Not Your Traditional Dialogue on Race: Building Partnerships with Multicultural Arts Organizations

First, thanks to Peter Bowden for the invite to guest-post on UUGROWTH.COM. This is a great website!

My name is Josh Pawelek. I’ve served as the parish minister at the Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Manchester, CT since the summer of 2003.  Peter was curious about a recent opportunity I had to preach at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City’s East Village.  Middle’s senior minister, the Rev. Jacqui Lewis has become a familiar face to many UUs in recent years as a popular workshop leader at the UUA General Assembly. UUs have also been attending Middle’s Leading Edge conference for a number of years. Among her many skills as a pastor, Rev. Lewis knows how to build multiracial, multicultural congregations. Middle is an old and historically white congregation going back to the Dutch Reformed settlers who founded Manhattan. Yet, through concerted and very intentional effort over the last thirty years, Middle has grown into a wonderfully diverse spiritual community and a leading voice in a variety of faith-based social justice movements in the city and state-wide.

On the evening of Feb. 12, Rev. Lewis and I preached a dialogue sermon on race and racism in the United States entitled, “Many Voices, One Song.” Watch the video:

In this sermon we both tell a bit of our own stories in relationship to US racism. We reflect on current events. And we offer a hopeful vision and call to action. It’s a simple structure, but hopefully a compelling one. Certainly UUs have been wrestling with race and racism in a very intentional way since the 1992 General Assembly Resolution on racial and cultural diversity. But, just like the nation, we have many miles to go. A dialogue sermon on race and racism is simply one tool we have available to us in our efforts to build antiracist, multicultural congregational identity.

Having said that, sermons on race and racism are, in the end, not what has shaped Middle Collegiate into the congregation it is today. In short, Middle made multicultural arts central to its worship celebrations. (The term “service” is off limits at Middle: every worship is a CELEBRATION!)  Amazing music, visual arts, dance, poetry and puppetry from a wide variety of cultural traditions are what transformed Middle’s worship into a weekly CELEBRATION. On the evening of February 12th, the featured artist was Tituss Burgess. I confess I didn’t know who he was before I arrived. It turns out he is a Broadway star and a cast member on 30 Rock. If I didn’t understand before what Jacqui Lewis meant by celebration, I ‘got it’ once I heard Tituss sing! 

What can our UU congregations learn from this? Of course, it’s rare to have a star like Tituss Burgess in your congregation. And most congregations don’t have the kind of talent that Middle’s membership has, or the budgets to bring in that kind of talent on a regular basis. But it is also true that in so many communities in the United States, especially urban communities, there is a wide range of talent and a great diversity of artists from many cultural backgrounds. And most artists don’t operate in a social vacuum. Most artists participate in arts organizations, and many such organizations have unique cultural and/or multicultural identities. Why couldn’t a congregation partner with a multicultural arts organization?

We’ve been asking ourselves that question at UUS:E. It makes sense to us. Partnerships with arts organizations are an excellent avenue for building relationships with artists from diverse backgrounds, for creating new markets for artists’ work, for bringing people into urban centers, and for opening new pathways to explore spiritual themes beyond the Sunday morning sermon. Building relationships with artists is also a way to avoid the pitfalls of cultural misappropriation. Towards all these ends, our largely white, suburban congregation has begun to build a partnership with the Charter Oak Cultural Center, a multicultural arts organization located in downtown Hartford. The week after I preached at Middle, UUS:E and Charter Oak co-produced our first event, a performance by spoken word artist Uni Q. Mical. Uni Q. performed at Charter Oak on Saturday night the 18th, then participated in worship at UUS:E on Sunday morning the 19th. My post about Uni Q.’s trip to Hartford is here.  The text to Uni Q.’s poem, “restless sleepers (a motion picture),” which she wrote in response to our February theological theme of restlessness, is here.  And, for a taste of what Uni Q. is like in concert, check out one of her more famous poems, “The Radical Homosexual Agenda,” (which she also performed at UUS:E, though a slightly edited version) at 

We are only at the beginning of building our relationship with Charter Oak, but so far so good. It is helping us to think in new ways about what it means to build an antiracist, multicultural congregational identity. It is helping us to realize there is so much more we can do than the traditional antiracism workshops, sermons on white privilege and educational movie nights, as important as those are.  Middle Collegiate Church is a shining example of how a congregation can be transformed through multicultural arts. There’s no reason to think we can’t  experience such transformation if we continue with purpose and vision down this new path.

Thoughts on a UU Roku Channel?

