2022-08-03 Letter from the President

We have begun our new congregational year and it looks like it will be a busy one. I thought I’d provide a bit of insight into where we stand from an organizational perspective, since there has been a good deal of change and, at the same time, we continue with our mission and ministries.

The congregation, having reduced the board to five members earlier this year, has seated a new, slimmed down board. Alice Logie, Joanne Macaluso, and Sylvia Walker have joined Bonnie Rowan and myself on the board. Joanne is serving as Vice President. We all owe our thanks to board members who have completed their terms; Mike Sutterlin, Cass Cochrane, and Guenevere Zucker. 

The board has also selected members to fill the leadership positions necessary to carry us forward. Cass, while no longer a board member, will continue as Treasurer. Chris Baglieri will be serving as the chair of the Worship Committee. Maureen Erwin will continue as chair of the Endowment Advisory Committee and Alice Logie, Mike Sutterlin, and Mark Williams will continue to serve as members of that committee. As Vice President, Joanne will serve as the chair of the personnel committee. The board will function as a committee of the whole when dealing with finance and religious education. 

The board has also established the Special Committee on Congregational Future and will continue the Working Group on the 8th Principle. The special committee will consist of Reverend Ann Marie Alderman, myself, one other board member, and Chris Baglieri. This committee will self-organize and select a chair or other such leadership roles as they see fit. Denise Soppas will continue to lead the 8th Principle Working Group.

As you are probably aware, worship this summer will consist of a mix of small group ministry and shared worships with neighboring congregations. 

The Special Committee on Congregational Future will be leading the effort to chart the path forward for the congregation. This committee will work with the congregation to identify what is most important to us and what our needs as a congregation will be going forward. They will manage the process of Outreach to other congregations and the UUA to determine what options exist to best meet those needs. They will identify the assets and resources (financial and otherwise) we have to work with, and potentially to offer to another congregation. Progress will be reported monthly to the Board, culminating with recommendations for the Board to use to create a plan for the congregation to vote on in the coming church year.

The 8th Principle Working Group will continue to foster First U NJ member’s connection to the 8th principle. Perhaps more importantly, this working group will be engaged with the Special Committee on Congregation Future to ensure that any potential partner congregation will continue the important work we have begun to intentionally identify and deconstruct practices and systems that perpetuate racism in our institution, and replace them with accountable and actively anti-racist constructs in programs, ministries, and congregational leadership, as will as to continue to provide our individual members with resources to foster their own journey towards spiritual wholeness through identifying and addressing their own relationship with white supremacy, white privilege, and personal and institutional racism

Our work in Plainfield is not yet done. Our food pantry continues to operate out of the Crescent Avenue Presbyterian church, providing food for 60 families each month. For many of our members and friends, including myself, this service is a spiritual practice.

We also have developed a strong partnership with Social Justice Matters, serving Fanwood and Scotch Plains. For the past two years our contributions of both time and money have gone a long way towards making the annual Juneteenth celebration a success.

I plan to continue with periodic letters such as this, but I cannot guess what everyone wants to know. If you have a question or concern, just reach out to me at president@fusp.org

In service,

Charlie Neiss, President of First U

2022-06-19 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Power Hoarding

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at the last one; Power Hoarding.

Power in an institution is controlled both through formal structures and informal relationships.

Power hoarding can be seen if there is little perceived value in sharing power, if power is seen as a limited commodity with only so much to go around, and if people in power feel threatened or personally attacked if anyone suggests changes in how things are done.

When there is power hoarding those in power don’t recognize that they are hoarding power or that they feel threatened by suggested changes. They believe they have the best interests of the organization at heart and see those suggesting changes are ill-informed, emotional, or inexperienced. They attack those suggesting changes rather than look at the suggestions as an indication that something is wrong. 

The antidotes for this require changes to institutional practices for governance and decision-making:

  • Power sharing should be an explicitly stated value
  • Power sharing and development of others must be goals against which leaders are evaluated
  • Leaders must understand that change is inevitable and challenges to leadership are often healthy and productive
  • Leaders should never take challenges personally
  • Focus on mission and values, rather than staying in business for the sake of staying in business
  • Leaders must learn and practice the racial equity principle of “know yourself”. Act from a place of integrity rather than fear or anxiety about your importance

https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html 

https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/museums/files/White_Supremacy_Culture.pdf

2022-06-12 – Juneteenth

Next Sunday is Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. Juneteenth  commemorates an important step towards the end of slavery in the United States. It was only recently declared a federal holiday. On this day, the nation comes together to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and chattel slavery in this country. On June 19th 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Galveston, Texas, almost three years after it had been issued and a month after the Civil War ended. 

Many local communities are celebrating this holiday this year.   

Our congregation should take pride in again being one of the financial sponsor’s of the local Juneteenth Celebration in Scotch Plains which will take place at the historic Shady Rest Golf and Country Club next Saturday. I encourage you to come join the celebration and revel in the moment.  But also join in to acknowledge the importance of the ongoing struggle. While the Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves in the rebel states free, slavery continued in the Union until the passage of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865 and legal challenges persisted in Texas until 1874. 

