Announcing our Ministerial Candidate – Rev. Christopher Wulff
Dearest Members of Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation,
It is with great pleasure that I introduce to you, y/our ministerial candidate: the Rev. Christopher Wulff!
One of the first things you notice about Rev Christopher, is his profound ability to create and hold sacred space everywhere he goes. An introvert and a gentle presence, Christopher accomplishes this magic with absolute humility- it's honestly pretty astounding. This was one of the many things the MST19 was in profound agreement on as we reluctantly parted ways from Rev Christopher after his pre-candidating weekend with us. Christopher made us all feel so at ease, and it was noticeable how quickly he deeply engaged with us in ways unique and heartfelt.
Rev Christopher identifies his ministerial presence as being relational and pastoral first and foremost. He is entirely committed to Unitarian Universalism- he currently works at the Pacific Western Region of the UUA, and notably, he is a 5th-generation UU! He describes his draw to parish ministry as having a lot to do with his desire to be in regular conversation with a community with which he is in covenant via pastoral care, collaborative and integrative Sunday morning worship, and religious education.
Rev Christopher is a particularly talented educator and facilitator of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and world expanding exploration for children and adults of all ages. He truly understands and leans into meeting the differing yet intersecting needs of young children, youth, young adults, adults, and elders. As a parent and a partner, Christopher believes strongly in the role of parents as children's primary religious educators, and the family ministry he does respects and holistically reflects this. I mentioned in my last column that we got to witness a particularly beautiful Story For All Ages which Christopher presented to children at one of our neutral pulpits, but I'll add here that we also got to experience 30 minutes of an Adult Religious Exploration class which Christopher created and facilitated for our weekend together which really knocked our socks off and which we didn't want to end!
Something that might happen as you spend time with Rev Christopher- as you get to know him, and allow him to get to know you- is that you may become utterly and somatically moved by the sincerity of his presence. Chances are he will at some point be that moved by who you are too. These expressions on either end might look like crying, jumping for joy, an expanding feeling in one's chest, and feeling compelled to burst into song or dance. Don't worry, from our experience, this is all very normal!
Rev Christopher is passionate about social justice, and how this work connects to spiritual and community development and growth. As a white, cisgender man, Christopher is very aware of and an active participant in his own self-work, particularly the work of untangling and undoing toxic masculinity and white supremacy. In the sermon of his which we got to see and hear in person, Rev Christopher showed that this work is not just words on a page (though beautiful words they were in his Ministerial Record), but a barometer by which he measures himself, his behavior in the world, what he has previously taken for granted, what other white men might take for granted too, and how to continue to grow to be a more loving and active ally to marginalized people, a more conscious community member, and a deeper covenant keeper of Unitarian Universalist faith.
When we spent the weekend with Christopher, there was not a moment when he wasn't ministering to us, even when he was cracking jokes with us. The extent to which I felt considered and engaged on multiple levels in my wholeness by Christopher was unprecedented. Rev Christopher's presence is worshipful, and his worships are divine! By collaborating with lay leaders of the congregation to create meaningful, musical, heartfelt, intellectually and spiritually stimulating worship services which represent diverse stories and experiences, and center the voices of previously de-centered peoples, Rev Christopher helps pull an entire room into lively and deep connection with one another.
Rev Christopher Wulff is coming to us from Vancouver, BC, and as any good Canadian might, he would love it if you tried to say, "Eh?" every now and then! His Canadianness also means that Westside will be securing a religious worker visa for him in order for him to be able to join us as our Called Minister. Our search team has already gotten this straightforward process rolling, collecting the reams of necessary documentation our lawyer suggested, so that we'll be ready to submit the application very soon after the congregation's affirmation of call. The plan is that Christopher will then be able to join us as our minister before the end of 2019, once his family's visa has been issued.
Rev Christopher will be strategizing with Westside's Board to find multiple ways to make himself accessible to us and fully engaged with our congregation during this transition. The way I see it, this is a testament to Rev Christopher's ambition towards creative thinking, his pastoral skill, his excellent management and communication style, and his optimism and open-mindedness in the face of obstacles.
You asked for a servant leader, a minister who is passionate about social justice both inside and outside the church walls, a caring, responsible, skilled communicator, particularly in the realms of conflict resolution, a lover of children of all ages, and of the earth, a funny and creative mind, a warm and open heart, a steadfast and calming pastoral presence, a musically inclined individual interested and engaged in co-creating diverse worship forms, a minister capable of bonding us together with ritual and intention, a collaborator and team builder, someone who will love and celebrate Westside just as we are, and who will love us enough to shepherd us into a bright and dynamic future.
You asked for a Unitarian Universalist! For real! And the MST19 would like to say, with the help of the previous groundwork laid by the MST17, you asked, and we delivered!
