A Changing Climate for Ministry
Rev. Lindi Ramsden

2014 Berry Street Essay

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.”

--T. S. Eliot

When I was in high school, much to the surprise of my parents, who were un-churched with backgrounds in science and engineering, I became very active in a local United Church of Christ youth group. I was involved in helping to lead service trips and served on their board. I was on their ministerial search committee and did some independent study with the youth pastor. The church was a big part of my life. By my senior year, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I was being called to ministry. I accepted the opportunity and invitation to study at Stanford because the renowned protestant liberation theologian, the Reverend Dr. Robert McAfee Brown, was on the faculty.

As luck would have it, I was assigned to the only dorm in the entire university from which the residents were eligible to take his freshman seminar, “Religion and Violence.” There I was in the fall quarter, freshman year, in a small circle of students. We were assigned piles of theological texts to read. I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss them with Dr. Brown and his wife Sydney, who invited us to their home, where they taught us not only through the texts from these important theologians but also through the text of their lives.

This was 1972. The Christian story of reversal, of radical hope, of love and leadership coming from those on the margins rather than from the center of power, was a story that spoke directly to me during those turbulent years as the Vietnam War came to a close, the Watergate trials captivated the nation, and another wave of feminism challenged the status quo. However, despite my deep respect for Dr. Brown and my calling to serve through church community, the more I studied that complex theology, the more I realized that I was not really a Protestant. I understood Jesus as a radical prophet, but I did not subscribe to the Christian theory of atonement. Reluctantly, I realized that I would not be an appropriate candidate to pursue ordination in the United Church of Christ.

With that door to ministry closed, I looked for another path, which eventually led back to the more familiar family traditions of science. I graduated with a degree in Human Biology, another way to engage with the majesty, the mystery, and the powerful complexity of life.  However, I still felt this pull toward church community. It took a while before I discovered the more open theological waters of Unitarian Universalism. I eventually found a calling to, and a career in, our ministry, which has led me to this opportunity to address you today.

In this later chapter of my ministry, I once again find myself in a crisis of faith. After serving with the amazing congregation in San Jose, followed by a decade of entrepreneurial ministry starting the UU Legislative Ministry of California, and after learning more recently about story telling through co- directing and co-producing the film Thirsty for Justice: The Struggle for the Human Right to Water, my faith is challenged at the intersection of science and meaning, community and calling.

It is out of this place of unknowing that I accepted the honor to speak with you today as the 194th Berry Street essayist. I am not coming with many firm answers but as one who is seeking companions and colleagues in the midst of some very big questions as we live and work and minister in a time of profound change.

Simply put, it is 2014, and we are gathering in a changing climate for ministry. I know you know about “climate change,” “global warming,” “climate disruption,” or “global weirding.” Whatever label you want to call it, it is not news to you.

For decades, scientists have been raising increasingly alarmed voices about climate disruption, acidifying oceans, the interrupted water cycles and feedback loops that could result in such massive changes to the habitability of our planet that they threaten the very systems that sustain life as we currently know it.

As colleagues, I know you know about this. You read the news. We all know it. But I, for one, find it actually difficult to talk about because it is so big.

Bringing up the impact and profound complications and implications of having more CO2 in the air than we have had in the past 3 million years does not feel like a great conversation topic in polite company.  It is like beating people up with scary statistics and giving them nowhere to go. Not very nice.

Our climate scientists seem, at times, like Moses figures. They have been to the mountain. They have glimpsed that which is beyond our normal comprehension. And yet, as they come down to try to talk with us, they find us dancing and worshipping the golden calf, engaged with life as we know it, unable to actually take in the profound implications of what they have seen.

We are now living in what some scientists call the “hinge” century and others the Anthropocene era, a human-driven geological and biological epoch.

