Friday, 19 December 2008
The Togo Unitarians will join the growing family of African Unitarians. After many years of stagnation, when Unitarians were only present in Nigeria and in South Africa (and being SA Unitarians predominantly white), there has been a dramatic growth of Unitarianism (mostly in its classical Christian version) in several African countries such as Burundi, Kenya, and the two Congos, and inquiries from many other places.
The future of Unitarianism seems promising in Africa and will no doubt present many possibilities and challenges for the worldwide Unitarian+Universalist religious community. If you were ever interested in having increasing diversity in your church, you will find that cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity is the hallmark of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists! Please visit us and consider attending our open events and supporting our work to nurture existing and emerging Unitarian and Universalist groups worldwide... including Africa.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
even has a link to this one, Facebook. If you join Facebook you will find links to many self-identified Unitarians and Universalists around the world.
But, do take care when on this website, too. The BBC has just published an item about crooks who are targeting Facebook members (link:
At least once a week I get an email from a friend cautioning me about a new powerful virus that has been announced and I should warn all my friends about it. 99.99% of these emails are a waste of time, either warning of old viruses that are known about or warning about something that is an urban myth rather than a virus. These don't get any further when they reach me -- there's enough useless email clogging the system up without me emailing all my contacts.
So, I guess I'm suggesting that Facebook would be a site that would enable you to meet lots of U*Us, but even here be careful. And don't email all your friends about the current attempt to trap Facebook members, just don't fall into one of the most seductive traps around, the offer to look at one's self.
Monday, 29 September 2008
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
“Knoxville” a sermon by Rev. Brian J. Kiely
Unitarian Church of Edmonton September 21, 2008
We are safe.
We are together.
We are loved.
And so it will be.
-Brian Griffin DRE TVUUC
The facts of the Knoxville tragedy itself are simple and sad and are not the main point of this sermon. But we must begin by acknowledging what happened. During a summer service featuring excerpts from “Annie” by young people from a church camp, a stranger walked into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation carrying a loaded 12 gauge shotgun. An older man, an usher named Joe Barnhardt stood in front of him barring entry. Mr. Barnhardt died in the first blast. A mother In the quiet room nearby quickly barred the door putting herself between the shooter and the children. Fortunately, she was not noticed. The man walked into the sanctuary and fired again wounding seven including Linda Kraeger, visiting from another nearby UU congregation. She would soon die of those wounds
Jamie Parkey thought the blast was part of the play his daughter was helping putting on. Then he saw blood on another parishioner behind him and saw the gunman.
“He had the gun leveled in our direction,” Parkey told television reporters a day later. “That’s when I pushed my mother and daughter to the floor and got under the pew. When I saw the men rushing him was when I got up to join them.”
The men led by Dr. John Bohstedt, father of another of the performers, subdued and disarmed the shooter who was soon taken away by police.
In many ways, those few terrifying and scarring moments were merely the start of this story, a story of strength and courage, of compassion and community, of solace taken from core liberal values that stand at the center of our faith. And most of all it is a story of healing begun amidst an ocean of love. That’s the story I wish to share today, the story of how our religion and our people helped one another through tragedy.
Within hours other Knoxville UU congregations had thrown open their doors for informal services and pastoral care. Within a day the various faith communities came together to hold services, to raise funds, and provide food. In the great tradition of the south, casseroles, pies, salads, cookies, and every other kind of food started pouring into TVUUC for the victims, the volunteers and the workers.
Within a day the Unitarian Universalist Association had a well-trained crisis intervention team on site, including a very dear friend of mine, Police Chaplain Rev. Lisa Presley. They and government provided grief counsellors stayed in the church for over a week organizing group debriefings and providing personal care for any who needed the chance to talk. The support is now continuing in other ways, including a relief fund of over $40,000.
The evening after the shootings, there was a multi-faith candlelight service held at the Presbyterian Church next door. The crowds of mourners overflowed.
During that first week the fire department’s hazmat team came in and cleaned the church and the Sanctuary. My friend Lisa remarked in a message to colleagues how gentle, kind and efficient they were. Within a day the only sign of the event were the shotgun pellet holes in a fire door you may have seen in the video. There was some talk of replacing the door, but congregational leaders put a hold on that. “We don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen”, they said.
Four days later Annette Marquis, the District Executive for the region of UU churches that included Knoxville published the following:
I have never been so proud of being a Unitarian Universalist (UU) as I was yesterday in Knoxville. It started when thirty or so people, some from... (the church and the sister congregations), some from the Red Cross, some from the local mental health agency, some from our own UU Trauma Response Team, several local UU ministers, gathered together to plan the day, or should I say, the day after. The meeting was chaotic, disjointed, and disorganized—yet our task was clear. What needed to be done ... to begin the healing process in the wake of Sunday’s devastating tragedy?
