Transition and Transformation at Bethany House in Boston

Transition and Transformation at Bethany House in Boston

This post was written by one of our 2015 interns, Ruth Hanna.

Bethany Union for young women

A page from a brochure for the Bethany Union for Young Women (not dated, but probably pre-1950). Courtesy of the Andover Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School.

I came across this brochure while sifting through a mass of old documents about Bethany House in the archives of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. Reading some of the old rules — “all lights in rooms must be put out at 11 o’clock PM” — was a humorous reminder of how much Bethany House has changed since its founding in the late 1800s. Yet despite changes in rules, location, and ownership — Bethany is now a program of the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry — the mission has remained constant: to provide safe and affordable housing to women in transitional and transformational periods of their lives.

This focus on transition and transformation was part of what attracted me to Bethany. Having just reached the halfway mark of my college career, the prospect of a summer exploring my interest in affordable housing, living in downtown Boston, and reconnecting with my Unitarian Universalist roots was refreshing. Although I grew up attending First Parish in Bedford, a UU congregation outside of Boston, and still identify as a UU, I hadn’t actively engaged with UU communities in years.

In mid-June, I moved into my room at Bethany, where I would stay during my internship. Quickly, my fourth-floor room overlooking Newbury Street – one of the most beautiful streets in the city – felt comfortable. Living in the house turned out to be essential to my experience at Bethany. Although my family lives in Boston as well, it was through my role as a resident that I started to get a feel for the rhythm of the house, where forty-five women share meals, rooms, and friendships.

As a UU College of Social Justice intern, one of my main projects was finding ways to incorporate the Unitarian Universalist principles into the Bethany House community. To this end, I created a series of discussions about the UU principles, the UU Urban Ministry, and Bethany House.

Seven Principles

One of the slides from my presentation, explaining the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. They appear in full on the left (in rainbow) and in a simpler form on the right.

Spending so many hours pondering and discussing the UU principles pushed me to consider how I live out these principles in my own life. The first and last principles — the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and respect for the interdependent web of all creation of which we are a part — have always been my favorite principles. They pair together so well: in the first principle, the focus is on the deep and inherent value of each person, while the last principle reminds us that we are each just a small part of a vast interdependent web of life.

Yet over the summer, I also came to appreciate some of the principles that I had previously overlooked. In particular, the fourth principle — a free and responsible search for truth and meaning — spoke to me, as I often felt that my summer was a summer of seeking and listening. My internship duties called me to seek out ways to further the mission of Bethany House and the UUUM. But beyond that, living at Bethany meant talking with other residents over dinner, diving into an endless pile of books from the Boston Public Library, biking along the Esplanade, and hanging out with my roommate on hot summer nights. All these experiences, though outside of the formal duties of my internship, have pointed me towards that search for truth and meaning, making this summer truly transformational.

Ending Detention Centers, a Volunteer’s Perspective

Ending Detention Centers, a Volunteer’s Perspective

Melanie RAICES

The following post was written by Melanie Poeling, a participant in UUCSJ’s RAICES volunteer program.

Imagine that you are a mother with small children and you have traveled over a thousand miles from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador because of extreme violence against you and your family, only to be detained after requesting asylum at the U.S. Port-of-entry. You imagine being safe and free in the U.S.; instead you are imprisoned indefinitely in a family detention center with your children anywhere from weeks to almost a year. When you finally get out, you are released at a bus station in a strange city in the middle of the night with little money, no clothes, and not even a change of diapers for your baby. This is the reality for many families from Central America fleeing violence.

Volunteering through the UU College of Social Justice and RAICES allowed me to see firsthand the mental, physical, and emotional toll that mandatory detention has on refugee families. I saw children famished due to inadequate food in the centers, not eating and losing weight. I saw mothers and children who were very ill but feared seeking help because the medical unit at the Karnes detention center was being used for solitary confinement and punishment for mothers that protested.

The stories I heard from refugee mothers were heartbreaking, but their strength, love, and determination outweighed the pain. We heard stories of women witnessing their children being murdered in front of them; stories of years of domestic violence; stories of sex trafficking and the kidnapping of teenage girls; stories about extortion and extreme gang violence. And then, once in the U.S., indeterminate detention in family detention centers. These families are refugees. How can we not see this as a humanitarian crisis?

