UUFR’s Community Engagement: An Interview with Rev. James

UUFR’s mission is to build a Unitarian Universalist community that transforms lives and empowers people to serve the world. Though much of what we do focuses on our spiritual growth within our UUFR community, we also do a lot in the broader community. In June I interviewed Rev. James to discuss his vision of UUFR’s broader role in the community and to update us on some of what we’ve been doing.

Jim Yocom, President-Elect

 

Jim Yocom. We connect with community organizations in a number of ways. For example, we are a member of ONE Wake and of Interfaith Creation Care of the Triangle. And our newly adopted budget dedicates $1,750 to the Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of North Carolina. Why is connecting with and supporting local organizations important for UUFR to do?

Rev. James. We don’t have enough power and influence by ourselves to create the kind of change we want to see. It’s only when we partner with other organizations that we can help achieve our dreams.

In addition, other North Carolina UU congregations are hungry to be in a relationship with UUFR. We can all learn from each other and cooperate and share resources.

Jim Yocom. One of the initiatives you launched this year was to extend your leadership training class to all UU congregations in North Carolina. What led to that decision and how did it go?

Rev. James. High quality lay leadership is one of the most critical factors for success in any UU congregation. I developed this leadership curriculum before coming to UUFR and offered it primarily to our lay leaders and Board members. But extending it to other UU Congregations was a natural thing to do. 

I invited leaders from all other North Carolina UU congregations to participate in this class. Six congregations sent teams to participate. I hope that this deepens the cooperative relationship between UUFR and other UU Congregations in North Carolina. 

Another example of such outreach and relationship building is the OWL training in April, which was also opened up to other UU congregations. I hope in the future that congregations will come here and use our newly renovated Peace hall for OWL training.

I think UUFR should be the flagship congregation in the state. We’re lucky to have the resources and programs we have,  but the future of UU depends on congregations working closely together. And we especially need to help smaller congregations.

Jim Yocom. Involving UUFR in the community organizing group in ONE Wake was a high priority for you when you got here. You’re now on its strategy team. What motivated you to connect UUFR to ONE Wake?

Rev. James. I had a very positive experience working with a similar organization in the Seattle area. We created real change in the community. Frankly, I’ve participated in a lot of marches. Rarely do they create real change. Community organizing creates real change. For example, I have personally met with each one of the Wake County commissioners this spring as part of ONE Wake Zoom meetings. Progress is sometimes slow. But through my participation in Seattle-area community organizing, I successfully advocated for tens of millions of dollars on spending that continues to benefit some of the least fortunate individuals in the Seattle area today. And I’m hoping we can do the same in our area.

We got involved in ONE Wake right before the pandemic. Unfortunately a lot of organizing efforts took place on Zoom, and I’m looking forward to more one-on-one interaction with this congregation and this congregation in terms of faith, race, and class.

Jim Yocom.  What do you see as the role of UUFR in tackling national or global problems?

Rev. James. I think it’s important to not ignore them.  I was really happy that UUFR hosted the Interfaith Creation Care of the Triangle’s Human Prayer Chain for Climate Justice prayer chain in October 2021 and I’m excited that we’re hosting it again this year.

But I would like to see a team at UUFR that would help us coordinate efforts to address issues at the state level and even the national level. So far we haven’t had success assembling such at team, but are hopeful that we can in the future. As soon as 5 people from the congregation step forward, we can start doing this more.

Jim Yocom. What other plans for outreach activities can we look forward to this year? 

Rev. James. UUFR will be hosting the annual interfaith Thanksgiving celebration this November. This will be the first time that we will be doing this.

Jim Yocom. Anything else you’d like to add?

Rev. James. In the past, UUFR has been a participant in many community events. We are now seen as a leader.

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