This past week, I was driving in my fossil fuel--burning car (I might add that I was the only person in the vehicle), and I caught the voice of a UC Davis oceanographer on the radio. He said that if we don’t change how much carbon we are putting into the air, we are on track to have an ocean about three times as acidic as normal, a change coming too quickly for much of the sea life to adapt. He adds, as an aside for those who really like jellyfish, that the jellyfish will likely survive. However, the coral reefs will not make it. And they are the nurseries for much of the life in the sea, as well as barriers for coastal communities.  He did not address the role of the ocean in our oxygen supply, and I found myself wondering.

About eight years ago, as the California legislature was debating the groundbreaking Global Warming Solutions Act, I went to a briefing where scientists brought home what was at stake for our drought-threatened state. They explained that California’s largest reservoir of water isn’t Lake Shasta; rather, it is the spring snowpack in the high Sierra. As the snow slowly melts all summer, trickling down into rivers and streams and soaking into ground water aquifers, it makes it possible for the 38 million people in our state to survive our Mediterranean summers without rain. And this was the show-stopper: If we don’t change our course, scientists expect that the Sierra Nevada will only average about 10 percent of our normal spring snow pack.

The Sierra Nevada without snow?  What? What am I supposed to do with that information? I like to work hard, but when I need to refill, my refuge and touchstone has been in the Sierra. With its solid granite, the older-than-Jesus Bennett Juniper, and its seasons of new life, growth, death, and decay that feed life again, I have felt that my own life, while brief, is a small part and expression of a larger eternal circle.

And so I find it profoundly difficult to imagine that something as big as the ocean, something as vast as the sky, something as beautiful as the snow–the very elements of earth I have assumed to be the consistent background to my relatively short life--could themselves be so impermanent as to radically alter the conditions that support life as we know it.

I have a background in science. I have taken geology classes. I have wandered around in the hills and seen the fossils in my own hometown that told me that the ground on which I stood was once an inland sea.  While I am not a practicing Buddhist, I do accept the teaching that impermanence and change are woven into the very fabric of life. Evolution makes sense to me. Having read books on dinosaurs to my son, I can even accept that extinction happens. But as we consider the “transient and the permanent,” I must confess that, at both an emotional and spiritual level, I have lived as if the basic framework of the earth, the structures of life, were something we could count on. They were the permanent. It has been part of my comfort with death that my own life, while brief in the grand scheme of time, is but a small part and expression of a larger life and Spirit.

I am fine with living fully and when my time comes, dying to make room for “that which maketh all things new.” But I have assumed that human life continues, and if truth be told, I imagine that the general contours of the landscape, the level of the ocean, and the other life forms with whom we are privileged to share this planet will be part of the lives of those who come after.

I know that the climate crisis does not stand alone among that which pulls at our consciousness and attention. Festering wounds from racism continue. (As an aside, if you have not yet read Ta-Nahisi Coates article on the “Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic [May 21, 2014], you really need to do so. It speaks profound truths of a largely ignored history.) As we witness the engines of capitalism far outstripping the structures and regulations we have to safeguard community life (somewhat like the 1890s), we see the erosion of our ability to promote equity and practice democracy. We are in for some very big challenges in this pivotal century.

The inequalities of income and accumulated wealth, the likes of which we have not seen since the Gilded Age, are removing any semblance of the safety net for low-income individuals and communities and making them even more vulnerable to catastrophic losses.

Fortunately, these very real losses are not the only reality. A crisis can also be a mother of invention. There is amazing creativity, commitment, and movement afoot.

Many years ago, I read Bill Bridges’ book Transitions, in which he speaks in the context of the Exodus story.  He describes how it feels when you have left the past behind and are no longer in Egypt but still have no idea how you are going to get to the Promised Land. You can find yourself in a scary “lost in the desert” place. He calls the time in-between the “neutral zone.” While this neither-here- nor-there neutral zone can be profoundly uncomfortable and disorienting, it can also be the place, as we saw in Exodus, where great creativity and new directions can be revealed.

In addition to creativity, as Rebecca Solnit documented in her book A Paradise Built in Hell, crisis can also break down barriers and bring people together in remarkable ways. A disaster can free up our impulses to reach out and help. We see it in the sand bag lines. We see it in the teams of people who show up to help after a hurricane.

