Renewing Our Commitment

Sarah Richards
September 25, 2016

Renewing Our Commitment

Rev. Sarah: “Break not the circle of enabling love where people grow, forgiven and forgiving; break not that circle, make it wider still, till it includes, embraces all the living.” This morning, we have a story about how this Fellowship, this covenanted community, made our circle wider still…

Peggy Degen: I first came to CUF, in part, because I knew it to be a welcoming congregation, even if I did not know what that designation meant at the time.  I’d mentioned to my friend, Tabitha Ayres, that I was feeling a lack of community and generally not practicing my spiritual path. She suggested I give CUF a try because 1) no one told you what to believe and 2) “CUF loves lesbians!”….or words to that effect.  I attended my first service in May 2015.

But I came back to CUF a second time for just one reason:  The words used by the facilitator in the beginning of the service:      “We welcome all with open minds and hearts: those of all ages, all colors, all identities, all kinds of love.”  I could not believe that I had found such an open-minded and supportive congregation right here in Carbondale.

I also distinctly recall a service in June 2015 following the Supreme Court decision striking down bans on same sex marriage.  I was moved to tears as I watched straight person after straight person at CUF share their joy over the decision.  In fact, I was so moved to tears that I could not quite share my own joy.  I decided right there and then, that I was going to become a member.

I also told a friend of mine who, for entirely different reasons, was searching for a place to belong.  CUF gained two new members simply because of being a welcoming congregation.

Darl Young: CUF’s status as a Welcoming Congregation is a large part of the reason I am standing in this space today as a member of this Fellowship. Following the landmark Supreme Court decision issued June 25, 2015 I was appalled at the reaction of my own church. I was embarrassed to be associated with a church which could claim to follow a man who befriended prostitutes, tax collectors, and others on the margins of society while spewing complete hate speech against an entire group of our fellow citizens. So, I decided to look into my wife’s church to see if perhaps that would not be such a sticky issue there. As I researched their official responses I found myself just as disillusioned. I did a quick Google search for something along the lines of “Carbondale Illinois church GLBT accepting.” This congregation came up on that search because of its certification as a Welcoming Congregation. Since I live right here in the neighborhood I decided to give CUF a try and I visited the following Sunday.

Sarah: Peggy and Darl’s membership and participation at CUF are a direct result of its Welcoming Congregation Status—they represent the fulfillment of one of the goals of the folks who led the process sixteen years ago. I talked with three of those people: Rev. Bill Sasso, Judy Aydt, and Mary Campbell about their memories and experiences, from that time. Bill, Judy, and Mary told me of several motivations for doing this work: congregation-wide: to fulfill the Fellowship’s vision of being a welcoming, diverse congregation, specific: to respond to the needs of fellowship folks who had GLBT family members, and personal: to support a CUF member, Kelley Dinsmore who was SIU graduate student and out lesbian. As a part of her efforts for Welcoming Congregation Committee, Kelley attended a workshop in Champaign-Urbana, and reported back to the Fellowship. The Committee also invited speakers, and organized a three day series of workshops at the Fellowship, developed by the UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns.

So Fellowship members heard sermons from the director of that Office, Rev. Keith Kron, who visited from Boston. They heard from a variety of gay and straight presenters, “wonderful people,” Mary said, with “real, first hand information.” She especially remembered hearing the story of a Carbondale resident whose partner of 30 years was a public school teacher. They were careful to keep their relationship secret out of fear for his job, never able to share the ups and downs of their lives…. With each activity, conversation, story, something beyond the stated goals of the program happened, this education process opened up understanding within the congregation, people learned new vocabulary, new perspectives, and confidence to talk more openly, and admit confusion in the learning process.

Mary felt the Welcoming Congregation process “took away the stigmatization of homosexuality.” In a sermon given in May of 2000, Bill said “through the Welcoming Congregation program we have done considerable work this year to open our hearts and minds to greater diversity. For some of us, this may have been a process of growth, sometimes painful growth. I want to give those of you who have felt the pain special credit for staying the course.[i]

That afternoon, the whole congregation voted on the following proposal:

The Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship has taken several significant steps toward becoming more welcoming to the bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgendered community. In addition, plans have been made to continue this process of congregational education and outreach to this community. In celebration of these accomplishments and as an indication of our commitment to continue this effort, the Welcoming Congregation Committee recommends that the congregation vote to apply for formal recognition as a “Welcoming Congregation” from the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Now I invite those who served on the 2000 Welcoming Congregation Committee to stand.

I invite all who participated in the Welcoming Congregation Workshops, took part in discussions, heard sermons and talks associated with the process to stand.

I invite all who cast their vote in favor of formal recognition as Welcoming Congregation to stand – the vote, including several absentee ballots, was unanimous!

Of course, the vote, and the official recognition, received from the UUA in August 2000 were really the first steps, not the last, in widening our circle of welcome to GLBT folks at the Fellowship. That same spring, the first meetings were held with people from The Church of the Good Shepherd to provide safe gathering space for GLBT teens. That initiative turned into the Rainbow Café, which became a very tangible way of putting Welcoming Congregation learning into action, and community outreach. The Rainbow Café celebrates its sixteenth year at the Gala this Saturday evening – still time to get your tickets! A PFLAG chapter met for about a year, there were visits from Rev. Kron and other guest speakers, and services by Bill, as well as services about Gay Pride led by CUF member Christine Bauer.

