be the one highlighted in bold. But churches vary widely in their familiarity with hymns, so offering a wide range of options seems like a good idea.
Ingathering/Opening - songs about community, interdependence, commitment
#114 Forward Through the Ages
#116 I'm On My Way (note: the version of this song in our hymnal is a Civil Rights Era adaptation of the older slave song, "I'm on my way to the Canaan land." During the time of the Underground Railroad, "Canaan" was a code word for "Canada," and someone singing this song might have been signaling to others that they were going to run soon. "I asked my sibling, come and go with me" takes on a whole new meaning with this original context in mind, as does "if they say no, I'll go anyhow." The work to get free sometimes demands personal risk, and a willingness to go when your kin won't be going with you.)
#119 Once to Every Soul and Nation
#347 Gather the Spirit
#360 Here We Have Gathered
Meditation/Reflection - songs that take us deeper into the work
#100 Peace Like a River
#112 Do You Hear? (content warning: abelist metaphors may require addressing)
#120 Turn Back
#125 From the Crush of Wealth and Power
#170 We Are a Gentle, Angry People
#199 Precious Lord, Take My Hand
#391 Voice Still and Small
1045 Balm in Gilead
#1053 How Could Anyone
Supremacy Examples - songs with which we might want to argue
#121 We'll Build a Land - many Native American folks among us have raised concern about this song because of the image of the land as something to be built rather than a sacred entity unto itself. Some would argue that the imagery comes from the Hebrew scriptures, and the story of the liberation of Israel. And yet the promised land that Israel "claimed" was already occupied by the Canaanites. With so multiple perspectives on what this metaphor might mean, how do we engage one another? Whose narrative is lifted up as "right"?
#207 Earth Was Given As A Garden - as we have wrestled with the legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery in recent years, we have had to reckon with the theological foundations of the idea of dominion. In Genesis, God creates humankind and tells them to "have dominion over" all the other creatures. This hymn seems to point to this idea, with human knowledge and discovery at the heart of creation, and everything else there for us to explore/understand/control. At least that's one way of looking at it. Others may see something else. How do we hold this complexity?
#401 Kumbayah - a heartfelt prayer with deep African/African American roots that was co-opted by the hippies and has turned into a national joke when we want to disparage people by characterizing them as wanting to sit around and hold hands and not get anything done. (See more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/20/us/20religion.html)
#407 We're Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table - who is "we"? This song was prominent during the Civil Rights Movement, but was sung as "I'm gonna sit...", an affirmation of somebodyness that was at the heart of the movement. For people of color, this affirmation was often a bold and dangerous claim. Additional verses included "I'm gonna be a registered voter," and "I'm gonna sit at the Woolworth counter." Without that context, and in predominantly white congregations, the change from "I" to "We" raises all kinds of questions. (see also #1007 - There's a river flowin' in my soul, and it's telling me that I'm somebody).
Closing - songs of commitment and resilience
#95 There Is More Love Somewhere
#151 I Wish I Knew How (but please listen to Nina Simone sing it first)
#323 Break Not the Circle
#396 I Know This Rose Will Open
#1012 When I Am Frightened
#1020 Woyaya ("it will be hard, we know, and the road will be muddy and rough, but we'll get there...") If you've never heard the Afro-Carribean band Osibisa sing this, it's really worth a listen. It will change the way you approach it as a congregation.
Other, non-hymnal songs that might work well:
“None of us are free” is a song originally written for Ray Charles album back in the early 90s (I don't remember when exactly) and was recorded by Solomon Burke in the early 2000s. The chorus is profound "None of us are free if one of us is chained" and echoes speeches by Nelson Mandela, MLK and others with the idea that our freedom is inextricably connected to the freedom, or lack thereof of all.
City Called Heaven by Josephine Poelinitz. Commentary from John Hubert:
“City called heaven is a spiritual that speaks to the slave's experience of being homeless- of being lost in a foreign land and still trying to make heaven their home.”
or Hall Johnson could work: "Trying to make heaven my home"
Lord, Stand by Me by Charles Tindley
We are the ones, Bernice Johnson Reagon
Prayer, Ysaÿe Barnwell (Lord must I do unto others, before they do unto me)
Tshosholoza, arr. Jeffrey Ames (South African and Zimbabwean worker/freedom song about honoring the struggle and making way for the future)
Get on Board, arr. Rollo Dilworth (And many others)
Hope in a Hopeless World, Pops Staples
"Nothing is innocent" by Over the Rhine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcmllrLM8Os
5. Message (Sermon/Homily/Readings)
We hope that the service you’re putting together will have time for embodied ritual and song. A spoken message is also important, and below, you’ll find some resources that you can draw upon. First, a few thoughts from us.
