The church is voting on whether its duvet is too white to accommodate a diverse congregation

An idealistic group needs a piece of art that signals to casually glancing passers-by that this group fights for social justice, welcomes all races, ethnicities, income levels, and embraces all ages of Gen Z to World War II and respects all religions and diverse beliefs.

And it has to fit in a 10 foot by 7 foot space.

So what does this work of art look like?

It’s a question that synagogues, churches and Buddhist retreats across the capital region are wrestling with over whether a rainbow banner is enough to welcome members of the LGBTQ community or whether a Black Lives Matter sends a warm message to people of color. In May, an Albany congregation votes on whether the artwork they’ve been staring at for 30 years is too white and unclear to encapsulate the church’s passion for social justice and yearning for diversity. .

For 30 years, the congregation gazed at the dark blue quilt displayed in front of the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Albany. It was handcrafted in 1992 by women of the church to honor the 150th anniversary of the congregation.

The quilt is decorated with a crescent moon with a star to represent Islam, a Star of David, a cross and a Buddha to symbolize interfaith friendships, musical notes, a globe and doves, all cut from a white fabric to stand out against the blue. At the bottom, white silhouettes of adults and children appear against the dark blue background of the quilt.

The quilt seems to welcome other faiths, but as devotee Arlene Gilbert observes in an email to the Times Union, “All of these (symbols) are white to show off against the dark blue of the quilt. The fact that the silhouettes of the people at the bottom are also white worries some members. Others see it as an essential element of the artistic whole and value the historical and creative community it represents. On the other hand, our commitment to fight more effectively against the institutional racism and to be more inclusive as a welcoming congregation.Some members believe the shapes of people in white on the quilt might be off-putting to people of color.

The congregation would vote at a meeting in May on whether to keep the quilt in its prominent place, put it away, or update it with symbols that reflect the present and the future.

It’s a dilemma that other places of worship in the Capital Region continually face. Churches, synagogues and Buddhist temples in the region adorn signage with rainbow banners or hang Black Lives Matter flags.

Probably the clearest message about a congregation’s vision comes from the actions of a congregation in the community. Reverend Sam Trumbore’s Unitarian Congregation supports food pantries, a playground program, built two Habitat for Humanity homes and developed a safe home for survivors of domestic violence. Trumbore observes that his congregation has a social justice action group and active community service. But he knows the power of symbolism to attract new members, especially in a world awash with memes, GIFs and emojis.

Quilts are an art form that can be created by multiple generations, with a parent passing down the quilt to their offspring who, with the help of siblings and children, add pieces that reflect new events and additions to the family. Trumbore says altering the quilt is under discussion.

“A lot of concern centers around whether we should have (a work of art) in the shrine that looks forward our vision of the future ‘should replace one celebrating the past,'” Trumbore said. “We are a very different congregation than we were 30 years ago, but we are proud of our past, our heritage.”

He happily acknowledges that it’s a tough challenge for a piece of art to wrap it all up, but he’s looking forward to hearing some bold, visionary ideas when the May meeting begins.

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