Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Seasonal Message from ICUU President

Dear Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist friends around the globe,

Looking back at 2010 I can only reflect on what a turbulent place this planet of ours is. Our climate has brought remarkable disruptions what with earthquakes and mudslides, piles of snow covering much of Europe, volcanoes erupting, droughts and floods in different parts of the world.

And then of course there are the human created problems of war and poverty and the like.

In times like these it is easy to sink into despair and wonder why we bother to even try.

And then Christmas comes with all of its promise and hope. For some of us it is the renewal of a divine covenant marked by God's promise fulfilled. For some of us it is the simple miracle of birth. As American Religious Educator Sophia Lyon Fahs once wrote, "Each night a child is born is a holy night - a time for singing, a time for wondering, a time for worshipping."

However you understand the promise of Christmas, I invite you to embrace it this year. Set aside your differences. Make peace when and where you can. Pray for the blessings of the divine and hold your families and friends close.

I have been reminded to celebrate what we have instead of worrying about what we want. This past weekend, four different families in my congregation were touched by death. I am spending this week before Christmas preparing both holiday services and funerals. Each of these services reminds me to approach Christmas with reverence and to celebrate the blessings of the people in my life.

This seems to be a year when the world needs Christmas and all of its blessings. May yours be filled with the warmth and laughter that comes from recognizing the real gifts in your life.

Rev. Brian Kiely
Unitarian Church of Edmonton
President, International Council of Unitarians and Universalists

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Next ICUU Council Meeting Makes History

History will be made when the next ICUU Council Meeting is held in February 2012 in the Philippines –for the first time outside of Europe and North America!

The Council Meeting will take place from 7 to 12 February 2012 at the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines (UUCP) and at the Southsea Resort in Dumagute City on Negros Island, Philippines.

An optional Pre-Council Meeting Tour in Manila from 3 to 6 February 2012 will include the opportunity to attend services at the two UUCP Fellowships in Manila. Visits to rural UUCP congregations will be a highlight of the Post-Council Meeting Tour on Negros Island from 12 to 15 February 2012.

Further details including pricing and registration information will be available by June 2011. For more information, please contact Executive Secretary Steve Dick at

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Global Chalice Lighting for December 2010

The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists announces the 88th in its monthly series of global chalice lighting readings. Congregations worldwide are invited to participate.

All ICUU-affiliated groups have been asked to submit brief chalice lightings for the project. Every month, a reading will be distributed to Unitarian and Universalist congregations around the world. We ask each congregation to use the reading for at least one worship service in the designated month, identifying it as the “Global Chalice Lighting” for that month and naming the group which submitted it. Readings will be circulated in English and, where different, in their original language.

It is hoped that the ICUU Global Chalice Lighting Project will enhance the worship experience in our congregations and raise awareness of the international dimensions of our religious movement.

This Global Chalice Lighting is submitted in by the British General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches. It is to be used during December 2010.

As we light our chalice
at the ending of one year
and the beginning of another year,
we affirm…

The radiant joy and beauty
of the world in which we live

The unity of all life and our interdependence
with the rest of creation

Our responsibility to care for and sustain
all forms of life on the planet for future generations

The uniqueness and equal dignity of every person

The power of unconditional love to transform lives

The importance of constantly seeking truth and wisdom

Our commitment to support each other
in the task of building the Kingdom of Heaven,
based on peace, justice and love

The divine ground of our being
that connects us with each other and the infinite
and which replenishes and heals us

-Roger Courtney
All Souls Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Belfast, N. Ireland

In faith,
Lorella Thomas Hess
editor, The Global Chalice
ICUU newsletter

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Contribute to the Szabó Árpád Memorial Fund

The Consistory of the Transylvanian Unitarian Church announces with gratitude the establishment of the Szabó Árpád Memorial Fund for PhD Scholarships in Unitarian Theology. Following Bishop Szabó’s recent passing to eternity, the intention of the church leadership is to immortalize his legacy by creating a motivational source of support and inspiration in a field that was most dear to him.

