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Response to Concerns Raised About Ministry Days

Friday, June 24, 2016   (4 Comments)
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Response to Concerns Raised About Ministry Days

Rev. Josh Pawelek

At Large Member, UUMA Board

June 23rd, 2016


At the conclusion of my report to the UUMA business meeting as the outgoing chair of the Committee for Antiracism, Anti-Oppression and Multiculturalism, I took a moment to reflect on concerns I and others had been hearing from colleagues about Tuesday’s opening worship service. Those remarks are posted below, followed by further comments and a recommendation from the UUMA Board in light of concerns raised about Wednesday’s 25/50 worship service.


Many of you reported having a wonderful experience in Tuesday morning’s worship. But some reported the opposite; and I’d like to name what I’ve heard and offer an apology. First, “One More Step” and “Guide My Feet,” while they are beloved songs in the current UU canon, are also songs in which people who don’t walk or run or step cannot locate themselves. Second, references in music and spoken word to ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers,’ though very common in our language, leave no room for gender queer people and anyone who doesn’t identify with one side or the other of the gender binary.  I know of two ways to address these concerns. First, adapt the language. We don’t have to walk or run, we can move, we can roll. Many of us may be sisters or brothers, but we are also siblings. Second, if there’s a compelling reason to use the original language, then in the very least, acknowledge that the language is not inclusive and state the compelling reason. In a number of instances on Tuesday we pursued neither of these options. To all those who felt left out or invisible, I offer a heart-felt apology. I also caution us that this apology is not about the feelings of any particular individual, and it is definitely not about political correctness. This is an acknowledgement that we missed the mark. This is about who we are, how we are together, and how we fulfill the promise of our theology and our principles.


There’s more. Orlando. So complex. It’s been difficult for the United States to speak of Orlando in terms of race. But there are distinct racial and ethnic dimensions to this mass shooting. At best on Tuesday we hinted at these dimensions, but we didn’t name them explicitly; and to the extent we mirror the nation’s difficulty with speaking about the racial and ethnic dimensions, beloved colleagues in our midst experience themselves as invisible. Yes, the Pulse Nightclub attack was an attack on the GBLTQ community. And it was also an attack on Latinx/a/o night (I believe they billed it as Latino Night). Let’s name that. The victims were brown, some were black, some were white. Let’s name that. And adding to the complexity, the shooter was a person of Afghan heritage. We have colleagues of South Asian and Middle Eastern heritage who are living intimately with this complexity. Let’s name that too.


These remarks will be published online for those who are not present but who may wish to know about them. I am grateful to those who’ve brought their concerns to us. I suspect there may be more concerns we still have not named. I am grateful to those who have high expectations of CARM. In this moment I don’t wish to make any promises about how these kinds of concerns will be addressed in the future, but we have the capacity to address them. Of that I am sure. We have the capacity to listen, to learn, and move—with haste—to a way of being, planning, worshipping, presenting—to a culture—in which our actions more seamlessly match the welcoming, multicultural UUMA we envision.



As an addendum to these remarks, I want to add that concerns have now been raised about ableism in the 25/50 service. Some examples include: 1) a song that equated blindness with ignorance; 2) an invitation to rise without reference to ability or ‘in body or spirit’; and 3) more references to walking as a metaphor for our spiritual lives with no acknowledgement that the metaphor is not inclusive. There was more.

Clearly there is a problem with ableism in our public presentation. Public statements, music, stories and metaphors that perpetuate ableism have been hurtful to colleagues. As with any oppression, this ableism likely runs deeper than our public presentation. I remain grateful to all those who are willing to call it to our attention, and I am deeply sorry that such calling is still necessary.

Realizing that Tuesday’s problems continued into Wednesday, it seems clear that the UUMA needs to make some changes related to ableism and accessibility. After further discussion about these concerns at its Thursday, June 23rd meeting, the UUMA Board has committed to work with the Executive Director to arrange for an ableism audit of the UUMA and create processes to insure that the UUMA’s attention to and knowledge of these issues (not only at Ministry Days but at all UUMA programs and in chapter life) increases sufficiently so that substantive changes can be made and our welcome to and inclusion of colleagues with disabilities can flourish.

In faith,

Rev. Josh Pawelek, on behalf of the UUMA Board




Melanie M. Morel-Ensminger (Melanie Sullivan) says...
Posted Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Thank you to Josh and to the UUMA Board for responding in this way to the concerns raised. Yes, we will miss the mark at times but the important thing is to .listen, to alter our practice, to acknowledge the pain we caused, and to resolve to do better. And to those nameless colleagues who are worried about "censorship" -- shame on you.
Judith A. Walker-Riggs says...
Posted Wednesday, July 6, 2016
There I was, unable to travel any more, in my uncomfortable pressure sore inducing wheelchair, desperate for a feeling of contact with my "family" with whom I had celebrated most of my life, and "walking walking walking" and stand up for the hymns without any notice of those who can't. Shots of the crowd showed how lonely, isolating, even embarrassing it might have been to remain seated, not to mention being able to see anything through a sea of bodies. Not only would I have been invisible and more importantly +not even thought about during preparation and at the event+ if I had been there, it somehow felt even more painful at home, when not being able to walk meant I couldn't even be there to be ignored. I actually did turn the feed off, it just didn't sit right, no pun intended.
Barbara F. Meyers (Kolsky) says...
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Thank you and the UUMA Board for this quick, affirming response. I have been a member of EqUUal Access, the UU Accessibility organization, and am responsible for the leading the development and implementation of the AIM (Accessibility and Inclusion Ministry) certification program. It's possible that some of our assessment resources could be useful in the UUMA accessibility audit. I'd be happy to talk to you or whoever works on the audit about this. FYI, the materials for AIM are on the UUA's website at: It is so good that my professional ministry program acknowledges that abelism is real and wants to address it. Thank you again. Rev. Barbara F. Meyers
Lucy M. Ijams says...
Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Thank you for reporting on this. I am not on social media and had not heard a word about it. Thank you, also, for the work you have done for our UUMA on the Committee on ARAOM.

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