River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation

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Engagement Sessions
Findings of the five focus group discussions on Social Justice at RRUUC

Findings of the five focus group discussions on Social Justice at RRUUC

Below are common themes and ideas that were generated from the five focus groups (attended by some 80 persons), our interview with the RRUUC youth group, and comments emailed to the team by social justice (SJ) stakeholders.

What RRUUC social justice activities are you most proud of/inspired by?

  • Our support for Dreamers, CASA de Maryland, youth trips to El Salvador through LATN
  • Areas where we have made a sustained difference for some time (Shepherd’s Table, LCDP, Beacon House, Partner Church in Transylvania)
  • Sustained support for immigrant health care through La Clinica del Pueblo
  • Sustained support for Middle East refugees through ANERA (General Outreach)
  • Support to Doctors without Borders on Ebola crisis
  • Anti-gun violence demonstration on The Mall
  • Support for affordable housing in Montgomery Co, Habitat for Humanity project
  • Legislative achievements on Affordable Health Care and its funding
  • Legislative support for equality of marriage (in Maryland)
  • Progress on environmental issues in Montgomery Co (often only faith group present)
  • Scholarships for students from low-income families
  • Our trip to New Orleans to help clean-up after Hurricane Katrina (example of hands-on service outside of our immediate community)
  • Cardboard City (youth group) to raise awareness of and funds for homelessness
  • Youth group (Coming of Age) service trips to West Virginia to help repair homes
  • "Black Lives Matter" candlelight vigil and march (multi-generational)
  • RRUUC adults joining Whitman HS teens in counter protest against Westboro Baptist Church (similar occurrence at Wilson HS included RRUUC teens)
  • Stand we took against torture, our protests along Mass Avenue
  • The diversity of our activities
  • The passion I see in people who participate
  • In general, RRUUC’s generosity in giving funds to social justice organizations
  • Group reading of book (Jocelyn) that led member to start Immigration Film Fest
  • When members of RRUUC supported Sanctuary Movement
  • When the whole congregation got behind an idea

What has helped you become engaged in Social Justice at RRUUC? Why did you get involved?

  • Ease of providing funds to organizations through outreach pledging
  • Being invited to join a task force or campaign, feeling welcomed, having personal connection
  • Connecting with the rest of the congregation, or when the whole congregation is involved (e.g. Shelter Week)
  • Finding like-minded people to work towards a social justice objective
  • When goal is clear and communication about activity in support of goal is clear
  • When the burden of achieving a particular task is shared
  • Ability to get funding for a specific program or organization through SJ Council
  • Opportunity to get out of our small world into wider world, deal with poverty, building connections beyond RRUUC
  • Attending Social Justice retreat
  • When activities are multi-generational
  • When SJ meetings are evenings or weekends, or phone conferences or e-meetings
  • When fun is part of the program (e.g. wine and chocolate reception by Environment TF)

What has hindered your becoming engaged in Social Justice at RRUUC?

  • Newcomers have a hard time finding out about SJ activities, especially specific opportunities and who the leaders are for a task force in which they might be interested
  • Lack of clarity and overriding focus for our social justice work
  • Lack of clear set of activities for limited involvement for those too busy to involve themselves with a major commitment
  • No clear communication about what we can do, what we have accomplished and what are our goals
  • Youth have a hard time finding out about congregational SJ activities, no perceived invitation
  • Hard for newcomers to "break in" given lack of communications about SJ activities and tendency of small group of same people to have a sense of ownership about these
  • Lack of staff support to communicate the many ongoing SJ activities
  • Too few hands-on direct service activities
  • Too many meetings, especially evening meetings, or for those who work, daytime meetings
  • Hard for busy, overwhelmed people to be involved (family and job commitments come first)
  • Life circumstances changed active persons to less active (e.g. spouse death and birth of kids)
  • Allocation process for SJ funds too cumbersome
  • Too splintered, divisions among SJ groups and between SJ groups and congregation
  • Lack of clear connection to UU principles, spiritual aspects
  • No clear way to "sunset" activities for which interest has waned

What qualities do you want Social Justice at RRUUC to have?

  • Inclusiveness, both multigenerational and open to whole congregation; we can learn so much from each other (adults, youth, RE)
  • Clear vision; specific goals that congregation can relate to
  • Energy, enthusiasm, with team that has good social skills to reach out
  • Coordination (e.g. AIM and One Montgomery working together) inside and outside RRUUC, with interfaith partners and SJ organizations we support
  • Partnering with the wider community (other congregations and communities) in ways that make RRUUC known and respected in that wider community
  • Leadership should help define local/national/international issues which may be important but congregation may not know about
  • Work where we can see that we make a difference (impact monitoring) especially long-term
  • Fighting for equal rights and against prejudice, helping those less fortunate (youth)
  • Senior Minister works together with whole congregation on activity or activities (a focused single activity should not discourage ongoing diverse activities)
  • Room for diversity of ways of supporting social justice: funding, advocacy, hands-on service, etc
  • Social Justice coordinating body should make sure that congregation supports the goal/areas and avoid actions that divide the congregation
  • Open to new projects (and with clear way of selecting and communicating such) as well as ways of retiring "tired" projects
  • Links to UU spirituality; do it for growth, not guilt;
  • More support for Congregational Study Action Issues, engaging with UUA, and also UUSC
  • Sharing experience with those we seek to support, cross economic classes
  • Accountability for stewardship of outreach funds and funds raised at events
  • Activities that distinguish between social justice and political
  • Clear explanation to newer members about SJ pledging versus operations pledging
  • Ability to accommodate many pursuits/passions and to offer learning opportunities


  • Get involved in reducing domestic violence, reproductive rights
  • Get involved/partner with local (MoCo) high schools that serve lower-income students
  • Identify perhaps an umbrella theme, which could be supported by numerous task forces as well as congregation-wide efforts (e.g. housing as just one example) – could vary from year to year
  • Find specific person (staff ) responsible to communicate ongoing SJ engagements to everyone
  • Have a Sunday morning presence, visual and attractive, to communicate what is going on to support Social Justice at RRUUC (maybe as part of service or more use of CC+C)
  • Highlight opportunities for SJ engagement annually with big informational initiative
  • Have e-weekly show specific social justice section (and get focused communications about a particular SJ area, via smart phone or listserv)
  • Have open congregation-wide debate about what to focus on
  • Celebrate congregation’s efforts and contributions
  • Better use of technology for conducting meetings without requiring a physical presence
  • Offer child care during key social justice activities

Our next steps will involve selective one-on-one discussions and developing requirements and concepts for our social justice governance. After this, a proposal will be developed for the governance of our social justice activities that will be reviewed by the congregation and then presented to the Board of Directors for approval.