UUCSJ By The Numbers

UUCSJ By The Numbers

The UU College of Social Justice was jointly founded in the summer of 2012 by the UUA and UUSC, so this year we are celebrating a big anniversary. We are grateful for all of our alumni and supporters who have made our work possible!

In honor of of all of you and our anniversary, here is CSJ by the numbers (as of October 2017).



UUCSJ has been inspiring and sustaining faith based action for social justice for 5 years!


During our 5 years, we have run 39 immersion journeys for adults, with a total of 470 participants (78 of whom were ministers, DREs or seminary students).


Through 18 week-long youth focused immersion learning journeys and training programs as well as three one-day offerings during General Assembly, 392 youth have experienced how Unitarian Universalism can inform their work for justice.


We have placed 65 interns in summer-long immersion internships in over 15 different grassroots justice organizations.


We have sent 53 skilled volunteers to placements with partner organizations for between one to 8 weeks. Most of those placements were lawyers and Spanish speakers working with RAICES in San Antonio Texas to help the women and children detained in Karnes.


Total participants across our programs totals 1,063. This number does not include collaborative training programs like the UU-UNO Spring Seminar and the Goldmine Youth Leadership program which extend our reach even further!


Of the participants who have completed an impact assessment form, 88% said that, as a result of their journey, they have a deeper sense of the connection between their faith and the role it can play in social justice.


Participants – both those who came as individuals and those traveling in a congregational delegation – came from 260 congregations representing nearly every state in the country.

It All Makes A Difference

Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians 2016 group

Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians 2016 group

Jacquline Brett is a recent graduate of Meadville Lombard’s Masters of Divinity program (MDiv) and will be at Meadville for another year for the Master of Arts in Leadership Studies (MALS) program. She has participated in UUCSJ’s 2015 Religious Professionals Journey to the Border and our 2016 Journey to Nicaragua, Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians. 

One of the profound things about participating in a UUCSJ trip is that memories of the experience, and the processing of what was learned, linger for months after returning home. The experiences are rich in depth of meaning and are very impactful. Even months later, I continually find myself coming to a deeper and fuller understanding of something I witnessed, was in conversation about, or heard in a story someone told. And then months later still, I connect another dot with something else occurring here at home, or elsewhere in the world. This has been true for me both on the Border Witness journey to Arizona and Mexico, and perhaps most especially on the trip to Nicaragua. 

The Women of FEM

The Women of FEM

On the Nicaragua journey, as a woman of color I very much wanted to understand how race and gender intersected with issues of climate. I was left with much to consider as we engaged with many different communities of people: university professors, workers, scientists, leaders of non-profits, a women’s group, and powerful activists who were simple but proud peasants determined to take a stand for environmental justice in their communities. I especially appreciated that almost everyone we met were people of color who told the story of their experience or of their research. As I listened to a scientist explain and illustrate a simple process that was used to engage the wisdom of the community in tracking climate change, I was not only impressed by the process, but began to understand as I had not before how urgent this situation is in the world over.

I loved living with a family in the mountains during part of our stay. I so respected their fierce commitment to their community and their generosity of spirit as hosts.  We arrived in Nicaragua just after the U.S. election of 2016, full of both our privilege as Americans and a sense of dread for the future of our country. We were told more than once by Nicaraguans we encountered, who looked us straight in the eye and advised (with great sympathy), that rather than figuring out how to help them, we Americans had plenty of our own work to do back here at home. And we needed to set about doing it. I for one returned home with a greater sense of our interconnectedness in this process. As I remember the women at the edge of the Yaoska River who prepared an amazing, simple meal over an open fire, I’ve reflected on how greatly each of us is needed to change the world, no matter what small corner of it we occupy, no matter how wealthy or poor we are. We each have the capacity to offer a little something of ourselves. And it all makes a difference.

Learn more about our Journeys for Religious Professionals or register for the upcoming fall journeys at https://uucsj.org/journeys/religious-leaders/

We Keep Coming Back

We Keep Coming Back

Rev. Beth Banks is the Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. She journeyed with other UU Religious Professionals to the Arizona-Mexico border in 2014. Below is her reflection of how that journey helped her energize her congregation around immigration justice.

