Harnessing Love’s Power
to Stop Oppression


Worshipping on the Side of Love at the Colorado State Capitol

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Colorado SSL Worship Service 1

Colorado’s 8th Annual Standing on the Side of Love Service. (Credit: Janet Meyer)

Seven hundred Unitarian Universalists (UUs) and local community members came together in Denver on the morning of Sunday, September 29, to stand (and sit and pray and sing and worship) on the side of love! For the eighth year in a row, Unitarian Universalists from the Front Range of Colorado and beyond gathered for a worship service on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol and witnessed for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) justice. Led by ministers, directors of religious education, musicians, adult and children’s choirs, and lay people from nine different Unitarian Universalist congregations in the area, participants sang hymns together, were inspired by rousing words and music, and offered blessing to each other and out to the world.

This year’s service held a tri-fold focus: to celebrate the recent victories for relationship recognition–here in Colorado and around the country, to energize ourselves to stay committed to the ongoing struggle for marriage equality in Colorado, and to challenge ourselves to expand our love and our understanding of LGBTQ justice to include issues beyond marriage equality, such as LGBTQ youth and homelessness. As a part of this expanded focus, participants took offerings, both of paper hearts inscribed with messages of love and of money, for two organizations that serve LGBTQ homeless youth in Colorado.

Colorado SSL Worship Service 2

The crowd gathers at the 8th Annual Standing on the Side of Love Service at the Colorado State Capitol. (Credit: Kevin Lowry)

The now-annual Colorado Standing on the Side of Love worship service began in 2006, as a public witness of the First Unitarian Society of Denver against Amendment 43, a referendum that proposed adding a new section to the Colorado Constitution to define marriage as only a union between one man and one woman. Although the referendum passed several months later, the worship service had such an impact on its participants that they decided to continue holding it each year in the fall, as an ongoing witness for the power of love and, more specifically, as a call for marriage equality in Colorado.

As the years went on, First Unitarian invited other area UUs to join them at the worship service, along with public officials, community groups, and friends and family. The service grew–in numbers, in scope, and in energy–to be what it is today: a multi-congregation, multi-choir, multi-faced, must-attend event for Unitarian Universalists and community members on the Front Range. As we continue to grow and expand, the intention is to invite folks from other faith communities who share our vision of a world where all people are loved; all relationships, identities, and genders are understood as holy, worthy, and true; and equality is enshrined in the laws of our state and nation. Until that time, UUs in Colorado (and beyond!) will continue to witness together at the State Capitol, singing, praying, shouting, dancing, and worshipping on the side of love. For, in the words of the declaration read together in unison at the service,

We believe that everyone is created in love, worthy of dignity and respect. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are an integral part of natural and divine creation. We stand with our whole human family.

We believe that family is best defined by love and commitment, not by gender, configuration, genetics, or government. We stand with all families.

Colorado SSL Worship Service - Kierstin Homblette

Post author Kierstin Homblette speaks at the 8th Annual Standing on the Side of Love Service. (Credit: Kevin Lowry)

We believe that creation is characterized by diversity, and that love, relationships, self-expression, and inner truth take many forms. Reverence for diversity encourages peace and enriches all of our lives. We stand for diversity.

We believe that responsible freedom creates an environment that promotes healthy community and a culture of equality where human and divine love flourish. We stand for freedom.

We believe that true freedom must include the option to marry the person of our choice. This freedom must include the ability to move safely through the world without fear. This freedom must include access to shelter, food, work, warmth, family, and love. If these freedoms do not apply equally to all, then none of us is free.

Together, we stand on the side of love.

This post was written by Kierstin Homblette, the Beloved Community Coordinator for the Unitarian Universalist Congregations of Colorado.

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Walk for Reconciliation: A New Way Forward

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Unitarians for Reconciliation Team

Post author Rev. Meg Roberts (in black hat), co-captain Lindsay Hindle, and the rest of the Unitarians for Reconciliation Team.

On Sunday, September 22, in the wet autumn rain, I stood side by side with fellow Unitarians and people of all faiths and cultures in the first Walk for Reconciliation in Canadian history. The walk marks a new way forward in relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. An amazing 70,000 people joined in this event. Our ‘Unitarians for Reconciliation’ Team was one of over 200 teams from all walks of life showing our support for for truth-telling and healing in Canada.

