The leadership at First Universalist Church of Minneapolis is the future of the Beloved Community in the Unitarian Universalist movement.
With a multigenerational, multiracial, multicultural leadership team, we are breaking new ground in the Upper Midwest. During a recent leadership team meeting, we shared the following reflection from Fr. Richard Rohr:
By “living on the edge of the inside” I mean building on the solid Tradition (“from the inside”) from a new and creative stance where you cannot be co-opted for purposes of security, possessions, or the illusions of power (“on the edge”).
What follows is a glimpse into the conversation that followed between the Rev. Karen Hutt, adjunct minister; the Rev. Arif Mamdani, assistant minister of adult education and pastoral care; Lauren Wyeth, director of children, youth, and family ministries; and the Rev. Jen Crow, senior minister.
- Frankly, I like being on the edge of what is known and what is not. As UUs we have a solid tradition, and like all traditions, Unitarian Universalism has evolved and adapted to the creative forces of culture shifts. Granted this has not always been done with ease and grace—some in our movement would prefer to straddle the fence, or run and hide as people are crossing over the edge into the unknown aspirations of a better good. Imagine what the debates were like among our radical Reformation cousins back in the days of [Michael] Servetus! I guess as a Black person the edge is a good place to be. I like to think of myself on a perch looking over this landscape: not marginalized, not centered, but the consummate observer.
- As a white person, I’ve been slow to completely put both feet on the edge of this unknown realm. For reasons I don’t fully understand, the pandemic has accelerated the process. Right now I’m in the stage of letting go of old, status quo relationships and more objectively acknowledging and reckoning with the selfish reasons I remained in those relationships: wanting to be where I understood the rules and had access to people with power and a sense of financial security. My spiritual development was limited when I was hanging out there, alternating between ineffectual outrage and deflated despair. The discipline and humility of “no-excuses” daily spiritual practice is holding me together now, as I try to perceive and trust this Universalist love and grace that’s trying to get my attention. I think it’s asking me to sacrifice my quest for control in order to make room for less predictable experiences, like hope and human connection.
- We are not the first to live on the edge, to try to bring a more inclusive, embodied, connecting across and welcoming difference, border-crossing reality alive in Unitarian Universalism. I feel a strong need to welcome the ancestors who have lived on the edge in our faith—to name them and tell their stories—to know where and how our faith that is so often more concerned with maintaining the status quo has failed them— and to do things differently this time. I keep looking to how Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) is doing this—they feel like present day companions on this journey, tethers to our shared hopes.
- You are so right about our ancestors, Jen. We just held the memorial service for the Rev. John Cummins, and his words are coming to mind here:
- Each of us in our lifetime climbs the mountain of human experience . . . and when we reach the heights and see what is to be seen therefrom, we lie down on that mountain of human experience and the small measure of our dust adds its height—whereby our peers and companions and those who come after us may see a small way further than we. And that is our immortality!
- Those words come up for me because they remind me that we are in a long tradition of folks who’re traveling the edge, and that with each successive generation doing our best to reach the heights, see what is to be seen, and bring others up those heights alongside us, we are propelling ourselves forward. Perhaps not ever and always upward, as the vertical orientation of progress is suspect, but forward in our search for what is true now, our wondering about what part of our perceptions of truth might be enduring, and our efforts to perceive more, individually and together.
- That is what it is like for us as a leadership team. But remember each of us has a different truth that is informing our journey. There are a multiplicity of truths operative at the same time. I remember the most glaring example of how what we believe is true and good can be viewed as false and bad to someone else. The day we were having a white supremacy teach-in there was a big sign advertising the event in front of the church. A Black transport driver came in to pick up a disabled congregant. They saw me and said, “What the hell is going on here?” There was no explaining to her that this was a training AGAINST white supremacy. Talk about me being on the edge! Sometimes our UU truths and assumptions do not translate to the masses. That is an edge we need to come closer to.
- Yes, that is another edge we’re traveling as we take more and more to heart the fractal nature of reality. This shows up in many ways. For one, our own practice as a team is a continual site of reflection, deepening, and growth. Also, I believe that cultural boundaries between our personal and professional identities, who we are “in public” vs. not, are blurring and being eroded, based on the understanding that we are who we are, everywhere we are.
