Congregational Research & Archival Project

Partnership between Sister Souurce, Inc. and
the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta (UUCA)

Report by Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman – June 2022 (Part 1)

Welcome to our site! Here, the Congregational Research & Archival Project will post updates on its development and progress to help those interested in exploring the many directions and focus of congregational research in the world of Unitarian Universalism. Thank you for joining us. Let’s get started with some background.

Beginning

The Unitarian Universalist Funding Program awarded Sister Souurce, Inc. a $10,000 grant in the fall of 2021 to implement the Congregational Research & Archival Project. The partnership between Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta and Sister Souurce, Inc. is a pilot program whose purpose is to research the congregational presence of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), Transgender/Non-Binary and Disabled members, with a focus on Black women and girls.

The Research Project’s goal is to explore the congregational history of BIPOC and thus encourage congregations to document the stories of its BIPOC members, past and present. This is accomplished through teaching basic research skills to lay persons. Currently, most congregants do not chronicle their individual and collective stories. The premise of this research is that UU history accurately reflect the presence of BIPOCs within UUism. As we mine the stories at the congregational level, the process will be documented so that it can be replicated in other UU congregations. Biographies that surface will be vetted and submitted to the Dictionary of UU Biographies (DUUB). A video or slide presentation, along with a facilitators’ handbook, will be developed using e-portfolios and slide presentation software. A worship service featuring a “Story for all Ages” will be created based on the research findings.

Project Inception

This project was conceived after eighteen years of research on Black women. Reverend Qiyamah Rahman realized it was time to change the focus and methodology. Instead of continuing to exclusively devote time to historic personalities, she decided to expand her research to invite the voices of women and girls of color that have been born into UUism, andthose currently coming through our doors. Furthermore, she deduced that two individual researchers are not sufficient to gather these stories, and that laypersons could be trained to explore and capture these stories. While several congregations have begun similar projects, none are intentionally designed to duplicate their process. Hence, this Research Project was conceived. A handbook and videos will be developed to allow others to replicate the project.

Goals

  • Research and document the presence of congregational BIPOCs as a diversity project; utilize this information as part of anti-racism, anti-oppression and multicultural education
  • Teach congregants/laypersons basic research skills
  • Publicize and institutionalize the presence of BIPOCs in the congregation
  • Expand the power and capacity of BIPOC UUs within our faith and within our congregations by accessing information and resources about BIPOC UUs, and facilitating their connections with other BIPOCs through DRUUMM and BLUU
  • Shift congregational practices and transform culture to promote an appreciation for congregational history and particularly that of BIPOCs throughout congregational life

Outcomes

  • Develop a service to launch the Research Project and emphasize the value of congregational research
  • Chronicle the presence of BIPOCs
  • Develop basic research skills for lay volunteer researchers
  • Develop biographies that can be submitted to the Dictionary of UU Biographies (DUUB)
  • Produce a handbook and video to be available for replicating the project
  • Create a worship service developed from the findings that includes a “Story for All Ages”

Timeline

  • September, 2021 through December, 2022

How This Project Strengthens and Grows Unitarian Universalism

  • Shifts the telling of history from the “famous” historic personalities and reminds us that everyday folk are history makers, allowing congregations to recognize their home-grown champions and superstars
  • Encourages individuals to take pride in the “ordinary” ways in which they support and sustain their congregations through their time and talents
  • Corrects the historical UU narrative to reflect more inclusion, strengthening and growing UUism
  • Sends a message to UU BIPOCs that they matter, and that they are seen 

Project Personnel

Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman – Principal Investigator
John Leeker, Meadville Lombard Theological School – Director of Library and Archives
Rev. Joe Cherry, UU Fellowship of Falmouth – 2021 Interim Minister
Rev. Taryn Strauss, UU Congregation of Atlanta – Senior Minister
Christian Harden, Whitney Young Society member

Evaluations and Deliverables

  • Handbook
  • Video or slide presentation
  • Worship service, including “Story for all Ages” (collaboration between director of religious education and researchers)
  • Evaluation of worship service by members in an online poll and report on what they learned

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Report by Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman – July 2022 (Part 2: Planning and Preparation)

Lead Congregation

Qiyamah Rahman, Principal Investigator and Taryn Strauss, Senior Minister agreed that UUCA will be the lead congregation for the Research Project. Rev. David Schwartz and his wife, Teri, have recently left First Unitarian Church of Chicago, the previously identified second congregation participating in the research. Since there is no indication of instructions left upon their departure about the Research Project, establishing a rapport at this time with Interim Rev. Don Cameron is not ideal.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

Qiyamah will draft a MOU and run it by Taryn for agreement before seeking signatures.

Funding

UU Funding Program has been contacted with a request to modify the use of the grant funding based on the reduced amount awarded. To date a response has not been received.

Volunteers

Jim Kelly, Tony Stringer and Melissa Jeter have stepped forward as volunteers; other contacts are being investigated. The possibility of the former archivist assisting with the Research Project was raised by Taryn; she will explore this.

Taryn shared that there is a range of perspectives among UUCA members; this will need to be considered. Our expectations need to be very specific. Our approach utilizes an anti-racist, anti-oppression, multicultural lens; this approach posits that Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) have historically been marginalized and oppressed within the larger society and within UUism. As a result, there is a need to examine and correct aspects of the UU narrative, revisiting congregational stories using hermeneutics of suspicion to discover who is missing so as to capture silenced voices, and reveal the presence of BIPOC that may have been rendered invisible or even deterred from entering the doors of UUCA.

Research

Although the general research topic is BIPOC presence at UUCA with a focus on Black Women, other areas of interest include:

  • The presence of Black women leaders at UUCA
  • UUCA’s historic presence initiatives in BIPOC Communities
  • Intentional efforts to improve diversity, such as efforts to decenter whiteness at UUCA
  • Exploration of curricula and images representing BIPOC in non-adult faith formation
  • Oral histories with BIPOC
  • History of the relationship between Thurman Hamer Ellington (THE) and UUCA
  • History of the Whitney Young Society

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