Bishop Szabó himself was a recipient of a PhD degree in Unitarian theology, from the Protestant Theological Institute in Kolozsvár; also, he was granted an honorary doctorate from both the Protestant Theological Faculty in Montpellier, France, as well as the Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, USA. Later, as he became a theological professor, he had led the PhD training of some of his spiritual successors, acting as a model for a theologian of dedicated research and prolific writing.

The creation of the memorial fund aims to provide financial and professional support for those choosing to enter a PhD training in Unitarian theology. The fund will act as an endowment, sharing its annual benefits among those enrolled in such a program. The coordination will be done by the executive committee of the Consistory; for inquiries on the fund, please write to

Contributions in US dollars should be sent to the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council, PO Box 88, Bedford, MA 01730-0088. Please make the check payable to UUPCC and note Szabó Árpád Memorial Fund on the memo line.
Contributions can also be made in other currencies or using credit cards via PayPal through the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU). To arrange this, please contact Treasurer David Shaw at

Friday, 5 November 2010

Pray For Indonesia

Dear UU friends world wide,

I would like to share information and request of prayer from Indonesia.

Recently, Indonesia was beaten by several numerous disasters - started with Mud Flood at Wasior, Papua; then Tsunami Flood at Mentawai, West Sumatera; and the biggest Merapi Mountain Eruption at Central Java and Jogja. There was also a land slide at Toraja, Southern Celebes. We inform you that all of our church members - especially in Jogja, Klaten (central java), and Toraja - are safe from this disaster, not to neglect that this serial disasters create a deep wound and lost for a lot of people in our country.

The Volcano activity that pushes the merapi eruption seems to wake several other active mountains around Java - Krakatoa, Semeru and Bromo.

The Unitarian Christian Church of Indonesia - as a body - will send a donation through the Red Cross or a social organization named Jalinan Informasi Lingkar Merapi (Merapi Circle Information Network). We will also soon organize a volunteer among the youth to go to Jogja and join the national volunteer.

Please pray for Indonesia, especially for the victims of the disaster and their family, with hope that they can recover soon.

Aryanto Nugroho
Unitarian Christian Church of Indonesia

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Tribute Website for Rev Dr Arpad Szabo

The late Rev. Dr. Árpád Szabó , former Bishop of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania and first Vice President of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), was a significant figure on the international scene and he touched the lives of many members of liberal religious communities around the world. He will be missed and fondly remembered by both leaders and laity.

ICUU has launched a Tribute Website ( as an opportunity for groups and individuals to post reflections, recollections and images in tribute to the life and work of Árpád Szabó. Shorter contributions can be posted directly as comments to this page or one of the other pages as appropriate. Longer submissions and images can be emailed to with the subject: Szabo Tribute. Comments, images and other submissions will be posted to this online “Tribute Book” as soon as possible.

At a later date, copies of all the items from this Memorial Tribute website will be printed and copies will be presented to his family and to the Consistory of the Transylvanian Unitarian Church.

Please honor our absent friend and colleague by reading and reflecting on the contributions to be found at — and consider sharing with us your own memories and reflections of this special man.
For Árpád walks gently among us in our minds and hearts as long as we remember him and celebrate the truth that this world was a better place because of his presence and work among us.

Please let anyone know who may be interested.

Kind Regards,

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Passing of International Unitarian Leader

Dear Friends,

It is with unspeakable sadness to inform you that the Bishop Árpád Szabó has passed away early this morning. May he rest in peace!

Rev. Sándor Máthé
Brassó, Transylvania

Monday, 30 August 2010

ICUU Exec meets in Philipinnes

Hi folks,

Here is a link to 25 photos from our visit to local congregations and the ICUU 2010 Councilo Meeting site. I'll post a story in a day or so.


Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Join Us For Online ICUU Special Meeting Sept 28

Join us for a Webinar on September 28

The Executive Committee hereby calls a special general meeting of the ICUU Council for Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 12.30 pm GMT for the agenda below. The meeting will be conducted online through any computer with a web browser and an internet connection. It is expected the meeting will conclude no later than 2.30 pm GMT.

(Sample Local Times:
USA Eastern Time 7.30 am
South Australia 9.00 pm
Continental Europe 1.30 pm
Philippines 7.30 pm
Please check equivalent local time in your area)

This meeting is free and open to council members and observers. All participants must register in advance using the Gotowebinar invitation circulated via ICUUMlist. Council members/proxies must complete and return a delegate form to be able to vote during the meeting.

