A Memo: Connecting with Unitarians and UU’s Around the World, CAREFULLY

To: UUA Ministers and Religious Leaders

From:  Eric Cherry, UUA International Office
Cathy Cordes, UU Partner Church Council
Jill McAllister and Steve Dick, International Council of Unitarians and Universalists

Date: September 14, 2012

Dear Friends,

It is so exciting to see the many ways that our UU faith is connecting around the world – so many congregations and ministers are now making a variety of international connections! We are thrilled that UUA churches and individuals are looking beyond their own doors and even beyond their own geographic communities and connecting. The UUA, ICUU, the UUPCC and other organizations stand ready to support your outreach in a variety of ways. We invite you to contact us at any point where we can be helpful. We are writing today to offer some advice based on our joint experience working with UUs here and in other countries.

Much of this new activity is aided with new communication tools that make contact easier and keeping in touch possible. Social media programs such as Skype and Facebook make it easy to learn of possibilities and to meet people over the internet.

Our UU global community is growing both bigger and smaller! Bigger in the sense that people around the world continue to discover our liberal tradition and establish it in their own countries and regions, and smaller in the sense that it is so easy to connect with each other around the world. This gives us reason to both celebrate and pay close attention, for there are good ways to connect, not-so-good ways to connect, and ways to connect which can cause huge problems.

BE VERY CAREFUL when making connections via Facebook and other social media. Before you respond to a Facebook request from someone claiming to be a UU, or a UU minister, contact one of the offices or organizations listed below which specializes in international UU connections, to get more information! Social media enables one to present information in ways that may not be false but also may not be a complete description of reality. (Anyone can take a picture of themselves with a stole on, or lighting a chalice.) Be careful not to assume that you’ve been contacted because you are special, or especially knowledgeable or gifted or whatever. In general, this kind of “Facebooking” is a process of “blanketing” a target audience, or of fishing, hoping to get someone to bite. Do not consider the list of other colleagues who may be listed as friends as references for or as an endorsement of the person. Many of us respond casually to friend requests without verifying or confirming information about a prospective friend.

FIRST, FIND OUT MORE before you proceed. Definitely consult with one of the following:
The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU)
The UUA International Resources Office
The UU Partner Church Council

BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL ABOUT MONEY Don’t send money unless you have some history of relationship and interactions. We suggest not sending money to any individual, group or organization that is not part of some kind of judicatory or governance structure. You can find this out from one of the organizations listed above. Unless you are working with a group or organization in which there is some kind of shared leadership and decision-making, your support and gifts are almost certainly going to lead to triangulating folks in these countries, and may even stimulate real conflict. (This has happened more than once.) It may be possible to send funds through one of the UU international organizations or to help support existing or new projects sponsored by these organizations. Contact us for information about such possibilities.

LEARN MORE! International relations among U-U’s around the world are more than 100 years old. The UUA, ICUU, and UUPCC have been specifically working in this area together for more than 20 years, and many lessons have been learned along the way. We are only just beginning to understand how much cultural differences affect all of us, and truly, we have done our share of “connecting” which has not only been problematic, but which has been both damaging and destructive. We have also established and been part of many beautiful new relationships which are beneficial all around. It takes time and experience to know the difference.

THERE ARE GREAT OPPORTUNITIES We have much to learn, and it is very exciting. You and your congregation can be enlightened and invigorated through international connections. There are significant differences among Unitarians and UU’s around the world – everyone is not in the UUA, nor is Unitarianism the same as our UUA traditions, all around the world. Many newly emerging U-U groups have very different religious histories and very different social and cultural realities. For some of them, daily survival is a huge challenge.

THERE ARE VIABLE AND SUSTAINABLE WAYS TO CONNECT Some of the groups most in need of support and cooperation may not be reaching out via Facebook – you may never hear about some of these places where you can make the most difference if you don’t ask. There are opportunities to meet international UU’s at conferences and events – this is a great first step. You can be work with and help support emerging UU groups around the world as part of a team or coalition, without needing to manage a relationship wholly on your own.

DO SOME HOMEWORK FIRST The Joint Working Group of the UUA International Office, the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, and the UU Partner Church Council can help you learn about good ways to connect. Together, we are aiming toward global connections which achieve and model the ideals of our faith community. Please join us in aiming for these ideals and practices, by contacting us before you go forward with new international connections. Begin by reading the aims we have agreed to, listed below.

“Five Guiding Principles of UU International Engagement”

I. Our international engagement must emerge from a place of deep humility and intentionally seek relationships based on equality and mutuality.

Do: Risk for the sake of shared goals that have been established carefully.
Don’t: Assume that you or your partner have all the answers or can predict the future.

