Boundless Justice: Expanding Beloved Community

Boundless Justice: Expanding Beloved Community

This post was written by one of our 2015 interns, Lucy Tucker.

Nineteen years ago my birth announcement said I was born between two parades: Babylon and Hermes.

To most New Orleanians this makes sense. Any baby born during Mardi Gras season simply has to avoid the parade route on their way to the hospital.

I had no idea that when I moved away from this city (to Smith College in Northampton, MA) that I would be asked all sorts of questions about my home. These inquiries were not simply about Mardi Gras and celebration. They were layered with undertones and assumptions about race, class, and violence. I did not really understand how people viewed New Orleans until I left it.

I returned home after my first year at Smith to work at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. CELSJR is a catalyst for promoting social, economic, environmental, and racial justice.

A few weeks ago we co-hosted Activate New Orleans with UUCSJ, a week-long program for high school-aged youth from all over the nation. Throughout the week youth and leaders participated in worship, direct service with our community partners, and dialogues about systemic racism and solidarity, intersectionality, UU history/theology, Hurricane Katrina, and resistance in New Orleans. We even made time for dancing.


The intensity and passion that each Activate member brought to every corner of this place was astounding.

When we talk about beloved community, we are not just talking about Unitarian Universalist community. From learning about Southern environmental justice in a cramped room to organizing items with Unity House for homeless people to swimming at a place called Nirvana, these youth embodied UU values. They looked out for each other, practiced self-care, and worked to be in mutual relationship with the people of my city.

When a group comes to stay with us at CELSJR, we ask them to join us in a dialogue on systemic racism before they participate in direct service. In my first day here, I watched students answer the question: “Who likes helping people?” Hands shot up. When asked: “Who likes asking for help?” hands slowly lowered.

True community engagement means realizing that as people doing direct service, we will learn from and work with those who have asked us to show up. Mutual relationships inspire beloved community.

The questions I got at Smith about New Orleans were from people who I think have not fully explored mutual relationships with people who hold less systemic power than they do—at least not yet.

I am ready to go back to Northampton and spread this idea. I’m excited to have others push me forward in understanding that as seekers of justice—from trans women of color being represented as cis and white in Hollywood films about Stonewall  to the United Houma Nation’s struggle to be recognized by the federal government —we have to look at the core values this country was founded on. We must talk about race. We must listen. We must push back on all the oppressive systems in this country. We must expand our beloved community by moving forward with humanness, with power, with love.

Faith and Rebuilding in New Orleans

Faith and Rebuilding in New Orleans

In 2005, three Unitarian Universalist congregations experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures that shut down New Orleans and wreaked havoc along 250 miles of Gulf coastline. Two years later, these resilient congregations together created the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR). The center became the home of the New Orleans Rebirth Volunteer Center, and in 2012 it continues the vital work of rebuilding one of the most unique cities in the United States.

In New Orleans, Unitarian Universalism has offered core leadership in linking spirituality to social justice as well as discovering the synergy, renewal, and sustenance that arises when faith is in dialogue with the needs of the world. Experience this vital work for yourself in upcoming service-learning trips with the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ).

In a few days, the three UU congregations in New Orleans will go even further together on their faithful journey toward justice. On Monday, November 12, 2012, Community Church UU, First UU New Orleans, and North Shore UU together will ordain Deanna Vandiver into the Unitarian Universalist ministry and celebrate her new community ministry as CELSJR’s executive director. “It is extraordinary to be welcomed to serve as a minister in the place I love best — New Orleans!” said Vandiver. “My ministerial formation has been clearly shaped by this place, as well as by the love and support of Unitarian Universalists around the globe. It is an honor and a blessing to answer my call to ministry right here in New Orleans.”

Rev. Kathleen McTigue, UUCSJ director, said of this event, “At its heart, ordination is the commitment of the community and the ordained minister to continue the work of our faith in the world. Deanna’s work through the center provides a strong foundation upon which to build this commitment.” UUCSJ has partnered with CELSJR this year to offer three opportunities for service-learning trips to UUs from around the country.

CELSJR’s mission is to be a catalyst in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast region for nurturing a sustainable, equitable, and inclusive community by promoting social, racial and economic justice. With community relationships that are deep and wide, an anti-oppressive analysis, and the blessing and support of the founding UU congregations of the Greater New Orleans area, it is clear that CELSJR can offer a practicum of faith as unique as the city it calls home.

As a new day dawns on UU faith in the Greater New Orleans area, UUCSJ and CELSJR invite you to come be a part of the transformation.

Written by CELSJR Executive Director Deanna Vandiver.

The Ocean Refuses No River

The Ocean Refuses No River

The following post was written by Deanna Vandiver, executive director of the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal in New Orleans, La.

With every encounter, discernment emerges.”

—Brian Swimme

Joy and grief are intimately bound together for those who live on the margins. The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast know quite a bit about sorrow and celebration. You are invited here to nurture your spirit while you help heal the world. Come experience a practicum of faith through the UU College of Social Justice’s service-learning program New Orleans Community Building: Turning the Tides with the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (CELSJR), a UUCSJ partner organization.   

CELSJR is a catalyst in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast region for nurturing a sustainable, equitable, and inclusive community by promoting social, racial, and economic justice. We are also big fans of good food, good music, and good stories!

New Orleans celebrates four seasons: holiday, Carnival, festival, and hurricane. Okay, we don’t really celebrate hurricane season anymore — but we deeply, truly, fully celebrate the other three! Join us for VooDoo Fest, Carnival (the season that culminates in Mardi Gras), Jazz Fest, and more! Come engage in the deep work of justice, embedded within a community of hope. There is so much to learn and so much to share. Come with your love, your fears, your questions, your hopes, your skills, and your tears. Come — as the ocean welcomes the river, we welcome you here.

Join us for one of the following service-learning trips to New Orleans:

  • February 7–16, 2013 ($950 per person. Register by December 2, 2012.)
  • April 27–May 5, 2013 ($950 per person. Register by February 24, 2013.)
  • July 20–27, 2013 ($725 per person. Register by May 19, 2013.)

Questions? Contact us about this and more service-learning opportunities.