In Fall 2015, the First UU of Essex took a leap of faith to try and find relevance with a quickly shrinking and dispirited congregation. This leap, a commitment to stay in Orange, NJ, where First UU has been for more than 130 years, meant pivoting from traditional Parish Ministry to Urban Ministry, pursuing an outward-facing, community-focused version of Unitarian Universalism through a new, independent, non-profit organization, The HUUB, inc. The name is not an acronym but represents the goal to be a community hub of social justice activity with Unitarian Universalism at its core.
The HUUB has embraced Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) as a guiding strategy, identifying, mobilizing, and leveraging existing community assets to strengthen the community from within. Instead of looking for deficits, ABCD sees communities as overflowing with untapped resources, an idea that resonates strongly with the UU principles. From this theory, HUUB’s work leverages three main assets: its people (staff, youth leaders, local UUs, friends, neighbors, and allies), its place (an urban campus & buildings), and its principles (the 7 UU Principles).
Since its founding, HUUB has offered numerous programs to educate and engage its neighbors around Orange’s pressing issues. Most of these successes have been born of valuable collaborations with the partner organizations. In response to extreme levels of gun violence in Orange and the city-wide trauma it created, HUUB partnered with the UofO to develop and offer a Collective Recovery training to show its network of allies how to transform their work into opportunities for collective healing across communities. In partnership with HANDS, HUUB created the Neighborhood Project Grants program, which awarded and distributed $22,645 in small grants to 47 resident-led projects between 2018-19. With the Laundry Workers Center and others, HUUB helped to organize the 2017 passage of a Sanctuary City resolution. This campaign included informational meetings, Know Your Rights trainings, collaboration with the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice and ACLU-NJ, meetings with the mayor, city council members, and the police director, and public comments at City Council meetings. In May 2020, HUUB organized a digital mayoral candidates forum so residents would be able to hear and see the candidates running for office. More than 175 people watched the livestream, which was still a novelty a year ago. This spring, HUUB helped to organize community forums around the future of legal cannabis businesses in the city.
The HUUB has re-rooted First UU as an anchor institution in the community it had lost touch with. It’s done this by opening the church doors, turning its UU values into the community, and inviting its neighbors in; by developing partnerships and collaborative projects with like minded people and organizations; and by investing in its buildings so they are more attractive assets. An article in The Progressive magazine by Laurie Mazur, “Fix it and They Will Come,” gives a wonderful background on the HUUB’s history and work (https://progressive.org/magazine/fix-it-and-they-will-come-mazur).
In Fall 2015, the First UU of Essex took a leap of faith to try and find relevance with a quickly shrinking and dispirited congregation. This leap, a commitment to stay in Orange, NJ, where First UU has been for more than 130 years, meant pivoting…