Thank you Lay Sunday 2016!

Monday, 1 February 2016 17:06 by Victor

Our Board of Trustees at the Unitarian Church of All Souls performed yet another Lay Sunday for the Ages last Sunday, January 31st, 2016. Here is our program. We wanted to showcase our Vision 2020 project in a worship manner and we succeeded. Truly, we are indebted to All Souls for nourishing our spirit, our open minds and open hearts. Special thanks to Renée Anne Louprette who served as Music Director this Sunday wearing all 4 hats, conducting, directing…, to the All Souls Choir and the Community Choir, to James Backmon who had the New Amsterdam Boys and Girls Choir perform “Wake Up Everybody”.

Thank you for your support. You wanted my sermon – it is below (and also here thru podcast or download here).

I want to express my deep gratitude to the Unitarian Church of All Souls! Thank you! I could not have done this sermon without my Dear wife, Heather Floyd, who is my Master Editor and Web-Mistress and has much patience with me! Thank you Sweets!



A Sermon Preached by Victor Fidel

Unitarian Church of All Souls, New York City[1]
Sunday, January 31st, 2016

I want to tell you a story about redemption.

When I first joined the board of trustees, I felt inadequate. I did not have fancy credentials, or a prestigious job, or any sort of pedigree.

I will admit, some days I didn't feel respected among my board colleagues. It was a struggle, and I had disappointments. I had anger, and I almost quit.

You all know I had no committee or leadership experience and was never asked to join any committees those first years of my board tenure.

I had no trust from my colleagues, and I don’t blame them.

I’m going to have to be honest with you; I acted like a scrappy little kid.

I’ve exhibited ruffian qualities. I really wasn’t the listening type. I have to admit I behaved stubbornly. And when you’ve grown up hearing the word “no”, you make it a point to go the other way and insist your own way is the right way. Call it my own immigrant survival machine. I am after all, an Immigrant American.

I guess I’ve been an underdog of sorts.

I plugged along on the board in despair. I wrongfully kept on thinking that these people I was serving with were enemies of mine.

And then there was a moment after an arduous disagreement and argumentative quarrel about a contentious issue, when we all looked at each other and recognized that we were all people who loved the church and wanted the best for All Souls. The moment was a breakthrough.  We each saw that we were not adversaries, but true stewards standing up for the congregation in our own ways. It was the moment I learned what compassion meant. I finally understood that I had actually hurt my fellow trustees, particularly because I had assumed a certain malicious intent, because I had not felt they cared for my opinion. I daresay, I know they also felt the same way. We could see clearly now, that we were all trying our best to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of every person. There and then, we accepted one another and realized the encouragement of our own growth – we exhibited our first and third Unitarian Universalist principles, all at once.

Sometimes we struggle too hard for the things we want but in reality we need to let go to be fulfilled. The Tao Te Ching says:

If you want to become whole,
Let yourself be partial.

If you want to become straight,
Let yourself be crooked.

If you want to become full,
Let yourself be empty.

If you want to be reborn,
Let yourself die.

If you want to be given everything,
Give everything up.

We laid down our defenses and offenses, no swords of words, no shields to wield, no armor, and we became vulnerable in front of each other.

This was the turning point in my relationship with the board. It was how I learned that I could change myself for the better. This was the point when listening to others became crystalized in the quintessence of a true leadership philosophy. It was also the point when, from that moment forward, I would strive to assume the best of others, and this had to be part of a leadership credo, one that would transform our board, because we inherently knew that as leaders, at our best, we would set a tone and culture of integrity for the organization with the highest ideals.

If this is your first time here, let me tell you, we Unitarian Universalists love to discuss things, sometimes too much, and yet, at our best, we strive for the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process, whether that is within our congregations or in society at large (it’s our fifth Unitarian Universalist principle).

And so, we are deeply invested in justice and fairness, or at least being part of the discourse.

Prior to my transformation on the board, I was exhibiting no better qualities than the xenophobes who discriminate against Muslims, the African-American community, or any group of oppressed people. When we assume malicious intent in the other, things go badly. People on the outskirts feel powerless. This is the intractable problem in our society, a microcosm of our present day reality. We cannot let the inner insecure voice do its worst. We must maintain our steadfast integrity in the service of the voiceless.

This experience of being on the outside made me hyper-aware of other people on the board, and it became essential to me that people be in a safe circle, where bullying by one or the group does not exist.

I am deeply grateful that many of you took part in our ‘Vision, Mission, and Ends process last fall (Vision 2020), where you were invited to give us your vision for this church. The board designed this process in such a way that people could share their stories in a non-judgmental way. The board wanted to listen to your stories and find out what is in your minds about the congregation you want to be, what values you want to uphold. We wanted to ask the questions: What are we going to do together and for whom are we doing these things? What change do we want and what are the things we want to move forward from the past?

We discovered that the big themes are about a huge yearning to make connections, and make a difference by serving the world. The futuristic magazine covers created as a final exercise reflect a deep thirst for outreach work and a hunger for social justice outside the doors of our sanctuary. Your vision is inspirational beyond measure. You reflect a mission of serving the world and transforming lives, creating endless possibilities of connection where transformation occurs inside yourselves but also in the lives of your neighbors, whether that is across 96th Street or beyond.

Like Albert Einstein said, “Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Only a life lived for others is worth living.”

You want to feel connection and nurture possibility. Your most meaningful experiences have been when you connected deeply, when you made that moment possible and became transformed in this religious community.

When I think back to myself, having my breakthrough moment on the board, that was my transformational moment at All Souls, that was where I recognized possibility could become reality, that I could grow internally and improve my character by being involved and truly connected. When I recognized my personal inability to see that my colleagues also had good intentions, I became free and realized my connection to the church. I felt empowered because being on the board gave a deep desire to make a difference.

A couple of years later when I had the opportunity to serve the board as its Chair and President, it made me realize how far I had come, having originally been the rebel in the back of the room. But I brought the rebel lessons with me. I recognized that the new board would feel connected and responsible to the church if they felt respected and listened to by the board members around them.

My biggest goal was to create a sense of trust, to promote the idea that people have good intentions and worthwhile ideas about our church. We have a collegiate board who listens to you. The best leaders follow the will of the people – this board is no exception. They invite and are worthy of your trust.  And they have been able to undertake and accomplish some very challenging and complex projects. They embody the same philosophy of respect for all people and the right to voice their opinions.

Friends I want you to know that the trustees are not the only special folks here. Everyone in this congregation has the power to make a difference. Whatever problem you see in the church, or challenges we should take on, if you want to be successful, you have to follow the same philosophy. Know that all the people involved want the same ends. A healthy debate about process should not break down in negativity and finger-pointing, so if people have a different idea, it doesn’t mean you can’t work together. With collaboration, we always come up with a stronger solution.

My wish for this church is that every person sitting in these pews feels that this is their church, feels a sense of ownership for our institution and our programs. We should feel empowered and feel personally responsible for the success of this community.

