When one is in the metro Boston area and there is some UU event, it’s likely, perhaps even highly likely, there will be those in attendance who represent myriad congregations and probably some free-range Unitarian Universalists. That’s the benefit of close geographical proximity in the region where Unitarian Universalism considers its fount.
Though Western Massachusetts is no Wyoming in terms of long expansive miles in-between communities and even longer over-expansive distances between UU communities, we on the Western side of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts live a very different sense of proximity than those in the East. This impacts how state-wide public funding is dispersed, how political power is wielded in the legislature, and how proximal UU congregations are to each other.
Yesterday, the Forward Together movement in North Carolina took place at which 1,000 or so UUs showed up to witness and participate in the Mass Moral March on Raleigh, in the company of another 17,000 or 55,000 or 99,000 others (depending on whose crowd estimates you believe).
That’s A LOT of UUs in one place that isn’t General Assembly (or All Souls in Tulsa!). It was something that our denomination, from leadership to grassroots, took very seriously, when the Reverend William Barber II put out a general national call and a specific invitation to our faith movement to show up.
Yesterday, too, there was an event here in Northampton. It was organized in solidarity with that North Carolina march and with its visions of justice, held for those who could not make it to North Carolina. It did not attracts tens of thousand or even thousands or even hundreds.
In the Great Hall of the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence, we were twenty stalwart people, braving the frigid temperatures and welcoming the bright blue sky we hadn’t seen in a weeks. We sat together to learn more about the terrible, perfect storm of political and social regression brought on by right-wing conservatives and at least one wealthy man wielding far more power than a single individual in a democratic society should be allowed to have. We talked with each other, learned of each other, and then spent some time on the Main Street of this small city, holding our yellow signs, standing on the side of love.
It might sound puny, but we twenty were mighty. There were Unitarian Universalists from four different congregations here in Western Mass: Greenfield, Pittsfield, Northampton, and Monson. One hundred and twenty-six miles constituting a rather awkward triangle of geography, but there you have it. I love it when we cross-pollinate. It does not happen enough, at least not here, so seeing so many from such a wide spread expanded my heart.
More than UUs, in the room there were Quakers, a UCC minister, and some folks from the Church of God in Christ, not to mention people of conscience who have been doing peace and justice organizing for decades, but from a largely secular perspective. As I have mentioned before, Northampton is not known for its racial diversity and that is true of the UU congregation here, as well. Yet, the people at this event reflected a greater racial diversity than I expected (but not more than I had hoped): a quarter of the people in the room were people of color.
It is moments, and events, and relationships like this that give me hope. They are few and far between, but they are real. I know they are real because I was there. But also because our little gathering of twenty people, most of whom did not know each other before they crossed the threshold of the space we created together, was a microcosm of what was happening simultaneously in North Carolina: strangers colliding from all over the nation, neighbors flooding the streets, intention through collective assembly.
For a spiritual skeptic such as myself, I am more likely to trust the Sacred when I see parallels and echoes, when microcosms reflect larger macrocosms of universal truths that just might be there. So what was happening in Northampton and was happening in North Carolina? People showing up for each other; entwining themselves and their issues; seeing connections and revealing them; refusing imposed cultural divisions while acknowledging the oppressions that stem from them; and a sparking of action that has no guarantee of illuminating the dark out of existence, but it is still our best hope.
So we strike that spark, we become that flame, we gather: our presence together an elemental act of hope.