After only a few minutes, one subgroup broke off and began planning the critical incident stress debriefing sessions that would be held from 5 to 7 p.m. that evening, sessions that were age and situation-appropriate: those who witnessed the attack and those who did not, those from TVUUC, those from the other UU congregation, children and adults who had been in the cast of "Annie, Jr.", pre-schoolers, first and second-graders, second and third graders, and on and on. Another group created a master list of all the decisions, all the tasks, all the work that needed to be done this week, from getting the damaged pews out of the sanctuary and into storage to planning the vigil that was happening that night, to imagining a re-dedication of the sacred space that is the TVUUC building.
Within a couple short hours, amidst all the heavy hearts in the ...(church) that day, a plan to start the healing process was born...
“I made my way up the hill to Second Presbyterian Church, a congregation literally right next door to TVUUC, a congregation that provided blessed refuge for our children on Sunday morning, a congregation that generously offered to host our debriefing sessions and our public vigil that night...Starting the service with an emotional rendition of Spirit of Life, Rev. Chris Buice, minister of TVUUC, gave the opening words and identified the “power in this room.” “The presence of so many people from so many faith traditions being here for our church means so much to us," he said.
Rev. Bill Sinkford helped those gathered try to accept that it was not possible to make sense of such a senseless act but that by owning our feelings of anger, grief, hurt, helplessness, and pain, we could work through this together. His clarity about how the strong social justice tradition of the congregation will not let it retreat in the wake of this tragedy brought tears to my eyes. He said, "None of us can allow our pain and anger to keep us from living our faith, from welcoming all people, from standing on the side of love. We will not let that happen. We will continue our commitment to welcoming all people."
Rev. Mitra Jafarzedeh, minister of Westside UU Fellowship, closed the service (with). “Go forth in light,” she said, “be daring and audacious enough to have hope. Let nothing silence us.”
“Proud of my faith” does not even begin to describe my feelings, Annette concludes.
In my role as President of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, I was able to reflect from afar:
The news of the recent shootings ... was at once troubling, saddening and in an odd way, encouraging.
It was deeply troubling in that one human soul so could become so sick and twisted that he felt he had to try and kill complete strangers solely because they support liberal religious and social positions. This gunman apparently felt that all the things wrong in his life could be blamed on people with progressive points of view. Unitarian Universalists were convenient symbolic targets.
For U*Us in many parts of the world this attack on our faith so deeply shocking as to be almost beyond comprehension. Yet I am mindful that for a good many of our brothers and sisters in too many parts of the world this act of violence, while still terrible, is not so rare or shocking. Our hopeful, loving faith exists in the midst of violence, lawlessness and political unrest, in the midst of warfare, in the midst of deeply dangerous circumstances. Perhaps those U*Us have a better understanding today of what our Tennessee sisters and brothers have experienced this week. Still, for me, fortunate to live in a fairly peaceful place, the news was terribly shocking.
One member of our local Edmonton church suggested that as with 9-11, there are a lot of people from our communities feeling a little less safe in their churches today. That is troubling.
And of course, these events leave deep feelings of sadness for the victims, their families and friends. Only people who have been through that kind of experience can begin to grasp what the families must be enduring. I feel blessed that I have never had to face such events. All I can write is that I feel tremendous sympathy for the members and friends of the Tennessee Valley UU Congregation as they grieve their losses and try to find ways to feel safe again in their church.”
The video clip from Bill Moyers Journal (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/09122008/watch.html) showed Rev. Chris Buice, someone whom I had just met at our recent CUC meetings. He was not in church that day. Like me he was on vacation in July. Chris was present throughout the days and weeks of aftermath and by all reports did amazing work. I have listened to and was deeply moved by his remarkable series of August sermons stemming from the incident on the church website. They included the clips we heard a few moments ago. I commend them to you.
At the sanctuary rededication service seven days after the shooting, Chris spoke. There was sadness and grief of course, but overall his remarks were filled with passion, courage and hope, and his homily was interrupted many times by applause, even cheers. He said,
“There are many names for the power of healing, and we have felt that power in this congregation this week. This has been a time of paradoxes. Last week a man came into this sanctuary with the intention of inflicting terror and he inspired quick and decisive acts of courage. Reports say that he had been told that liberals were soft on terror. He had a rude discovery.”
“He came into this space to... do an act of hatred, but he has unleashed unspeakable amounts of love. A man tried to strike a blow for of intolerance and by so doing he inspired ...gatherings...throughout the week of Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, believers and unbelievers, crowded in the aisle, sitting on the stage, gathered outside in the rain, holding, hugging and helping each other to heal.
