Picture a newcomer in the vestibule of your congregation next Sunday morning. Her clothes are faded, neckline stretched, hair in need of a wash and pulled back in a hasty ponytail. Dragging her hand hither and yon is a six-year-old, jeans ragged at the hems, sneakers that have seen better days, flyaway hair. She’s bubbly, bouncing on the balls of her feet, grinning at everyone, laughing uninhibitedly, excited to go to Religious Education classes and make new friends.
You help them find the other first graders, and her daughter bounces off without a qualm. As you’re walking this newcomer back to the sanctuary, she gestures out the window. “Is it okay if I leave my car there?” You note the blankets hung inside to cover the windows in the back seat and trunk of the wood-paneled station wagon. “It has everything we own in it right now. We’ve been sleeping in the car or in our tent for a few days. I left my husband down in Tennessee,” she explains blandly. “He was abusive.”
Now imagine our newcomer, on a second or third visit, signing her daughter up for Religious Education. When it comes to the registration fee, does the DRE say brightly, “That’s okay, you can volunteer in the program instead!”
Maybe our newcomer would love to share with the Neighboring Faiths class about her childhood as a Jehovah’s Witness, or is a licensed childcare provider excited to volunteer in the nursery. But what if she doesn’t have a skill the congregation needs? What if her car dies? What if she is able to find a minimum wage job and a coworker asks her to cover a Sunday morning shift that would pay for new sneakers for her child? What if she’s just too physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted by Sunday to do anything but listen from the pews? Is there still a place for her daughter in RE?
When UU World asked me if there were “something on my heart” that I would like to put into words for a guest blog post, I sat up straight and said, Yes! The response of my faith community to “Towards a More Inclusive Stewardship” has been gratifying and redemptive, but with an undertone of frustration.
Before my best friend received that stewardship letter (referred to in the UU World article), the fellowship we had grown up in found itself in financial trouble. And yet, my best friend was in crisis: disabled, a single mother, domestic violence survivor, scraping by on public assistance. How could she be expected to contribute volunteer hours equivalent to what her membership cost the church when she couldn’t afford the gas to drive there … and then her van died. All of these barriers were exactly why she needed the support of her faith community, and it was at this same moment, despite the stewardship committee’s best intentions, that she got the message that she was no longer wanted by her childhood fellowship.
By contrast, the happiest I’ve ever seen my best friend as a mother was the brief few years when the Mormon community lifted her up both spiritually and materially, although ideologically she was always a square peg in that round hole. These are the moments that churches are made for—“inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren”—and we failed.
Why do we measure a member’s inherent worth and dignity by what they have to give us as a congregation? I want mine to be a congregation that helps this mother find a place to live and an appropriate means of support, that embraces her daughter in the RE program, that includes them both in the monthly potluck, without asking for anything in return. The irony is that those to whom we give without asking, when eventually they are able to give back, will often prove our most generous, loyal supporters.
I want mine to be the stewardship committee who stands before the congregation and says, “We are a community that gives without reckoning, a tide that lifts all boats regardless of their size, shape or value. Today, if your loch, reservoir or rain barrel is full enough, we invite you to pour back into our safe harbor any bounty you can spare.”
Maryah Converse was raised Unitarian Universalist, and has been a religious education volunteer in two congregations and the Southeastern Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute (SUUSI). She was the Membership and Stewardship Associate at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City, where she worked for four years and was an early member of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Membership Professionals (UUAMP). She teaches Arabic and English as a Second Language and blogs at bymaryah.wordpress.com.
Finally. The manifestation of the recognition that women’s rights ARE human rights.
That’s how I’ve been feeling about the outing of so many well-known sexual predators, long known but never punished for their predatory ways. Learning about some has broken my heart. Charlie Rose was my hero, as was John Conyers.
But, like every woman I know, I’ve experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault: #metoo. And it has felt good these past few weeks (maybe good is not quite the right word) to see that our collective voice is finally be heard and believed.
But, the more I’ve sat with this feeling of justice-being-done, the more I’ve begun to feel something ever so lightly poking at my “happy bubble.” That something is a growing knowledge that sexually harassed and assaulted cis- and transgender women with limited class privilege, especially women of color, are largely absent from the conversation about workplace harassment.
While high-profile, class-advantaged women have bravely come forward to accuse Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, George H.W. Bush, Roger Ailes – and on and on – of sexual assault, working-class and poor women continue to silently endure harassment and assault at sky-high rates. The male perpetrators feel no pressure to change their ways due to the increased scrutiny of predatory behavior.
They are assaulting “throwaway” women who know that if they report the assault, the odds are they will not be believed – and they will be fired, forced to move and/or further harassed. If they are believed, they will be accused of bringing it on themselves – and they too will be fired, forced to move and/or further harassed.
