top of page

The Compass, November 29, 2023


  • December 3: Revel in the Mystery, Rev. Karen LeBlanc

  • December 10: Social Justice Service with Alison Noyce from Tri-Town Against Racism

  • December 17: Lessons and Carols, Lay-Leader Jorge Perreira

  • December 24: Christmas Eve, Rev. Karen LeBlanc, 7 PM

  • December 31: No Service


"To be able to marvel at the face of our neighbor with the same awe we have for the mountain top, the sunlight refracting. This manner of vision is what will keep us from destroying each other." Cole Arthur Riley


Did you miss Sunday service? Watch it here!

Eileen Sorrentino's sermon on the Doctrine of Discovery

Today I am going to talk about the Doctrine of Discovery. When I started researching this topic, I had no idea what I would uncover, but I think you will be as shocked and horrified as I was when you learn how deeply this dysfunctional idea permeates our world, even today.

The European nations sent explorers to Africa and the New World, and they seized lands; tortured, killed, enslaved, and conquered the indigenous people who had lived there for thousands of years.

Christian Europeans took Black Africans into slavery. They seized African land and resources. Mali, Malawi, and Burkina Faso have only recently expelled the last of the French conquerors.

In the United States, landowners enslaved Black Africans for financial gain, and the government committed genocide on indigenous people and turned them out of their land. This was all about profit. The South could not grow to be the financial powerhouse it became without slavery.

It all began with the Doctrine of Discovery, a set of legal principles that initially governed the European colonizing powers, particularly regarding the seizure and control of indigenous land. It is the primary legal precedent that still controls native affairs and rights all over the world.

Beginning in 1452, Pope Nicholas V issued an official decree–a papal bull– that granted permission to the king of Portugal “to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Muslims and pagans,” to seize their kingdoms and goods, “to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery . . . and to convert them to his use and profit.” REPEAT Notice the word “profit”--that underlies all of this. Profit and capitalism are at the heart of the Doctrine of Discovery.

This enslavement and land seizure was done in the name of Christ. Anyone who was not a white European Christian was deemed inferior and “other.” The church claimed that whatever benefited the European colonial powers would benefit the church. The warped Western social imagination that saw slavery as a just and legal institution was rooted in this papal bull. Conquered and enslaved people had no standing before God or government.

One of the immediate consequences of the Doctrine of Discovery was the African slave trade. Prince Henry of Portugal, who established the African slave trade, was deemed an agent of God, working for the “salvation of those souls that before were lost.” “We will save them. They will become Christians.”

Another consequence was the blessing conferred by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain on Christopher Columbus to invade and conquer indigenous Western civilizations in the name of God.

How can you discover lands that are already inhabited? The Doctrine of Discovery was used to fuel the conquest of non-European lands by Europeans. It might more accurately be called the doctrine of Christian European invasion. At the foundation of this Doctrine was the belief in European Christian purity and supremacy that negated the value and worth of non-Europeans and people of color. The assumption of white supremacy took root in the imagination of the Western mind. And this narrative has become embedded in the American Christian worldview.

Out of this assumption grew the Anglo-Saxon mythology:

  1. Germanic people, on account of their unmixed origins and universal civilizing mission, are inherently superior to all others.

  2. The English are, in the main, of Germanic origin.

  3. The qualities which render English political and religious institutions the freest in the world are an inheritance from their Germanic forefathers.

  4. The English thereby carry a special burden of leadership in the world community.

The Puritans and Pilgrims took this to heart and, with their interpretation of the Bible, saw America as their Promised Land and themselves as endowed by their Creator to be the chosen people with a promised land to claim.

The problem of the Doctrine of Discovery is that it established the false notion of a more ethnically pure, European Christian supremacy. Today it furthers the mythology of American exceptionalism, which is rooted in the blatant lie of white racial supremacy.

The Doctrine of Discovery continues to impact social reality in American society well into the twenty-first century. And not just American society.

The Chinese believe they have a right to incorporate Taiwan—it’s their ethnic right. Russia believes that it should control Ukraine—it’s their historic right. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians believe the land is theirs by right, and the other should be expelled. The English—right now, in a speech the Prime Minister gave two weeks ago—are planning to deny asylum to non-white refugees fleeing terror and send them to—I’m not kidding—Rwanda.

How deeply has this mythology of white, Christian, and European superiority sunk its roots into The United States?

