Lay Leader Blogs
President’s Column, August 2017
It’s been a month since the UU General Assembly in New Orleans. I am still digesting what I learned and saw. There were a lot of people there. I was both intimidated and pleased to be a part of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I went to New Orleans aware of the troubles that the Association has had over racism. It seems we are all taking a hard look at ourselves, not just the Association, but our congregation, and I myself. I am reexamining my experience and my own implicit racism. I was very uncomfortable at the General Assembly and that’s a good place to start. The narrative is changing. That’s a good thing.
I was struck by how many people of color were at the Assembly and their voice was strong in the workshops and proceedings and it was being listened to. I commented on that to someone not expecting good representation based on the criticism we’ve been leveling at ourselves. They said the UUA had made a special effort bringing people to the Assembly, that it was a case of affirmative action.
I am a believer in affirmative action and have been since I joined the workforce. Back then it was so obviously white and male, not mostly but completely. When I joined the corporate world affirmative action was just beginning. It was not easy and there was a lot of resistance, trial and error, mistakes made but the effort was ongoing. Fifteen years later I remember walking down the street and seeing a group of tellers from the bank where I worked coming toward me. They were a group of African Americans, whites, and Asians and maybe a Latino or two and they were all friends. I thought these young people just beginning to work have no idea how unusual they would have been not only working together but friends only a few years before. Proximity as I’ve learned to call it is a good thing.
There was and still is a long ways to go and affirmative action is still called for. The phrase itself has fallen out of usage, been discredited and the regulations and effort that promoted it have diminished but the door was opened. We’re not there yet but we know where we need to go.
I marked the workshops that appealed to me and found myself learning and thinking about classism. I have just begun to understand intersectionality. For me it was new to add class to the identities that intersect in the system of oppression we live in. I have my own class insecurity, my mother was from deep in the Ozarks and was left out of school at 9 years old when she went deaf from the mumps. Her mother was deceased, her father was crippled and somehow my mother managed to achieve a middle class life with her children always fed and clothed, educated and raised with better prospects than she had had. She was always insecure about her background and passed along her class insecurity to me.
So class and race, and I was very uncomfortable at the Assembly, with my own remaining biases and insecurities. Intersectionality is a new way of thinking about it for me. I have a lot of work to do, we have a lot of work to do. I bought the book Class Action: The Struggle With Class in Unitarian Universalism and I read it. I was pleased to learn that UUCB has already scheduled a UU Class Conversations workshop (I’m in Mexico and don’t have the details but they will be forthcoming).
The Ware Speaker Saturday night was Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Institute. He was perfect for what we were thinking about and what we are trying to do, UUA and UUCB. I recommend you listen to him speak on TED for a full hour at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky9VQeDeh5Q. His address at the Assembly is not available in video.
He recommended four things to bring Justice, which he called the opposite of poverty. They are:
- To change the narrative
- To be uncomfortable, to take risks
I found that we at UUCB are in the ideal position and time to oppose racism and oppression, to look at ourselves and practice affirmative action, to penetrate the walls of privilege that have excluded people who are different, to address our own -isms in our congregation and in our community. I think this is something we need to do deeply and honestly at UUCB and in the communities of the East Bay where we live. And that these things that divide us are the same issues that today make our nation so difficult.
We need to be close to each other, to break down the barriers between us, in UUCB but also in our communities. We need to change our own narratives that hold us back and the ones we’ve been told. In doing this we can support each other in our hopes. We will be uncomfortable and encourage each other, give each other heart, and doing that, we will grow. We can change and be more of who we want to be. I can change and be more of who I want to be.
And that’s what I was thinking at the UU General Assembly and since and those are the issues I want to bring to our work as we ask who we are, who we want to be and how we get there. I’m writing this in Mexico City. I am returning in August. The summer will soon be over and the work we do together begins anew as we come back together.
President’s Corner, July 2017
Jack Duggan, President, Board of Trustees
Reverend Christian, myself and a number of other congregants from UUCB are here attending the 56th Annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in New Orleans.
It is very busy and very tiring. I’m surprised how quickly I run down, but I tell myself I’m not a wimp so much as not used to such hot weather where the temperature and humidity are nearly equal. When we first arrived a Hurricane turned Tropical Storm named Cindy was coming ashore in Louisiana. It seemed to be no big thing for the locals, but I told them we weren’t used to storms with names in California or air that fogged my glasses when I stepped out of the air conditioning of the Convention Center or the Hotel.
At the General Assembly itself I was struck by how many Unitarian Universalists there are. There are a lot of us and we come from all over the country. It’s gratifying to see so many UUs from places we think of as red states. We are the future. I am surprised by the diversity of the gathering. Somehow I had the impression that with all the recent controversy that nationally UUs weren’t that diverse. If anything the association is more racially diverse than our own congregation, so as we struggle with White Supremacy and implicit racism, we do it with a variety of perspectives and the discussion is the more for it. Diversity, like justice, once experienced demands more.