1. Welcome from President
2. Guidance on Gotowebinar (Exec Sec)
3. Determination of Quorum (Pres & Exec Sec)
4. It is proposed that section 4. MEETINGS of the ICUU Constitution be revised to read:
The Council shall hold a general meeting biannually, no earlier than eighteen months following the previous general meeting and no later than thirty months following the previous general meeting. A quorum shall consist of more than half the member groups.

And Section 1: General Meetings of ARTICLE II : MEETINGS of the ICUU Bylaws be revised to read:
The General Meeting of the Council shall be held at such place and on such days as the Executive Committee may by resolution determine.”
(The current versions: 4. MEETINGS The Council shall meet every second year. A quorum shall consist of more than half the member groups. SECTION I. GENERAL MEETINGS The General Meeting of the Council shall be held every other year at such place and on such days as the Executive Committee may by resolution determine.)
5. Report on developments since the last Council meeting and on plans for the next Council Meeting –
6. Opportunity for questions and discussion

Title: Special ICUU Council Meeting

Date: Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time: 12:30 PM - 2:30 PM BST

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

Reserve your Webinar seat now by going to the following wweb address:

Death of Indirias Bhatti

We regret to report the death in July of Indirias Bhatti, known in ICUU as a representative of Unitarians in Pakistan. Messages of condolence were sent to his family by ICUU Hon Treasurer the Rev David Shaw and former ICUU Hon Secretaary, the Rev Richard Boeke.

The Rev Shaw wrote: "I am so sorry to hear the news and send to you my love and prayers. I remember well meeting Indirias in Sri Lanka - I think now 15 years ago.
I remember his dedication and vision for all things fair. I have since been aware of how much work he has done and achieved in difficult circumstances towards achieving peace, support, co-operation and love for humanity around him."

The Rev Boeke wrote: "I am sad to learn of the death of Inderias. For two decades he struggled bringing a Unitarian witness to Pakistan. For years Polly Guild was the "angel" who helped, as she did for other UU groups especially the Unitarians of Khasi Hills.

Only last year we lost Polly.
This weekend we lost Inderias Dominic Bhatti in Lahore..
The very weekend in which the angry factional violence exploded in a bomb
In a Sikh Shine in Lahore.

This prayer:
Holy Spirit ,
Like Jesus, we pray for forgiveness.
Like Jesus. We pray
"Thy Kingdom come,. Thy will be done ..."

Inderias Bhatti sought religious harmony and peace for Pakistan.
He was a worker for the coming of thy Kingdom.
As with our own lives, his success was limited.
May the hope in which he lived
Bear fruit in the years to come.
May his family be blessed and be a blessing."

Tragedy Affecting Unitarians in Congo

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Faith

It is with deep sadness that we learned of the tragic death of two Unitarian church members in the greater tragedy in the village of Sange. That so many people could suffer so in the midst of what should have been a happy celebration of world sport seems especially sad.

On behalf of the ICUU Executive, We pray both for those lost and for their families, and we encourage Unitarians and all people of faith to offer support and assistance as they are able.

In faith and sadness,

Rev. Brian J. Kiely
International Council of Unitarians and Universalists

On Friday, July 2, a gasoline truck overturned in the center of the village of Sange, in the province of South Kivu, near the Burundi border. The vehicle caught fire and the fire spread to nearby houses where people watched the televised World Cup football. The result was very heavy, 231 deaths (including at least 61 children) and 195 burnt.

The Unitarian Church of the Democratic Republic of Congo, there Lisanga Bandimi na Nzambe (which has over 1500 followers in the country), is directly in mourning with two church members died in this tragedy and six people hurted and unfortunately they have no medication

Those who can help the Church can do so by going to the webpage of the Unitarian Church in French (EUfr) dedicated to our partnership with this church, you will find an address in France for donations in euros and in America for donations in dollar

Global Chalice Lighting for August 2010

Here is the 84th in the monthly series of Global Chalice Lightings from the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, for use during August 2010.

It comes to us from the Unitarian Universalist Association's new publication for military personnel and their families. Please see that this Global Chalice Lighting is translated, if necessary, and distributed as widely as possible within your group.