The Declaration of Independence asserts that “All men are created equal.” But thirty lines down, indigenous people are referred to as “merciless Indian savages.” The Founding Fathers used the term “all men” because they had a very narrow view of who was human. Certainly not Black Africans, indigenous native Americans, or, for that matter, women. This sacred document of ours gives a foundation for white Christian male supremacy as it is rooted in the assumption of the ethnically pure white European—and now the white Christian American.

The Declaration of Independence reinforced this concept with the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” It’s just common sense. The image of the white person became the norm by which other races are judged and measured.

This dehumanizing worldview is further evident in the Constitution—our sacred founding document. Four sentences into the body of the document the Constitution defines who has obligations in the new nation and who does not. It refers to how taxes will be apportioned by counting the whole Number of Free Persons, excluding Indians, and including three-fifths of all other Persons.” So right from the beginning, the infant nation protected the rights and obligations of white men, but not Indians, and only three-fifths of non-whites. No mention is made of women. The Constitution, as much as we revere it, was written for and by landowning white Christian men, and it enshrined profit and capitalism in the American culture.

As you can see, in the United States the narrative of white supremacy is a central theme that fuels our dysfunctional systems. The horrid institution of slavery fulfilled the narrative. Yet even after slavery was abolished, Jim Crow laws took its place, destroying the promise of Reconstruction. And when Jim Crow was overturned through the Civil Rights movement, the myth of white supremacy remained. Jim Crow was replaced by the New Jim Crow, a system of mass incarceration and disenfranchisement that allows the narrative of white supremacy to continue.

Slavery, stolen lands, broken treaties, massacres, boarding schools, forced assimilation, Japanese internment camps, and Indian reservations are a partial list of the unspeakable crimes that have been perpetuated against non-white people in the United States in the name of Christ and law.

In 1843, the Supreme Court provided legal justification for the Doctrine of Discovery: The Supreme Court said that, under Discovery, when European Christian nations discovered new lands, the discovering country automatically gained sovereign and property rights over the lands of non-Christian, non-European peoples, even though, obviously, the native people already owned, occupied, and used these lands.” The European discoverers had the “exclusive right to extinguish Indians’ interest in their lands, either by purchase or just war.” Chief Justice John Marshall referred to the Indians who occupied the land as “fierce savages” and said: “To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness.”

In 1873 Marshall wrote, in a unanimous decision, that the colonizing European nations, in order to avoid conflict among themselves, established a law which held that discovery gave title to the government against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.

These cases gave legal validity to Indian removal and genocide.

As recently as 2005 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a case that determined whether the City of Sherrill could tax the land occupied by the Oneida Indian Nation, invoked the Doctrine of Discovery, recognizing “the impracticability of returning to Indian control land that generations earlier passed into numerous private hands.” She chided the Oneida Indian Nation for waiting too long before seeking legal relief and cited the increase in land value since the Oneida sold the land 200 years ago. The odd conclusion was that under the Doctrine of Discovery, Sherrill had the right to tax the Oneida Nation but could take no steps to collect the tax.

In 1901 Woodrow Wilson, writing for The Atlantic, said about the post-Reconstruction period: “The negroes were exalted; the states were misgoverned and looted in their name until the whites who were the real citizens got control again.”

One contributor, in that same issue of The Atlantic, lauded slavery for lifting “the Southern negro to a plane of civilization never before attained by any large body of his race” by teaching him to be “law-abiding and industrious,” and lamented that emancipation had encouraged idleness.

Donald Trump, at the beginning of his presidency, asked why we had to take people from “shithole countries.” Why couldn’t we get Norwegians?

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Mike Johnson, embraces the idea that white Christians of European heritage “should remain central” to America’s “cultural identity and political leadership.”

Ron DeSantis’s Department of Education recently rejected a pilot “Advanced Placement African American Studies Course” from being offered in Florida’s public high schools. This “Stop WOKE Law” would limit students and teachers from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender. The law is in litigation.

We are left today with the hatred that infuses our culture. James Baldwin said that people are reluctant to give up their hate because then they will feel pain. People hate what they fear, and they fear anything that is different. Hate becomes a tradition, an addiction, that protects the haters from having to look deeper inside themselves.

We in this church have a sacred mission—to open our hearts and our doors to everyone and to banish hate with our love. This is our lifelong work.


What does it mean to be a people of Mystery?

