A Farewell from Rev. Ashley Horan

Dear ones,

Five years ago, I accepted the position as half-time Executive Director of the Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance at a time of great transition for both MUUSJA and my own family.  My dear colleague Ralph Wyman had wrapped up his seven-year tenure as Director & Organizer of MUUSJA just six months before, and the talented Laura Smidzik (now Rev.!) had been faithfully serving as Interim ED.  I was pregnant, expecting a baby in December, and leaving two years of parish ministry in Joliet, IL; my partner Karen had a new job as a chaplain in the Twin Cities; our older daughter was getting ready to start high school; and we all packed up and left Chicago for Minnesota that summer of 2014.  I was glad for meaningful work that had a part time schedule and flexible hours, given all that lay before us… and, if I’m honest, I never expected to stay in the position more than a year or two.  

But just three weeks after I started, Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, MO, and the world caught fire.  The brilliant organizing that was to become the Movement for Black Lives began coalescing, and here in Minnesota, where there was already such a legacy of activism and organizing, the new Black Lives Matter – Minneapolis chapter came together, joining so many other powerful organizations already working for social, racial, and economic justice.  In the coming few months, so many of us took to the highways, sat in at City Hall, protested at the Mall of America… including many who had never considered themselves activists before, but who couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.

In the time since then, much has changed–and too much has stayed the same.  The murders of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile; Standing Rock and other climate and human rights struggles; Pulse and Sandy Hook; the 2016 elections; denomination-wide reckonings within UUism about white supremacy and transphobia and so many other things; rising white nationalism and anti-semitism and Islamophobia; the escalating crisis over immigration and asylum seekers in concentration camps.  It seems that the political moment we are in now is even more dire than it was five years ago.  And at the same time, I also believe that we–as MUUSJA, and as Unitarian Universalists and the broader community of people of faith–have developed a musculature of responsiveness, courage, and humility that we didn’t have before.  

In other words: even though more and more injustice continues to be revealed, our movements for collective liberation are more and more ready to struggle, and to win.

I am so deeply grateful to have been trusted with the leadership of this precious organization, and to have learned with and from all of you. I want to especially thank MUUSJA’s truly extraordinary Board of Directors for the ways they have explored and grown in partnership with me over these years; my friend and colleague Pastor Danny Givens, with whom I’ve had the deep privilege of working as MUUSJA staff for the last two years; and all the lay and clergy leaders in our congregations who, day after day and year after year, embody the principles of our faith in the never-ceasing, mundane, heart-breaking, spirit-lifting work of justice-making.  Thank you.  

But while leaving now is bittersweet, there are good things ahead for me and for MUUSJA.  Today, I’m happy to share that starting August 12, I will be the new Organizing Strategy Director at the Unitarian Universalist Association.  In that role, I will have the opportunity to work with the talented staff of the Organizing Strategy Table, and UUs across the country who are working for liberation in our own congregations and in partnership with mass movements for justice.

And as for MUUSJA: I am so proud of what we’ve built together over these past five years, and also fully confident that UU congregations and individuals in Minnesota will continue to build and deepen and show up in powerful ways long into the future.  I am especially excited that Pastor Danny will be staying on as MUUSJA’s Statewide Organizer, and that the incredibly talented Karen Wills will be stepping in as Acting Executive Director.  Together, I know they will do great things, and will shepherd MUUSJA into its next iteration with grace and courage. 

I will miss this work tremendously, but my family and I are excited to show up as a supporters and volunteers for this powerful organization as it evolves to meet the inevitable challenges presented by a world struggling for survival.  In fact, for my first act as a non-staff MUUSJA supporter, I am setting up my family’s monthly Sustaining Donation, which is the primary way that MUUSJA gets funding for its day-to-day work. 

If you, too, are grateful for what we have done together in the past five years, and believe MUUSJA is a critical resource for unleashing courageous leadership and collective power to build a just and loving world, will you join me by clicking here and becoming a Sustaining Donor or making a one-time contribution?

In closing, beloveds, I leave you with a blessing and an aspiration excerpted from Catholic Bishop Ken Untener’s tribute to the liberation theologian and Central-American freedom-fighter Bishop Oscar Romero.  These words were read at my ordination, and they remain a touchstone for me whenever I need to remember why we must stay in the struggle, together, even when it is so long and so hard:

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder
and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.  

Thank you, dear ones, for the gift of this time together, and for the spirit you bring to our shared work for justice.  I will be forever grateful.

Blessings,

Ashley

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