But we also know that the momentary flourishing of our humanitarian impulse following weather disasters, and the hope-filled consciousness raising and heart expanding experiences we can have when we help will not get us all the way home.   It is like when there is a death in the family and everybody reaches out to you, but you must still face all those days after they go home. Life is still radically, radically different.

I believe that we must organize. We must be organized to change the structures of power that hold us to a profoundly dangerous status quo. 

Let me say something about those structures of power. They are not just external; they are part of us. We have been living the life of a “fossil fuel people” for a very long time. Existing structures come right through the middle of our lives, our assumptions, and how we think about what we owe ourselves, one another, and the future.

We are, however, in a time of disequilibrium, a time when we can organize to exploit the openings, the questions, the cracks in unsustainable systems; to move us closer to the values, the structures of community, the ways of living, working, and being that we imagine when we lift up the language of Beloved Community. But that will not happen by accident.

We have to build our capacity. The stakes could not be higher.  Are we, as Unitarian Universalists, ready to answer this call? Are we up to the task?

There are so many different ways to serve in this Anthropocene era, in this changing climate for ministry. We need more theological exploration. We need education. We need activists and pastoral care. There is no shortage of things for the church to do.

Given that my own path in ministry ended up with a strong justice focus, and with a view from ministry both within and outside the parish, I want to look at what it will require to create spiritually grounded justice ministries that can even begin to become commensurate with the scale of this crisis.

I have seen a lot of progress in the thirty or so years that I have attended General Assembly. I remember when we used to have more resolutions than Heinz had pickles. We have been getting more focused, doing more planning, coordinating, and leveraging the gifts that we have.

But we are not yet close to fully drawing on the resources of Unitarian Universalism. We have a strong theological grounding for being engaged in structural change. We have amazing people, assets, buildings, history, and stories.

Last night, I was looking at the beautiful flash mob video from All Souls Church. In memory of the Reverend James Reeb’s 1965 sacrifice, they sang in public witness before the steps of the Supreme Court, challenging the court’s 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act and calling upon Congress to ensure that all may vote.  People of a certain generation speak of marching with Dr. King and showing up at Selma. It is good to see those stories being remembered and told and used to inspire action.

In this changing climate for ministry, we must ask: What will history say about us? Where are we showing up? What legacy will we leave to the grandkids?

Those who counsel the use of adaptive leadership skills in times of uncertainty and unfamiliar territory, when we really don’t know what to expect or exactly what we should do, recommend building a culture of readiness and commitment, grounded in personal connections.

Readiness, commitment and connection.

To be ready, committed, and connected requires trained leadership, linked and coordinated structures, relationships of trust, strategic discipline in using our resources, authority to make decisions, and a culture in which we can learn and grow from our mistakes.

Let’s think for a moment about what kinds of UU justice resources we already have. Please turn to the person next to you and share two or three resources that come to your mind.

UU Resources for Justice

I will give you my list and then I would like to hear from you.

We have amazingly talented people--our clergy and lay leaders in our congregations and beyond who are bringing their leadership into the larger world. UUs are in elected office; they serve in significant government leadership roles, start and lead businesses, and work in academic and social change organizations.  These leaders may not all be on your core social justice team. They may not all wear the yellow T-shirts and show up at the rallies. I like to think of them as the equivalent of professional musicians who may not sing with the choir but who are glad to sing a solo when their full gifts can be best employed with the time that they have to contribute. Our first resource is an amazing network of people.

We have congregations that gather weekly for worship, renewing shared values and fostering relationships and trust. We have congregations that build communications networks and identify and train leaders. We even have members who know how to give money . . . regularly.  Organizers for community services or social change work know the value that is in your congregation. They see it as a center of social and spiritual capital, and in many cases, they come calling to harvest what we have been growing, inviting us into community service, social change organizations, or short-term campaigns.

