The Game Changes

The Game Changes
17 July 2011 © Rev. Fred L Hammond
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
for the good or evil side.”

These words are from the poem entitled “The Present Crisis” by James Russell Lowell, a Unitarian from the 19th century.  He is writing against the war with Mexico of 1846 to 1848.  President Polk invades Mexico under the pretense of coming to Texas’ aid, considered by Mexico to be a rebellious province in part because the American immigrants in Texas violated Mexico’s laws banning slavery.  At the time all of the southwest was a part of Mexico, made up mostly of indigenous tribes and some Mexican settlers. The war was justified as being part of manifest destiny, the belief God had chosen the United States to occupy all of the North American Continent and to be the primary nation of influence in the hemisphere.

The United States has long had this erroneous belief that God has chosen us to be the vanguards of the world. Therefore when American businesses in Central and South America were being restricted by democratically elected governments, the CIA would go in and topple the government and place trained dictators who would allow American corporations free reign. Hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and killed by these CIA placed dictators. 100,000 in Guatemala, 63,000 in El Salvador, thousands in Nicaragua, thousands in Chile killed by CIA trained death squads.

Many of the governments in place with American backing are still torturing their own people.  Thousands of refugees from these countries have crossed borders and deserts to find sanctuary from these conditions.  They are refused asylum status in the US because to grant asylum to them would implicate the US’ awareness and complicity in these acts of violence.  They cannot go home because the American created conditions are still too horrendous—in some cases still life threatening—and so they stay underground hoping that their children will have a better life than they did.  And this multitude of America’s sins against our neighbors to the south remains unspoken because we are the chosen ones, you see, and just as in biblical Israel, all crimes against humanity are ordained as being god’s will.   As long as we deny our complicity in this then we can continue to claim being the unwarranted victim in this current immigration situation.

The unjust invasion of Mexico in Lowell’s time was justified as manifest destiny and the war crimes of the CIA in Central and South America are manifest destiny’s offspring. The consequences we are only now beginning to see but apparently do not understand.

“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
for the good or evil side.”

There are many who believe that immigrants flooding the US are the cause for America’s economic woes.  Rev. Jose Ballester, Unitarian Universalist Minister in New England, asks; “Why are they coming to the United States? Could it be that the United States is responsible for destroying the economic means of the immigrants? Did diverting the waters of the Colorado River for irrigation; green lawns and providing potable water to the growing populations in the Southwest and Southern California destroy the farmland in Mexico? Did the importation of surplus US corn to be sold in Mexico ruin the agriculture economy of Mexico? Did NAFTA permit US Corporations to set-up factories in Mexico that are filled with cheap labor and do those same factories turn the surrounding areas into toxic wastes? Are there drug cartels in Mexico that threaten the government, commit unspeakable crimes and cross the USA/Mexico border to commit crimes? Who is buying the drugs that fuel these cartels?”

I can’t remember the movie, perhaps it is a combination of films.  The young child, bullied by classmates, attempts to purchase lunch and sit in the cafeteria.  The first table with a seat is denied as being saved for someone else.  Then the next table is also saving the seat for someone else.  All the students at the tables respond the same way, can’t sit here, this is saved for someone else.  For who?  Anyone else but the child bullied.  Children can be so cruel. And the behavior is simply wrong of the children to reject the child so treated.

So what is happening with our immigrant neighbors?   They are no longer able to stay in their country, perhaps for political reasons, perhaps because the land has been ravaged by American corporations’ lack of environmental concern, perhaps because the CIA placed regime is torturing the indigenous people. So they come to the states and they are told can’t stay in Arizona, can’t stay in Georgia, can’t stay in Alabama; these jobs are saved for someone else.  Has anyone else applied for these jobs… well no… but you can’t have them cause their saved.

If we were so able to see how wrong it was for the bullied child to be treated so poorly by the other children, then how is it so difficult to see how wrong it is for us to treat our immigrant neighbors in the same way?

Alabama had a year in which to examine what was happening in Arizona and to decide whether to follow suit.  We had a year to also examine and to decide what our actions would be should an Arizona type law come to Alabama.  Well that year is over.  For the most part, those who acted in opposition did not do so fervently enough. I include myself in that accusation. We failed to organize the coalitions needed to prevent the passage of this bill. We did not speak up loud enough.

