Social Justice

Thinking Ahead to Summer?

Are you thinking about summer yet? The warm weather we’ve been experiencing lately seems to be moving my thoughts in that direction.

Summer is a great opportunity for families and friends to spend time together. It’s also a time when there are lots of opportunities for UUs of all ages to engage in a variety of UU experiences from General Assembly, to work trips, to RE Week at Ferry Beach and Star Island to multigenerational and age specific camps and conferences around the country. Have you explored your UU options for the summer?

There are some options close to home -

  • OMD’s Summer Institute will feature Rev. Meg Riley as its theme speaker when they gather at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH on July 8-14. The theme is Reboot your Theology: Exploring UU Connections. This is your opportunity to join 500 to 600 UUs of all ages for a family-friendly UU camp. Registration brochures are now available online and have been sent out to OMD congregations. Learn more about the camp at Online registration will open in mid-April.
  • The Youth Work Camp is a regional trip for youth ages 14-18 to go to Pipestem, WV, June 24-30 to work with those in need in Appalachia and learn about the Appalachian culture and the environmental impact of mountaintop removal. There is still space available for youth on this trip but you need to sign up soon. We will open any remaining spots to interested adults on May 15. Learn more about this social justice oriented trip at the OMD website.
  • The UU Fellowship of Athens is offering their annual Enviro-Camp for youth as well. Taking place in Glouster, OH, June 17-23, this week focuses on a variety of environmental issues and each day is spent working on a different environmental project. Learn more about this camp.
  • UUMAC is another family-friendly camp located a DeSales University in Center Valley, PA. This year they come together July 15-21, and the theme is Living a UU Life in Five Easy Steps. The theme speaker is Rev. Bob Janis-Dillon. To learn more about the week, download the brochure and register, visit
  • Murray Grove, at the site where Universalism began in New Jersey, offers a variety of activities year round. They have a children’s camp in August. Learn more about Murray Grove.
  • Unirondak is a summer camp in New York with week-long family camps, youth camps and camps for children. Learn about their programs at their website.

Want to venture a little further afield? Visit the UU Camp and Conference website to find links to other large family friendly conferences like SUUSI and SWUUSI as well as camp and conference centers like Ferry Beach, Star Island and The Mountain Learning Center. There is even a group for UU singles – AMUUSE.

I hope you enjoy your summer and are able to take advantage of one of these great opportunities to meet other UUs, make new friends and deepen your faith.

In faith,
Beth Casebolt


What If All the Kids are White?

    What if All the Kids are White? is the book assigned in preparation for the Multicultural Religious Education Renaissance Module, an educational program for religious educators, ministers, youth advisors and anyone else interested in growing a multicultural congregation. Often I hear conversations in UU churches of how open and accepting we are of “them” – some other group – perhaps Hispanics, African-Americans, GLBT or poor folks. If only “they” would come and stay long enough to be part of “us”, then our diversity problem would be solved! But the painful truth is that the hard work of being open to diversity AND ITS IMPLICATIONS belongs to ME and my congregation – not THEM.
I was a white, middle-aged woman with a history of moderate involvement in civil rights when I took the Multicultural RE module in 1998. It changed my life and the way I look at the world. Did I walk away feeling depressed and guilty for the unearned privileges I enjoyed? Not really, but to a depth unknown before, I became aware of the extent culture and systems impact me and everyone else. That profound challenge to my worldview continues today, and indeed symbolizes why Unitarian Universalism is such a difficult faith to live. How I wish I could just transform “them” and make the world a better place, but now I realize that the struggle must start with me. Darn! And that for as long as I live I will never be finished with spiritual growth. Double darn!
All of us are aware of the changing complexion and culture around us. We want our children and our faith to thrive, but feel ill-equipped and uneasy about how to proceed. In a safe community, the Multicultural RE Renaissance Module challenges individuals to examine their worldview, unbuild what is no longer helpful, and built upon their strengths to be the kind of person there are striving to be.
This work in becoming open to multicultural richness begins with you. Please join me April 15-17 as we struggle and learn together! Details are at the St. Lawrence District website

Karen LoBracco
Lifespan Faith Development Consultant
Ohio Meadville and St. Lawrence Districts


How Can We Help?