A bit of background: for 150 years Canadian aboriginal children were forced to live at government-sponsored and church-run residential schools. These schools were created to destroy aboriginal cultures, language, religion and way of life, so aboriginal children would be assimilated into the dominant white Canadian society. This cruel and shameful part of Canadian history and legacy is being examined by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is holding events across the country. These events are for school survivors and intergenerational survivors to come to tell their stories, and for the rest of us to witness their brave sharing and learn about what happened in this part of our shared Canadian history. So many of the children suffered emotional, mental, physical, and sexual abuse. So many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis families and communities were destroyed. As a result, many are still reeling from the traumatic pain and damage that is passed on from generation to generation. Although the government officially apologized in 2008 (as have most of the churches who ran the schools), and some financial compensation was made available, the fabric of Canadian society was torn and it will take generations to heal the damage to individual families, aboriginal communities, and culture. Canada lost part of its soul through the residential school system, and will need to find ways to restore the rightful place of aboriginal peoples and cultures within our society, and rebuild relationships between us all.

Walk for Reconciliation overhead view

Overhead view of the Walk for Reconciliation.

The Walk for Reconciliation was part of that healing process, culminating a week of activities here in Vancouver where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was holding its sixth of seven national events. I was privileged to be able to attend some of those events. People gathered along streets, focusing their attention on the stage and the beginning line of the Walk, marked by huge banners of the medicine wheel. Imagine thousands of umbrellas of all colours held by people of all colours, standing side by side, listening to the music and inspirational words of aboriginal leaders, and the keynote speech of Rev. Dr. Bernice King (daughter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). She reminded us:

“When my father spoke those words, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character,’ he was not speaking just about us literally, but he was speaking about children and future generations throughout the world, including right here in Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver, he was speaking about each and every one of you.”

Our ‘Unitarians for Reconciliation’ Team had 22 official members from various local congregations, and there were at least 35 Unitarians of all ages who walked with us in that day. The route took us on a 4 kilometre walk through downtown Vancouver. At one point it looped back on two adjacent overpass roads so we could wave across to those on the other side. For more, see this great video from Reconciliation Canada:

As Unitarians, we were honoured to have our participation be part of the Standing on the Side of Love movement, harnessing love’s power to end bigotry against people because of their oppression—in this case against Canadian aboriginal people. So many people came up to thank us, as people of faith, for showing our support of the reconciliation process. I look forward to joining other Unitarians and Canadians as we begin this real transformation in the relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians: to support healing, to build connections, and together to create resilient and sustainable communities for us all in this country. As Chief Dr. Robert Joseph of Reconciliation Canada said, we are walking in the spirit of ‘Nam’wiyut’: we are all one.

This post was written by Rev. Meg Roberts, co-captain of the Unitarians for Reconciliation Team, along with Samaya Oakley and Lindsay Hindle. Meg is also a part-time consulting minister to the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship on Vancouver Island. She lives in Vancouver and also explores the Spirit Arts–using the arts as tools in spiritual exploration. For more information, feel free to contact her at mroberts@uuma.org.

Here in the United States, Indigenous Peoples Day is coming up on Monday, October 14th. Check out these 10 ways to honor Indigenous Peoples Day in your congregation or community.

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Remembering Superstorm Sandy

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Rev. Susan, CERG Disaster Response Coordinator, cleaning the Bay.

Post author Rev. Susan Karlson during a day of service.

Superstorm Sandy struck the Metro New York area almost one year ago on October 29th. Most people I talk to think that the recovery is complete here—that things have returned to normal or at least a “new normal.” Though many people have returned to their homes, thousands upon thousands are still displaced. The area of devastation is so widespread—much of New Jersey, the boroughs of New York City, and Long Island were affected.

Ever since the first day following the storm, I have felt called to stand on the side of love with the thousands of people displaced and suffering from the storm. I had been working on immigrant justice, living wage, and racial justice since arriving in New York five years ago to serve the Unitarian Church of Staten Island. Because of this, I was able to understand the context in which Superstorm Sandy arrived. Immigrants were not eligible for many of the programs offered to Superstorm Sandy survivors. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) worked with El Centro del Inmigrante to offer gift cards and rental assistance to 150 displaced immigrant families. People responded to our work with donations, volunteer service, and such compassion. Through these recovery efforts, I was called to a new ministry, and accepted a new position as the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the Unitarian Universalist Association, a position funded by a grant from the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock.

Many of us yearn to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy and I have gathered together a number of worship resources on the CERG website. You can also get updates about our ongoing recovery work on the “CERG UU Sandy Recovery” Facebook page.