In faith,
Lorella Thomas Hess
editor, The Global Chalice
ICUU newsletter

Global Chalice Lighting for August 2010

What words tell the truth? What balms heal? What proverbs kindle the fires and passion of joy? What spirituality stirs the hunger for justice? We seek answers to these questions—not only for ourselves, but for our communities and our society.

What are the ways of being with one another that enable life to flourish, rich with meaning? When violence has fractured communities, isolated people, and broken hearts, how can life be repaired? We ask these questions not to arrive at final answers, but because asking them is fundamental to living.

Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Ann Parker
Unitarian Universalist Association

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

ICUU Symposium Blog Part One

Ah, well, describing the symposium day by day just won’t work, although I will look at the themes of the papers later in this blog. And since life intervened in a way that means I am posting all the articles at the same time I will post them backwards from a blog point of view, which is to say in reading order.

Although the three day schedule looked much the same as for the ministers meeting in Rolduc a few days earlier, the content requires a different treatment. Collegial conversations about ministry and call were replaced with carefully researched and content-rich academic papers. It was neither better nor worse, but rather a different set of savoury dishes tabled for this event’s buffet.

Some 60 lay and ordained participants from 14 nations joined for three days of thoughtful reflection, debate and conversation on the theme, “Belonging: Our Unitarian Identities and the Nature of our Relations”. It was a great chance to learn about each other more deeply and more personally.
The papers will be available online through the in the near future, as soon as they are given final edits and delivered to us. I highly commend them to you, for they were of impressive quality and depth. We will spread word of their availability through all of our lines of communication as soon as that comes to pass.
So instead of a day by day account what follows are some observations grouped around themes.

Daily Worship

In some parts of the ICUU, most notably North America, even that word ‘worship’can cause a stir, but it is what we joined to do. The collection of shared worship services at an international Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist event is a most marvellous experience, as we come together to see what we can learn from and be moved by one another.

There were 30 minutes services morning and evening. Sometimes they spoke to the day’s academic theme, sometimes not. Sometimes they taught about how our friends worship elsewhere in the world, sometimse not. As the days go by a worshipping community developed that was real, marked by close connections and appreciation for what was offered.

This week we experienced Filipino and African worship (featuring leadership from three countries), a service by an American ministering in Germany, an American ministering in French Canada, a native Englishman now a Canadian citizen, and two UK ministers.

Within that we heard music from Africa, USA, the Philippines and Europe, enjoyed two sacred dance meditations, and lit the chalice in seven or more languages. We heard sermons and moving personal stories. We sang Scripture, and Gospel and Latin chants and simple popular hymns. We held hands and gazed into each other’s eyes in deep greeting. To follow a simple dance step while looking into another’s eyes gives room to go beyond any language barrier and any cultural difference, giving us the chance to meet as merely human beings.

And when the chalice light was extinguished and the flame was carried only in our hearts... well the whole world and the U*U world seemed just a little smaller, a little more friendly, a little less foreign.

Amen. Go in Peace.

Part Two - The Setting: Rolduc

So where did all this good worship and everything else take place? The ICUU Symposium met in the Rolduc Conference Center in Kerkrade, Netherlands.

Kerkrade is a small town in the southeast corner of the country. The town’s eastern limit is the German border town of Herzograth, and it’s only about 20 km north of Belgium. There was a strong debate among participants about whether the best ice cream was found on the German or Dutch side. (I liked the Dutch strawberry gelato!) The region, including bits of all three countries is Limburg, a hilly region a bit different from Netherlands’ usually flat geography.

The Rolduc site itself began life as a monastery in 1104. The abbey church, which dominates the site, was completed in the 1260’s and renovated (beautifully) in the 19th century. Built at the end of the Romanesque period it is surprisingly bright and airy with a second transept and an extra set of rose windows at the entrance crossing away from the altar.

For 700 years the monastery flourished until being closed after Napoleon’s invasion in the 1790’s. It would return to Catholic care some years later and become a small seminary and a prestigious boy’s school. Although a small seminary remains, the sprawling Rolduc site is primarily a conference center these days.