With the arrival of spring often we begin to look forward into the coming months. As the earth thaws—did it even freeze this year?—we begin to remember that summer will indeed come again. And then as we consider the summer, part of our mind moves into the coming fall and our plans for next year.

This is especially true for me as the end of my time as the Social Witness Coordinator approaches in early summer. I am preparing to say goodbye in this capacity, while at the same time revving up for a few more projects in the coming months. Even while working out plans for the coming months I am imagining what will happen next year in the realm of social witness. This is what I would like to talk about in this post!

One of the first hopes I have for next year is continued energy around immigrant justice. After General Assembly in Phoenix many Unitarian Universalists will be returning to their home congregations with new knowledge and excitement for justice. I hope congregations will learn about immigration initiatives in their local communities and meet and work with immigrant organizations. May congregations ask, “How can we help?” May we listen deeply and follow through!

I would also love to see congregations work with neighboring congregations, perhaps in the established clusters or perhaps outside of the clusters. There is an incredible wealth of social justice experience and knowledge stored in social action committees and individuals. Let’s share this knowledge and learn from each other. What are best practices? What challenges have you grown from? What are your suggestions? Let’s work together to bring justice to all!

These are some of my hopes for the coming year. What do you envision for justice in Ohio-Meadville next year? How can the next Social Witness Coordinator help fulfill those dreams?



The Log In Our Eye

by Rev. Joan Van Becelaere

Ohio-Meadville District Executive

When Is a Unitarian Universalist most like Rush Limbaugh?

Mr. Limbaugh has lately been notorious for his remarks about Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke. He has a long history of vilifying those he does not agree with. but this recent incident seems remarkably hateful and vicious even for Mr. Limbaugh. I am confident that most Unitarian Univeralists find Mr. Limbaugh’s remarks about Ms. Fluke and his broad verbal attacks on women reprehensible.

As Unitarian Unitarians, we know that reactionary, disrespectful, unthinkingly derogatory language violates the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  We recognize it as a deep violation of our essential interconnectedness in the web of existence.

And yet, as our election year begins to heat up, I have heard members – good members – of our congregations engage in reactionary and rude language in regard to those with whom they politically disagree.   

The language, thank heaven, has not been as vicious as Mr. Limbaugh’s,  but it is reactionary and disrespectful nonetheless.

To hear some folk talk during coffee hour in our churches, you might think only members of the Democratic or Green parties are allowed to join our congregations. But I know full well that our liberal religion appeals to Republicans and Libertarians and Independents, too. They are there in our pews on Sunday mornings, but few make their presence known in the face of bad jokes and ugly comments about political or fiscal conservatives.nonetheless.

When is a UU most like Rush Limbaugh?  When we engage in unthinking and reactionary language in regard to those with whose political (and religious and social) views we disagree.

In the book of Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus preaches: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log  in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

We can and should engage in dialogue with people who have different political and religious and social views. That is how we humans continue to learn and grow as thinking beings. We should welcome the diversity often hidden in our own congregations and engage it in our greater society. As religious liberals and people of covenant, we should celebrate our ability to be different together!

But celebrating our differences together requires us to give up reactionary, unthinking language.   Instead, we need to learn to articulate our own beliefs and ethical commitments while staying connected to others. We can make a case for our view of the common good while respectfully listening (and even learning) from those whose views differ. We should be clear and confident enough about our own personal sense of purpose and commitment that we are not threatened or anxious if someone offers a different argument or a different view of the common good.

We also know that what is true in political discussion is also true about religious discussion.  We are all in this together!

As we move into what will likely be a highly emotional political campaign, let’s remember that we have the ability to be different together. And we can reject any temptation to emulate the style of Mr. Limbaugh.



Are You Ready for Phoenix?