A man tried to divide us...divide us into liberals and conservatives, gay and straight. Instead his actions united us making us more willing to listen to each other, care for each other, respect each other, support each other.” And referring to the tangible southern minister of the casserole he added, “And let’s be honest ....feed each other...in body and spirit...Our (larger)community surrounded us with love.”
“He came into this space to inflict death and he took away the lives of two precious people, wounded six others, traumatized our community, but strangely at the same time reminded us of the preciousness of our children, the sacredness of life and this moment of time, the true value of friendship and family and how much we need good neighbours.”
In a later sermon Rev. Buice shifted to the reasons for the attack: that we Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists profess a liberal faith and that the Tennessee Valley congregation has a strong justice seeking history.
“Liberalism is an easy target... (because we agree with Voltaire who said), ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Buice suggests that it is an idea that leads some to think we are weak and easy targets, that we won’t respond in kind. He said, “You can call a liberal all sorts of terrible names and a liberal will still defend your freedom of speech... of the press... of religion. Contrast that with how others might react.”
He then led a guided meditation of a sort asking people to imagine themselves in a local bar late on a Saturday night. He invited them to imagine mounting the stage, taking the microphone and calling all in the room traitors to America giving comfort and succour to the enemy. He then surmised that anyone who did such a thing would soon be joined on stage by any number of people strenuously pointing out the error of that statement.
“We are peaceful, tolerant and understanding people. We are open to listening to opinions that are different from our own. We are committed to non-violent social change, therefore it does not take a lot of courage to verbally assault a liberal.”
From the first day after the shooting, this has been the message of the church President, of Rev. Buice and UUA President Bill Sinkford. Each issued strong and faithful statements. They declared that our liberal approach will not be altered or changed by this tragedy. They spoke of love and compassion, not hate and revenge. In the midst of this tragedy, the people found new strength and resolve. They are finding positive meanings in this terrible event.
I concluded my ICUU Presidential letter with this: “We who choose a liberal and principled approach to faith can expect to be tested in that faith from time to time, though seldom is the test as shocking as that Sunday in Knoxville. It is at moments like those that we look to those Principles and to our understanding of the divine working within us to pull us through. May our Knoxville sisters and brothers find the strength they need in their time of grieving. May we all join them and find new reasons to renew our own commitment to our UU faith.
I leave the last word today to Tennessee Valley member Jim Elsaesser. He wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper a few days after the Monday candlelight memorial service.
“For the last segment of the services, the children of the cast of "Annie" took the stage of the sanctuary. After receiving counselling for the events they had endured, the children had asked their musical director, if they too could sing at the memorial service ... and they did, before a weeping, cheering, shouting church full of mourners ... all singing their grand finale, "Tomorrow."
It is worth noting that out of this tragedy, the children of that church led their congregation in singing, again, a song of hope, a song of healing.”
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Sunday, 3 August 2008
Friday, 1 August 2008
According to Mr. Baches:
As the Michael Servetus reported in its previous communication dated 14 October 2007, Dr. Alicia McNary Forsey initiated the project to translate into English the main work by Michael Servetus, Christianismi Restitutio, already some years ago.
Under her coordination, as Managing Editor and Project Director, Christopher A. Hoffman and Marian Hillar made the first translation of the first part of the "Christianismi restitutio" entitled "De Trinitate" (On the Trinity), which was released in September-October 2007 under the title: "An English Translation of Christianismi restitutio, 1553, by Michael Servetus (1511-1553). Translated by Christopher A. Hoffman and Marian Hillar" (Lewiston, NY; Queenston, Ont., Canada; Lampeter, Wales, UK: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2007).
The purpose of this new communication is to inform you that the Second Volume (composed of two books) of the translation of "Christianismi Restitutio" has just been released this July.
You can obtain further information on the books in www.servetus.es.
Monday, 28 July 2008
Dear U*U Friends around the world,
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Brian Kiely, President of the ICUU, has written to the Nigerian Unitarians: "It is with great sadness that we have learned of Bishop Abowaba's death. Even though he was too ill to attend, we who participated in the Kenyan Leadership Conference felt his strong presence through each of you. I know I feel poorer for never having met him in person. The Unitarian Church in Nigeria has had a long and important presence in West Africa. Bishop Abowaba's strong leadership is no small part of that unique history. Unitarians and Universalists throughout the world join you in your sorrow."
The Unitarian Church in Nigeria was founded in 1919 by a gathering of liberal Christians from different denominations. Their hymns and church services are in Yoruba language, and they include the use of drums in their worship.
Friday, 30 May 2008
This joint statement follows the annual meeting of the Canadian Unitarian Council/Conseil Unitarien du Canada (CUC) in Ottawa, and it has been signed by representatives from associations in Canada, the French-speaking countries in Europe, Burundi, and Congo.
