UU Congregations have been signaling their support for the Movement for Black Lives by placing banners proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” outside their congregations. Many congregations have reported their signs being vandalized or stolen. Click here for resources in response to vandalism. Today we hear from Rev. Neal Anderson at the UU Fellowship of Northern Nevada in Reno, Nevada.
On Wednesday, August 26, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada installed a Black Lives Matter banner on our campus in Reno. The next morning our office administrator arrived to find our recently installed banner had been vandalized. Someone spray painted the word "WHITE" over the word Black. As we live by faith, and not by fear, we dedicated and installed a new sign after our Sunday morning worship last week. This vandalism is a poignant reminder of why this congregation is in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. For too long, as this vandalism demonstrates, in this nation white lives have been more valued than black. We will continue to work to end racism as our religion calls us to do.
After filing a police report I began calling local media and sending pictures to them of the vandalized sign. This led to news reports about the vandalism in the local paper the Reno Gazette-Journal and the local NBC news affiliate. We also informed the congregation by Facebook about the incident. I could not have imagined that 71,000 people would have viewed our original Facebook post and it would be shared over 400 times.
The Sunday of the rededication was an incredible morning with worship and the congregation's dedication of the banner. We had so many folks come to worship as a result of hearing the story of our banner in the local media or on Facebook.
After hearing from congregants who were concerned about personal safety at worship, Kristin Famula, our Membership staff, person pulled together well-planned and thought out training for our greeters and welcome table volunteers to prepare them should worship be disrupted. We were all ready to break out in song with “Gathered Here” if necessary and our response team was ready to escort folks out if they were disruptive to our sacred and worshipful space. Thankfully, our services was not disrupted.
My sermon was paused at least five or six times for applause and received one standing ovation. Congregants were very moved during the sermon by a litany of about 20 ministries of UUFNN and why our engagement in them was a statement that Black lives mattered. A visitor to our congregation responded that she had never heard what came from the pulpit come out of a white person's mouth. The Rev. Jason Shelton's music was a powerful part of worship. We ended with “Life Calls Us On”. The choir, who was not scheduled to sing, pulled together and even did an anthem. You can watch the sermon here:
Our Director of Lifespan Religious Education, The Rev. Karen Foster, as part of the story for all ages, created a ritual of love and healing. The children brought forward the vandalized banner into the sanctuary and with them we joined hands together, sending our healing thoughts and energy into the banner. It was as poignant reminder to the congregation of how powerful we can be when we stand together.
A powerful gesture of ownership for congregants and visitors was having people sign the back of the new banner before reinstalling it on Del Monte Lane, in front of the church. The Board of Trustees members who were present reinstalled the banner. At the dedication we had people speak from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, ACTIONN (our PICO Affiliate), NAACP, and the Reno Justice Coalition, which is a group of University of Nevada, Reno Black Lives Matter activists.
The Board of the Reform Temple in Reno, with encouragement of the Rabbi, agreed to put up a banner last week. The downtown United Methodist Church is currently discussing the possibility.
It was a very, very powerful morning. I think the congregation and our visitors left with a sense of the deep importance of this movement and how we are called to bear witness and be in solidarity. During the dedication I called in the UUs and reminded them this is not a movement for us to lead, it is a movement that will require us to listen deeply and respond in ways in which we are called to do.
The vandalism of the sign has galvanized the congregation's resolve for our public support of Black Lives Matter. May it do the same for yours.
Rev. Neal Anderson