GA 2012 LogoIn case you haven’t heard yet, this year’s General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ is going to be unlike any we’ve ever had before. And its not just the change of the name to a Justice General Assembly that will be different.

Want to know what exactly will be happening? What will be different and what will be the same? Your main source of information is the UUA’s General Assembly webpage. But there are other sources of information that you can also rely on.

The OMD has created a page of GA resources on our website. Find it at

Here is a listing of some of the resources we’ve found to help you out:

  • The UUA has created a brochure, order of service inserts, posters and more that have been posted on the UUA GA website resources page. Visit there to download the information and use it in your congregation to educate everyone about what is happening this year.
  • Want to know more about what is planned? CERG is offering a webinar on March 12th about what to expect. You can register on the CERG website.
  • There is a blog called Cooking Together: Recipes for Immigration Justice Work that has been set up to share what congregations are doing to learn about immigration. One item recently posted was 10 ways to help youth prepare for this year’s General Assembly. Find it at
  • There are curricula available on immigration for children and adults. Find the children’s curriculum titled With Justice and Compassion: Immigration Sessions for Children’s Religious Education at . The adult curriculum is based on the Congregational Study Action Issue “Immigration as a Moral Issue” and can be found at
  • The Ballou Channing District is producing a series of very short videos presenting information about immigration, General Assembly programming, GA registration. Three are currently running and more will be coming in the next few weeks. Take a look at

Finally, registration and housing are now open, so you want to get in there and register early! ( Rates do go up on May 1. In addition, financial aid is available from the UUA and the OMD. To learn about different financial aid options from the UUA visit the GA Financial Aid webpage. To learn what the OMD is offering, please check out our Phoenix Witness Scholarship Program.

Phoenix will be your chance to be part of UU history. Will you be there?

Beth C



As Justice Reigns Hands open

We gathered at the sound of the chime to light the chalice and hear the words of Lindsay Bates.

To face the world’s coldness,
a chalice of warmth.
To face the world’s terrors,
a chalice of courage.
To face the world’s turmoil
a chalice of peace,
May its glow fill our spirits, our hearts, and our lives.

The Innovations in Social Justice Workshop grew out of a desire by district staff, ministers, and lay leaders to share some of the great social justice work being done by various congregations and organizations widely. My personal hope is that those who participated were inspired either by the justice issues presented or by the methods and models used by the congregations and organizations.

The day opened with a prayerful presentation by the Rev. Nate Walker. He invited us to draw how we wish to see justice on earth. One person near me drew a circle of people, animals, and trees holding limbs around the planet, with the words, “as justice reigns, hands open.” Another drew a turtle with people and houses on its shell. And another drew interconnecting circles along side the words, “honor the other.” We were invited to ground our passion for justice deep into our faith.

After grounding our passion into our faith we moved on to hearing from a range of speakers on various justice topics. Nate and the Rev. Tom Bodie spoke about the work of Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network. Then Ray Nandyal and Steve Palm-Houser shared slides and stories from public witness events sponsored by First UU of Columbus’ Justice Action Ministry.

After a lunch of conversation and networking by participants, we heard from three more presenters. The Rev. Julia Bingman spoke about her work with the Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone in the Westside of Columbus. Ron Prosek explained with great clarity and vivid photographs the serious threat of fracking for gas. David Petras shared his experience with the Phoenix Witness Project and offered concrete suggestions on how to move forward towards justice.

We closed the event by moving into a large circle in order to see and hear each other. Participants took a few minutes to reflect upon what they learned during the day.

One person said, “I am going to think about how the deep pain in my personal life can lead me to creative justice.” Another said, “I appreciate that David reminded us to trust others who offer to help.” And another, “I learned that I can choose an audacious goal at the same time knowing that failure is probable. It is good to remember that I will learn from it.”

As we left on our separate journeys home we listened to the words of Wayne B. Arnason,

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
And the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
You are not alone.


Hey Youth, What Are You Doing This Summer?