December 3: The Mystery of Our Amazing World

December 10: Noticing Mystery in the Ordinary

December 17: The Mystery of Returning Light

December 24: No Sunday School

December 31: No Sunday School

Featured Book: I Wonder by Annaka Harris, Illustrated by John Rowe

Eva takes a walk with her mother and encounters a range of mysteries: from gravity to life cycles, to the vastness of the universe. She learns that it’s okay to say " I don’t know,” and she discovers that there are some things even adults don’t know. Mysteries for everyone to wonder about together! I Wonder is a book that celebrates the feelings of awe and curiosity in children, as the foundation for all learning.


Welcome to the Gift of Mystery

We live in a culture that loves to conquer mysteries. For us modern folks, the unexplainable is simply a lock to be picked, a code to be cracked, a puzzle to be figured out. But what if mystery isn’t just something to solve? What if it’s also something to be listened to?

This is the lesser-recognized call of our faith. “Yes,” it says, “Stay skeptical, continue to question and seek answers. But at the same time, leave space for life to speak!” One of the most elegant articulations of this comes from the poet Mary Oliver. In her beloved poem, Wild Geese, she writes,

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

Oliver’s call to listen for life’s mysterious announcements implies a letting go. Mystery is funny this way. You can’t make it speak. Indeed, often the more you pursue the meaning of life’s mysteries; the more distant it becomes. If we want mystery to speak, it seems we have to be willing to put down the pursuit and open ourselves to being caught off guard. UU humanist minister and poet, David Breeden, captures this beautifully when he writes,

I dug and dug Deeper into the earth Looking for blue heaven Choking always On piles of dust rising Then once At midnight I slipped And fell into the sky

Slipping, and then falling into the sky. Is there a better way to describe our dance with mystery? Isn’t this what all the great mystics have been trying to tell us from the start? That sitting at the heart of mystery is not the unknown, but unity. We fall into the mysterious oneness of life and then it falls into us. Its voice whispers, “I am you and you are me.” Simply put, mystery doesn’t put up barriers; it dissolves them. Haven’t all of us faced the wonder and mystery of a sunset, the stars, a baby’s first cry or a lover’s wet kiss and thought to ourselves, “My God, who I am does not end at the barrier of my skin!”

And it’s not just words of connectedness, but comfort too. We find ourselves crushed by the weight of the world, so we take a walk in the woods, watch the waves kindly caress the shore, stare into the night sky or stumble on the smile of a stranger. And often, but not always, we hear the world gently sing, “It will be ok. In fact, it is all already ok!” UU minister, Angela Herrera, puts it this way,

You bring yourself before the sacred, before the holy, before what is ultimate and bigger than your lone life... You stand at the edge of mystery... Meanwhile, the armful of worries you brought to the edge of mystery

have fluttered to your feet.

So friends, this month, let’s let mystery work its magic. Let’s allow ourselves to fall in and be opened up. Let’s slip into the sky and let it slip into us. Let’s set the sleuthing down, for just a moment, and simply listen.


This Saturday, December 2, 11-4.

Shop small businesses for your gift-giving needs this year! First Unitarian Church in New Bedford joins dNB Inc. in kicking off the holiday season, and spreading cheer throughout downtown New Bedford! Explore your way through art, shopping, and food all decked out for the holidays.

Visit the UU for a plant sale, a variety of vendors, and light refreshments.

Jackie's Knits & Knots - knitted and crocheted items WeHa Co. - handmade, crocheted stuffed animals, hats, bags, and upcycled sweaters Sandhill Farm - honey and beeswax Finneran Carpentry - rocking chairs New Bedford Department of Children & Families Stone That Flows - kiln-formed glass jewelry Caribe Creations - Caribbean-inspired designs Yarn Over Time Designs F.S. Designs Bess's Baubles And More!

Raffle to benefit the church with items such as tickets to The New Bedford Preservation Society's Holiday Walking Tour, various handmade items from our vendors, and a quilt. More items may be added over the next few days!


The First Unitarian's Social Justice Committee meets weekly on Wednesday at 6:30 PM. Contact Ely Dorsey, chair, with any questions. We hope to see you there!

Today's agenda is:

  • December 10 - Social Justice Service with Alison Noyce from Tri-Town Against Racism

  • Congregational Teach-In (Mary)

  • Continued discussion of lynching in America (Ely)

  • Debrief of November 26 service (Jack)

  • New Business (everyone)


It’s that time of year when wintry weather will soon be upon us and we will all need warm coats and jackets, hats, scarves, and gloves to ward off the winter chill, and so many men, women, and children in our community need your help each winter to stay warm and dry.