HB 56 was signed into law and it is set to go into effect September 1st.  The game has changed. We are no longer trying to prevent a law from being written; we are now forced to live with the law and its consequences until we can have it repealed. The work will be much harder than before.

I was asked by a colleague to list ten things as to why this law is immoral and should be opposed.

  1. This law will deport individuals who have only known the US as home.  These individuals were brought here as infants in the care of their parents.  Many do not have family there.
  2. This law will break families apart.  Forcing US born children to become wards of the state, while their parents are deported.  This is a dehumanizing act with dire consequences for the well being of the children.
  3. This law denies the basic right to shelter.  It criminalizes anyone who for humanitarian reasons offers shelter.  Landlords must check citizenship status before renting.
  4. This law infringes on the right to practice ones religion.  Congregations that allow undocumented immigrants to become members and attend their services would be criminalized for harboring.
  5. Congregations would not be allowed to transport members (who might be undocumented)  in their vehicles because this would be considered human trafficking and would be subject to felony charges.
  6. Children and parents would be required to show proof of citizenship before registering for school. All children under the age of 18 have the right to an education according to federal statute regardless of legal status.  But consider that not having documentation of citizenship might discourage families to have their children attend school and then the question of what will they be doing during school time. Not attending school might lead to criminal mischief as it did in the 1800’s when public education was not mandatory.
  7. Victims of Domestic violence who are also undocumented would be subject to arrest and deportation should they seek police intervention in a domestic dispute.  This is the ‘punish the victim’ scenario.  This scenario becomes even more exaggerated if the spouse is an American citizen.
  8. Domestic workers can be criminalized for harboring and transporting domestic violence victims who are undocumented.
  9. All major religions have teachings and stories that command their followers to welcome the foreigner and offer hospitality.
  10. This law justifies ones racism, bigotry, and hatred under the rubrics of obeying the law.

The work to repeal will be much harder than the work to prevent the law from being passed.  There will be consequences in disobeying this unjust law.  There will be consequences in offering assistance to the immigrants in our community.

At General Assembly our association re-affirmed its desire to host a Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ in 2012.   This was not arrived at lightly.  We were there a year ago when the law went into effect and prevented Sheriff Arpaio from conducting his raids on that day.  80 people were arrested for civil disobedience, 24 of them Unitarian Universalists, many of those were ministers.  We went because we were invited by the people who were being impacted by this law.

We went because there are people being detained in inhumane tents where the temperature has reached 140 degrees in the hot Arizona sun.  Detained because they had a broken tail light on their vehicle and they might be undocumented. Until their legal status can be verified they are held in these inhumane settings. A broken tail light.

We went because there are families that are being torn apart. Mothers who go out to do the days shopping are arrested without being able to notify their families of their whereabouts.

We went because people in this country should not live their life in fear of being stopped for random things because they happen to be of brown skin.  These are citizens who are being stopped because they look like they might be an immigrant.

These things are already happening here in Alabama.  A young man born in California with a California drivers license seeks to transfer his license to Alabama.  This is simple transfer. It took me all of ten minutes to have it done.  This young man is told he needs to show his social security card and his passport.  Then told that the numbers on the two documents do not match and therefore he must be illegal.  The numbers, by the way, are not supposed to match; they are two very different documents through two very different federal agencies.  He goes to another department and is told that he must take the written test.

Another man from Puerto Rico is denied a driver’s license because he is told he needs to have a green card to be here.  Puerto Rico is a US territory which makes him a US citizen; he does not need a green card. This is the harassment that Latino / Hispanic people are already facing and the law has not gone into effect yet.

At Justice GA 2012 we are not anticipating any arrests.  We are planning [this is still tentative] however to be of service to the 190, 000 people who are eligible for citizenship but do not have the funds to get a lawyer to fill out paper work.  There is some talk about having some sort of immigration fair where people can come to the air conditioned convention center and receive help in filling out the paper work needed.  This might include power of attorney forms in case of deportation so their children will not be placed into state facilities but rather into trusted family or friends homes who are citizens. If our going to AZ in 2012 can help keep families safe and together, then this will be well worth the efforts.

