LaTonya has been a member of the UU Fellowship of Winston-Salem for 15 years. She owns an event design and coordination business, Event Experts. When not working, LaTonya's goal is to have way more fun!
Faith is trusting the future, from the next moment to life beyond my own. It is trusting even when there is little or no justification for doing so. It is trusting even while experiencing those dark nights of the soul. Trusting when you perceive that you are the only one who’s “got this”! It is trusting, knowing even, that everything will be okay in the end.
Growing up the foundation of my faith was partly the God we learned about in church and upon whom we called when blessing food, facing challenges or expressing gratitude for our many blessings. My faith was equally grounded by my family, for they visbility provided food, shelter and clothing. My family provided structure, support, comfort and physical presence. God, on the other hand, was my dream catcher. God intervened when I longed for a reprieve from whatever fresh hell presented itself. I believed He could do BIG things but was too busy for things He knew we could handle ourselves.
In my early 20’s, as a graduate student, I faced for the first time ever a situation where achieving my dreams felt jeopardized. I had run out of money and could no longer afford to stay in school. My family and friends could not help and God did not come to my rescue. My life up to that point had been smooth sailing, with everything working out just as I’d planned. I was the “go-getter” in the family and few things stood in my way, it seemed. Then, this seemingly insurmountable odd that I could not fix. I beseeched God to send a blessing. I rebuffed the gospel lyrics “I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me” since it felt that He obviously had. I did not lose faith but my beliefs about God were transformed. God became a great mystery. How life works became a mystery. I needed God to be vocal and transparent. I was annoyed when people said “It must not be HIS will and time.” Afterall, the same folks also said “God is good all the time.” This did not feel good.
Several years later, during on a random visit to the public library, I discovered Neale Donald Walsh’s Conversations with God. It was affirming.
After reading the series, I joined a discussion group. This is how I was introduced to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem. The discussion group, though unaffiliated, met in the library of the Fellowship. On evening on the way out, I grabbed several pamphlets from the side table by the exit. I recall being intrigued with a track titled “Soulful Journeys of Unitarian Universalists”. The work of UUs through Civil Rights and the legacy of African-Americans in UU history piqued my interest enough to attend a Sunday service. It was a welcoming, albeit different, experience. What I love about Unitarian Universalism are the Seven Principles, especially honoring the inherent worth and dignity of everyone and encouraging a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. The “talk back” following one service awed me. Never before had I seen church members query the pastor or engage in dialogue that included differences of opinion with a hospitable outcome.
The UU community challenged me to explore the belief that Walsh’s book had first helped me recognize were somewhere within me already. UU is a safe haven for my liberal and even metaphysical religious leanings and that’s ultimately more important than being one of only a few African-American faces in the building. Through a small group ministry, I formed friendships that were strong to start and then fizzled out as the group or format changed. UUs operate and behave more like an organizational entity than a beloved community. Personalities above principles sometimes. I have asked “What makes us different from the Chamber of Commerce where members convene over the common (business and economic) interest, pay dues and volunteer their time?” We are cordial, polite and well-intentioned. We worship and work on committees together and only a few have ever shown interest in getting to know me outside of church. Rarely do they recognize or acknowledgement me at the neighborhood grocery store or gas station.
Even as we work together on anti-racism, multiculturalism and decentering whiteness, which is vital and relevant, I wonder how authentic our desire for collective transformation can be when even after fifteen years as a member, I can be invisible or ignored. I believe that personal connections are a crucial predecessor to broader success. You can only genuinely love me if you know me. Otherwise, it’s an esoteric concept.
Others believe that it is through the work that we are bonded. That having a shared responsibility and strategic direction sets us on the same course toward success. This feels very Chamber of Commerce-like to me. When we know and trust one another, the work happens more organically. We care enough about one another to...say hello in the grocery store. We care enough about one another to…relax the policies and procedures that make it exhausting, if not impossible, to get things done. We care enough about one another to…welcome and act on new ideas rather than resisting because of “how things have always been”, “what our members expect” or funneling them through a maze of bureaucracy until they fizzle out. We become less threatened and more welcoming and inclusive.
I have faith that Unitarian Universalists will get there although I no longer have an expectation about how or when. I do not believe it requires years of dialogue, workshops and planning to “teach” us how to be welcoming or inclusive (although I still hear the same goals and conversations fifteen years later). I do not believe that it is the chore we make it out to be. On the simplest level, it is akin to inviting guests into your home. You think about what would make them feel comfortable and then you do some of those things. It should be no different for a congregation. Create the environment and, if there’s no interest or funding for doing so, admit that the there’s no room for company. Eventually “What can we do?” must become “What we did.” Until then, I say everybody’s off the hook, at least at it regards me. Talk amongst yourselves.
I attend the Fellowship less frequently. I will only serve on committees with people who behave respectfully and are willing to work collaboratively. I have offered my areas of interest, skill and talent. I will re-engage more when there’s a place for me. Until then, thankfully, there’s BLUU. A community within a community where I have discovered friendship and spiritual connection. Currently, BLUU is my lifeline to UU.
I have also discovered Abraham Hicks and use the tools they recommend religiously. Their messages feed my soul, give me hope, provide guidance for daily living and, ultimately, sustain my faith. I also meditate and keep a gratitude journal.
Our history as Unitarian Universalists proves that we are always on the side of love. We mount resistance and over-analyze yet, slowly but surely, we get there. Doing the work is more important than not. Understanding that there will also be more work to do speed our progress. By and by though, let’s just keep showing up on the side of love. My faith demands it.
In the words of Abraham,