I must remind you that we frequently forget to take ownership of some of the things we do here, on Monday and Friday. Everyone in here has a right to feel pride – and responsibility – for our feeding programs. Downstairs is our fellowship hall, where we imbibe our sacred Unitarian Universalist drink of coffee (and sometimes mimosas). It is in this hall where we also feed over thirty thousand people a year. The folks that come in are our neighbors, whom we share a feast with each Monday night and Friday noon. We feed them with compassion, hospitality and humility. In the words of our program leaders, “Our guests are used to people telling them ‘no,’ but here we tell them ‘yes’.” We treat them as human beings worthy of regard.

These are programs that do not exist without this institution. It’s up to us to make them happen. They need your ownership – they are All Souls and cannot be separated.

I charge you to stop asking what this church can do for you and your very own personal vanity project, and instead ask: What can I do for my church and community?

We are all in the journey together and we can and we will build a land, where justice shall roll down like waters, and peace like an ever flowing stream. It’s our responsibility. Amen.

[1] The Unitarian Church of All Souls is a Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

[2] Tao 22 by Lao-tzu, from Stephen Mitchell’s Tao Te Ching: A English Version. New York, NY. HarperPerennial, 1992.

The 2015-16 All Souls NYC Board of Trustees

Top Row: Carol Kirkman (First Vice President), Sabrina Alano, Heidi DuBois, Carol Emmerling

Bottom Row: David Poppe, Neil Osborne, Victor Fidel (President), Li Yu (Second Vice President)


 Special Collage by Lotus Do:



A dear Unitarian Universalist friend told me once, "I always like the Lay Sunday service. It reminds us that at the end of the day the church IS us." I always thank him and the Unitarian Universalist Association for helping our character grow so deeply "and out from within us". Thank you All Souls NYC and thank you UUA!

"It's Our Responsibility"


"Sermons can have a smile about them", a wise Unitarian Universalist friend once told I followed her advice!


All Souls NYC's Benediction: "And now in our going, may God bless and keep us. May the light of God shine upon us and out from within us and be gracious unto us and grant us peace. For this is the day we are given. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Amen"


Tao 8 says, "In work, do what you enjoy. [whether that be voluntary or not!]"

UUA GA 2015 Reflections: “It’s about Integrity”

Friday, 3 July 2015 16:01 by Victor

Each year, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations meets for its General Assembly (GA). To me it represents our Mecca journey. We Unitarian Universalists (UUs) do not have a doctrinal test, nor a Rome, or a Salt Lake City; instead, our pilgrimages are fluid, where-ever our spirit moves us to act for justice, compassion, peace... Our journeys are formed by the circumstances that drive meaning in our lives, within our 7 principles… This year our GA was held in Portland, Oregon. I was fortunate to be attending with 19 fellow members from my religious and spiritual home of All Souls, NYC. We were in a sea of 4,508 UUS from 580 congregations. GA is a time and place where UUs recharge their batteries, think about what we can do for our congregations, and hopefully for our world. It’s a time for inspiration, fellowship, laughter and tears, a way to reconnect with old friends and gain new ones…  

Of special note, Cornel West delivered the Ware Lecture. He charged us to think beyond smartness and promote wisdom. He said we need to have a moral renaissance where we put integrity, honesty, decency and virtue at the center. Our struggles with injustice must be met with a spiritual movement – politics are secondary – this is about what it means to be human, not a calculation of interest groups. And the fight will be hard, but, he reminded us, cowardice is more evil than violence. He said that he could feel the authenticity of our UU spirit, and I daresay I agree that among us are folks who can swing like Ella Fitzgerald and Muhamad Ali (for complete coverage, visit:

All Souls NYC’s own daughter, Rev. Alison Miller delivered the sermon on Sunday’s Re-Storying Hope worship service. She clarified that it’s with our broken-ness and weakness we can heal those in need. She was taught that she had to address people with her “good” arm, but it was her weak arm that needed to touch people; it was the one that knew the suffering and could transform the lives of those whom she touched. By using your vulnerability, you can heal! Her sermon was most inspirational (to see it in its entirety, visit:  

Click here for some of my shots of this fantastic epic four day event.


Portland's Convention Center - Architecture imitates the landscape of Oregon...


A herd of the finest cats I know!


Dear All Souls, it has been an honor representing you!


Herd of Cats, part II


Truly yours, Cat Herder Supreme, always at your service.


Here are our delegates from All Souls, NYC:

·        Heli Blum

·        Maryah Converse

·        Robert Dottin

·        Aaron Hamburger

·        Sally Hamburger

·        Linnea Huston

·        Kamila Jacob

·        Erin Langus

·        Laura Manos-Hey

·        Jerry McCathern

·        Judith McCathern

·        Courtney McKee

·        James Moskin

·        Brenda Murphy

·        Marilynn Scott Murphy

·        Blanca Rodriguez (off-line)

·        Linda Rousseau

·        Margaret Ruttenberg

·        Deborah Taylor

·        Victor Fidel

Thank You Lay Sunday 2015!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015 03:01 by Victor

Our All Souls NYC Board of Trustees performed a Lay Sunday for the ages last Sunday, January 25, 2015. I am obliged to my fellow trustees for their hard work, dedication and resolve. Carol Kirkman warmly welcomed us with her wry humor, full presence, and set the tone. Heidi DuBois performed with excellence the chalice lighting and extinguishing. Board Nominee David Poppe opened sincerely reminding us of what makes our All Souls home spiritually vibrant and personally nourishing. The Community Choir joined us on stage for the Call To Worship, showing a beautiful Lay demonstration (between Lay Leaders and Lay Musicians). Marilyn Collins gave us a deep credo: reminding us the importance of showing up prepared, particularly as you join this board of hard-working individuals. Marilynn Scott Murphy acknowledged our history and bridged us to the future, while leading us to a unison reading of the Seven Unitarian Universalist Principles. Li Yu invited us to ask about our priorities on who we want to be, what we want to do, inviting us on a vision and mission journey, as he introduced Hymn 112 “Do You Hear?” Sabrina Alano led us into deep prayer and meditation – serene divinity was present with her comforting words. Heidi DuBois deeply raised the question of how we abide by one another, and she convinced us to hear Hymn 241 in the hot months as well as the cold ones too: “In the Bleak Midwinter”. Miday Wilkey gave his credo expressing personally how he lives a full, deep and enriching life. Richard Ford introduced Hymn 169, “We Shall Overcome”, which is about coming together, working together, and cooperating across any number of political, age, gender, class, and ethnic lines. These themes are fully in line with the goals of the Board for this past year: to help the congregation be more inclusive, transparent, collaborative, listening, and eclectic. The Choir, Misa Iwama, and Renée Anne Louprette were a joy to work with – this service could not have been put together so well, were it not for their musicianship, creativity, craftsmanship and professionalism.