Our rooms are grouped around a delightful enclosed quadrangle that holds a terrace cafe. The south side of the square is dominated by the church and its cloisters and we often heard the organist practicing for one of the many weddings and concerts that are now the main activities.

The dining room is the old monk’s refectory (modernized, of course) but complete with the niche where a designated brother read Scripture during silent mealtimes. The food today is a great deal than that which the monks’ suffered!

Our meeting space and worship hall were across a cobbled yard from the church’s small external entrance. The monks, of course, would have remained within the walls and entered through another door. The room is bright and airy with tall round arched windows. We were told it was a former theatre and assembly hall for the boy’s school.

A long tree-lined road separates Rolduc from Kerkrade, and farms and forest surrounding the site. A wonderful variety of birds provided the score for the symposium. A deer park and forested set of ponds provided gentle walks and jogging trails.

Though some might think it odd that Unitarians and UUs were meeting at a Catholic site, as a ‘New Worlder’ I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of history and spirituality, nature and human enterprise. I have always found that any religious site has a certain something about it that sparks human imagination. It was an altogether lovely setting.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Part Three - New Friends

One delight of both conferences was meeting new friends from Dutch liberal religious communities. Two groups in the Netherlands share long ago historical ancestors and connections with modern day Unitarians and Universalists. People like Netherlander Jacobus Arminius challenged Calvinism in the same era as David Ferenc (Francis David) and Faustus Socinius. From these common roots arose the Dutch Remonstrant Church.

Brian Kiely with NPB Hospital Chaplain Diet van Dorsser

The liberal wing of that group has a great deal in common with us and some congregations have direct ties and partnerships with Transylvanian Unitarian churches.

A newer arrival has been the NPB (sorry the business card with the full name is in my checked bag. I am writing during a long layover at Heathrow. Mostly they call themselves NPB). Their communities (seldom called churches) seem to be liberal and humanist. While there are NPB ministers, many communities are lay led. I expect many North Americans would be very comfortable in the NPB.

Eric Cherry of the UUA enjoys the World Cup
Final with remonstrant minister Tina Geels.
Tina led a sacred dance workshop at the Symposium

The two groups are on very friendly terms with each other, often sharing work and projects. In one city the groups are so close that membership lines seem to blur. Each group has 5,000 to 6,000 members.

A total of seven ministers and lay folks attended one or both of the conferences including NPB Executive Director Wies Houweling. They were a pleasure to have on hand and gave invaluable local support to our events.

In between the two conferences, Executive Secretary Steve Dick, Program Co-ordinator Jill McAllister and I met with Wies Houwleing and Tom Mikkers Executive Director of the Remonstrant Church. We got to know each other and explored similarities and differences. It may be that we can take on joint projects on social justice or for youth in the future. As well, the NPB will be having an internal discussion about the possibility of joining the ICUU someday. Regardless of what may happen, new friendships were made and old ties strengthened by their participation.

One of the great joys of ICUU events is the chance to make new friends from around the world and learning about their culture and their faith. The presence of the Dutch – as guests and as hosts – guaranteed that this joy would come to pass.

Part Four - The Themes in the Symposium

href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CBrian%5CAppData%5CLocal%5CTemp%5Cmsohtmlclip1%5C01%5Cclip_themedata.thmx">Belonging: Our Unitarian Identities and the Nature of our Relations” was the formal theme of the Symposium and the eight formal presenters took a serious look at aspects of that theme.

I noted that the collected papers from the event will be made available online from as soon as we can manage it, so I won’t summarize each one, but here are a few of the ideas.

A few months ago I hypothesized in a paper given at British General Assembly that we are not a global faith, but rather a collection of indigenous expressions of liberal religion. Apparently that simple proposition stirred some thinking. I was embarrassed at how many of the papers quoted those lines, but for several presenters it became a departure point for their own musing on the idea of belonging.

Paul Rasor (pictured below) disagreed with the hypotheses and argued that a common covenant was available to us. He took and interesting and useful first try at describing what such a covenant might look like.
The notion of ‘covenant’ with its historic and Biblical overtones (so ably and completely described by Claudia Ramisch) appealed in general to North Americans and Transylvanians, but much less so to others including the British and other liberal Europeans. By week’s end Paul stated that he gathered enough responses to make him want to rethink at least the use of that word, if not the idea that we can describe some common ties. Paul Ruston of the UK, was particularly clear and eloquent in his challenging of the term’s usage, although by the end of his formal response, Paul suggested they weren’t really in disagreement about the deeper theological points.