We are planning on having workshops on how to do this work in our communities back home.  Because these laws are not just happening in a few states but are being raised in states across the country.

But it isn’t just state laws that need changing. There are federal laws as well.  The Secure Communities Act is supposed to target the undocumented violent criminal.  However, this law has instead targeted soccer moms, those who are just going about their business seeking citizenship.  26 % of those deported do not have a criminal record let alone a violent one.  “If people without criminal records are at risk for deportation, they will be less likely to call law enforcement in unsafe situations.[i]

What is happening in Alabama?  There is an increase in the religious voice against this law. Rallies in Birmingham and in Huntsville have already taken place.  I am working with my interfaith colleagues to have one here in Tuscaloosa the end of this month.  We are still working on some of the location logistics and hopefully this will be in place soon so we can officially advertise.

Holy Spirit Catholic Church is hosting a power of attorney fair this afternoon.  I will be going there to assist as best as I can in helping folks fill out power of attorney forms to protect their children from becoming wards of the state should they be arrested for deportation.

And one of the things I am doing in my role with the Mid-South District is to help organize a coordinated interfaith response across the state.  Right now there are events that are happening but it is not coordinated state wide and if there were to be a repeal bill then we need to be in communication with other people of faith on the judicatory and diocese level so that a united voice can be made.

The game has changed. We are being asked by our faith denomination to step up to the plate because we have a role to play.  I was speaking with someone the other day and she stated she didn’t know what the will of god is for this new century.  All she knew is that she wants her actions to help create the America of this new century.  She wants it to be an America that loves its neighbors, within its borders as well as outside its borders.

I was touched by her statement.  What story of America do we want told of the early 21st century?  What part of that story will you be telling?


How Do You Eat Your Grits?

I have just completed my final Sunday service at Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church in Ellisville, MS.  I was the consulting minister there for four years.  In reflecting back on my service there, I have learned a wonderful lesson about what it means to be a minister and what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.

Four years ago, Eunice Benton, District Executive (now retired) of the Mid-South District of the Unitarian Universalist Association asked me to consider coming to Mississippi to serve two congregations at half-time each.  She asked if I had ever lived in the deep south before and the answer was no.  Eunice wisely asked me to come down and visit before making any decision.  I met with the two congregations. The first congregation asked me the typical minister search questions; what was my theology, what are my views of religious education, etc.

The interview at Our Home held over dinner was one question and one question only.  “How do you eat your grits?”  I was a bit startled by the unorthodox question but I answered, “with butter, salt and pepper.”   I was then welcomed to come to Mississippi and be their minister. The rest of the dinner conversation was filled with logistics of transition and good humored conversation.  If I had answered with sugar or maple syrup or heaven forbid, “what are grits?” I dare say I would not be here to tell the tale.

How we create and sustain loving relationships with one another is the essence of our covenantal faith. Cultural competency is one important aspect of our faith that enables us to be in relationship.  The grits question certainly addresses this point.

Theology, creeds, or doctrines we might hold, while important to have them defined for ourselves,  take a much smaller role in living the Unitarian Universalist faith.  The real question, the vital question is how do we translate our theologies, creeds, doctrines into our day to day relationships with one another.  In short, how do you eat your grits?  Are you going to be able to relate to people who come from a very different background, a different culture, a different theological perspective on what is true and still find common ground?

This is where our work is.  This is what defines our faith as different from other faiths.  16th century Unitarian minister Francis David is quoted as saying, “We do not have to think alike to love alike.”   It does, however, help if our thinking, our theologies, our doctrines, and our personally held creeds aid us in loving alike.  If they do not help us in loving our neighbor as ourselves or to do onto others as we would want others to  do onto us,  then it may be time to reconsider our theologies, our doctrines, or our personally held creeds.

Our Unitarian Universalist faith is not concerned with whether you are a Christian or a Humanist, a Buddhist or a Muslim, a Pagan or a Jew.  Our faith is more concerned with how the doctrines of those beliefs help you build sustaining loving relationships with others.

If your beliefs empower you to be more loving, more generous, more able to fulfill your highest potential, more able to be just in your relationships, then that is what is vital to this life.  If they hinder you from being inclusive of the other, cause you to shun and fear others who are different, solicit an attitude of me and mine first, then those beliefs are not serving you well. It might be best to either let them go or re-examine them to find how they can aid you in living a more generous of spirit and heart life.