Our 2014-2015 All Souls NYC Board of Trustees:

Top Row: Richard Ford, Heidi DuBois, Sabrina Alano, Marilynn Scott Murphy
Bottom Row: Li Yu, Marilyn Collins, Victor Fidel, Miday Wilkey, Carol Kirkman

Thank you for your support. You wanted my sermon – it is below (and here thru podcast). I want to express my deep gratitude to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of All Souls, NYC, and the Congregation of Nairobi UU in the heart of Kenya: you both are deep inspiration to me. This message is for you, but it is birthed from you as well. Thank you! Lastly, but not leastly, I could not have done this sermon without my Dear wife, Heather Floyd, who is my Master Editor and has so much patience with me! I love you Heather darling!


A Sermon Preached by Victor Fidel

Unitarian Universalist Church of All Souls, New York City
January 25th, 2015


Last August, I was fortunate to join a group of All Souls friends, led by fellow board member Richard Ford, on a mission of fellowship to Kenya. We met with Unitarian Universalists from the Nairobi church. Our mission foremost was to get to know one another.

Let me tell you about Joyce, an active Unitarian Universalist church member. She works as a seamstress. She has an imitation Singer machine, from China. She makes blouses, dresses and other clothing. She learned sewing at the school nearby. She sells most of her dresses on Sundays after church; if she’s lucky she makes about 200 Kenyan Shillings on an average Sunday (or about 3 US Dollars). She has 3 teenage sons. The eldest son has a son too. All five live in a home that measures about five feet by five feet, or about the size of a bathroom of a New York City apartment. There you will find the comforts of humble living: a single burner camp stove, a bench covered with a pillow (which serves as a sofa), a 7 inch TV, next to a cup with toothpaste and a toothbrush, a few plastic cups and a few dishes, one small pan, on top of a table covered by a cloth. Curtains separate a home-made bunk-bed where all 5 sleep (2 on top, 3 on the bottom). It’s tight. Joyce does her sewing outside, since there is no space inside. There is a bit of a shed that keeps the water away from the machine when it rains.

Another church member, Margaret sells milk. She sells cows' milk from morning to evening at a small table on the street. She buys milk from the farmers in Central Kenya at 50 shillings per liter (or about 50 cents). She sells the milk at 60 shillings per liter, making 10 shillings profit (or 10 cents). The farmers don’t pasteurize the milk. She has to boil it at her home first, and then she goes out to sell all day for a daily total of about 2 dollars.

There is also Jane, who spends a lot of her time at a nearby slum.[1] There she runs a school for children orphaned by AIDS and other diseases, called the Little Angels. The school has 55 children, from Pre-Kindergarten to 2nd grades. They have a little corrugated metal compound, with 4 classrooms -- the entire thing is no bigger than a mid-size NYC apartment living room. Jane bought a toilet for the children, for which she's paying monthly installments of 3000 shillings of the total cost of 60,000 shillings (or about 600 dollars).

The toilet was a necessity. There is no indoor plumbing in the slum. Distress and squalor are the landscape. There was garbage everywhere, sewage going down the streets, black water like petroleum, corrugated metal homes, and other sadness. The skinny cows passing by the area eat the garbage. It was the hardest thing to see because I imagined that the children would eventually eat this garbage-filled cow that has who knows how many diseases from drinking the petroleum black water, but what can the parents do, they must feed their children.

The school is free for the children. Jane runs it with donations collected from the Unitarian Universalist church members at Sunday services.

What impressed me the most about our UU sisters and brothers in Kenya is that their faith is strong in the promise religion sets out to achieve. These are folks who do not even have a church building, they have no budget; they have 3 lay volunteer ministers and no paid staff, but their immediate concern is not getting a church building, instead they focus first on how they can help those who have even less than they have.

Coming back to NYC and my comparatively luxurious lifestyle, one of the things I keep reflecting upon is how we at All Souls—with our massive resources, our long illustrious history and our educated, well-connected congregants—can make an impact outside our doors. Think of what we could accomplish... in New York City and the World.

All Souls has played a major role on the large stage, dating as far back as the Civil War with the Sanitary Commission—helping the Civil War wounded—an organization that later became the Red Cross, and as recent as the impactful AIDS Task force of the 1980s. We were the first to affirm that AIDS was a human disease and deserved a humane response.

Isn’t it time for us to add to this list of accomplishments? All Souls has the opportunity to not only make a major difference but to be a leader among Congregations and Social Justice and charitable organizations. But in order for us to fulfill this promise, we need to take a long and hard look at ourselves and our priorities. One question in my mind is: will we be able to make peace internally and to trust one another? Can we be compassionate and humble, and dare to sacrifice our comfortable beliefs, and thus, like our Kenyan friends, have a bigger vision for our place in the Universe?

Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers, but he also said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword [of division].”[2]

Do you have a sword of will to sever opposition that is holding your faith back? We want religion to give us comfort, but too much comfort can leave us numb. This is not entertainment. This is more than an “analog experience in a digital world,” as our Senior Minister Galen Guengerich has brilliantly stated. Our late Reverend Forrest Church once said, “Religion shouldn't be a pacifier. Religion should awaken us, throw open a window, point to a trap door.”[3] I also think it should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted, as Reverend Cheryl M. Walker used to say. The sword of belief cuts deep. Its message isn’t always an easy one to take.

It’s hard to think about things differently. It’s a battle within. We’ve got pent up judgmental anger and righteousness; we are intellectual snobs with a history of dissent, bonafide Unitarian Universalists, one way or another. We’ve got our own ways and our big egos, and we know just how things should be. In fact, we don’t really care if our fellow person thinks differently.

Can we be vulnerable enough to leave behind our egocentrism and go do the work that religion begs of us, which is to look beyond our comfortable selves and truly care for our neighbor?

Then we can be the blessed peacemakers, children of the Universe, children of God, children of your Mother.

But wait: Are we going to be doing social justice work for ourselves or are we going to do it because it is the right thing to do? Because the true message of religion is to care for your fellow person. If we are doing it just to list accomplishments and self-aggrandizement, we will fail. If we are doing it for the sake of serving our neighbors, friends and not-so friendly neighbors alike, we shall succeed.

In the Book of Mark, on one of their journeys to Capernaum, the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, and Jesus interrupted them and said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”[4]

Jesus repeats this sentiment when James and John want to be his right and left hand. He says, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”[5]

This is called Servant-Leadership: I’m sure this is where Robert Greenleaf found the inspiration to write his essay, titled, “The Servant As Leader”. He founded the Center for Applied Ethics (later renamed the Robert K Greenleaf Center). His work focused on how to get things done in organizations. Greenleaf’s “objective was to stimulate thought and action for building a better, more caring society.”[6]

He concluded that true leadership is serving others. And success in leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others. They place the highest premium on serving others rather than being commanding, controlling, self-serving individuals.

