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LEADER RESOURCE 4: International Organizations

The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF)

Following the success of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions, there was interest in forming an organization that could continue the work of bringing together different religious groups in dialogue and cooperation. In 1900, the International Council of Unitarian and other Liberal Religious Thinkers and Workers was founded on May 25th, the 75th anniversary of the American Unitarian Association.

The name was changed in 1930 to the International Association for Liberal Christianity and Religious Freedom, and again in 1969 to the current name, the International Association for Religious Freedom. The name changes reflect the evolvution of the organization. Initially dominated by North American Unitarians, the organization grew to have greater representation from around the globe and from other liberal Christian groups. The most recent name change was prompted by the membership of the Rissho Kosei-Kai, a liberal Buddhist group. The IARF now welcomes representation from member groups including Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Jews, Humanists, Shintoists, Zoroastrians, and Christians.

The IARF continues its original mission of promoting dialog and understanding through international congresses. It also sponsors community development projects and maintains representation at the United Nations.

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International Association of Liberal Religious Women (IALRW)

Although women were not excluded from the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF), their role was limited in the early decades, and women came together to found the International Union of Liberal Christian Women. The organization traces its history to its first meeting in Berlin in 1910 and was formally chartered in 1913. In recognition of a widening scope and membership, the organization changed its name in 1975 to the International Association of Liberal Religious Women. The IALRW links women around the world to promote friendship, education, networking, and financial support for women and children. IALRW is a member organization of the IARF.

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Partner Church Council (PCC)

As the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) grew in size and scope, its role of connecting Unitarians around the world diminished. In the absence of an existing international organization, several new groups arose to meet specific needs, the Partner Church Council and International Council of Unitarians and Universalists among them.

Following World War I, when Transylvania was transferred by treaty from Hungary to Romania, the Unitarian churches came under harsh oppression. Many Unitarians left Transylvania for Budapest or other destinations. In response, relief efforts were begun by American Unitarians which included a "sister church" program. Under this program, American churches sent 100 dollars per year to their "sister" congregation in Transylvania, and scholarships for training ministers were established by Meadville Lombard and Starr King theological schools. By World War II these connections had largely faded.

Through the efforts of several leaders including Transylvanian-born Judit Gellerd, Natalie Gulbrandson (then UUA Moderator and a former IARF President), and others, a Partner Church Program was formed in the early 1990s. When funding was cut during UUA budget tightening, Leon Hopper, Judit Geller, and Richard Boeke moved to form the independent Partner Church Council.

The PCC, founded in 1993, now supports partnerships between North American congregations and churches in Transylvania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Khasi Hills of India, the Philippines, and Poland.

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International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU)

The ICUU was another of the organizations that grew in response to the need for international connection and cooperation among Unitarians and Universalists. The idea was first proposed to the British General Assembly in 1987 by Rev. David Usher. At the time, there were tensions between those who thought that international groups should join the UUA and those who thought that the UUA should join international groups, and it would take eight years of talks and planning for Usher's proposed organization to be realized. In 1995, in Essex, Massachusetts, representatives from fourteen countries met to found the ICUU.

Every other year, ICUU delegates meet to transact the business of the Council and forge closer ties for mutual support and the growth of the faith. Past programs have included leadership schools, youth conferences and educational symposia.

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Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO)

Unitarians and Universalists have been involved with the United Nations since its founding in 1945, and with its precursor, the League of Nations. Both denominations passed resolutions in support of the United Nations in the 1950s and upon merger, the UUA created an advisory council on the UN.

At the suggestion of United States Ambassador to the UN, Unitarian Adlai Stevenson, Unitarian Universalist congregations began in 1962 to appoint envoys to the UU United Nations Office. By 1965, more than 300 envoys had been identified. Today, the UU-UNO represents 138 congregations and 1,855 members through 496 Local Envoys and 25 District Envoys.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

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