We proudly present to you, the Rev Christopher Wulff!
You will have the opportunity to get to know y/our Ministerial Candidate April 27th-May 5th when he comes to visit with all of us for Candidate Week.
Christopher can't wait to meet all of you, and we can't wait for you to meet him.
More news in the coming days...
With sincere excitement,
Letter to Westside from Rev. Christopher Wulff
It brings me enormous joy and gratitude to have been invited to be your candidate for settled ministry at Westside UU Congregation. Each morning I mark an X on the calendar by my desk, one day closer to coming back to West Seattle, meeting all of you and starting our journey! In talking with your ministerial search team and your previous minister, in reading newsletters and websites, in talking to folks who know the congregation, it is clear to me that yours is a healthy community built on love for one another and seeking justice in the wide world, healthy and hopeful and yearning to grow in every way. I am so excited for all that we will do together!
My wife, Ariel, and our son Rowan (who turned three just last week!), are likewise very eager to come and meet you. Though Ariel and I have lived in Canada our whole lives, we've both been connected to continental Unitarian Universalism since we were teens attending cons (on opposite coasts). They're both very excited about this transition and Rowan keeps asking if we can visit Wheedle on the Needle when we explore our new home. I've been collecting ideas for family fun they can have in West Seattle and beyond, but would love to hear about your favourite places too.
When I came to visit Westside and its surrounding communities, I felt very much at home in the landscape, among the people, and touring the neighborhoods. And no small part of that feeling came from the time I got to spend with your ministerial search team. I am so impressed by the care and love they show one another, by their ability and commitment to work through the hard things with compassion and conviction, by their unceasing laughter and the tears we shared. They have enormous pride and love for this community, for all of you. I knew in meeting them and hearing their stories that I felt called to be with you too, to serve the hopes and aspirations of you good people, to celebrate your joys and offer strength in your sorrows. To be yours as you will be mine.
Rowan and I are off to the park this afternoon, where we'll walk down a path dripping with cherry blossoms, and I can't help but think of the seeds that were planted that brought this beauty to fruition, of all the people who nurtured it into being with abundant care and hard work. We'll be with you for Candidate Week from April 27th to May 5th, and I am looking forward to the seeds we will plant and the blossoming to come. I invite you to visit my website and to start to get to know me, my family and my approach to ministry. I can't wait to be with you.
Rev. Christopher Wulff
We Have a Candidate! April 1, 2019
It’s not been that long since you last heard from me, and that’s a good thing. I’m writing to you again so soon with wonderful news.
We have your Ministerial Candidate! Your candidate is our dream come true, every bit. This candidate sings like a nightingale, and holds space like a golden bowl. When first invited into Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation’s building, your candidate’s eyes closed under each ceiling beam like a prayer, drinking in everything our world has to offer, contemplating what the candidate could offer our world. We, your MST19 can tell you that we are sure that this candidate can do more than just inspire and bolster our community, this candidate can make our congregation find and embrace its wholeness.
Your ministerial candidate is a talented educator, engager of, and ally to youth, young adults, and adults and children of all ages. We witnessed this candidate tell a Story For All Ages which lent new complexity to the story of the boy who cried wolf. What if the town had asked the boy what he needed in order to do his job of looking after the sheep? Was he lonely? Scared? Bored? Could maybe the job be shared amongst multiple people? How can the accepted endings and morals of stories be altered if we communicate generously and directly with one another, building true trust as we go?
Our candidate will be visiting with all of us at Westside during Candidate Week! 2019’s Candidate Week begins on the weekend of April 27th and ends on Sunday, May 5th. By then, you will have gotten to know your candidate very well, and you will be as in love with this candidate as we are. Thank you for trusting us. It has been an honor and a privilege to be entrusted with our congregation’s spiritual health in the present, and into the future. We all agree that it has been an intense, complex, and sometimes exhausting process, but now that we have been through it, we understand deeply its merit. It’s very democratic! And as an MST we have also discussed how the search process has caused each of us to strengthen our commitment to Unitarian Universalism, to Westside, and to what it means to be in covenant with one another.
Stay tuned, as my next update is just around the corner.
In the meantime, for those of you who were worried about our thirsty hummingbird neighbors, rest assured that Tony recently purchased a beautiful vintage style glass hummingbird feeder, which we are filling with ruby red nectar. There is so much vibrant life, even amidst the stress of change.
Talk to you soon!
March Update from the Minister Search Team
Happy Spring Equinox, Westside!
