Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Community Capacity Building in Burundi & Uganda

April 2010.

Jill McAllister, ICUU Program Coordinator

I’ve just finished a two-week visit to our Unitarian groups in Burundi and Uganda, where, in collaboration with the UU Partner Church Council and the International Resources Office of the UUA, we have successfully completed two Community Capacity Building workshops. The organizational and decision-making tools taught in these workshops were compiled and have been used in developing economies around the world by professor Richard Ford and colleagues at Clark University in the USA, for more than 20 years. Richard participated in these workshops, as did Cathy Cordes, Executive Director of the Partner Church Council.

The goal of Community Capacity Building is to help communities -- which can be villages, congregations, or other organizations-- understand their own structures and dynamics of in ways that enable them to organize knowledge and resources they already have, to accomplish their priorities. As part of the Partner Church program, ICUU member groups and congregations in Transylvania, India and the Philippines have made creative and significant use of these tools, and so in 2009, the UUA Funding Panel asked us to find ways to make them more widely available, beginning specifically by offering them to established Unitarian congregations and emerging groups in Africa.

The tools which are offered include exercises designed to help the community see and know itself – such as mapping, timelines, and identification of community structures and institutions. Out of these exercises a list of achievements, problems and needs emerges. The list of needs and problems is then fine-tuned and agreed upon by the group, and then priorities are discovered through an exercise in pair-wise ranking, where each item on the list is compared to each other item, to decide, without voting, the community’s highest priority needs and goals. I emphasize the part about not voting – pair-wise ranking is an exercise in concensus building – and it works! The whole process is a participatory decision-making model which avoids potential conflicts and hurts that can sometimes be produced when voting leaves losers and minorities.

In Burundi, nearly 40 members of the Unitarian congregation of Bujumbura (the Assembly of Unitarian Christians of Burundi), plus several members of a newly forming group in Lamonge, about 30 miles from Bujumbura, attended the two-day workshop. In addition, we brought observers (to learn about the process) from our Congo-Brazzaville group, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, and from a DRC-based Christian organization which has expressed interest in aligning with the ICUU. As is often the case some plans did not work out; the Kinshasa representative, Gregoire was unable to get a passport, and the Brazzaville leader, Alain Patrice Yengue, fell ill a day after he arrived, and spent the rest of the week in a Bujumbura hospital. John Ntelemwa, a French-speaking Congolese professional consultant trained in the use of these tools, came from Kinshasa to be our facilitator. (He was excellent at his work, and he learned much about Unitarianism in the process!)

Several congregation members participated as small-group facilitators, and all those who attended were actively engaged in the process and discussions. Out of the pair-wise ranking exercise three priorities emerged; securing an agreement with the government for purchase of land, building a church home for the congregation, and continuing to nurture the religious and spiritual lives of the members of the congregation while reaching out to others. An action plan was prepared for the top two goals – and the Bujumbura congregation is already half-way to the goal, as funds have been raised for purchase of the land, with help from partners in Kalamazoo, Michigan and around the world.

In addition to clarifying and strengthening these goals for the congregation, the workshop was an excellent learning opportunity for newer congregation members – to see how the congregation works, and to hear the values and goals articulated. This was also true for the observers from Rwanda and the DRC. Congregation leader Fulgence Ndagijimana closed the workshop with a worship service, preaching from a text in Hosea – ‘without knowledge, the people will perish.’ The Bujumbura and Kalamazoo congregations were also officially recognized as partners during the service.

Following the workshop, at the request of the congregation, for two evenings, I provided a short class in comparative religion and theology which was attended by 20 from the workshop.