The characteristics of servant leaders are these:

    1.   Listening

    2.   Empathy

    3.   Healing

    4.   Awareness

    5.   Persuasion

    6.   Conceptualization

    7.   Foresight

    8.   Stewardship

    9.   Commitment to the growth of the people

   10. And Building community[7]

Begin with listening because this is the initial action that demonstrates you put the values of others first. Empathy is stronger than sympathy, as you put yourself in the sandals of others. Heal and you shall be aware. Persuade: You need to work together. Conceptualize how you can help. Then you can foresee utilizing your stewardship and succeed in commitment to the growth of the people and community. To be successful leaders you must be able to follow. Your charge is to be leaders through service. Be a beacon and shine for others. Serve in the harmony of being. Will you be the servant of others? I hope you all souls will. There is much work to be done.

I leave you with the three great treasures from the Tao Te Ching:

Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.

Simple in actions and in thoughts,

You return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies,

You accord with the way things are.

Compassionate toward yourself,

You reconcile all the beings in the world.[8]


And may our faith always be strong. Amen.


[1] She does not work anywhere else apart from giving evening tutoring classes to her neighbors’ kids for a small fee which she survives on.

[2] Matthew 10:34

[3] Church, Forrester, “Ready, Fire, Aim” A Sermon by Reverend Forrest Church at All Souls UU Church, NYC. January 17, 1997.

[4] Mark 9:35

[5] Mark 10:35 – 41

[6] Spears, Larry C, “The Understanding and Practice of Servant-Leadership”. Servant Leadership Research Roundtable – August 2005. School of Leadership Studies, Regent University. The idea of the servant as leader came partly out of Greenleaf’s half century of experience in working to shape large institutions. However, the event that crystallized Greenleaf’s thinking came in the 1960s, when he read Hermann Hesse’s short novel Journey to the East—an account of a mythical journey by a group of people on a spiritual quest.

[7] Spears, Larry C, “The Understanding and Practice of Servant-Leadership”

[8] Tao 67 by Lao-tzu, from Stephen Mitchell’s Tao Te Ching: A English Version. New York, NY. HarperPerennial, 1992.

If you would like to download a printable copy of the sermon, here it is:

2015-01-25-Victor-Fidel-Sermon-Not-to-Be-Served-But-to-Serve.pdf (178.54 kb)

Save the Date – 1/25/15 Lay Sunday!

Saturday, 17 January 2015 08:46 by Victor

The Board of Trustees of All Souls Unitarian Universalist NYC is performing church services on Sunday, January 25th, 2015, 10 am & 11:15 am. All are welcome!! The 2014-2015 All Souls Church Board: Sabrina Alano, Marilyn Collins, Heidi DuBois, Richard Ford, Carol Kirkman, Marilynn Scott Murphy, Miday Wilkey, Li Yu, and Victor Fidel ( All Souls UU Church address: 1157 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10075 (at East 80th & Lexington Avenue)

  Here is our 2014-2015 Board:

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Lay Sunday—Tomorrow!

Saturday, 26 January 2013 04:14 by Victor

Along with my distinguished colleagues, I will be joining in leading the Board of Trustees church services at All Souls tomorrow (Times: 10am & 11:15am). It will be memorable. Come one, come all!

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Lecture on the All Souls/Red Cross Connection

Thursday, 10 January 2013 17:03 by Victor

I have the honor of co-hosting the following event this weekend - come one, come all (there will be refreshments)!!!

Sunday, January 13, at 1p.m. in the Chapel of All Souls:
Lecture on the All Souls/Red Cross Connection
Mary-Ella Holst, President of the All Souls Historical Society and a fount of knowledge about our church and its myriad activities over the course of our nearly 200 year history will present an account of the historical connections between All Souls Church and The Red Cross. This year’s recipient of the Forrest Church Award for Humanitarian Service is Gail McGovern, President and CEO of The American Red Cross. If you aren’t already proud about being part of this institution and its activities, when you hear this story you will be! This fascinating program will be hosted by Heart & Soul board members Miles Chapin and Victor Fidel, author of The Quest for Religious & Community Identity: The Story Behind the Architecture and Evolution of All Souls Church, New York City.

Triple Couple: An homage to Reverend Cheryl M. Walker

Tuesday, 15 May 2012 17:49 by Victor

The Great Reverend Cheryl M. Walker.

Put on your best foot forward is a saying my mother told me. No one does it better than Rev. Cheryl M. Walker. She performed our ceremony. By the same token, we have been fortunate to be friends with couples whom she has married. In her honor, I write this little bit of words to express how grateful we are for her ceremony and for being a part of our friends’ nuptials. Our dear friends, Eric & Diana in the picture below, invited us to their wedding in Chicago just a few weeks ago. And we were so fortunate that Lauren & Sean invited us to their wedding just 2 years ago. Our Unitarian Universalist-ness is something we have in common, surely, but we are bonded by Cheryl. It’s her “Words to the Couple” that bring a plentiful of tears to those unsentimental types like myself that make this ceremony so unforgettable. Granted our picture below doesn’t have black nor white bow-ties, no gala dresses; it’s the only one I have of us three couples after a lovely brunch at the W-Hotel close to the Chicago Union Station, ah, but she has been at the altars granting the wisdom that a couple needs to hear…”Don’t make the same mistakes…make new ones…” “Remember to thank each other for the little things that annoy you because they make you who you are” “Take these first 10 years as the first 10 stories of a skyscraper…and build on the tallest masterpiece…” “You’ve planned for a wedding, but marriage is uncharted territory without maps…” “Work hard at your relationship, but remember, you are worth doing the serious work of rest…honor and celebrate the mystery of your existence…” et cetera… There’s something really celestial when she talks to those 2 people up there, who are locked in step, holding on to hands and sweating, lots of sweet sweat, of nervousness, and comfort, and gladness and passion, and impatience for a drink and a kiss, in front of in-laws and in-loves, and it’s all going so fast, you wish you could capture the seconds of a wedding when you’re the one up there in the chancel, the one in-front of your partner, you’ve held that person and now you are being held, it’s nuts, it’s crazy, and it’s happening so fast, you really wish you could say, hold on, can you talk slower, forget everything and remember it all, can this last longer, can you possibly contain it…you can’t. You can only live it for that second, for that moment, the toast will come so much later, but this moment, when it’s just you and your partner and the person marrying you, that person officiating better be on point, you’re not listening or are you, you are if it’s…Cheryl, with her stable voice, really stations you; there’s something about her poise, her way of saying with a language that’s hard-core energy: “it’s all right, just listen to me and you’ll be all right”. I’m a Jesus fan, in about the same fashion that I’m a Cheryl fan-atic. I know it may seem controversial, but what else do you think Unitarian Universalists are…but that!
The world would be a better place if Cheryl married every couple, but that’s just my humble opinion. After all, we did suggest that she should let people know that she has 100% retention rates among those exchanging vows before her…

Here is to you Cheryl: Cheers & Blessed Be!