I myself have been ambushed by discussions of classism. I wasn’t expecting to be so personally affected by discussions of class. I am beginning to understand intersectionality and with that perspective I’m learning more about the intersection of racism, classism, genderism and populism. It seems we have a long ways to go yet. Yes, I am very pleased to have had in the course of my life my mind opened on these issues as far as it is. I am a liberal progressive and we’ve come a long ways, but . . .
We have a long ways yet to go. We can and we will be better together and it’s not always comfortable. The work we’ve committed ourselves to can’t be done from our comfort zone. In the general sessions and the discussions in smaller rooms afterwards truth is being spoken and real issues being addressed.
We also were able to celebrate with Maryann Simpson and Cynthia Asprodites the installation of their daughter Aija into Permanent Fellowship with the UUA. I got stopped by Laura Bogle, who was the interim director of family ministry when Suzette, Paloma and I first arrived at UUCB. Laura is doing well in Tennessee and has three girls now, most recently twins. She also was installed in Permanent Fellowship.
When I return home we will be well into summer and vacations and the summer doldrums will be going on. I expect the activism and work of UUCB will continue to be strongly needed and done during the summer as we do. The planning and the congregational work that supports us will begin in earnest again as we all gather at the end of summer and the beginning of fall. I look forward to bringing what I have learned, the inspiration I have felt, the interconnectedness I have realized and sharing those at UUCB. We have work to do and fellowship to build and enjoy.
And no, I don’t know yet who I am voting for for President of the UUA, but I am listening hard. I know we have three very good candidates and one will be, to my surprise, the first woman to be President of the UUA.
President’s Corner, June 2017
Jack Duggan, President, Board of Trustees
We’ve just come through a long period of getting ready. Since Reverends Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway announced their retirement we’ve been preparing ourselves for today. It hasn’t been easy. We did a capital campaign that has paid for needed repairs to the church buildings. With Reverend Greg Ward we made painful personnel changes. We made changes that improved our governance structure and operation. We began searching for new ministers, a long process that in the end left us waiting and wondering.
And then the Reverends Kristin and Christian Schmidt found us and we found them. The strength, care and hard work of our Search Committee, so well done, paid off. Kristin and Christian made the move, settled in with their family and became part of our family. This May we affirmed our commitment to them and they to us.
The waiting is over, we are here. As UUs we know that the congregation, the leadership and the ministers are jointly responsible for who we are, who we are becoming and what we do. Like the legal phrase “jointly and severally,” we rely on others but we also take responsibility for ourselves. We are not by nature followers, which can make the process difficult but richer for the effort. Our relationship with our leadership and our ministers is one of joint responsibility and decision making.
In my opinion our greatest strength is who we are. My family and I came to UUCB because of the members who call this church their community. We are inspired by and supported by this extraordinary gathering of people.
We the congregation can take credit for this because it has always been the congregation that makes UUCB work. We have done the work. Now we have new ministers who have joined us in doing that work, who are committed to doing their part, adding their experience and wisdom to ours.
Yes, we have a nagging deficit. It’s even worse this year than we originally thought. It’s not insurmount-able but it’s a problem that must be solved. Financially we are barely keeping up, and deferring maintenance and needed improvements on a sixty-year-old building is not sustainable. Like many churches we have a shrinking and aging congregation.
I believe the way to address our financial concerns is to build the kind of community we want to be that includes enthusiasm for who we are, a unity of purpose and a strong sense of responsibility for each other including the financial sacrifices necessary to sustain our community.
When I look around at us, our staff, our community and family ministers and interim ministers there is a great vitality, energy and people actively engaged in making this work and in applying our principles and faith in humanity in the larger community. We are attracting new members and our programs for the members and outreach to the community are strong and active. We are a welcoming congregation and it works. Our success tells us we need to reach further.
In the coming months we will be working on defining our Mission and Vision and our path to the future for this time of renewal. One more time we will take responsibility for who we are and who we want to be and commit ourselves to the work we need to do. One more time we will renew ourselves.
I am very confident knowing our community and now knowing our ministers that we are going to do good things together.
President’s Corner, May 2017
As I sit down to write this, it has been a day of details. As often happens, I’m just barely keeping up, rushing to get to what I promised to do, need to do, said I would do, working on deadlines with tasks that I put off doing until they were almost too late. And dinner got started later than I planned. I have to admit last night I woke up, and I couldn’t get back to sleep with all the details chasing each other in my head.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it all, frustrated that I can barely keep up. Being President has a very impressive ring to it, though lately a little tarnished, but in reality the job is one of details, signing checks, making agendas, trying to coordinate our efforts, attending meetings and making phone calls, the details of an organization with nearly 400 members, more than 10 people on staff, and countless volunteers.