We believe strongly in centering this worship around the lived experiences of people of color, in our faith and beyond it. Whether your worship team is all white or racially diverse, part of our goal is to make sure that this work is based in the corporeal--that is to say, the physical (as well as spiritual) manifestations of white supremacy culture on people of color. It is real to us. May it be real to us all.
As Aisha’s reading at the outset reminds us, “White people tend to be visitors to the struggle for racial justice, ones that aren’t forced to be there but can choose to come in and leave whenever they like. People of color reside in the struggle for racial justice by virtue of their race.”
What would it be to build a Unitarian Universalism where every UU felt called to not just get involved but to reside in the struggle for the long haul?
First, to help build the sense of how deep white supremacy culture runs in our religion, there’s three pieces to look at: A speech by Fannie Barrier Williams, a black Unitarian woman who lived and worked in the 19th and 20th centuries for social justice and economic opportunity, especially for black women. The speech, delivered in 1893 in Chicago, was called “Religious Duty to the Negro.” It can be found in full on page 512 of Standing Before Us by Dorothy May Emerson.
Second, a UU World essay by Rev. Molly Housh Gordon: “Sin is personal, not just systemic.” In it, Housh Gordon writes:
“At one of our most recent clergy meetings, an African-American Baptist colleague led us in a faith reflection on the evil and sin in our community. As this colleague tells it, he soon began to see the white liberals’ eyes glaze over, and the protestations began. ‘Evil and sin live in systems and institutions,’ they theorized aloud.
So he told a story of going with his mother to a civil rights march as a child, and seeing a bucket of excrement dumped upon her head by a raging white man. “Watch the urine drip from your mother’s freshly styled hair,” he told them, “and tell me that sin is a problem of systems alone and that evil lives in institutions and not in human hearts.”
As a white minister in the liberal theological tradition, I am convicted.”
Third, a UU World essay from DeReau K. Farrar, “Moving beyond ‘whites only’ UU theology.” He writes in part:
“It is no secret that a dominant voice in contemporary Unitarian Universalism is one that believes the existence of any God is irrational. For many, even entertaining the possibility by mentioning God in Unitarian Universalist worship is downright offensive. We are, after all, “smarter” than that.
However, I wonder if by stopping there we are falling short of our broader calling. Are we not also called to be both perfectly inclusive and respectful of others’ searches for and expressions of truth and meaning?”
Back to Williams: Fannie Barrier Williams expertly explores the history of religion’s complicity in American slavery and racism, and excoriates those who preached a "false, pernicious, demoralizing Gospel" to make black people docile and dependent. The masters dared not "open the Bible too wide," however, or the slaves would have recognized the hypocrisy of Christians committing atrocities against a defenseless people.
Williams challenged her listeners by asking, "What can religion further do to advance the condition of the colored people?" Her answer reflected Unitarian influence: "More religion and less church. . . . Less theology and more of human brotherhood, less declamation and more common sense and love for truth. . . . The tendency of creeds and doctrine to obscure religion, to make complex that which is elemental and simple, to suggest partisanship and doubt in that which is universal and certain, has seriously hindered the moral progress of ...this country.”
“The hope of the negro and other dark races in America depends on how far the white Christians can assimilate their own religion.”
“That there is more profession than religion, more so-called church work than religious zeal, is characteristic of the American people generally...More religion and less church may be accepted as a general answer to the question, “What can religion do…?”
Next, a reading on white supremacy culture from the Rev. Karen Armina, a white minister in Wisconsin:
“The Quaker activist and songwriter, Carrie Newcomer, sings these words of encouragement: ‘Come on and look inside you--it’s the best place to start.’ The greatest revolution is a simple change of heart.’
We think we have to change all those things that are happening out there, and that change can happen as a direct result of our actions. And sometimes this is true. Especially in the arena of social change, where we need to very intentionally build momentum to create more just conditions.
