Tuesday, March 13, 2012

from DRE Taryn Strauss: Report from "Multicultural Congregations as an Act of Faith"

In February, members and staff took advantage of an educational opportunity in accordance with our strategic plan, that calls on us deepen our commitment to becoming a more diverse congregation. All Souls RE Director Taryn Strauss attended a week-long seminary intensive course called The Multicultural Congregation as an Act of Faith. As part of this transformational course offered by Meadville-Lombard Seminary, students examined four different churches who had all made tremendous strides in becoming more welcoming and inclusive to people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Each of these churches undertook a process of adopting a congregational mission to become an example of what Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community, where diverse voices are heard and reflected in worship, and all aspects of congregational life. For every congregation, the path to becoming more intentionally inclusive was long and challenging, but the learning and the relationships offer rich rewards to congregants. Many long-time members of these congregations expressed a sense of pride about the achievement of becoming a more multicultural congregation. Members felt that practicing the Beloved Community was not only healing for themselves as individuals, but enacts a vision that has the power to heal the world.

Also during this weekend, members of our Diversity Task force attended a worship service at All Souls Washington D.C., one of the churches who identifies as a Multicultural Congregation, and look forward to sharing more about how we at All Souls NYC may experience the profound joy of becoming a more diverse church community together.

All Souls Diversity Task Force Visits Congregations in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC

Our Learning Experience in Diverse Multicultural Ministry: Arlington Virginia and All Souls DC

On Sunday, February 12th, Task Force members Sabrina Alano, Daniel Gregoire, Lissa Gundlach, Carolyn Jackson, Blanca Rodriguez and Carol Emmerling traveled south to attend Sunday worship with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia and All Souls Unitarian Church of Washington, DC. We joined a group of Meadville Lombard Seminarians who had gathered for the week to learn about diverse and multicultural faith development with Mark Hicks, Meadville Lombard professor of Religious Education. DRE Taryn Strauss attended the course throughout the week. Both the All Souls DC and Arlington congregations have prioritized diversity at the center of their congregational life over the past four decades. In mission, they define themselves similarly. The Arlington congregation describes themselves as a “A diverse, welcoming community of open hearts and minds since 1948, while All Souls DC describes themselves as “A diverse, spirit-growing, justice-seeking community.”

Our visit was transformative in many ways, helping us to understand the great joy and possibility as well as the challenges inherent in our journey towards deepening our capacity for diversity. Here are some reflections from our Task Force members:

After our group visit to All Souls in Washington D.C., I know that we can reach this goal. All Souls in D.C. truly walks the talk of diversity. I felt it as soon as I walked in. There was diversity among the greeters and ushers and within the congregation, and a striking degree of multiculturalism in the worship service that felt so genuine, joyous, embracing, and comforting. The congregation sang Spirit of Life in Spanish and then English. The words in Spanish are so beautiful, and hearing the congregation sing these words in unison made me feel that we were indeed a community of "All Souls."

-Blanca Rodriguez

“Visiting the Arlington and All Souls DC congregations has opened my eyes to ways that we could continue our efforts to become an intentionally welcoming, inclusive community that would attract greater diversity. If I were to sum this up in one sentence, I would say that these congregations attend to a person's whole self, the heart as well as mind.”

-Sabrina Alano

“I have to admit that I was not sure that it was possible to have a thriving Unitarian Universalist congregation that could hold both the richness of our common faith and the wealth of diverse cultures and experiences. If I were to approach the experience of All Souls DC by way of food analogy I would say that place was rich with micro-nutrients from a variety of sources, like a hearty vegetable soup. We owe it to ourselves to work diligently to create our own expression of a nutrient rich environment; that does not just welcome come all, but really includes them in all aspects of worship. We can do this."

-Daniel Gregoire

“I always like going to All Souls DC because it demonstrates what can be done to make the worship service more diverse within a setting much like our own.”

Carolyn Jackson