Was it only a few years ago (2006) that the UU Women's Connection went up with their first website? Look at us now!
Our Facebook group was added a few years ago to extend the Connection's outreach to women on the popular wave of social networking. You can find us on Facebook by clicking on the Find us on Facebook link at left.
The 2011 fall retreat on Lake Michigan this past year provided a metaphor of the future of our organization in my mind. Though it was the 29th annual fall retreat since the women at Rockford began at Lake Geneva on Williams Bay, the spot on Lake Michigan was familiar and all brand new at the same time. We are comfortable on the water for this fall retreat and the ocean-like vastness of Lake Michigan with its unseen shore on the other side calls us to the broader world. During the retreat, we walked to the beach to bless the waters of the world, "Dr Emoto-style." We seem to truly be living out our mission to connect women to the larger world.
An unusual and unexpected storm the week before the retreat left a deposit of new sand on the grassy areas near the beach. We were among the first there to investigate bits of colored glass, pretty little shells and shell pieces, sea weed and worn pieces of drift wood that the storm had blown ashore. We joined water birds in investigation of the small tide pools teeming with life. Our foot prints mingled with bird prints in the sand on the freshly swept beach. Were we also what the storm blew in?
It can be whatever you need it to be.
This year the spring retreat for me was about coming to terms with many changes in my life. I found exactly what I needed in the keynote and the workshops. It felt tailor-made for me as we transitioned from Friday night gathering where I felt welcome and surrounded by a warm and supportive environment to Saturday morning when Teri Freesmeyer's keynote address helped me really engage with the present moment. The day of workshops one by one chipped away at my resistance to the changes I was facing until the last workshop where like a bolt of lightning the answer came.
In past years it has been other, less dramatic things. When I was coming off of my time on bed rest during my last pregnancy, it was a wonderful antidote to the isolation I had been feeling. When I was new to UU it was the introduction to a wide array of ways to be UU that were different from my own church. Some years it has been just a simple break from the craziness of life with kids and work where things could slow down and I could just be.
A UU Women's Connection retreat doesn't have to be a life altering experience. But it can be.
What I learned at CMw District Assembly this year .
I always look for some ideas to inspire my volunteer work with district women and my local church at the annual district assembly. CMwD put it on, as always when the pink dogwood is blooming in my yard. Spring makes me so hopeful as a volunteer and human. Something in bud, only begun. A large spray of the stunning pink bracts from my yard sat on the UU Women's Connection vendor's table with flyers and newsletters and retreat registration forms, organizational tri-fold. Diana and I planned it together. And oh yeah, the ever-full bowl of CHOCOLATE! The creamy chocolaty goodness was only topped by the wrappers with their little sayings. "You are truly beautiful." Or "You deserve a good day."
Women's Connection vendor's table was in a small, narrow hall way of the mammoth conference center in Bloomington, Illinois along with the usual suspects: the humanists, Channing Murray foundation, Popcorn Wisdom, Earth Beat, Continental Women and Religion and more. New this year was "The Mountain" Retreat Center promoting their beautiful retreat location in Highlands, North Carolina. Next to us were two women in bright hats from the Peoria Church with their fabulous cook book, who reported many visits to our table while we were away learning about how to be diverse in Dr Morrison's sessions. They observed that men as well as women like chocolate and helped themselves to our chocolate offerings.
The Perversity of Diversity, theme talk came in two sessions. The speaker, Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed has recently released his book Darkening the Doorways: Black Trailblazers and Missed Opportunities in Unitarian Universalism. His 1984 doctoral thesis titled: Black Pioneers in a White Denomination is still in print.
Dr Morrison spoke twice split by lunch with its theme talk tables. Enthusiastic and funny he interacted with the small audience of district leaders and delegates and had us calling out the names of famous African-American UUs from the get go. Most of the names called out I did not know. It wasn't till we looked at the list later that I realized most of the names were of people of color in congregations from around the district. I could have called out Janice Bailey one of our former councilors, or Rachel Anderson a former ALUUC member now retired to her home state in the south. A woman of color, Rachel had welcomed me when I first joined ALUUC.
I didn't catch on until later that many of the names being called out were of acquaintances and leaders in many district churches. I am ashamed I didn't know much about the famous ones either. So point-well-taken, Mark. I vow to learn and lift up these folks as the pioneers and ancestors they are. Good UU practice for me.
The light-bulb-going-on, kernel-of-inspiration and knowledge that I think was the piece I came to the district assembly this year for didn't come, however, till Dr. Morrison's afternoon session in which he showed a video about a church in Maryland who had attained their vision of diversity. The vision was held in its beginning by an African American minister in an inner-city area, who dreamed the big dreams about a diverse membership at his church.
My kernel, turn-on-the-light-lesson taken from the video was a brief mention of the "bull dog" as he was called in the video. This guy was the protector of the leaders who were working on the vision. He seemed sort of a spiritual body guard...karma patrol, if you will. There were only hints of how he did this, but the idea intrigues me.
Don't leaders in our congregations and UU organizations need protection at times from the vocal, frequently loud and stress producing complaints that invariably come when change is going on? A vision is being realized? Sometimes these usually well-meaning comments can be adamant and even a little mean-spirited.
Let me be the "bull dog' for leaders, board presidents and board members, committee people who above all are volunteers. Ministers should not be excluded from this protection as well. All of these take the flack and do the best that they can. They have ideas and opinions and considerations and lives and baggage as we all do. I want to have the courage to be a "bull dog" and feel like I am protecting the vision of all the diversity that volunteers, members and friends bring. Gay, straight, young, old, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or earth-centered, rich, middle class, poor, naive or worldly, those with advanced degrees or graduates of the school of hard knocks, men and women, teenagers, and little ones, parents and grandparents. This is our diverse beloved community, our family.
We are experimenting with living peaceably and lovingly in this diversity. It is our covenant. Let me be a "bull dog" who guards the vision of this community. It could be hard, but who wouldn't want it. Where to begin? Let's see, maybe with the lessons we taught to first and second graders in RE this year: Treat others as you would be treated. Seek justice. Be Brave. Walk in another's shoes a while. Talk face to face about problems. Compromise and forgive. Above all: Be patient, big dreams take a while.