"Creating Leaders for Beloved Community: The Challenges of Mentorship"
Meg Riley, Church of the Larger Fellowship
Berry Street Essay, 2018

Delivered at the Ministerial Conference
June 20, 2018
Kansas City, MO

Let me begin with gratitude. Gratitude to the good folks on the Berry Street committee, who offered me this place of immense privilege from which to speak. Gratitude to Elizabeth and Rosemary and Julie, for being here with me today. Gratitude to all of the people I spoke with on my way to this talk, some in formal interviews and others in desperate phone calls, some of whom emailed me answers to my questions. Gratitude to all of the people, living and dead, who have shaped me and made me and continue to recreate me each day. I am grateful especially to my home team at CLF, and also back in the Twin Cities. Grateful for this living faith of which we are a part, for the opportunity to be together today, and for the invisible but tangible presence of those watching online from other rooms.

As I tried to wrestle down complex relationships, principles, and beliefs into the form that this talk would take, three concepts rose to primary importance for me. I’ve called them “permanent allegiances,” lifting language Alison Miller used in a conversation I’ll quote later. Those are: First: that Unitarian Universalism needs to be deeply, passionately, and consistently devoted to the care and nurturance of its young members. Second, that the relationships of caring and vulnerability, accountability and trust, which we develop with one another as leaders will determine the future of our faith as they have determined its past and present. And third, that in this time of profound and unpredictable change in the bigger world and within our faith, we need spiritual practices more than ever, to give us the strength and courage to evolve.

Those may seem like separate and perhaps even unrelated concepts. But they all have the common root that, for Unitarian Univeralism to flourish as the life-saving faith it can be, we need one another more than ever, in covenanted relationships of risk and trust and accountability. And our covenants, if they are to be strong enough to hold us, must be grounded in something bigger and more enduring than whether we enjoy or like one another.

My life has been profoundly influenced by many mentors and I have long wished for an app to track the “lineage” of religious professionals, because I think sometimes what we engage in as theological differences might be equally well understood as different human influences. Which relationships shaped which lines of thought and action which have emerged in different interpretations of Unitarian Universalism?

Let me start by sharing just a few of my formative influences, out of many I could share!

I remember the first time I was scheduled to preach. It was 1985; I was a new, young Director of Religious Education at First Universalist Church in Minneapolis. The minister there, John Cummins, had suggested I give a sermon about religious education. As the time drew near, I was terrified. I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t write; I could only fret and worry: What if I threw up on the pulpit? (My fear located itself in the physical. Nothing subtle, like people disliking what I said.) Two weeks before it was time to speak, I went into John’s office.

“John,” I said, trembling. “I can’t do this. I can’t. I don’t have anything to say; and I’m just too scared.” He looked at me compassionately, kindly, listened intently and nodded his head empathetically. “You’re really scared, aren’t you?” he said. “I wish I could tell you that it isn’t scary after you do it a few times, but that’s just not true.”

I felt my body relax for the first time in a while, confident that he was about to say there was no need for me to go through this terror. Instead, he said, still in that kind and compassionate voice, “We’re going to have to get you in the pulpit often, though, because it does get LESS scary over time!”

“NO!!!” I pretty much squeaked, backing out of his door. “No! Once! Just once!” He continued to smile kindly as I fled.

I have thought of that exchange many times. Had he, thinking to be kind, chosen to spare me the agony I was clearly suffering, chosen to honor my fear, allowed me to back out of my commitment, it is highly likely I would not have ever preached. Because after you have said no once successfully, what would change later so that you would say yes? And I would have missed one of the greatest joys of my life, the opportunity to share what has become one of my gifts with the world.

It’s a moment that I cherish, a key moment of transformational mentoring, where he could see something in me that I could not yet see in myself. He trusted that I could do something I did not believe I could do, and he refused to release me from my commitment. In my life, many of my transformational moments have come in that way—from relationships, from someone else’s needs or demands pointing the way through and beyond my fears or unconsciousness.