2014 Religious Professionals Border Witness Participants

2014 Religious Professionals Border Witness Participants

In November of 2014, the College of Social Justice offered a border trip for religious leaders of our denomination. I wanted to travel with colleagues who came to learn for their own sake, but who also came to find inspiration for a new level of justice engagement with their congregations.

Each morning started with worship, preparing us for the day’s experience ahead. The week was intellectually stimulating, but it was my heart more than my mind that was broken open. We witnessed tremendous injustice, and what gave me hope, was witnessing the determination of both dedicated individuals and agencies who, because of their faith, had energy that did not cease.

Before returning home from the border trip, the staff of UUCSJ challenged us to choose something concerning immigration that we believed we could address within our sphere of influence. That’s how a new relationship focused on justice between the undocumented students of The University of California at Davis and The Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis began. In November 2014, the same month as the UU College of Social Justice trip for religious leaders, the AB 540 Undocumented Student Center was established by UC Davis. That first year, the Center served the needs of a couple hundred undocumented students. Since that first year, the number of known undocumented students is closer to 500, and there are more students every year.

Our relationship started with the allies who chose to represent the undocumented students. They spoke in worship services, and congregation members took special collections or made donations of gift cards to grocery stores. It seemed like such a small effort, and yet it was the sphere of influence available to us at the time.

SPEAK Member Raising their fists

SPEAK Members

However, at the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year, the Center put us in direct relationship with members from SPEAK, a support group for students who are undocumented and their allies. Together, we discovered that the members of UUCD, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely positioned to be of assistance, as the students hoped to be in relationship with organizations that are LGBTQI friendly as well.

Trust has come slowly. We had much to learn, and so did the students. We were not necessarily skilled allies, and they were not familiar with churches that would support diversity as an ideal. With every passing season, there are more and more volunteer opportunities for congregants to support the students. We supply snacks at the Center where they study, offer our space on our church campus for their end of the year banquets and graduation parties for families. we’re running a Faithify fund raiser for their emergency funds, which supports their presence at the university or pays their DACA fees.

SPEAK - We Exist We Resist

SPEAK – We Exist We Resist

In return we promise to take the UndocuALLY training, to help those of us who have never lived in fear of deportation understand the secrecy needed to survive. With this training, we learn how to listen more carefully – slowly both groups are creating a bridge of trust.

This coming November the congregation is planning a border trip with UUCSJ because more people want to experience their own emersion learning. We will not learn alone. Prior to the trip, everyone in the congregation will be invited to attend the four sessions prepared by UUCSJ on immigration justice.

The sphere of influence, the one small thing that I could do when I returned from the UUCSJ border emersion trip, was making contact with the Executive Director of the Undocumented Center. I returned to her office repeatedly, asking the same question, “How can we help?” Eventually, we found just the place where we were needed most. When I ask the students why they are beginning to trust, they give an answer that is so seemingly mundane. ‘“It’s because you didn’t go away, and kept coming back.”  We’re going to keep coming back.

To learn more about our journeys for Religious professionals or to sign up for the upcoming fall 2017 journeys to the Border (Border Witness for Religious Leaders: Oct. 30 – Nov. 4, 2017) or Nicaragua (Guardians of the River: Climate Justice for Theologians: Nov. 25-Dec. 2), visit https://uucsj.org/journeys/religious-leaders/ 

Buena suerte to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lake Chapala and vaya bien

Buena suerte to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lake Chapala and vaya bien

Reverend Gary Kowalski, Minister, Unitarian Congregation of Taos, NM embarked on a sabbatical leave to Lake Chapala, Mexico with the help of a UUCSJ sabbatical grant.

Families on the MaldeconThirty miles south of Guadalajara, the small town of Ajijic rests on the northern shore of Mexico’s largest body of fresh water, Lake Chapala. Flanked by high mountains, pelicans and herons laze in the shallows, while local families stroll the boardwalk, or malecón. This is home to the Lake Chapala Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a congregation of U.S. and Canadian expats living abroad, now celebrating their eleventh year since their beginnings in 2006.

