MINISTER’S COLUMN: The Hard, Messy (and Necessary) Struggle to Build the Beloved Community


Rev. Matthew McHale

Minister, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church

Last week I attended the General Assembly (GA) of the Unitarian Universalist Association in New Orleans. I love attending GA. I first attended as a participant in the Youth Caucus as a teenager back in 2000, and I’ve been back almost every year since. I look forward to it each year as a chance to experience excellent worship; thought-provoking and informative workshops; and to reconnect with UU friends and colleagues from across the country. But this year I was a bit worried about attending, and it wasn’t about the weather or the potential lack of good vegan options in New Orleans.


Over the past few months, there has been a lot of upheaval—in our broader political world, our congregation, and also in wider Unitarian Universalism. As you may have heard UUA President Peter Morales resigned three months before his term was up—stemming from widespread criticism over the hiring practices at the UUA that have prioritized white people—particularly white male ministers—for top leadership positions.


This spurred challenging and necessary conversations around race and culture in Unitarian Universalism. But, due to the difficulty so many of us white people have in talking about or acknowledging the existence of institutional racism, and old wounds being reopened for People of Color, compounded by the problems with communicating across social media—the tone and the rhetoric in the conversation was often antagonistic. It was not what one would hope for in a religious community.


I was worried that General Assembly might be acrimonious, or that we would repeat the mistakes around (not) addressing institutional racism that we had made too many times in the past. But I was also hopeful that we would be continuing the long overdue conversations about institutional racism or White Supremacy Culture within Unitarian Universalism that started with the “White Supremacy Teach-ins” held in almost 700 congregations—including our own—and using it as an opportunity to move forward. Thankfully, General Assembly played out in such a way that allowed for acknowledging the complicated feelings about the past months, as well as renewing our commitment to becoming the anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural beloved community, that we seek to become.


With that commitment, and the election of our first female president, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, the interim co-presidents concluded in their final report: “We find ourselves convinced that we can move through this period together. We end our service in hope.”


While reflecting on the path that the UUA had taken, to acknowledge our shortcomings and turn them into a commitment to reflection and growth, I started thinking about Emerson. I thought about our recent congregational meeting to approve the budget—where shortcomings in our governance created problems that could have been avoided, and where we didn’t all show up as our best selves. I am grateful for the opportunity to acknowledge our shortcomings and turn them into a commitment to reflection and growth. I am also grateful that the board has committed to two important goals for the coming church year that will enable us to build towards the community we seek to become: (1) reevaluating Emerson’s governance model so that we can operate with greater health and transparency, and (2) supporting the development of a covenant of right relations, so that we have a covenant (or shared agreements) of how we want to be together, and which calls us come back together again when we are out of covenant.


I think that working towards these two goals will be incredibly valuable to the health of this congregation going forward. As will engaging in our own conversations about how to dismantle the white supremacy culture that exists in our congregation, so that we can be a church for our diverse and multicultural community we live in. And when I return from my break in late August, I am looking forward to working on them with all of you in the coming year.



Rev. Matthew