There was once a Selma church

The Unitarian Universalist participation in the fiftieth anniversary observances is Selma, Alabama this last weekend leaves me with mixed feelings. Happy for those that found it moving, and I’m usually heartened when Unitarian Universalists turn up and participate with others. Less so when I think about the focus on James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo because, despite their deaths, the work then and now is not about them. Or, put another way, would there have been as much of an outpouring if they hadn’t died? And then there’s return of the Baby Boomer lens of history, that makes events of the 1960s more real and important than other times. And the typical trope of the South among Unitarian Universalists as “other” — one I feel deeply as a native Southerner. Selma calls for unrivalled attention, but we just passed the fortieth anniversary of the Boston busing riots that passed without a peep.

We don’t even have a church in Selma. The nearest one is in Montgomery. But that wasn’t always true. I knew from my long-abandoned thesis work that the Universalists migrated across the middle of the deep South — through the Black Belt — and indeed in 1840 there was a church in Selma, though it probably didn’t last long. (The preacher was unfellowshipped, and new to Universalism.)

1840 Universalist RegisterBut my point is the same: to escape the peril of exoticism, live where you work and work where you live. Be not tourists, but companions. Be present in the place. Show up daily, not every fifty years.

Author: Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

6 thoughts on “There was once a Selma church”

  1. Thanks for that, Scott. While not a Southerner, I know many. They’ve worked hard and must still to overcome anti-Southern prejudice. The incense-scented air of Northern, liberal piety was heavy this weekend, and some massage therapists will no doubt be working on shoulder joints strained by all of the self-backpatting that was going on. Especially apropos was your observation concerning the Boston bussing anniversary that passed with nary a peep from anyone here, let alone our fellow UUs. Show up daily where you are–Amen!

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