Candles of Concern: Participants in the Social Justice Action Summit were asked, “For whom does your heart break?” In response, most came forward to light a candle from the chalice and express their deepest concerns for our community.
Living Our Values
“We’re all very idealistic. Did we never grow out of out teenage idealism? Apparently not. Good for us.” — from a Summit participant
On June 7, more than 30 members of the church convened in Brunner Chapel for a daylong Social Justice Action Summit led by Michelle Collins and me. The stated aim at the Summit was framed in terms of the mission of First Unitarian Church:
First Unitarian Church of Wilmington is a beloved community that nourishes minds and spirits, fights injustice and transforms the world through loving action.
For the two of us as leaders, the Summit was an outgrowth of a semester-long online course at the Starr King School for the Ministry in which we studied theories and practices for social change. In our course work and in planning the Summit, we returned often to the first 14 words of our mission—describing a beloved community that nourishes minds and spirits. And we realized that the final nine words of our mission—to “fight injustice and transform the world through loving action”—could only be realized through the first 14.
The underlying theme of the Summit was that the quality of our community and the nourishment of our minds and spirits are essential elements in preparing us to transform the world. (You can connect with more of our thoughts at the website/blog called Spirit and Action that we created for the course with our Starr King classmate Karuna Foudriat.)
The stated goals for the Summit were:
- to prepare First Unitarian’s core social justice activists for engagement with crucial issues in the larger community
- to understand the cultural and social boundaries that must be crossed to form alliances with other activists—including other faith communities
- to ground all of this work in our values: love and compassion, growth and discovery, freedom and justice, wonder and joy.
The agenda for the day looked like this:
- 9:00 Ingathering and Introductions
- 9:15 Opening Worship and Chalice Lighting
- 9:45 Review Agenda, Goals, and Ground Rules
- 10:00 Spirit and Action: Driving Questions (small groups)
- 11:00 Break and Movement
- 11:15 Force Field Analysis: Drivers and Challenges
- 12:00 Lunch (Choir Room)
- 1:00 Power Shuffle: Examining Difference
- 1:45 Unfinished Sentences: Individual Reflection
- 2:00 Next Steps: Preparing for Action
- 2:45 Closing Worship
- 3:00 Summit Adjourns
What will come from this meeting remains to be seen. There was certainly a lot of energy and spirit in the room. We talked both individually and collectively about our passions, heartbreaks, and desires. Both veteran and new social action activists participated. We had some frank discussions of the barriers we face to becoming more involved in our community. Many new commitments were made.
In an online evaluation following the Summit, we found that there was some disappointment that we did not use workshop to “decide” on a specific project or area for the church to focus on. We didn’t identify a common passion wound which we could organize some collective action.
It was clear to one participant that “where we go from here is very important. This is a germinating seed; it needs careful attention to blossom into an exciting and energetic by our congregation.”
Another person wrote about the emphasis on spiritual preparation for effective social action: “Taking the time to engage in the spiritual grounding of our social justice work was energizing—a much better basis than immediately jumping into listing ideas.”
One part of the Summit gave participants the opportunity to examine our differences as individuals in a group—and by implication, some of the challenges we might face in working across racial, class, religious, and social lines in the community. “We came away with an awareness of ‘some’ of the boundaries,” wrote one person. “This is a complicated subject that needs a lot of attention.” Another wrote that “such understanding is an ongoing process. We are all on our way, all at different stages. The day’s activities were helpful and thought provoking.”
One requirement for successful alliances in the community is humility. “We do not need to know everything about [a] problem and have a solution before acting,” wrote one person. “We do not need to have the answers. We need to ask the right questions. The people most impacted by crime, violence, inequalities, etc. can educate us. They can tell us what they need [and will] welcome sincere, passionate allies. We can learn as we go, knowing that we will make mistakes.”
Summing up the day, one enthusiastic person wrote: “I spent close to six hours inside church on a beautiful Saturday … and I did not regret one minute. The meeting was exciting and challenging.”
Here’s a gallery of images from the Summit. All photos in this post are by Nancy Pinson. [Click on an image to enlarge.]
Summit co-leaders Jeff Lott and Michelle Collins
June Peterson expresses her social justice concern.
One exercise at the Summit focused on class difference among the participants.
We explored both our strengths as a justice-seeking congregation and the challenges we face in doing this work.
The Summit included several opportunities to sing together. Scott Ward is at the piano.
At the end of the Summit, participants wrote their personal commitments on cards and placed them in the chalice.