UU Congregation of Fairfax, Virginia: International Engagement
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax (UUCF) in Oakton, VA, is unique both in terms of structure and the breadth of its international engagement. With six formal lay ministries in place, UUCF reaches out to and makes contact with international affiliates through its social justice program. Further, UUCF maintains close working relationships with two partner churches, one in Transylvania and the other in the Khasi Hills, India, as well as with various programs in Uganda.
Partner Church: Transylvania
UUCF has maintained a dedicated partnership with a church in Szentgerice, Transylvania, for the last 15 years. Szentgerice is a small village of about 800 inhabitants located in central Transylvania, about 350 miles east/southeast of Budapest, Hungary. The inhabitants are Hungarian-speaking, with the exception of a few Roma (Gypsy) families who speak both Roma and Hungarian. Like much of Transylvania, about half of the villagers are Unitarians with the other half being members of the Reformed (Hungarian Calvinist) church.
The UUCF's partner church was built around 1300, originally as a Catholic Church. When the Unitarian movement began in the 16th century, it became a Unitarian church. A Reformed church in the village has a partnership in the Netherlands similar to the UUCF's with the Reformed [Calvinist] Church in Dronten, Netherlands. In a very unusual relationship in the UU partner church movement, UUCF is in close contact with their Dutch friends, working together with them to help the villagers through the Tiboldi Foundation.
“One of the most valuable aspects of our partnership are the loving relationships that have developed between UUCF folks and the people in Szentgerice,” elucidates Bob Hatfield, Chair of Denominational Affairs. UUCF augments the local Unitarian ministers’ salaries, sends members of their congregation to visit and stay with families in the village, and in a particularly large-scale project, raises funds for the much-needed construction of the Rev. Attila Csongvay Memorial Medical Clinic [named after the late Szentgerice Unitarian minister who died in 1993]. What is more, UUCF is in the sixth year of its scholarship program for students from Szentgerice. The holistic approach of the program targets students pursuing post-8th grade academic and trade schooling. Bob Tripp, the congregation’s scholarships coordinator, notes: “Our strong belief is that all the village students who are continuing their education need financial help.” Additionally, the UUCF has developed scholarship-sponsoring partnerships with students at the Unitarian high school János Zsigmond Unitárius Kollégium in Kolozsvár, Transylvania, as well as at the Unitarian School in Puriang, India.
Partner Church: Khasi Hills
Within the last few years, UUCF initiated a partnership relationship with a church in Puriang, located in the Khasi Hills region of northeast India. Currently, UUCF is assisting with the building of an orphanage in a nearby village, spearheaded by a congregant who has spent several months on-site to oversee the project.
In the past year, several members from UUCF have visited Puriang. While there, they discussed with Puriang School Principal Ditol Mylliemngap and other village leaders how UUCF-PCC could help further the improvement of health and sanitation in the village (the top priority resulting from last year’s UUCF-sponsored Community Capacity Building workshop). The government of Meghalaya and the Puriang Village Council have signed an agreement to set up a health center in Puriang.
The travelers carried formal invitation letters from UUCF to Ditol and Rev. Helpme Mohrman, partner church minister to use to support their visa applications to visit Fairfax, Virginia this spring. The charitable foundation created by Puriang, using the model that has been successful in our Szentgerice Romania program, has distributed funds donated by UUCF-PCC to provide assistance to numerous people who have suffered medical emergencies. UUCF-PCC has also been providing support for the Puriang Unitarian School (which educates approximately 400 children, Unitarian and non-Unitarian) from Puriang and surrounding villages. Students from the school continue to do extremely well on state exams.
Uganda Village Educational Project (with BRAC-USA)
UUCF formed the Ending Global Poverty Task Force in an effort to benefit the relief camps of northern Uganda. According to its statement of purpose, the Task Force seeks to “intensify direct poverty alleviation support and advocacy for federal legislation to expand and improve the efficiency of foreign aid for ending extreme global poverty.” By affiliating the congregation with BRAC USA, UUCF is working to build resources across communities. The relief camps in Uganda are home to thousands of displaced individuals, kidnapped often as children and forced into resistance armies or the sex trade. The Global Poverty Task force works to educate the repatriated children (or children returned as teens/adults) upon their return. Often those who are returned are too old to reenter the schooling system; the efforts of this organization work to bridge this gap.
UUCF has raised $30,000, which pays for 4 years of elementary school for about 100 children, to support the BRAC efforts in Uganda. A mid-October 2008 launch of this campaign was preceded by a number of educational and entertainment events with the theme of African history, art, economy and culture.
International Bridges to Justice
At present UUCF has taken tentative steps towards working with International Bridges to Justice (IBJ). With field work and fundraising, former UUCF summer minister Rev. Karen Tse has applied her ministerial background with her legal background to found IBJ, traveling into communist-controlled areas in northeast Asia to educate and empower citizens to exercise their formal rights.
UUCF has long been a member of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, with a mission to advance human rights and social justice around the world, partnering with those who confront unjust power structures and mobilizing to challenge oppressive policies. Among the annual UUSC projects is the Guest at Your Table campaign and fund-raiser, enthusiastically supported by the congregation’s RE children and families.
Other international aid programs supported by UUCF include:
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax is a 600 member congregation founded in 1955. Many thanks to Bob Hatfield for providing the information in this profile.
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