Whether it’s a false spring or a true spring, it certainly feels good to be spring! I am soaking up every inch of it. It wasn’t this warm out yet when the MST last met, but we were sharing warmth and sunlight all around, going over the merits of the pre-candidates we met over the last month. It’s hard to believe that the home stretch is before us, because we’ve been buried so deep in the process that we never once asked, “Are we there yet?” We wanted to feel the end wash over us and know that it had come. The team and I have received many beautiful compliments and feedback from the congregation about our care, meticulousness, and transparency in investing in and sharing our process with you all. Thank you! You’re welcome! It has not been easy, we have fallen out of covenant along the way and then chosen to climb back in again. What I will say is, it is very very impressive to work with a group of people whom you didn’t know well when you started out a year ago, and through seeing each other once, twice, sometimes four times a week, not to mention emails, the emails!- you all actually love each other. We are not excited to be rid of each other. We have gone deeper than we thought we might. And we have emerged relatively unscathed. We just might start a covenant group after this!
I said this to Cecelia at coffee hour Sunday before last, and it’s something the MST19 repeats to one another often like a chant or a prayer: We are the continuation and finale of a two year process which began with the MST17. Nothing that y’all did was in vain. And what resulted in a minister who was not the minister for us, nor we the congregation for him, should not be called a failed search. It was not the search that failed. The search was successful, the attempted relationship was not. Better to end such a relationship before it begins, and potentially causes more damage to people whose hearts are in the right place, and are ready to be moved to another right place. The MST19 believes this wholeheartedly, and we hope the congregation will begin to see it this way too. Particularly when we bring you whichever dreamboat and hearty spiritual movement leader is the right dreamboat and hearty spiritual movement leader for Westside in May!
A note on neutral pulpits: We were very happy to come home for the Non-Binary Genders Service because...we like you best. 😉
Come April we’ll be in a new place, but it only feels like getting closer to you.
Enjoy the sun while it lasts!
February Update from the Minister Search Team
February 20, 2019
How’s it going, Westside?
How’d you like that snowpocalypse? I enjoyed the first several snow days. It was fun to be home with Tony and our housemate Kate, talking and eating and dancing and watching movie after movie after movie on Netflix! Outside our living room window Seattle looked gorgeous, silver and deep blue, soft green, and over everything a sparkling blanket of white. But after having to cancel the dance class I teach at Velocity Dance Center multiple times, after getting stuck in the snow with no route to the light rail or home again, and actually having to miss an MST meeting, I was pretty sick of those piles of ice. I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m relieved most of the snow has melted enough to allow me to get around in my motorized wheelchair, at least down into Columbia City and to Capitol Hill. And that it hasn’t impeded our pre-candidating so far!
I want to emphasize: you’ll never meet a team of people more dedicated to process, harmony in teamwork, transparency, and continual learning than this MST19. One of our pre-candidates even commented on how we are the only team they have spoken with who is so committed to transparency of process and to process itself. We come off as confident in our honesty, in tune with each other and our congregation, and we sell Seattle very well! I can’t tell you anymore or I’ll be in breach, but it’s very exciting stuff. And I’m relieved to say that so far our pre-candidates like us as much as we like them, so no matter what, we are going to get that good good in the end.
Even now little hummingbirds are coming to the empty feeder, with hope that we’ve filled it up. We haven’t yet, but their desire makes me want to. I want to know that kind of faith, that kind of dedication, that kind of disbelief in scarcity even in the winter months.
We, the MST19, in all our heterogeneous glory, want to share with you some things we learned from the survey many of you completed this past fall. One of the things I would say that we learned is that there is never only the obvious options for how to obtain the information you want. Or rather, the information you think you should want. Many of us who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), as queer, bisexual, lesbian, gay, as transgender, gender binary nonconforming, as disabled or possessing one or more disabilities, as currently low-income or as having grown up low-income, many of us have gotten used to the microaggressions or overt aggressions we receive from the scientific, medical, statistical, and government worlds. By gotten used to, I do mean that we have learned to desensitize ourselves to the ouches we experience when dominant voices seek to categorize us. These ouches are not minor though, because historically, attempts to find out how to categorize us and “understand” us has led to our abuse or demise. Many white people I know don’t know why I am not an organ donor, or why I don’t consent to my DNA being used for scientific research. To my friends who don’t know or can’t imagine why, I say, Google Henrietta Lacks, or the Tuskegee Experiment, and get back to me.
What happens when marginalized people (not statistics) desensitize ourselves to our triggers in order to survive is that we learn to accept circumstances we have been told are necessary, at least for now. As the MST, we came to consensus, although we had concerns, that it was necessary for us to attempt to collect the demographic data for the survey in the way that we did, because the UUA needed it, because we needed it, because ministerial applicants would need it, because that’s how surveys have been done. We accepted a resistance to creativity- and even with that our survey was pretty creative! We put as many options in each category as we could think of, had several narrative options, but what we didn’t do was acknowledge what we already knew. That searches for and excavations of ethnographic and cultural data can bring up feelings of shame, fear, pain, confusion, mistrust, and erasure.