Some of those moments of transformation take place in structured learning moments, and some are more random one time events. For instance, I wouldn’t have been in seminary and serving as a religious educator at all, if it hadn’t been for Karen Gustafson. One Sunday morning, for no particular reason, I walked up the street from the housing collective where I lived with ten other young people and attended Unity Church Unitarian, just to see what was going on. I had grown up UU but fallen away from it in college, as young people do, and just noticed the word Unitarian and was curious. Anyway, Karen’s sermon had a life-changing impact on me. I still remember it well, not because it was the most profound sermon I’d ever heard but because she was a woman. Preaching. A woman preacher. In this case, her very existence was a powerfully transformative thing. I don’t think I said a word to her. But she changed my life! I hadn’t known I was waiting to see my imagine in a mirror but I don’t think I would ever have applied to seminary if I hadn’t heard and seen her, doing what I couldn’t imagine.

When I decided to speak about mentoring today, it was because I realized how crucial those moments have been for me, those moments where a relationship with someone opens a new door and life changes. I would go so far as to say that the holy, God, whatever you want to call the great mystery we swim in, is present in those moments and those relationships. In this intense time of challenge and upheaval, when all of our values and some of our families and communities are under increasingly cruel, violent and bold attacks, it occurred to me that this would be a topic worthy of all of our attention: How the ways we care for one another, or don’t, serve to strengthen or to diminish who we might be together. How we call in Love, or God, or Power, or something bigger than our small selves, to magnify our small band of folk. My prayer is that some reflection might bring us to more intentionality, to strengthen one another and our wider movement.

I could tell you moments of profound disappointment as well. Let’s be real. Times when my fragile self smashed to the ground as others stood by silently, or when I hid myself away from others so that they would not see my vulnerability, because I could not trust them with it.

That moment with John Cummins, more precious to me as each year goes by, is a clear and profound moment of what it means to have someone refuse to accept my own opinion that I am inadequate. The sense of perpetual inadequacy is something many of us who are women and femmes struggle with; others have different demons with which to wrestle. Whatever form they take, I am sure that everyone in this room has had similar experiences, or you would not be here today, as lay and professional leaders in our faith. Not all moments of mentoring are terror-laden, but all of them involve, in my experience, the feeling of approaching new territory, previously unknown.

Life is full of so many moments like that, we almost don’t notice them. Times when you tell someone how badly you screwed something up and they listen and love you anyway and your soul climbs back up off the floor into your body. Times when you are talking casually, without much thought, and someone interrupts you and says, ouch! You just said something hurtful! And you have to re-wind and become more conscious and pay closer attention to what just came out of your mouth and reconsider who you want to be, who you are called to be, in this and in every relationship. Our families, our congregations, our friends, our professional colleagues—we are most alive in these moments of revelation and learning. All real living is meeting! as Martin Bueber said. He also said “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”

I invite take a moment, then, and name those people, living or dead, who have most fully met you authentically and with humanity, the ones who made you the person we are today. We’ll be quiet for just a moment, and then feel free to whisper quietly or to shout out the names of those you carry with you. Denny Davidoff. Ibrahim Farajaje.

In preparation for this talk, I spoke for about an hour with 35 people, whose names you can read if you go to the online version of this talk. I wanted to gather wisdom about life in our faith that came from perspectives beyond my own. I chose people whose lives evidence, for me, what commitment to our values looks like. People from whom I knew I would learn something. Many are religious professionals; some are longterm active laypeople; most are UUs. All have, clearly, devoted themselves to the values I care most about. Those conversations were profound and holy for me, as people shared deeply of themselves. I am particularly grateful to the people who live with marginalized identities I do not share for their honesty and trust in telling me their stories.

As I spoke with people, it became increasingly clear to me that mentoring, though important, was inadequate language for what I wanted to explore. I want to know how relationships of all kinds can most powerfully and positively shape us into the strongest individual and collective force possible! How can we be with one another and ourselves with intention and love and humililty? How can we stop perpetuating systems of oppression in our relationships, turning them into laboratories to help us live better in the enormous construct which we try to contain with the name “white supremacist capitalistic heteropatriarchy?”

