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We’re Engaged! ...with the community

Equity Rising: We are pleased to share a new blog series through Standing on the Side of Love during Pride Month, as we look forward to the Supreme Court Decision on marriage equality. For the next few weeks, we will be exploring several facets of LGBTQ equity, starting with a look at Pride Then and Now. We encourage you to think about how your congregations are involved with Pride, and what ways we can be Love Evangelists as we outreach with LGBTQ communities.

Eva Brinson has been a member of my church for decades. It took me years to work up the courage to talk to her. A war-time immigrant with a rich German accent, 93 years old, 4'10" and less than 93 pounds – you’d be intimidated, too! I mean, she’s been everywhere, seen, done and lived through everything; she doesn’t bother with small talk, and she doesn’t take any crap. I love that about her.

One day she stopped my wife, and asked, “Vy do you call Nicki your Vife?”

Well, good question.

This was fairly new territory for all of us. Our marriage was not yet legally recognized in Florida. My vife – er wife – explained that it was the only word she knew that clearly conveyed our relationship and what we are to each other. 

I’m so grateful for this place that welcomes questions, ongoing learning, and individual declarations of who we are.

Welcoming and hospitality initiatives have taught me that acronyms and abbreviations can be unwelcoming as unknown, insider lingo. And that awareness changed me for the better. However, the “First Unitarian Church of Orlando” is a mouthful – like a lot of our congregations’ names and other Unitarian Universalist language. So, while being careful and intentional, informative and accessible, some abbreviations are inevitable.

What’s a four-letter word that starts with F-U-C... ?

“FUCO” had been our church’s nickname since, well, before I got there 20 years ago. (Yah, it makes me cringe, too.) It was logical. Probably inevitable. And awful! But sort of like a wonderful grandmother with an awkward-sounding nickname: the positive associations with the beloved qualities inside quickly eclipse the negative first impression. Just ask anyone who has a “Babushka” in their life.

Our 200+ active members included many who had at one point in their lives said something like, “I’ll never go to a church again.” Yet, here we were – gratefully part of the beloved community, the church that was FUCO. However we got here, however we came to embrace the people, the place and its name, we found our way. And so many members would also say (I know because I asked them), “I’d have been here sooner, if I’d known about it.” 

That’s exactly how I felt, too. And that statement gives me chills and an emotional charge to my very core. 

I suppose one of the reasons that statement of mixed joy and lament strikes me so personally is because of the other time I felt that way. When I was 35 I discovered more fully who I was, who and what spoke to my heart, and where I belonged, and I came out as a lesbian.

And I would have been there sooner, if I’d known about it.

The secretiveness, the fear, stigma, the lack of tolerance and equality in our society had kept hidden from me the, well… me that I truly am.

And I feel that our fear or unintentional shyness of being “out” as UUs isn’t just keeping our light under a bushel, it’s keeping hidden something so important from so many who might well find it life-affirming or even life-saving, should they ever find it.

Seven years ago, our church’s beloved minister of 20 years retired, sending us into a period of transition and soul-searching. Who were we going to be as a church, moving forward? Lay-leadership became even more important over this 2-year interim period, and during that time I worked to rebrand our church: I proposed “FUCO” become “1U.” Same name, different abbreviation. I developed a new logo, and designed business cards and slogans to weave the nickname into statements of our principles: “The 1U love for promoting equality,” “The 1U seek for encouraging questions rather than dictating answers,” “Celebrating religious diversity because there’s only 1U.” These would give us ways to quickly, easily share the core elements of our faith: on business cards, posters, t-shirts, parade banners. 

The time was right for change and the rebranding campaign was enthusiastically embraced by the Board, our newly-called minister, and the congregation. We became 1U.

Eva has been on our church’s float at Orlando’s “Come Out With Pride” parade every year that I know of. But the year following that brief poignant discussion with my wife, she was really engaging with the crowd, handing out 1U calling cards and inviting strangers to church. 

Talk about pride – as a lesbian, and as a Unitarian Universalist, that was one of the proudest moments of my life.

When another member of 1U, Jeter Walker, heard about our minister, the Rev. Kathy Schmitz’s initiative to coordinate a day of free weddings for any same sex couples as soon as it was to become legal in Florida, he came up with a brilliant message for our most recent Pride parade: “We Want to Marry You!” We had fans printed with that message and the event details, and handed them out to the receptive, cheering crowd. We’ve had some first-time visitors specifically from that outreach, some who have already become members of 1U. Well over 80 1U members and friends had a blast at this fun, positive, celebratory occasion delivering our message, and beaming with Pride.

In Faith,

Nicki Drumb (at right, pictured with her wife Rachel Gardiner)

Nicki Drumb is a professional graphic designer and writer who lives in Orlando with her wife and favorite creative communications cohort, Rachel Gardiner. Nicki has been a UU for as long as she’s known it existed, is an avid UU evangelist and was recently awarded Florida District's "Unsung Hero Award" for her 19 years of inspiring, supporting, and expressing Unitarian Universalism through graphic design, sermons, poetry and public witness events. You can contact her at nicki@tkorlando.com