Witnessing all of this firsthand deeply impacted me as a Unitarian Universalist and as a mother. As a UU, I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. In the detention centers, women and children are stripped of all dignity and treated as worthless. Profits are valued over people. As a mother, I am deeply disturbed that as a nation, we are detaining infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers with their mothers in detention centers that are no better than a prison.

I am so glad that through our work with the UU College of Social Justice and RAICES we were able to provide information, assist with court preparations, provide temporary housing and transportation, and support these mothers in their fight for the safety and well-being of their families.

As a UU, I am called to action to end the detention of mothers and children. This is a humanitarian crisis and family detention centers are not the answer. They should be immediately shut down.

UUCSJ Seminary Intern Josh Leach

UUCSJ Seminary Intern Josh Leach

This post was written by Josh Leach, seminary intern for UUCSJ.

Hi! My name is Josh Leach and I’m excited to be joining UUCSJ this year as a ministerial intern. I’ll be helping to add to our existing Study Guide and curricular materials, to build a networking platform for our program alums, and to assist with the new SALT program we’re helping to launch in partnership with UU Mass Action. I have a cubicle on the third floor, the walls of which render me invisible to passers-by, but please don’t let that stop you from seeking me out if you need anything or want to chat!

I’m coming to UUCSJ as a part of the “field education” component of my Master of Divinity degree, for which I’m studying at Harvard Divinity School. I hope to pursue a career in ordained UU ministry after I graduate, with a focus on advocacy and public witness. Before coming to HDS, I was a college student at the University of Chicago, where I learned a lot about history and developed a healthy impatience with reality.

The call to ministry was a bit of a foregone conclusion for me, I’m afraid. I was born and raised as a committed UU, and grew up attending services at the Horizon Church in Dallas, TX and the UU Church of Sarasota, FL. Both places taught me to have a strong appreciation for the value and, well, distinctiveness of our religious tradition. Whether I was attending a pagan wedding at Horizon in the heart of Bible-belt Texas, or phone-banking in support of marriage equality with other UUCS folks in the midst of conservative Florida, I learned to take pride early on in the fact that ours is still a community of heretics—and that being such a community takes courage.

I’m thrilled to be sharing the next nine months with everyone at UUCSJ and look forward to working together to put UU values into practice in the world. To paraphrase Monty Python, I hope to be convicted on two counts of heresy this year: heresy by thought and heresy by action!

Statement at Interfaith Prayer Service for Immigration Justice

Statement at Interfaith Prayer Service for Immigration Justice

The following statement was written by Rev. Kathleen McTigue, Director at the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ), on July 31, 2014 following her arrest during a protest at the White House.

We’re gathered together here as people of faith, as well as conviction. We come from many different faiths, so I wouldn’t presume to know all the reasons so many of you have gathered. But I can tell you why the Unitarian Universalists are here.

We’re among those who find our home on the religious spectrum at the place that is most thoroughly grounded in this world, in this one precious and fleeting life. We are the religious descendants of people who believed that the God they knew, the God of pure love, could want only good things for every human being.

So these ancestors of ours rejected the idea that God has a hell waiting for us after death. Instead, they pointed to all of the ways we human beings create hell for each other, right here on earth. Their faith called them to do something about that very real and present hell. Our faith — the same faith — is calling out to us still.

That’s why we are here, as Unitarian Universalists. We see the hell of hopelessness that’s been created for immigrants who are lost in detention, the hell of anguish when family members are torn away from each other, the hell of fear when people are so scared of deportation that they can’t call the police when they need them. We see the suffering and the deaths caused by turning our borders into military zones. And we see the desperation that drives tens of thousands of children to flee their homes with nothing but a little sliver of hope that they might find safety here.

Religion, at its core, is not about our beliefs. Real religion is about what we do with our beliefs. Our faith calls us to act, in every way we can, to ease the suffering of migrants and to demand justice in our immigration laws. So today we call on President Obama — our elected leader — to lead us now in the right direction, and to join us in standing on the side of love. May it be so.