Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, Intern Minister

I used to go to church in stealth mode. Alone, dressed in neutral colors, I arrived right before the second service started at First Unitarian Society in Madison, Wisconsin. I sat in the back of the sanctuary, tried to be inconspicuous and made a quick exit directly after service. I vividly recall the day I found a little beige card with green print tucked into a hymnal. Inside, I read the Unitarian Universalist principles and purposes and gasped. Could I dare to hope that this church might be different, that this faith could be my religious sanctuary?

As a religiously-wounded seeker returning to church was daunting. I didn’t go until a friend invited me to go with her and I had a human connection. (An invitation from a friend is the number one-way folks find our faith.) However, even after that friend took me, I still stood alone in a crowd week after week with a brightly colored visitor’s mug in my hand before anyone else spoke with me.

Do you remember the first time you encountered Unitarian Universalism and hoped it might be your spiritual home? When your heart and mind broke open to the possibility of a being in a spiritually alive, justice-centered and radically inclusive religion.

Who invited you to church? How did you find us? Who first spoke to you?

Each Sunday we have seekers visit us at UU Church West. They scan our bulletin boards, sit in the back listening and watching carefully. Some are shy, others are bold. I’ve learned to spot the seekers and one perk of being in a long black robe is that they can find me. They quiver with a certain energy and nervousness. I try not to stand to close or make any quick moves — I remember well what fragile hope feels like.

As a former sneaky seeker, I am certain that anyone who puts on a sticky guest name tag at church is looking for a human connection, hoping someone will speak with them and welcome them. I need you to help me show these folks some radical hospitality!

Radical hospitality is intentional welcoming, welcoming that is thoughtful and sensitive to the identities and needs of the guest. It means checking your assumptions, asking instead of telling and being an attentive listener. Sometimes it is subtle, saying “Hello My name is….” instead of “You must be new here!”. Radical hospitality means taking care not to use any microaggressions, those everyday verbal, nonverbal slights or insults (often unintentional) which communicate negative messages to persons based on their membership in a marginalized group. Radical hospitality welcomes the whole person with all their identities — known and unknown. It welcomes them to be in community, without calling them out.

When we demonstrate radical hospitality, we communicate with seekers that this church is a safe place, a healing place, a place to explore what you think and believe, a place to do justice, a place where hope lives.

Recently after a service, a seeker asked me in astonishment, “Are you here every Sunday with the worship, the Black Lives Matter sign and the LGBTQ acceptance – the whole love thing?” I smiled. Yes. We are here, every week: a beacon of hope, a light in the darkness, a sanctuary waiting to be found.

For more information, contact Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, UUCW Intern Minister