For example, in the new study Sexual Harassment of Women Working as Room Attendants within 5-Star Hotels 95% of the attendants reported being victims of sexual harassment or assault. The researchers cite the attendants’ low social status as the primary reason. The workers are afraid to complain, fearing retaliation by guests who will not tip them or will rate their service poorly. They are afraid to be seen as complainers by managers and fired for having a “bad attitude.”
In a Maven December 4, 2017, online forum on sexual harassment in the workplace, one woman wrote about the rampant sexual harassment and assault that women in frontline restaurant industry jobs face from coworkers, managers and patrons. “Tits get tips,” she was told. Since a number of the women in service industries are also undocumented immigrants, they are doubly vulnerable.
These are women who often work in places where there is no HR department to complain to. And as many women have said, HR is there to serve the needs of the employer, not the employees.
Status Translates to Power
I remember when working for a college in conservative upstate New York in the late 1990s, the first woman was hired by our on-campus print shop. This was touted as progress. But when the woman complained to HR about rampant sexual harassment a few months later, she was told to “man-up” by the assistant dean who also oversaw the HR department.
The women accusing Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, President Donald Trump and President Bill Clinton are not prominent members of the upper-middle-class or owning-class. Their accusations have been challenged each step of the way. On the other hand, the women accusing Charlie Rose, Senator Al Franken and Matt Lauer have more class advantage. And their accusations are making heads roll.
Tarana Burke created the Me Too catch-phrase in 2006 “as a grassroots movement to aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities ‘where rape crisis centers and sexual assault workers weren’t going.’” It took owning-class women in 2017 to use the phrase to spur a nationwide-movement. It’s time for Burke’s trickle up effects to trickle back down and start supporting women with less class advantage in their quest for justice against sexual predators.
Denise Moorehead — This post originally appeared on our sister-site, Class Action
by Elizabeth Cogliati
I didn’t used to think about sidewalks much. Not even in college or immediately after, when we walked everywhere because we didn’t have a vehicle. I went to college in a compact, eminently walkable small town, but even so, I believe I logged 4 plus miles every day. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I walked that much. Like I said, I didn’t think about sidewalks much. I just walked on them. Sometimes I climbed over the snowbanks, sometimes I slid on the ice, sometimes I slogged through the mud of the off-sidewalk shortcut, but I didn’t really think about the sidewalks.
When I moved to a bigger town, I had a more difficult time walking because the town’s neighborhoods are not easily connected to the downtown area and are not very walkable. This appears intentional. According to the city ordinances, all new neighborhoods after 1998 must not have straight throughfares directly across them and must have winding roads (older neighborhoods were grandfathered in).
After my baby was born, I discovered that the places I just strolled over by myself were major obstacles with a stroller– canals with no sidewalk along them, major intersections with only stop signs — these things frightened me with my stroller — how could I run across a 4-way stop intersection with 2 lanes in each direction with a stroller? Although I no longer needed to walk (we now had a reliable vehicle), walking was still the only form of transportation for many who did not have access to personal transportation. These sidewalks were vital arteries to the community and to needed resources.
When my baby was almost a year old, we moved into a house in one of the older neighborhoods in our town. It was easier to walk with the stroller– there were blocks and blocks of quiet neighborhood streets without busy intersections. But here I discovered another problem: the sidewalks were in pretty bad shape — large cracks, shifted sections where one section was several inches higher than the neighboring one, holes, and even non-existent sections. I became an expert at lifting the stroller up and over the many obstructions we encountered in our walks.
The more I walked, the more I noticed another problem. I didn’t just have to lift the stroller over frost heaves and root uprisings, I often had to lift it over the curbs at the intersections. There were no curb cuts at many of the intersections (a curb cut is the place where the curb dips down to meet the gutter at a driveway, intersection, or parking area). A proper curb cut usually has a yellow pad with raised dimples to alert blind walkers using a cane that they are approaching an intersection.
About this same time, I began writing opinion pieces for the local newspaper. I decided to write one of my first columns on the sidewalks in the town and their terrible condition. After the column was published, I got a surprise. Individuals in wheelchairs called and wrote to tell me how much they appreciated my column and how badly they needed better sidewalks. For people with different mobility, sidewalks can grant or block access to buildings for both recreation and much-needed resources.
I wrote a couple more columns on sidewalks, attracting more attention each time. After those columns, the city applied for and received a federal grant to improve sidewalk conditions in the business districts of town by adding curb cuts and yellow pads.
My town also has a city government program where the city will pay for homeowners to fix their sidewalks if they cannot afford to do so themselves. When I suggested this program to my neighbor, she told me she couldn’t use the program. Why? Because the program was a reimbursement program. She would have to pay up front to have the sidewalks fixed and then be reimbursed by the city. She did not have the up front money, and there were no alternatives in the city program.