The statement acknowledges the work of the CUC and the ICUU is fostering diversity and the expansion of the Unitarian faith in cultural environments where English is not the primary language. It is hoped that this increasing diversity is also reflected in websites, worship resources, publications, and other written materials.
You can find the whole statement, in French and in English, in the blog of the Assemblée Fraternelle des Chrétiens Unitariens (AFCU).
(Note: Thanks to Jean-Claude Barbier from Correspondance Unitarienne for spreading the news about this.)
Tuesday, 6 May 2008
“Bliss was it that dawn’d to be alive;
But to be young was very heaven”- William Wordsworth.
The cry for change that reverberated throughout the length and breadth of the Unitarian Union has brought in young faces to the top echelon of the UUNEI administration. In a historic verdict, the voters today elected four young ministers to take over the administrative affairs of the UUNEI for a three-year term. Rev.Derrick Pariat pipped Rev.Carleywell to become the President of the Union . Rev. Helpme Mohrmen was elected the new General Secretary, Rev.Darihun Khriam retains Treasurer and Rev. Pearl Greene is the new Assistant General Secretary. The position of Vice President will be filled when the new Exec meets on the 17th.
Ten others were elected EC members, representing the four Circles (Districts) - three from the Jaintia Hills, as many from the Khasi Hills, two each from Ri Bhoi and Kharang Circles. Prominent among them are Rev.Nangroi Suting and Bah Khlur Mukhim.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
We could not find much information in the website of the British Unitarians themselves, but there is a good summary in the UUA-sponsored Inspired Faith, Effective Action blog, so feel free to check the news there. For those who like a more personal approach, Unitarian blogger Stephen Lingwood attended the meeting and recorded live his impressions of the sessions: see his Reignite blog for details.
Friday, 28 March 2008
Saturday, 1 March 2008
Basically, what the Pew Forum survey results seem to imply is that there are many more Unitarian Universalists who are not affiliated to any UU congregation, than those who are actual members of congregations. The survey has found that 0.3% of Americans identify themselves as Unitarian Universalists, which is roughtly equivalent to 600,000 people out of the total population of the USA, but the total adult membership of UU congregations is about 160,000.
These data raises questions about how to serve those who are not regular attendants or even paying members of Unitarian+Universalist congregations. The issue is probably not just American but it may be applied, in different degrees, to other countries. How many Britons would identify with Unitarian beliefs and principles, but simply dislike the idea of going to church on Sunday morning? How can emerging Unitarian groups in Europe, Latin America, Africa, etc. reach out to those who agree with Unitarians but disagree with "religion"?
And finally, we tend to identify members with those who sign a book, or get baptized, or pay their membership fees. Perhaps a wider discussion on membership and belonging is in order, so that we can provide spiritual services and focus on those who are away from our religious center. Remember the Gospel parable about the shepherd and the sheep?
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Our Boeing 767 has just departed Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. It is mostly empty on its way to Amsterdam. I gaze out at the small farm plots dotting the dusty plains below and ponder my last day in Kenya.
In the airport I noticed a bookshop just beside my gate. It is, of course, geared to international travellers, but the selection of books chosen for the window display is intriguing. On lower shelves are a couple of tomes on getting rich and being successful, including the new religious version of same by Joel Osteen. On the upper shelves are the US political books. Bill Clinton’s auto-biography and his book Giving on generosity towards the third world provide the bookends for the current editions about Hilary and Obama. Nothing appears about the Republican candidates. On the second shelf are a series of books about various African countries, mostly historically or politically inclined. But the most interesting thing is the center-piece. Pride of place is given to Shake Hands with the Devil, the account of the Rwandan genocide by the UN Commander and fellow Canadian ( and national hero) Lt. General Romeo Dallaire. My heart swells a little. I have avoided this book until now. Having read enough of Dallaire’s story in the papers and having seen the fictional account in Hotel Rwanda, I know it will be a rough ride. Placed so prominently it seems both like a bookseller’s prayer of hope and a warning to Kenya. Rwanda was a peaceful place where genocide erupted in 1994, killing 800,000 and displacing millions more. The display seems to say, “Let us be careful...this could happen here. Let us return to sanity.” I buy the book. I barely notice our departure for the tears filling my eyes and I haven’t even finished the Introduction.
In this morning’s papers, the Kenyan politicians seem to be playing at silly buggers again, but I have faith in the people I have met on the streets and in the restaurants. Perhaps they are telling the westerner what he wants to hear, but the light in their eyes suggests to me that there is a widespread and genuine belief in Nairobi at least, that Kenyans are better than that. There will be peace and a political solution, if not this week, then in time.
