What do you believe is the most pressing social justice concern that you have encountered in your ministerial formation?

Yesterday, I was notified that I would be receiving a scholarship from the Unitarian Universalist Association for this upcoming school year. I am blessed to receive this honor and thought I would post my essay submission.

What do you believe is the most pressing social justice concern that you have encountered in your ministerial formation? How do you plan to engage this concern in your future ministry? How does your social location inform your planning? If you applied for scholarship assistance in the past, has your understanding of the most pressing social justice concern changed? How and why?

I think the most pressing social justice concern is the silence and oppression of marginalized communities. For too long, we have be silencing the voices of those we feel are “less than” instead of empowering and lifting their voices.  My definition of “we” are those who are privileged and those in positions of power. Advocacy has been a passion of mine for the last seven years but now as an intern, I am working and experimenting on how to lift voices up instead of just sharing my adversities as a person with disabilities.

I think when opening a congregation up to this kind of social justice mission, we should start on a smaller level. For example, a theme for a month was “Letting Go” so I decided that my sermon for that month would be “Letting Go of Identity: Stories of Transformation”. I invited people who had experienced some sort of transformation or identity change to come up and share their stories. This included people who had never been a part of a service before and people who had never shared a part of their life with the congregation.  Someone shared their story dealing with alcoholism, my step-daughter talked about having no mom or siblings in her life for 11 years  to having a full family, and there were a few other stories. The reactions were positive. There were people who told me that they had never shared their struggles with people in the congregation because they did not think anyone would understand.

The power of stories and voices is unbelievable. Once we feel the impact within our congregation walls, we can work on being more inclusive, and empowering people in our congregation. We will learn how we silence and oppress others and the difference between speaking for and educating about issues related to marginalized groups. We can then expand outside our congregation.

Another way I am working on addressing this currently and how I plan to address it in the future is storytelling ministry in the community. Right now, I recruited some of our youth at my internship site for a project. We are going to start collecting stories from anyone in the community who has experienced adversity and injustice such as people with disabilities, immigration, LGBTQ, homelessness, lack of access to healthcare, and poverty. We are taking stories from people of all ages including youth. They are going to be used in readers theater, education in the community and possibly a book if we get enough. By sharing a wide range of stories we are not just stating statistics, but bringing real stories to life. It also helps empower people who may not have shared their experiences with others, as well as help them seek out services once they find out that there are other people going through similar things.

The social location of my current internship has really impacted my choice in this. Once I realized that there is a high population of illegal immigrants and some of what they experience, I thought their stories should be heard. The reality that some had never been downtown or been to places like the library because they are afraid of being deported just pulled at me. There are also many non-profits in the area that are deeply involved in the community that try to address the “why” behind the issues people face-Why do we have people experiencing hunger, why can’t people find affordable housing? They try to answer these questions instead of just collecting money and writing a check. This inspired me to do more. I’d like to do more community ministry projects like this including something within Unitarian Universalism.

I did not finish my application for last year but I did write about disabilities. I talked about how we need to focus on being more accessible and inclusive. My advocacy work for the last 7 years has focused on military sexual trauma and disabilities so that is where my mind immediately focused but now my horizons has broadened due to my internship experiences. I have faith that this will hold true for other people in congregations who are not fully aware of the struggles of others.

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