But a good debate was begun that was still a main topic of discussion at the symposium’s dinner tables two days later.

Belonging itself became almost a separate major theme as we moved into the second day. Maria Pap of Transylvania provided a bridge between the themes as she discussed ten years of Partner Church experiences in Transylvania. It is a history of responsibilities met and not met by partners on both sides of the story as the communities struggled to get to know each other and develop the tools of mutual accountability.

Fulgence Ndagijimana of Burundi followed with a discussion of the idea of belonging in Africa. He suggested that it looks quite complex, but that it is really quite simple. Africans draw their identity from groups: family, tribe, nation, community, gender and religion. Unlike the developed world, the self is defined and discovered in these relationships. Radical, isolated individuality is unknown. “If you want to make change in Africa, you will have to change the structures of belonging.”

Nihal Attanayake of the Philippines looked at belonging from a different point of view as he analyzed world religious tradition regarding our relation to nature. “I am one with Creation, and through Creation I know God.” The idea of this holisitic unity was exciting for some, but troubling for others who believe in a God separate from creation. We have some diverse theologies under our U and UU tent, and the friendly disagreements amongst them are always educational.

Gordon Oliver of South Africa echoed Nihal’s core ideas and challenged us to develop a new spirit of ecology as well as an active, living theology that calls us to live in right relation with the earth and not as masters of it.

On the final day, Eric Hausman, an American trained minister now living in Germany and working with Deutsche Unitaria, gave us a tour of German liberal religious experience and a sense of the historical theological debates. Not surprisingly, the shadow of National Socialism touches liberal religious history, leaving it far from simple and linear.

The final paper was offered by Hans le Grand (below left with Logan Deimler), a Dutch NPB minister who did part of his training at Starr King school in the USA. Hans used the tools of systematic theology to describe our faith. His model fit the North American religious experience particularly well leaving us with the delightful prospect of having a Dutch minister – not technically a Unitarian – explaining the Canadian and American experience of our faith to the rest of the world. Can you get any more international than that?

A Final Word
On behalf of everyone at the two conferences I wish to extend a big thank you to ICUU Staffers Jill McAllister and Steve Dick. In her programming role, Jill led the planning team that developed the theme and assembled some tremendous leaders, worship leaders and thinkers to guide our deliberations. Her efforts, supported by the team, gave both events a satisfying coherence. For his part Steve handled the considerable logistical load with grace and apparent ease. Whether it was the always complex topic of arranging visas, or coordinating local transportation (with a great deal of help from our new Dutch friends) to videoing our main sessions for future reference on our website, Steve made the life of participants easy. Well done!

Lay Chaplaincy Workshop offered in Rolduc

Following the ICUU Symposium nine members of the European Unitarian Universalist Union joined by Burundian Fulgence Ndagijimana took part in a day-long training on Rites of Passage (weddings, child dedications and memorial services).

Led by Brian Kiely (Canada) and Jill McAllister (USA) the program followed a well tested program offered by the Canadian Unitarian Council. For four decades the CUC has used Lay Chaplains to ensure services are provided in congregations where no minister is available or where community demand for our style of service is too great for the minister to handle.

During the seven hour session participants developed an understanding of the mechanics of such services and acquired useful resources. More importantly they got to explore the reasons and deeper meanings of these important services. Brian noted that being with people during these meaningful moments is a gift, for we are invited in when people are ‘most’... most happy, most sad, most thoughtful, most confused, most afraid and most importantly most vulnerable. In these times officiants are invited to walk with them and assist them in making these transitions. It might be the best ministry any of us (lay or ordained) gets to do.

We even had a practive wedding rehearsal (pictured at left).

Jill describes how the job is to use the service elements to build a container that holds all the dreams, hopes and emotions associated with these passages.

Much of the material is available from .

