At the end of June, Unitarian Universalists gathered in Columbus, OH for a week of learning, worship, and activism. The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly this year brought a special perspective to UU social justice work. The theme for GA 2016 was “Heartland: Where Faiths Connect” and throughout the week emerged a thread urging us all to bring love, compassion, and a listening ear to interfaith partnerships and collaboration. This year’s General Assembly presented a unique opportunity for participants to engage with the Global U/U Story, with many occasions to learn about and get to know Unitarian Universalist and other liberal religious people from around the country and the world actively participating in social justice movements.
GA gladly welcomed many international and interfaith guests who joined participants in Columbus from all areas of the globe. Actively participating in workshops and events, they shared their perspectives and experiences, while hearing about actions being taken in the United States, allowing all to learn and grow together. Amongst others, we were joined by:
- Masahiro Nemoto, Ikuyo Kase, and Kyoko Hirota – Rissho Kosei-kai, Japan
- Gui Yamamoto and Rev. Tetsuji Ochia – Tsubaki Grand Shrine, Japan
- David Gyero, President of International Council of Unitarians and Universalists and Deputy Bishop, Hungarian Unitarian Church
- Blaise Ntakarutimana, Lay-leader, Unitarian Christian Church of Burundi
- Laszlo Major – Parish Minister, Hungarian Unitarian Church, Balzs Scholar, Starr King School for the Ministry
- Bela Fekete – Parish Minister, Hungarian Unitarian Church
- Petr Samojsky – Parish Minister, Prague Unitarian Church
- Týna Kolajová Ledererová – President, Religious Society of Czech Unitarians
- Mahesh Uphadyaya – Community Minister, India and Holdeen India Program partner
- Arman Pedro – Seminarian and Lay Minister, UU Church of the Philippines
- Lara Fuchs – Seminarian, Switzerland
- Barishisha Mukhim – Leader, Unitarian Union of North East India
- Brother Albert Xavier – IARF Human Rights Resource Center, India
- Matt Gilsenan – President, European Unitarian Universalists
Hearing directly from Unitarian Universalist and interfaith activists from around the world about their work brought an important dimension to the many events and workshops at GA. Within the framework of faiths connecting, there were 11 workshops, 6 special events, and 1 worship service dedicated to celebrating international connections and nourishing our global Unitarian Universalist movement. Topics ranged from remembering Unitarian history in Japan, interfaith action to combat global climate change, and building connections to fight islamophobia, among many more. Building upon the focus on the movement for Black lives that permeated many aspects of this General Assembly, the UU United Nations Office and UU Service Committee co-sponsored a workshop called “Black Lives Matter Outside Our Borders.” It addressed the structural, often unconscious discrimination faced by people of African descent around the world, and what UU organizations are doing to address it. A complete list and overview of all the international events at GA is available at the website for the Coalition of International UU Organizations.
In the evening on Friday, June 24th, the UUA International Office hosted a reception to celebrate engagement with the Global U/U Story. Attendees learned about some of the highlights of the work being done at the International Office, in the Holdeen India program, and at the United Nations Office. Highlights included presentation of the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon Congregation Awards to those congregations who actively support the UU United Nations Office, as well as an excerpt of the winning sermon from the 2015 Dana McLean Greeley Sermon Competition. You can watch a video of the winning sermon, by Douglas Harrell, which addressed the topic of International Criminal Justice: From Punitive to Restorative. The reception concluded with a conversation between UU Minister, Rev. Karen Tse and Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana who joined by video conference from Toronto. Rev. Fulgence discussed the political situation in Burundi which caused him and other members of the Unitarian Church there to flee the country due to violence.
The following evening, interfaith activists gathered for a networking event. Presenters shared information about the International Association for Religious Freedom, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Religions for Peace-USA. Carey McDonald from the UUA also shared details about a joint initiative of the UUA, UUSC, and the Fahs Collaborative at Meadville Lombard encouraging Unitarian Universalists to engage ‘interfaithfully’ to welcome Syrian refugees and combat islamophobia in their communities. This UU Action Project is in connection with a documentary coming to PBS this September about Unitarian minister Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha who stood up against injustice to defy the Nazis and rescue dissidents, Jews, and other refugees during World War II. The documentary film by Ken Burns, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War” will be accompanied by a book of the same title by Artemis Joukowsky III, grandson of the Sharps. Resources to engage your congregation in dialogue and action in conjunction with this film and book are available at uua.org/sharpstory. This project will allow UUs to connect deeply with the Sharps’ important chapter in the Global U/U Story while continuing to shape that Story and bend its arc towards justice.
For those who were at GA and all who were not, there are many opportunities to stay involved with international UU work. Follow the UUA International Blog for information about recent programming, and consider hosting a United Nations Sunday service or a Defying the Nazis event at your congregation this fall!
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