I certainly am not in charge. I’m not the commander in chief. My job is to be one of the people who try to keep up with it all. Making that task more interesting is that all of our members and many of our friends are Unitarian Universalists, interesting people, good people, but not the easiest people to keep up with, to keep informed, to know what they want and what they need. UUs are involved and sometimes it feels like 400 cooks working in 400 pots.
So, in all of this it’s easy to lose track and forget why I’m here.
I ask myself who are we? Understanding who we really are takes a lot of questions and listening to each other. A good question is who would we like to be?
What are we doing? As a congregation we do a lot, in fact, we have activities within our congregation that build community among us and many members who do outreach to the community around us. As a community we try very hard to live our principles, to take care of each other and to take care of our community and our world. The question isn’t so much what we do, but how we do it.
How can we use our energy and resources to the best effect in the world?
For me the answer is that when I live this way, when I am part of a community that calls me to be generous with my time and resources, who supports me in what I do, and who needs my support I feel more human. I feel better about who I am and what I do. I more easily see the good in people around me. I am a part of people who do good, who make a difference, people who “stand on the side of love.”
So, together in a spirit of goodwill let’s take care of the details, worry together about the things that need worrying, getting things done, serving on committees and boards, showing up to meetings and events, so that together we can get better at who we are, what we do, and why.
For me, the community of our church has been a great gift and one I want to share with people and pass on to my children and my grandchildren, not the same but better. And take care of details.
President’s Corner, April 2017
I have the good fortune of being optimistic. For some people in the world and nearby optimism is a luxury taken away by the need just to survive. In November the need for optimism and action gained a new urgency. For many survival has become even harder. Too many people are marginalized in our world and it’s taken a turn for the worse.
At first I was stunned but as soon as we began doing things about it, I began to feel more optimistic. Inequities and injustice existed before the election and the election either way wasn’t going to magically solve them.
I’m optimistic when I think about the challenge that we face today. In my lifetime the call to action has never been so clear and so widely heard. The threat to the good has always been there, but now it’s in the open, the need for real change has never been so obvious. What we tolerated in the past, what we were blind to, has never demanded our attention so strongly. It’s no longer possible to sink back into a comfortable world and congratulate myself on how far we’ve come.
I made a conscious decision to think locally, to think about what I could do in my daily life to make change for the good happen. I’m fortunate to have the time and the well-being to volunteer in a local school.
I’ve joined a group that advocates for civil rights for all. I’ve joined marches and attended meetings. I’ve looked at and renewed my part in making UUCB sustainable and better. This Church, this community is where I am inspired and restored and where I have an opportunity to contribute my spirit to the collective effort of our congregation. Like a beacon we are a light to the world.
So my family, UUCB, this wonderful community of the East Bay and California and all the people in our country who believe in the good are still here and it’s time to strengthen what we have and who we are. As the Blue Oaks, the Buckeyes and the fruit trees begin to return to life in the green hills around us, it’s time again to preach the optimistic gospel instead of the gospel of fear and insecurity. We’re still here. That makes me optimistic.
President’s Corner, March 2017
Jack Duggan, Board President
As a congregation, as a nation and as individuals these are interesting times, times of change and transition. Over and over we hear the call to action, a call to participate in the change for the good, to stand on the side of Love.
I belong to UUCB because we are a community of people who participate, who act, people who work to affect positive change in our congregation and in our communities.
We are a diverse and diversified community, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. UUCB brings us together. That’s not always easy nor should it be. To be a good leader I need to listen to all of our community. I need to hear from you. I invite you to share your concerns, your ideas, your hopes and your worries with me and all of us in the leadership of our congregation.
I like who we are. Let’s do it more and better in these times of change.
President’s Corner, February 2017
This is my last message to you from the “President’s Corner.” After our congregational meeting immediately following the 11:15 service on February 12th, the board will meet briefly to elect new officers, and unless there is some sort of palace revolution (of which there have been no indications whatsoever!) Jack Duggan will become your new president. Jack has already demonstrated his signature blend of gentleness, strength and understanding; I know that UUCB will be in very capable hands.
Fortunately, we have an excellent transition built into our governance system, in which ex-presidents continue on as board members for two more years. I have certainly been grateful for Jean’s mentorship during the remainder of her board tenure, and I look forward to continuing to be of service. In particular, I look forward to helping to put back together two essential governance elements that we have taken apart: I aim to support and see brought to completion the revisions of our ends and governance manual.