Unitarian Universalists recognize that what enables one person to become more loving and more generous may not enable another to do so.  And so for one person Christianity may be the path that empowers this love, for another it may be Buddhism, and for yet another it may be one of the Earth centered faiths. This is reflected in our fourth principle: A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Rev. Doak Mansfield, former minister at Our Home Universalist,  once stated that Unitarian Universalism in the deep south is about grace and relationships.  We best express our faith in how we relate to one another.  It is our personal relationships that are our best calling card for our faith.   It is also in how we develop our public witness for justice.  The desire to create partnerships with those who are oppressed and to follow their lead towards freedom.  Grace and relationships.

Wherever two or more are gathered, it is in the relational aspect of the gathering that the spirit of love is either present or absent.  Unitarian Universalists strive to allow the spirit of love to be present.  That is the essence of our faith the rest, to paraphrase Hillel, is commentary.


Mid South District Passes Resolution on Arizona Immigration Laws

Several districts across the country passed resolutions at their annual assemblies regarding the recent immigration law passed in Arizona and what Unitarian Universalists could do about it.   Mid South District held their annual assembly this past weekend in Dahlonega, GA.   The district passed a similar resolution to these other districts.  Here printed below is the resolution that passed.

Resolution of the Delegates to the 2010 Assembly of the Mid-South District

Whereas, the Governor of Arizona has signed legislation requiring state law enforcement officers to question persons about their status to legally  be in the state if there is a reasonable suspicion regarding the individual’s immigration status, and making it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration paperwork, and,

Whereas, the Legislature of Arizona has also passed legislation awaiting the governor’s signature banning the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools because such teaching might increase ethnic solidarity over individuality in regards to immigrants and banning teachers who speak with an accent from teaching English, and

Whereas, there is a well-founded belief that persons of Hispanic origin will be turned into suspects in their own communities as a result of these laws, regardless of their legal status and,

Whereas, other states,including states within the Mid-South District, are considering similar laws which will increase hostility towards immigrants, and

Whereas, Unitarian Universalists have as their core value the inherent worth and dignity of every person which requires that we work for an ideal society, which is strengthened by and benefits from the diverse cultures within our country, and in which all persons are treated with respect and fairness, and

Whereas, as a community of faith, Unitarian Universalists are committed to stand in solidarity with all those who oppose and seek to modify unjust and harmful laws,

We hereby resolve that the Mid-South District strongly objects to the final implementation and enforcement of these laws and encourages its member congregations to support all efforts to overturn these laws at the federal level through any and all administrative, legislative and judicial means available, and further

Resolve to urge our member congregations to engage in a robust dialog about how both legal and illegal immigration affects their local communities and to support efforts of the United States Congress to enact legislation that addresses, in an effective and compassionate way, the entire immigration issue, and further

Resolve to urge Unitarian Universalists from local communities to the national level to develop creative ways to bear witness to our commitment to justice, equity and compassion for all, but particularly to the poor and powerless, and further

The Mid-South District of the UUA supports the discussion of the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees’ resolution to relocate the General Assembly of the Association out of Arizona in June 2012 and their continuing efforts to work with UU congregations and other immigration entities in Arizona to effectively address this issue of human dignity and rights.

Southland UU Leadership Experience

SUULE attendees 2009

SUULE attendees 2009

The third week of July, I was at the Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highlands, NC serving as faculty for what was called Southland UU Leadership Experience (SUULE).  This was a four district collaboration.  Southwest Conference, Mid-South, Thomas Jefferson, and Florida districts came together to develop this revamped version of leadership school for congregations in the Mid-South, TJ and Florida districts.  

What made this truly an experience was the immersing of the participants into a case study congregation about the same size of congregation that they currently belong.   Each congregational group had to name their congregation, develop a mission statement, and define for themselves the values of the congregation.  