Besides offering a break from the January winters of northern New Mexico, visiting Lake Chapala represented a chance for me to practice my Spanish. While not quite an immersion–there are too many retired gringos in the area to make speaking Spanish mandatory–I did find many opportunities to chat with locals, and even hired one of the workmen at Casa los Sueños, the old convent where we stayed, to spend an hour conversing with my wife and I each evening.

Che Guevara MuralSergio, we learned, had studied at the university to become a lawyer. But the national exams, equivalent to our bar, were prohibitively expensive, so he was doing construction and tile work with his father, fixing up an old bodega on the grounds while living at home and saving money. Mexico, Sergio explained, is not a democracy. Vote buying is rampant in the elections, while business cartels, crime syndicates and government officials are all in bed together. Law can be a dangerous profession, especially criminal practice. These brutal facts were hard to fathom, chatting with him beside the sparkling pool at our B&B, shaded by groves of palm and papaya. But the slums we saw ringing Guadalajara when we traveled in to see the grand Orozco murals in the old historic district were a reminder of Mexico’s underside.

On the other hand, Ajijic presented a picture of Mexican life that was sheltered and almost idyllic: trim, tidy and traditional. Cobblestone streets were remarkably free of litter. Public art–recounting indigenous legends and honoring national liberators from Hidalgo to Zapata–enlivened the walls along the narrow caminos. Caballeros on horseback twirled lariats. There were a few beggars, but not in any greater numbers than north of the border, and here the ten pesos you press in their hand go farther than money back home.

Saint Andrew's CathedralConnecting with Ajijic and the surrounding towns like Jocotepec is one of the primary challenges for the seventy-nine Unitarian Universalists who live here. Almost all are past their working years. Very few speak more than a smattering of español. The majority describe themselves as humanists or atheists in a village where the steeple of the Cathedral of St. Andrew dominates the skyline as Catholicism permeates the culture. Many are part-time residents, traveling periodically back to their English-speaking homes to visit family or satisfy the requirements of six-month tourist visas.  All these factors tend to make the Fellowship an island, rather than part of the main.

During a two-week interval spanning three Sundays in January of 2017, I not only led worship services but conducted a goals-setting workshop for the Lake Chapala Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where members expressed their hopes of developing more meaningful relations with their Mexican neighbors, not merely giving money but building trust and friendship.

Last year, LCUUF contributed to the Centro de Desarrollo, a network of women’s health clinics run by Silvia Flores at two locations, both in Ajijic and in the Tephua section of Chapala. Sra. Flores offers the only access to contraceptives available to women in the area, as well as providing other services like PAP smears. The Lake Chapala Fellowship also supports the Hungry Children of Mezcala Food Program directed by Sra. Tañia Ruiz Martinez, both with cash and with in-kind donations for food baskets. All told, LCUUF gave approximately $2800 US at current exchange rates last year. For perspective, this seemingly modest sum represented 45% of the Fellowship’s budget over the past year. On a percentage basis, few other churches give so much.

Anti-Trump Rally at AjajicStill, significant numbers of members expressed a desire to do more. Some wanted to introduce Spanish into the liturgy on a weekly basis. Others wanted to learn the language (and a Spanish learners conversation group had formed by the end of my visit). There was acknowledgment that probably very few Mexicans would be interested in joining the Fellowship. But that was not the point. The Anglophones wanted to become more culturally competent, in effect joining into the language, rhythms, heart and soul of Mexican society rather than expecting Mexico to come join them.

The advice I gave was encouraging but cautionary. I told them that this would be hard, long term work. I mentioned that there are very few models of vibrant multicultural or multiracial congregations within the UUA. I shared my own experience as a minister in Taos, New Mexico, where our mostly Anglo congregations exists in relative isolation from both the Hispanic and Pueblo peoples who have inhabited the region for generations. I likened it to my own attempts at learning Spanish. It can be done, but only with stick-to-it-iveness and the humility to accept endless corrections while making mistakes along the way.