Still, this 767 heading to Amsterdam is empty. The economy is in chaos and the tourist trade is gone for this winter. There is a column in the Nation newspaper today. It’s one of those anonymously penned pieces by someone called The Watcher. Watcher relates a story. One or the other political leader (I think Mr. Odinga) spoke of the election in terms of having his cow stolen from him. But the Watcher quotes a wise head who commented, “They are arguing over who owns the cow and not noticing that they are trampling the grass on which the cow feeds. If there is no grass, there will be no cow.” I only hope they realize this truth sooner rather than later. The people have figured it out. Why can’t the politicians grasp it?
Yesterday was a free day for me. Earlier in the week Kevin Gesimba had asked me to come and visit his family about 30 km outside of town. I said I needed to do some gift shopping for my family. My wife had asked me to bring drums for my daughters. (I hope my ears don’t live to regret that!) So Kevin and Shem took me first to the Masai market, a sprawling colourful conglomeration of blankets and displays with crafts, fabrics, jewellery, paintings, woodcraft and pretty much anything you can think of...and drums of course. We westerners sometimes lament the lack of service in our stores. No problem here! As I entered the area I suddenly had a dozen new friends who wanted to shake my hand and take me to their stalls. With my real friends doing the negotiating I found my few purchases and departed with far more shillings in my pocket than I had anticipated.
We booked a taxi and headed east to Kitangera Estates. The trip took nearly 90 minutes thanks to Nairobi’s amazing and endless traffic. In today’s paper experts estimated there would be total gridlock in 15 years. To my eye they are being wildly optimistic. I expect that a dozen more new cars will produce total gridlock in about 15 days!
To a westerner the word ‘Estate’ suggests something a little majestic and well to do...or at the very least something pretentiously hoping to be majestic and well-to-do. Kenyan Estates are, to privileged western eyes, anything but. Please understand, that this is an observation of difference and is not tinged with disrespect or even pity. In fact, I sense that Kenyans are happier in general than westerners. When everyone is poor, they don’t suffer from the material lust and ‘gotta have it’ that plagues the west. They do have real wants and needs (unlike me with only my imaginary ones), but beyond that they focus on family, friends and mutual support.
Kevin’s house is off the main dirt road, down a narrowish alley and then down an even narrower alley. Because of mud holes the taxi can get no closer than 100 metres. In Kevin’s street, the alley is perhaps a dozen feet wide, each side lined with a solid wall of brick abodes. We push through the metal door into a meticulously clean and comfortable room. There are three sofas spread on each of the other walls. Each sofa is covered with an embroidered seat cover. I would learn that this is Divinah’s handiwork. She is Kevin’s wife and a participant at the conference.
There is no cooking area, no washing area and no toilet or running water. There are just two rooms with a small window in each. Kevin extravagantly buys Fantas at the tiny store across the alley. He then goes and gets his sons, his nephews and a friend from school to bring them to meet me. I am already being kept company by Happiness and her daughter Eva, although I am not quite sure of the relationships here. Eva is six. I show them pictures of my girls and there are warm smiles all around. I am entranced by little Eva and long to kiss my girls.
The boys come tumbling through the door. There are formal handshakes, a little conversation, many pictures and then off they run back to class.
Kevin and Shem then take me into the other room hidden by a curtain. It is a bare cement room for storage and work. There are two sewing machines, a lovely old treadle style Singer and a newer portable. This is where Divinah does her work. They hope to find financing to start a home based clothing business. We discuss details. It seems that the impossibly inaccessible sum of $200 US or so would get them started. I have read about micro-loans, but this is the first time I have come in touch with the reality of what one can do. I think we can make this work.
It is a hope of mine that we will find a way to connect UU’s from around the world in some way to help make these small subsistence dreams a reality. As I wrote in chapter 7, nothing is set-up yet, but I am hoping that will change in the months ahead.
Hours later after another long dusty drive, I connect with my remaining faculty colleagues back at the Guest House. For most of us this is our last time together until who knows when. We head out to a local restaurant for a final meal. We wind up at the Java Hut at the Nakumatt Center. Nakumatt appears to be the Kenyan Wal-Mart...perhaps is the Kenyan Wal-Mart. The Java Hut seems strangely out of place to me. Why? It’s Starbucks decor in a land where nothing else looks that way. But the Swahilli curried Tilapia is an absolute delight and the chocolate ice cream (my first sweet since arriving) is heavenly. I think my stomach is ready to go home.
I’ll close this blog this way: I know this journey has changed me, but for now the feelings, sensations and friendships are too fresh for me to venture a guess as to how that change will sort itself out. I do know it will be harder to dismiss the Third World as ‘them’ anymore. I do know I will pay attention when I hear the word ‘Africa’ from now on. I am more convinced than ever that we in the West and the North will have to be prepared to make material sacrifices in order to bring economic justice to the world. It will not be enough to simply nod when politicians protecting national interests say that their economic policies will help the Third World and that rising economies will float all boats. Instead, I believe some real redistribution of wealth will have to occur. If we don’t manage that change, it may just happen to us we run out of resources and as the rest of the world, led by China and India find their power.