Award Winning All Souls!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012 00:43 by Victor

I want to deeply thank the Congregation of All Souls for offering me the 2012 Presidents Award at the All Souls Annual Meeting yesterday (Sun, February 5th, 2012). It was surreal, especially since I was sitting up front and when our former board president, Nancy Northup was introducing the award, she was describing someone familiar, and then I realized, “she’s talking about me!” The congregation really surprised me. It was a special moment. A complete surprise! The text of the award reads, “All Souls Church Presidents Award presented to Victor Fidel for Scholarship that inspires the congregation to cherish its history, February 5, 2012.” I also want to thank my wife, Heather, for being my strength in completing book that defined this award, The Quest for Religious & Community Identity: The Story Behind the Architecture and Evolution of All Souls Church, NYC.

Nancy presents the award to me – she has such a lovely, elegant smile.

The Award. The text reads: “All Souls Church Presidents Award presented to
Victor Fidel
for Scholarship that inspires the congregation to cherish its history,
February 5, 2012.”

Unitarian Universalist General Assembly 2011: Reflections

Saturday, 16 July 2011 18:14 by Victor

I. What GA and governance mean to me

II. Sharing my book with the wider UU world

III. Outside the Charlotte Convention Center

I: What GA and governance mean to me

I participated in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) General Assembly (GA) in Charlotte, North Carolina, for three days, from Friday to Sunday (June 24-26), but in such a small timeframe, I felt the power of transformation and experienced the promise of our faith. This is my second GA. Prior to going to the 2009 GA at the Salt Lake City, I was innocent. I did not really appreciate what it meant to be a Unitarian Universalist. It was there that I learned that our faith demands our full participation – it reaffirmed that we UUs believe and that our denomination keeps us mindful that we are part of something bigger than just All Souls, NYC. This time in Charlotte, I was reminded by our fellow UU friends that as I am a trustee at one of our congregations, I carry serious responsibility. I am a lay leader. As such, my job for the time being on the board of All Souls is to facilitate the ministry of the laity, but it will not end in 2012 when my term expires, for we Unitarian Universalists (UUs) are about Congregational Polity, so my responsibility is to be shared by all our congregants, board members and ministers.

As our Moderator, Gini Courter, explained, there are 3 basic ways religion is organized:

1) Episcopalian – the clergy is vested with authority for ruling everything. It is a top-down approach, whereby the church-goers receive the religious vision of the clergy.

2) Presbyterian – the clergy select clergy-approved laity and they both make the decision. By clergy-approved laity, we mean that the clergy has selected the laity with which to make decisions.

3) Congregational Polity – “There is no higher up. There is only deeper down.” The religious vision comes from the people. This is the model of Unitarian Universalism and what sets us apart from most of the religious movements around the world.

Gini reminded us who makes the vision of where Unitarian Universalim goes, whether at our churches or as a whole UUA. It is us. The authority does not come from the senior minister, nor from the board, but congregational polity is a right that is shared by all of us who attend our churches.

This becomes a tricky issue when we, congregants, church-goers, forget that we have this responsibility, but we let our leaders decide everything without questioning the reasons for their actions by either not going to the annual or budget meetings or throwing up our arms saying “forget about this church.” We must take ownership, all of us. And, congregants not taking ownership do not excuse the leaders for making unilateral decisions, for they must remember that acting without the consent of the governed is not following congregational polity. The best interests of the church cannot be pushed by one leader without the full participation and support of the congregation. In the ideal, the means cannot justify the ends, specifically if the means alienate the congregants. Don’t misunderstand: it’s not so much about pleasing others as much as it is about including everybody on the discussion table, so that our process affirms our fourth principle: The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. 

Everybody should read the by-laws at their congregations. Everybody needs to be involved. There is no special privilege. We are not a corporation. We are a church and not one with a Pope or a Salt Lake City passing down the Way. One leader’s voice, however perfect and seemingly valid it may be, is not the accurate representation of our people. We are individuals, but we are in a community. Let us remember we do religion together, not alone. We are all in the Mothership.

We yearn for diversity, but we will never fully achieve it, if do not drop our heady rhetoric and get down and speak religion with our hearts. A great friend told me that the problem with Unitarian Universalism is that it is up in our heads. She is right. Religion, like UUA President Peter Morales said, is about what we give our hearts to. That being the case, let us embrace the concept fully: Don’t knock down God, but don’t let God be the only One, for we are Many. And let us sing and praise That Mystery in all the forms. I wish we had the ‘Teal’ supplemental hymnal at All Souls (smaller congregations, I envy you). The heady rhetoric doesn’t just stop with music – it also means accepting the one different. Do we really believe we accept diversity or do we prefer to have someone who agrees with us? We forget that diversity goes beyond ethnicity. We will not have rich diversity of ethnicity if we cannot accept differences of perspective, style, class or politics.

Even with all the challenges we face as a religion, GA is the event that re-charges my UU-batteries, and I am grateful to take part.

II. Sharing my book with the wider UU worldIMG_4308

During GA, the UUA Bookstore sold my book about the architectural history of All Souls, NYC! The head of the bookstore offered a book signing table for me. I was happy to accept. I had a successful day, selling over 50% of my inventory – this helped greatly when it came time to pack our suitcases on our way from Charlotte! It is rewarding to know your book is appreciated and is being read by folks even outside of All Souls! Yay!

III. Outside the Charlotte Convention Center

Being at GA is very time-consuming. It’s a day that starts at 7am with a loaded schedule that ends around 10pm, and after that you have your choice to go partying with your UU buddies at the local bars and restaurants. For any first-timers, my advice is you have to manage your time and be judicious about which workshops you attend because you will not be able to do everything, so you have to pace yourself.

In addition, a trip outside the convention center is most warranted: You gotta see the surroundings, or at least try. One event that invites your participation to engage with the world outside the convention center is the action Public Witness. This time, in Charlotte, our event was the rally Standing on the Side of Love with LGBT People Everywhere! 

IMG_4144RallyVHWe marched from the Convention Center to Marshall Park, on East Third Street. There we joined together to profess our support for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people, not just for heterosexuals (if happiness can mean marriage, as one quirky reverend reminded me). We were protesting the current state of affairs in North Carolina. The state’s legislature has introduced proposals to ban marriage equality—as well as civil unions or any legal relationship between same-sex couples—and could reach the ballot in November. In addition, we bore witness to members of the UU Church of Kampala, Uganda, who are leading efforts to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from violence. IMG_4147

We were so full of energy as we gathered and marched on with our gold shirts and banners, Standing on the Side of Love. We made the cover of The Charlotte Observer, as the headline read “Liberal denomination stands up for its causes.” It was a success.

That was on Saturday afternoon (June 25, 2011, a great date for New York).

On our way to Marshal Park, as we marched on East 3rd Street, we passed the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The next day, I went. It was one of the best things I did, while in Charlotte. NASCAR stands for The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

The NASCAR story is authentic American. In the olden days of prohibition, alcohol was a hot underground commodity. Did you ever wonder how the Appalachian bootleggers got IMG_4182their moonshine across the United States? Drivers would take their whiskey in small, fast cars. The cars had to be light and fast to outrun the police that were behind their trail. After Prohibition, what else to do with all these fast cars…in American reuse fashion…let’s race them… The story of NASCAR is embedded in the roots of the evolving story of America...

