Scribal Remarks

Ministerial Conference at Berry Street

2017, New Orleans, LA


Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker, scribe since 2015


Good afternoon gathered members of the Ministerial Conference in Berry Street, I’m Kate Walker your humble scribe. My duties as Scribe require I convene the Executive Committee of the Ministerial Conference in Berry Street, which in turn is charged with nominating the essayist.  The Executive Committee is Barbara Coeyman, Mark Morrison-Reed, and Mitra Rahnema.  The members of the Conference are you, due to your presence today. I now declare the 197th Ministerial Conference in Berry Street in session.


We begin today by diverting from the norm.  Our selected essayist for 2017 was Sofia Betancourt, who accepted the invitation with due reverence and respect, however, she was subsequently called to another duty, as Interim Co-President of the UUA.  Seeing as her energy and attention were focused elsewhere, she needed to withdraw as the 2017 Essayist.


The Executive Committee and I soon pulled together a panel of five trusted colleagues, who despite two months notice, all graciously agreed to serve.  They will be introduced later.  Our normal pattern is to not give any subject parameters to the essayist.  However, given the circumstances of not having 15 months to anxiously, or calmly, ponder their topic, the Executive Committee wanted to avoid having five disparate reflections with no connective tissue.  So, we gave the panel the following broad questions:


What does it mean for religious leaders to “speak truth to power”?


What would it look like to authentically move that which has been marginalized closer and closer toward the center? Or What does centering that which is marginalized look like?


We also gave them the freedom to interpret these questions as broadly as they deem necessary in order to bring their wisdom to this body.  


We set the program to allow each speaker to have 10 minutes to respond.  The floor will not be opened for questions.


Also normative to our Conference proceedings is for me to request a nomination from the floor for a Moderator.  We’re not going to do that either.  We needed a Moderator early to help gather our panel in their deliberations over the past two months.  We were very pleased that Leslie Takahashi agreed to be our moderator.


Today, you are all witnesses to an unprecedented Conference in form and function, as well as content.  You are present for the first Conference that is focusing on the issues of power, marginalization, racism and ethnic oppression. In my preparation for my Scribal remarks, I looked at essays for what our colleagues of the past might have to say on such topics as: race, racism, blacks, negros, whites, slavery, emancipation, abolition, nationalism, civil war, voting rights or civil rights.


At first I started with just the civil rights era, then expanded to the civil war, and finally returned to the Black Affairs Council (BAC), Black and White Action (BAWA) split in the UUA during the late 1960’s. In those three eras, I found almost nothing (pause for implication), I then expanded my research to ALL the essays we have on record.  We do not have all the essays, however I found eleven referenced one of those key areas as being of concern to their primary topic. In this small window, I found an inconsistent history with obvious gaps.


For example, working backward in time, during the BAC, BAWA split, little was said about civil rights, however in 1970 Frank Gentile, referenced the BAC and BAWA vote as example of misdirected intent:


“I voted "yes” on the BAC and "no” on BAWA and the Chicanos.


“The BAC vote was wrong because the appropriate function of a religious society is not that of a social work agency, political party, labor union, or united community chest.  Its proper function is the worship of God.”


In 1968 Frank Holmes, lamented how racism is a re-occurring reminder of aggressiveness, yet failed to write about Martin Luther King’s assassination one-month prior.  


In May 1865, Henry Whitney Bellows wrote on the need to stand together in association, but there was no mention of slavery, emancipation, or the ending of the civil war the preceding month.


What are we to make of this rather slim and privileged history?  Even if we compensate for our 21st century lens, it is troubling to look back at our Berry Street History. Perhaps it is yet another white wake up call inviting us to reexamine our claims of being a progressive religious movement.  Certainly a deeper analysis is needed.


Our panelists for 2017 are:

Rev. Dr. Kristen Harper

Rev. Mel Hoover

Rev. Ashley Horan

Rev. Dr. Adam Robersmith

Rev. Marta Valentin