Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

TERM PAPER PART 17 (CONCLUSION)– International Relations: The Pacific and Beyond
February 1, 2012, 12:30 pm
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The Rev. Nihal Attanayake serves on the board of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.  In February 2012, Dumaguete will be the host city for the ICUU’s biennial conference.   In addition, he manages the UUCP’s participation in the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council (UUCP), a grassroots organization based in Belmont, Massachusetts.  While affiliated with the denomination, it is not a program of it, but a separate membership organization.  Its purpose is to promote people-to-people relationships between North American UU congregations and those in other countries, including (among other places) the Philippines, Northeast India, and the Transylvanian province of Romania.  These “partner church” relationships involve pen-pal connections, “pilgrimage” visits by North American UUs to see their partners and sites of religious significance, and visits by foreign UU clergy to North America.  To be sure, these partnerships often include financial support for congregations in oppressed or poor regions of the world but this is not required.  The dynamic of wealth inequality can lead to misunderstanding, resentment, or paternalism:  in other words, a difficulty for international partners to relate as equals in a religious fellowship.

The purpose of the relationships is not international development or charity, but a real pursuit of connection, affection and understanding.  Nihal Attanayake said to me:  “We need to know one another!”  Given the poverty and isolation of most of his village-based UUs, he said it makes a difference for them to know they are not alone.  California-based minister the Rev. Vail Weller said:  “The most transforming thing is being seen and loved.”[1]

See a list of UUCP congregations involved in partnerships with North American churches, or those seeking one, in Appendix II.  Note that four of the six UUA churches are in the Pacific region.  The congregation in San Mateo, California, has had a partnership with the congregation in the village of Ulay since 2001.  Several members have traveled to Negros Island, and others have sent letters and photographs depicting their church and family lives. The UUCP has a staff member who translates the letters going both directions. Several members in San Mateo provide scholarships and family support for village children in elementary and high school.

In March of 2011, 10 members from San Mateo flew to Negros to observe and support a three-day workshop in Ulay called a Community Capacity Building Assessment.  The goal of such an assessment is to help the community identify its assets, strengths, needs and goals, usually regarding infrastructure.  The community then prioritizes its goals, and determines the materials, resources and governmental requirements to proceed.

This assessment was led by UU village lay leaders who had been trained by Prof. Richard Ford, an American UU with international development experience.  (Ford was present as well.)  The Ulay church hosted the workshop for all members of the village, not just church members.  They established these priorities:  access to safe water, road maintenance, and electricity.  In the words of San Mateo church member Lori Fox:  “All of these projects will take faith, creativity, teamwork, manual labor, and fundraising from the entire community [of Ulay].  It is our hope that these dreams might be realized without sacrificing livelihood and education in the short term.  Therefore, we ask our congregation [in San Mateo] to support this work with our contributions.”[2]

Many North American visitors to UUCP congregations have expressed feelings of gratitude for the fellowship of the people in the UUCP, especially the warmth, hospitality, joy and hope they experience on Negros Island.   Carol Cook, a member of the San Mateo congregation who is one of the annual visitors to Negros Island every year, said the experience has changed her life.  She told me:  “I didn’t really know what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist,” she told me, “until I learned how much it means to them.”[3]



[1] Vail Weller, in-person conversation with the author, Berkeley, December 5, 2011.

[2] “We Are the Ones,” by Lori Fox, Compass Rose:  The Quarterly Journal of the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo, December 2100-Febrauary 2012, 7-8.

[3] Carol Cook, in-person conversation with the author, Sacramento, December 4, 2011.


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