Thursday, 28 August 2008

Canadian Director demits office in September

Mary Bennett, Executive Director of the Canadian Unitarian Council (Conseil Unitarien du Canada), and the CUC have announced that Mary is demitting office in mid-September.  Mary has seen the organisation through eight years of great change.  During this time the relationship with the Unitarian Universalist Association fundamentally changed.  There was a shift in delivery of almost all services to congregations from the UUA to the CUC with the need for substantial infrastructure development as well as programme expansion.  Under Mary's leadership, at the same time all this 'internal' work was going on, the CUC strengthened its international witness and has become a strong supporter of ICUU.

Thank you, Mary, and best wishes for the future.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Disasters, natural and unnatural

Not all disasters are "natural" -- many of us were shocked when a gunman killed two and injured several others during worship in the Tennesee Valley UU church in Knoxville, Tennessee USA on 27 July.  Trauma experts and other help from both UUs and civic authorities were sent to the stunned congregation immediately.  The initial shock at a 'random' event by some madman with a vague grudge against life and liberals had to give way to a more reflective response as it became known that the gunman had had previous contact with UU events, including at least one in his home some time before.  

Many of us will remember that almost exactly three years ago rains caused severe flooding in Transylvania, causing extensive damage including Unitarian churches and homes, and the Transylvanian Unitarians from 'dry' areas rushed to give practical assistance.  Only a few years before that the swollen Danube flooded central Prague causing severe damage to the Unitarian church there.  Unitarians around the globe raised funds and sent encouraging messages. Earthquakes have hit Unitarians (among many others, of course) in Indonesia in the past few years and the coast of the USA from about Texas around to South Carolina is periodically hit by hurricanes and severe storms, damaging homes and public buildings including Unitarian Universalist ones.  Florida is bracing itself for a "hit" even as I write this.  And the pictures on British television of the flooding in Northern Ireland where one month's rain fell in a few hours yesterday, are heart breaking. 

In Indonesia, the Unitarians there, members of the ICUU member group Jamaat Allah Global Indonesia, rushed aid to their stricken citizens, non-Unitarian as well as Unitarian.  Many Unitarians and Universalists around the world contributed to an Appeal, publicised by UUSC to help them do this.  When earthquakes hit Pakistan a couple years ago the very small Unitarian community there also strived to provide practical assistance to their fellow citizens, many of whom hate Christians and don't bother to make an exception for Unitarians.  American UUs were active in providing both short- and long-term support to residents of New Orleans after Katrina and will no doubt assist as they can if aid is needed after the current emergency in Florida.  We, like decent people of all religions and cultures, respond to disasters as quickly and generously as we can.  Organisations like the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Oxfam, UNESCO, Tearfund, and others, while receiving government funding, depend on the generous responses of the public to do the emergency relief work that they are set up for.

One bit of good news: No one was killed in Northern Ireland by the floods yesterday and no homes or churches of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (the religious liberals closely connected with British Unitarians) were directly affected -- in fact, amidst the turmoil of roads closed by floods and landslides they still managed an ordination!

Why do bad things happen to good people?  What, you don't assume that Unitarians and Universalists are good people?  Very insightful, but the fundamental question remains.

Universalists have long held that the best motivation for good behaviour is a response of love to being loved, rather than the traditional motivation based on fear of punishment for being bad.  It was a hard struggle in many lands to get the changes in public policy that this theological understanding implied, from education to public health, from prison reform to worker and child protection.  That reforming battle continues.

There may be a temptation to see good behaviour as a kind of protection against evil things happening, and perhaps some people do contribute to disaster relief as a kind of insurance policy, but the truth is that if reality were so constructed that well behaved people were rewarded with good health, long lives, and wealth, while bad people had brutish existences, then many fewer of us would behave badly.  

We will each have our own resolutions to the question of why a God of Love would not build goodness into the structure of the way things work --  in fact some take the intentional evil done by both individuals and communities as proof that a God of Love cannot really exist.  I share my conviction that it is precisely because goodness and justice are not built into the way the physical world operates that we have the obligation to do our best to build goodness and justice into our human community.  To the extent that we are successful in this never-ending struggle, goodness and justice will exist; to the extent we fail, goodness and justice will not exist.  

Meantime, we will be subject to the same range of natural and unnatural disasters as everyone else and will continue to need to respond as open-heartedly as we can to immediate needs even while we engage in fundamental reform of our ways of thinking, perceiving, and acting.


Sunday, 3 August 2008


I've just received an invitation from a UU in Kenya to join an instant community that they are already a member of.  This is actually the second such invitation I've received from a Kenyan Unitarian Universalist in the past couple months.  It reflects growing access to computers and internet connections in Africa and perhaps even growing ownership of computers as they drop in real price and as they become more available.

