Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Staff Team
As Unitarian Universalists, while we value freedom of individual belief, we covenant with one another to place justice at the center of our faith. That means grounding our justice work in theological, spiritual reflection. Engagement of Unity Church with the wider community happens, in large part, thanks to the work of nine dedicated Community Outreach Ministry Teams. In 2021, ministry teams began a structured process of renewal (see the April commUNITY newsletter) that includes a new model of grounding justice work in spiritual reflection.
The two teams I spoke with that engaged with that model, the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracist Multicultural Work, provided invaluable feedback, had good conversations, but experienced varying levels of success. With new opportunities to work with the Double Helix coming up this fall, more doors to greater understanding and depth will open for everyone in the congregation.
Nicole Lynskey of the Act for the Earth Team spoke with me about the benefits of working with the Double Helix.
Erika: How did you experience the renewal process?
Nicole: Although the Act for the Earth Team is decentralized with four different subteams, we made time in other meetings where most of us were together, such as team happy hours and a four-hour retreat in January, where about 25 team members were present. We found this curriculum to lead us to deep and meaningful conversation.
Erika: Did you find that the renewal process changed your understanding of spirituality and faith formation in connection to the work your team does?
Nicole: Talking about spirituality in relation to our work is embedded in the Act for the Earth Team. For many of us, working in nature is spiritual, and that shows in the way we meet and our relationships with each other. We sometimes sing as part of meetings, and our spirituality/justice subgroup is about to introduce rituals for our meetings. And talking about climate change can be so depressing that you need to have a spiritual grounding; otherwise, you just want to give up. We know there’s a spiritual component to being persistent, especially in a context where all forces seem aligned against our success.
Erika: When you worked with the Double Helix Model, how did that feel? Did it shape how you see your work as a team, and the relationship between your faith formation and antiracism?
Nicole: Since many on the Act for the Earth Team have taken the IDI, and are in accountability groups following our IDI experience, the Double Helix Model didn’t feel hard; it felt like another piece of the work that helps us stay focused. For some members of the team, perhaps there was a question: “why are we doing this now, when other things feel more urgent?” Other team members felt that the need to explore the connection between faith and antiracist multicultural work was more obvious. In the end, though, I think we all found it worthwhile. We’ve also partnered with organizations such as Honor the Earth, which is led by Indigenous people. We’ve tried to follow that leadership in respectful and authentic ways, and to immerse ourselves in organizing processes that may be unfamiliar to those of us embedded in predominantly white culture. That work will be a continuous process, and the Double Helix Model will influence that.
Note that the Double Helix Model is not available just to teams, but to all of us engaged in justice and community work.
Rev. KP Hong, who developed the model with Laura Park, acknowledged the challenge of antiracist multicultural faith formation work. He weighed in on some essential questions for teams and for all of us doing social justice work:
This is a complex, demanding, and long-haul process, which seems to be a hallmark of Unitarian Universalism. But as UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray reminded us, “We are resilient. We have everything we need. We are enough. Love will continue to guide us.”*
Contact Drew Danielson to find out more about the IDI and to sign up to take it: email@example.com.
*“From the UUA President: Listening to the Call of Love” by Susan Frederick-Gray. UUA, January 14, 2021.
Erika Sanders, Beloved Community Staff Team
Last autumn, Unity congregants met for a program called SoulWork, a rich learning opportunity in which we explored how spiritual development and racial justice work intersect. During the gathering, Rev. KP Hong, Laura Park, and Angela Wilcox introduced the Double Helix Model of Faith Formation and Antiracist Multiculturalism. To find out more about the development of the model, I interviewed Laura Park, Director of Membership and Hospitality and member of the Beloved Community Staff Team.
ES: What was the motive behind the creation of the double helix model? What was your goal, or what need were you working to meet?
LP: For some years, we have been working to define pathways of spiritual development, to be more explicit about the possibilities for faith formation at Unity. We asked ourselves how we could describe those opportunities for spiritual development in the categories of within, among, and beyond in ways that made sense. As our congregation moved more deeply into antiracism and multicultural efforts, the question of how that work intersected with faith formation became powerful. We asked, “What does it mean to be a person of faith who is also actively antiracist?”
Over the course of 2020 and 2021, we worked to identify the specific links between faith formation and antiracism multicultural work, and find a metaphor for the growth we hoped could come from this work. Was it a river? A garden? Rev. KP Hong came up with the double helix. Then, we began to think about how the parts of a double helix enabled us to communicate in a visual way. The bonding between the two halves of the helix—faith formation and antiracist multicultural work—are a powerful image for growth.
ES: What do you think are the strengths of this model?
LP: It evokes the life-giving nature of this faith tradition, and grounds our antiracist, multicultural work in specific church contexts. It’s visually compelling — the components of the model share space in a way that makes it hard to overlook any one component. And it’s a model that we can engage with repeatedly over time since it doesn’t represent growth solely as a linear process.
ES: Do other congregations use anything similar?
LP: Not to my knowledge, so far. I’ve shared our model with my colleagues at other congregations, and no one has seen anything quite like this. What may be unique about this double helix model is how it invites people to think about their own behavior, and to be accountable for specific practices that get us to antiracist outcomes. Truly, I think this model is unique to this congregation, and has grown out of long-term work we’ve done together.
ES: How will Unity groups use the model, and what characteristics of the model are most important as they do so?
LP: We have invited small groups to consider their among practices in depth — that is, the practices that help us “go deep quickly” and “engage antiracism and multiculturalism together.” First, do we have a practice that brings us together as we start our work in small groups? If so, what readings do we use? What questions do we ask during check-in if we include one? What do we say as we light the chalice? As groups begin using it together, it should feel approachable as a team. Later, we’ll invite people to consider what happens during meetings and other encounters with each other. What are the practices that deepen intimacy and shared vulnerability? What are the practices of accountability to antiracist multicultural work? The emphasis on how we do work among ourselves as a church community is crucial for this model to be effective.
ES: What do you hope people will discover as they begin to use the model?
LP: I hope it opens up a sense of possibility and exploration about the intersection of faith formation and antiracist multicultural work. I hope that it helps us examine things we take for granted — for instance, the lighting of a chalice — and compels us to ask new questions and try new things. Ultimately, we hope the model encourages us to make deeper and more meaningful promises to ourselves, each other, and the world. It’s sometimes difficult to talk about promises and Unitarian Universalism as a covenantal faith. A model like the double helix may make those conversations more concrete.
For more information on SoulWork, see Beloved Community News-October 2021 and the SoulWork playlist of videos on Unity’s YouTube channel.
From the Beloved Community News Team
By now, you’ve maybe heard about a new antiracism/multiculturalism initiative at Unity Church called SoulWork. Last fall, the Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) with Team Dynamics held a forum to introduce us to this important work and prepare us to use a new model that intertwines faith formation and antiracism/multiculturalism. To make this work even more accessible to us, the BCST has created a series of eight brief videos from that original forum.
This first video prepares us to do the work by teaching us a spiritual practice that invites us to notice and listen. To enter into SoulWork, we recommend watching “Grounding Practice with Alfonso of Team Dynamics.”
Beloved Community Resources
Next Right Actions
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. Dr. Kathy Hurt, Rev. KP Hong, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Rev. Shay MacKay, Angela Wilcox, Pauline Eichten, and Erika Sanders.