Roku XDS

Image by abeckstrom via Flickr

Friends, I just received the following message from a user of my site UnitarianUniversalism.TV inquiring about a the development of a ROKU channel for distributing Unitarian Universalist video content via streaming video.

“Hey guys. I wonder if there’s any news about UUTV potentially creating a channel on the Roku box to stream its way into people’s homes? Roku has a huge user-base and features new channels in its channel store. That would be a great way to get the message of Unitarian Universalism out to millions of people. UUTV could make its way right into millions of American living rooms. Other denominations are doing it – Jews, evangelical Christians, Mormons, Catholics, you name it. Shouldn’t UUs if we’re to be the “religion for our time”? Just a thought. I’ve been using my Roku and would love to have UUTV on there. Regards and thanks for all your hard work.”

He reports there being a growing number of other religious channels using the internet streaming video service, see  SPIRITUALITY section of the Roku Channel directory.

I see the potential of being able to stream high quality UU video directly to people on their TVs.  However,  I do not personally use a Roku Box, don’t many who do,  and it would require serious UU collaboration to make such a thing happen.

When it comes to increased outreach, right now I’m thinking that I can do more by focusing what time I have available into producing social media optimized short Youtube videos about our faith. Videos that can capitalize on the social media technology I know people are using such as Facebook and Twitter, and the increasing number of people with mobile devices.

Questions

  • Any thoughts?
  • Any other tech you think we should be looking at?
  • If you could have a one minute UU video produced about any relevant topic, what would you have produced?  We’re talking outreach and education.

Feedback/Ideas

You may learn more about Roku at www.roku.com and watch web based UU TV at UnitarianUniversalism.TV.


Interested in Unitarian Universalism, social media and technology?  See upcoming events including Feb 25th in METRO DC area and Mid-July STAR ISLAND conference.  Subscribe to my e-newsletter to receive updates. Booking: (617) 744-9784 Office | Email Peter.

UU TV now playing over 1600 Unitarian Universalist videos!

UU TV, online at http://www.unitarianuniversalism.tv, now features over 1600 videos for and by Unitarian Universalists and friends!  Grab a customizable UU TV widget or player for your site.

UU TV -- Videos from the UUA

UU TV includes playlists featuring videos from the UUA, UUSC, Beacon Press, About Unitarian Universalism, Congregation Spotlights, Sermons and Worship, and more. You can add  UU TV widgets and players to your website  based on any of the site’s playlists.

Who wants UU TV? Come and get it!

Friends,  the UU Video site I have been experimenting since March of 2008 has just moved to a brand new address.  I hope you’ll check it out!

UU TV is now online at http://www.unitarianuniversalism.tv/

UU TV  now features over 1350 videos for and by Unitarian Universalists and friends.

Fans of the beta site report using it to show friends about our faith — you can browse the site and know that only 100% UU content will be found.  No worry of finding endless videos of rock bands playing in our Phili congregation, though they do rock….

UU TV includes playlists featuring videos from the UUA, UUSC, Beacon Press, About Unitarian Universalism, Congregation Spotlights, Sermons and Worship, and more.

UU Webmasters can add  UU TV widgets and players to their sites featuring videos “New on UU TV” as well as UUA videos, Beacon Press videos and so on.  You can even customize your own widget to display any playlist with custom colors, widget title and other settings.

Below are screen shots of two players, NEW on UU TV  and the UUA VIDEO player featuring videos from the UUA’s video channel.  You may try them out and grab embed code  here.

UU TV player featuring  videos from the UUA

UU TV -- Videos from the UUA


UU TV player featuring  Newest Videos

Interested in a UU Television Network?

UU TVThis week a UU Television Network has come up in conversation multiple times.  UU TV is something I’ve been talking about since 2005.  As a television producer and UU growth consultant, it is exciting to hear that interest is growing.  But perhaps more that people are starting to grasp that the technology needed to make it happen is rapidly approaching.  2010 is a great year to start getting organized.  How’s January?

If we are organized, UU TV may be just around the corner.

The internet and television are fusing. “Television” as we know it is migrating to portable devices. More and more content is being delivered by independent producers through the web. Digital video production and increased computing power makes a new world of communication available. It is time for us to get organized and make UU Television a reality.

I can imagine a web based UU TV network  with a wide range of content for those new to our faith, existing members, leaders and more… Internet connected televisions will be able to connect to it the way we connect to a website today.  Only it will be a TV channel.  Scheduled program.  Full HD picture…

If you are one of the people excited by the idea of a real UU television network, connect with me.  I am gently gathering people who are interested, have media skills, hosting skills, writing skills, you name it…

How to connect:

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