We wish that we had felt empowered to put content warnings and acknowledgements on each page of the survey. We wish that we had made it clear that every single question on the survey was optional, that any level of participation was welcomed and held sacred. As the MST19, we have learned that there is no inch of our process which shouldn’t represent our values as Unitarian Universalists. And so in faith, we apologize to those of you who were negatively impacted by the way in which several of the questions on the survey were presented. In faith, we thank you who came to us to express this pain and disappointment, and also who offered creative alternatives. And, in faith, we present to you an executive summary and a wordle (below) of some of the results of our congregational survey, which we labored over how to present in the most aware, loving way, after acknowledging some of the survey and the communication of its results’ unintended impacts.
Hold us in your hearts, please, as we do you, as we happily exhaust ourselves weekend after weekend with these lovable pre-candidates. This time next month, the three will be one, and even though we can’t wait, we are also truly leaning into the process, and there isn’t one part of this journey I would skip.
Your Loving Communications Promoter,
Ministerial Search Update for January
January 23, 2019
Happy New Year Westside!
It’s been a minute, and I miss you. We at the Ministerial Search Team 2019 know that we went quiet on you for seven weeks or so, and that’s because we were busy reading ministerial records, evaluating applicants, and coming to consensus around big decisions! Just to get it out of the way, let me first say, we are very happy to announce that we have three pre-candidates coming to see us in the coming months. We are really excited, inspired, and moved by all of them, and we know that one of them will be golden for Westside. There’s this balance between not wanting to jinx things by uttering your desires out loud, and the quantum imperative that in order to manifest what you want, you name it, and it will be so.
This process has already been more emotional than I could have imagined. Each one of us on the MST19 has considered and examined our biases, and each of us have brought a different and complimentary facet of Westside to the table as we deliberated, to let all that shine in the light. While restorative circles are also happening at WSUU at large, we have had our own restorative circle at a moment when we believed we might have fallen out of covenant with one another. (Spoiler alert: we got back in it!) We have made promises to each other, just like Unitarian Universalism does, and we continue to keep them. Because of our differences, brilliance, and incredible sense of humor, I love this team. And so I am naming it: I want us to succeed. I want our congregation to love one of these pre-candidates as much as we do, and I believe good things are coming to Westside. I pray for all this, and I live into it too. This is undeniably faith work. That surprised me too, but it’s a great surprise.
When we first opened up the page that would reveal our applicants to us, we thought we had a low number- 15, which later became 17. What we learned, however, is that this year, the average number of ministers expressing interest in each congregation in search was 5-10! Which means that Westside received a very high number of interested ministers. This is something to be proud of! Thanks to how many of you completed our survey, and showed up to cottage meetings, and continue to put in work to grow and heal and grow and heal this congregation, we were able to create a strong, complex, beautiful, self-reflective, and vibrant picture of Westside and all of its moving parts and wholeness. The eight ministers whom we chose to interview expressed that they were impressed with Westside’s self-awareness, heart-forwardness, warm and welcoming nature, diverse and involved congregants, creative and collaborative worship and leadership styles, and our commitment to intersecting forms of profound social change. Roseanne created a rubric based on strengths, skills, and manners of being that Westside desires in a minister, and from there we scored, discussed, discussed, questioned, scored again (there were stickers, courtesy of Vanessa, the best ones were pink), discussed, and carefully invited 1, 2, and then 3 incredible pre-candidates to neutral pulpit with us in the next couple months. Each of these ministers is deeply committed to social and particularly racial justice and building beloved community, each of them is a powerful and evocative speaker, each of them is kind, fun to speak to, able to handle what is thrown at them administratively, emotionally, and socially with brilliance and flair, invested in creating multicultural, intergenerational, and multi-disciplinary worship in collaboration with all of us.
Please know that in addition to talking, talking, talking, and sometimes crying, we have also laughed, and even danced. We are letting all of it, and all of us, show up for this process. And that means we are also letting all of our church, all of you, show up for this process in our hearts as we work. We have been through so much, Westside. But as was evoked by DeReau Farrar’s sermon on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (the reverend!) and the anthem I was honored to sing the solo for by Patti Griffin, we continue to go up to the mountain, because you/we asked us/you to.
I believe in us. Stay tuned.
Ministerial Search Update for November
Season’s Greetings, Westside!
As I write this, I am sick with a cold, but trying to rest my voice and body enough to be able to teach a dance class tonight and to go to Portland tomorrow, to sing at and host a party my art collective and I put on called Black Art Party. Time isn’t linear, you know? But we live our lives in accordance with the idea that it is. I think it’s what makes change, transition, so difficult. Because we believe that we are meant to go through these linear stages of grief, or rage. We are meant to either prove why we feel the way that we do, find a solution for it, or get over it, eventually, or within a timeframe which is convenient for someone else.
