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A Sermon Offered to All Souls Church, Unitarian Universalist

Order of Service

June 14, 2020

Welcome & Announcements

Chalice Lighting; By Rebekah Savage

We light our flaming chalice as a beloved people

united in love

and thirsting for restorative justice.

May it melt away the tethers that uphold whiteness in our midst.

May it spark in us a spirit of humility.

May it ignite in us radical love that transforms our energy into purposeful action.

This a chalice of audacious hope.

This chalice shines a light on our shared past,

signaling our intention to listen deeply, reflect wisely,

and move boldly toward our highest ideals.

Hymn #12 O Life That Maketh All Things New

Opening Words: By Viola Abbitt [Adapted]

We are Unitarian Universalists.

When we lift up our Seven Principles, some of us think of them as a form of theology—but they are more important to our collective than that:

they do not tell us what we should believe; they tell us how we should be.

They tell us how we should act in the larger world and with each other.

We are…here today in light of the fact that Unitarian Universalism has fallen short of the image that was presented to the world, and to many of those who embraced this religion.

But we are also brought here today by the truth that Unitarian Universalism has shifted course to move toward a place of wholeness: a place that perhaps never existed for us as a denomination.

It has been a long, and sometimes unforgiving road we travel on the way to justice. But we are here today because we are mindful of our past, and because we have hope for a very different future. We want the practice of this faith to be a fulfilling manifestation of its promise.

Open your hearts. Seek new ways of understanding.

Come, let us worship together.


A week or so ago I sent a letter out to the members and friends of All Souls in response to the killing of George Floyd and the demonstrations that were, and are still, taking place around the world in the wake of it.  In that letter, I asked us all to consider shelving our opinions about what was happening for a time so that we could create room for the voices of those who are too often unheard.

If you did that, you have probably heard some things that were hard to hear.  Some of what you may hear in todays service may be hard to hear. But I promise you, nothing you hear today will be more difficult than having a cop kneel on your neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds.  It will not be more difficult than having a loved one shot and killed by a police officer and then seeing that officer get off, scott-free.  It will not challenge you like not having enough food, healthcare, education or safety.

The first reading you will hear today is by john a. powell.  Professor powell leads the UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute and holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion.  He is also a Professor of Law and a Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at the UC Berkeley School of Law.

Our second reading is by Rayla Mattson who is the DRE at the Unitarian Society of Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut. Outside of work, Rayla is raising her three beautiful children as a single mom.

Following the readings, we’re going to hear an 8 minute clip by White Fragility Author Robin DiAngelo. 

Please know how very deeply you are loved.  You all really ARE good people.  I’ve spent 4 years with you now.  I think I outta know! None of what you are going to hear is meant to challenge any of that. So, take a deep breath with me, and as you exhale, let go of defensiveness, and as Viola Abbitt says in our Opening Words for today, “Open your hearts. Seek new ways of understanding.”  God knows the old ones aren’t serving us anymore.

Reading I: by john a. powell

The invisibility of whiteness means that one doesn’t have to notice that one is white. So there are people, and then there are black people. There are people and there are Latino people. And people—just people, just folks—turn out to be white, but you don’t notice it.

White people have the luxury of not having to think about race. That is a benefit of being white, of being part of the dominant group. Just like men don’t have to think about gender. The system works for you, and you don’t have to think about it.

So you live in white space and then you don’t have to think about it. First of all, you think about race as something that belongs to somebody else. The blacks have race; maybe Latinos have race; maybe Asians have race. But you’re just white. You’re just people. That’s part of being white.

Reading II: Tired of Being Silent by Rayla D. Mattson

The summer of 2016 began as an exciting one for me: I was finally going to a beloved Unitarian Universalist conference and retreat center. I’d heard many wonderful stories about it, and I couldn’t wait to bring my three children with me. On the drive there, I felt excited about spending a full week in an entirely UU space. After all, it was my UU community that so lovingly embraced me after a very painful divorce and several painful years of church shopping. I needed this week. I needed this healing.

As UUs descended on the camp and found their rooms, I began to introduce myself to others, and thought I noticed them offering me a cursory hello before making a quick getaway. Maybe, I thought, it was hard for people to speak to me because I had my one-year old in tow. Maybe they were eager to reconnect to old friends.

There was one other black woman at the camp who I had noticed; I was thankful we both signed up for the same program. I asked her: Was it just me or did she, too, feel a distinct coldness from the others? I wanted to make sure that I was not being paranoid.

But unsettling things continued to happen. There was an issue with my daughter in childcare:  they felt she was a problem and difficult in comparison with the other children—although a very kind person noted that she couldn’t understand how my child was deemed “a problem” when she was doing the same things all the other children were doing. Then a black child the same age as my son—12 years old—came crying to me one night. He was being bullied—but he wasn’t being heard, because the adults around him insisted that they “knew that girl and she would never say those things.” The child trusted that as a black mother, I was the only person at the camp who would listen and believe him. I brought the matter out in the open. The typical excuses followed, like the boy misunderstood what she meant and he was just being too sensitive, and it was just in fun, and nothing was really meant by her comments.

I tuned those excuses out. And I spent a lot of time alone that week. When my daughter and I walked around the conference center, I saw reminders of racism everywhere, from the statues and memorials to the paintings on the walls. It was everywhere; it was clear as day: “Your kind are not welcome here.”

I would end my strolls by going to the dining hall, only to find there was no table for me—not because there weren’t empty chairs, but because I was told that there was no room at the table for me and my toddler. The empty seats were for other people, I was told, and they couldn’t make room for me. The pattern became so distressing that on most days I considered not eating—but I couldn’t let my child starve. If my new friend was there, she always made room for me. And there were the kids.

