UUA’s 2011-12 Common Read is ‘Acts of Faith’

Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, a memoir by Eboo Patel, is the 2011–2012 Unitarian Universalist Common Read. The Common Read project invites Unitarian Universalist youth and adults in all congregations to share a common reading experience, and to engage in reflection and action about that book.

In Acts of Faith, Patel shares his faith journey as an American Muslim who comes to believe in religious pluralism. Patel founded the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a nonprofit focused on building an interfaith youth movement. Patel invites those who believe in religious pluralism to support young people, helping them ground themselves in a faith that can equip them to work across faiths to make the world a better place.

Gail Forsyth-Vail, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Adult Programs director, said the book was chosen with an eye to both the tenth anniversary of September 11 and to the work of building coalitions as UUs prepare for General Assembly 2012, a “Justice GA” focused on immigration issues, in Phoenix.

The discussion guide will be published in October and will offer materials for a single 90-minute session or three 90-minute sessions, each expandable to two hours. The guide will provide the option of splitting the single 90-minute session into two shorter sessions. Download a flyer for Acts of Faith. The UUA Bookstore is offering the book for $14, plus a discount for multiple copies.

The UU Common Read last year was The Death of Josseline, stories about crossing the Mexico-Arizona border.

People who made the world better

A new book, Stirring the Nation’s Heart: Eighteen Stories of Prophetic Unitarians and Universalists of the Nineteenth Century, describes how these 18 religious folk, from Julia Ward Howe to Theodore Park and Dorothea Dix, had an idea about how the world could be better, and made that change happen.

Written by Polly Peterson, a freelance writer and member of First Parish in Concord, Mass., Stirring the Nation’s Heart will be useful for religious educators as well as UUs and others wanting to learn more about the big ideas that began with many of our spiritual forbears, including reform of education and treatment of the mentally ill, women’s suffrage, and antiracism work. These were social reformers who played key roles in UU and U.S. history and whose life work made the world a better place. Each chapter includes discussion questions.

Stirring the Nation’s Heart is published by the Unitarian Universalist Association and is available from the UUA Bookstore for $15.

Book helps with youth mission trip planning

Youth leaders responsible for planning social justice trips with youth will want to pick up a new book, Journeys of the Spirit: Planning and Leading Mission Trips with Youth.

The authors are Jennifer McAdoo and Anne Principe, two Unitarian Universalist religious educators from New England who, between them, have organized mission trips to Central America, Romania, Massachusetts, Maine, the Texas border with Mexico, and New Orleans.

The book covers how to determine what type of mission trips to do and why, and goes on to explain team-building and fundraising and how to share the trip upon returning home. It also includes testimonials by veteran UU social justice activists, including the Rev. Richard S. Gilbert, on their various experiences with mission work.

The book, published by the Unitarian Universalist Association, is $15 and is available at the UUA Bookstore.

Earth Day resources available

For congregations planning events around the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in April, the UU Ministry for Earth has developed an Earth Day resource packet. Earth Day itself is Thursday, April 22, and many congregations will hold events that week or the weekend before or after.

The resource packet includes information on the UUA’s current Congregational Study Action Issue “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice,” fair trade products, labor issues, and organic food. It also has an Earth Day order of service cover and insert, and a certificate to honor your Congregational Eco-Hero.

There is also information on what other congregations are doing and ways to engage your own community. You can share what your congregation is doing for Earth Day by registering the event and by emailing the UU Ministry for Earth photos and information about how the event went.

The Ministry for Earth is also encouraging congregations to hold a special collection to support its ongoing work.

Haiti earthquake relief fund

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the UUA have created a fund to support Haiti relief efforts following the January 12 earthquake. Dick Campbell, the UUSC’s Media and Public Affairs coordinator, said details of how the money will be used by the UUSC will appear on the website when they are determined, but that it would likely go to help those “who are the least likely to have access to aid, those who are at greatest risk of being overlooked.”

Information on contributing is at uusc.org/haitiearthquake. Contributions may also be sent by mail to UUSC/UUA Haiti Earthquake Fund, PO Box 844001, Boston, MA 02284-4001.

Read more at uuworld.org: UUSC, UUA create Haitian relief fund

‘People So Bold’ offers guidance for justice work

Congregations looking for support, guidance, and inspiration in doing social justice work can find it in a DVD and a book of essays, both called A People So Bold. Both were created from conversations on January 4 when a group of UU theologians, social justice advocates, ministers, educators, and others came together to talk about “not how we do social justice, but why we do it and what it means,” in the words of the Rev. Meg Riley, director of the UUA’s Advocacy and Witness program.

“We had a deep conversation about what it means to be engaged in the world,” Riley says, adding that the topics on the DVD include some not normally discussed in social justice contexts, including “how we as UUs talk about evil.” She says other topics include: “How does our faith hold brokenness, injustice, and suffering, and how do we develop a prophetic voice?”

Participants in the talks included the Revs. Rebecca Parker, Paul Rasor, Thandeka, Victoria Safford, and Marilyn Sewell, plus social justice advocates the Rev. Louise Green, Paula Cole Jones, the Rev. Kate Lore, plus Jill Schwendeman, director of youth programs at White Bear UU Church in Mahtomedi, Minn., and Annease Hastings, music director at Bull Run UUs in Manassas, Va. A complete list of participants is here.