Coats and jackets, hats, mittens, gloves, scarves, and winter wear are needed for The 33 Annual Coats for Kids (and grownups, too!) Community Coat Drive, November 27 - December 8, sponsored by the City of New Bedford Mayor’s Youth Council, the YWCA SEMA, New Bedford Office of Community Services, and The First Unitarian Church in New Bedford.

Donations of next-to-new, clean coats and jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, mittens, and toys can be dropped off at the First Unitarian Church, 71 Eighth Street and YWCA Southeastern MA, 20 South Sixth Street, from November 27 - December 8. Please make sure to check their business hours before you drop off any donations.

Coats for Kids accepts jackets and coats, hats, scarves, and mittens or gloves and blankets. In the past, the greatest demand has been for children, men’s and larger-sized women’s coats and new or gently used toys in good condition.

Members of the Mayor’s Youth Council will distribute coats to anyone in need from 11 AM to 3 PM on Saturday, December 9th at The First Unitarian Church in New Bedford at 71 Eighth Street. The location in downtown New Bedford is handicapped accessible.

For 33 years, Coats for Kids has collected gently used children’s and adult coats, giving away more than 13,650 coats and helping families and individuals across the greater New Bedford area.

For more information about the coat drive, call Pam Pollock at 508-965-6927.


The Mosaic is an online hub of connection, resources, and support for Unitarian Universalists dismantling racism and oppression. Through resources, programs, training, groups, and gatherings, The Mosaic fosters belonging and liberation in Unitarian Universalist congregations and communities. Our work for collective liberation can be as colorful, multi-faceted, and diverse as the tiles of a mosaic. Together, all of our contributions create something beautiful.

In response to the recommendations of the Commission on Institutional Change's (COIC) 2020 report, Widening the Circle of Concern, the UUA is creating and curating anti-racism resources and programs to further support the anti-racist transformation that has been embraced by so many of our congregations and communities.


UPDATE: Thank you to our donors who have given a total of $656 as of November 29.

We are reaching out to you, our generous community, seeking support for essential plaster repairs. The organ holds not just musical notes but also a history of shared moments and connections. Without prompt attention, the damage could escalate, potentially causing permanent harm to the organ we hold so dear.

Your donation, no matter the size, will contribute to the restoration of this vital piece of our worship experience. Let's ensure that the organ continues to resonate with joyous sounds for generations to come! We will be collecting donations through January. Thank you for your continued generosity.



New Bedford Preservation Society Historic Holiday Tour 2023 Includes First Unitarian Church in New Bedford

The Historic Holiday Tour is the Society’s main fundraiser to support its programs throughout the year.

The Annual Holiday House Tour is back on December 10, 2023, from 1 pm-to 5 pm. This 29th annual tour is a great opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends and family while enjoying the community spirit of the holiday while discovering what makes New Bedford architecture so unique. The tour will start at the society’s headquarters at the James Arnold Mansion, 427 County St., with a brunch at 11 pm (brunch cost separate from ticket price). There will be a Holiday Raffle and Silent Auction held during tour hours at the James Arnold Mansion. Brunch reservations are suggested but not required. Call the Wamsutta Club directly at 508-997-7431 for brunch reservations.

There is a pair of tickets generously donated by the New Bedford Preservation Society that will be raffled off at the Holiday Market on December 2.


NBFT brings back the magic of the Mitch Miller Sing-A-Long! Join us at the Tree Lighting on December 9 as Broadway's Matt Ban leads us in song and celebrating the kick-off to the Holiday Season! Hot Chocolate and Sogn Books provided! New Bedford Free Public Library.


Our Promises

  • Each person is important.

  • Be kind in all you do.

  • We help each other learn.

  • We search for what is true.

  • Each person has a say.

  • Work for a peaceful world.

  • The web of life’s the way.

  • Build the beloved community, free from racism and oppression.


First Unitarian Church in New Bedford

71 8th Street, New Bedford, MA 02740

(508) 994-9686

Administrator ext. 10

Minister ext. 13

Karen cell: (508) 441-9344

Board Members & Officers

Steve Carmel, President

Charles Morgan, Vice President

Deborah Carmel, Treasurer

Cora Peirce, Clerk


Committee Chairs


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page