Mentoring, traditionally, implies a hierarchical relationship where one person knows stuff that they are teaching another person. This becomes all but impossible, given the complex identities we carry, and the ignorance people of privilege hold about identities of those on the margins. Many people I spoke with, and my own life experience, tells me that there are many ways to learn. Collectives, peer relationships, colleagues, shared identity groups, shared experiences with strangers.

Drawing again from Martin Buber’s wisdom about relationship, he wrote, “We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.” When I was interviewing people, I began by asking them, “Who sees you? Who helps you see yourself? Who was the first person who ever saw you?” To avoid ableist language we could rephrase that as, who knows you? Who helps you know yourself? Who was the first person who ever knew you?

I realize that my particular identities and life experiences lead me to the ceonclusion, that we need to witness one another and ourselves profoundly in order to summon the courage and willingness to open and flower into our full beings. I am white and cisgender female. I am a big lesbian and came out over forty years ago, back when it never even occurred to me that I could be both my authentic self and a UU minister. Indeed, a moment of profound relational failure occurred when, as a young adult just beginning to gather the courage to come out as lesbian, I approached a fatherly male minister to wonder which life I was being called to, lesbianism or UU ministry. It seemed impossible to me to do both! He responded by making a pass at me and telling me he could help me to know that I wasn’t really a lesbian. I literally ran out the door away from Unitarian Universalism and spent the next couple of wonderful years completely immersed in my new life as a lesbian. Yet eventually I did begin seminary, religion undeclared, and became a DRE.

Another profound and pivotal moment in my life was when Terry Sweetser came to candidate in the congregation where I was serving and asked casually, “So, who are the gay ministers in the area?” I was stunned. I said, “Gay ministers?” and he responded, “Sure! I’d like to talk with the gay ministers!” I was astonished, as I had never heard those two words together.

In my interviews, a few lucky people indicated that their parents or grandparents saw them as far back as they can remember. The great majority of people lifted up an important person from their teenage years. The key feature that they lifted up from that relationship was that the other person treated them with respect and cared what they thought and felt. This was a person, usually an adult, who actually valued them as someone with contributions to make.

People also lifted up communities that were important to them in teenaged years: LRY, YRUU, Scouts, camps, teams or clubs…communities of peers that had specific expectations, along with adults holding the form of those expectations.

Tera Klein, who spent years developing camps for youth in the Pacific Southwest District, says, “Youth describe DeBenneville as a second home. I’ve heard them say that they can be seen for who they are, can be all of who they want to be, experiment with who they might want to be. They’re not in a box. We talk a lot about claiming a people and a place. A place like DeBenneville, you have a people and a place right there.”

Tera, and other people I spoke with who have been involved with youth programming, lament the lack of consistent focus which Unitarian Universalism as a whole pays to youth.

I believe that the way we value the young people in our congregations and in our larger movement is absolutely central to our vitality and relevance as a people. If we behave as if we don’t care if the young people in our midst stay or go, can we honestly say that we are a religion? And yet in too many of our congregations, paying attention to our youth is the sole responsibility of some very part time person, and the leaders of the congregation only know whose kids they are, not who they are.

If you’re going to hand someone this pulpit you’re going to hear their pet peeves, and one of mine is that we disbanded YRUU with no replacement envisioned for what would be better as a national framework. So many current ministers and leaders I talked with – people from multiple generations—spoke about LRY or YRUU as absolutely central to their faith. Youth ministry could have many different structures, but I believe that consistent support for it is vital to our faith. Having a name for our national youth movement, even as youth ministries flourish in a variety of places and forms, seems foundational to me for visibility and respect.

My bias about this comes in part from my own wildly mixed experience as a UU teenager. It turns out, I learned later when I had access to the files in the youth office, that I came along in a rare moment when the UUA decided to care about junior high kids. As a result, I went to fabulous summer camps and age-appropriate conferences all through junior high. And my senior high youth group in my local congregation was strong. However, the district LRY was hitting its end during my time in high school, and the conferences were terrifying for someone like me –someone not yet ready to acknowledge her nascent queer sexuality in a world of massive and overt heterosexual activity. And, while my congregation’s senior high youth group was strong, not a single person—not my ministers, not my youth group leaders, not even my parents—ever said they cared if I remained UU as I came into adulthood. Rather, people bent over backwards encouraging me to make my own path wherever I wanted to make it, to the degree that I began to feel like I’d be an unwanted loser if I hung around!