Given that most of our congregations do not have a designated social justice staff, I have wondered over the years: What percentage of the justice or service ministries in which our congregations are engaged are the result of an invitation initiated from outside the church by organizations that actually do have staff?  I am certainly in full support of being in collaborative engagement with others in the community. However, I see fewer congregations than I would like being strategic about their choices of community partnerships and being able to anchor their service or justice ministries in ways that grow the spiritual capacity of our congregations and people.  But I digress. I was going to talk about what resources we do have, not what we don’t have. Let me get back to the “do” side.

In addition to people and congregations, we have congregations located in communities where very few other organizations share our values. In social change work involving legislative action, success simply cannot be achieved by congregations and organizations that only organize in progressive urban settings. We need our rural and more conservative communities. We need UUs from a variety of political parties who share core values of compassion, commitment to equity, sustainable living, and personal integrity.  During my years with the UU Legislative Ministry in California, it was amazing how many times we were able to help when coalitions of which we were a part were looking for contacts in specific communities outside of urban centers.

Many small congregations outside the urban core do not have ministerial leadership. With neither a minister nor a social justice lead, the only UU justice organizing connection for many is with their UU state advocacy network.

The GOP leadership is currently changing in the national arena, and it appears that the congressman from Bakersfield will be chosen. Bakersfield? Interesting. That is where Marshall is from!  It will be a pivotal community for immigration reform. Fortunately, we have a small and mighty congregation with amazing people in Bakersfield.

When last year’s immigration pilgrimage retraced the steps of the farmworkers in reverse, from the Capitol in Sacramento all the way to Bakersfield, PICO provided the organization and leadership for that action. They did a good job. But when it came to where events would actually be hosted, it was our little congregation in Bakersfield that came through: from providing home hospitality and walking precincts to providing leadership for  the public action in the local theater.

We have people. We have congregations. And we have congregations in places where we are needed.

We also have clergy who are organized, and not only through the UU Ministers Association (UUMA). Many of our clergy are also leaders in interfaith networks, CBCOs, or faith labor coalitions. Our clergy are building friendships through interfaith networks. With few UU congregations in any given town, if you want to find a clergy colleague, you need to be part of an interfaith network! 

We are blessed with a major foundation. The Veatch Program at Shelter Rock is respected both within and beyond Unitarian Universalism for its strategic thinking and significant funding of cutting-edge social change. This is an incredible asset. Other communities know this. When you mention you are a Unitarian Universalist, they may ask, “Do you know Veatch? Do you know Ned? Can you put in a good word for us?” We also have the UU Funding Program, which helps pilot projects to get off the ground, and I am excited to see what happens with Faithify’s invitation to do crowd source funding ourselves.

We have a human rights organization in the UU Service Committee (UUSC), an organization that is both national and international, and incredibly strategic in using its resources to find points of leverage and change. In our campaign on the human right to water in California, our connection with the UUSC was, and continues to be, pivotal in making that work come alive.

We have experienced leadership in the UUA with great resources, from Inspired Faith: Effective Action materials to mentoring and training through Mosaic Ministries. And we are blessed by our growing on-line capacity to organize with the Standing on the side of Love campaign.

We have a lot, including our educational institutions. Our seminaries get us started and the UUMA keeps us going. The UUMA’s “great leap forward” to help us move into professional leadership has given us the staff capacity to more effectively train and mentor and connect us for excellence in ministry. That is huge.

We have the UU College of Social Justice, linking the UUA and UUSC, which understands the power of experiential learning to deepen understanding, commitment, and connection. I am excited to see what the next phase of that development will be as justice training models are put together to bring more of this to scale.

Increasingly, we are even developing a culture of collaboration. Perhaps it was Fred Muir’s Berry Street Essay from last year, charging us to move from iChurch to a Beloved Community. We are learning to collaborate: from joint fundraising campaigns to social media. Habits of collaboration are not yet fully where they need to be, but they are growing.

There are many other justice groups and entities, from UU Ministry for Earth to the UU United Nations Office, from districts to regions, and of course, the organizations with which I am most familiar, the UU state advocacy networks. Many are doing amazing justice work on a shoestring budget. Did I miss any resources that you would like to mention?