I took plenty of pictures. Here’s the 1939 Ford Coupe as driven by Red Byron - this '39 coupe won NASCAR's first
race on February 15, 1948. It has a flathead V-8 engine. Prewar Fords were
popular with early NASCAR drivers.

The Hall of Fame was impressive. It’s got plenty exhibits that are interactive. It culminates with a simulated drive, which I took part in, and even if I didn’t win, it sure was fun!

To conclude, here are a few photographs:

IMG_4156Celebrating with our All Souls Friends! The dinner & drinks!

Chillin’ inside “Cat” by Niki De Saint Phalle, 1999,
at the plaza in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art

In front of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wilmington, NC

Reflections On My First General Assembly, 2009

Friday, 3 July 2009 15:51 by Victor

Believe it or not, it was the appeal of going to Salt Lake City, Utah, that made me desire to attend my very first General Assembly (G.A.). I get to shoot two birds with one stone I SandyTracks said to folks who asked me “Why Salt Lake City?”, “Why G.A?”. In obscene shorthand, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations General Assembly is the big Pow Wow of all Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations – I would not call it our Mecca trip, though I almost think it ought to be. Most UU churches send members, called delegates, who gather together each year at different locations throughout the United States for a four day meeting (by the way, this trip is not paid for by the churches, though some assist somewhat, for instance by paying for the registration fees—mostly, though, the members pay for their stay and travel). They usually hold these gatherings in cities that have ample convention centers and where the rent is affordable; such a place was Salt Lake City, hosting G.A. from June 24th to 28th this year, and such a place will be Minneapolis in June 2010.


I admit Salt Lake City was an attraction for its Mormon history, but it was also a place I had not been to. The wise say you ought to visit a new place you’ve never been to each year to enrich yourself, for travel is a better education than any Ph.D. any day, and I don’t really admit any apologies for my overly educated Brahman. 

In any case, I found Salt Lake City to be rich. It is a booming town. You can tell because of all its construction cranes. Investors put money in building because they know it’s a good investment. Though, our taxi driver from India, on our way to the airport did tell us that the hotels were empty – blame the economy. The truth is Salt Lake is happening. And I don’t say that just because it has ample nightlife, though don’t go try to go out to a restaurant on a Sunday night – most restaurants close by 7pm that day and 10pm all other days, with some exceptions, but hey, mass transit is free in the very center of the city and the cable cars are very clean as are the sidewalks. The LDS Church will build a business school too. The Mormon complex is something you have to see. It is something to admire. I admire the Mormons. Their evangelical tenacity. Their love for architecture and beautiful things. Their nice-ness. Heather and I took a tour of their grounds at Temple Square. I simply adore their open-ness to show you their way, their system of belief and thought. I felt like they were Unitarian Universalists, with a different theology and dress, more money and much more evangelism.

So…the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations General Assembly (UUA G.A.), what I started writing about:

I had no idea how big we are. I had no practical idea how small we are. It didn’t occur to me how spread we were; we are really all over this mosaic called the United States and Africa too (!). Hearing numbers at your local congregation, ratios, percentages is not the same as seeing them live, as hearing them talk and speak their minds and cause controversy, shake up your upper middle class status.

Our denomination is small and diverse. It is also large and not diverse. It is complex and at a critical time it is the most powerful answer to the changing world we live in. We have great opportunity and we are finding it hard to grasp it. Perhaps we are focusing on the lack. Perhaps this is a good thing, for how boring to find we were on top – a challenge is more welcome.

Our “movement,” which is not a good term, by the way, for movements come and go, but the truth is Unitarian Universalism is here to stay and develop however we want it to be. It is a religion – a lot of us better get used to that if we are to make it big or at all.

I perhaps digress, but the truth is we focused on those issues more than you can imagine. Although I had felt that at All Souls in New York City, which is an anomaly by the way, the congregation I attend religiously, I was not aware of the urgency, to put it mildly.

I guess when you hear the numbers and when you see the evidence, then you might get it too. Here are three interesting statistics I learned at G.A.:
* No more than point three percent of the United States population (0.3%) declares itself as Unitarian Universalist.
* Our congregations have less than 9% of people who consider themselves as people of color. 
* Across the board, our percentage of monetary giving is about one to two percent (1-2%) a person. Monetary giving, what is sometimes called “stewardship” – one percent (!). Sad.

Clearly we are missing a ton of vibrancy.

Let me step back a bit on the great things that we have done, for we are a quintessential American faith, and let me be humble as I say truths:

The Universalists, as early as the 1800s, were some of the first supporters of non-sectarian schools, and they also worked on social issues including the separation of church and state, prison reform, capital punishment, the abolition of slavery, and women's rights – this was before it was the acceptable norm to follow. In 1863 the Universalists became the first group in the United States to ordain a woman with full denominational authority.

But let us not forget our Unitarian brethren too: They spoke out on issues such as peace, education reform, prison reform, orphanages, capital punishment, moderation in temperance, ministry to the poor, and the abolition of slavery (also in the 1800s). When both the Unitarians and the Universalists merged, they continued to strive forth in the direction of social justice. We are Jesus embodied. Why do you think I, a former Catholic, feel closer to Jesus of Nazareth now as a UU than when I was being confirmed by a priest – the parallels of UU and Jesus are really striking, when you think that Jesus wasn’t trying to conform people to a religion and how UUs don’t want to convert you and just do the right thing. Well, my friends, the times have changed and I believe the message needs be spreading:


Our newest campaign is Standing on the Side of Love. We do that for immigrants who search for a better life, for gay and lesbians who desire marriage, for atheists who are unaccepted, for Catholics who do not believe in hell, for Jews who also believe in the Goddess, for our Earth plagued with our pollution, for all oppressed people... But we are not some foolish people. We are a religion. Until we realize that, we might always be a margin of .3%.

While at G.A., we stood on the side of Love on Friday, June 26, 2009, as we organized an interfaith rally in support of immigrant families – the Salt Lake City Tribune was happy to report it. In fact, we were supporting the immigrant wife of a US citizen, member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. At our rally of over 1000, he told the crowd of the ploy the police used to get into his house and forcefully arrest her. The police agents used a trick of wanting his wife to identify a woman in a picture, but they arrested her instead, handcuffed and shackled, treated inhumanely. See, there is a law in Utah that authorizes police agents to become Ice agents, which means that the police can arrest and detain people based on suspicion of immigration violations, and the treatment they inflict on these people is sadistic and unkind. To show you that we UUs are really changing our ways, we held this as an interfaith rally, having had speakers from the Catholic and Episcopalian denominations and let us not forget that it was a Mormon family we were supporting. This was UUs in action. This is what we do.