That said, there is no more worthwhile or rewarding work. Who else but the church should be about the business of breaking down barriers–linguistic, class and social? And what faith is better equipped than our own to articulate a vision of human family across the lines of nation or ethnicity?

Buena suerte to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Lake Chapa and vaya bien.  Goodl luck and travel well.  I know you can reach whatever destination you choose.

Different Expressions of Unitarian Universalism in the World

Different Expressions of Unitarian Universalism in the World

Jennifer Ryu is a recipient of UUCSJ’s Ministerial Sabbatical grant which offer rich encounters with historic and emerging expressions of our Unitarian faith in a different cultural context.


Today I’m packing up to leave Cebu City which has served as home base for “part one” of my sabbatical journey to the Philippines. During these first two weeks, I travelled with Rainer Lucero, UUSC coordinator for local projects. We visited over eleven communities affected by typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, traveling by planes, boats, vans, trucks, and by foot to reach these remote areas. Everywhere we went, I witnessed the resurrective power of community. This was the kind of people power that I had hoped to foster in the congregation I just left.

In June, 2015, I said goodbye to a church that I had served for nearly a decade. Although the ministry was going well, and I could have easily stayed many more years, my soul was urging me to move on. Since I had no idea where I was supposed to go, I decided to spend this year remembering what called me to ministry in the first place


After so many years living in the bubble of suburban America and the bubble of American Unitarian Unitarianism, I needed a big change in perspective. Thanks to the UU College of Social Justice Program Grant For Ministerial Sabbatical Program, I was able to design a trip that exposed me to both the UUSC typhoon relief work and the UU Church of the Philippines–two different expressions of Unitarian Universalism in the world.


The rural communities we visited are not unlike churches. Members of these voluntary associations often came together as households, so they are naturally multigenerational. They join their financial resources for the good of the community and support one another in times of need. Not only do they build economic power through their organization, but also political power.  Some are organized by livelihood (farmers and fisherfolk) or identity (LGBT and indigenous peoples and women); others are based on village geography.
Ceremony for distributing livestock. The first beneficiaries will raise chickens and goats, then give the animals' offspring to the second round of beneficiaries.

Ceremony for distributing livestock. The first beneficiaries will raise chickens and goats, then give the animals’ offspring to the second round of beneficiaries.

The work that the UUSC has been doing in the Philippines goes way beyond relief work. They are using their networks and expertise to build up institutions–those local, grassroots groups of people who are too often ignored by their own governments and larger NGOs. When individual women organize, educate themselves, and seek official recognition from the government, they can then exercise their power to shape municipal budgets, policies and laws.


As I look forward to coming home in a few more weeks, I am thinking about the marginalized people in my own neighborhood…where is their local power? How are they organizing themselves into voluntary associations that convey benefits and also require high engagement and participation?


I carry these questions with me as I board the bus to Dumaguete, headquarters for the UU Church of the Philippines, where I will meet with college students and make a presentation to the annual UU Women’s Conference.


Answering the Call

Rev. Carie Johnsen engaged in a three-month cultural immersion experience in Wales, United Kingdom. During this time, she lived in the village of her ancestors, engaged in a partnership building ministry with the Welsh Unitarians and attended a Welsh language program. In this article she describes how her commitment to racial justice ministries became grounded in her journey to discover and integrate her ancestral story.

Hearing the call for white allies to engage in responsible advocacy and action, I began to discern sabbatical goals to inform my justice ministries. Recognizing the fundamental value of grounding one’s commitment toward multicultural anti-racists and anti-oppression ministry in ancestral heritage, the call to the land of my ancestors –Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Wales – could not have been clearer.

