Fort Worth, Texas
Another great place with free wifi Internet access — the Coffee Haus, right across the street for the Branding Iron Grill. Excellent coffee. No country music blasting, but since there’s no music at all, that’s OK.
I skipped most of yesterday morning’s presentation, even though other people said it was actually quite good. Instead, I spent an hour or so talking with Jennifer Innis. Jennifer will be the interim associate minister at the UU Society of Geneva starting in August, after I leave. We have known each other for some time, and we did a little catching up. Of course we also talked about the Geneva church — and I was able to tell Jennifer what a great church it is.
In the afternoon, I attended a couple of workshops. One workshop was on urban social justice ministries, sponsored by the Urban Disciples, an organization of Unitarian Universalist urban congregations who get together periodically to share ideas and resources. One of the presenters was Rev. Alma Faith Crawford, from the Church of the Open Door on Chicago’s South Side. Alma talked about how worship services at her church become an act of social justice in their own right. Church of the Open Door is aimed mostly at the African American gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community (GLBT). The actual worship service incorporates elements of typical black churches, so that GLBT people who have been rejected by their churches have a place to go and feel comfortable.
But while the shape of the worship service might look like a typical Black church service, the message is entirely different. And, as Alma Crawford pointed out, “The ushers might be transgender, and you might see a leather person doing the scripture reading.” To overcome class divisions, she does same-gender weddings as a part of the regular worship service — that way, there is less pressure to spend money on the wedding, and there is no class division for the people who attend the wedding. In these ways, and in others, Church of the Open Door uses worship as an act of social justice.
The second workshop I attended was an introduction to the new hymnal supplement, Singing the Journey. We got to sing nearly a dozen songs from the new hymnal. A couple of the songs were difficult, and I can’t quite imagine a congregation actually singing them. But there were some absolute gems of songs, songs that I think are going to become a central part of our Unitarian Universalist worship services. “For So the Children Come” is a song that puts to music well-known words of Sophia Fahs: “For so the children come…. Each night a child is born is a holy night, a time for singing, a time for wondering, a time for worshipping.” I predict this will become a new staple of Christmas eve services, and of child dedications.
We also got to sing a couple of great songs in Spanish, an African American spiritual called “Hush” taught by UU singer and music scholar Ysaye Maria Barnwell (of Sweet Honey in the Rock), and a song called “Blue Boat Home” with new words to the old hymn tune “Hyfrodol.”
One last song I have to mention — “Comfort Me” was written by Mimi Bornstein-Doble, and even thought the rhythm is tricky (and I guarantee you, congregations are never going to get the rhythm quite right), this song was a real standout. We have needed a contemporary song that provides comfort in hard times, and I believe Mimi’s song will be the one we start singing. Mimi, by the way, is the very talented music director at the Rocklang, Maine, Universalist church.
In the late afternoon, I went to to hear Bill Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), tell us ministers about the state of the UUA. Reading between the lines, it’s clear the UUA has little money. But generally, it sounded like we’re making some progress. For example, Sinkford is aggressively pursuing new directions in youth ministry at the UUA, hoping to provide more services directly to the congregations rather than funding expensive national events that only serve a few youth. Sinkford also came out and said that we just haven’t made much progress in racial justice in our congregations and in the wider association — it was good to hear someone actually say that in public, when we all know it to be true. There are maybe a dozen UU congregations that have really addressed racial justice, but that’s all.
Sinkford (who is African American) also made sure to mention Hispanic Unitarian Universalists — they’re out there, but they’re not being adequately acknowledged by many UUs.
I had dinner with Mellen Kennedy, one of the movers and shakers behind the Small Group Ministry Network. We talked about small group ministries, but then the conversation swung over to theology. Mellen has been feeling that there is no theological center to Unitarian Unviersalism of recent years. I admitted that might be true, but then I said Universalist theology — the strong sense that there is hope in a hopeless world, the idea that love is the most powerful force in the universe — that’s what keeps me within Unitarian Universalism. Mellen brought up forgiveness as a centgral theological concept that we need, and I think she’s right — and that would be a great new direction for Universalist theology.
So ends day two of Professional Days. Now it’s time to head off to the Convention Center, and see what today brings.