Are you a youth ages 14-18? Would you love to go somewhere this summer and do some hands on social justice work? You know, not just sitting around talking about it but actually helping folks repair their homes, paint, do maintenance and yard work for low income families and senior citizens. In your free time, you’ll get a chance to learn more about Appalachia – the area you will be working in – hearing the music, learning the history and industries and more. Does this sound like something you would be interested in doing?

Well, we have something planned for you. Introducing the OMD/SLD Youth Mission Camp. If you are a youth 14-18 who lives in the Ohio-Meadville or St. Lawrence District, this is your opportunity to participate in a work camp in southern West Virginia, the poorest region of our four-district area, known as the Central East Regional Group (CERG). The trip will take place June 24-30, 2012 (yes, that is the week after General Assembly in Phoenix). And we have room for 29 youth and adults.

To help us with the costs, the OMD has received a very generous grant from the UU Fund for Social Responsibility to underwrite some of the costs. Each youth will need to pay $250 to go, but we encourage congregations and youth groups to support their youth and help them raise the money to attend. Scholarships will be available for half the cost. Registration will open no later than January 15th. All the details and registration forms will be available on the OMD website by then at

And if you are an adult and want to go along to help with the chaperoning duties, please fill out our adult interest form. We will select 2 adults to go along with our staff. If additional spaces are available after we admit all the youth who apply, additional adults will be accepted.

It is going to be a really cool week – so start making your plans now to attend and be sure to watch our website for details. Announcements will be sent out via facebook and twitter when registration is available.

Beth C


Moving Justly into Our Shared Future

Thanksgiving. It is a time of harvest. It is a time to celebrate food. A time to celebrate that which sustains us. It is the time to gather with friends and family around a crackling fire on the hearth. Basking in the warmth of love and community. Thanksgiving is often held up as the holiday that is about family and food, rather than about consumerism. There is no stress to buy the right thing. Thanksgiving is about sharing, generosity, and gratitude. It is about being happy with what we have.

Thanksgiving is a joyous celebration of gratitude for all that sustains us, and yet it is also a complicated holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday which we celebrate today has evolved over the last 400 years. It has links to ongoing regular harvest festivals throughout the world and has links to the very old European tradition of proclaiming a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to express gratitude to God for special events.

Thanksgiving has always been closely tied to Native American history and the genocide carried out by European colonists. And because of this many Native Americans and their allies gather to participate in a National Day of Mourning each year on the fourth Thursday of November in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the settlers. Thanksgiving Day can be a reminder of the theft of lands and a relentless assault on indigenous culture.

As a descendent of the European colonists it is important for me to consider what it means when I chose to use traditional indigenous prayers within the context of worship in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Am I participating in the ongoing assault on indigenous culture? Am I thoughtfully sharing a beautiful prayer with sentiments I hold dear in my own heart? Am I reinforcing my privileged position as a member of the winning team by speaking these prayers? And is it more important to honor our relationship to the earth or more important to respect the cultural traditions of specific Native American tribes? These are some of the questions I grapple with.

As someone who strives to be an ally to all oppressed people, I have made an effort to participate in a number of anti-racist, anti-oppression, multicultural competency training workshops. In these workshops and in events led by and sponsored by Native Americans one of the messages I have heard from Indians is, We are still alive. We are here. Many treaties have been broken in the past. Let’s fix them today.

Thanksgiving. It is a bittersweet holiday. A day to share the bountiful harvest. A holiday without shopping for more gadgets. A day to celebrate with friends and family. And a day to reflect upon how each of us came to be here on this land. It is a day to celebrate the bounty in our lives. And a day to consider how we can move justly into our shared future.

~Rachel, Social Witness Coordinator


Stop Running and See What Is in Our Pockets

My back door is 95 steps away from the railroad tracks. The trains run all day and late into the night. I listen to the HONK, HONK, HONK and the beeEEEp, beeEEEp, beeEEEp, and the one long hhhooooooooonnnnnnnnhhhhhooooooonnnnnnnnk. Some engineers seem to tap out rhythms as they tear through the two intersections in my neighborhood. WOOoooop-DOOoooop- DOOoooOOop. I smile as I notice a little bit of human creativity on the long haul. Who are these musicians? These engineers? And what are they delivering?

