Deliberate Interdependence: Sacred Fire

Deliberate Interdependence: Sacred Fire

Crowdfunding Completed: August 8, 2014

Amount Funded: $8835

Project Owner: Sacred Fire UU

Short Description of Project

Sacred Fire UU is a missional ministry that is bringing us into covenanted community with those we are not currently reaching. Through the spiritual practices of interdependence and solidarity, we are growing missional communities that work to build a more beautiful, compassionate, and peaceful world. Walk with us, in body or spirit, as we seek to 'give life the shape of justice.'

How was this project connected to UU?

We do our work in formal relationship and/or continuing dialogue with the local Cluster of UU congregations, the District/Region, and the UUA. Rev. Nato is an Affiliated Community Minister with multiple area congregations, and we are engaged in formal consulting ministries with a number of them in the form of social justice and anti-oppression trainings. Lastly, we are working to offer more opportunities for collaboration between our missional community and local congregations--much like we did with the OWL trainings--in the areas of food, housing, and worker justice.
Our Sacred Fire curriculum, which we are co-creating in an ongoing process, draws from UU theologies melded with liberation theologies. From this grounding, we engage in community with one another and in our justice work according to covenantal principles. We hold to our commitment to anti-oppression, radical solidarity, and the vision of the Beloved Community by partnering with organizations of color working with marginalized communities. We recognize that the forms UUism currently takes in our world are wonderful for some, but do not reach all those with whom we want to be in community. What we do at Sacred Fire UU attempts to widen our circle of fellowship and to increase our impact in building a just world.

Full Description of Project

Why this project?

Our project is a response to two things that we yearn for in our communities: accessibility for those not interested in "church" but who are interested in building the Beloved Community; and depth through which we can transform both ourselves and the world. The way that we do this is through alternative forms of worship, mutual aid with those otherwise unable to participate, small group ministry, and the deliberate creation of networks of interdependence. You can see our website here:

What's a missional community, and what do we mean by deepening interdependence and building a new world?

A missional community, in contrast to traditional church, is one that seeks to "go to them." We are deliberate about being part of the interdependent web, and we seek to find ways to live that out in day-to-day life. For us, this means building deliberate communities through which we can practice growing our interdependence with one another in the ways we eat and relate, the places we work and sleep, and the means through which we work for justice. Making religion 'coincident with life' forms the foundations of the Beloved Community in the here and now, and gives us the grounding and support necessary to engage in transformative work, or as we say: "to give life the shape of justice."

Sounds good, but how do we actually do that?

The way we make community and justice work accessible is by hosting Gatherings, alternate forms of celebratory worship for those that either can't access the traditional Sunday morning, or don't wish to. These are bi-weekly events that include sharing food, engaging in collective discernment, and developing ways to meet the needs of local communities. We utilize lessons from black and immigrant churches as well as from liberation theology "base communities" to help fulfill not only the spiritual needs of the community, but also the social and economic ones (ie., Our members are often unable to participate in community-building and social justice work because of other factors in their lives. For us, mechanisms of mutual aid such as the sharing of food, transportation, child-care, tools, and skills are vital not only for practical purposes, but because they help us to re-wire our hearts and minds to resist the culture of separation that afflicts our time. These structures are rarely present in our UU congregations, and therefore those that come to us seeking these structures don't stay. Practicing interdependence is how we seek to enlarge our circles to those whom we are not yet in covenanted community with.

We increase our capacity to incarnate our values in the world by also seeking depth. To that end, all members join a small group ministry Circle in which we utilize a curriculum that we have co-created called "Sacred Fire." In it, we explore UU liberation theology, covenantal ethics, strategies of social change, and then engage in action-reflection discussions based on our day-to-day justice work in the community. Each Circle chooses an area of justice work to be involved in, and will usually partner with a community organization to do it. We have found the spiritual depth, relational connections, group accountability for anti-oppression, and common understanding of radical solidarity gained from this small group ministry to be simply incredible! Through this work, our practice of interdependence becomes a spiritual one, in which we seek to liberate ourselves and our neighbors from the crushing separation and lack of connection in our world today.