Had I not gone to G.A., I would not have learned about the Standing on the Side of LoveLove campaign. It was proposed by our very own Bill Sinkford, who just ended his term as president of the UUA. I would not have learned about it because our church of All Souls is, I’m afraid, isolated in some ways from the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, the UUA. In my cynical view, I wondered why we were there, for what is it that we really bring back to a congregation who is not as involved in denominational affairs as it should be.

Had I not gone to G.A., I would not have felt a certain power of Love. It definitely is affirming to be with so many UUs and from all over the country. We are not alone. If I were to move outside of New York City, I could easily find a church; granted, I would miss All Souls, but life would go on at another UU church, and for that I am not only proud, but relieved.

Victor-BannerI tell you what indeed gave me a rock star feeling: When I held the banner. I know it can be classified as rather cheesy, but I was a rock star! Let me explain. Aside from orientation, the first main event is the Banner Parade. This is the event where each congregation is represented by a banner at the main hall where all the three thousand G.A. attendees have gathered. Of the two members of a church walking together, one carries the congregation’s banner. It is the notorious nature of delegates to assign this job to the newbie. Since this was my first time at G.A., I was the one holding the thing, which is really not heavy at all. It used to be a job not many loved because you would miss most of the service entailing the parade, but the way it’s handled now, as far as I hear and experienced, is that any speeches are held until all banners have marched and there is time for them to sit back down and enjoy the service that comes about when the last of the banner marchers has marched. There’s a certain evangelism that goes along with displaying one’s congregation.

Bill Sinkford was the first minister who taught me about true-evangelism. He said we need to spread our message because it will help people. We cannot be too egotistical in thinking this is a good thing only for us. We need to help others; we cannot simply see this as a quest of numbers.

And Rev. Sinkford was munificent once again as he gave his words on Compassionate Witness titled “Truth and Reconciliation”, but it was the homily of Angela Herrara, a ministerial candidate and student at Harvard Divinity School, whose ministerial poetry remain in my mind. She started with the words from the poet Antonio Machado, “Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.” “Traveler, there is no road. One makes the path by walking.” She made a metaphor of her early life, having been raised as UU child, thinking that “what set her faith apart was that you could believe in whatever you want…that you don’t have to believe anything.” And as she grew up, so did her faith. When it came time to fend for her own and “other’s inherent worth and dignity let me to realize it’s not true that you don’t have to believe anything.” She said, “We’re not preaching the gospel of disbelief. We are a community of believers. And what we ask you to believe is that you are already holy.” But it’s not that easy, as she affirms:

[For] to believe you are already holy takes courage. It raises the bar. To be holy no matter who you are is to subvert traditional expectations—low expectations—and it calls you to something higher, better. This kind of faith wants not just to soothe the troubled spirit; it seeks to restore wholeness to what is continually broken. Relationships—the interdependent web. They are broken by human brokenness. By alienation, fear and systems of oppression so pervasive they can only be called evil. This is hard work. It’s big work for an imperfect, holy people.

She really spoke right on to what I have felt each time some of our members (myself included) say as we invite others to our faith. How dare we tell newcomers that they don’t have to believe in anything should they join our faith? Can we possibly look ourselves in the mirror and say we don’t have to believe anything as UUs? There is no excuse. You bet we accept the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and for the fourth principle to be achieved as we know it, we must believe. I thank Ms. Herrara for preaching these words.

Let us step into some other magick moments:

G.A. was not just about worship services. There were also official business to take place. Issues of Governance are important. Our faith is most democratic, perhaps the most democratic procedural of all. We govern our congregations pluralistically. And so, to agree on what is to bind us together requires dialogue with ourselves. We conduct these exercises in the Plenaries. I had to look at what plenary meant in the online versions of several dictionaries. The crux of the word means “full” “complete” “what is required” “important” “attended by all qualified members” “pertinent for all to attend”. And it was important to attend and just being UUs is qualified, but you need to be a delegate in order for you to vote and churches are assigned numbers of delegates based on their membership numbers. How pertinent is it to attend these Plenaries? Very! For we decided whether we should change Article II of our bylaws, what language to use, even changing a word in the 7 principles, the stuff that we all UUs stand by. How could it not be pertinent to attend and cast your vote? This faith gives you a firm responsibility: The search and responsible quest of truth and meaning. This is live democracy in your religious faith. Why wasn’t I told about this at All Souls…my pet peeve, as you may have guessed, why aren’t we as a congregation informed enough; my voice repeats, why are we not involved in denominational affairs as we should, for this really impacts us all UUs (?!?).

GiniArm Ok, but who makes this process fun? The Moderator. And her name is Gini Courter. She is the Lady of the Hour who makes Plenary happen. She stands at the microphone on the center stage of this conference room where at least two thousand people fit. She is there recognizing people at the Pro, the Con, the Procedure microphones. She is there to communicate which item is next to be voted on and debated. And to top it off, she’s entertaining. UUs make the democratic process really fun. T’is no wonder Gini’s a public figure with her own Facebook fan page. Naturally, I invite you to become her fan, and then you can friend me, or friend me first!

G.A. is also a place where music is felt under your skin. One thing we UUs do well is creating music. Because our faith is cosmopolitan, our tunes are so versatile. Yes, I do love Walter Krauss’ classical repertoire at All Souls, but I wholeheartedly say it was refreshing to hear world rhythms from Africa, Spanish songs—that is songs sung in Spanish, Hungarian cantatas, New-World, Folk, Gospel, Rock, you name it music. We need that diversity. I thought, gee, why don’t we have the Teal Hymnal Supplement at All Souls again??? I must speak to Wally. And Galen. But, as Jim Moskin said, firstly to Ann Gorycki, for she knows where the money’s to be found, if that’s the real issue…or is it…? I wonder. I think Music is really the language of diversity and of the soul. Love is its embodiment, no doubt, but if there’s a life after this, Music has got to be in there. I’m thanking John Hubert & Matt Meyer, who introduced such an eclectic and comforting repertoire of musical innovation to our souls at G.A.


Speaking of Diversity, that is G.A.! A diverse-full of folks! They come from all walks of life. But, as you may have heard in the earlier paragraphs of this reflection, our denomination is tiny when it comes to diversity of folks who are not Middle-Class Euro-American Caucasians. That is true. Being in this group, I am an anomaly, but not so at the same time: I, a Latino who passes as White without even trying, because of his seemingly fair and fawn skin, his Master’s Degree, his Caucasian wife, his white collar job, his former immigrant status, now being a privileged citizen of the United States…ah, but I still got an accent, and yet, no one can tell where it’s from, so I’m an exotic and so, there goes me being a representative of what is deemed “people of color”; I’m just a delicacy... I guess I’m a poor example of this. Or am I? I am still Latin American. Some call me Latino or Hispanic. That isn’t terrible; Latino sounds better, later 90s terminology. Hispanic sounds early 90s. But: Don’t you dare call me “Spanish”! O te mato con palabras…