There were lectures presenting the history of congregationalism in this country.   This history was not just a dry reading of events but a delving into the values  of our founders as found in the Cambridge Platform of 1648.    There were presentations on Systems theory as it pertains to congregations.   There were presentations on worship theory.  Four avenues were available in which to process all of this information.  These were congregational groups, student led worship services, chalice circles, and an optional spiritual practice group.  Woven through all of this was James Luther Adams five smooth stones of religious liberalism along with what became a mantra for us, SUULE leader Connie Goodbread’s  “Faith Development is all we do.  Unitarian Universalism is all we teach.  The congregation is the curriculum.”

All of this information was synthesized in examining the case studies of the various sized congregations where the ‘members’ of the congregation were asked to identify triangulation, homeostasis forces, roles and other factors being played out in the system of the congregation.   None of the scenarios were far fetched as the case studies were compilations of congregations across our faith tradition. 

It was indeed a leadership experience to allow these participants an opportunity to step back and look at a congregational system functioning  given the skills and mindsets in the scenarios.  The real learning will take place when these individuals return to their own congregations and begin noticing the same tendencies at work.  How will they respond differently now that they know and can recognize self -defeating behavior.   

I strongly recommend congregations to find the money to be able to send two or three people from the congregation to this event next year.  Having a team from the congregation attend will ensure the possibility of transforming our congregations into healthier systems.  All congregations regardless of size or health will benefit from such an infusion of wisdom and skills.  This is money spent as an investment in the future of the congregation.  It will be held again next year  August 8-12 2010.

At the bottom of the SUULE web-page is this quote by Rev. Frank Thomas:

“Leadership is the spiritual process of discerning what one believes (clarity), acting on that belief in the public arena (decisiveness), and standing behind that action (responsibility) despite the varied responses of people (courage).”

SUULE certainly began that process of leadership development for its participants this year.   At this moment, if I am asked to serve again as faculty at SUULE, my answer will be a resounding YES.  Blessings,

Help Somebody

I was introduced to Susan Werner’s song, “Help Somebody” at the MidSouth District Annual Assembly by Sarah Dan Jones who performed this song with choir at one of the services.  It is a powerful song. Thank you Sarah Dan!

Published in: on May 8, 2009 at 9:09 am  Comments Off on Help Somebody  
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UUA End Statement raises concern

At Mid-South District’s Annual Assembly in Nashville this past weekend, our UUA Trustee Lyn Conley shared with those present at the meeting the proposed UUA end statement and it caused some concern for me and several of my ministerial colleagues who were present. 

The end statement that was originally presented to the UUA Board  meeting in April 2009 stated the following: “Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the UUA will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.” 

By the end of the Board meeting, the proposed end statement that passed and that Lyn Conley read to the District was the following: 

“Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.”

There is a vast difference between stating “The Unitarian Universalist Association will inspire people to”… versus “The member congregations of the UUA will inspire people to… ”    

The first wording is an appropriate end statement for the Unitarian Universalist Association, the second is not.  Perhaps it is a subtle difference.  But in my experience of doing policy governance work, I do not believe so. 

Policy Governance is a model for how a board works in achieving its ends as a board and as an entity.  It is a helpful tool in guiding CEOs in fulfilling the mission of the agency. The UUA is an agency set up to serve the member congregations.

The second statement is a directive to the member congregations and the subset ends that follow contain possible criteria for enforcing that directive. If we had a presbyterian form of polity then the directive would also be appropriate but we do not have a presbyterian polity, not yet anyway, and therefore in order for the second wording to succeed it would require that each and every congregation in the association to buy into / or covenant with this end statement as their own in order for it to be implemented and aspired to by the congregations. 

The difficulty with this as an end statement for the UUA is that it is really an end statement for congregations that are supposed to be able to determine their own destiny through congregational polity. It is instead akin to parents developing an end statement for their child’s future: ‘Grounded in our family values, Mary child of Tom and Wilbur will major in medicine to become a doctor.’  While the goal of the end statement is laudable and perhaps very desirable by many congregations, to state that “member congregations … will inspire” is not within the UUA’s decision or even within their perview to decide. That decision of whether the congregation will inspire rests in the congregation.

The original wording is the UUA’s end statement. The revised and adopted end statement is the member congregations’ end statement, which is not in the UUA’s authority to develop. 