[called out from the audience]

We have a lot going on. For a small faith community, we actually manage to bring a fair amount to the table.

Living Up to Our Calling

I have had the opportunity to see and be inspired by the spiritual growth and transformative change we can create together. But there are incredible challenges ahead and issues at stake in this changing climate for ministry, and we are still leaving far too much of our potential on the table.

We can and must more fully meet the challenges of our day. If we do, we will grow both in numbers and in depth. We will not abandon our youth to their future, and we will act our way out of despair into a new set of feelings.

Let me share a story that led me to the take on the work at the UU Legislative Ministry. One day, I was sitting in the newly built basement offices in the San Jose church, looking at the spreadsheet of the proposed annual budget. Expenses exceeded projected income. Not good! I know you have never had this experience!

The congregation had done an amazing job of raising funds to rebuild the church after a major fire. They had persisted through three major Capital campaigns. After six years of what felt like wandering in the wilderness, we were finally back in the building. However, during those years, the .com boom had become the .com bust. Several substantial pledgers had lost their jobs, and our church was challenged to meet our operating budget. For the first time, staff cuts were a real possibility.

Totally out of the blue, I received a call from someone at the Veatch Foundation. Our church was being invited to join their Urban Disciples group, a kind of R& D lab for creating effective congregationally based urban justice ministries. Their invitation to be part of the Urban Disciples came with an unrestricted gift in the range of $25,000.

I could hardly believe my ears. No grant request? No special hoops? Veatch felt that what we were doing was already worthy of support and wanted us in this learning circle. This was like winning the lottery without buying a ticket.  I didn’t have to think long before saying yes.

Shortly after saying yes, it dawned on me that we could hardly use all the funds to hire a part-time Social Justice Coordinator while cutting existing staff. Fortunately, we were allowed to use half the grant for existing staff and half for a quarter-time, one-year, temporary social justice coordinator.   With so few hours and a short-term position at that, we certainly did not do a national talent search to fill this position. We hired a good person, the best candidate we could find at the time.

Even with that modest level of staffing from someone who was relatively new to Unitarian Universalism, it made an unbelievable difference in my life and in our capacity as a church. With just a tiny bit of staffing, it was easier to engage, retain, and effectively use volunteer leadership, as well as to be represented in local coalitions.   Institutional capacity absolutely matters!

I had what a friend calls a BFO, a Blinding Flash of the Obvious.  Just as with other parts of church life--worship, religious education, music, pastoral care, membership, volunteer coordination, and administration--adding even a bit of staff support can make a huge difference to your program.

When a small congregation hires its very first part-time director of religious education or perhaps an administrator, it greatly expands its ability to effectively engage volunteers. This realization got me thinking.  Why don’t we regularly staff our UU justice ministries?

Is it lack of funds? Perhaps, but I think there might be more to it. We have some money. We take special collections for outside community groups. Some congregations pay a membership fee to be part of a Congregation-Based Community Organizing Network, which can provide paid organizing and connectivity to an interfaith network.

In contrast to our attitude toward religious education, do we have an assumption that UU justice ministries do not need much expertise? Do we parish ministers feel that we can handle it all ourselves? Do we lack confidence that the congregation’s justice programs are effective and worth funding? Are justice ministries considered an extra? I know that I enjoy justice ministry in the congregation. It gets me out into the community and is a core part of my ministerial identity. However, by trying to do it all ourselves, we leave so much capacity on the table.

In the few congregations that do have professional leadership for their justice ministries, many are not Unitarian Universalists. Why is that?  We do have professional associations—the Liberal Religious Educators Association, the UU Musicians Network, the Association of UU Administrators, and I understand there is a Membership Professionals group that is developing as well. Why don’t we have a professional association for UU justice leaders?

When I decided to finally leave this beloved church, now ably led by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones and Rev. Geoff Rimositis, I accepted a job with the UU Legislative Ministry in California. It wasn’t something that I originally thought was such a good idea.

