What Kind of Community Does UCOM Envision?
October 1st, 2022
UCOM’s revised mission statement reads: United Church Outreach Ministry (UCOM) builds relationships and fosters community leadership by offering essential resources and providing educational opportunities to enhance health and well-being.
My question and our challenge is “What kind of a community will we help to build?”
In all of these communities we are called to enhance I seek a welcoming place built on a foundation of commonalities and differences. What a chaotic space our community would be if we always jockeyed for position based on our differences and what a boring world we would have if we all thought and looked and acted the same!
Utilizing a foundational tension of similarities and differences, our community finds an ever-changing balance. The neighborhoods I want to build include global representation. I need to be surrounded by a myriad of shades of complexions, a plethora of languages, universal identities, and a multitude of talents, skills, philosophies, religions, and ideas—all different from my own—each one as unique as a fingerprint or a snowflake.
The community we build must be a sanctuary—a safe place, a place where no one is bullied, where there is no name calling or shaming, no microaggressions, no muttered criticisms, no coercion, no manipulation. This is a place where being different is a good thing, where varying ideas and dissension are welcomed with open-minded discussion. Here is a community where divergent philosophies are examined, gently prodded, and tenderly evaluated.
Only as we build it can we find a place that is powered by cooperation and collaboration rather than competition. Here is a dwelling where we do not have to be right to be loved, where trying and failing is as respected as a string of successes. In this beloved community everyone is valued, leaders are hosts not heroes, where we are all encouraged to be leaders from where we are. This is a place where the conductor’s podium, first-chairs, and pulpits are home to those who have earned them through kindness and skills, where no one has to defend their territory because we do not own those places of leadership, they own us and grant responsibility to nurture and inspire everyone to lead when it is appropriate—servant of all, slave to none.
The family, church, neighborhood, and nation we envision are open to all of our ideas, expressive of compassion, empathy, and personality. It is a place for retreat from a hostile world, a place to recharge and refresh. We can all let down our defenses knowing that we can be fearlessly vulnerable, where we can name what we are feeling, and where we know we will be supported and uplifted and kindly challenged to return when we are ready to the reality of “out there”.
In this kin-dom transparency is the default, communication is key, and kindness reigns. Here it is ok to be authentic. Masks can be dropped. Stiff upper lips are allowed to tremble without censure.
Here old people are honored and youth is empowered to explore and make their own mistakes and be surrounded by love throughout their journey. In this beloved community mental illness bears no stigma—is just another way of being whoever we are; addictions are recognized as self-medication for those who are doing our best under the circumstances of our lives. Helping hands are offered but not forced whatever our situation.
In this new neighborhood all who can work together to improve conditions so that people in our own time can reinvent ourselves for the common good.
Participation is not mandatory here. We are forced into no molds in this village,. Puzzle pieces are not pounded into places they do not fit. Round holes are reserved for round pegs. In this community we are involved or not because we want or don’t want to be. We are present because we desire to be in place for our neighbors.
I long for a community where no one suffers from having too much or too little, where we “share and share alike” (as I was taught in Sunday School), where no one sleeps rough on the sidewalk or in the park while there are five-bedroom houses for one couple. This is a community where we share our bread with the hungry, where no one thirsts while we hoard or pollute the earth’s water.
This is a sanctuary where immigrants and refugees are welcomed with open arms and hearts and minds. Here cultural diversity is lauded and applauded. In this community we can all learn from one another’s experiences in life.
Interestingly in the United States where everyone except Indigenous people has an immigrant heritage, immigrants have not, as a rule, been invited into the citizenry. Jewish refugees were more often than not blocked from entering the country even though millions of their families and friends had been slaughtered by Nazis. Most Latino immigrants today are denigrated, turned away, or even kidnapped by government sources in Texas and Florida and taken illegally to other states. Chinese people were good enough to be exploited to build the nation’s railroads, but not qualified to have the rights and dignity of citizenship. We could go on and on about the Irish, Italians, Indians, Sikhs and Muslims who find no safe place in the land of the free. Only Africans who had been kidnapped and forced into slavery were considered worth assimilating sufficiently to be bought and sold, brutalized and exploited for four hundred years in this country.
The people who are building this nation state are far from the framers of a moral community. If, in this country, the powerful would turn to welcome the immigrant, the refugee, indeed any of the “othered” people who seek a place here, our brutal, greedy, abhorrent history would be upended for good.
At UCOM we roll up our sleeves, put hearts and minds, bodies and spirit, words and actions on the line, and not turning back regardless of the price of being that divine presence in the lives of all of our neighbors.
Until we are a safe place for every being, let us follow the example of all the holy prophets to prioritize the poor, provide food and shelter, offer support for people’s journeys, and exhibit dignity and respect for everyone.
So…what about us? What about you? What kind of community do you envision? What kind of community will we forge?