My other bias about this comes from my own time working with youth and young adults, in a congregation and in various UUA positions, where I had the privilege to work with young people giving themselves fully to our faith. So many of them still are! I love that I got to know Joseph Santos-Lyons, Parisa Parsa, Rebecca Scott, Alison Miller, Rob Keithan, Leela Sinha, Alyce Gowdy-Wright, and so many other amazing, now middle-aged, Unitarian Universalists back when they were amazing teenaged and young adult leaders. May Alyce rest in power and in peace. Many of the amazing youth I knew have since moved on from us, but I know that they heard from at least one person—me—that I really hoped that they would stick around!

Alison Miller said, “Shouldn’t we have things we feel permanent allegiance to? For me, for the well being of faith, youth should be permanent allegiance.” I agree with Alison. For the well being of our faith, youth should be a permanent allegiance.

Most of us have allegiances, not just to ideas and communities and tenets of faith, but also to specific people in our lives who have been there along the way. People who explicitly hold the promise of who we can be, who embody presence and attention. Who see the best in us even when we can’t. These people in some way become the embodiment of our faith.

For me, no one has presence like that more than Kay Montgomery, the UUA’s former Executive Vice President.

I went to Boston to interview for the job of Youth Programs Director on something of a whim. It was January of 1989. I thought, why not have a free trip to Boston and go take a look around this UUA I’ve heard so much about? I also wanted to tell them how badly I thought they were screwing up youth programs, from a congregational perspective.

The interviews proceded up the hierarchy to the final decision. When I met Kay, at that final interview, I was riveted. She was funny, she was human, she had read my resume carefully and asked smart questions. Still, I left ambivalent about this possible move, and when the job was offered to me, I said I needed to think about it.

Kay called at this point to talk, and more importantly, to listen, to my concerns. She then told me that when she moved from Atlanta to Boston to work for the UUA herself, she cried in the airplane’s bathroom almost the whole way to Boston. Somehow her vulnerability reached me exactly where I needed to be reached to believe that I could handle the move, and I took that leap of faith.

In the almost thirty years since, Kay has always been there, at first a distant figure in a hierarchy, soon the person I went over my supervisor’s head to complain to, and then my direct supervisor, after that a colleague on leadership council who was no longer my supervisor, and now a trusted advisor, volunteer meeting facilitator, and member of the fundraising committee at CLF. I joke that no matter what her formal role, I have always reported to Kay.

I can hear exactly how Kay sounds when I call to confess to her something especially ridiculous or awful that I’ve done. Ohhhh, she practically moans in sympathy. I remember that steely voice she summons to ask me questions that need to be asked about what I’m doing and not doing, and what’s really going on. Once, she flew to DC from Boston to tell me how badly I was screwing something up. She wanted to tell me that in person. Now that she is retired, she is still the first person I think of when I need to chew over something complex and overwhelming. She makes me think of something I read a book called, Parenting Young Children After Adoption. “Your child will suffer,” the book said. “You have no choice about that. Your only choice is whether your child suffers alone or you suffer with them.” Kay has suffered with me for almost 30 years. She is also the person I call when triumph comes by. When the Berry Street committee told me that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone but family I was going to be the next speaker here, for a period of months, Kay was part of the family I chose to tell.

There are also relational experiences that nearly destroy us, that I have witnessed my whole time in UUism and we are all learning about now in large numbers, designed to specifically and particularly take down the leadership of people of color. Healing from where we are is going to be a long hard climb, and it’s going to take all of us together with power beyond us to enable us to move forward as times demand. As Leon Dunkley said, “No anti-racism training is going to heal a broken heart.” I am grateful for all of the leaders working to create new policies and practices that will help to lead us into a new time which is not so completely grounded in old patterns of oppression, and particularly to all the people of color who have stayed despite the unfairness and difficulty. A conversation with Mark Morrison-Reed taught me that none of the Black pioneers he researched in his books would have been able to name any mentor who helped them break into our faith.