At our last Ministerial Search Team meeting on Monday, we went around and said what we are thankful for. I am savvy enough to know that this was on theme with Thanksgiving, a holiday which I do not celebrate. I explained that it is part of how I do my work as an accomplice to Native people, particularly my housemate and best friend, that I do not celebrate Thanksgiving. I certainly grew up celebrating it, and have fond memories of family and food, but it is worth it to me to give up now so that I can be present for a reality different from mine. A reality I wish to support and share in. Our experiences may be different, but we can make commitments to social justice much like we might make commitments to our friends. Brittany Packnett said as much in a way I deeply related to in her Ware Lecture at General Assembly, which I had the privilege to watch during the gathering at Westside on Saturday. Here is a link to that talk: https://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2018/ware
Contemplating what I am thankful for is something I love to do, and do often. Though we are dealing with standing water and rats in the foundation of our home, I am very grateful to have a home. Though I am budgeting heavily to attempt to save money for my wedding next year, I am very grateful to have the ability to save at all, and to have love, oh love! I was moved when at the end of our meeting, Jill thanked me for reminding us as a group that Thanksgiving is not a holiday that everyone celebrates. Much like Christmas! A holiday I love and do celebrate, but try not to assume everyone else does when I’m doling out season’s greetings.
Speaking of the MST, we are in the midst of getting the survey data ready to send out to the congregation. We hope to get it in your beautiful hands by January at the latest. For now, we’d love to share some tidbits from the 147 individuals that answered the survey with you. Did you know that you love Westside, and the world it resides in? What leads me to believe that is that 58% of respondents said they participated either regularly or frequently in Common Quest offerings over the last 3 years. 30% of respondents list the reason they first started coming to WSUU as the RE Program. Important ideas and contributions come not only from the majority, wisdom can come from smaller numbers. 14% of respondents identify as genderqueer, non-binary, or as transgender. 12% identify as having a disability or being disabled. 7% identify as mixed race or non-white. And 43% of all respondents favor a minister who is visionary: “envisioning a future of promise, the minister inspires the congregation and the larger community to pursue it.” Despite all the confusion and opacity of the present, there are places of comfort, of clarity, of knowing ourselves and what we want, of seeing and believing in each other. We have had an extended period of transition at Westside and it might feel like it will never end. But hold on. We are getting there. And we need you. All of you.
We now how a fantastic and contemporary Congregational Record and Web Packet, thanks to hours of hard editing and assembling work on the part of Vanessa! We have accommodations and arrangements made by Roseanne, for our pre-candidates in the late winter, early spring. We have a contract being drawn up with the help of Alan. There is a group within our group hard at work on interview questions, and then two more of us will be tackling reference questions. We are very nervous and excited to meet the ministers who apply to be the servant leader of Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and we bet you are too. However, two points of note should be that we are taking a much needed break for the month of December, a bit like a waking hibernation, while we store up energy to tackle our tasks of January-April, which are going to be intense. So you will not be hearing from me in December, but I’ll be back in your newsletter a little earlier than later in January. It is during this time coming up that our commitment to confidentiality to one another is all the more crucial, and so please know that my letters might feel vague for a time. But hopefully they’ll be no less pretty and fun to read! If you can, trust us. Hold us in gratitude and esteem. I trust this MST. And I trust and am grateful to you. I am grateful for your boundaries, for your explosions of joy, for your questions, for your music, for your discernment, for your listening, your expertise, and your willingness to experiment. I hold you in my heart as I am you too.
Ministerial Search Update October 17, 2018
Oh Hey Westside!
I’m going to do something out of character for me, and keep things brief. But that is only because my fingers and brain are so tired from answering Congregational Record questions! In truth all of me are tired. But in a funny way I get a sense of relief as I feel all of us at MST letting go of the hands of the congregation (for now) and putting our heads down as we tilt forward to fly into winter. The most important thing I have to share with you from all of us is, THANK YOU. Thank you for showing up, Westside. You really, really did and it was invaluable. We are lovingly combing through the mountain of information, stories, and feelings you provided us, and we’re not intimidated, we’re inspired!
Vanessa is hard at work organizing all that we each contributed to the Congregational Record/Web Packet (which we couldn’t have done without you), and we have been getting some beautiful photos from Jonathan Rawle of West Seattle and of us! How enticing to prospective ministers! You made our crucial info gathering time this fall fruitful and now we can go into the hard work of winter knowing we know our church and can share its face, its landscape, its hopes and dreams and reality faithfully with all ministerial applicants.
But enough about us! This holiday season has so much goodness in it coming to Westside. I’m so excited for all this work the Racial Justice Team is doing. I’m looking forward to the Beloved Conversations. My friend J Mase III, a prophetic and prolific poet will be preaching in the coming weeks. I can feel us growing new roots as a congregation. It’s that kinda time.