From Burundi, Dick Ford and I traveled back to Uganda, where we had previously spent two days helping prepare for the workshop there. This workshop was held near the city of Masaka, about 2 hours from Kampala, in a village where Ugandan Unitarian leader Mark Kiyimba has built a village school and nurtured a local Unitarian fellowship. The participants were more than 100 village parents and teachers associated with the school, a few of whom are also active in the fellowship. Members of the Unitarian Universalist congregation of Kampala were also invited to come, and we had observers from partner churches in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and London, England. Doug Henderson, one of the observers from Oklahoma, is a professional photographer who documented the workshop and surroundings in photographs and video. Two Luganda-speaking rural extension professionals from Kampala, Concepta Mukasa and Alice Tibazulika, were our facilitators for this workshop.

The exercises once again proved engaging and fruitful, and incredibly noisy as more than 100 people conversed! From the list of eleven needs which emerged, the pair-wise ranking exercise produced four top priorities: the need for income-generating activities, support for agriculture and for schools, and the need for greater access to health car. Working with the top priority, six action plans were prepared. The participants broke into small groups according to their interests to work on action plans related to activities such as livestock production, horticulture and improving village cooperative banks. Prior to the work on action plans, the whole gathering participated in a Sunday morning worship service provided by members of the local fellowship, with singing and dancing from children of the school. Pastor Mark’s sermon included a hearty invitation to all the villagers to join with the Unitarians in aiming for a community based on openness, acceptance and unity, capable of working together to achieve their goals.

Prior to these workshops, I had seen these tools used only partially, and not as effectively, in an ICUU council meeting several years ago. Having seen them in action in Burundi and Uganda, I am convinced of their worth. These tools are in fact well- tested, and have proved to be useful for many ICUU member groups over several years. It is my hope that we will be able to share them with as many groups as possible, as part of our mission to nurture and support one another around the world, to build and maintain strong, vital and sustainable congregations everywhere, for the sake of our values and ideals. I plan to incorporate these tools in as many ways as possible in upcoming and future ICUU programs and events.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Review of The Centre and the Circle

‘The Centre and the Circle: The Challenge of International Ministry’: the John Relly Beard lecture by Rev. Brian Kiely, President of the ICUU
Review by the Rev Feargus O'Connor

This year’s John Relly Beard lecture, delivered by the President of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), Rev. Brian Kiely, minister of the Unitarian congregation in Edmonton, Canada, was challenging, lively, informative, full of good humour and very warmly received by his hearers.

In his lecture, given under the auspices of the Ministerial Fellowship, Brian surveyed our Unitarian Universalist movement worldwide and considered the diverse and contrasting manifestations of what he argued was not a global faith but rather a ‘collection of indigenous expressions of the liberal religious spirit’. It was this that, taking into account the varying economic and educational conditions in these countries, made Unitarian ministry, viewed from a global perspective, so challenging.

As an active Irish Canadian minister with close ties to his American colleagues, he was, he quipped, appointed President of the ICUU in the knowledge that he ‘could explain the rest of the world to the UUA and as a Canadian I could explain the UUA to the rest of the world’! This he has been able to do with notable verve. Judging from this enjoyable and humorous lecture, he performs his role as international ICUU ambassador with relish and infectious enthusiasm.

Brian contrasted the traditional liberal Christian forms of worship seen in, for example, Britain and Transylvania, with the ecstatic enthusiasm of African worshippers and the indigenous Unitarianism of our Khasi co-religionists, influenced not by Hinduism but rather by the Nature-based worship inspired by their ancestral beliefs.

Whatever these differences, rooted in the cultural and environmental contexts in which each national Unitarian movement arose, Brian detected ‘commonalities amid the differences’. Among these were a devotion to free religious thought, a ‘positive and loving faith’ and a commitment to ‘live well in this world instead of worrying about the next’.

Having considered the varying patterns of Unitarian ministry and ministerial training in Britain and North America, Brian went on to reflect on the work of the ICUU itself and its important role in bringing together in close co-operation the various national Unitarian movements.

The ICUU’s mission is indeed an ambitious one: to foster communication, relationships and understanding within the international UU community; to build networks and partnerships among member groups, their congregations and institutions; to identify and nurture emerging groups throughout the world; and join together for mutual inspiration, development and growth.

