Reckoning & Repair’s Affirmation

The Reckoning & Repair working group, part of First Parish’s Racial Justice Coordinating Committee (RJCC), hopes the text of the Affirmation of Reckoning & Repair (below) will become part of the warrant for the May 19, 2024 annual meeting and that congregants will thus have an opportunity to vote to acknowledge our congregation’s past entanglements with slavery and to assert our commitment to repair.

The adoption of the Affirmation will be only a first step on the longer journey to right past wrongs, but it is an important, symbolic first step that the Reckoning & Repair working group believes will guide and inspire our congregation’s racial justice work going forward.

It is important to note that the Affirmation does not seek to answer the big questions we will inevitably have to answer: With which Black-led groups will we build relationships? What will reparations look like? To which groups shall we pay reparations? From what sources should funds for reparations come? Nor does the Affirmation empower any working group to make decisions about the above questions for the congregation.

What the Affirmation does seek to do, however, is to positively assert First Parish’s congregational commitment to joining a larger movement that is (and has been) wrestling with these very questions. Other MA Unitarian Universalist congregations—in Boston, Needham, North Andover, Hingham, Brewster, and Gloucester—are ahead of us on this journey, as are UU congregations across the country from Montclair, NJ to Evanstan, IL to Germantown, PA.

We can’t forget, however, that for African American communities, the movement for reparations dates back centuries, beginning perhaps with Belinda Sutton’s 1783 petition demanding a pension from the estate of her enslaver, Isaac Royall. In 1865, Rev. Garrison Frazier and 20 African American church leaders told Union General William Sherman, “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and turn it and till it by our own labor,” giving rise to Special Field Order 15—”40 acres and a mule”—the promise of which died at the hands of President Johnson. Named in honor of that broken promise, H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, has died in committee each session since 1989 when Congressman John Conyers first introduced it.

Sixty-one years ago this month, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that “the time is always ripe to do right.”  Please join the Reckoning & Repair working group on April 7 immediately after services on Zoom and at the May 5 Shinn service (with discussion following the service).

Affirmation of Reckoning & Repair
First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington


To create beloved community, rooted in justice and inspired by love, we break past silences and name our congregation’s entanglement with the institution of slavery, which began with the founding of the congregation in 1739. At least eight of First Parish’s sixteen original pew owners enslaved Black people, and our initial congregation was founded in part on the uncompensated labor, resources, skills, and talents of enslaved people.


First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington is committed to building relationships with local, Black-led organizations to shape a framework for meaningful reparations. We commit to a process of reparations guided by people of African heritage and the broader reparations movement, and we will work within and beyond our congregation’s walls to bring about holistic repair. In tandem with seeking out and forming relationships with Black-led organizations, the Reckoning & Repair working group will continue gathering congregational feedback about a plan for reparations. All financial decisions will be made either by congregational vote or by a vote of the elected Parish Committee.

Reparations are central to the struggle to build a world based on justice, care, and uplift, and we commit ourselves to this work. Hand in hand we will find a way.

March 28, 2024

The R&R working group includes: Amy Anderson, Pamela Baldwin, Sibylle Bosslet, Jim Brown, Maggie Carey, Ricky Carter, Kendall Dudley, Tom Estabrook, Lois Fine, Marc Fredette, Mary Fusoni, Bill Gardiner, Ellen Leigh, Kate Lenox, Sarah Spratt, Maryglenn Vincens, Carolyn White, David Whitford, Sara Whitford, Andrea Winslow.