The legacy of slavery continues today.  We need to raise our voices to pass legislation for the Reparation Task Force, to close youth prisons, for same day voter registration, and police accountability.  You can do this by writing to legislators or by joining other UU’s and local organizations at the New Jersey Social Justice Institute March and Rally for Reparations, Justice, and Democracy in Newark NJ this Friday.  (i will put some links in the chat with more information about writing legislators) 

Celebrate Juneteenth as a way of telling those who would drag us backward that we will continue moving forward toward justice, equity, and equality for all.

Here are some links if you are interested in taking action and write to legislators

For Reparations Task Force http://www.400yearsnj.org/

To Close Youth Prisons http://kidsnotprisons.org/

Same-Day Voter Registration democracyinaday.org

Police Accountability policeaccountabilitynj.org





Juneteenth March and Rally for Reparations, Justice & Democracy

#150 Years is Enough 

March and Rally in Newark June 17

Raise your voice to pass legislations for Reparations Task Force (A938/s386), invest in youth and close youth prisons, same day voter registration (A1966/s247) and for police accountability

 

12 pm March from Seated LincolnStatue (Market St & Springfield Ave.)

1:30 pm Rally at Newark City Hall (920 Broad St)

 

Masking and Social Distancing Encouraged



Social Justice Matters Juneteenth Celebration in Scotch Plains

June 18th

Shady Rest Golf and Country Club

1:00-8

Tour the Shady Rest Museum 

Vendors, Music, Mini Golf, workshops, Golf putting competition 

This year there are many children activities

Amani – will play again from 6 to 7:30

 

For more info https://www.socialjusticematters.org/

2022-06-05 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Fear of Conflict

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at Fear of Conflict.

To be more specific, it’s fear of open conflict. People in power do not want conflict expressed. They try to ignore it or run away from it. When open conflict does occur the response is frequently to blame the person raising the issue rather than actually examining the problem. They are accused of being impolite or rude and can be implicitly or explicitly punished for raising the issue. A response to people angrily expressing an opinion is to be told to “calm down”. As the internet meme instructs us, “NEVER in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.”

The antidotes for this require significant changes to institutional culture as conflict needs to be seen as a valid means of transformative justice. There are many changes that can be undertaken, including:

  • Plan for ways to handle conflict before it happens
  • Distinguish between being polite and raising hard issues
  • Don’t reject discussing hard issues when raised in a way that can be seen as rude or disruptive
  • Be transparent about power and decision making processes before engaging in conflict
  • Engage a third party to support exploration of the conflict
  • Once a conflict is resolved, review what happened to see how it might have been handled differently

https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html 

https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/museums/files/White_Supremacy_Culture.pdf

2022-05-29 – White Supremacy Culture in Action – Mental Health and Gun Violence

Once again, this week we will set aside our ongoing exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture and turn to the news. Guns have grabbed the headlines again. We are once again grieving the loss of children and two of their teachers who gave their lives to try to protect them and it had been just ten days since the massacre in Buffalo, New York.

When challenged to institute even the most basic gun control legislation; legislation that had proven effective but had been allowed to expire, those in thrall to the NRA and gun manufacturers have once again raised the issue of mental health. 

While the mental health of people who commit these crimes can justifiably be questioned, is addressing mental health really the solution? Which demographic group has the least access to mental health treatment and which has the greatest access? Black women and white men, respectively. Which group is most likely to commit mass shootings and which is least likely? White men and black women, respectively. 

Should we, as a society, put more money into healthcare, especially mental health care? Yes, absolutely. If we direct that aid where it’s most needed, will it actually be directed towards those who commit these crimes of terror? No, it won’t. If it is directed towards white males, we’ll once again be short-changing the black women in need of additional mental health resources.

Moreover, when those who are looking to avoid gun control are talking about mental health we must ask if they are looking to provide health care or to criminalize mental illness.

The epidemic of school shootings in the US is a problem of White Supremacy Culture. It’s about an entitlement to power. It’s about not just acceptance, but idolization of the use of force in conflict resolution. Until we change the basic value structures of this country we will continue to see mass shootings. We must establish sensible controls over gun ownership and use. We must also provide adequate healthcare for all. 

2022-05-22 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Objectivity

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at objectivity.

This is a particularly difficult one for many to grasp, especially UU’s who pride themselves on rationalism and enlightenment.

To begin with, the belief that there is such a thing as being objective needs to be examined. We are all bound by our language and culture. It defines how we view our universe. Can we truly be objective?

Objectivity includes the belief that emotions are inherently destructive, irrational, and should not play a role in decision-making or group process. This point of view invalidates people who show emotion. It also requires that people think in a linear fashion and those who think in other ways are ignored and invalidated.

