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Trustees work, worship, and mingle with Philadelphia UUs

Board meets with young adults and lends a hand in MLK Day of Service.
By Michelle Bates Deakin

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Members of the Unitarian Society of Germantown, Pa., (from left) Beth Lazer, Trevor Lalish-Menagh and Jill Murray, prepare for the congregation’s annual MLK Day of Service.

In Philadelphia for their January meeting, members of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Board of Trustees met with local UUs in formal and informal settings, with a dozen trustees joining in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

The trustees joined a group of young adults at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia for a buffet dinner in the church basement before the young adults convened an open-mike night of singing and performance. The trustees returned for Sunday morning worship. And on Monday, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, they engaged in a day of service organized by the Unitarian Society of Germantown.

The board has held its January meetings for the last three years in different cities around the country in an effort to meet with local UUs. Last January, the board met in New Orleans. In 2011, the board held its January meeting in Tempe, Ariz.

After its Friday meetings, board members traveled to First Unitarian Church to meet with young adults and to learn about growth and outreach programs in the Joseph Priestley District, the Central East Regional Group (CERG), and within the Philadelphia church.

First Unitarian board member Anne Slater described the three-year social justice programs the congregation votes to undertake. It has just completed a three-year literacy project. And it has embarked on a three-year food-justice focus. Student minister Lee Paczulla described the initiative already under way, including partnering with the group Urban Tree Connection to create community gardens and urban farms.

First Unitarian has an active young adult community, which interested the UUA trustees, who had spent that afternoon hearing from UU young adults about their representation at the UUA General Assembly and in UUA governance and activities. (See accompanying story.) Ben Paulson described the young adult initiatives, including the YAC PAC (young adult planning committee), which coordinates activities and programs.

Paula Cole Jones, racial and social justice director of the Joseph Priestley District, detailed plans for multicultural growth efforts in area congregations. “It’s time to stop getting ready and start just doing it,” she said. This year, she’s helping congregations with a program called “Sow 10,000 Seeds.” Its premise is that if 25 people from each district congregation were to each invite six people to an event in one year, it would sow 10,000 seeds of interest in Unitarian Universalism. Even if the person doesn’t accept the invitation, the seed has been planted, Jones said.

Dennis Brunn, director of legislative advocacy for UUPLAN, the UU Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network, detailed the group’s work on economic justice, environmental issues, immigration reform, and LGBT equality. Brunn said the group represents 40 congregations and 6,000 UUs in the state.

Finally, Pat Infante, faith development consultant for the CERG Region, described the area’s success with its threshold congregation program, which pairs congregations successful in one area—such as governance, infrastructure, faith development, or membership growth—with congregations hoping to learn from them.

On Sunday, January 20, the trustees returned to First Unitarian, this time upstairs in the historic sanctuary with its blue walls, stained glass, and burnt-orange, wooden vaulted ceiling. The Rev. Addae Ama Kraba, a community minister affiliated with the church who works as consulting minister to the Dorothea Dix Unitarian Universalist Community in Bordentown, N.J., preached about harmonizing the mind, body, and spirit.

On MLK Day, six trustees and Kathy Burek, chair of the Districts Presidents Association, travelled to the Germantown congregation, in northwestern Philadelphia. For more than two decades the congregation has coordinated an annual MLK Day of Service. This year’s event drew 525 volunteers from area congregations and the community at large, according to the Rev. Kent Matthies, Germantown’s minister. “Philly comes on fire to live out the mission and the ministry of Dr. King,” he said. “It’s an amazing tradition.”

This year’s projects included building urban gardens, writing letters to people with HIV/AIDS, repairing schools, performing clean-up work at a local Boys & Girls Club, and helping at a library in South Philadelphia.

The day began with a filled-to-capacity worship service before volunteers dispersed to their projects. And it ended with a broadcast of President Obama’s inauguration on a large screen in the sanctuary. Hundreds of volunteers watched the telecast and ate homemade soup.

The church describes the day of service “as a wonderful, teachable moment to affirm your support for the values of justice and compassion that ran through the life and legacy of Dr. King.” Volunteers are a mix of members of area congregations and members of the community at large. Matthies said he was thrilled that board members could attend, volunteer, and see the program in action. “We’re very proud of this and really believe in this as a model for other regions and congregations,” he said.

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