But more often, I’m learning, true change happens only when we take the time and the risk of sitting with something hard. True change in the world is intimately related to our internal transformation, which is intimately related to our presence to our selves.
Culture is simply everything that’s around us. At some point in our lives, we learn that there are other ways of being. Our human tendency is to think that ours is better than theirs. When we are white, thinking that ours is better is supported by the fact that our social and political systems have been built through the same frame through which we’re looking.
We learn that our way is the right way and the best way. Simply put, this is white supremacy culture.”
It could be helpful, if your church community is more academically inclined, to dive into James Luther Adams’ widely lauded 1941 essay “The Changing Reputation of Human Nature.” In it, Adams suggests that our faith may have an “over-optimistic” view of the human condition. This is incredibly relevant for UU and other people of color. We are acutely aware of what Adams calls the “tragic” nature of humankind. Our faith teaches us that we are not depraved, but our experiences of being people of color informs our awareness of the pain that humanity is capable of inflicting.
In building a worship experience that evokes emotion as well as thought, a suggestion such as Adams’ may spark both intellectual and emotional curiosity about the basic assumptions of our faith--namely, that we are all good and decent. Yes, we have inherent worth and dignity, our faith reminds us--yet we are also creatures of imperfection and contradiction. It is important to hold those truths together as we embark on the hard work of examining ourselves and our society.
A testimony from DeReau Farrar, Director of Music at First Unitarian Portland. He speaks powerfully about how his Blackness--and his other identities--are received and treated in UU spaces. If you have the capacity to play video in worship, bringing DeReau’s voice into your worship is a powerful option. If you don’t have that capacity, some or all of his testimony could be used as a reading. Farrar says,
“I love my Blackness, but I am aware that it has been diluted by a need to move more easily throughout the white life I have built around myself. Yes, my Blackness has been diluted in certain ways so that I can move more easily. More easily, that is, for you.”
He also talks about what it is like to choose and perform music in a white space as a Black man and music director, choosing to use music in the church library that makes him uncomfortable. “When you ask me what white privilege is, I would say it is this power you have to not notice. When you ask me what white supremacy is, I would say it is this power that you have to be angry when I notice.”
Rev. Darrick Jackson’s UU World piece Othering and Belonging, adapted from his piece in the new book Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry, in which he talks about being a UU and growing up in the AME Church. Rev. Jackson is director of contextual ministry at Meadville Lombard Theological School and Interim Associate Executive Director of the UU Ministers Association. Several excerpts could be used as readings or to talk about the ways in which white supremacy can manifest itself in UU worship service.
“The intellectualism in Unitarian Universalism comes with a culture of stillness. We are expected to sit quietly in our seats, listen intently with no emotion on our faces, no movement in our bodies. We are supposed to wait until after the service to express ourselves. I grew up in a culture of engagement. We had permission to respond to the service, to say “Amen” when we were moved by the words or music, to clap our hands and smile and nod our heads whenever the spirit moved us. We lived the hymn “When the Spirit Says Do” every time we gathered for worship. I have had to learn to restrain myself in UU circles, which distances me from the worship. Sometimes our worship feels more like a lecture to me.
The first time I preached at a UU congregation, I was unsure of how my sermon was being received because there was no visible response. It wasn’t until after the service that I learned that people did enjoy the sermon. Even now, I get slightly unnerved by the lack of response. I construct my services with UU stillness in mind; any attempt at a more embodied worship feels experimental and risky instead of one of many ways worship happens. I have always loved youth and young adult worship, as those services are generally more heart- and soul-centered and invite engagement and connection.”
“Growing up in the AME Church, I was presented with images of spirituality grounded in my black identity. The worship service and religious education both referenced black history and black culture. I learned how my cultural struggle and my identity interfaced with the biblical narrative. When I became a Unitarian Universalist, it was clear that my history and my culture were not reflected in the worship and religious education. I could connect on the level of my humanity, but my identity was rarely represented except on special days: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Black History Month, and Kwanzaa. In those moments, I felt other. I felt that my culture was on display, not an inclusive part of the service.