How will the UUA inspire congregations to be places of transformation?  What will the UUA do to assist that to happen?  All appropriate questions that the UUA will need to discuss and develop policies and parameters for the next President to then follow in fully answering these questions. As currently worded, however, the UUA is saying that the congregations will do this and that is not in the UUA’s control and once it is out of the UUA’s control it can no longer be the UUA’s end statement.  Nor is it in the parent’s control on how their child will decide to unfold her life. 

I do not question the laudable vision of inspiring people to living lives of humility and purpose, etc…. But I do question who will take responsibility and accountability for it happening… Placing it on the member congregations is the UUA abdicating its role in serving the congregations.  And while the UUA ‘s membership is made up of congregations, it is still an entity separate from the member congregations.  End statements are for the board of an agency to implement through its staff and not its member constituents.

Let me see if I can put this another way… I was the executive director of an AIDS Ministry for over 10 years.  My board developed end statements for me to work towards.  It was not the responsibility of the people with AIDS  who we served to implement these end statements, it was my responsibility and the staff I supervised to implement these end statements.  Hopefully by working towards these end statements it meant that the people with AIDS were living healthier lives because of them.   

It is the same with whatever end statement that the UUA Board develops.  It is the President and the staff of the UUA who will and ought to be responsible for working towards these end statements.  Hopefully, by working towards these end statements the member congregations will indeed be places where transformations happen.   The UUA can inspire us to be these places of transformation with their resources, their services to the congregations, their advocacy work for justice in our nation’s capital and in their holding the member congregations accountable to our covenant with one another.   Blessings,

Prayer for the Beloved Community

I wrote this prayer to be offered at the Mid-south District Assembly in Nashville, TN this evening at the “Service of the Lively Tradition”.

Spirit of Life that binds all of creation together, May our thoughts focus on this connection that weaves between us here in this gathering and with those at our home congregations, and even with those lives we may not even be aware of in distant lands.  Yet, we are all of one fabric.

Let us learn the lesson of the new patch on old fabric.  Like a new patch, if we are without wisdom, without compassion, without empathy for the threads that connect us, then we tear at the very fabric that makes us whole.  May we today find ways to recommit ourselves anew to peacemaking within our lives, within our congregations, within our country, within our global community. May we recognize the power that we as single threads have in binding our hearts and minds together towards this fabric of common cause. 

Spirit of Life lead the arc of Justice ever forward in all of our actions.  May our community grow ever firm in its convictions for a world of equitable justice, equitable economies, equitable relations.  May the beloved community be more than just an ideal to strive for but one that manifests in our midst by our daily actions in thought and deed. 

Spirit of Life that binds all creation together may we honor you in caring for that creation.  May we be caring for the creation sitting next to us in these pews, and caring for the creation beyond these walls whose very existence adds life and enjoyment to this planet.  May this be so.  Let the people offer a resounding, Yes Indeed.

Published in: on May 1, 2009 at 8:52 am  Comments Off on Prayer for the Beloved Community  
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Critical Incident Stress Management

The recent tornadoes that swept through Magee, MS were a gruesome reminder of our vulnerability to the ravages of weather related tragedies. There has been talk in our congregation and across the Mid-south district about what we can do to be prepared should tragedy strike our communities.

I went to Knoxville, TN to receive certification in Critical Incident Stress Management enabling me to respond to the psychological aftermath of such tragedies. It was an important training in many ways. While no one wants to experience the destruction of a home or church to tornado, flood, hurricane, or fire; these things do happen and do take their toll. And last August we became painfully aware of the human element of destruction when a gunman opened fire at the TVUUC in Knoxville. This certification will assist in preventing the long term effects of post traumatic stress and aid in the healing process of those witnesses of such events.  

The training received is a bit more comprehensive than the American Red Cross’ Psychological First AID only because the ARC program is geared more towards natural disasters rather than specific human made events.  This certification program offered through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc. can be used after any stressful event, including but not exclusively, suicide, violence, natural disaster, medical emergency.   While there were other clergy at the training I attended, the participants came from all walks of life; professional therapists to sextons.   It seems wise to have as many people as can be trained to be able to assist in such an event.

But are there things we could do to help minimize the impact of tragedy on our lives?

