Saturday, 9 February 2008

Kenya Day Four
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.

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