Thanks for reading this, friends. Thanks to those of you who have written and thanks for caring about our ICUU leadership school. It has been a transformative and unforgettable experience for us all.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
The ICUU Leadership Conference ended last night with a great deal of hope and joy, with mutual gratitude, with hugs and singing...and with a trip to the open air bar just up the road. The faculty decided that everyone needed a treat. It was a wonderful party with more singing, lots of conversation, back slapping, handshaking and an enormous amount of good will. The Tusker beer, Pilsner and Guinness didn’t hurt either. Speaking of cultural differences I saw a new one...Guinness and Coke. Hmmmm.
The final day of work was given over to planning in local groups, a session on the structure and history of the ICUU, a discussion of ordination practices around the world which was of great interest. We also reviewed the Covenant Groups model.
Each day we met in the same small groups for a time of speaking and listening...not conversation, but speaking and listening respectfully. It is a structured practice used in many parts of the UU world. There is a chalice lighting, a brief time to check-in on how each person is doing, a shared reading on a topic of the day, a time of silence and then an opportunity for each participant to speak in turn on their views and feelings about the topic. This week the topics all had to do with that particular day’s work. After all have had a chance to speak, there are a few moments for final comments and then a closing reading.
I happened to be part of an all male group, something I am not used to in a church setting. That may be why we gelled so quickly...or perhaps it was because Adeyinka Matimojou of
We spoke of life and love, of farming and family, of hopes and dreams. We cried a little and laughed so much that one of the other groups asked us to quiet down. It is a memory that will not soon fade.
Late in the afternoon the groups reported back about their plans for the next five years. These people may have few resources, but they have amazing vision. While some national groups hope for regular meetings and a stable congregation, others are dreaming of small hospitals, schools, orphanages. As I was writing this, Sister Alice Magara showed me some photos of the Sarah’s Orphans project in
I guess my point is that they may have big dreams, and they will need help to realize them, but that’s not stopping anyone from moving forward in city or country.
Today I am scheduled to visit with the
Thanks for reading.
Monday, 11 February 2008
We are nearing the end of our ICUU Leadership Conference and the end of my time in
Ok well, first, one cultural observation: Mobile phones.
Of course this mobile revolution makes sense. It is the way the people here are able to communicate in a nation where landlines are few and far between and expensive to boot. Mobiles are cheap, effective and convenient. They bring a new freedom. Perhaps the explosion of this ease of communication both helped spark the recent violence, and helped provide the massive internal and international peaceful response to the violence. How many violent actions in the past in this continent have gone unnoticed because no one far away heard of the unrest?
My colleague, Rev. David Usher pointed out the other day that Samuel Morse (Morse code), Alexander Graham Bell (the telephone) and Tim Berners-Lee (the World Wide Web) each sparked a revolution in communications...and all were Unitarian. I guess that’s really not a surprise. It is an unspoken principle in our liberal and questing faith that the more pathways of communication we have, the more information to we have, the better and more peaceful the world will be.
And I suppose that this brings me to the most interesting thing I have learned about Unitarianism in
In the weeks before the conference, Rev. Patrick Magara kept inviting us to come to
How to live our Unitarian Universalist faith into our daily lives is a challenge for many westerners and northerners face. We tend to go through our lives not announcing our religion to the world. In
The last major difference between Kenyan Unitarians and the ‘first world’ UU’s concerns the topic of growth. It’s hard, exactly to say how many Unitarians there are in this country, but it is certainly over 500 in over 40 congregations. Five years ago, there were none... Zero.
Why so much growth so fast? Kenyan Unitarians are willing, eager to spread the word of their faith far and wide. Some preach in market places. Some talk to groups from other churches. There are many cases where entire congregations have ‘converted’ to Unitarianism. And then there is the outreach of their community programs. Anyone can participate, but they WILL hear about our faith. No one is forced to convert, but few who come in contact with Kenyan Unitarians will walk away not knowing something about us.
Good heavens! Conversion? Proselytizing? Unitarians doing that? Amazing.
But here’s something worth thinking about: If their success continues, within a few years there will be more Unitarians in
And now, the commercial: These folks are growing fast and are hungry to learn. I mentioned in Blog post 5 that they snapped up a suitcase full of books on our tradition. Perhaps we could look around our churches and communities for Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist books that haven’t been read for awhile. When I get home, I will start to explore how best to get those books to
Sunday, 10 February 2008
It had to happen. It was waiting to happen. During Saturday evening worship it finally was unleashed in all its joyful splendour. Eight Kenyan men and women from the
Of course, the start of the day had been pretty nice as well. The cats did not disturb the night this time. I woke early and was ready for the day about 6:30 a.m. Here, just a degree below the equator, day and night are equal. Daylight shines from 7 to 7. I collected a strong black Kenyan coffee from the dining room and wandered to the upper verandah and watched the sun leaped into the sky just beside the giant eucalyptus in the distance.