Happy Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, Dias de los Muertos, and Feast of Baron Samedi, everyone, may you suck all the marrow (spooky!) out of my favorite time of year.
Minister Search Team Update September 26, 2018
Happy Belated Fall Equinox, Westside!
As much as I am disappointed by the briefness of summer, I do feel ready for fall. It’s my favorite season, and it does suit the Scorpionic and Halloween loving tendencies of many Seattleites well. Bring on the saffron colored leaves and ancestor honoring ceremonies and frightening front lawn decorations and comfy sweaters! Fall is also your Ministerial Search Team 2019’s busiest season thus far. As we begin to munch on the rich results of the Congregational Survey, we would like to take a moment to thank the many of you turned out to answer our questions. We had an excellent response rate this year! Our next task to be completed is the Congregational Record and Web Packet, which will be read directly by ministerial applicants.
The survey was one major part of how we could begin to characterize our congregation for ministerial hopefuls, and the cottage meetings are the glue which will hold it all together. There is really nothing better than talking face to face with folks! One meeting is down and we now have three to go: On September 30th, October 3rd, and October 7th. If you are a person of color, this means you have three more opportunities to meet and discuss our facilitated questions about the ideal minister and their relationship with Westside, and if you are a white person, you have two more opportunities! Why, you ask, and some of you literally have. Rather than answering these questions individually, although of course if you have more questions feel free to email all of us at firstname.lastname@example.org, I thought it best to address the question of caucusing in one of our monthly newsletters.
To my Westside Congregants of Color, I love you. It’s not that I do not love our white counterparts with whom we join together in fellowship, but as a fellow person of color, as an African American queer disabled person, I have a great deal of respect for folks who choose to love and make their own a space in which they are knowingly a minority, because that space, that community, that religion, that political affiliation, that covenant group, suits them in a deep and special way. I love Unitarian Universalism too. I am a lifelong UU, growing up in my Fellowship in New Jersey, and becoming very involved as a youth leader in my Metro New York District. Despite my love, despite my at home feeling, the only UU space in which I was able to discuss my experience as a Black teenager explicitly, was at Unitarian Universalist youth conferences. At cons, youth and adults alike would take part in an activity known as caucusing, in which people of color meet with one another in a temporary space exclusive of white folks, and discuss any issue we want. Sometimes it was the weather. Sometimes it was food. Or current events. Sometimes it was our childhood favorite games, and more often than not, it was about how our experience of race intersected with every aspect of our lives. Including our other identities!
As an adult who had spent eight years away from Unitarian Universalist congregations, I was curious if this open discussion of race/racism vs. avoidance of race as a topic dichotomy between youth conferences and intergenerational congregational spaces during services was something that I had imagined, or better yet, whether it was something that had changed by 2016 when I found a new UU home as an adult in Seattle. The answer is this: I did not imagine the difference. And yes, it has changed, and no, it hasn’t. There is a Black Lives Matter banner on the outside of our church. I love that. It’s presence impacts me positively every Sunday, and every time I come to Westside for choir rehearsal or meetings of our MST. I have observed various members of this congregation start up conversations about race and racism, and know that there are members of color working hard to educate those around them. I am one of them. There is also the difficulty I and others face when trying to bring the subtle and no less impactful (than explicit violence or discrimination) ways that racism manifests within Unitarian Universalism to the fore. Sometimes when a person of color brings up race or racism it is considered divisive, confusing, hurtful, or even irrelevant in comparison to other issues.
But the fact is this. Everyone has a relationality to race. Since its construction, everyone has a race. White people too! And finding out and getting to talk about how your life experience and perspectives has been impacted and partially defined by your race or your race’s socially ingrained sense of self and place, is critical to addressing racism and ending it. To white people, if you think that you can wake up one day racism-free, and that anyone, especially a person of color telling you you still have internal and reflective work to do is an attack on your sense of self and therefore an act of violence, you’re mistaken, and you have work to do. Anti-oppression work can never only be outside of ourselves. We are useless social justice warriors if we haven’t examined how our internal hang ups, trauma, entitlement, warped sense of reality might spring out and sabotage our mission or betray our cause when we least expect it.
Adults, in case you were wondering whether or not youth still caucus for a couple hours a day at youth conferences in groups particular to people of color and white people, they do! And they even let us adults attend. I have never felt more seen and heard than when at the last youth conference I chaperoned, I brought an experience I had of racism from a white youth at the con to my caucusing group of POC youth and adults. I didn’t know what to do. Should I pursue a right relations process? Should I let it go? Should I let someone else handle it? As an adult role model I felt a responsibility to this youth who had been racist, to aid his growth by helping him to understand what he had said and done. And as a human being who has experienced racism my whole life, I felt hurt, scared, re-traumatized, and helpless. The youth of color voted, and decided to encourage me to pursue the Right Relations Process. I am so so glad I did. Not only did it go better than could be expected, at the end of his Commencement Ceremony later that night, the youth who had harmed me came up to me and asked for a hug, while we were hugging he, “Thank you for teaching me.”
