Seeds That Will One Day Grow
Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Communications Team
A few months ago, Pauline Eichten brought an opening reading to a meeting of the Beloved Community Communications Team. Although written by Bishop Ken Untener in 1979, it’s often called the Oscar Romero prayer because it summarizes the ministry of Archbishop Romero.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
The members of our group were energized by the prayer, and by the reminder that we commit to the unknown potential of our work every time we take action to build Beloved Community.
We decided to share it with other Unity Church members and ask about their ability to continue their own antiracism work. How do they embrace the fact that it is work full of ambiguities with no set end-point?
Molly Flattum, a Welcome Team member and Spirit Play teacher, and Linda Kjerland, a member of the Congregational Care Team, weighed in.
Erika: When you read Romero’s prayer, how did its words resonate with you, and with your activities at Unity Church?
Linda: The prayer says it all about keeping at it. I need to continue to prime the pump. As a younger child, I visited my grandparent's farm. Prominent in the yard was a tall rusting hand pump — it produced the first trickles of water only after some effort.
I need to continually put yeast in my own dough. I need to listen and to befriend books that provoke, inform, and challenge me. Without repeated infusions, I can tuck in, miss calls for disturbance or misread my own emotions.
Molly: The prayer reminds me of how, on the Welcome Team, we give great attention to how we have little snippets of conversation with congregants and visitors on Sundays, and how we try to infuse those small moments with meaning. How do those quick interactions create a space that is welcoming for everyone? What does that space look and feel like when it is engaging in antiracism, or welcoming people with disabilities or other marginalized identities?
Erika: How do you grapple with the fact that this work has no point of completion or outcome?
Molly: That really resonated with me as a Spirit Play teacher and a parent. As a parent, not having an end-point isn’t so scary, because we know that the work of growth is never-ending. Raising good humans is not about an end point, it is about ongoing action. It’s about raising kids to never be silent. My daughter is a preschooler, and is noticing differences like who has glasses and who doesn’t, and who uses a wheelchair and how they’ll enter a building. We’re normalizing conversations about difference and justice. Children hold me accountable. There’s always more work and learning to do. The idea of having an end goal would almost be limiting, because it might limit what you’re willing to do for the effort.
Erika: In your Unity activities, do you find yourself employing the antidotes to white supremacy culture?
Linda: I’d like to take time with each characteristic, putting them into intentional discussions within the Congregational Care team as we endeavor to reflect, rethink, and expand for whom and how we show up. My reading on antiracism, including at Unity, has pushed my willingness to see, feel, and heed the indicators of white supremacy culture.
Erika: What does the use of the word “prophets” in the final line of the prayer mean to you? Do you see your work as prophetic?
Molly: Prophet is a word that lands awkwardly for me. For me, it is more a question of: we are here so temporarily, how do we create a lasting impact? The work we do has to be the hard work, and it has to be part of our daily lives. As a parent, the fact that I’m doing advocacy and justice work–not just for my own sake, but for my children and the whole community — is what makes this holy work. Children help me stay anchored in the moment and keep asking the question, “What’s right in front of me?” It’s about Romero’s seed in the moment and the future.
Pauline Eichten, Beloved Community Communications Team
I attended the February 22 Intersectionality 101 session led by Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics. He described it as a teach-in and began with a definition. Intersectionality is about the identities that intersect in ways that affect how individuals are viewed, understood and treated. Specifically, it’s the “simultaneous, overlapping and compounding nature of multiple forms of injustice and discrimination.” The oppression experienced can operate at the internal, interpersonal, institutional and structural level.
The term was initiated by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as a legal concept related to cases of discrimination. Judges seemed unable to see the overlapping gender and racial discrimination faced by black women, and looked at them as separate issues. Intersectionality provided a way to address the multiple layers of discrimination a person might be experiencing.
