Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop

On November 5th nearly 60 UUCB congregants met to participate in the workshop entitled Beyond Categorical Thinking (BCT). This workshop is an integral part of the ministerial search process, a process laid out by our Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). It began in 1988 and was designed to counter the bias that ministers have repeatedly encountered in their search for a congregation to serve.


UUCB has many caring members who have shown great commitment over the years to growing our understanding of certain kinds of bias. Most recently our work as a partner in the larger UUA movement of Widening the Circle of Concern has helped our Board of Trustees craft a vision statement that spells out their commitment to “confronting and dismantling white supremacy culture and all forms of oppression (including but not limited to racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ageism, xenophobia, and religious oppression, including antisemitism and Islamophobia) in everything we do.”


In our workshop on Nov 5th attendees were given copies of case studies- several samples are included here below- where the various oppressions listed above played out in real-time (omit) at different UU congregations. By working in small groups we were encouraged to consider how we would respond if any of these scenarios happened here in our beloved UUCB- this is practice for the work of confronting oppression. As we shared our reactions to the accounts given in these case studies we were able to practice confronting the oppression faced by that minister in search. We dove deep on Nov 5th.


We can continue to nurture the seeds of understanding that took root that day by continuing the conversation-this is part of the work of dismantling. How, you ask? If you were able to attend, consider making a point of connecting with someone also in attendance that day and exchange your greatest take-aways. Then find someone who was not in attendance and share your experience, perhaps inspiring them to sit and read through these case studies so that they may plant their own seeds of understanding. If you were not able to attend and want to connect on this topic, (insert comma) reach out to any of the eight members of the Ministerial Search Committee–(replace comma with m-dash) all were in attendance. The more our individual understanding grows, the greater chance we have at a successful ministry with our next minister. For those who vibe to sports analogies, this workshop was the warm-up exercise for the main event still to come. We will need our whole team ready to play their part, committed to welcoming and working side-by-side with our future minister, a person who may hold identities that differ from those of our past ministers. A great opportunity lies ahead of us!




To know about the Case Studies:
All of the case studies below come from real accounts from Unitarian Universalist ministers and congregations in search. In a few cases, details have been altered to protect confidentiality. Many of the case studies have happened in more than one situation.


These case studies are designed to encourage thinking, allow for practice, and prompt continued discussion to ensure that when a moment or moments happen, you as individuals and as a congregation feel more ready to feel good about a response. In almost all of these case studies the initial response was described metaphorically as “deer in the headlights.”


Guiding Discussion Questions for each Case Study:
What do you think about this?
How would you hope to respond?
Whose problem is this and how should it be dealt with?
How should the congregation respond?
Is there a way to think about this in another way and reframe it?
Are there congregational agreements (covenants/policies) that could help here?
What questions do you still have?


Case Study #1: African American Minister and the Single-issue Label


An African American minister is called to a congregation. They are excited about this new call and serving the congregation. There are many in the congregation who are just as excited.


Some hope the minister will finally address racial issues as they have not been brought to light in the congregation well before. Others are patting themselves on the back for calling a minister of color and feel like no further conversation about racism in the congregation is really needed now. This proves the congregation is not racist; the calling of their new minister is proof.


And still others are worried this is all the new minister will preach about – every sermon they will hear will be about race. And what if they (the congregants) say something wrong?


The new minister is between two rocks and a hard place. If the minister were to try and talk about being caught like this, then the one group will view this as proof that they are a single-issue minister.


Case Study #14: Pronouns


A minister has introduced themself as gender nonbinary and has said they don’t use he or she as a pronoun to describe themself.


In the search committee meeting (where the minister is not present), someone suggests that all name tags should ask people for their pronouns. Someone else gets frustrated and responds, “We shouldn’t do that. We shouldn’t change our name tags for one person.” Someone else says, “I think this is going to upset some of our older people. I’ve heard some of these folks constantly get it wrong, and sometimes I think this is intentional.”


Case Study #24: Generational Differences


Many younger ministers report that the congregations they’ve served and are serving expect them to attract younger people, yet with the additional expectations that the minister and the congregation will do things “as they’ve always done them.”  The ministers themselves have received complaints about not doing things in expected ways. The areas have included communication styles, worship, leadership, pastoral care, and how the minister/staff spends their work time—to name a few. Are there ways this has been true or could be true in your congregation?


Case Study #27: Sure We’re Open to Any Minister of Any Identity


Ministers who identify as BIPOC, queer, trans and gender nonbinary, or women, or who live with a disability report being told by congregations that they are welcome and celebrated serving them. After beginning their service to the congregation, they then find they are with the caveat from some members, often influential ones, that they act like a minister, often naming a previous minister who is straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender male. Yet they also report other members are grateful for the way they minister to them and the congregation, relieved to see changes they experience in the wider world happening in their congregation. When some have raised this with congregational leaders, some ministers have reported acknowledgement of it and said it’s the minister’s problem to solve.  Others have denied the problem exists, including reiterating that there is a clear way to be a minister and the minister should do ministry that way.