Teaching is a gift, and we are not always thanked for it. In fact, sometimes we are punished for it. The purpose of caucuses is not to segregate and divide, but rather to call attention to the fact that we as a congregation are not made up of people with identical experiences. One way that our experiences diverge is on the matter of race. When I am meeting in a mixed race group, I have experienced defensiveness from white people when I bring up my racial experience. This is because in a society which privileges whiteness, white people have the privilege of not experiencing their own race, they often take their race as a given, and therefore, not a race at all. As people of color, we are reminded of our race every day. In a caucus of people of color, there is one assumption on the table: That we are not white, and that this reality shapes our lives. From there, whether or not we choose to talk about racism and race is entirely up to us, but no one will be shocked in our caucus if someone brings up how say being Black affects how they interact or are interacted with socially, how they think about their own safety, or even what jokes make them laugh. Caucusing is a container for potentially less hindered growth. When we are not using up our energy explaining or justifying our experiences, marginalized people can speak more freely, and dig deeper. This is true of caucuses for white people as well (when the time spent there is addressing racism and privilege and complexity of experience), however Roseanne and I opted to create a space for people of color to caucus only. Given that people who are white are an overwhelming majority of our congregation, there are often unintentional white caucuses happening every time a group of Westside members meet.
There was an edit made to my last Westside News announcement which impacted its meaning. I wanted to make it completely clear that anyone has the option of attending any cottage meeting except for the meeting on October 7th, which is only for people of color. People of color who don’t want to be in a POC only setting, should sign up for a different cottage meeting! But Roseanne and I found it important to make this meeting an option, since I know that the safety, growth, and comfort of our congregants of color is a desire and priority of everyone at Westside!
You can sign up for a cottage meeting here: https://tinyurl.com/wsuucottagemeetings
And for the Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop with Mr. Barb Greve: https://tinyurl.com/beyondcategoricalthinking
Thank you for your loving attention,
xoxo Neve and the MST19
Minister Search Update August 14, 2018
Summer is both hot and not hot. How innovative! Tonight the moon was saffron and the sky was a deep periwinkle. Very pleasing and complimentary colors but caused by smog and haze from fires in the north and south I know. I send so many prayers to those dealing with the hungry entity that fires are. These past six weeks I have been in and out of touch with the world. Rather, underneath the skin of the world. Wrapped in an immersive six week theatre intensive with Intiman Theatre focusing on theatre for social change, which wraps this weekend with a showcase at the Cornish Playhouse! I am very fortunate.
Your MST19 has been keeping it fierce and keeping it real. Liz and the survey team have been hard at work and the fruits of our many discussions have paid off! We have a survey for you! It will be launching next week, and you will have about a month to take part in it. Please please do! This isn’t just any survey you know- the information you provide us will help vitally with our painstaking process playing matchmaker for Westside and our Minister to Be. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know the moment it’s here.
August has been all about finding air to breathe, squeezing in vacations, getting your survey ready, securing neutral pulpit sites (we have them!), scheduling our post-survey cottage meetings (stay tuned!) and challenging our internalized racism and white supremacy through engaging with anti-racism trainings from scholars in the world and creating spaces within our group for truth telling and building understanding.
In addition to launching the survey next week, we will be having a potentially difficult yet vibrant and important discussion about two videos Roseanne and I shared with the group: Robin DiAngelo’s recent talk at the Seattle Public Library on white fragility (you can find it on the Seattle Channel), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The danger of a single story” on TED. These videos were brought to my attention during one of many diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings I received at Intiman. We recommend you watch them and discuss them too! We can’t wait to see all of you come In Gathering time, and of course also, witness your essences represented abstractly and anonymously on the pages of our fun and engaging survey!
Ministerial Search Team Update July 17, 2018
Greetings Westside! And Happy Seattle Summer!
If you’re spending your summer at home, or in the area at least, you already know that Seattle finally hit its summer stride in the past two weeks. The other day Tony said, “How is it already my birthday this week?!” (July 20th) It has felt like time has flown, but if you haven’t gotten to the beach yet, don’t fret, there’s still a couple juicy summer months left on the Pacific Northwest calendar.
