One of the things Unitarian Universalists are most proud of is the wideness of our welcome. So many of us have felt excluded for one reason or another in our lives and, in response, have made a commitment to truly embrace the worth of every person by making room for them in our congregations and our lives.
Sometimes we’re puzzled that our commitment hasn’t meant that our congregations are more diverse. We look around on Sunday mornings and see and awful lot of people who look like us, sound like us, and believe like us. Even though we hope to be truly diverse communities, we’re often disappointed that the reality doesn’t match the ideal.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes it is chalked up to human nature, but I think watching groups of young children play together is pretty good evidence that the way we respond to difference is learned. If no one interrupts them, groups of children seem more curious about differences than wary of them. But somehow, as we grow, it seems that barriers begin to grow.
At Tree of Life, it’s easy to say that our lack of diversity is because of the demographics of McHenry County. According to 2013 data, if we reflected the population of our county, our congregation would be about 82 percent white, 12 percent Latina/0, with the remaining 6 percent being a mix of other races and mixed race people. It also means that 8 percent of us would not have graduated from high school and only 32 percent of us would have a Bachelor’s degree. We’d have only 49 percent of our members reporting that they were married, and about a third of our households would have children at home. Only ten percent of us would be over age 65. About 8 percent of those under 65 would have a disability of some kind, and 35 percent of those over 65 would report a disability. Approximately 15 percent of us would have been born outside the United States or in Puerto Rico. Over 22 percent would speak a language other than English at home. 14 percent of us would have incomes below the poverty level. The median age of our community would be 37.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. It seems that congregations–where people go to form deep relationships that address our core values–reflect not our ideals, but the realities of societal separation by class, race,age. income, language, sexual orientation, and ability. It is not how we want to be, but it reflects how we are and and how we think about our congregations. So often I hear Unitarian Universalists talk in glowing terms about our congregations as groups of “like-minded” people and I always wonder why we would be satisfied with that. Our faith calls us to be something more.
This month, as we explore the theme “invitation”–I hope we will all look around and begin to think about who and what we invite into our lives and spaces. Are there people or parts of ourselves that we “cover” or push aside in order to belong? Do we truly embrace and celebrate the dignity of every person? Will we invite them to church and if they accept our invitation, will we invite them to be fully themselves, willing for our community to be changed by their presence?
To learn more, check out the packet of Soul Matters resources for this month.