All Souls Kansas City

“The Promise and the Practice,” November 12th, 2017, with Rev. Kendyl Gibbons

How can we learn to stop putting white consciousness and comfort at the center of our common life, and become intentional about lifting up the voices and experience of people of color?

What would it be like if our UU worship service centered entirely around the voices and the experiences of black Unitarian Universalists? What truths might we hear, however difficult? What might we learn? How might black leaders teach us to be better allies, better siblings in faith, and even better citizens in our community?

 

 

Reading: Missing Voices  by Connie Simon   

When I started attending a UU church, I was excited by the promise of worship that would draw from the arts, science, nature, literature and a multitude of voices. Indeed, some of the voices that Unitarian Universalists hear in worship each week belong to Thoreau, Emerson, Ballou, and others. Their words are beautiful, but they come from a culture and experience that’s foreign to me. When do I get to hear voices from my culture? I quickly learned that, other than the same few quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas,” it wasn’t gonna happen. I sit attentively and listen with my head to “their” voices while my heart longs to hear more of “our” voices.

I am a Black Woman. When I look around on Sunday morning, I don’t see many people who look like me. In most of the congregations I visit, I don’t see anybody who looks like me. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I don’t hear voices of people who share my experience. But it still hurts. I want to hear voices that tell the struggle of living under the weight of oppression in this culture of White Supremacy. I want to hear stories of trying to stay afloat in the water we swim in. I want to hear voices of Living While Black in America.

I don’t hear those voices in UU churches so I have to supplement my worship by reading black theologians like Anthony Pinn and Monica Coleman. I read Maya Angelou, James Baldwin and my favorite poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Though not a Unitarian or a Universalist, Dunbar chronicled the African American experience in the years following the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved Africans — a time of opportunities for blacks as we migrated north in droves seeking employment and education but also a time of continuing segregation, racism and oppression.

For Dunbar, the struggle was real. One hundred years later, hearing Dunbar express his frustration and give voice to the contradictions of our existence as African Americans encourages me and nourishes my soul. His voice speaks to my heart. He knows my pain and understands my sadness, my fear and my rage. He understands the tears I cry as I pray for strength to get through another day in this world. He gives voice to my deep faith that real change is coming someday. He didn’t see it in his lifetime and I might not see it in mine, but I have to keep believing it’s possible.

That’s the message many African Americans long to hear in church. I know that’s what I need to hear every now and then. Will it ever happen? Or will we always have to go “outside” to hear our voices? If that’s the case, maybe there’s no place for us in Unitarian Universalism. The thought of leaving is painful — but so is being in a faith that ignores our voices.

Introduction to The Promise and the Practice by Rev. Kendyl Gibbons

Last April, the national Unitarian Universalist Association invited all UU congregations to create a ‘teach-in’ event around issues of white supremacy and the challenge of dismantling structural racism.  All Souls was in the midst of a schedule of sabbatical services that was not flexible, and so we were among the half of UU congregations that for a variety of reasons did not participate.  This fall, Black Lives UU — a coalition of members and leaders of color within the UUA — has again challenged us; to take this November Sunday to educate ourselves and reflect on how our faith calls upon us to understand and respond to the racial inequities of our society, and the legacy of racism that we all carry.

The central question they have posed is this:  How can we learn to stop putting white consciousness and comfort at the center of our common life, and become intentional about lifting up the voices and experience of people of color?

What would it be like if our UU worship service centered entirely around the voices and the experiences of black Unitarian Universalists? What truths might we hear, however difficult? What might we learn? How might black leaders teach us to be better allies, better siblings in faith, and even better citizens in our community?

In our commitment to dismantling white supremacy as a system and embracing the presence and leadership of people of color, white Unitarian Universalists are still learning how to decenter our whiteness so that people of color are brought from the margins into the center. Today we explore the practice that work, and the promise of a new way of being together.

We Kansas City UUs have been extremely fortunate over the years that the women of the musical group Book of Gaia have several times shared their singing and playing with us.  Pamela Watson, Nedra Dixon, and Angela Hagenbach have generously supported messages centered around the white voices in our services with the gifts of their art and their heritage.  Today we invite them into a deeper conversation; not just to sing for and with us, but to reflect with us on the message of their music – what it means to them, what they expect and hope it might mean to us, and how it might challenge us, as a largely white congregation, and how it might draw us together toward greater understanding and the vision of justice and beloved community