Some Assembly Required
As a young child, our elementary school would often hold assemblies. They were times when the entire school or large parts of it came together for different things. Maybe the administration had something to tell us or to scold us about (gum under desks, name calling, etc.). Maybe there was a presentation about economics. Maybe there was some kind of musical presentation. But whatever it was, we’d all be lined up going down the hallways, file in, and find our little area to sit on the floor, try not to squirm, keep our hands to ourselves, and pay attention.
In a few hours, this year’s General Assembly will kick off. General Assembly this year was scheduled to be held in Providence, Rhode Island. A major focus of this General Assembly will be the recognition of the 400 years since the the Mayflower came ashore in the lands of the Abenaki people near what would be named the Plymouth colony. It is also the fourth centennial of the arrival of forced enslavement of persons on the continent as the cornerstone of the colonial and then national economic system. The port of Providence was one of the busiest ports for this trade in the ignominious history of this heinous act. A good documentary on this subject and be purchased or screened here: Traces of the Trade.
Many don’t know that churches in the North and throughout the states were actually participants in the practice of slavery. The documentary focuses a great deal on the participation by the Episcopal Church in the trade. But the ancestors of Unitarian Universalists were no better. Of the hundred or so churches founded by colonists that still exist today, more than half are Unitarian Universalist churches today. Granted, at the time, they were deeply Calvinist, congregational churches. Yet, some of the interest in their endowments that yet serve them, came from the slave trade. This is a fact, not a guess.
I don’t yet know exactly what in General Assembly I will be attending. But I know I will be very keen on hearing the report from the Commission on Institutional Change. You can download a copy of their report here: Commission on Institutional Change Report 2020. This download will only be available for a short time while the publishing of the paper copy makes its way through a delayed process. In this report you will see that the Commission addresses questions like reparations and restoration as well as the future of UU Theology and the ministry. It’s a huge report.
As many UUs file in, as we find our seats, as we wait to hear what we might learn, I remember so well the lessons of my first assemblies. Yes, I remember the content of some. But more I remember finding my place in the crowd. I remember how we each of us fit neatly into our space on the floor, avoided squirming as best we could, and paid attention. I expect that many of the stories I will hear will make me squirm, and they should. But in a year when we are not paying for airfare, hotels, meals, and transportation, paying attention is the least we can do.
May it ever be so,
Rev. T. J.
3 Responses to “Weekly Message from T. J.”
Wow. I had no idea about the churches’ participation in the slave trade. It will be very interesting to see how they address that. Thanks for that link…I’ll be checking that documentary out.
The Unitarian Universalist Church ancestors took part in the slave trade… Our eyes are being opened wider and wider. That is the first crucial part in taking action.
Long after slavery was outlawed in the North, Rhode Island controlled the majority of the new country’s slavery business . This is an informative read: https://nyupress.org/9781479870424/dark-work/