Celebrating the UU-UN Connection
Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations around North America hold a special service every autumn to deepen their understanding of the United Nations and its life-saving and peace-building work. As a platform for dialogue, diplomacy, and collaboration between countries of the world, the United Nations (UN) works in harmony with Unitarian Universalist principles, especially the 6th which affirms the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. The UN was formed in 1945, at the close of World War II with the aim that, through this world community, governments would work in respectful relationship with each other to try to solve some of the world’s biggest problems and resolve conflicts between countries peacefully.
UU congregations stay informed and engaged in issues that the UN addresses through the UU United Nations Office (UU-UNO), and more specifically, through its Envoy program. The UU-UNO advocates for UU values at the United Nations, speaking up in support of human rights for all people and for the protection of our planet. UU-UNO Envoys serve as their congregation’s link to the United Nations, working in close collaboration with the UU-UNO. A very important component of this is holding a UN Sunday service on the Sunday closest to United Nations Day, October 24. This commemorates the day in 1945 when the UN Charter was signed and the UN officially came into being.
This year, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Watertown, NY celebrated its 40th UN Sunday service on October 25, 2015. Sylvia Stuber Heap, the UU-UNO Envoy at All Souls, has been working tirelessly to make this event a very important part of the congregation’s life every year since 1975.
Sylvia Heap learned her passion for promoting the work of the UN through her father. The Rev. Dr. Stanley L. Stuber was a Baptist minister and ecumenical leader who engaged deeply with the UN throughout his career and was present at the founding of the UN in San Francisco in 1945. Through her work as an Envoy at All Souls in Watertown, Sylvia has been dedicated to passing on this commitment to peace and world community to the rest of her congregation and community.
The yearly UN Sunday service in Watertown features several rituals that are present each year. The service includes a unison reading of the UN Charter (see sidebar for full text). It is amazing how empowering, and frankly, how Unitarian Universalist, these word sound. A particular aspect of the Watertown UN Sunday celebration is a procession of flags. The children and adults of the congregation process into the sanctuary at the beginning of the service carrying flags from different UN member countries. As they march, the congregation sings them in with the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” To Sylvia, this is one of the most important parts of the service. By hearing and singing the words each year, she wants the children to have the beautiful words imbedded in their minds as they go through the rest of their lives.
Her daughter told me that if you could embody Sylvia in a song, it would be this one.
The UU-UNO hopes for UN Sunday to be a learning experience for people of all ages. All Souls UU Church in Watertown takes this to heart and dedicates the whole month leading up to UN Sunday to educating the children about the UN and the importance of international and intercultural cooperation. On the day of UN Sunday, they spent coffee hour after the service Trick or Treating for UNICEF.
Each congregation takes a different approach to United Nations Sunday, but the UU-UNO prepares a UN Sunday service planning resource packet that includes example materials. The UN Sunday theme each year is based on the UU-UNO’s Intergenerational Spring Seminar topic, which in 2015 is International Criminal Justice: From Punitive to Restorative. Congregations are encouraged to address the theme on local and global scales with particular reference to the work of the UN and the UU-UNO. Congregations can also use the UU-UNO’s RE curriculum, “UN Me.”
This year, United Nations Sunday was celebrated by 30 congregations in the United States and Canada, with more congregations participating each year. As the UN works for global peace, justice, and equality and UUs work within their congregations toward the same goals, we can all, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, help bend the arc of history toward justice.