Testament delivered at UUC on February 4th 2018, By Roberta Ray
Good Morning. My name is Roberta Ray. I am a long-time member of UUC and I am honored to share with you something of my vision for this congregation as we prepare financially for the next church year and for the building campaign that will support the renovation and transformation of our church home. Before I start I want to acknowledge the people – past, present, and future – of the Duwamish tribe, on whose traditional lands we live and worship.
I want to share something of myself. I love church. I grew up in a large Presbyterian church in Knoxville Tennessee. I sang in the choir. I dived into the faith formation classes that I had as a youth. And I remember hearing my father talk about his adult class discussion about theologian Paul Tillich and being eager for the day that I could be in the adult classes. When I was 12, I wrote out the Beatitudes on a piece of 8 by 10 cardstock and put them on our family bulletin board. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice; they shall have their fill” –
Matthew 5:6. Music, faith development, justice – these are some of the important themes of my life.
For most of my time at UUC, I have been involved in our social justice programs, and my involvement in our immigration justice ministries and the relationships developed through that work have profoundly shaped who I am today and how I am called to be in the world. It has deepened my understanding of covenant and solidarity from a spiritual place of accompaniment. Solidarity work that is grounded in a spirituality of accompaniment means that I am actively engaged in a spiritual practice that recognizes the dignity of every human being, that values them as the center of their own decision-making and as an agent of their own destiny. This means that often I must give up fixing, building, and running things myself, but it doesn’t mean passivity. It means actively ‘being with’ those who experience systemic injustice. It is a ministry of presence, grounded in relationship, manifested by walking with individuals and communities who are suffering, and who also experience joy.
Not long ago, I was at a Sustenance and Solidarity event here where we were asked to envision UUC 5 years from now. And during that exercise, I stated that UUC would be an antiracist congregation with racial justice explicitly stated as part of our mission and vision statements. Notice that I did not say ‘not racist’ – rather, antiracist. That’s because ’Not racist’ is reactive against everything that we hope we are not, everything that we don’t want to be. ‘Antiracist’ is proactive – based on values, practices, and commitments!
What might that look like? These are imperfect words, and I want to give some credit to UUs Julica Hermann de la Fuente, and Reverends Ashley Horan and Leslie Takahashi for helping me. They have put some of the materials that I have studied over the years into a rubric for UU congregations. For me, this vision means that racial justice is a thread that runs consistently and persistently and deeply through our worship and programming. As a community, we would deepen engagement in self-reflection and action, to ensure that our practices are aligned with our racial justice values. We would offer regular opportunities for learning about justice issues, gaining skills, and deepening political analysis that would inform our role in the public square. Instead of asking ‘is racism at work?’ we would ask ‘how is racism at work?’ Each one of us would develop and deepen our curiosity to participate in these opportunities, whether it is our first or our hundredth time, understanding that our knowledge about racism and white supremacy systems is always incomplete. Our members who identify as white would deepen the ability to engage in antiracist study and practices, to notice defensiveness and discomfort in the body, mind, and spirit when engaged in conversations about white supremacy systems, and compassionately ask what more do I need to learn and what is the next commitment that I can make? I had a recent example of this for myself. Friday and Saturday, I attended a regional retreat in the tri-cities for leaders of one our social justice partners. As part of the discussion, we landed in a deep conversation about the yearning for racial diversity among our leaders, the actions that we were or were not taking towards this, and a questioning of commitment. This was brought forward by a leader of color. It was in large part due to the training that I have received here and elsewhere, and most recently at our workshop with Robin Di Angelo, that I was the second person to speak what had also been on my mind. I apologized that the onus had been once again on people of color to ask white people to show up and demonstrate commitment to their stated values. I was once again grateful for the workshop here with Robin DiAngelo when a leader stated that he was tired of having this conversation and that he felt singled out as an ‘old, white, guy’. I recognized that the work that I have done allowed me to stay in this conversation, to not be silent, to be compassionate, and to recognize my own fatigue at not being able to demonstrate white solidarity and likeability to the man who was feeling a lot of discomfort. This is faith formation, spiritual deepening, and leadership development!
My vision includes prioritizing spiritual care that recognizes racial identity and the ways that our identities impact our daily lives. It includes acknowledgment of the needs of white youth and youth of color in our religious education programs and a commitment to prioritizing racial justice education even when, and especially when, all in the room identify as white.
My vision includes practices of cultural and spiritual humility as we engage with our social justice partners and other faith communities who have made a commitment to racial justice as a way of life – as a religious way of life; that we sing a lot, and appreciate the many cultural traditions that have brought us here. And, that UUC, as an antiracist congregation, would be able to clearly articulate a theology of racial justice and evaluate its actions through this faith lens.
What does this all of this have to do with our annual fund campaign and our building campaign? Well, if we are to take our global responsibility seriously, to build beloved community and to bless the world, we must invest in what will help us get there. Everything that we are able to do in social justice is because of our commitment to our annual fund. We are building a new physical home that will be a gracious space to continue to build shared leadership for an antiracist future. When we are off-site, I look forward to the many ways in which we will be becoming a transformed people, discovering and re-discovering who we are and who we will be. Much as we are re-building the foundation of our building, we will be re-building the foundation of who we are as UUC. This is not solo work. It is terrifying, exhilarating, and liberating. We cannot do this alone. And it is not for ourselves alone. I hope that you will walk with me and that we will accompany each other into a future world that we will imagine together, one that liberates all of us.