The January 4 convocation was the result of a partnership between the UUA and All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, D.C. Three other congregations also participated in the conversations: First Unitarian Church of Portland, Ore., White Bear UU Church, and Bull Run UU Church.

The DVD and book are designed for churches to use every way they can––in lifespan education, by social justice groups, and for sermons, says Riley. Some of the information on the DVD was also used at the UU University session on justice presented at General Assembly 2009.

Congregations can request one free copy of the DVD by emailing socialjustice@uua.org. Additional copies are $10 each. The book, edited by the Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, cominister of the Winchester UU Society in Winchester, Mass., is $16 from the UUA Bookstore. It is published by Skinner House. A DVD Discussion Guide is available free, online.

Peacemaking, ethical eating deadlines

Congregations may vote and submit comments until February 1 on the draft Statement of Conscience on Peacemaking, presented by the UUA’s Commission on Social Witness. Congregations can also submit information and resources until March 1 on the Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) on Ethical Eating. More information on both issues, including ways to solicit congregational feedback on them, can be found here.

To participate in the debate on these issues, congregations will need to log in through the Data Services Login for Congregations, which became available November 13.  Login information cannot be offered by the CSW. Contact your minister or congregational administrator for login credentials.

Both social justice issues will be discussed at General Assembly 2010.

Recent uuworld.org articles useful to congregational leaders

The gospel of inclusion – Article about the experience of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla., when it welcomed about 200 Pentecostal Christians. By Kimberly French. Fall 2009

UUA staff restructuring – Announcement of a new organizational structure in which staff will be divided into two groups: Ministries and Congregational Support, headed by the Rev. Harlan Limpert, and Administration, led by UUA Executive Vice President Kay Montgomery and Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and vice president of Finance. By Jane Greer. 9.14.09

Morales and Hallman reflect on UUA presidential race – UUA President Peter Morales, the Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, and their campaign chiefs talk about their recent presidential campaigns, including travel, technology, the challenges of identifying delegates, and how congregations might help the next UUA election go more smoothly. By Donald E. Skinner. 9.21.09

Reach out to become a public church. Argues that a Unitarian Universalist church should see the greater good as its primary purpose. By Michael Durall, church consultant 9.7.09

Youth, adults bond through service trips. Service trips are a great way to help people in need. By Donald E. Skinner. 8.31.09

Sign up for a weekly email alert about new articles at uuworld.org, including information useful for adult study groups and worship, food for thought for lay leaders, and other stories about acts of social justice, UU history, and inspirational UUs and congregations.

Environmental justice stories and resources from the UUA

Stories about the work that congregations are doing in the area of environmental justice and new resources that they can use in that work are now on UUA.org. Environmental justice is the newest category of congregational stories on the Congregational Life webpage at UUA.org.

The stories highlight the work of Green Sanctuary congregations. Robin Nelson, program manager for the Green Sanctuary program, which is administered through the Congregational Stewardship Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association, will be posting monthly environmental justice articles to the page. Send stories to Nelson at  greensanctuary@uua.org.

The Green Sanctuary program invites congregations to develop projects and activities that are focused on care for the earth. There are currently 214 congregations participating in the Green Sanctuary program, which began in 2002.

Here are other environmental justice resources from the UUA:

• All congregations received a copy of the film Renewal and a viewing guide in September. This documentary, composed of eight stories of various faith communities engaged in environmental work, could be included in a congregational film series, used to start an interfaith discussion or as part of a worship service, and to inspire interest in the Green Sanctuary program. If your congregation did not get a copy, email greensanctuary@uua.org.

• The 120-page Green Sanctuary manual is available online, as are reviews of green books and films.

• Information on the International Day of Climate Change, October 24, in which many UU congregations are participating, is also online.

Donor helps children share with the world

Imagine giving kids $10,000 and telling them to go help heal the world and spread the word about Unitarian Universalism.

That’s what has been happening at the UU Church of Reading, Mass. (292 members). A year ago, an anonymous donor made a gift of $10,000 for the purpose of involving the kids and teens in social justice work and helping them experience the joy of sharing money and time. And thus, the Helping Hands Outreach Fund was born.

Each year, the children in the church’s Faith Development program select five area organizations that are aligned with UU values of social justice. During a “Principles in Action” Faith Development quarter, the older children and youth educate the younger ones about the work of these nonprofits. Then, led by the Senior High Youth Group, the kids vote for the one they most want to partner with for the year. The kids then present the selected organization with a check for $7,600 and enter into a close partnership with the group for the year. The other four groups receive a gift of $600 each.

For the first year of the program, the kids selected an organization that served individuals with developmental disabilities. “This has been very engaging for the whole congregation,” says Lorraine Dennis, past president of the congregation. “We don’t just give money, we work hand in hand, together. The clients played music at a Sunday service, we had a lunch workshop about the group, we collected clothing for their prom, our teens attended their dances, and people volunteered in other ways. Most importantly, we sponsored and staffed a training program for Special Olympics, with our church kids and the group’s youngest kids working together on various physical and sports skills. ”

For the second year of the program, which kicked off in September, the kids are partnering with an environmental action group that is working to preserve an area river.

The Rev. Tim Kutzmark, minister of the church, reports that they will be sponsoring hikes, canoe trips, a community garden, displays at the town soccer field, and educational forums for the surrounding communities on water and green issues. “And because we’re out in the community working,” he says, “people learn about UUism and the things we stand for!”