I heard many heartbreaking stories in my interviews with people of color, and though they are not my stories to tell, I will say that unless and until we who are white acknowledge the pain we are causing, it can’t stop. And it’s all of us. It’s systemic There is no point in naming names or pointing fingers at specific people. Indeed, in my conversations, there were three names lifted up twice in a key role. In each of these three cases, one person who shared the privileged identities named another specific person as their primary source of support. Someone else, who did not share their privileged identities, named the same person as their greatest source of broken trust and relationship. Three people’s names came up this way in just 35 conversations!

Now, you could ask me the names of those three people and we could dissect them and weigh their pros and cons as “good people”. But I don’t think naming names is the point. I didn’t even name the jerk who made the pass at me either, and he’s dead, so it wasn’t for fear of a lawsuit. Every single one of us, as we carry multiple identities and characteristics, will both enable people to flourish and be a source of pain and an obstacle to growth for other people. I know that, much as I wish it were otherwise, this is true of me. I have struggled to mentor a variety of people with varying success. I am confident that you will find people here who will say pretty much everything there is to say about me, as well as everyone I have named in my talk today. I don’t say this because I like it; only because it is true. That's why we all need to rest in policies and procedures which look beyond our individual strengths and weaknesses and good intentions, and demand that we are accountable.

As I spoke with the religious professionals I interviewed, the names of friends and colleagues were lifted up frequently when I asked, who do you call when you’re in trouble? For people of color, trans and gender nonconforming people, people living with disabilities, collegial relationships with other people who share those key identities are absolutely central, the cog in the wheel that makes any other life possible. For cisgender white men, vulnerability comes hardest, and key relationships of honesty and accountability with other white men are lifted up as central, although insufficient. At some point, friendship and mentorship often begin to intertwine to a point where they are inseparable. But the friendships cited are not just “you go!” friendships; they are the kind that involve questioning, challenging, and sometimes even confronting. They are relationships in which both people are willing to be honest, present, and open, and to work hard at it.

Some kind of radical hospitality is key to real relationships developing. They have to have a time and place--whether it’s a history of phone calls, weekly coffee, going to each others’ houses for dinner. In the Twin Cities, where I live, the deepening relationships between colleagues are profound. Back in the 1980’s, we religious educators were a tight group. We needed one another and relied on one another and were deeply honest. But at that time, the congregations were atomistic, unrelated, competitive with one another. We rolled our eyes, we women who all served in subserviant roles to male ministers, at their unwillingness to develop the kind of trust and sharing that came naturally to us. No one who studied the evolution of the culture of clergy in the Twin Cities could fail to notice the role that Rob and Janne Eller-Isaacs have played to change this culture. For Janne and Rob, hospitality is what it means to be church. Coming out of their own experiences of collegial friendships and hospitality in southern California and the Bay area, they began inviting colleagues to dinner, in small groups and annually as a whole large group. Creating that time and space has been invaluable to us all. Relationships need time and space to grow.

(This is where, due to time limitations, I had to omit the long paragraph about my other pet peeve: the UUA getting rid of Picket-Eliot house, a gathering place where non-staff members had time and space to grow meaningful relationships and collaborations. Well, I guess I didn’t omit it completely…)

Beyond time and space, what do we need to grow relationships? The people I interviewed spoke over and over about trust, and discerning who is worthy of trust. Who can we trust when we are in trouble? For example, let’s talk about me, preparing this talk. I got really tangled up in fear and judgment and insecurity and all those other demons as I struggled to prepare this. (I guess this is progress from my younger days: I did NOT worry about throwing up on the chancel. I DID worry about you not liking it!) CLF had us logging our hours in April and May, and I’m told I logged a ridiculous 87 hours messing around with this. As those of you know who write often, even figuring in a lot of interviews, such a high number of hours put in on something is generally not a good sign. It means a lot of going in circles, struggling to find words, struggling to find concepts on which to hang words.