Discernment on where was just as clear: all roads led to Wales. The path to the land of the red dragon, daffodils and sheep, as it turned out, was the most developed part of my family tree. In Wales, the names of farms have been conveniently handed down through the centuries, therefore easy to locate on any map. Finding my way to the small rural village and farms of my ancestors was part geography 101 and part magical unfolding. With twenty-two Unitarian congregations, thirteen of them Welsh speaking, the second of my two prerequisites for a spiritual and ancestral pilgrimage emerged with exciting opportunities to be in community.

In Wales, much to my surprise, I quickly discovered parallel religious histories. My familial story and the Unitarian story merged in the history of the faithful dissenters of the Church of Wales. These early Protestant Christians did not conform to the governance and practices of the established church of Wales. As nonconformists they risked life and livelihood to worship as they believed. While my Trinitarian forefathers and foremothers were given legal right to worship in 1688, our Unitarian cousins would have to wait an additional 125 years until the signing of the Unitarian Relief Act of 1813.


ancient barn of Pantmawr farm


In Gwynfe, Llangadog, Wales, I stood in the graveyard of Jerusalem (Independent) Chapel and gazed upon the ancient barn of Pantmawr farm in the foreground. (Picture above) Both religious sites connected to my ancestors. My Great Great Great Grandmother Margaret (Morgans) Howells was born and raised on Pantmawr. Villagers tell the stories of 16th Century nonconformists worshipping in the barn, hiding under the cover of darkness with only moonlight to guide their way. My Great Great Great Great Grandfather Samuel John Howells served this rapidly growing nonconformist congregation as a lay minister. Generations of Howells filled the pews and children ran playing through the adjacent fields that also served as footpaths to their farms.  In the graveyard lay their children who would be left behind when three generations emigrated to the United States in search of farming opportunities in the westward expansion.

Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel in Pantardawe

At Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel in Pantardawe, I found, as promised, a wood fire and a warm welcome. This small chapel located on a secluded mountaintop is a stark reminder of a time when worshippers were safest in remote settings. At Hen Dý Cwrrd, Cefn Coed, I took service and sat in the ancient rostrum once carried in and out of the illegal barn services held across the valley. At Yr Gen LLwynrhydowen, I attended the historic reopening of the mother church of Unitarianism in Wales.  This chapel closed in 1876 when the congregation and minister were evicted for their radical non Tory Unitarian ideologies.

I had come to Wales to connect, grow and live out our Unitarian Universalist principles and values beyond our borders. What I found was a story of dissension that linked my familial ancestry with my present day convictions as a Unitarian Universalist. At the heart of both stories, I found people of faith committed to religious liberty. Dissenters who centuries later made possible a free faith, something I all too often take for granted.

I had come to Wales to the villages of Llangadog and Gwynfe to be still, to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors, and to listen to their stories. What I found was a sense of coming home to place where I never knew I belonged. In doing so, I caught a precious glimpse of why people, tribes and nations are deeply connected and spiritually rooted to the land of their ancestors. Through this experience, I learned it is more than a story of belonging to the land; it is a sacred story of being of the land.

I stood on the Black Mountains gazing upon Gwynfe trying to imagine the adversity and hardship generations of my ancestors endured as tenant farmers. Like immigrants arriving today, they wanted more for their children. Leaving behind their homes, their culture and their families to start anew in unknown territories was the price they were willing to pay.

Informed by the faith and journey of my ancestors, I stand in my story: granddaughter of immigrant dissenters and Dakota homesteaders. They risked life and livelihood for religious freedom and economic opportunity. Their willingness to risk it all for their children and their children’s children is reason enough for me to stand with the immigrants of today seeking the same.

In the United States, they were among the successful homesteaders and it came at a high cost to the indigenous people of this land. They directly benefited from the colonization and genocidal violence against the First Nations. Subsequently, I benefit from this history of injustice; I didn’t cause it, but I do share responsibility for world we live in today. As such, I am motivated to stand up, speak out and take action to restore the future of indigenous people and their cultures.

The courage of my ancestors gave me countless opportunity; in homage to them, may my life be an expression of their fortitude, strength and courage. May I follow their lead and endeavor to build the world I wish to leave for my children’s children. May that be a world where equality, diversity, justice and beloved community led the way.