Our worship theme for the month of January is prophecy. One of our sources is Jewish and Christian teachings, yet we rarely speak about the prophets of the Older Testament or the Torah in significant ways. I know that I am more likely to site the source of the words and deeds of prophetic people both past and present. With an open Canon, these prophetic voices are not limited by age, gender, nationality, religious perspective, or vocation. Poets, politicians, educators, family members, philosophers, scientists, children, elders, and social action activist are among the few who comprise a chorus of prophetic voices.
In my Older Testament class at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities we learned that the main characteristics of the ancient prophets were that they were contemporaries who lived among the people, they were called to step forward, to take a risk, and engaged in prophetic truth telling. The prophets of the Torah resisted when they were initially called, they often replied with “why me?” Perhaps, you have felt called in small and big ways in your lifetime. Was there a time when you would have preferred to stay on the sidelines, doubted your own agency, would have preferred not engage and just remain in your own comfort zone? In our social justice oriented faith we are called to make a difference in this world. I know many of you have been instrumental in the creation of beloved community organizations, efforts that impact the environment, and involved in the democratic process. The Social Action Committee is creating a way for you to share what type of work you are doing in this congregation and beyond to support institutions and very real needs in the community. This will roll out sometime in the New Year.
Unitarian Universalist ministers are expected to be involved in social justice work as well. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC) expects all candidates for ministry to develop competency in the area of Prophetic Outreach. This is described as: Those aspects of ministry that extend the Unitarian Universalist commitment to justice, peace, democratic process, and interdependence beyond the congregational or community-based setting. This work includes:
- Public witness of the personal involvement with regard to community or world issues;
- Social advocacy, the engagement with anti-racism, anti-oppression, and multicultural initiatives; and
- Promotion of institutional inclusivity and commitment to Unitarian Universalist values.
Christmas week, I was called by Ashley Horan, the Executive Director of Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance (MUUSJA). She told me that she and a contact from the Unitarian Universalist Association are arranging support for the Bismarck-Mandan UU Congregation which has been the only church in that community supporting the action at Standing Rock. The congregants and their minister are weary. The previous months have taken a toll on their energy, capacity, and their daily lives in the community. Ashley mentioned that the minister, Karen Van Fossen, asked specifically if I would come for a week and provide support. The past few months I have chosen not to go to Standing Rock when prior clergy calls took place. I knew other clergy from larger churches and congregants with more time to spare were showing up. I felt the need to stay behind and be with all of you.
This is different. The Bismarck-Mandan congregation were involved with Standing Rock before most of us heard about it and have been a crucial link for people of faith who have been showing up for public witness and with supplies. MUSSJA and the UUA are arranging ministers and the UU Trauma team to spend time there. I see Karen and the Bismarck-Mandan congregation as providing a much needed prophetic voice of the faith community. Although the numbers of people on the Standing Rock land have decreased, the water protectors remain strong. The area is now closed to visitors, although I may be asked to help deliver supplies. I will provide pastoral care for congregants and be a support to Karen in any way I can. I will leave after services on Sunday, January 8 and stay through services on January 15th.
I know that if the time comes when we need to make a personal ask of colleagues they will come to us. It is what we do in this movement and in this faith. I will let you know if there is a need for supplies prior to my departure. I leave with the blessing of Laurie Young, the Board Chair, and hopefully yours as well. Together, we do the hard and holy work of justice making and amplifying the voices of those on the margins.