II. Our international engagement is most effective when it comprehends the abundance and variety of resources our congregations and international partners already have.

Do: Look within and without your congregation and its partners for resources that are present but perhaps not obvious.
Don’t: Establish a relationship that relies on or creates unhealthy dependency for yourself or your partner.

III. Our international engagement is most transformative when it is grounded in faithful reflection, including understanding the history of our international engagement.

Do: Explore the theological grounding of international relationship and engagement.
Don’t: Repeat common mistakes.

IV. Our international engagement is truest to our highest values when it responds with wisdom and passion to institutional oppression and injustice.

Do: Support partners as they seek to find fish for a day, fishing poles for tomorrow, and establish access to the pond for a lifetime.
Don’t: Ignore long-term justice strategies because they seem harder to achieve than short-term charitable ideas.

V. The Unitarian Universalist universe of international programs is incredibly diverse and highly decentralized. Our international engagement is most comprehensive when we understand and utilize partner organizations well.

Do: Contact an institutional UU partner organization for consultation before agreeing to a project with an international partner, especially if the international partner is UU.
Don’t: Assume a request you receive from an international partner is endorsed by the UUA, ICUU, UUPCC or other UU organization.

We look forward to working with you.
Sincerely,
Jill, Cathy, Steve and Eric

International Council of Unitarians and Universalists:
Rev. Jill McAllister, Program Coordinator – program@icuu.net;
Rev. Steve Dick, Executive Secretary – execsec@icuu.net

UU Partner Church Council:
Cathy Cordes, Executive Director – ccordes@uupcc.org

UUA International Office:
Rev. Eric Cherry, Director – echerry@uua.org

About the Author
Rev. Eric Cherry

Comments

  1. Edward

    First, I deeply aitpecrape that this conversation is even taking place, we grow at the edges and this is an edge we need to push. I too bluster at the false dichotomies that seem so prevalent not only in our discussion of Unitarian Universalism, but also that seem to be interwoven in so many aspects of our communal life today. I personally long for, in my own life and in the life of my congregation, a search that does have deep meaning, an exploration that includes all that has come before (religious language included), and a more communal sense of what binds us a faith community. Although a (if I had to label) culturally-Jewish-UU-mystic-religious humanist-postChristian-Jesus appreciator, I do believe that we stand where we are today as a faith tradition through the thoughts and sacrifice of the mostly liberal protestant heretics that came before us. We evolved in such a way where UU’s are here because these heretics set the stage for us to be able to have a denomination that accepted broad theological thinking. One of the issues however seems to be that our ever increasing open theology, has led us to a place of struggle with having any cohesive theology at all or even at times the ability to explore. And of course, I hear people say to me, what about the seven principles and I think yes, they are great, broadly stated outlines of living in harmony with each other and the planet, but are they enough? Do they call us into deep reflection? Do they allow for us to have unity as much as individualism? Do they focus us to do or say things together as a community that binds us as we work to mend a hurting world? Do they ask us to move beyond our search for comfort and personal satisfaction on Sunday mornings? Do they call for sacrifice in order to build the connections, compassion and understanding that may be needed for such diversity to live together without destroying each other and the planet? I continue to think that often we UUs are having the wrong discussions. I feel pretty done with the religious language struggle. I get tired of the head vs. heart debate. I even find myself wanting to move beyond the humanist/spiritual tug of war. We are who we are. Our roots are all of our roots not just protestant and not just humanist. Our evolutions as a faith tradition are a culmination of these things and I believe that there is very little language, history and/or theology that should be off the table for discussion. The question for me is, ok, what are we doing with it? I guess for me it’s about not where you are, or where we were when we started but where we are now. In other words, I have an opinion about what is important in spiritual journeys, it is to get to a place of love, compassion, mercy, grace, healing, wholeness and sustainable living with each other and the planet and I have to say, I don’t really care if that is through Christianity, Islam, Paganism, Atheism or another variety of spiritual search. I don’t want to over simplify, but it seems to be more about the process of spiritual maturation than whether or not we utter the word “god” in our UU congregations. There are things that I find problematic in most institutional religions or structures, but there are billions of minds that I am not going to ever completely change, so I am going to do what I can to help move the bar as much as possible. So, anyway, to end the ramble, I think this conversation is happening at the right time throughout the denomination, but I also think at some point, we take our wounds, our fears, our vulnerabilities, as well as our strength and our gifts, and we move forward together. Internal reflection is always going to be a part of our spiritual and communal lives, but to quote one of the many blog posts I have read on this lately, “we are not a social club” or “political club” (or something), we are a faith tradition (in part because of our theological tradition) which I believe is called to live our faith to help mend the world through the healing power of love.

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