as prepared for the Harris County Commissioners Court, June 6, 2023
Commissioner Ellis, thank you for the invitation to offer a prayer this morning. Judge Hidalgo, Commissioners Garcia, Ramsey, and Briones, thank you for your time and your service.
I bring you greetings from the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston. Located in the heart of the Museum District, we are oldest and largest of Harris County’s five Unitarian Universalist congregations. In the last two election cycles we, along with our partners in The Metropolitan Organization, have organized more than a hundred volunteers to contact tens of thousands of voters through block walks, texts, phone calls, instructional videos in English and Spanish, and postcards to get out the vote.
A few words about Unitarian Universalism for those of you who are not familiar with our tradition. We place community service and ethical action at the heart of our life together. Our communities are covenantal in nature. This means that we make agreements amongst ourselves about our highest values and how we shall treat each other. Each Sunday, we say:
Love is the spirit of our congregation,
Service is our prayer,
To dwell together in peace,
to seek truth in love,
and to encourage one another,
thus do we covenant.
This covenant allows for a diversity of belief and in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston we number atheists, theists, liberal Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, neo-pagans, humanists, and others amongst our members.
The congregations in our association include some of the oldest in the United States. The First Parish in Plymouth, Massachusetts, founded in 1606 by the Pilgrims, is part of our communion. As do the First Church in Boston and the First Parish in Cambridge. My alma mater, Harvard University, has ties to our congregations that date back to its inception. The Harvard Divinity School was founded at the start of the nineteenth century to train our clergy. Four Presidents, including both John Adams and John Quincy Adams, were Unitarians. President Barack Obama attended the Sunday School of the First Unitarian Church in Honolulu with his grandparents.
Our tradition uplifts the inherent worth and dignity of each and every person, the clarifying force of reason, and the transformative power of love.
Here in Houston, First Unitarian Universalist is proud to have been the first historically White congregation to desegregate, on June 6th, 1954. The Senior Minister at the time, the Rev. Horace Westwood, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.
We are the first non-LGBTQ religious community to have been led by an openly gay minister. We called my predecessor, the Rev. Bob Schaibly to serve as Senior Minister, in 1982. During early years of his ministry we also became the first congregation in the city to offer sanctuary to undocumented political refugees fleeing violence in Central America.
Today, we meet at 5200 Fannin St. for worship each Sunday at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. We continue the legacy of our religious ancestors by providing a religious home for all who wish to join us: welcoming the LGBTQ community, declaring that love has no borders, working to dismantle white supremacy, toiling to address the climate crisis, and living the religion of democracy.
I invite you now into the spirit that some name prayer and others call meditation.
Close your eyes,
open your minds,
open your hearts,
take one breath,
find your center.
Oh spirit of love and justice,
known by many names,
God, Allah, the highest to which
we humans can aspire,
the ground of being that has no name,
the spirit that moves between us–
for spirit comes from the Latin spiritus,
the word for breath,
and is present with us when we breathe–
we invoke you in this hour.
We invoke you in this hour,
we ask that you inspire
the elected officials,
the people’s representatives,
who have gathered in this place,
in this hour,
to do the business of democracy.
We ask that they are inspired by the examples
of the ancestors who have gone before,
that they recall that they are carriers of the legacies
of such well known Houston figures as Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland,
as well as those who did not hold public office
or whose names have been excised from the history books:
labor leaders like Emma Tenayuca and John Gilbert Mers, housing advocate Lenwood Johnson, civil rights icon Carl Hampton, and so many others who worked to build a more beautiful world in which there is goodness for all.
This month of Pride
we also ask that they be inspired by the queer and transgender activists, artists, and intellectuals, who have pointed to ways of being where all may live into their own truth and uncover the spark of the divine that resides within each: ancestors like Gloria Anzaldua, Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson, and Harvey Milk.
Oh, spirit of love and justice,
which moved so powerfully in the lives of such ancestors,
we ask that the words and deeds of those who have gone before
offer a blessing to our county commissioners
and all gathered here
in this difficult hour
when the state government in Austin
appears to be devoted to propagating the politics of cruelty:
stripping school districts of the right to self-governance;
lessening the ability of majority Black and Brown cities like Houston
to enact policies to ensure the rights of the vulnerable, to empower workers, to extend civil rights, to protect the right to vote;
targeting LGBTQ communities—particularly those whose members are transgender—
limiting the ability of educators to educate about the true history of this country and this state;
punishing the undocumented;
and refusing to address the climate crisis, the epidemic of gun violence or expand Medicaid to all whom need it.
We ask that our elected leaders,
our county officials,
be blessed with the strength,
to find a way out of no way,
and offer us a politics of compassion
where there is housing for all,
where members of the LGBTQ community know that they are loved, not feared or hated,
where books are not banned,
where each and every person has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential,
where the migrant and the refugee finds a welcome,
where no one goes hungry,
lives in fear of being shot,
or discriminated against because of the color
of their skin, who they love, or who they understand themselves
We ask, oh spirit,
oh breath of life,
moving through each,
in the name
of all that is holy,
good, and just,
that our political leaders
and all of us be blessed with the strength,
the moral clarity,
and the leadership
needed to build a more beautiful world.
That it might be so,
I invite those gathered here,
to say Amen.