After the incident with the young black boy, the kids came to me quite a bit to mediate things going on between them. They even took turns giving me a break from my little one. Eventually one of them would see me trying to find a table and no matter how many people were at their table, they would find a way to squeeze me and my little one in. As kind as they were, they ate quickly and were off. And again, I was left alone in the silence. As all the tables around me buzzed with talk and laughter and I sat there alone staring at my one year old.

Then one evening my youngest finally settled down enough for me to attend evening worship. I was so excited; I grabbed my lantern and journeyed to the chapel. The guest speaker spoke so eloquently talking about what he called “the elephant” in the space—how the camp was rooted in racism. His words brought me to the edge of my seat. I was thrilled and excited: I hadn’t been paranoid! This white man saw what I saw. He was naming my hurt, my truth and I was elated.

As we left worship, my heart felt light. In the darkness that surrounded us, the voices started. I heard campers—who couldn’t see me, a black woman, listening—agree that it was one of the worst services they had been to at the camp. And how they couldn’t believe he dared to say those things. And how they, who come to the chapel to be uplifted, did not want to have that kind of mess thrown in their face.

I melted into the darkness that surrounded us. That night I cried myself to sleep.

When I left the camp at the end of the week, the knot that had formed in my stomach started to ease. Once home, I shared my story—my truth—with multiple people who were connected to the camp and its programs; people who I believed might use my experience to make future conferences and retreats more welcoming. I even offered to teach, to add some diversity to future retreats. I was told by each person that they would pass on my information and have someone contact me so they could get a better idea of what happened and how I felt so it wouldn’t happen to others. That never happened. I sent several emails and responded to all the surveys and asked to be heard. But as usual when I bring up concerns about race, there is only silence in response.

Fast forward nearly a year, and the approach of another summer. My oldest two children chatted excitedly about going back to the camp. Although I had explained that it took two years of funds and planning to go, they were still hopeful that we could make it work for this summer. I felt anxious; I felt guilty; and I could feel the knot creeping back into my stomach. I wanted them to see their friends and go back to a place that they come to love—and yet, I could not see myself stepping foot in that retreat center.

I broke down one day: I shared with my oldest two children my experiences the previous summer. Their father is white and at times I choose not to tell them things that I feel would cast a negative light on white people as to not give them negative feelings towards their family or be torn about their own genetic make-up. But I could be silent no more. And as I shared with them my experiences and my time at the camp, they sat there not saying a word but staring at me with silent tears rolling down their cheeks. They asked me why I didn’t say anything during our week at the camp. Why hadn’t I shared with them sooner?  Like a lot of parents, I answered that I wanted to protect them and not give a negative light to such an enriching experience they had had.

My oldest child then asked me if I often sit in silence and hold in the pain. I answered him truthfully. I answered with a “YES.”

Many times as a black woman, I hold in my pain and my experiences to protect others. To keep and hold up the white fragility that I have been taught, or rather trained, to value more than my own feelings and my own experiences—more, even, than my own needs and self-worth. I have been trained to minimize myself, my light, my voice. To Just grin and bear it. To put up with it because I should know  that they mean well. Or I didn’t want to seem too sensitive or be the “angry” black person in the room.

But I’m tired of being silent. It’s a heavy load to carry day in and day out. Sometimes, I’d like to take off my blackness and pick it up another day; sometimes it’s just too heavy a load. But I can’t, so I press on. So, I ask this question whenever someone will listen, “Who is standing in your dining hall looking for a seat at the table? And can you make room for them too?”

Note: this reflection is part of an entire Promise & Practice worship packet

White Fragility Video with author Robin DiAngelo  


Soon, beloveds, the demonstrations will end and the fires will burn out.

Wall Street and your street will be reclaimed and reopened 

by those who always stood the most to gain.

Eventually the protective face masks will come off,

schools and churches and restaurants, and museums will again be re-populated.

Days will grow short and nights will lengthen.

Then cometh November, and an election upon which so many lives depend.

Will the peoples houses be returned to us,

or will we spend the next four years with democracy itself on a life-support?

Before you know it, beloveds, the winter holidays will be upon us.

With so much to do and so much to plan.

And those who always stood to gain will gain a little more.

Winter is no river cruise in these parts,

but you don’t need me to tell you that.

Mother Earth asserts a Sabbath of sorts, and she and we are due rest.

Following winters lock-down and shut-down

we awaken one day and realize that daylight is again returning.

Another year is past, and we are still here.

The demonstrations have long since ended

and the fires embers have grown cold.

What will we have built together in the aftermath and

can we start today?


Music: I wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free  by Dr. Billy Taylor 

Performed by Steve Squire ad Bob Wycoff

Offering / Offertory / Joys & Sorrows 

Blessing Candles of Joy & Sorrow 

In good times and amid life’s struggles

we hold one another in care.

This is a gift of being in community together.

Grateful for all of our ancestors who laid the foundation of this congregation,

and with all hope for those who have not yet entered our actual or virtual space,

let us take just a moment of silence in which we can breathe in peace

and breathe out love.

Breathe in peace,

and breathe out love. 

May we carry the joys and sorrows that have been shared here today, and by so doing, lesson the burdens and increase the delight.


Unison Affirmation 

Love is the doctrine of this church,

And service is its prayer.

This is our great covenant:

To dwell together in peace,

To seek the truth in love,

And to help one another

To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony,  

Thus do we covenant with each other.

Hymn: #115 God of Grace and God of Glory

Extinguish the Chalice:  By Maureen Killoran

This is the message of our faith

To act with passion in the face of injustice.

To love with courage in the midst of life’s pain.

This is the meaning of our chalice flame.

May it empower our hearts until we are together again.


Carry the flame of peace and love until we meet again

Carry the flame of peace and love until we meet again