What sorts of social justice work are you involved in?

So far, our greatest focus has been on Food Justice. Therein we have created mutual aid structures of collective buying, planted community share gardens, built relationships with farmers to locally source organic produce, and partnered with local Latino and refugee groups to distribute food to those in need. Our vision is to contribute to the creation of sustainable food networks that promote health, respect for the environment, and local economies in such a way that transforms institutions, helps us act as a community, and ensures that all are fed.

Another of our Circles partnered with five area organizations and three local congregations to host all 6 levels of the Our Whole Lives sexuality education training. Through this cooperation, UUs from the District participated in the training and subsidized spots for members of these partner organizations. That Circle continues to work with these groups to apply OWL to their community contexts.

A third Circle continues to engage in community organizing around issues of affordable housing by creating a tenants' empowerment coalition through which tenants are no longer rendered voiceless in the policy discussions surrounding this issue.

We learn to become deliberately interdependent in our lives, to operate in true solidarity through an anti-oppressive lens, and to collectively dream about (and co-create!) the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible...and we have fun while doing it!

Why is my support important?

We think that access and depth is what our faith desperately needs. The civil rights leader Howard Thurman said, "Don't ask what the world needs, find what makes you come alive and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Sacred Fire UU is a deliberate attempt to support one another in coming alive, and then to use that rooting to catalyze transformation in the world. Your support for us contributes to our faith movement by bringing us into covenantal relationships with those with whom we would not otherwise connect. It allows us to continue our already-successful model of community and justice engagement.

As of now, our Gatherings have our meeting space bursting at the seams, and we have managed to inspire 30 more people to join Sacred Fire Circles! In order to accommodate this growth, we need to raise money for the rental of a larger space and to be able to afford the staff support--in the form of logistics, facilitation, training, and leadership--for three more Circles. With the success of our Faithify campaign, we will be able to continue our Gatherings, grow them, add more Sacred Fire Circles, and take on the resulting missional justice work.

What will the money be used for, and what other sources of funding do you have?

Our budget consists of our members' pledges and contributions, small assistance grants from the Southeast District and the UU Funding Program, a Southeast District Chalice Lighters grant, and giving from private donors (from both UUs and non-UUs). That combined with a successful Faithify campaign will allow us to afford:

Rental on a space in which to Gather: $500/month

Adding 3 more Sacred Fire Circles: $300 for supplies

Enlarging the scope of our justice work: $1200 for supplies, promotion, and a web-based community organizing platform

Increasing Rev. Nato's hours to facilitate larger Gatherings, more Circles, and lead the justice work: 10 hours/week

Hiring a support/logistics staff position: 10 hours/week

Who's involved?

Our lead "Rev.olutionist" is Nathan Alan Hollister, who was ordained this past year after graduating from Meadville Lombard with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Leadership Studies. Nathan, or "Nato," is a 3rd-generation UU and has been a community organizer since he was 16. As part of his studies at Meadville, Nato lived in Oaxaca, Mexico learning about food justice from women's empowerment collectives. The rest of us come from many walks of life, and are generally (but not exclusively!) low-income young people who are seeking to create the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.

Who will you be working with?

We utilize a radical solidarity that calls for mutual relationships in all of our justice work. Just as a covenantal relationship is a mutual promise, so are our partnerships with marginalized communities. We seek empowerment, solidarity (which means taking on the risks of those most oppressed), creating viable counter-institutions that meet collective needs, and, most importantly, we practice the skill of listening. In our minds, the aim is not to "get people out of poverty," but to get people into community. Please see our two primary partner organizations below, they are amazing!

How will you share what you learn?

We are intentionally making what we do replicable by others. It is our hope to use our successes to launch other missional communities in our area and in yours! We envision doing this by broadcasting our successes more widely and by offering consulting to any and all who want it.