Still, people perceive my diversity and that is good and because the good also has the bad, there are the awkward moments. In fact that is the problem, and I don’t say that for UU circles, but for all the sake of being welcoming in any situation or place; the real issue is awkwardness, not racism, for me, not that I’m denying there is ethnocentrism, racism, culturalism, classism, accentism, many-other-isms, but that with respect to our world (and faith), we are so awkward when it comes to communicating to a person of color. I yearn for a time when I won’t be assumed to be voting for a candidate called Morales because I am Latino (yes, this incident did happen at G.A.). I don’t think people are really racist in the way of wanting to do harm to the “other” at our denomination; we are just awkward and behave that way. In fact, I want to get rid of the anti-oppression jargon that exists in the Multicultural speak. It’s awkwardness that defeats the majority and the minority. Instead of respectfully asking questions that spark our interest for the sake of us understanding differences, we end up making asses of ourselves with assumptive language and our intent is not malicious, but the person of color ends up perceiving it as an awkward mess because it is dumb and awkward. Without blame and with reason, the person of color will think “why go to such a church if they can’t handle that I’m different…” It’s not at all that the upper middle class white UU is really racist or means harm; it’s that some of our brethren act as assumptive, and not all I remind you, it’s some. In this regard, I say to those who have fallen into the awkward trap: It is far better to ask, “What did you think of the candidates?” instead of saying to a Latino/Hispanic/Latin-American, “I assume you voted for Morales, I cannot see you vote for Laurel” Imagine how it would sound had I said that to an African American or White American at the time of the US presidential elections last year – between McCain and Obama, to a White, “oh of course you’re voting for McCain” because he’s white? Think about this. – this is what I’m talking about. Controversy. But it’s 2009 and it happened to me. And why cannot it happen anywhere else in your local congregation or city?

Well, on the second day of G.A. the Reverend Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed gave us most impressive lessons to be learned about how to deal with our diversity problem. His powerful conclusion can be summed up in four parts:

1) “Lecturing and controlling is not the way. Guilt deals cruelly with vision. Trepidation encourages timidity.” Speaks to my awkward reference; don’t blame the majority, but don’t tell people what to do either (from either perspective).
2) Be honest about who we are. “We are an ethnic faith.”
3) "Appreciate the diversity we have achieved.” Women and LGBT people are well represented in our ministry.
4) Accept that we are caught in a conundrum. “We don’t really want to change.” We yearn for stability, so we find comfort. We don’t want too much change. We yearn to be whole, but change equals discomfort. We need to see change as an open and adventuresome undertaking. We need to recapture the excitement of our forebears. And, accept that change is going to come, whether we like it or not. 

And change has come to the UUA again:

MoralesV&H I alluded to Morales and I was not making him up. His name is Peter Morales and he won the election, becoming the first Latino president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (why not say it fully; must we always use acronyms? UUA? Be proud of who you are. Great names are supposed to be challenging, mine is Victor Fidel. The name of our faith is Unitarian Universalist; though many a times I could go for Universalist Unitarian…). We voted at G.A. in this historic election. 

For this presidential contest, we had two formidable individuals. Laurel Hallman and Peter Morales. For me, it was not hard to choose after hearing their speeches and debates. But I can understand how it was for others. These were fantastic speakers and had visions, and their intent was not different. I mean this was not like McCain versus Obama, nor was it Obama versus Hillary. Both candidates had positions comparable to the values of all us UUs. It had to do with whose vision you supported. Morales was instrumental in communicating clarity and urgency. Laurel had passion of eloquence. Both were fantastic. Morales’ sense of urgency for our faith won. His clarity of aspirations will take us to where our desires exist, if we all work for it so. One thing I appreciate about him is the way he presents himself. At the Candidates Forum, he was not reading a script he wrote: He was reciting it. Yes, I am sure he memorized it and that feels better than somebody reading to you (not that I don’t appreciate the sermons that all my ministers preach to us – they also read them and in ways we don’t think we’re reading them, and as I said, Morales had to have memorized his speech and he was natural at it). He was looking at us as he spoke. But that isn’t everything; it’s pin-pointing the four areas that UUs need to work on that made it most palpable for me to vote for him, and this is my blog, so I can come out and say who I voted for. He said we need to work on:

1) Our low numbers. We must be the moral equivalent of feeding the religious and spiritual hungry.
2) Disciplined management of the UUA. We need to do more with less. Our numbers being low, so is our budget; therefore we need more efficiency.
3) Build on Sinkford’s Public Witness. We need to lift Unitarian Universalism into the public square. Standing on the Side of Love is the start. UU must be a major player on the public stage, a major moral voice.
4) Unitarian Universalism must speak to the new America we face, which is multicultural, multigenerational and complex. This is serious work for us, lacking in diversity. 

He really got me convinced that he will work so that Unitarian Universalist will be the religion for our time. He affirmed that religion is more about what we love than think. This may strike some UUs because we are used to being haute thought. We have broad appeal religiously but our relational ties need honing. I welcome his challenge and charge. In addition, I would like to propose what Reverend Abhi Janamanchi told us in the Sunday morning worship, that “we are boldly going where no faith has gone before.”

I think, in order to do those things, we need to look to ourselves and understand our past and present, reconcile our differences. We need to value the past we’ve had. Most of us come from other religions. We need to deal with that before we can engage the in any community outside our own. I got to hear ways on how to do that at G.A.: One of our distinguished members who is deeply involved in the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, Marilyn Mehr, led a moving address titled “Lessons of a Mormon Childhood – LDS to UU-UNO.” She was raised Mormon in Utah and later in life became a Unitarian Universalist. While she is happy to have found a religious and spiritual home in our faith, she learned many important lessons from her childhood. She said three of them are:

1) “Value being different” – having been Mormon, she had to deal with prejudices from other religions. We UUs should value our differences and be proud to defend them, but love our community in the process.  
2) “Importance of Community. We must have commitment to each others existence.” Let us wholly support our interdependent web that binds us together. 
3) “Importance of Families.” We ought to not forget our brothers and sisters from other religions and interchange in more dialogue.

I will add my personal 4th lesson to all you UUs: We need Tithing! As I stated earlier, we UUs give about 1 to 2% of our income to church. That is obscenely piddly and simply unacceptable. If we want our faith to grow in different ways and do the justice work we aim to fulfill, we cannot do it on pennies. Maybe 10% is too much: Don’t worry, then you can do 5%. That’ll at least more than double our resources. Don’t tell me that you are young and cannot afford it. Yes you can! Yes we can! The youth, especially, must feed the church, for they shall inherit this great faith. What would they like to see in the future? The future is now. It will be far wiser for us young adults to skip on that occasional Sunday brunch and give that money to the place that nourishes our soul and feeds our spirit, for our churches are of this Earth and have bills to pay – I not only speak for an expensive lot on the most expensive zip code in the world, the Upper East Side of New York City, where All Souls is, but also all over the regional spectrum.

Ah, what else can I say, General Assembly shook me, but it also comforted me. G.A. affirmed my spirituality and religion with inspiration. I am proud to be a Unitarian Universalist, and I am grateful for what it means to be of this faith.


Categories:   reflections | All Souls
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