I'm going to preface this by saying that if you've visited one UU Congregation you've only experienced one UU Congregation. I get that no 2 are exactly alike, and most aren't even necessarily similar. I want to say that before I get into this.
So, my wife and (up until today) had been members of one of our local UU Congregations for a little over a year. (January was the 1 year annieversary of us becoming members, though we had started attending several months prior to becoming members.) Everything, we though, was going really well. That's why we became members, afterall.
But then, last spring, some issues started to arise for us. It started with a Master Planning Committee and the congregation wanting to rennovate the church building. There seemed to be two minds about what needed to be done. There were those of us who wanted to fix the accessibility issues that exists within the current building (For example, the church has multiple levels, there are stairs up to the sanctuary, there are stairs to the basement where a lot of the meeting spaces are, there really is like no main floor to this place, there are like 5 different levels, it's crazy. So real issues for folks with even minor mobility issues. And folks who are hard of hearing are having issues hearing the sermon, stuff like that.) and to update the building to help us better live out our faith. (Add a shower, add a washer and dryer, add an ADA compliant restroom, add gender neutral restrooms, make modificationst to allow us to shelter those experincing homelessness, stuff like that.) And then there were folks who wanted to make cosmetic changes to the building. One big one being the restoration of the sanctuary facade, this large midcentury facade that is this whole wall in the sanctuary.
This facade became a pretty big issue. The congregation was hoping to raise $1 million for the whole project to finance these renovations. The original sticker price on the restoration of the facade was $300,000. Well, as we got further along into this process, the price doubled. Restoring this facade, and making no other rennovations, was now going to run north of $600,000. And the congregation was going to have to decide what to do. Well, they decided to plow ahead with the full restoration of this facade. (To be 100% fair, the facade was a big sturctural issue. But! There were other options. Like replacing the facade with a traditional standard wall.) So now, more than 60% of the expected money to be raised was going to this one project that wasn't going to fix any of the real issues we discussed that needed to be fixed. And now no money is planned to be spent making the improvements that would allow us to better live out our professed faith and values.
To boot, while all of this is going on, we have our annual church meeting about the budget. A proposal from the floor comes up to give the ministers and church staff a 5% cost of living raise. (Keep in mind, even with this raise they're actually still going to be making less because inflation is greather than 5%.) Much is made about the fact that this will cause the budget to be unblanaced and we'll have a budget deficit. (All while people are making pledges to finance the restoration of this facade. Folks are willing to give the money to restore this facade but not to give a cost of living raise to church staff? What's that about?) So, this whole thing is really causing me to second guess my decision to be a member here and whether or not this congregations' values are what they say they are.
Well, summer comes and our minister is going on a sabbatical at the end beginning of September. Before she leaves, a letter is sent out from her to the congregation. In this letter she reveals that several months ago she had challenged the board to address instances of Islamophobia that she's experienced at church from members of the congregation that she's informed them of. (She is a woman of Iranian descent and is visibly so.) The implication being that they haven't yet done so, and indeed it turns out they had not. I'm shocked by this revelation. I wait patiently for the board or one of the various other leadership committees or the sabbatical minister to address this. Nothing happens. Months pass. So, in late November I email the board about this situation. Ask why nothing has been said or done. Our minister has been subjected to bigotry and intolerance at church, they've been informed, they've been asked to act, they're not acting. Why?
Well, the sabbatical minister asks to meet with me. I meet with her. One of the things I said was "Our board lacks the courage of convicition to even issue a statement condemning Islamophobia?!" She takes this idea as a suggestion to the board. By late December they finally issue a statement condemning Islamophobia. (Which is, in all honesty, the bear freaking minimum. It took them from late August when the letter went out to late December to issue a simple statement condemning Islamophobia.)
I'm going to add that I was participating in this group's CUUPs group. Before the minister went on sabbatical she asked us to do the Samhain service on 10/30. We were happy to do this because we had just reorganized the group and this would serve as a good re-introduction to the congregation. We do an ancester communion ritual, invite members of the congregation to bring pictures of lost loved ones, we include the names of some recent members of the congregation who passed away in the ritual, goes really well I thought. Well, afterwards a board member approaches me and thanks me for keeping the ritual "reasonable" and proceedes to tell me how some previous iteration of the group had worn robes, and had staffs, and etc. I was floored. Imagine coming up to someone who performed a personalized and meaningful service for the congregation and telling them that a more full and complete expression of their faith practice would be unreasonable and unwelcomed? So, I say that to say that I too had experienced religious intolerance from this board.
Our minister's sabbatical ran through the beginning of January. She comes back, immediately announces that she is resigning and goes into detail about why. The previously alleged instances of Islamophobia are given greater explanation. Well, crap really hits the fan as a result. This overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly older congregation loses it. They get super defensive. They deny, deny, deny, deny these allegations of Islamophobia.
The congregation is basically split in two now. Those who believe the former minister was wronged and those who don't. (In fact, the board issued a statement following her resignation in which they say "How do we care for those who were hurt by Rev.(redacted) and also embrace those who feel she was wronged." Pay attention to that language used there. It is a fact that the former minister allegations of Islamophobia hurt members of the congregation, but the rest of us only "feel" that the minister was wronged. To me it was unbelievable.
So, as you can imagine, tensions have ran white hot in the aftermath of this. White older members of the congregation post in the church's Facebook group about how they've never seen, heard, experienced, or witnessed any Islamophobia or phobia or any other kind at this Church. Meanwhile, POC and other religious minorities (such as myself, a pagan) within the congregation who speak up and talk about what we have experienced in the way of intolerance, microaggresions, xenophobia, are told that it isn't intolerant, racist, bigoted, etc, or told we are blowing it out of proportion, making more of it than it is, or have it denied altogether.
The powers that be in the congregation simply will not listen to those who try to talk about where, when, and how we have been hurt, marginalized, offended, or belittled by the church as a whole or specific members within the congregation. They do not want to hear any experiences that might be negative. Which makes it impossible to learn or grow from.
As a result of all of this, today my wife and I resigned from membership at this church.
I tell this story here not to attack or criticize UUism as a whole. But to recount my personal experience with a UU church over the last year and some change. Hopefully other UUs can learn from this. Learn what not to do when someone says that something isn't right at church, that they've been racially abused, when they've experienced religious intolerance, when they've been hurt by church. Please listen to folks. Please don't dismiss them. Don't gaslight them. Don't tell them it didn't happen. Or that they didn't mean to hurt you so it's okay.