At a Spring 2012 Heartland District Ministers’ Chapter meeting, once again I presented information about the planned move from District-based service delivery and governance to Regional-based models. I’ve been talking with the ministers and religious education professionals about this for the past 18 months, and once again I asked “What are your questions?” One of the ministers sent me four specific questions. I’ve addressed each of them in a separate blog entry.
Here’s the fourth one: Is there a regional presence regarding justice, support of other non-congregational UU institutions in the region, state legislatures, embodied by . . . ?
Here’s the heart of the answer: We in MidAmerica believe that social justice is part of all we do. It’s the embedded in who we are, and it’s the expression of our religious message in the world. We also think it’s an area where there can be an even more powerful synergy between the national and the local/state/regional efforts on social justice. We know that justice looks different across our country. For example, in preparation for Justice GA in Phoenix we have learned a lot about how immigration issues play out in MidAmerica that are different than in other parts of the country. That’s important to know, and to address. We get in trouble if we assume that the issues play out the same across our nation, and so a regional focus is a good thing. Also, we realize that some things are best done locally: In Heartland we are the fiscal agents of a state advocacy network, Michigan UUs for social Justice, an organization whose boundaries already cross into Central MidWest. This work supporting regional efforts helps us partner across our boundaries, and helps the organizations partner better with congregations.
There are also new possibilities. Two of our regional staff, Nancy Combs-Morgan and Dori Davenport Thexton, are working to develop alternative spring break trips for young adults, one with immigrants in the fields, another an urban experience. They can do this because other parts of their work are being taken up by the whole, freeing them up from duplicated activity. This is just one example of what is growing through our cross-district relationships. Another is that deeper understanding that social justice is embedded in our expression as Unitarian Universalists. Our “job” is to help people live out their UUism—to help transform the world, and so we see that kind of collaborative outreach by congregations and clusters to be essential. We can no longer afford to stay behind the walls of our individual congregations when there is so much work to be done. Our job is to help congregations figure out how to be in the world—not tell them what to do, but help them realize that the embodiment of religion must not stop at the inside of the congregation’s doors. That work needs a local focus: individual towns and cities, clusters, states, regions. This isn’t work that your District or Regional Staff can do for you—it’s work that we need to do together.