We are in dire need of both skilled and unskilled volunteers in all the areas affected by Superstorm Sandy. As the CERG Disaster Response Coordinator, I am identifying for new work sites for volunteers of all ages and abilities. I am also on the lookout for more volunteer housing. Please contact me if your congregation is interested in planning a volunteer service trip sometime in the next year. I will help coordinate your stay and meet with you to tell you more about the issues facing our area before, during, and after Superstorm Sandy.

Day of Service volunteers wave at the conclusion of cleaning the bay.

Day of Service volunteers.

We are also looking for local congregations to participate in Days of Service. On Saturday, August 17th, nearly 40 members of the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, UU Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, Original Blessing in Brooklyn, and First Unitarian Congregational Society Brooklyn partnered with volunteers from CERG and Sustainable Long Island to clean the shoreline along the bay in the City of Long Beach. Volunteers of all ages worked together throughout the day to repair the damage left by Superstorm Sandy last fall. Other volunteers joining the service project were from the group All Hands and residents of Long Beach and other Long Island communities. We began and ended the day with a multigenerational worship service.

More service projects to help with Superstorm Sandy recovery are being planned for October 19th and November 2nd in Long Island and November 2nd in Monmouth County in New Jersey. Please contact me at skarlson@uuma.org or (347) 979-6742 for more information about how UU congregations locally and across the country can participate.

This post was written by Rev. Susan Karlson, CERG Disaster Response Coordinator.

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Profiting Off Prisoners

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The prison system seems full of mystery. Not many people understand the workings behind the scenes, such as the difference between private and public prisons, and the people that profit from them. Check out the infographic below, which details the financial and static numbers behind the private prison system.

The United States began toying with the idea of private prisons back in 1984. From 1990 to 2009, the inmate population housed in private prisons increased more than 1,600%. The two largest private prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, Inc., have generated over $3.4 billion in revenue. This is more than the GDP of Greenland and the Virgin Islands combined. The CEO of the GEO Group, Inc., Damon T. Hininger, netted $3.7 million in 2011 as his executive compensation, and CCA CEO George C. Zaloey made $5.7 million in 2011.

The CCA has 66 facilities with 90,000 beds, and the GEO group has 56 facilities with 61,000 beds. Both companies have faced legal battles as well. The GEO Group, Inc. has been fined over $7.6 million for wrongful death suits and fines involving staffing problems. Private run facilities also report a higher instance of violence–but it doesn’t stop there. Private run facilities also face criticism over racial concerns. Private facilities boast a higher number of minority inmates than state-run facilities. Private run facilities have also seen a 25% increase in the number of immigration detainees since 2003, and a 457% increase since 1994.

Private prisons claim they can boost local economies and state budgets, however, many of these dreams turn to nightmares. Once such case, in Hardin, Montana, cost their town millions. $27 million in bonds were issued for the construction of the prison, with a promise of 67 jobs. When the prison project was completed, and then unfulfilled contracts left it abandoned, the town was left to spend $8,000 to fix leaky pipes in a new building, and fork out $10,000 every month for the gas bill at a facility that remained empty.

For people of faith and conscience, these realities are particularly distressing and we must speak out against the so-called “prison industrial complex.” Last year, Standing on the Side of Love helped convince a number of major corporations to withdraw from the American Legislative Exchange (ALEC), a major supporter of the private prison industry. Other faith groups, such as the United Methodist Board of Pensions, have also divested from CCA and the Geo Group.

This post was submitted by Aria Cahill.

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Mobilize for Dignity & Respect

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Maria Quezada of CIR NOW

Post author Maria Quezada of CIR NOW speaks at an immigration rally in August.

The crisis of record deportations continues to separate families at alarming rates, impacting our communities and congregations in dire ways. Parents are torn from their children, spouses fare separated from one another. The time has come to stop the deportations. Indeed, it is long past time.

Immigrant justice groups of all stripes are putting a call out to people of faith to take action on the National Day of Dignity and Respect on Saturday, October 5th. Will you join us? Click here to find an event near you.

On this day, people in more than 40 cities across the country will mobilize for compassionate immigration reform. I will be at a march near my home in Sarasota, Florida, calling for reform that recognizes the worth of my family and so many others like mine.

The following week more than 200 faith leaders from 45 states, including your own Rev. Peter Morales, will fly to Washington, DC to advocate for immigration reform, culminating in a mass mobilization on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

The time has come for us to raise our voices even louder and call Congress to stand on the side of love. On October 5th, we will march for a country where families and children can live with dignity and without fear.

We need you. Please join me, along with thousands of other immigrants and allies, on October 5th. Click here to find an event near you.

In solidarity,

Maria Quezada
Immigrant Justice Activist with CIR NOW
Sarasota, Florida

The message above went out on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.

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