Friday, April 04, 2008

African-American UU Church?

Something I've been wondering about ... has there ever been an attempt to create a church like Trinity within UUism? e.g. a predominantly African-American church in what is a predominantly white denomination?

I'm very interested in church planting, as a topic, and curious whether we've ever had an African-American minister, music director and DRE (or some combination) start a church in a black neighborhood.

I know we've attempted integrated revitalization -- I'm a big fan of Davies Memorial Church. But have we ever tried it from the get-go?


hafidha sofia said...

Wow. I really don't know. I've never heard of one, and I've talked to many lot ministers and seminarians of color. Joseph Santos-Lyons would likely know as I believe he did his thesis on the racial history of UUism (or the UUA, to be more specific). I'll ask him when I see him on Monday.

I don't believe I've ever met an African American DRE. I know of one AA music director.

hafidha sofia said...

Oh ... wasn't there a UU church in Chicago that used to be predominantly AA? Or at least, AA-led? But that might have been before the merger ... I'll check on that.

Jess said...

First Unitarian in Chicago has a history of being one of the most diverse congregations, though it is much smaller now than in its heyday. It's located just off the campus of UChicago in Hyde Park, right across the street from Meadville Lombard.

Transient and Permanent said...

LE, I responded at since my comment here got too long.

Hafidha, Janice Marie Johnson is the DRE at my old church, Community Church of New York (UU). She's African-American. When I was there (late 1990s, early 2000s) our assistant minister, our ministerial intern, our DRE, and many of our lay leaders were black, as were about a third of our members. Our senior minister and music director where white, as were probably about 55% of our members. I haven't been back lately but these percentages are probably about the same still.

Jeff W.

Red Sphynx said...

I believe that First UU of Houston was pursuing the planting of such a congregation last year. However, since their ministers left in February, I expect that the project is interrupted.

Philocrites said...

LE and Hafidha, you may be remembering The Church of the Open Door, a GLBT-friendly UUA/UCC congregation on the South Side of Chicago. Alma Crawford, who is now a professor at Starr King, was one of the founding ministers there in the mid-1990s. The church doesn't appear to have a website.

SC Universalist said...

Historically there were two AA led Churches (that I know of) by the Universalists starting in the 1890s. One was in a now suburb of Atlanta - and very short lived. The other was in Norfolk Virginia from 1887 - 1913,
and Suffolk, Va 1895-1930. An AA led school and community center affiliated with the Suffolk Church continues now, although the UUA stopped their funding in 1969.

h sofia said...

Jeff - Ahh, I know Janice; and have known her for years. I forgot that she is now DRE at CCNY. CCNY has a good, long history of racial integration and race work.

Eric Posa said...

Another African-American DRE I know of is Natalie Fenimore, who serves our church in Fairfax, VA. I've not met her yet myself, but I'm excited to hear her keynote speech at my district's annual meeting in Austin in three weeks.

Also, I know there was a congregation in DC in the '80s and '90s called Sojourner Truth UU Church, though I believe that was more of a multi-racial congregation. (Side note: the son of Sojourner Truth's minister is Dave Chappelle. Seriously.)

Masasa said...

I just now read this post and the comments. I know I am probably too late to come into the discussion, but this comment has been on my mind:

"I don't believe I've ever met an African American DRE. I know of one AA music director."

Being an association of fairly moderate size, I think it all too easily becomes our tendency to think we can come to a point where we basically know who is who in UU land. And the underlying tone of things like this can come off as, "if I don't know somebody, they don't exist" (or worse, they "don't count).

DREs often do not have the same access to wider involvement in our association. We make less money than ministers, and we generally have lower professional expense budgets (if we have them at all, which hopefully most of us do...but there is yet a lot of work to do in this arena). You are not likely to meet even a noteable percentage of the most well-known, well-respected, incredible DREs in the small world of Religious Educators at events such as G.A.

It is unlikely that any of us, even those of us who have faithfully attended for example, the annual liberal religious educator's fall conference, for a number of years have a good sense of who is actually out there doing the ministry of religious education and the ministry of music in our Unitarian Universalist congregations. So no matter your level of involvement on the association's scene, there is likely a whole lot of folks on that level you are not in touch with.

It wasn't until the LREDA fall conference in 2006 in Orlando, FL, with the theme of "To Honor the Many Gifts We Bring" (, which, by the way, had historically low attendance...a reason to feel a bit discouraged) that I started to really understand how many colleagues I have yet to meet.