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Faithful International Partnering - Proceeding Carefully and Intentionally

Here's an important reminder as the new 'church year' begins for many of our congregations.

International engagement is important ministry, and more transformative when its collaborative.  Our organizations look forward to supporting your hopes and dreams.  And, we urge you to be thoughtful and careful even in the midst of exciting opportunities.

A Memo: Connecting with Unitarians and UU’s Around the World, CAREFULLY

To: UUA Ministers and Religious Leaders

From:  Eric Cherry, UUA International Office Cathy Cordes, UU Partner Church Council Jill McAllister and Steve Dick, International Council of Unitarians and Universalists

Date: September 14, 2012

Dear Friends,

It is so exciting to see the many ways that our UU faith is connecting around the world - so many congregations and ministers are now making a variety of international connections! We are thrilled that UUA churches and individuals are looking beyond their own doors and even beyond their own geographic communities and connecting. The UUA, ICUU, the UUPCC and other organizations stand ready to support your outreach in a variety of ways. We invite you to contact us at any point where we can be helpful. We are writing today to offer some advice based on our joint experience working with UUs here and in other countries.

Much of this new activity is aided with new communication tools that make contact easier and keeping in touch possible. Social media programs such as Skype and Facebook make it easy to learn of possibilities and to meet people over the internet.

Our UU global community is growing both bigger and smaller! Bigger in the sense that people around the world continue to discover our liberal tradition and establish it in their own countries and regions, and smaller in the sense that it is so easy to connect with each other around the world. This gives us reason to both celebrate and pay close attention, for there are good ways to connect, not-so-good ways to connect, and ways to connect which can cause huge problems.

BE VERY CAREFUL when making connections via Facebook and other social media. Before you respond to a Facebook request from someone claiming to be a UU, or a UU minister, contact one of the offices or organizations listed below which specializes in international UU connections, to get more information! Social media enables one to present information in ways that may not be false but also may not be a complete description of reality. (Anyone can take a picture of themselves with a stole on, or lighting a chalice.) Be careful not to assume that you’ve been contacted because you are special, or especially knowledgeable or gifted or whatever. In general, this kind of “Facebooking” is a process of “blanketing” a target audience, or of fishing, hoping to get someone to bite. Do not consider the list of other colleagues who may be listed as friends as references for or as an endorsement of the person. Many of us respond casually to friend requests without verifying or confirming information about a prospective friend.

FIRST, FIND OUT MORE before you proceed. Definitely consult with one of the following: The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) The UUA International Resources Office The UU Partner Church Council

BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL ABOUT MONEY Don’t send money unless you have some history of relationship and interactions. We suggest not sending money to any individual, group or organization that is not part of some kind of judicatory or governance structure. You can find this out from one of the organizations listed above. Unless you are working with a group or organization in which there is some kind of shared leadership and decision-making, your support and gifts are almost certainly going to lead to triangulating folks in these countries, and may even stimulate real conflict. (This has happened more than once.) It may be possible to send funds through one of the UU international organizations or to help support existing or new projects sponsored by these organizations. Contact us for information about such possibilities.

LEARN MORE! International relations among U-U’s around the world are more than 100 years old. The UUA, ICUU, and UUPCC have been specifically working in this area together for more than 20 years, and many lessons have been learned along the way. We are only just beginning to understand how much cultural differences affect all of us, and truly, we have done our share of “connecting” which has not only been problematic, but which has been both damaging and destructive. We have also established and been part of many beautiful new relationships which are beneficial all around. It takes time and experience to know the difference.

THERE ARE GREAT OPPORTUNITIES We have much to learn, and it is very exciting. You and your congregation can be enlightened and invigorated through international connections. There are significant differences among Unitarians and UU’s around the world – everyone is not in the UUA, nor is Unitarianism the same as our UUA traditions, all around the world. Many newly emerging U-U groups have very different religious histories and very different social and cultural realities. For some of them, daily survival is a huge challenge.

THERE ARE VIABLE AND SUSTAINABLE WAYS TO CONNECT Some of the groups most in need of support and cooperation may not be reaching out via Facebook – you may never hear about some of these places where you can make the most difference if you don’t ask. There are opportunities to meet international UU’s at conferences and events – this is a great first step. You can be work with and help support emerging UU groups around the world as part of a team or coalition, without needing to manage a relationship wholly on your own.

DO SOME HOMEWORK FIRST The Joint Working Group of the UUA International Office, the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists, and the UU Partner Church Council can help you learn about good ways to connect. Together, we are aiming toward global connections which achieve and model the ideals of our faith community. Please join us in aiming for these ideals and practices, by contacting us before you go forward with new international connections. Begin by reading the aims we have agreed to, listed below.

“Five Guiding Principles of UU International Engagement”

I. Our international engagement must emerge from a place of deep humility and intentionally seek relationships based on equality and mutuality.

Do: Risk for the sake of shared goals that have been established carefully. Don’t: Assume that you or your partner have all the answers or can predict the future.

II. Our international engagement is most effective when it comprehends the abundance and variety of resources our congregations and international partners already have.

Do: Look within and without your congregation and its partners for resources that are present but perhaps not obvious. Don’t: Establish a relationship that relies on or creates unhealthy dependency for yourself or your partner.

III. Our international engagement is most transformative when it is grounded in faithful reflection, including understanding the history of our international engagement.

Do: Explore the theological grounding of international relationship and engagement. Don’t: Repeat common mistakes.

IV. Our international engagement is truest to our highest values when it responds with wisdom and passion to institutional oppression and injustice.

Do: Support partners as they seek to find fish for a day, fishing poles for tomorrow, and establish access to the pond for a lifetime. Don’t: Ignore long-term justice strategies because they seem harder to achieve than short-term charitable ideas.

V. The Unitarian Universalist universe of international programs is incredibly diverse and highly decentralized. Our international engagement is most comprehensive when we understand and utilize partner organizations well.

Do: Contact an institutional UU partner organization for consultation before agreeing to a project with an international partner, especially if the international partner is UU. Don’t: Assume a request you receive from an international partner is endorsed by the UUA, ICUU, UUPCC or other UU organization.

We look forward to working with you. Sincerely, Jill, Cathy, Steve and Eric

International Council of Unitarians and Universalists: Rev. Jill McAllister, Program Coordinator - program [at] icuu [dot] net; Rev. Steve Dick, Executive Secretary - execsec [at] icuu [dot] net

UU Partner Church Council: Cathy Cordes, Executive Director - ccordes [at] uupcc [dot] org

UUA International Office: Rev. Eric Cherry, Director - echerry [at] uua [dot] org

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For more information contact international@uua.org.