Though working to help build understanding across continents and develop resources that will help emerging Unitarian communities, the ICUU, Brian stressed, was not a missionary organisation imposing religious and cultural norms and not a credentialing body. Any attempt to impose such uniformity in worship and structures would be ‘unworkable, unwieldy and remarkably unpopular’ and doomed to failure. There could be no ‘one size fits all’ in theology, worship or ministerial credentialing.

This was a matter of contextual theology and, by extension, contextual church building. ‘Religion is and must be an indigenous expression that melds belief with local realities and needs’, he said, and leadership must necessarily spring out of that local context and tradition. Though any attempt to impose such structures and practices from without ‘would not be true to our free church dissenting tradition’, the ICUU provides channels for sharing ideas and best practices internationally. But, Brian argued, there was no moral or organizational justification for imposing a Western model on emerging Unitarian movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The ICUU provides ‘a pretty big tent managed with a great deal of goodwill’ and does all it can to extend educational opportunities to the many groups around the world seeking advice, access and assistance in whatever form needed.

A particularly enjoyable part of Brian’s talk was his detailed survey of the distinctive histories, faith practices and diverse ministerial leadership of our fellow Unitarians in North America, Britain and Ireland, Transylvania, the Khasi Hills, the Philippines, Kenya and Uganda, where Unitarians are taking a courageous stand, supported by the ICUU, against the iniquitous homophobia being stirred up in that country.

Brian concluded that, as an ‘ex-Catholic field leveller’ and ‘white, male, middle aged, middle class, mostly agnostic social liberal’ from North America, he finds the privilege of serving as ICUU President a challenging and ‘mind stretching experience’. In facing such challenges he was fortified by words of his fellow Canadian Unitarian Mary Bennett: ‘I don’t have a solution, but I can certainly admire the problem!’

But problems are opportunities and, with the cultural sensitivity advocated by the new UUA President, Rev. Peter Morales, and the spirit of mutual goodwill (in those hallowed words of Francis David ‘We do not need to think alike to love alike’) it works so hard to foster worldwide, the ICUU has a vital role to play in bringing us together and building our Unitarian Universalist international community as a force for good in the world.

More on June 6 ICUU Webinar

Two questions have come up in regard to the ICUU Webinar on 6 June –

1. The webinar is being held at 2 pm. What does that mean?
The start time refers to Mountain time – the time zone where the speaker is located. The time for you will differ according to your local time zone. For example, here in the UK it will be 9 pm.
When you register for the webinar, you are given the option to have the time shown in your local time.

2. I would like to participate in the Webinar but I am not available at that time on the 6th. Could I watch a recording of the Webinar at another time?
Absolutely, the only thing you will miss is the opportunity to ask live questions. PLEASE DO REGISTER however as if you were going to attend. When you fill in the online form, there is a space for questions and comments. Mention there that you cannot participate on the 6th and that you wish to watch the recording later. Info as to how to do that will be sent to you after the Webinar.

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact Steve Dick at

Friday, 16 April 2010

Free Webinar on International UU Ministry

The Center & The Circle: The Challenge of International UU Ministry

Join us for a Webinar on June 6

Online Presentation of the 2010 John Relly Beard Lecture by ICUU President Rev Brian Kiely - first delivered at the British Unitarian Annual Meetings in Nottingham, England.

There is no charge to attend this webinar and it is open to all.

Description: "Unitarianism is not really a global faith. Rather it is a collection of indigenous expressions of the liberal religious spirit. That truth combined with economic and varying educational conditions around the globe make international Unitarian ministry challenging indeed."

Brian will offer a visually enhanced version of his lecture, followed by responding to questions from webinar participants.

Although the views expressed in this lecture may be held by others in ICUU in part or in whole, Brian speaks here from his own perspective. These remarks should not be seen as a policy statement from ICUU.

This is the first webinar to be offered by the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. It is hoped this technology will enable ICUU to share more widely the ideas, insights and knowledge generated by its work and programs.