Rev. Jody Shipley started floating the concept of organizing statewide to create a UU Legislative Ministry. Karen Gunderson had witnessed the impact of other faith lobbying groups at the state Capitol, particularly during a time when the head of the Department of Social Services was holding hearings to possibly prohibit same-sex couples from being adoptive parents. Jody and Karen thought we should have what they called “a UU voice at the Capitol.” Frankly, I was not convinced.

A lobbyist might make us all feel good. But what would that person really be able to do, absent the ability to demonstrate some power behind the preferred policies?  A voice at the Capitol without a spiritually grounded UU organizing network might lift our visibility just a bit but wouldn’t be an essential component of justice and transformation.

However, when the UU Legislative Ministry’s board decided to expand their concept to include organizing and leadership development, and when they were clear that they were grounding this work in a spiritual practice, I was hooked.  I agreed to give it a shot, in large measure because I was still thinking about that phone call from Veatch.  How could we help to provide some capacity, some staffing, to the justice ministries that our congregations so long to live into?

Amazing people began to step forward, and I began to see what could happen when UU justice ministries are actually linked, not only through interfaith networks, but to one another. Here are two stories as examples.

In 2004, our Board chose marriage equality for same-sex couples as a religious leadership issue, and we became aware of a coalition that was organizing a marriage equality caravan all the way from Oakland to Washington D.C., where they were to hold the first public protest on behalf of marriage equality. It seemed silly to have a caravan on behalf of marriage without any clergy, so I called the organizers to inquire, “Would you like some clergy on the bus?”  They replied, “Sure, can you get us two straight ones from Southern California?”

It was September and these ministers would be gone for a full month in the busy fall. Think about it!  But Rev. John Millspaugh and Rev. Helen Carroll said “Yes!”  They were on that bus, not only providing a public religious witness in communities all across the country but also building relationships of healing with those on the bus, LGBT leaders who had been deeply, deeply wounded by religion.

I will never forget the story of their stop in Laramie, Wyoming, where they visited the bar that Mathew Shepherd had left just before he was murdered. As John and Helen created a safe space for the sharing of the bus riders’ personal experiences of being bullied and enduring violence, the gathering clouds burst open and pouring rain surrounded the riders, mixing with their tears.  Important healing happened that day as trust was built between our UU clergy and those who had been victims of emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse.

I share this story to illustrate the importance and power of connecting UU clergy and social change leadership. Ten years later, with marriage equality legal in California and the nation approaching a tipping point, I also want to remind us how long it can take and how varied the actions can be to bring about significant change. After years of organizing and education, when Proposition 8 loomed, the UU Legislative Ministry Action Network stepped forward as the sponsor of the political action committee that coordinated interfaith organizing against it. We had the legal infrastructure, but it was a huge learning curve, like drinking water out of a fire hose. We learned what it means to throw oneself at an issue during the heat of a campaign and then need time to rest, to renew spirit, hope, and community after a heart- breaking loss. All along the way, an organized UU presence was critical to healing and hope.

The second story I want to share is about the human right to water. It came out of a conversation with the UUSC, when Patricia Jones raised the question “Would UULM be interested in helping us organize on behalf of the human right to water in California?”

The UULMCA board had previously chosen Water Justice as an “incubator issue.” It took us many, many years of development, but our relationship with the UUSC gave us the confidence to suggest the “human right to water” to our statewide water justice coalition, which quickly adopted the idea as its own.

It took several tries (you can “lose forward” in this work), but we finally passed the first human right to water legislation that was signed into law in the country! With 6,000 UUs in our state network, we were able to identify key supporters from across the state. For example, connections with UUs in San Diego, the home district of the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped the human right to water bill to be one of only 5 bills out of 250 to be released from the Committee on its final day. Remarkable!

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you win legislatively, you have to move into implementation. Rev. Rebecca Benefiel Bijur made my heart sing yesterday when she asked about clergy and lay UUs bringing our values into public service at the local level and on state boards and commissions.

Strong public witness with our yellowStanding on the Side of Love” shirts is awesome, but it is a piece of the puzzle. Building long-term, multi-faceted UU justice capacity is also essential.