I believe there is a pre-response. The congregation I serve in Mississippi participated in surveying our neighbors for pre-disaster assessment for the Red Cross. This was an important task that we did. This information will aid firefighters and rescue workers in knowing where to begin sending medical aid immediately.   For instance, some medical conditions require refrigeration of medications.   Knowing who in the community needs sort of aid in advance will get them the help they need sooner.

But I now realize that we did not do the same pre-assessment for our members. Should disaster strike our community, how would we get in touch with our members to ensure their safety? I began to wonder how many of us are certified in CPR and First Aid. Would we know exactly what to do if someone had a medical incident at church? Do we have relevant medical histories on our members in case of a medical incident? Do we have next of kin contact information on file? Not only in a computer database but also in hard-copy in case of power outage.  Who would call 911? What is the location of the first aid kit and is it up-to-date in its supplies? Who knows what to do in case of choking? Do we have emergency supplies? What would we do in case of fire or tornado while we were at church?

It is not just having a plan written down but knowing the plan well enough to execute it. Being prepared is not jinxing our future for these events to occur, but rather enables us to be able to respond in a timely manner and reduce the impact of the tragedy. Some of the steps to take in developing a preparedness strategy is located at the Mid-South District website— It helps us to create resiliency so we can pass through the storms of our lives with some ability of hope for our future. No one wants to anticipate disasters but they do happen. It would be wise to know how to respond in advance. Blessings, Fred

Published in: on March 31, 2009 at 10:16 am  Comments Off on Critical Incident Stress Management  
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Developing our mission

In the UUA’s  Mid-South District, many lay led congregations are participating in a program developed by Education Director Connie Goodbread and MSD Board member Norman Horofker called UP! (Unlimited Potential).  This program is seeking to offer skills and expertise to small congregations under 70 members to enable them to have excellence in an area enabling them to thrive as a congregation.  The recent discussion has been focusing on mission statements.  This is an area of church development that I find of great interest.   Norman presented the group with the UUA tag line  “Nurture your Spirit.  Help Heal our World.” This tag line was recently used in UUA’s advertizing campaign in Times Magazine.  It can be made into a powerful mission statement…  

IE:  We are a congregation where we nurture our spirits empowering each other to help heal the world. 

Mission Statements or Statements of Purpose need to be this powerful and this simple.  They are a concise sentence that answers these three questions:  Why do we exist?   What do we do? What is important/ essential for us as a congregation?

Mission and vision statements are sometimes confused.  A vision statement builds on the mission statement and answers these questions:  What are we going to be as a church?  Who are we going to reach?  How are we going to do this?

So using the community in which I live only as a reference point, a vision statement could be the following:

IE:  Our presence in Tuscaloosa creates a community of open minds, open hands and warm hearts through our diverse spiritual practices and by our seeking to do social justice work and community service.
Vision statements are to be visual.  You can see diverse spiritual practices being done.  You can see social justice work being done and you can see community services being done.  You can also see open minds, open hands and warm hearts in the interactions of the people within the congregation and as this vision begins to take hold, it will also be seen in the larger community in which the congregation lives.

Mission and vision statements then become the ground on which you build your strategic plans for the next several years.  This is the ‘how to’s’ of these words.  How do we nurture our spirits?  How do we heal our world? How do we express ourselves as having open minds?  What kinds of activities over the next several years would help us accomplish this? 

Every activity done within the congregation and in the community is linked to these statements–From the board meetings to the Children’s RE program to the worship services to community projects to developing the budget.  Everything.  

Missions are living entities that might evolve over time.  So it is good to review the mission of the congregation from time to time to see how the congregation has grown and evolved.  The community in which the congregation lives may also have changed over time requiring a different focus of interaction. 

There is the legendary story of the congregation which located itself in an affluent part of the city and over the decades the neighborhood became run down.  Homeless men would be found sleeping in the doorways and people had to step over them to enter the church.  The church decided to refocus their mission to meet the needs of the community and they established a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter.  From there they went on to develop transitional housing services to help get people back on their feet to employment and self-determination of their lives.  This story is repeated again and again as an example of a church redefining who they were going to be in the world.  It is a common story happening in many cities across our country. 

I am looking forward to seeing what these congregations come up with in redefining their mission in the rural south in which they live, breathe, and have their being. Blessings,

Published in: on October 22, 2008 at 11:44 am  Comments Off on Developing our mission  
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