How a UU Congregation Confronted Its Norms to Root Out Racism and Oppression

How a UU Congregation Confronted Its Norms to Root Out Racism and Oppression

First UU Church of Nashville took serious action to implement ‘Widening the Circle of Concern’ culture changes. Here are insights from that journey.

Andrea Dulanto
Photo of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, Tennessee
© Bill Taylor


In 2020, after three years of intensive study, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Commission on Institutional Change issued a groundbreaking analysis of structural racism and white supremacy culture within Unitarian Universalism in its report Widening the Circle of Concern.

From the start, the commissioners emphasized that the report is not an academic exercise. They want UU congregations to use it to undertake serious study and take action to implement its recommendations.  

First UU Church of Nashville, Tennessee, is one of more than forty UU congregations that have shared updates with the UUA about how they’ve taken the commission’s exhortation to heart. The congregation had already adopted an Eighth Principle—an explicit commitment to antiracism and anti-oppression—in January 2021, which helped create the buy-in that enabled members to move on to the commission’s report and study guide.

"We passed the Eighth Principle, 100 percent, so now we need[ed] to live into it," said Carleen Dowell, a member of the congregation’s Beloved Community Team, which offers classes, discussions, and field trips to engage the community around issues of race and privilege.  

How First UU Church of Nashville Committed to the Eighth Principle

For eleven months, starting in August 2022, the congregation held monthly sessions for the congregation and visitors around the commission’s findings. Over 100 people participated in at least one session.

And the congregation invited Dr. Elías Ortega, a member of the commission, as lecturer for its annual Robert C. Palmer Lecture on Human Rights. Dowell also consulted with Tyler Coles of the UUA’s Southern Region, who was "very helpful in providing advice and resources for us."

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The congregation has now moved on to implementing a set of twelve recommended Widening the Circle priority actions. It has "a fully diverse professional staff in terms of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and age," said Rev. Diane Dowgiert, developmental lead minister.

It is working to remove obstacles to participation in leadership, providing training about microaggressions, looking towards hosting Black Lives of UU Spiritual Communities, and building connections with historically Black colleges and universities. 

‘Widening the Circle’ with the UUA’s Mosaic Hub

Congregations are using Widening the Circle in a number of ways, from board reads, to religious education programs, to cross-congregation collaborations utilizing the study guide, says Melissa James, Congregational Life staff in the Pacific Western Region, and many have reported that it was a great help in going deeper in their antiracism, anti-oppression, and multiculturalism work. Congregations can continue to engage through the UUA’s Mosaic Hub, she recommends.  

The work at First UU Church has been transformative, but its success—and the success of other congregations undertaking similar culture change work—relies on collaboration. 

"Engage your congregation," advises Cindy Wood, a member of First UU’s Beloved Community Team. "Think about where your congregation is at in its development, what its challenges are, and how you can dovetail those things with Widening the Circle."