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Minister's Conference - Final Day

“Good ministry is good ministry wherever it is practiced.” With this assertion former ICUU President David Usher began our final day together. He acknowledged how local context shapes our ministries but added, “Despite the limits of local context, there is a fluidity, openness and possibility to share these skills of ministry between us. I want to encourage the possibility of more fluidity in all trained ministry.”

We had learned much about our differences, in education and formation, in the practice of ministry in different lands, in theology and in the expectations placed on the minister. This would be the day to seek solutions or perhaps reconciliation. This would be the day to discuss what we had to offer each other, and how we might overcome the limits of educational expectations and credentialing processes. It is a tall order, of course. This would be but a first conversation.

The most important factor at this turning point was unspoken: we were colleagues. None of us had checked each other’s credentials on the way into the meeting. There was an assumption from the first moment that we were all ministers no matter what our country and no matter what our church (considering we had a few representatives from the Dutch Remonstrants and NPB groups – not ICUU members.) We treated each other with respect and sought to learn about each other ministries. I have never experienced a collegial gathering quite like it.

Very quickly in the day one theme emerged. Nihal Attanayake of the Philippines and an ICUU Executive member was the first to give it voice. We want this connection we have discovered to keep going in some form. Later in the day Sara Asher of the US would suggest the creation of an International Minister’s Association. Several people volunteered to work to make that happen (taking the responsibility off the shoulders of the staff and Exec of the ICUU – very generous!) Who knows what will come from the process, but something new is starting.

In the afternoon leaders in education and professional associations presented. I expected to learn only of barriers, but instead these colleagues spoke in terms of solutions and in terms of cooperation. Where I expected rigidity (a bias on my part, I suppose) I found creativity.
We had already noted how in many developing countries, ministry is organic and entrepreneurial. That is to say ministers emerge from communities. They are recognized for their natural abilities and faithfulness. That spark is then nurtured and allowed to grow. Their training is largely done through an apprenticeship model, learning by working with an older minister. There may or may not be formal education as well, sometimes only coming after ordination.

As someone who grew up in the ‘go to school to become a minister’ model, I confess to not understanding this way of doing things and being a bit suspicious of it...which is funny, because I have never been much of a scholar or academic. I learn better by doing and then learning from my mistakes.

Then Lee Barker and Qiyamah Rahman stood up from Meadville/Lombard Theological School in the US and outlined a new educational model called “Touchpoint”, now in effect. It is based on keeping the student in their home communities and more importantly keeping them connected with both home church and other placements where they may serve. Throughout their three years they do field placement work while taking course work in intensives and connecting with students and professors through conference calls and other technological means. In other words, they are borrowing some of the best elements present in the organic models found in developing countries.

Lee Barker was delighted hear from the Africans and Filipinos and noted that the developed world and North America specifically could learn a lot from this.

Alex Bradley of Manchester College outlined the UK model which has always had a more direct connection and noted how a changing student body –more often older persons pursuing second careers - is requiring a similar shift to training in home situations.

Perhaps the best thing about the Minister’s Conference was that planners were not aiming for a particular outcome. They believed it would be enough to simply give us time to tell our stories and listen to the stories of others. It was a format that worked.

So what is coming out of this? One group wants to think about an International Minister’s Association. Another wants to explore partnerships between churches that are similar to each other, for instance, congregations in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, partnerships of mutual cultural and theological support. Interesting idea. There is a willingness to share and translate resources and to share them through the website.

But the biggest surprise for me, and one that was a little humbling for this citizen of the developed world, was how my western colleagues came to understand how much the developing world churches had to teach us about growing ministry. In places where there are no theological schools, they still develop liberal ministries.

The ICUU Minister’s Conference ended Monday evening with a great deal of warmth and passion, a little dancing and a pleasant party in the downstairs bar. A former vaulted brick store room from the days of the Monks, the bar is dark and cool. There is a grand tradition of meeting in the bar at ICUU events whether one drinks or not. Without a doubt the highlight of the last evening came when the energy and goodwill bubbled over into song. As usual the Transylvanian’ began singing their traditional folk songs, but soon there were responses from the rest of the world...American folk and Gospel tunes, “Land of Hope and Glory” from the Brits and even a few Canadian tunes. It was a lovely, warm finish to a good event.