Honoring Our Ancestors

Elandria Williams

The history and legacy of Unitarian Universalism are shaped by the ancestors in our congregations.

I came as a fourth grader to my congregation, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee (TVUUC). That community helped bring me into social justice struggles in the world around me and inside the UUA. My church opened so many doors because they held young people in high esteem and encouraged our leadership in the church and community.

My religious education teachers, friends’ parents, and spirit aunts and uncles were and still are community leaders in everything from nuclear disarmament to antiracism/anti-oppression issues. They have been my inspiration as I work to support others who are called by their faith to change hearts, minds, and communities.

My church changed forever on July 27, 2008, when an armed man came into the sanctuary and killed two UU leaders, one a member of TVUUC and the other a member of Westside Church. This rocked our church to its core. When I first heard about it, I didn’t know who had been killed—my mom, my friends and their parents, or others who had nurtured me my entire life. I realized something that day that has stayed with me ever since: No matter what issues I have with other Unitarian Universalists regarding our visions of God/Spirit, justice, race, and age—at the root of everything is community, love, and faith. That day, something larger than our individual beliefs rose up in my mind. I thought of the principles, values, and family that are the connective tissue of our faith community and that held us weeks after the shooting, six months later on our sixtieth anniversary, and still today.

We are part of the connective tissue that holds the legacy and future of our faith.
We are the children of freedom fighters, visionaries, and radical liberal theologians.
We are the phoenix rising out of the ashes of the McCarthy era and the civil rights, women’s, and queer liberation movements.
We are the survivors and beneficiaries of youth-led and youth-focused beliefs and programming that encouraged us to be change makers, boundary pushers, and institutionalists at the same time.
We are and will be the ministers, religious educators, congregational presidents, organizers, and social change leaders our faith has led us to be.
We wear our faith as tattoos on our bodies and in our hearts as testaments to the blood, tears, dreams, and inspirations of our community ancestors and elders.

Tree branches starkly outlined against a blue and peach sky.