Antidotes for this are based in valuing everyone as individuals. :

  • Realize that everybody has a world view and that everybody’s world view affects the way they understand things; realize this means you too; 
  • Push yourself to sit with discomfort when people are expressing themselves in ways which are not familiar to you; 
  • Assume that everybody has a valid point and your job is to understand what that point is

https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html 

https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/museums/files/White_Supremacy_Culture.pdf 

2022-05-15 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Individualism

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at individualism.

Individualism appears in the construct of individual responsibility; this is not that individuals are responsible for themselves, but rather that individuals have no responsibility to other members of society. It is, at its core, a denial of the Interdependent Web of All Existence. One would think that something so completely antithetical to UUs would not be part of our organizations, and yet individualism manifests itself in our practices. People often work in silos rather than seeking out teams, they believe that they alone are responsible for solving problems, they desire individual recognition and credit. Accountability, where it exists, goes up and down the hierarchy rather than flowing laterally to peers and those served, competition is valued over cooperation. Individual contributors who work in isolation are valued for their independence and the lack of cooperative efforts are not recognized as a core problem. Individuals believe that if something is to get done, they must be the one to do it and have little or no ability to delegate work to others.

Antidotes for this are rooted in valuing cooperation over competition:

  • Evaluate people based on their ability to delegate to others and to work as a member of a team.
  • Measure success by how a goal was achieved – whether a collaborative approach was taken.
  • Honor process as much as product
  • Recognition should go to teams, not individuals
  • Develop and foster the ability to collaborate and delegate
  • Create a culture in which people can bring problems to a group without fear of recrimination or loss of power or position
  • Create a culture of collective, rather than individual accountability

https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html 

https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/museums/files/White_Supremacy_Culture.pdf 

2022-05-08 – White Supremacy Culture in Action – Abortion Rights

This week we will set aside our ongoing exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture and turn to the news. The leaked early draft of a Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization makes it clear that Roe v. Wade is about to be overturned. Not only will this allow conservative states to illegalize abortions, it does so on a foundation that could be used to overturn Obergefell and even Loving, which legalized same sex marriage and interracial marriage, respectively.

This is White Supremacy Culture in action. Paternalism, Belief in One Right Way, Either/Or Thinking, and Individualism all come into play, with a group in power overriding the wishes of the vast majority of Americans, disregarding their beliefs and substituting the beliefs of the minority that holds power. Those people seeking abortions who have the finances to travel to a blue state will do so, but we all know the correlation between poverty and race. It’s easy to see the intersectionality through which this will affect women of color far more than white women.

We are called to stand for our beliefs, just as we are called to stand for those who have been marginalized by this action. Let your voice be heard, not just here at First U, not just in the voting booths in our districts, but in those states in which a small group of white men is making life-altering decisions for all women in the US. Yes, this is about a woman’s right to choose, and it’s about the fact that women of color will be disproportionately harmed, but it’s also a fundamental attack on our first amendment right to practice our beliefs as we see fit. If they can disregard our belief in this respect, they can do so in any other way they choose. Stand up. Fight back.

2022-05-01 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Either/Or Thinking

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at either/or thinking.

This simplistic approach positions issues as “either/or” – good or bad, right or wrong, with us or against us.

The idea that neither is valid, or both are equally valid and no choice needs to be made, does not seem to enter into the equation.  This is closely linked to last week’s topic, perfectionism, because binary thinking makes it difficult to learn from mistakes. Either/or thinking is used as a means of driving an agenda without real debate or consensus building, and it has been used rather effectively to divide, by pitting different oppressed groups against each other.

Antidotes for this are available to us:

  • When two, seemingly opposing positions are presented as the only options, intentionally step back, validate both and identify more alternatives.
  • When binary thinking and a sense of urgency are coupled, stop. Make the time to restate the goal and really dig into the alternatives.
  • Don’t make decisions under extreme pressure.
  • Acknowledge the ways in which oppressions intersect, and reinforce each other,  reject being forced to choose between oppressions or prioritize one over another.

https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html 

https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/museums/files/White_Supremacy_Culture.pdf 

2022-04-24 – Attributes of White Supremacy Culture: Perfectionism

As we work to dismantle racism in our institution, we are continuing our exploration of the attributes of White Supremacy Culture. Today we will look at Perfectionism.

While there is a tradition in UU circles to express appreciation for work that is done, those expressing that appreciation have often shared in the work effort, and credit is often shared based on the power of the recipient rather than relative contributions. It is more common to highlight inadequacies than to complement, and that is often done indirectly rather than engaging with the person. Mistakes are seen as personal failures rather than as an expected occurrence in any activity. Making a mistake is confused with being a mistake and doing wrong is confused with being wrong. Lessons are not learned; practices are not improved. Antidotes for this are related to cross-cultural, interpersonal relationship:

  • Develop a culture of appreciation, both individual and organizational.
  • Organizational culture should center learning so that mistakes are opportunities for growth.
  • Foster an environment in which a mistake can still lead to a positive result.
  • Evaluative culture must start and end feedback with what went well and discussions about mistakes should be interactive conversations about future improvement.

https://www.whitesupremacyculture.info/characteristics.html 

https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/museums/files/White_Supremacy_Culture.pdf