- I’m constantly playing with that edge between comfort and risk. There’s energy and aliveness in that liminal space, that growing edge. James Baldwin and bell hooks challenge me to do the work of Love, not just say the words. When I’ve tried to go too fast, or tried to do it on my own, I’ve landed in some desolate, hopeless places. But when I slow down (which requires shutting down the voices that say I’m not doing enough) and show up to give and receive help (which requires taking some risks with my family, friends, and colleagues), I have more capacity for staying in the work. I feel a sense of belonging in the circle of Love and grace. Life starts to feel precious. I want the same for the people I serve.
- Personally, living on the edge, pushing the envelope, and actually living into my values—living with faith in what is hoped for but not yet seen—that is where and how I feel most alive. And for me, comfort has its place, just not the comfort that comes at someone else’s expense. I need the exhilaration that comes with authenticity and creation, and I need the comfort of soft blankets and good food—and coffee! The comfort of connection, of time in nature, of the things that feed and nurture and replenish my spirit and bring me joy. I’m doing my best to be in the both/and of living on the edge with all of its joy and fear, and making space for the comfort of the sunrise and sunset, of coffee and biscuits and hot tea.
- When it comes to Unitarian Universalism and living into our faith there is no question for me about where we need to be. How can we live in this country and not be on edge and on the edge when our faith calls us to value each life as whole and holy and worthy? How can we be anywhere but on the edge right now?
- The frightening, exciting edges for me are always in my relationships. Showing up fully in this ministry starts with how I show up in my relationship with myself and my loved ones, is supported by how I show up in relationships with my coworkers, and is reflected in how I show up in my relationships with the people in and beyond my congregation. Yes, there are boundaries around and between these different relationships, but there is no pretending that the ministry is “just work.” It’s personal, it’s vulnerable, it’s deeply relational, it’s fractal.
- Living on the edge in my ministry and in my relationships means I’m willing to risk my illusions of safety and security and push the limits of how I was taught to stay safe. It means not living with my head down, trying to fit in, trying not to make waves. It means telling the truth, knowing the freedom and clarity and joy of being fully in my body, fully in my values, feeling brave for something worth being brave for. It means being way more vulnerable than I’m used to and somehow feeling more clarity and power at the very same time.
- As a queer person, I’ve spent my life carving out spaces where I can live authentically. On this team, I get to be in active partnership with colleagues who say with me: I’m no longer satisfied with carving out spaces for me or you—I’m here to put all I have into getting us all free.
- I think as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) leaders in a predominantly white church that has adopted the idea that it should take direction from and center the needs of people of color, this creates the potential for all kinds of disasters, and as a team, we’re naming this reality, and understanding that what saves us is our accountability with and to each other, and our deepening relationships and growing trust.
- I hear you Arif, and when we talk in these mixed-race spaces, we need to learn how to speak with authenticity. Since I have been here, I have been my full “Blackity Black” self, as Issa Rae would say. Part of the trust we are trying to build means that if a white person does not know what Blackity Black is, they will go home and google it. I had to do the same thing when I got to Minnesota and did not know what a hot dish was.
- As a church, as a leadership team, I do feel like we are on a precipice of setting more and better boundaries with respect to the culture of white supremacy and oppression within our congregation. I think we are getting better at living into the reality that we have all been shaped by “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (thank you, bell hooks, for that beautiful turn of phrase), that it breaks all of us, but differently based on our social location, and that shame, blame, guilt, etc. are unproductive responses themselves rooted in the fragility response of a system that forever and always wants to protect itself. The edge that I see us trying to travel is the edge that recognizes that we are whole and holy AND immeasurably broken by the systems that pervert our relationships with each other and with our planet, and that the way forward is not to fix backward and keep patching over broken systems, but to build toward the world we long for and can sometimes catch little experiences and expressions of.
- First Universalist is on the edge of learning and practicing what it is to truly live into what we say with each other and our larger community, to practice our wide welcome, to lean into compassion and connection first, over comprehension/understanding—moving from words into action in the community we are building within and beyond the church.
These weekly conversations are fundamental to our leadership team. We occupy the edge in our congregation, and sometimes we get dizzy when we look out or down. The expansive space and unknowns are daunting, but what keeps us from falling off is that we let our vulnerabilities lay bare so that what needs to emerge does. We hold onto and are tethered by spiritual practices, humor, good food, irreverence, and a belief that our work matters enough to trust the edges we live on because our ancestors and future folx keep us tethered. It makes us more secure on these edges because they help us know our place, among others. We traverse these edges so we can do our part, and so they can do theirs in the future long after we are gone.