And it also had been a deep and challenging day rich with power and moments of meaning. In our early session I had the privilege of leading a section on church structure and organization. African Unitarian Universalism is a mix of ages and stages. Congregations in
Most of the people here are considered to be ministers by their people, but few have the formal training that we expect ministers to have in other parts of the Unitarian world. That’s not a criticism of their ministries, just an observation of fact. None are paid. In fact, the most common question I received this week from these ministers was, “What do you do for a living?” They are amazed to learn of such a thing as professional paid ministry and that I not a farmer.
My new colleagues display a wonderful passion for their faith and are courageous in working to make it grow. Indeed, many in my world who could learn a lot about growing churches from them. For all that they have many needs to help them grow in ministry. “Lack of resources for study” does not begin to describe the condition here. They need books and articles and teachers to help them understand our history and approach to religion, for use in creating worship and for the development of leadership skills. ICUU Executive Director John Clifford brought a small suitcase of used books about our faith, some of them quite old. He laid them out and invited people to come and choose a book or two to take away. They were snapped up in minutes and carried like treasures.
With the novelty of the UU experience in many parts of
I did not speak for long. Instead I asked people to talk awhile amongst themselves about how these factors impacted their long standing or emerging communities. And then we had an open conversation. That’s when it got very deep. Two main issues emerged. The first was the struggle of social context. To be blunt, nearly all of the participants are unemployed or are poor farmers working in a communal setting trying to get enough to eat.
The second issue is even more deeply felt. Unitarianism is a new kind of thought, a new approach, a new faith in most of
The best I could offer was a North American analogy about the equality of women in our movement. In the 1970’s, UU women came together and in gentle ways and harsh demanded their place at the table. That place was given grudgingly at first, but in time a new generation of ‘elder’ males grew up as supporters of change in a climate where women were perceived to be fully equal, and the struggle lessened. We suggested that these people in the room were the elders in training. When their time comes to assume that role, perhaps they would be the ones to let go the power.
The second session was focused on worship, led by Rev. David Usher. He encouraged a networking experience where people reviewed their worship practices in their communities and then shared them with the group. There is nothing like the exchange of ideas to spark new thought and new ways of doing things. The
I am continually amazed by the language issue here. We are conducting affairs in English and French, but almost every participant is working in a second (or third) language. I would guess that there are 10 different ‘native tongues’ being spoken among the 50 participants in the room. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more. Most Africans speak at least two and often as many as four languages. Hearing the Lord’s Prayer spoken in so many ways was a powerful experience.
In the afternoon I had a little free time. As often happens at conferences like these days, it suddenly became urgent to go ‘off campus’ for an hour or so. I headed out into the local neighbourhood in search of more bottled water for our room. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the water in
So I headed out on a Saturday afternoon to find a still crowed street in this mostly residential neighbourhood. Men, women and children were walking in numbers I usually only see at West Edmonton Mall. The street vendors were doing a good business selling corn cobs roasted over an open brazier, selling sodas and lottery tickets and a host of fruits and vegetables in tiny stalls. The businesses, including our guest house, all have uniformed security. The mini-busses scurried about honking with the bus-boys waving to see if I wanted a ride. Two police officers armed with cut down AK 47 rifles talked earnestly with a man in a late model car – a rare sight around here...the new car, not the police.
About a kilometre up the road I arrived at the little open air mall we visited on the first day. Now well past my jet lag, I looked around a little more and sat awhile under a tree reading a novel while enjoying a Coke (no Pepsi here!). Okay, there was the chocolate donut too... I wandered into the grocery and found my water and then noticed a very well-stocked liquor section. This is a well-to-do area of town. With the devil in my heart I purchased and smuggled a couple of bottles of wine into the dry Guest House in order to lubricate our nightly staff meetings. Sometimes it’s sooo good to be bad!
After a few days together, relationships among participants and between participants and faculty are building. People are feeling safer with one another, and I am finding myself continually involved in ever-deepening and rich conversations, about religion, about vision, about struggles and about life. I am indeed fortunate to be here. I suppose that was underscored last night when I Skyped home and talked with my wife and daughters and learned that it is a brisk -30 Centigrade in
More tomorrow. Bye’ from
Saturday, 9 February 2008
Today began early for many of us – somewhere around 4 a.m. I am afraid it was a case of the neighbourhood erupting with the sounds of violence. Fortunately for all involved it was only a long and drawn out fight between cats staged atop the garbage can battlefield. The echoing sounds of struggle could be heard for quite some time. ☺
Usually such nocturnal events don’t disturb my sleep for more than a moment or two, but this week is different. My brain is so busy with thoughts about this new to me world exploding like popcorn. Sleep was done for the night, so I grabbed my laptop and retreated to our bathroom to write yesterday’s blog. I didn’t want my typing to disturb my roommate David Usher. I already give him enough reasons to dislike me! Just kidding. We are good roommates.
