Kneeling Protestors

Social Justice

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Jenna and First Parishioners at the weekly climate vigil in Needham Center called “Fridays for Future,” an offshoot of Greta Thunberg’s demonstrations for climate.

Systemic white supremacy is a direct affront to every one of our principles. -2021 UUA Statement of Conscience “Undoing Systemic White Supremacy: A Call to Prophetic Action”

 

My Welcome page explains that I feel deeply called to serve UU congregations as they grow to become “resilient congregations” and build Beloved Community.

An excitement from my ministry at First Parish in Needham has been working with our racial justice leaders in the creation of a new, permanent committee of the church–the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee–which began as our Racial Justice Task Force. While our Social Action Committee is community-facing, our DEI Committee looks inward into our congregational culture, using the Widening the Circle of Concern report to brainstorm strategies to continue dismantling white supremacy culture in our congregation and raise consciousness about the new proposed 8th Principle of the UUA.

This work, to me, is theological. In the words of Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt, “We are the theological inheritors of teachings on universal salvation. There is no winnowing out of the supposedly unworthy that can be named sacred among us. It is our very Universalism that is at stake when we turn away from the impact that our institutions have on the same communities and groups that society encourages us to dehumanize and make small.” I believe that building the Beloved Community that we dream about is possible, but it requires us to move away from old forms of paternalistic and imperialistic “helping” or “fixing,” and asks us to look inward instead.

"I was moved by how passionately and lovingly Jenna spoke and wrote about her commitment to contributing to the transformation of her faith community through intentional anti-racist ministry practice…Jenna’s vision for her own ministry is intimately intertwined with the striving of Unitarian Universalism as a force for positive social change in the world."
– Rev. Dr. Teddy Hickman-Maynard, Former Associate Dean at BU School of Theology

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is to say that our 8th Principle work of dismantling oppressions in ourselves and our institutions is a deeply intersectional imperative, and Beloved Community has always been about unconditional welcome for people of all ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages, religious backgrounds, classes, and abilities. 

 

Within our congregations, that means having a deeply intersectional lens and investing particular attention and energy toward our welcome of people of color (we have the Widening the Circle report, our colleagues in BLUU, DRUUMM, and ARE, UU anti-racist educational programs, and dozens of texts as resources), LGBTQIA+ folks (we have our Welcoming Congregations program and the amazing work of TRUUsT and the Transforming Hearts Collective as resources), people of differing abilities (we have EqUUal Access as leaders in this area to look to, as well as texts and theory), folks with marginal class identities (see: Elite and the Commission on Appraisal report Class Action), and folks with marginal theological identities (we can look to The Voices Series and our Commission on Appraisal report Engaging Our Theological Diversity). And this list is not exhaustive: Gabriella Lettini and Rita Nakashima Brock are doing amazing work in congregational welcome and effective care of veterans, members of LREDA continue to innovate in how we can continue to make congregational life ever more fully intergenerational, and the list goes on.

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Jenna, First Parish staff, and First Parish lay leaders on the steps of the Massachusetts State House on Trans Day of Visibility, protesting recent anti-LGBTQ legislation in states across our nation.

This is my vision for UU congregational life, what poet Naomi Shihab Nye calls “the shared world” in her poem “Gate A-4.” I am inspired by the work that many of our UU congregations are already doing in all of these areas. And in terms of the “how” behind the “what,” in my experience at First Parish, it wasn’t so much the proliferation of new task forces and programs as the congregation adopting an anti-oppressive ministry lens toward the work that we were already doing.

And, yet, Rev. Theresa Ines Soto writes, “The [UU] chalice is a reminder that what flame we keep inside us cannot light the way. The light must spill to shine.” UU social justice work is about a steady dialectic between intra-congregational and community-facing justice work, each informing the other. UU congregations across the country each have long and storied histories of partnering with community organizations serving the local community. I am excited to learn about the landscape of service, advocacy, and coalition-building organizations near your congregation and the partnerships that you hold dear. Because, in the end, the light must spill to shine.

"Jenna’s love of nature inspires and motivates others to commit to saving our planet."
   
-Roberta Altamari, Former DLRE at First Parish