The past three years have, undeniably, been intense and demanding: Barbara and Bill retired; we survived the whirlwind house-cleaning and cultural revitalization that mark a successful interim period; and we have begun a promising new shared ministry with Reverends Christian and Kristin. At the same time, this has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling chapters of my life. For a fairly quiet, introspective person, it has been a good stretch to become more publicly the person I have always been within my family and in my work as a teacher, to tap into and expand my resources for listening, loving, linking and lifting up all that is best in you, my church family. I cannot imagine a more supportive and limitless setting for this kind of personal growth. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.
President’s Column, December 2016
Deborah Schmidt, President, Board of Trustees
I know that many of you were as stunned, bruised and heartsick in the aftermath of the election as I was. The potential impact of this administration on the two inextricably linked causes of social and environmental justice is especially frightening. This will be a test of the checks and balances of our system. It will be a test of our resolve and of our engagement in the democratic process.
Part of our challenge is learning to listen, avoiding the temptation to demonize the other half. I hope we can come to understand the fear, frustration and alienation that pushed people who are really not so much unlike us to this vote. I highly recommend watching Van Jones’ Messy Truth, three short videos of frank and respectful conversations with Trump supporters.
I am finding comfort in the resilient spirits and moving words of so many amazing people, including our remarkable new ministers. I am proud of California, proud of all the unstoppable progressive voices – and more proud than ever to be a part of this church. Attendance is up as many brave souls turn to us for comfort, community and positive direction. On November 13th we collected 5,547 pounds of food and close to 5000 dollars for the Richmond Emergency Food Pantry. The same day, we contributed $1000 to the Standing Rock legal defense fund and sent fired-up, flyer-armed “yellow t-shirt people” to join the protesters linking hands around Lake Merritt.
This simply can’t keep us from continuing to become the best people we can possibly be, continuing to add all the weight of our love to that long moral arc as it bends toward justice. This world needs us now more than ever. To quote Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ inspiring and poetic post-election piece, “We were made for these times!”
President’s Corner, November 2016
Thank you for participating in our Start-Up Workshop! We were 64 strong in the morning, with about 20 staying for the afternoon. In the morning we created a timeline of our history and then split into groups to identify our unwritten rules, the stories that are alive for us, our traditions, and truths often unacknowledged. Some of this was familiar from the Congregational Conversations held during the interim ministry. But, while the interim period pushed us to constantly question and improve ourselves, this workshop included a wonderfully refreshing time for lifting up our strengths. Some of the following are quotes taken right from our easels:
We have a beautiful campus and a retreat center, both in stunning locations. We are welcoming to all. We have no creed, but we have a great mission and values. We are a well-functioning, thriving, caring, covenanted community of amazing people, of friends who value each other regardless of the length of our membership. We have a rich diversity of expertise, creativity and innovation– and a capacity to disagree. We are not fragile; we bounce back, we fix things.
We are blessed with ministers and staff (family ministry, music, administrative and facilities) with phenomenal vision, gifts and training. We have increased our commitment to leadership development, including for youth, providing opportunities that build strengths and skills we can take with us down the road and into our lives. Our lively Social Justice programs, including Confronting Racism, Read Aloud, GRIP, and CCISCO, serve the community in multiple ways. We have a splendid rainbow of other lay-led programs, including Chalice Circles, Personal Theology, and Humanist Connections. Our incredible music and family ministry programs continue to nurture, connect and inspire us.
So as we give thanks this month, let’s celebrate the strengths of this beloved community!
President’s Corner, Oct. 2016
One of the joys of discovering and reclaiming my Jewish heritage has been learning about Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the High Holy Days. This year Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown October 2nd and ends the evening of October 4th. Although it is often called the Jewish New Year, it doesn’t bear much resemblance to our drunken holiday, except for the sober resolutions of the day after.
In a beautiful piece called “ReNewing at Rosh Hashanah,” writer Anita Silvert muses that this is a time to return, re-turn, turn again—to come back once again to the beginning. It is a time to renew, re-energize, re-engage. It is a time to remember, to be re-minded, to open ourselves anew, on the anniversary of creation, to the beauty of this world. It is a time of possibility, a chance to re-solve, reconnect, rebuild.
This year, Rosh Hashanah coincides with a new chapter in the story of this historic and vibrant church. Let’s carry the spirit of the holy days into our partnership with our wonderful new ministers.
Please hold October 15th for our Start-Up Workshop, which will be led by our UUA Congregational Life staff member, Jonipher Kwong. Tailored to UUCB, with elements both for leaders and for anyone in the congregation who wishes to participate, it will provide guidance in: “examining the myths and values at work in the congregation, recognizing the stories that are still influencing the congregation, clarifying roles and expectations, and setting some initial goals.”
As Jack Duggan, our vice-president, wrote recently: “in this time of new beginnings, it’s not just the ministers who can be new. We can as individuals renew ourselves, our own spiritual growth and the way we participate in the community.”
With wishes for a good and sweet year together – Shana tova u’metukah!