After church on Sunday, August 20, 2017 a few dozen St. John-ers gathered in the chapel to brain storm ideas for racial justice work.
Joetta provided note taking. Will provided deep meaningful reflection and Rev. Mitra lead a process inspired by appreciative inquiry.
We starting by asking when we have felt good about the work and when we have been successful, we came to understand that at our best, we are a people who show up, speak up, and take risks. We are most effective when we pick battles where we can have a meaningful impact. We are at our best when we refrain from “Shoulds,” accept critical feedback while also being able to say “ouch” when a comment or conversation feels personally painful. We are a people who are willing to apologize when we screw up (Rev. Mitra adds—and we are quick to extend grace/forgiveness to ourselves and others). As we work together, there are many effective group strategies we can use and we have the power to learn and employ things like humor, silence, music, etc. to both sustain us and to disempower hateful voices.
When we are in a group, we strive to create welcoming / safe / trusting spaces through keeping focus clear, taking individual responsibility and listening deeply. These qualities allow us to tolerate discomfort.
And we need to be a little discomforted for this leads to self-awareness and deeper learning. Discomfort also leads to action. We can choose to end the discomfort by walking away from the struggle or engaging it more deeply. This engagement asks us to be vulnerable. Vulnerability at St. John’s is met with an understanding that being wrong is not an end point or a final judgement on “you;” mistakes do not mean you are a bad person. As we move through the process of learning and growing it is sometimes ok to say, “at this point, this is what I believe.”
To sum up this portion of our time together, I would say that we are a people who are willing to risk discomfort and pain for the cause of learning and working towards a more just world.
Knowing who we are begs the question, what do we do now?
Answers ranged from practical things we already do, like using our “Share the Plate” Sunday to raise money and awareness of groups in our community and collaborating with other UU churches to provide training to working with AMOS and with the Black Lives Matter Cincinnati Organization. We can develop personal skills like:
- practicing how to respond to racism,
- sharing our stories,
- invite people we know into the work of justice,
- encourage each other in the work,
- and we can listen and learn to understand, not just to respond.
As a church we can:
- Join with other college and faith groups in Cincinnati to build a network of support through studying, working, worshiping, and playing together.
- Reach out to UC students
- Stand in solidarity with our neighbors, such as the church in Lexington, KY, as they do the work of justice
- Create identity through wearing matching t-shirts, sashes, or pins to events.
- Prepare our children to stand against bigotry
- Organize ourselves on the spot: if 5 or 10 of us attend an information session or a training, we should agree to gather before leaving the location to organize and strategize how we will take our new knowledge and enthusiasm back to the congregation
- Inspire ourselves and others
- Have a moment in worship each Sunday to lift up what we have been doing to help a hurting world.
- Use a bulletin board, e-news and the website to share information
- Make a practice of debriefing.