I'm not sure how many such communities there are on the web.  I'm already a member of three, Skype, SightSpeed, and MySpace, and am not sure I want to start developing this aspect of my connection to the web just now, but the variety of means by which we can link and communicate to each other seems to grow daily.  I suppose that in one sense there is competition between these 'instant connection clubs' to sign up the most members.  At least, one of the promised benefits of joining is the number of potential people to whom one will have instant links.  And they work -- at least from personal experience I can say I located my niece in Australia via MySpace and I use Skype at least weekly to talk with family and friends around the world and I use SightSpeed occasionally with a friend who can't seem to get Skype to work.  Video calls, audio calls, even quick text conversations are great ways to communicate and as computers and connections increase in power and decrease in cost many more of us will be dependent on these to supplement our decreasing ability to drive and fly around the world to see people.

But how do you respond to a plea for greater connectivity from someone you have only met once or maybe may even have never met?  Apparently Barack Obama has over one million such connections -- this is understandable I suppose because he is a major politician.  But for ordinary mortals like me there is the conflicting tension between not wanting to reject or insult (on the one hand) and trying to keep the 'instant' dimension of contacts within a manageable number.  I like the fact that when I am on Skype (for example) I can see when one of my contacts is also online, permitting a very quick 2 minute conversation -- either purely social or for a quick Q&A -- but then I've only 30 something contacts on Skype.  I also understand that when I am logged into Skype, part of my free RAM is used to make the system work and I am willing to pay this price for the benefit I perceive.  Some of these 'instant contact clubs' include the opportunity to be bombarded with ads -- a price I'm reluctant to pay although I do like the ability to contact people easily and cheaply.  But then, email does this well when an instant reply is not needed.  And telephone charges are actually dropping.  The soup of communication methods we now have available perhaps contains too many standards and too many options to use its potential usefulness.  I long for the day when some universal standard (such as obtains with DVDs) permits really easy and cheap communication.

These somewhat random thoughts were sparked by the invitations I received from Kenyan UUs but the bellows feeding oxygen to the sparks was an article in today's online Observer,
that reports a study confirming the widely held belief that the average number of degrees of separation (people connecting you in a chain with a particular stranger) is 6.6.  Microsoft analysed its records of usage (30 Billion electronic messages) and came up with this average length of chain of names connecting any two people.  Add to this the numbers of text messages sent by mobile telephones and countless normal emails, that is one whale of a lot of connection even for the number of folk on this planet.  

So who is doing the work while we are all busy communicating?  

I haven't yet seen any comments clarifying the most common question for instant messages, but I have seen the most common question for mobile phone messages: 'Where are you?'  

Perhaps with computers a more useful question will be: 'What should you be doing now?'

Friday, 1 August 2008

Brief recent items from around the world

From Hong Kong: The world body responsible for internet classifications (.org, .net., .com, etc) is about to make a major opening up of classifications and one of the groups taking advantage of this is the UU group in Hong Kong, called the Spiritual Seekers Society.  They have had an internal consultation about what sort of registered names might be most useful in the future and they have decided to take out registrations on three endings:;; (for a future UU group in China).  Note that they are posititively thinking about future witness in mainland China!

From the Khasi Hills, India:  A recent report from their General Secretary, Rev Helpme Mohrmen, describes their plans for continuing the education of their church leaders within the contexts both of their strong local democratic conditions and their recognition of a more professional approach to ministry being required in the modern world.  Their first training session was well received and they hope that these training sessions will help leaders to develop skills that they need for doing ministry in their respective churches.  They have found that the previous training was able to boost the leaders' confidence and also empower them. The training was on leading worship, conducting rites of passage, basic Khasi Unitarian beliefs, and pastoral care.

Their Executive has also decided to start a review of partner church relations and has set up a Cell to oversee all matters involving partnerships.  Two members of their leadership were able to attend the recent UUA General Assembly and meet with American UU Partner Church Council members.

From Chennai, India:  The Madras Unitarian Church, partnered with the Glasgow and Edinburgh congregations in Scotland for the past 18 years, is just about to rebuild their 200 year old church.  The old building will come down and a modern replacement built.  The new building will be better able to serve the local community needs which the congregation tries to meet.  Professional advice has been taken and substantial financial help from an Appeal organised by the Scottish Unitarians will supplement local efforts.  The existing bell tower (separate from the main building) will be retained.

From Lagos, Nigeria:  The building of the First Unitarian Church in Lagos was recently under immediate threat because of irregularities in the planning and registration procedures when it was constructed many years ago.  The UUA International Office and ICUU have provided an emergency grant to enable rectifying procedures to be completed.  One of only three Unitarian churches of any duration in Africa, it would have been a great blow to the congregation to have lost it.

From South Australia: The small single-room Shady Grove Unitarian chapel in the hills outside Adelaide will celebrate its 150th Anniversary in October.  It has served isolated farming communities both as a chapel and a school house over the generations and still lacks electricity and power.  It does have a pedal organ, however, along with a continuing small congregation and a part-time leader based in Adelaide.

Michael Servetus Back from the Ashes and in English

Mr. Sergio Baches, the incumbent Secretary of the Michael Servetus Institute in Spain, has informed us that Michael Servetus' main work, and which took him to the stake in Geneva under the accusation of heresy, Christianismi Restitutio (The Restitution of Christianity), is now available in English.

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