Finally, staring down a jumble of concepts and a frustrating lack of focus, I realized that I was completely stuck. In desperation, I invited a small group of trusted colleagues and loved ones to come and listen to what I’d written and reflect back to me what on earth they thought I was trying to say. Believe me, you should be very very grateful to them for this, as I was. No one told me my first draft of the talk was terrible, but we all knew it. This is not false modesty! What one person told me, though, and all evidenced by the quality of their listening and feedback, is that they BELIEVED I had something important to say. They critiqued pretty much every word of my talk, not in a spirit of judgment but as ladders up out of the mire, they were first responders offering me help. I then wrote a whole different speech, emailed it out, and they gave me helpful feedback to make that better. And again. This talk is, in fact, the work of a collective. But all of our faithful work is collective, isn’t it? How else could we do anything? Trust has to be at the center of collective work, and we have to behave as trustworthy. (You’ll also see their names if you go to the online version of this talk.)

In order to uphold these commitments of accountability to the young, and to authentic and vulnerable relationships with one another, I believe we also need permanent allegiance to spiritual practice—that is, to particular, evolving, changing, actions which we take to make trust and care possible for ourselves. In these times of widening distrust of all forms of authority, legislated cruelty, crumbling facades, we need spiritual practices to hold onto, to steady us, center us, remind us who we are and whose we are.

What are some of these spiritual practices? In the spirit of improv, I will say that they are whatever we can learn or find that will help us continue to say YES AND to life. They will differ for each one of us. I define spiritual practice very broadly. But they are not optional and our intentionality about them can’t be sporadic. For me, gardening and improv are two of my key spiritual practices, where I learn co-creativity, fluidity, and responsive relationship. For the past five years or so, I’ve also enjoyed a morning conversation each day with Sharon Welch. We talk for half an hour early on, and that daily conversation gives me strength and focus that recommits me to my purpose on the planet. We trouble shoot, celebrate, lament, rage, and listen. Primarily, we witness each other’s lives.

I heard about some other great practices as I conducted my interviews. To give you an idea of the breadth of what we might do to stay committed to our authentic humanity in these times, I’ll share some of those.

Larry Peers suggests curiosity as a primary spiritual practice. When things get hard, many of us clench up and become somewhat reptilian and curiosity flies right out the window. Cultivating a spirit of curiosity as a spiritual practice is particularly important right in those moments when the clenching happen. Several people offered specific ways to build that practice of curiosity.

Charles DuMond said that he and his wife Barbara ask one another with increasing regularity, “This isn’t about us, so what is it about?” By de-centering themselves, they make room for hearing the voices on the margins, so that their center can grow. I know in those moments when I can set my ego aside that it will find me again with a claimcheck soon enough. “This isn’t about me, so what is it about?” Great question we all can ask ourselves daily as a spiritual door to open.

Elizabeth Nguyen asks this question: What if the data point for our success was creating leaders who are stronger than we are? This is a revolutionary question indeed, another one asking us to set aside ego, to move instead to a viewpoint much bigger, about what is needed to create the vitality of the larger world.

Lena Gardner suggests that if we find ourselves wanting approval from someone, we interrogate why that is. She believes a lot of us are looking for approval from the wrong sources. Something else to be curious about!

Caitlin Breedlove says that the foundational question for her spiritual practice is, Am I willing to be transformed in the service of this work? She admits that the willingness is not always a joyful eager willingness, but that willingness is the bottom line. She needs to reconnect with that when she is shutting down. Willingness to be transformed as a spiritual practice. She references the group Southerners On New Ground, who ask this commitment of people who want to join their organization, and wonders what our congregations would be like if we asked that same baseline commitment.

Julie Taylor lifts up forgiveness as a spiritual practice, albeit a complicated one, which needs to be grounded in restorative justice.

As I listened to stories from people about times when they were seen and times when they felt their humanity was betrayed, I learned that pretty much no one has made it through life without times of profound disappointment in humanity. For the people I spoke with who carry historically marginalized identities, the repetitive natue of those stories made them particularly painful to hear. Some of our history has shifted enough that at least some of the pain has stopped, at least in its intensity. Looking around this room, with all the women and queer people sitting as ordained and lay leaders at every level, it is almost hard to imagine the pain that the first women or queer people went through as they broke barriers. I have heard their stories, though, and they are heartbreaking. It is not hard to imagine the pain that people of color, or trans or gender nonconforming folks, or folks with disabilities, went through because a great deal of that pain hasn’t stopped. Unless you’re a saint, you can’t forgive someone for something they did if they’re still doing it, defending it, and fighting any movement to stop their ability to do it unchecked .

