I am having a kind of surreal moment right now. Looking out at all of you, I am filled with the spirit I felt here 20 years ago as a graduating senior who joined my friends and allies to call for racial and social justice at Penn State. I was one of thousands of students who recognized that our Black sisters and brothers were under threat. As we know, they still are.
In 1835, the Unitarian Reverend William Ellery Channing said to Reverend Samuel Joseph May, “Brother May, I acknowledge the justice of your reproof; I have been silent too long.”
Last fall, my church—the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County hung a Black Lives Matter banner. As far as I know, we are the only church in the county to have done so. We are also one of the very few white-majority churches in the county with a Black minister, a Black woman at that.
Reverend Carol Thomas Cissel has been my reverend for the last four years. A woman of incredible generosity, she has touched my heart. She is a woman of profound spiritual wisdom and practical stick-with-it-ness as much as someone who just loves a good Washington Capitals game, good poetry, or a fragrant small-batch bourbon. She was bolstered by an inspiring father who served our country in the United States military, and touched by tragedy, some of it personal to her very own story and some of it because she is Black. During a recent dark time, she extended grace and generosity to me as only your Reverend or your best friend can. I say all these things simply to recognize the full and amazing spirit of my friend, my confidant, and my leader.
Earlier this year, someone broke into our church and attempted to burn it down. While we are fortunate that the would-be arsonists were incompetent, the threat was clear. In a state that sent more people to the pro-Confederate insurrection in the U.S. Capital than any other, in a town that neighbors another where white supremacists defaced a pride wall just weeks before, in a town where white supremacists would vandalize the Martin Luther King Plaza just a couple of months later, in a town that borders a University where my intern, the amazing Nyla Holland and her peers in Black Caucus would be Zoom bombed with n-words and hatred, the message was clear. YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE.
We Unitarian Universalists begin every Sunday by saying, “You are welcome here.”
This must be proved my friends. This must be proved. To my white friends here, we have a powerful charge. Just as Reverend Channing said to Reverend May, we may have been silent too long. And you know what, we just have to get over it. Every one of us here today have a solemn duty to love our neighbors as ourselves and to stand with them in the completeness of their experiences, to celebrate and mourn with them, to build community whether it’s in the neighborhood, at school, at church, at work, or anywhere. WE HAVE TO SHOW UP to more than this.
“Brother May, I acknowledge the justice of your reproof; I have been silent too long.” Let us end the silence my friends.