When I watch the people going past my window, I see my neighbors walking their dogs, I see children going back and forth to school, I sometimes see mothers with strollers, I see white men riding bicycles in the street to work – they are usually dressed in professional attire, and I see Latino/a men and women walking with groceries and backpacks – going to and from the store and work.
Or, to put it another way, I see a variety of people from different class groups and ethnic backgrounds using the sidewalks. For some of them, riding bikes and walking are choices that make them, their children, their pets, and the planet healthier. For others, these are the only forms of transportation they can afford. If I lived near the business districts, I would also see people in wheelchairs or with canes relying on the sidewalks to enter and exit buildings.
Sidewalks are an important shared part of a community’s life. They are not a luxury item that can be neglected. The health of our sidewalks directly affects the safety of the people who rely on them every day. Sidewalks are a class issue and a disability issue.
This post has been modified to correct editorial errors that conflicted with the author’s original meaning.
by Wesley V. Hromatko
Some time ago Doug Muder in the UU World doubted if our church could speak to the average working man. He thought that we didn’t have anything to say to his father who made cattle feed in Illinois. If his father came to church he wouldn’t find anyone he could talk with. He also said that you wouldn’t find a trucker or anybody with callused hands. A harsh life needed a harsh religion. Being one of us works for teachers and professors but not for regular people. He thinks we exclude people by class. Now Doug Muder is a UU and hopes we have a wider message, but he doesn’t know what it is. To say the least, I was floored.
I hadn’t noticed the article right away probably because it came out the year my father died. My father was a UU farmer. When he started working away from home he was a hired man. He cleaned barns, fed pigs, delivered calves and milked cows. He told about working for several weeks but was paid barely enough for gas to get home. Why my father joined our church is part of my answer to this article.
My father had grown up the way the columnist had. Then it came time for the dreaded confirmation classes. He couldn’t understand what he was supposed to agree to. Well, he had no trouble with the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments except getting them in order. Telling the truth and keeping your hands off other people’s things made sense. On the other hand what about the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ. He didn’t understand it. My Grandfather suggested he could wait until he grew up and then only had to say yes.
He got through this much of joining the church until his Uncle Jens died. I remember Uncle Jens. He never got farther than working at a feed store or for room and board somewhere. He liked ladies and children well enough. He probably would have liked to have his own family but where would he have ever made the money? So, at least part of the time, he was a bachelor Norwegian farmer. When he had a little extra he would buy my father and sisters ice cream or candy. Later, he did the same thing for me and even found a handkerchief to give me for my birthday. I remember he was in the Slayton hospital, and then he died.
The pastor said he wouldn’t give Uncle Jens a funeral. My grandmother was nearly hysterical because they wouldn’t bury her brother. My Dad and grandfather went down to church to argue. After all, Jens was a good man. He took care of his mother himself until she died. He went to church at least on Christmas and Easter. The pastor said that wasn’t enough. The argument went on and finally, a service was arranged. However, at the funeral to everyone’s horror, the pastor said Uncle Jens was in hell. My father said he was never going back to church. Later he would drive his mother but he wouldn’t go in.
About this time my folks would do about me and Sunday school. My grandmother had been listening to a radio program from the Sioux City Unitarian Church. Rev. Mr. John Brigham whose was the minister even came to visit my Grandparents Moffatt at Slayton. He talked about how he had worked on a farm in New England. He said that there was Sunday school program by mail sent people from Boston.
My Dad would have said we were common people. He didn’t finish the eighth grade. He had been a hired man, but then rented from his father and did custom farming. My mother had started college studying music but got pneumonia and didn’t finish. My grandmother, my mother’s mother had to work and hadn’t gone to high school. When my mother and grandmother explained Unitarianisms, it made sense to my Dad right away. He liked that there wasn’t a creed. He liked that Channing had said that you wouldn’t be shut out of the church unless goodness had died in you. It’s hard for me to imagine one of our ministers refusing a funeral because of poor attendance.
We were on the Hanska mailing list as well as the Sioux City. Sioux City was quite far away. My folks talked about coming to the summer festival and smorgasbord. The Hanska congregation particularly appealed to my Dad. The Nora Church broke away from Lake Hanska because of fighting over who could be buried in the cemetery. When the new church formed one of the first order of business was a new cemetery. Anyone could be buried there no matter what they believed. Even the pastors who refused burial to others were welcome. My parents and Marilyn are safely there.
