Recent promotions from the newly-formed mass incarceration advocacy group have used the language of “church-wide” to generate engagement on this very important issue. In fact, our board of trustees, led by David Yamashita, has as one of its goals to “support social justice with one all-congregation initiative.” This has gotten me to wondering.

At last week’s Social Justice Roundtable, a member of the Social Justice Coordinating Team voiced that, in her mind, all initiatives led by the church’s social justice groups are church-wide and inclusive. Indeed, a look at almost every Weekly Update highlights opportunities to participate with our Partners in Education locations, to contribute to Women Empowered’s supply drives, and to help provide meals in local shelters alongside members of the Homeless Advocacy Team. 

As this year’s pledge drive pushes for a successful conclusion, we are reminded of our responsibility as members to regularly share our time, talents, and treasure. Is that commitment reflected in the participation rate of our various social justice groups? Could one scan the congregation on a Sunday morning and find that most attendees are active in one of these groups – or perhaps a non-UUCA social justice organization?

It seems like everyone agrees that social justice is woven into the cloth of UUism. Our longer-time members recall UUCA’s role in Atlanta’s civil rights history, and I’ve heard some bemoan that that time may have been the pinnacle of our social justice efforts. Is that so? Have other issues or needs diluted our social justice focus? Did the loss of our social justice staff position several years ago lead us off course somehow? The goal of the board to support one all-congregation initiative suggests the answer may be “yes.”

My understanding is that the board’s responsibilities generally revolve around policy, finance, and staff oversight – not necessarily program. That falls to RE, arts, worship, and music leadership. This pseudo-programming goal and the board’s intention to task a new assistant minister with social justice coordination makes it clear that the powers-that-be want UUCA to better exercise its social justice muscles and to operate with congregational solidarity in addressing pressing needs. I feel sure that current social justice team leaders would welcome wider congregational participation.

Many questions arise then: Who decides the issues that deserve the congregation’s focus? Is that a staff-driven, board-driven, or congregant-driven call? Should social justice groups lobby board leaders and staff or pitch proposals for future “all-congregation” initiatives to some decision-making committee? Is the good work currently being done by our social justice teams perceived as too diffuse, minimally impactful, and small beans? Is there a recent precedent of all-congregation initiatives that have generated widespread engagement and delivered big results? If so, how could we replicate that success?

The passion that motivates members of UUCA’s social justice teams is real. Small in size, these groups meet regularly, plan carefully, and work hard to live UU values. And these groups regularly invite the whole church to magnify their impact. Let’s be clear: these social justice groups are not simply representatives of the congregation. They are the wheels that keep UUCA’s social justice work on track. Whether greater impact requires board sanction or the efforts of a dedicated staff person is yet to be seen. The call to work towards the sixth principle – “the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all” – calls on all of us, that’s “church-wide,” to share more generously of our time, talents, and treasures to help a world in need.

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team is for you. Yes, you. Because you want to act on your love for the planet and because you need caring companions as you navigate these changing times. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund. Contact Nicole Haines to connect to the CAT and join us for our next Zoom meeting on Nov. 20 at 7:30 PM using this meeting link.