More information about ICUU can be found at

Title: The Center & The Circle: The Challenge of International UU Ministry

Date: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Time: 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM MDT

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

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP, 2003 Server or 2000

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

EUU Retreat Celebrates 30th Birthday!

European Unitarian Universalists (EUU) celebrated its 30th Anniversary the weekend of 9 to 11 April at their Retreat in Oberwesel, Germany and Executive Secretary Steve Dick was there on behalf of ICUU.

His presence was particularly appropriate as Steve was one of the founders of EUU along with Ron Diehl and Leon Spencer back in 1980. The three American Unitarian Universalists had arrived in Europe when English language UU activity for expatriates was at low ebb after considerable previous activity. When key individuals had returned to the USA, some UU Fellowships had faded away.

Steve had the idea of developing a strong but flexible central organisation that would sponsor semi-annual Retreats and support the development and sometimes redevelopment of UU congregations. Three decades later, that central body is still going strong and is a charter member of ICUU.

Although many EUU members are expatriates from North America living in Europe, there are now a significant number of European nationals in its membership. Another defining feature is the considerable “at large” membership of people living where they may be the only UUs in the area. Participation in the twice a year Retreats becomes something of a congregation for them.

The “Retreats” have retained the same basic shape over the life of EUU. Individuals and families from all over Europe travel for a weekend to a conference centre or hostel somewhere in Europe for a mixture of theme talks, social times, workshops, worship and other communal events.

Religious education for young people is an important feature and an RE director and volunteers run a full programme for the kids.

The pattern of these weekend events has changed little over the years, but notably twice as many people attend than before. The Anniversary Retreat was attended by nearly 100 folks.

Recently retired UUA Minister Wyman Rousseau was the theme speaker for this gathering. He spoke on poetry and led the Sunday morning service, preaching on Emerson.

Steve Dick was introduced and welcomed on the Friday evening by Martha Hicks, editor of the EUU Newsletter and a member nearly since the start. Steve gave greetings and congratulations on behalf of ICUU and he led the Sharing of Joys and Concerns that is a key part of the ingathering at a EUU retreat.

The next EUU Retreat is planned for October 29-31 2010 in Mittelwihr, France (near Colmar) with UUA President Rev Peter Morales as the Theme Speaker. Anyone is welcome to attend EUU Retreats.

More information about EUU, the Retreats and member UU Fellowships in Europe can be found at

EUU/ICUU Rites of Passage Workshop

How to Create and Lead Rites of Passage – Training for Lay Leaders

In Unitarian and UU communities around the world, people are in need of appropriate and meaningful ceremonies to mark major life transitions such as marriage, death, and dedication of children, as well as other less common transitions. Sometimes we have a trained minister to lead us in the rituals and ceremonies, sometimes lay leaders may wish to lead or are called to serve.

Using materials and experience from the Lay Chaplaincy program of the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC), EUU, in partnership with ICUU, is pleased to offer a 1-day chaplaincy training for lay leaders and ministers from ICUU member groups. The training will immediately follow the ICUU Theological Symposium, and take place at Rolduc Conference Center, on Saturday, July 17, 2010, from 9 am - 4 p.m. Participants will be asked to prepare for the training by reading materials sent to them ahead of time. The training will include theological reflections on rituals, practical advice for officiating, and practice sessions.

This training is open to all members of ICUU affiliated organizations. You do not have to attend the symposium to attend this workshop.

Presenters will include the Rev. Brian Kiely, a chaplaincy trainer for the CUC (and ICUU president), and Rev. Jill McAllister, ICUU Program Coordinator.

Cost per participant: 50 Euros, includes reading materials (electronic), lunch and refreshments

Registration is now open for the Saturday training. If you want to attend this training, please send an email to Chris Heinrichs at We will collect the 50 Euros at the door. Sending an email to Chris will sign you up for the workshop.