In my last and first newsletter to you, I accidentally referred to our Ministerial Search Team as the MST 18, but we’re the MST 19! A testament to our commitment to one another, and to our congregational community- it will be literally a different year from when we started when we successfully (wink) call a new minister to Westside next spring. Something I am deeply enjoying about my work with Roseanne, Jill, Eileen, Vanessa, Liz, and Alan, is how they are each a unique balance of sensitive and direct. Thus far in our work, we have strived not to shy away from disagreement or debate, and I feel confident that by the time January rolls around, we will have been flexing our difficult discussion engaging and decision making muscles with one another for a healthy seven months!
Since we last spoke, members of MST 19 have opened a bank account, begun contacting and weighing neutral pulpit site options, discussed ways we would like to conduct our congregational survey, thought deeply about and discussed enthusiastically the past, present, and possible futures of Westside, submitted our Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop application to the UUA (make sure you mark your calendars for a Saturday in the middle of October!), and generally all been great and insightful sports through video chat meeting snafus and scheduling minutiae. We have also finalized our covenant (which I love if I do say so myself) and decided on how we’re going to make decisions and address conflict as a group. I daresay I am coming to call the six other members of the MST 19 my friends, and I don’t think it would be going out on a limb to guess they might say the same about me.
Keep enjoying your summer! As a kid I always thought Unitarian Universalists don’t practice or meet during the summer, because I always returned to service for the In-Gathering in the fall, but as an adult I can testify that Westside UU most certainly does have a worshipful summer life!
Until next time,
Minister Search Update June 20, 2018
It’s your fearless Ministerial Search Team 2019’s delightful representative, Neve Mazique-Bianco, Secretary and Sagittarius. Thus far in our journey together we have met with Nancy Bowen, our advisor and liaison at the UUA, and we began to learn about one another’s strengths and talents: for instance, Eileen Duffy and I are here to bring the party. Luckily, we have our Chair/Captain Jill Jackson to steer this boat home. In addition to learning about one another and the process before us, and entrusting each other with our search team roles, we met with MST 17 and got their advice about what they found important practice and they lovingly passed the torch to us.
One of our first self-assigned tasks was to draft a covenant as a living document and a reminder of our intentions and faith. With Eileen’s assistance, I spearheaded this task, using our congregational covenant as a foundation upon which to build our MST '19 covenant. We’re already feeling pretty inspired by it. Now we’re embarking on planning our Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop, which we are doing everything in our power to ensure is tailored to the shape and capacity of our congregation. We need and desire everyone at Westside to attend (date tba)! Already as a group we have interacted with and begun to address issues of ability, age, race, gender (pronouns!) among ourselves, so we are positive that we still have much to explore as a congregation.
Throughout the summer we will be sacrificing several opportunities for family time, sports games, picking up a new hobby, or turning off our brains, in order to fill out doodle polls with the intention to meet every week in June, and then every other week in July and August. By the time members and visitors of Westside are pouring waters from diverse places into the same singing bowl at the In Gathering service, our congregational survey will be underway. You will have the opportunity to tell us exactly what we need to know about your history with and hopes for this beautiful church.
Ministerial Search Team 2018-19
Lower Row Left to Right: Roseanne Lorenzana, Neve Mazique-Bianco, Vanessa Shaughnessy
Upper Row: Jill Jackson, Alan Mendel, Liz Bucklew, Eileen Duffy
Minister Search Team Update – March 28, 2018
We are once again on the path to call our settled Minister. Our Interim Minister, Rev. Alex Holt, will be here until July 2019 and during that time our new Ministerial Search Team (MST) will be surveying the congregation, holding workshops, and interviewing candidates, hoping to find the right Minister for Westside.
This new search began in early January 2018 when the Discernment Team was put into place. Facilitated by John Britt, the Discernment Team comprised Betsy Lowry, Laura White, Tracy Burrows, Simon Knaphus, Marco Deppe, Thomas Terrence, and Rose Sheppard. The team spent many thoughtful hours going through the completed questionnaires of the congregational members who were nominated to be on the MST. On March 28, 2018 the Discernment Team announced the members of the new Ministerial Search Team: Jill Jackson, Liz Bucklew, Alan Mendel, Neve Bianco, Roseanne Lorenzana, Vanessa Shaughnessy, and Eileen Duffy. This team beautifully reflects the diversity and interests of our congregation and I am so grateful for their service.
Rev. Nancy Bowen, our Regional Transitions Coach, will be visiting WSUU from her home in Albuquerque during the first weekend in May, when she will hold a retreat for the new MST, as well as be in the pulpit on Sunday, May 6th. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the video she prepared detailing the search process (see below), I would highly recommend that you do so.
During this summer, the new MST will be organizing and preparing for the hard work ahead for both them and the congregation. It is imperative that all members of our congregation take part in the workshops and surveys that will be held this fall determining the strengths, values, and characteristics we are looking for in our new minister. Please read your Westside Week every week and check back to this page to learn about your role in this process.
In loving community,
Patti McCall, Board President