From Our Director of Religious Education For Children and Youth 

Dear Congregation,

One of the things you may remember me saying repeatedly last year while we were having services online-only is “children are always in the room.” Computer, tablet, and phone cameras don’t necessarily show us who is in the room, so it felt important that we regularly reminded ourselves of the presence of children who may have been off-screen.

Thinking of who could be in the room isn’t simply a practice that is good when we are online, however. You may also recall me saying that my colleague CB Beal teaches a concept called “preemptive radical inclusion” that involves the idea that justice and equity require us to assume that everyone is present all the time.

For example, it does not produce justice and equity to wait until someone with a visible disability shows up before we ensure accessibility. It does not produce justice and equity to wait to give people an opportunity to tell us the correct pronouns to use for them until we’ve made the mistake of using the wrong pronouns. And if I, as a white minister who guest preaches once a month in a number of majority-white congregations in New England, write a sermon about racial justice with the assumption that only white people will be in the room, I am not fostering justice and equity. Of course, there are many more examples we could consider.

As we again prepare ourselves to return to a multiplatform set of Sunday experiences, it is a good time to remind ourselves that ministering according to our shared values requires us to presume that everybody is always in the room. This reminder will be well-situated in the moment as we are challenged once again by our multiplatform reality to consider that there are people participating online (with others in the room) and people participating inperson.

This also means that there are always newcomers. Here is an example of a simple way that keeping this in mind changes how we operate. You may have noticed that I rarely use abbreviations, and that when I do, I make sure there is a note in parentheses indicating what the abbreviation stands for. For instance, I don’t often say “UUCD” when I am talking about the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Danbury. I don’t often say “RE” when I am talking about Religious Education programming. (In fact, I tend to talk about activities, ministries, classes, groups, and programs for children and teens, rather than using the more insider term “Religious Education,” which is a lifelong endeavor not specific to children and youth in any case.)

I wonder if there are ways you are practicing Preemptive Radical Inclusion, even if you didn’t before realize it. I wonder if there are ways you could imagine the practice of Preemptive Radical inclusion shifting or transforming our community life. What if, for instance, we keep on assuming that children are always in the room even if we don’t see them in the fellowship hall? What if we assume that there is not one developmental experience (or “stage”) represented in the congregation when we gather for any purpose? 

Warmly, Sierra-Marie