You will receive reading material for preparation in advance of the course. This will be sent electronically

Note: It might be possible for a small number of participants to stay overnight on Friday and/or Saturday. To check if there are any rooms left and to reserve a room, please contact Rolduc directly at Please do not make any travel plans based on staying overnight at Rolduc unless and until you have booked accommodation using the website’s online facility.

Chris Heinrichs and Tina Huesing

ANZUUA/ICUU Congregational Workshop

From evening of 20th to 22nd August ANZUUA, in partnership with ICUU, will be holding a congregational growth workshop in Brisbane , Australia.

This workshop will be geared towards small congregations , to maximize their opportunities to build strength and cohesiveness in their congregations either with or without a full time minister. The workshop will be residential and be costed at $300A per participant for accommodation, meals and program.

For more information including registration details, please contact Pauline Rooney, ICUU Vice President at

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Notes from the British General Assembly

Top: Brian Kiely and Rev. Bob Wightman, Preisdent of the British GA at the ICUU Display. Bottom: Delegates deliberating in Nottingham.

Nottingham, England, April 10. It has been a great privilege for me to be a guest of the British General Assembly this year at their Annual Meetings. And even greater privilege was an invitation from the Ministerial Fellowship to give the annual John Relly Beard lecture. My topic was “The Center and the Circle: The Challenge of International Ministry”. My lecture made two points. The first is that we are not a single global faith, but a collection of indigenous liberal religious responses shaped by local history and context. The second concerned the wide variety of understandings of the word ‘ministry. With such variation among us in educational opportunities and local need means there is no one definition of ministry. The upcoming minister’s conference in the Netherlands in July will be a first attempt to discuss these mutual concerns on a global scale.

I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting this lecture again as the ICUU’s first ever “Webinar” within the next few weeks. There will be a live broadcast over the Internet, but the broadcast will be archived and available to anyone at their convenience. It’s completely free and only requires a good Internet connection. Executive Secretary Steve Dick will be sending out notice and access information in the near future.

The British GA meetings.
Although we can read about how each group does their business, there is nothing quite like visiting another national group’s meetings. The UK Unitarians have been unfailingly gracious and welcoming to me. It has been especially interesting for me as a Canadian. Our meetings are about the same size (about 400 people). And while many issues facing the GA and the Canadian Unitarian Council are the same, the solutions and approaches are quite different. Again this is a reflection of the differences between the cultural contexts and the history of each organization.

Several hundred Unitarians are gathered on the beautiful campus of the University of Nottingham. Designed to be environmentally gentle, the wood covered buildings are set amidst ponds and marshes and wild water birds. The buildings are light and airy making the setting a real pleasure. They have fed us very well, too!

The meetings run from Thursday afternoon through Sunday lunch. There are business meetings in the mornings where the delegates on the Assembly receive reports and debate motions concerning justice issues and essential business. This year the meetings have also included delightful audio-visual looks at a handful of congregations around the UK, personal views created by the congregations themselves.

Afternoons are filled with workshops by various standing committees on topics like Worship, the historical society, the ministerial committee and various spiritual and justice topics. I am looking forward to participating in a labyrinth walk later today, a favorite spiritual activity for me.

Evening programs included the Anniversary Service celebrating ministry and a social night. I am told there will be a Beatles tribute band at tonight’s affair!

During the business meetings, we were also introduced to some of the exceptional web work being done by James Barry. He has redesigned and simplified the General Assembly’s website, but has also created an easy way for UK congregations to setup and maintain their local sites simply and easily. We are exploring the possibility with the BGA to see if some of that skill and talent can be used by ICUU member groups.

The largest issue facing the BGA at this time seems to be one of direction. As with most national groups, money is a concern as is membership numbers in local congregations. The meetings started with the Executive presenting a document called ‘Difficult Decisions’ in which they laid out a shopping list of services that would cost an additional £140,000. Delegates were invited into an extended consultation on which should be priorities and how the money should be raised. As I write, no decision has been taken, but it will be interesting to see what options our UK co-religionists choose to do.