More than 70 UUCC members attended the three-hour workshop offered two Saturdays ago (December 2) by the Search Team. Rev. Keith Kron of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Transitions Office facilitated the workshop titled “Beyond Categorical Thinking.” Even if you did not attend, there are lessons to be learned about how we interact with and evaluate people who may be different from us.

The workshop is presented to Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations who are searching for a new minister, because in many cases, ministers who are presented as candidates have a gender, racial, ethnic or other identity that differs from what the congregation is accustomed to. This can – and has – produced uncomfortable situations both for congregations and their candidates for Settled Minister. Those interactions can leave members and ministers speechless, looking like deer caught in headlights.

Rev. Kron presented case studies (read more here) based on real accounts from UU ministers and congregations in search. For example, a minister of Native American/Indigenous descent met with a social justice committee for the first time. As members introduced themselves, the last person to speak raised one hand and said, “How!” No one could think of anything to say, and looked to the minister, who remained silent.

If you’re thinking nothing like that could happen here, reading the actual case studies may make you reconsider how members of our Community might respond to meeting a minister with, say, a pronounced accent or an apparent disability, a minister who is transgender, nonbinary or bisexual, or who might be older or younger than expected. Can you truly say you hold no conscious or unconscious biases against any and all identities?

Even in the 2020s, UU ministers report they experience discrimination during the search process. Rev. Kron’s central theme was that no one – especially a painstakingly screened and recruited minister – wants to be reduced in anyone’s mind to a single story based on identity.

The Search Team got a lot of positive feedback on the BCT presentation and on the sermon Rev. Kron delivered (watch here) the day after. Several people said that they came to the workshop thinking that they “had bias covered” and during the workshop came to the realization that they still had work to do.

We hope you will take some time to read and think about the case studies, in hopes that if a moment or moments like those happen, you as individuals, and we as a congregation, are better prepared, and we can feel good about our response.