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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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”
- 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
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
- 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)
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.
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.
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.
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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Report by Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman – August 2022
John Leeker, Joe Cherry and I met virtually via zoom. John Leeker is Director of Library and Archives at Meadville Lombard Theological School. Joe Cherry is Interim Minister at UU Fellowship of Falmouth. We were joined by UUCA members that volunteered as a result of the November 7th worship service entitled, The Power of Research as Storytelling and Resistance. At that time, I invited interested parties to contact me. Joyce Lanterman and Jim Kelley, the two volunteers who responded, joined us on January 7th. Rev. Chris Long was also in attendance, and has discovered a treasure trove of information on Black UU women at UU Community Church of New York, where he serves as Minister of Pastoral Care and Programming. He also serves as the Chaplain on Sister Souurce, Inc.’s Board.
We began with a brief reading and did introductions to acquaint everyone with current and/or potential roles. I provided an overview of the Project and shared some projections about possible time lines. We had anticipated that John Leeker would make a site visit to UUCA in March, 2022 after settling into Meadville’s new location in Chicago. However, Jim Kelley’s report about the status of UUCA’s archives and their existence at Emory University in the Pitts Theology Library makes a site visit unnecessary, according to my notes. We were under the impression that the archives were in storage at the church’s temporary location. Since they are at Emory, Jim Kelley, an experienced researcher, had already been conducting research on UUCA, including Thurman Hamer Ellington (THE). He has made inquiries and contacts at Emory and is scheduling time at Emory to delve into their UUCA archives. Jim has encouraged us to view the video that UUA has produced documenting its history as the first church in Atlanta to integrate. The video can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPQNhmRXgJs
Jim is a wealth of information and shared another contact for resources, namely Jay Kiskel, at NW UU Church, who has compiled an extensive online archive of the history of UUCA and other Atlanta area UU churches. It can be found at: https://nwuuc.org/archive/digital-archives-content/
Another contact Jim noted in an email to me was the Fulton County Auburn Avenue Research Library (AARL), which has an extensive collection on the history of African Americans in Atlanta. While he does not think there is much on UUs, it could be a follow up source if we found some names of Black UUs at UUCA that might be cross referenced at AARL. I strongly suspect Whitney Young would be listed at AARL as well as UUCA’s archives, since there is a Whitney Young Foundation/Committee at UUCA. Another piece of information that Jim shared is that AARL is located on the site of the original Atlanta Unitarian church founded in 1884. In 1899, the church sold its property to the Carnegie Foundation to build the library.
Joyce Lanterman spoke about her passion for this work and is eager to see what she can contribute to the Project. Seminarian Melissa Jeter, and Sonya Tinseley-Hooks, both UUCA members, are interested in being involved but were unable to attend.
We will inform you of our next steps as Joe, John and I work on the Volunteer Orientation. I thank each of you for your interest. I will be in touch.
Warmest regards, Rev Qiyamah
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