Sixteen years after CUF gained its Welcoming Congregation status—made a covenant to widen the circle of inclusion to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people–much has changed within CUF and in the wider community, in our country and around the world in expanding understanding about and civil rights for GBLTQ folks. Much more scientific research, much cultural change, much more popular discourse about sexuality, gender, has become part of our lives. The vocabulary has expanded: for example the “Q” or queer that wasn’t part of the Welcoming Congregation learning process sixteen years ago. Another is the term “cis-gender” (a term for people who have a gender identity that matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.), and the change from using the term transgendered to transgender people.

Sixteen years ago, marriage equality was a thing of fantasy, we were dealing with “Defense of Marriage Acts.” But as progress has been made in some areas, we now hear about “bathroom bills,” and read heartbreaking statistics on suicide attempts of transgender youth, and of the high rates of violence against, and murder of transgender people, especially those of color.

Our congregation has changed a lot in sixteen years – but we also have the same vision of welcoming diversity, and we have a new covenant which includes We value diversity in its many forms and welcome with open minds and hearts, all those who come among us. We still have close ties with The Rainbow Café, but it’s now an independent organization, “all grown up now.” As we’ve seen, we’ve got folks still with us who were a part of the first Welcoming Committee process, and we’ve got a lot of newer folks, like me, and Peggy, and Darl. What keeps all of us, new and long-term members here, staying in to make the circle wider still?

Darl: Following that first visit after the Google search I continued to investigate CUF and UUism. What I found was that each person is welcomed here in his/her/zur entirety. Nobody is asked to leave any part of themselves at home, or hide any parts of themselves, or apologize for parts of themselves not acceptable to the larger faith community. It is my hope, as a member of CUF and as chair of our Membership Committee, that as the congregation moves toward recertification of our Welcoming Congregation status we can continue to grow, and learn, and “widen the circle” of those who feel welcome in this place.

Peg:   Frankly, I stay because this place gives me hope for the future in a time where our country is so divided in so many ways.  CUF made a covenant to be a welcoming Congregation. To fulfill that covenant, the work must continue because being certified does not end the process, but implies a continuing commitment to grow and change as the world changes.  I want to be a part of that work.

After all, learning never really ends.  For example, Q added to the acronym mentioned by Rev. Sarah. When I was young, the word “queer” was an insult.  Now it is an accepted term, widely used because some people identify as “queer” or “gender queer”.

Clearly, there was no magical bestowing of knowledge and understanding upon me, just because I came out and married my beautiful wife.  I’m an old fart, so I have just as much to learn as anyone else in this congregation.  I recently attended the Transgender Ally Coalition meeting held here at CUF,  mostly because I no longer want to SOUND like an old fart, or to accidentally hurt someone’s feelings by using an incorrect pronoun.  That meeting was incredibly enlightening.

I also hope the congregation will agree to make our commitment to being a Welcoming Congregation more visible.  I hope we can “rainbow this place up a bit”.  My hope is to one day see a Pride Flag flying on the grounds, or a rainbow banner indicating that all are welcome here.  When I walked through those doors for the first time, I had only Tabitha’s assurance to indicate that to be true. Just one rainbow, prominently displayed, would likely bring even more people through that door than we will ever attract by just word of mouth.

I certainly want to see our Fellowship grow, as we widen that circle.  I’ve only been a member a year, but CUF has become a very real part of my life. I serve on the BOT, on the Sunday Services Committee and on the Building and Grounds committee. I sing in the choir.  I work in the garden. And, yes, I do have a job.   But, busy as I am, I feel compelled to do more.  Updating and renewing our Welcoming Congregation status is just that important to me.  I hope many of you feel the same way and will join us as we invest in what I believe is needed for the long-term well-being of our Fellowship.

Sarah: So, how can we respond to the 2016 reality of our society, community, and congregation regarding inclusion and support for GBLTQ people? The process of renewing our Welcoming Congregation status is in two parts: first, we need to gather a Welcoming Renewal team to review our welcoming history and commitments made, to look at successes and gaps—places we can widen the circle. Then they will make an implementation plan with recommendations – presented as a Sunday Service, like this one, as well as present to the Board. Then after implementation has started, when we’ve once again taken on the work of opening the circle – opening our minds, letting down our guards for the growing process–then, a proposal to apply for renewal of WC status will be presented at a congregational meeting for vote.

If you would like to be part of the Welcoming Renewal Team that leads our congregation into deeper covenant in this way, fantastic, thank you! Please talk to Darl after the service. If you have questions about what the Welcoming Renewal process will look like and feel like, bring them along on this journey we’re taking together—we all have questions, and maybe concerns and even fears. May we trust in our covenant, stay in, have patience and take pleasure in the opportunities for learning and growth that lay before us.



[i] Sasso, William. “The State of the Fellowship,” May 21, 2000. Sermon delivered at Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, Carbondale, IL.