by Beth Cortez-Neavel
I was pretty grumpy Thursday by 4 p.m. and rushing out of the #LivingUU “office” to find an empty, quiet couch for a nap. “That outfit is fresh!” the words hit my ears but didn’t quite compute. I stopped. “What,” I asked. “Fresh. I said that outfit is fresh,” she said. Loyce Newton Edwards looked at me. She liked the parachute pants I was wearing. Her compliment completely made my day and broke me out of my afternoon fog like a cup of hot strong coffee.
She was wearing a purple feather arrangement in her hair. She looked warm and had a kind, yet imposing demeanor. Loyce said her birthday was the day before; she had just turned 71 years old. I sat down, took out my trusty recorder, and asked her to share her story with me. “I’m a rebel and I say and do things that are uncomfortable,” she said. “I’m a social justice activist. That’s my passion. That’s what I do in life.”
She said her true passion is speaking out for the oppressed, for people who don’t have anybody to speak out with them. “I think it’s wonderful to help people in underdeveloped countries. Not to go in and say ‘This is the way we do it,’ but to go in and say ‘How can we help?’” she said. “I love the work around racial justice because right now that seems to be one of the major problems in America. We have to learn how to get along. I do really feel encouraged. This denomination is the one that I see really making an effort to be radically inclusive. And I love it.”
Loyce told me about her journey to Unitarian Universalism. “I’ve only been in the [UU] denomination about three years but that’s what makes me happy — to say that I’m a Unitarian.”
She was an ordained Methodist and a preacher in some of her younger days. “It’s been a long journey,” she said. “Along that journey there have been many times where I wondered ‘Where is this God and does this God really exist? And within the Unitarian church I was surprised to find that there are Humanists, that there are people just like me…. I’m also an atheist. I’ve gone from being extremely religious, devoutly religious, to saying ‘I’m a Humanist, I don’t believe there is a god.’”
Loyce said after her being in ministry and public service she had finally found a place where she fit. “One of the things that I love about the UU church is the scope of inclusivity,” she said. “Many churches say ‘Everybody’s welcome,’ but it’s not true. What I see in the Unitarian Universalist church is an effort to be inclusive and to express love beyond belief.”
I asked her about her racial justice work within the church community. She said she appreciates the work UUs do to be inclusive, but we still have a ways to go. “I’ve found very few people of color as I travel around” she said. “I believe that being multicultural has to be intentional and the church has to want to embrace people who are different. People who don’t look like them.”
She said she knows it is a challenge, but has faith we’re working in the right direction.
“The hard work is not just the words, but the actions,” she said. “Just inviting somebody in to say you’re welcome to come to the table… that’s not enough. Once that person is at the table you have to respect them and their culture. Be at the table and be involved and listen and respect the differences between people. I think it’s gonna take a long long time for our churches to ever get there. But, we will get there.”