I m writing this blog early in the morning again, but David is awake and preparing for his presentation on Worship, so at least I am more comfortable at the desk. We will both be presenting today. I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow.
Our more formal conference activities began with a pre-breakfast worship at 7 a.m. in our spacious and bright meeting room on the second floor of the Guest House. One side is marked by a wall of windows looking out over the rooftops towards a grove of trees highlighted by a tall eucalyptus tree. The Burundian contingent led the brief service that featured music, meditation and a brief scriptural passage and reflection. We all then piled into the dining hall downstairs and across the courtyard.
The food here this week has been plentiful and good with a nice variety that serves the needs of vegetarians and omnivores alike. Breakfast is usually English style with bacon, sausage, eggs (you can also get made to order omelettes), potatoes toast and fruit. Lunch and dinner includes salads, some kind of cream soup, at least two starches like rice and noodles or potatoes, steamed vegetables of some variety and at least two and even three kinds of meat, chicken, pork and fish served breaded, roasted or stewed. The chef has a nice hand with the spices and people have been eating well. Dessert is usually fruit: bananas, pineapple and watermelon. At tea breaks the kitchen usually provides some baked loaves and fritters. No one is going hungry this week.
At 8:30 Rev. Jill McAllister began with a discussion of definitions of religious terms that provoked a good deal of discussion. In the second half of the morning Rev. Rosemary Bray-McNatt covered a great deal of the development of Unitarian history and theology. Both programs were content-rich, but the excellent and focused questions which followed suggested that the participants were hungry for such information and highly knowledgeable about religion in general. It was personally interesting to see how the questions and comments grew out of the different experiences of the different national groups. In each nation Unitarianism has been overlaid on top of a slightly different religious experience. Burundi is primarily a Catholic country while Kenya was most recently served by English missionaries. By contrast the strongest undercurrent in Congo-Brazzaville is still the animist religions of ancient Africa. As each national group tries to refine the place of Unitarian Universalism in their country, very different questions arise. Watching the process unfold is fascinating.
The ICUU intends to start circulating the brief foundational papers from this school as well as regular (monthly or perhaps more frequently) papers on various theological, historical, organizational and worship-related topics. Keep an eye out for word of this new service in the next few months.
The afternoon was set aside for free time, networking and follow up conversations. Several faculty members wound up listening to the story of one young man in distress. Although he was not near the violence, his family in the Eldoret area was displaced by the troubles. The killings have clearly had a searingly deep impact on him. He is struggling to find understanding and a reason for hope... and a reason not to hate. Later I sit silently with him by the pool and play with my camera. I have a photo of him that captures the brooding pin. I won’t speak for my colleagues, but I know I feel inadequate. There is little I can do but listen. At the suggestion of one skilled member of our team, we are trying to connect him with the trained Kenyan therapists that are part of our school, feeling he can be better helped by his own people.
I mentioned the pool. The Methodist Guest House is equipped with a lovely 25 meter outdoor pool and a children’s pool as well. Today was sunny and bright and the water was refreshing for this lad from northern climes. Several of the participants joined us. There was a lot of splashing and laughing and several impromptu swimming lessons.
Late in the afternoon we hold our first Covenant Group sessions. The participants have been divided into small groups of six or seven (including one French speaking group). The faculty members serve as facilitators. Many in North America UU circles will be familiar with the small group ministry format. There is a brief liturgy designed to get us thinking about a certain topic for the day. The purpose is to encourage deep listening to one another’s stories.
As a minister in North America, I seldom ever work ith a group that is not mixed gender or even all female. It is rare that I work in the company of men. As it turns out my six group mate are all male and with five from different parts of Kenya and one from Nigeria. The topic is nature and the sharing is rich. In fact most of us kept talking after the formal session was over. I felt lucky.
In the evening the ICUU Executive Director John Clifford gave a presentation on the structure of the ICUU. Four of the five national groups are either emerging or pre-emerging groups in the ICUU, so the primer was a useful necessity. John also shared a delightful variety of slides from his collection of our communities around the world. Later the Nigerian and Burundian groups shared something of their history. The Burundians is quite new to Unitarianism, but the Nigerian church has been operating since the 19th century.
The day concluded with worship directed by the Ugandans including a witty homily from Mark Kiyamba. Most of us headed quickly to bed. It had been a long day.
We prayed for a night of peace amongst the feline population.