Rinku Sen, in an essay about intersectionality, points out that it isn’t an identity, it’s a theory, a lens that can help us be more effective in our social justice approach. He wrote:
I was at a recent discussion about the criminal justice system and was struck by a comment from one of the presenters. He shared a definition of reconciliation that he learned in South Africa: reconciliation is removing barriers to authentic relationships. Might our tendency to oversimplify, and assume we know who someone is and what they experience, be one of those barriers? How can we use an intersectional lens to expand the possibilities in our encounters with each other?
For more on this topic, see:
The final Intersectionality 101 follow up session "Class and Race" will be held on March 14 at 6:30-8:30 p.m., in Parish Hall. Please register!
Shelley Butler, Beloved Community Communications Team
It was unusually cold that last Saturday in January 2023 when the Parish Hall filled up with people attending “Change, Conflict, and Complexity: Antidotes and Spiritual Practices,” an antiracism training/workshop led by Alfonso Wenker of Team Dynamics. If you have never heard Alfonso, watch for the next opportunity, as he is informative and wise, and frankly, he could read the phone book and make it sound compelling.
As I looked around the room of eighty or so, I was impressed with the number of people whom I did not know or had never seen at a Team Dynamics event before, a sign of widening interest in antiracist multiculturalism at Unity Church? Also attending were many people I knew who typically attend these events, a sign of unwavering commitment to this work. There was energy in the room!
The workshop focused on three parts: 1) comfort and certainty, 2) antidotes to white supremacy, and 3) archetypes in conflict. After each part, small groups met to discuss the ways in which we personally engaged with the topic.
Complexity enters the equation as practice. Simply knowing the language, reading a book, or listening to a lecture on antiracism is not the same as practicing antiracism. There isn’t a set of instructions for social justice work, and neither is it finite. As much as we might want someone to just tell us what to do to fix the “oops” (the way that white supremacy treats racism), this work requires moving into practices that serve social/racial justice.
These practices include less certainty and more questions, less focus on comfort and more on being present to the moment, less blame and more listening. Alfonso reminded us, “Discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning.”
Our paired and small group discussions were exercises in discomfort as we were asked not only to examine our own behaviors and intentions but to share them. What is my relationship to certainty? What choices have I made to maintain my own comfort? In my racial justice work, when do I notice a pull to be right? What practices would I like to incorporate/give attention to in my spiritual and social justice work? What do I want to shed or release in my work?
Uncharacteristically, I chose to join a small group of people that I did not know very well or at all. But as typically happens at Unity, we opened up with each other, exposed vulnerabilities, and supported each other’s point of view, even when it was negative or we didn’t agree. I left each group the better for the conversation, the points of view, and the sense of connection in community.
Recognizing ourselves in the “Characteristics of White Supremacy” is typically a lesson in humility–we learn here the conscious and unconscious things we do that support white supremacy. But the lesson didn’t stop there.
Carolyn Caswell remarked, “I really appreciated continuing the discussion about racial injustice and white supremacy, and this is the first time I’ve seen answers or solutions or antidotes to white supremacy.”
Unity Trustee Mary Hernandez said, “What stuck out to me was the invitation to greet white supremacy where it shows up with antidotes. And to really work to reflect on those and try to weave them into the way that I walk in the world.”
The third and last section of the program helped us understand the nature of conflict, and how to practice trusting, healthy conflict. Conflict is not necessarily bad and does not mean that something is broken. We were encouraged to think of conflict as “us against the problem,” instead of “us against them.” Come to a conflict with the understanding of shared purpose or interdependency, rather than believing there is only one solution or that your way is the right way. Be ready to listen to how others perceive the issue and explore possible solutions. These are more generative conflict practices.
Kim Chapman offered this thoughtful reflection on the morning:
Image Credit: From the cover of Turning Towards Each Other Workbook by Jovida Ross and Weyam Ghadbian; Illustration & Graphic Design by Shirien Damra.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Rev. Karen Gustafson, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.