What appealed to my father was the church’s plainness. You must listen to your conscience and do the right thing. Dad understood the commandments and the Golden Rule. Love of neighbor was a basic value. When a neighbor hurt his arm in a corn picker accident Dad was off on his Farmall to join our neighbors in bringing in the harvest. Farmers may sound like individualists but when the chips are down they work together.
It is claimed that we are hard to understand and read complicated books. How could the average person understand what we believe? Actually, our church requires less philosophy to understand religion. Of course, in other churches, you can simply believe. However, if you start studying the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ you will find a lot of ancient philosophy that is really very hard. I remember talking to a traditional minister who said he couldn’t understand the creed and he, of course, had graduated from seminary. You can, of course, turn to philosophy to understand religion. We won’t stop you. It can even help and you might enjoy it. It’s just that our basics aren’t all that complicated. They are simple, but they are not easy.
We have liked the sort of summaries that called elevator speeches. Can you tell what you believe to a stranger in the time it takes to ride an elevator? The summary is an ancient idea going back to the Golden Rule and is found in other religions. Our Willmar congregation has a banner in the front with its many varieties. Even briefer is “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the whole of Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). You can say it standing on one foot. The Ames covenant was popular among us. Its summary was loved God and love to humanity. John Dewey in A Common Faith suggested that theists and humanists shared common ideals.
The World editorial that inspired this sermon was skeptical that our traditional value of freedom could have wide appeal. Our oldest American congregations never had creeds. They had covenants. They were agreements about what we were to do not about what to believe. These covenants go back in some cases to the 1600s. In a sense the new behavior covenant that churches have recently tried writing are redundant. We always had agreements about how we were to act. The real problem is honoring them. Because our churches didn’t require an exact set of words but a way of behaving we could embrace a wide number of people who didn’t believe exactly the same. Being a farmer my father never liked being told what to do. If you must do things all day long, it should be a relief to be able to think for yourself.
We have an appeal to the average person. When well over a hundred years ago Christopher Janson went to the Prairie to preach to the Hanska farmers, he found an audience right away. The looked at each other and nudged one another. Afterward, some said they had always thought the way he did but had been afraid to say so.
Unlike the columnist’s father my father always could find someone to talk to in our churches. There is an idea that we are all teachers, scientists, professors. True some of us are. However, our backgrounds aren’t as uniform as people suppose. One of the great ministers more than a hundred years ago Robert Collyer started as a blacksmith and even would use it as a pulpit. Professor James Luther Adams, known for translating theologian Paul Tillich, worked on a farm. He helped his father who drove a combine pulled by twenty-two horses. To make money for the University of Minnesota he crawled under trains to fix air brakes. As a minister, he was active in supporting labor. A fellow student with me at our Chicago seminary drove a railroad inspection car. Between churches, another worked for quite awhile at a milking machine company. A former president of our Chicago seminary worked during WWII setting the triggers in bombs. Another seminary president was once a trucker, When he drove away to a retirement congregation he rented and packed his own truck to move. Another well-known minister worked in a steel mill. Robert Fulgham whose books were made from his church columns was a cowboy as well as an IBM salesman. He is the author of “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He sold over 15 million books and was translated into 27 languages. We seem to have some common appeal. Author Herman Melville was both an able seaman and a farmer. We have had fishermen, police, truckers, electricians, and firemen in our pews.
The editorial author didn’t notice our church in his town until he had grown up and moved away. He didn’t see something else. In New England, the textile mills and shoe factories are gone. Steel plants and other factories closed in the old Midwest. One reason that our churches don’t have factory workers or other labors is that the jobs aren’t as common as they once were. Manufacturing has declined dramatically since 2000. 24 per cent had factory jobs in the 60’s today it’s 8 percent who do. A good many jobs were shipped overseas where labor was less expensive. The most common jobs are nursing and clerical. Nearly 60 percent (75 percent) of women are counted in labor statistics. Churches tend to reflect communities.The kind of jobs
The kind of jobs have also changed. I know someone in one of our churches that made feed, but he has a Ph.d. People who once made things now are more likely to provide services. Better paying jobs now require more education. This is true both of farming and manufacturing. Even the military needs people with higher levels of education to maintain and use the equipment. The truth of the matter is we are mostly all working people in one sense. Only 10 percent of people actually work for themselves. The small drugstores and other stores are now mostly chains and franchises. Even those with good corporate salaries aren’t independent. We have a message for working people.
We have congregations with all sorts of people. We have those who based their belief on the biblical heritage and those who just believe in being and doing good. Our message is simple but that does not mean it is easy. Educator John Dewey in his book A Common Faith thought that people can share common ideals. For example, author Kurt Vonnegut called himself a free thinker and was skeptical about traditional religion. On the other hand, when interviewed on television he would pull out the Golden Rule and the Beatitudes. Like his favorite uncle he would say, “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”