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New York became the World Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist community hub when 120 participants from 25 different countries gathered January 27-31 for the Council Meeting and Conference of the International Council of Unitarian Universalists (ICUU)).

This was first time that the biennial meeting was held in the United Sates, with the main meetings convening on the campus of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock in Manhasset, New York. Fifty members of the congregation volunteered to look after the participants, which included feeding our esteemed guests American cuisine during their stay; a thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings was held as well.

The conference theme was KUJENGA MADARAJA: Spanning Cultures, an exploration of how our progressive religion, known by many as Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism, can be a language of faith spanning cultures and uniting us in love and compassion. Kujenga Madaraja is a Swahili phrase referring to “Bora kujenga madaraja kuliko kuta,” which translates to “It is better to build bridges than walls.” It is taken to mean “It is better to unite than to separate people.” Swahili is mainly spoken as a second language by many Africans, to communicate with others beyond the dialect of their respective tribes. It reminds us of the potential of our language of faith to transcend the cultures that may separate us if we can discover and master multi-cultural skills and perspectives.

The program included theme talks from Beth Zemsky, a renowned expert on cross-cultural competencies, with worship services led by Unitarians from a variety of cultures, chalice circle groups and other activities, as well as opportunities for networking with sisters and brothers from liberal faith communities from around the world.

Worship highlights included a sermon on Coalition Faith as a theological underpinning for religious liberals relating across cultures, offered in tandem by ICUU staff members Rev. Steve Dick and Rev. Jill McAllister as part of the Opening Ceremony. Another highlight was an innovative morning devotional led by Rev. Tet Gallardo that used movement and personal space to give participants a taste of life in the Philippines, and the impact on their faith.

The entire conference moved to the United Nations on the final day for a service in the chapel of the United Nations Churches Centre led by Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana from Burundi, which featured personal testimony from colleagues working for peace and cooperation across cultures in their communities. This was followed by a workshop in the UN Churches Conference Centre arranged by the UU-United Nations Office (UU-UNO), with a panel that included Maarit Kohonen Sheriff (Finland), Deputy Head of the New York Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bani Dugal (India), Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the UN, and Bruce Knotts (USA) Director of the UU-UNO.

Community Church (UU) in NYC that evening was the site of the Closing Ceremony which featured a concert by UU singer Peter Mayer and the installation of the ICUU Executive for the next two years which is comprised of President Rev. David Gyero (Romania), Vice President Pauline Rooney (Australia), Secretary Lara Fuchs (Switzerland), Treasurer Galen Gisler (USA) and as members at large: Inga Brandes (Germany), Rev. Brian Kiely (Canada) and Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana.

A weekend meeting of international ministers at All Souls Church, NYC, followed the conference. The ministers gathering focused on pastoral care across cultures, further development in ministerial training around the world, and opportunities for networking and collaboration across borders.

The UUA was well represented at the ICUU Conference, with President Rev. Peter Morales and Rev. Abhi Janamanchi sharing their personal cross-cultural ministerial odysseys. Additionally, workshops featuring Rev. Eric Cherry, Rev. Terasa Cooley and Rev. Meg Riley were also held.

The next biennial council meeting is planned for July 2016 in the Netherlands.

For more information about this conference or the work of the ICUU, please contact Executive Director Rev. Steve Dick.

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