I also see UUs make assumptions about what would interest me as a black person, without ever asking me. I have preached at several congregations where the music director has chosen spirituals for the music because I was the preacher. The spirituals were often sung without any awareness of what the music means or how to sing it. It requires a lot of energy to sit in front of the congregation and not let your real feelings about the music show on your face, or to figure out how to respond to the eager faces of the choir looking for approval.”
From the Black Lives of UU closing ceremony, Leslie Mac’s homily (begins at 28:00) “A Lesson in Contradictions” that explores the journey of Black Lives of UU and the reality of being a black Unitarian Universalist in the UU faith. The litany from 30:43-31:45 is especially powerful and could make for a great “video reading.”
From Worship Web:
To the Death of Michael Brown: We Bear Witness by Rev. Theresa Soto
The Offensiveness of My Pain by Shane Paul Neil
Find readings, poems, and prayers in Voices from the Margins: An Anthology of Meditations, a collection of meditations and reflections by UU ministers with marginalized identities.
A potential reading from Dr. Takiyah Nur Amin, a member of the Black Lives of UU leadership collective. One could ask the congregation, “Are we a community that welcomes Takiyah’s blackness? How might we challenge ourselves to make it so, or to continue to make it so?”:
“As a black woman who claims Unitarian Universalism as my faith identity, I have felt compelled to clarify and yield to what’s truly most important to me in the last few months. The election and subsequent outrage, confusion, vitriol, and violence that has shown up in its wake have encouraged me to reaffirm my commitments to working for justice, as well as to recommit to protecting those who are most vulnerable, shaping my life in such a manner that it responds to and reflects what my values are as a black woman of faith in this tradition.
One reason I am a Unitarian Universalist is because it is a faith where I can bring all of the best of what I was taught growing up in my multifaith family and because, as a religion grounded in principle and reflection, justice-making and righteous action are essential to our faith, not something ancillary.
This resonates deeply for me, and connects to my grandparents’ social justice efforts as members of Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal Zion congregations and to my parents’ legacy as socially conscious, progressive Muslims. My deep sadness as a Unitarian Universalist is that while this faith community has always been a space that welcomed my varied religious heritage, my blackness hasn’t always felt at home here.
That is to say, I have never been able to take for granted that I would be welcome in UU spaces as a black woman. No matter how long I’ve been a member, what committees I’ve served on, or the number of times I’ve been a GA delegate, I’ve never been able to take for granted the sense of home and welcome and connection that I see my white UU siblings proudly proclaim.
Still, there are resonances that keep me going. I am motivated as deeply by the seven principles of Kwanzaa as I am by the Seven Principles upheld by our association and member congregations; these are all touchstones of my personal theology. The Seven Principles of Black Lives, created in 2015 by the Black Lives of UU Organizing Collective, act as another bridge for me, connecting me ever more deeply to this faith and to the work of the Movement for Black Lives.”
Nearly 700 of our 1,038 UU congregations participated in Round One of the teach-ins in April and May. A movement is fully underway, in our country and in our faith. We are glad that your community has taken part.
We hope that you take time to name the vastness of this work. Help your community feel that thousands of UUs, and hundreds of visitors, are embarking on this work along with you.
Don’t be afraid to share with your UU community your excitement, and your hesitations. Honesty goes a long way here. Authenticity is everything. Don’t be someone you’re not. Do be brave, whatever that means for you. Do be clear. Do continue to ask us for help and guidance. Do ask your colleagues and your fellow lay leaders for help and guidance.
Do invite people to join your community for the teach-in. Do be proud that, however imperfectly, you’ll be joining thousands of Unitarian Universalists in being courageous enough to look within. Don’t get stuck trying to fix that one person who just.does.not.get.it. Do focus on the dozens of folks in the pews or chairs struggling, yet hanging in there with you. Do focus on the people who are so thrilled that finally, at long last, your community is going there.
Don’t let anyone tell you this is about guilt or shame. This work is powerful and essential. May we be, as the saying goes, a people so bold, and keep on going.
In faith and love,
Aisha Ansano and Kenny Wiley, on behalf of Aisha Hauser, Christina Rivera, and the rest of the #UUWhiteSupremacyTeachIn team
Thanks again to Anna Bethea, Elizabeth Nguyen, Luis Catalan, Rhea Brown-Bright, Colleen Lee, Nancy Combs-Morgan, and Gail Forsyth-Vail for guidance, prose, humor, and wisdom.s