by the Rev. Barbara Threet
The New York State Convention of Universalists [NYSCU] was organized in 1825. Prior to the creation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, it served as the principal denominational body for Universalist churches in New York State.
Today the Convention administers two endowments. One provides gratuities for retired New York State Universalist ministers and their families; the other is used to promote the growth of the Unitarian Universalist movement generally, and to preserve, nurture and enhance the Universalist tradition within the movement.”
So says NYSCU’s website, in their description of the purpose of the organization.
And on Saturday, October 23, I had the pleasure of attending the Annual Meeting of NYSCU, held at the UU Society of Oneonta. Some two dozen or so UU congregations are part of NYSCU, including UUCGF – we joined a few years ago. It’s an organization that I’m proud for us to be part of, not least because we benefited from the organization even before we officially joined, when we received two loans (which we have repaid) from NYSCU allowing us to complete significant repairs to our building a few years ago. This year we also received a grant for use with our hybrid technology.
I do think the organization sells itself short in its self-description, though. NYSCU also provides excellent programming at their Annual Meetings, and it encourages a strong network of people who are dedicated to preserving the Universalist side of our heritage as well as bringing Universalist values to our current UU practice. The choice of keynote speaker for this year’s Annual Meeting was an excellent example of these aspects of their work: it was Dr. Gretchen Sorin, Director of SUNY’s Cooperstown Graduate Program, which offers training in all aspects of museum work with an eye toward greater cultural awareness and inclusivity. She’s also the author of “Driving While Black: African-American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights”, which formed the basis of the PBS documentary by the same name.
Dr. Sorin’s talk explored the intersections and tensions of the freedom and liberation movements in the African-American and the Jewish communities over the past century and a half, and it was fascinating! Using many photographs and art works, she explored how the two groups have at times encouraged and supported one another, and at times been in competition – both have histories of being persecuted and marginalized, but in different ways and with different costs. And in recent years, there’s been increasing awareness of discrimination against both groups, and in hate crimes directed at both. She pointed out, for example, that the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there were about 4 times more anti-Semitic attacks in 2019 alone than there were in the previous 4 decades! A lively discussion followed Sorin’s talk, speculating on why there’s such an increase in violence and hate crimes in the last few years, and why there’s such an increased awareness of that violence when it happens.
At the business meeting which followed, officers were elected for the coming year – including our own Rick Haas’s election to the Nominating Committee! NYSCU will meet again in the fall of 2022, probably also at the Oneonta UU Society. The exact date varies from year to year depending on the availability of whoever is chosen as the keynote speaker, but whenever it happens, it will be well worth your time. I’ve attended several NYSCU meetings over the years (the first when I was in my first year of seminary, 24 years ago) and they’re always interesting, informative and thought provoking. And if you’re at all curious about the impact of Universalism on our UU faith, NYSCU is a great place to start exploring!
Shalom and Salaam,