Open topped cars move coal north. Graffiti-covered box cars transport boxes of new computers, crates of plastic children’s toys imported from China, alarm clocks, and shoes. Flat beds carry gigantic coils. Oil tanks ten in a row. Light shines through box cars made of rabbit wire. What is in there? Toyotas, Hondas, Volkswagens, Ford trucks. Sheep, goats, or chickens. Bushels of apples. Empty cars return for more. Consumer goods and energy to create more stuff to consume. These trains are feeding a consumer culture that seems to not be satisfied.

A few years back I took one of those online tests that ranks how many earths you would need to continue living in the same way. Even as someone who lived in shared apartments, had never owned a car, recycled almost all of my waste, and composted food scraps I still would need 2.5 earths to continue living my life style. My challenge was that I traveled by airplane a couple of times a year to distant places; it did not matter that I used public transportation when I got there.

Everyday I watch oil and coal being shipped back and forth out my kitchen window. Everyday I hear about shale drilling and slick water hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop removal to access hard to reach coal, tar pits in Canada, a proposed pipe line that would carry crude oil to the refineries in the Gulf. Everyday I get in my car and drive somewhere.

I have been reading Bill McKibben’s book, eaarth, Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. After 99 pages of explaining what a mess humanity has made of the planet, McKibben offers this, “But we are not out of possibilities. Like someone lost in the woods, we need to stop running, sit down, see what’s in our pockets that might be of use, and start figuring out what steps to take.”

Every day I receive emails from organizations and people working hard to change the current course of consuming. Many people in Ohio Meadville District are involved in anti-fracking activities and working to stop mountaintop removal coal mining. I think we have already been looking at what is in our pockets and we are taking steps.



Vision of the Beloved Community

by Rev. Joan Van Becelaere, Ohio-Meadville District Executive

I saw a little vision of the Beloved Community Sunday evening, Sept. 11.

I was attending the Ohio Interfaith Prayer Service in the atrium of the Ohio Statehouse, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. The sponsors included Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Hindu and Sikh organizations and congregations. And, as would be expected, there were various speakers leading parts of the service and representing these diverse groups. This was all very good, but not unexpected.

For me, the surprising vision of Beloved Community came during the service itself.

The room had nearly 200 people in it. It was a very colorful mix – in all senses of the word. There were all of the many different ethnicities one would expect to find in a modern major city. Men and boys in yarmulkes, some brightly colored. Women wearing hijab head scarves; others wearing saris; and still others wearing their Sunday best. A couple of older gentlemen in talk, Sikh turbans.

At the beginning, we were invited to share what we were feeling today with one or two people next to us. Thought hesitant at first, people shared a sentence or two with their neighbors. During the service, there were prayers and candles of Remembrance. Prayers and candles of Comfort. And Prayers and candles of Hope. A Jewish cantor sang an exquisitely beautiful and haunting prayer of sorrow that filled the room and filled the heart.

At the end, we were asked: “What might we take away today? Where do we go from here?” And we were invited to share with each other again.

There was no hesitancy this time. Everyone turned and shared. And shared. And shared. In front of me, the young woman in hijab shared with a woman wearing a yarmulke. Another woman in hijab was in tears while sharing with an older white couple. There were folk laughing and others serious or crying. Some laughing and crying at the same time. Folk with black skin, brown skin, white, yellow, red and every shade in between were talking, communicating, hearing one another’s fears and pain and hope.

In our sharing, we weren’t concerned about “saying the right thing” to one another. We prayed and sang together, and were not concerned whether we got every note of the song right or not. We talked with one another and were not self-conscious in the face of difference.

To me, this as a vision of the Beloved Community, a vision of what our future can be, in all of its multicultural beauty.  If we have the courage to claim it,  the heart to work for it, and the soul to understand it.

And this gathering, this  foretaste of the Beloved Community prayed together:
“O God, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe. Amen.”

Amen indeed.