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.
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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.