There’s no such thing as too good to fail, too experienced to fail, too enlightened to betray people, too ‘woke’ to oppress people, much as we wish it were otherwise. In this stew of imperfection in which we all live, there’s only a daily need to be real about the impact we have on other people, to apologize genuinely when we screw up, and to mend what we tore and try again. In order to stay current in this way we need to be in continuing conversation with each other, and to humbly acknowledge our imperfections and trust one another to believe we can do better.

This move to personal responsibility needs to happen in addition to massive changes in policies and practices which are happening all over Unitarian Universalism right now, and which give me hope.

But no training or program will get us there. We need to dig deep into ourselves and intentionally build strong, trustworthy relationships, if we are going to do the work that is needed to keep saying yes to life together. As Leon Dunkley said: “I can’t afford us to inch forward. I need miles, not meters.” For me these words are both humbling and frightening, because I know how hard it can be for me to stop moving backwards, much less to become willing to budge even a fraction of an inch, when I am stewing in my white juices. And yet, here is this person I care deeply about, this colleague with whom I am covenanted, calling me to MOVE already! I can only dream of accomplishing such a thing if I am harnessed to a power much greater than my own. Our collective power, infused with a power greater than any of us.

There are many, many more spiritual practices that emerged from the interviews I had with people, so many ways that people are finding to connect powerfully with one another that I haven’t had time to reference or even reflect on them. Maybe a book sometime!

What will we do together, then? How will we co-create the faith we long for? Where will we find the courage to take risks together to resist all that threatens to destroy us now?

I have no illusions that slogans or advice really change things, but here they come anyway. I’ll conclude by saying, Just do it. Just do it. I can’t do it alone, and I know you can’t either, so please could we do it together?

Make commitments to the young ones around us, get to know them and support their lifeforce as they grow into their power. Force ourselves to take risks and build trust with trustworthy accomplices, understanding that none of us is fully trustworthy and pretty much everyone will disappoint us one way or another eventually. That’s why grounding ourselves with spiritual practices that keeps us connected to the bigger life forces that move within us, among us, and beyond us are essential. Could we do this together?

I will conclude, as I began, with the spiritual practice of gratitude. Gratitude for all I have been given, for the living tradition of this faith. For the covenant that exists between us in this free faith. As Rebecca Parker wrote in What They Dreamed Be Ours to Do: There is a power that undergirds our covenant making that is more than the power of our will and decision-making. In fact, our covenant-making is a response to this power, a co-working with this power. We make this response, most fundamentally, not by what we say, but by what we do—by coming together in peace, committing ourselves to be co-workers with the source of life.”

So, co-workers, let’s be about it! Thank you!

Thank you.


 For lengthy interviews:

Aisha Hauser 
Alicia Forde 
Alison Miller 
Arif Mamdani
Barb Greve
Brad Bradburd 
Brad Greeley 
Caitlin Breedlove 
Charles DuMond 
Darrick Jackson 
David Pettee 
Elizabeth Nguyen 
Gini Courter 
Gordon Gibson
Janice Marie Johnson
Janne Eller-Isaacs
Joseph Santos-Lyons
Judith Walker-Riggs
Julica Hermann de la Fuente
Julie Taylor
Kendyl Gibbons
Larry Peers
Lena Gardner
Leon Dunkley
Lindi Ramsden
Mark Belletini
Mark Morrison-Reed
Melissa Carvill-Ziemer
Parisa Parsa
Rebecca Parker
Rob Eller-Isaacs
Sunshine Wolfe
Tera Klein
Tracy Robinson-Harris
Wayne Arnesen

For email surveys:
Ann Woldt
Jill Menadier
Linda McAffrey

For feedback:
Arif Mamdani
Elissa Raffa
Janne Eller-Isaacs
Jen Crow
Jie Wronski-Riley
Kate Tucker
Rob Eller-Isaacs