So What Can We Do?

What if we developed a more realistic understanding of how change happens? Change is bumpy. It takes time. We can lose forward. While based in self- interest, our commitments as people of faith are broader and deeper.

What if we created a network of UU justice professionals: both those paid by their congregation and respected volunteer leaders who have made a significant personal commitment? We also need a Climate Justice Corps!

During the first UU Justice Leadership Summit for our California leaders, I was struck by their deep hunger to talk in depth to others who are doing this work.  Imagine doing ministry and never talking to a colleague! And we wonder why we sometimes lack strong volunteer leadership at the helm of our social justice committees?

Let’s identify a shared language and key elements for justice training. For a long time, I have been lusting after Renaissance Modules or some equivalent shared training for social justice leaders. Parish ministry can feel like learning an unending stream of social justice acronyms, causes, and strategies. Let’s identify what we see as central to the UU justice ministries we want to develop. We will be stronger and more collaborative if our clergy and lay leaders can learn and speak a similar justice language.

We need longer-term commitments - commitments that can take an issue all the way from a bold idea that doesn’t yet have traction, like John and Helen joining the Marriage Equality Caravan, through implementation of a policy victory, such as our recent film to help state agencies and the broader public build support for the human right to water.

We need to be efficient and effective stewards of our justice resources. In 2008, after Proposition 8 passed, enshrining discrimination against same-sex couples in our state constitution, there was lots of anger and hurt in California’s LGBT community. Many were pushing hard to go immediately back to the ballot in 2010. Our leadership team listened, discerned, and decided it was unwise. Forty million dollars is a lot of money to pull out of the community. A vote is a brutal process when dealing with fundamental human rights. We chose to join the strategy of person-to-person conversations to change hearts and minds and a court challenge, while seeing what could happen in some smaller states where it was already on the ballot. Bless you and thank you smaller states! You helped us move marriage equality forward!

We can also more efficiently use our UU resources to free us up to engage in ministry. I am excited by Rev. Thomas Schade’s blog, The Lively Tradition, where among many good concepts, he advocates for shared data and administrative support. Rev. David Miller also has creative ideas about cluster collaboration and even shared staffing among congregations. Each small UU justice organization or congregation need not remain an administrative island, recreating the wheel over and over again. What a waste of time and talent! Can we trust one another enough to allow collaboration to work? 

While I am in full support of the importance of engaging in interfaith networks if we want to be excellent partners at the interfaith table, we have to ramp up what we can do to organize ourselves.

Back to a Changing Climate . . .

While there is critical national work that needs to be done, there are many things we can do at the local level. We don’t have to find the perfect path to start making a contribution. I am personally excited by the power of local zoning decisions to reduce green house gases and increase equity. Increasing affordable housing near transit and creating walkable neighborhoods gets people out of their cars. The issues of environment and social justice are married. We can do this. We can be on this!  

Yesterday, Marshall Ganz said that “starting to act is how you learn.” I believe that starting to act is how you rebuild your hope. And in the face of a changing climate for ministry, we do need hope. So, I ask of you: 


Let’s ramp up our own UU organizing.

Let’s go home and get acquainted with our own location.

Let’s be part of interfaith networks.

Let’s build up our state advocacy networks with clergy, not just lay leaders.

Let’s ground our justice work in our spiritual life.

I believe that growing justice is a little like farming. There is a long view and the ripe moment. In closing, I’d like to share a poem I wrote at the end of my ministry with UULM.

            Change does happen;

            sometimes so slowly we can’t see it.


So we foster friendships beyond the familiar, organize for the long haul,

invest ourselves in the daily tasks of change, building networks of trust.




When public assumptions start to crack and open, stunned by reality into the necessity for change,


We are ready to move history:

ready with ideas and networks, songs and strategy, courage and compassion.


A good farm has soil built up, slowly, over generations, yet also knows the urgency of the harvest.


Justice too,

requires the long view

and powerful work in the ripe moment.


Thank you, for tending your part of the field.