Bolder Ways of Being a Unitarian Universalist Activist
On May 20th - 22nd, 2016, the Canadian Unitarian Council invited Unitarian Universalists across Canada to explore Bolder Ways of Being in Vancouver. For their now bi-annual national conference, participants were invited to learn and discuss ways to step out of their comfort zones in their interpersonal relationships, congregational affairs, and collective social action. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) was glad to be part of the conference once again to shed light upon the potential for international justice action within the Canadian Unitarian community.The idea of boldness was omnipresent throughout the duration of the conference; it initially hit home for me during Friday night’s Confluence lecture on UU community and loving relationships. Rev. Melora Lynngood spoke about the stress, emotional strain, and interpersonal conflict that can often come with congregational leadership. At the end of her sermon, she invited members of the audience to share their own speed bumps in congregational work and techniques they have used to address it. This activity brought an audience of over one hundred into a single intimate conversation. I was touched by the boldness of the audience members in sharing their ideas and vulnerabilities with the larger group, and inspired by the collective desire to improve congregational affairs and relationships. As the weekend progressed, conference attendees delved deeper into learning about bolder ways of embracing Unitarian Universalism. On Saturday, each conference attendee selected a workshop stream on a topic of their choice. I chose to attend a workshop stream entitled Being Bold for Climate Justice, led by Aly Tharp, Program Manager for the UU climate justice movement Commit2Respond and member of the UU Young Adults for Climate Justice staff. During this workshop stream, attendees were presented with success stories of bold climate action and called into large-group discussion of the steps and stakeholders required to successfully take action for climate justice. With increased attention placed on climate justice in the newly adopted Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there is no better time than now for Unitarian Universalists and Envoys to be devoting attention and energy toward the topic. Learning peaceful protesting techniques to act against environmental degradation, left attendees with bold ideas for enacting change to bring home to their congregations. The UU-UNO is excited to carry on this energy at the upcoming Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly where one of our workshops will address how UUs and other people of faith can take action to support meeting and exceeding the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement. Later that evening, UU-UNO Envoys and supporters gathered at a UU-UNO reception to honor the 2016 Blue Ribbon Congregations and this year’s winner of the Elaine Harvey International Justice Award, Eryl Court. The winners of these awards were recognized by the larger group for taking their own form of bold action by mobilizing their congregations in action toward the UN’s goals for peace in their home congregations. As was emphasized during the reception, the UU-UNO could not do its valuable work as an NGO without the help of our Envoys across North America. It was inspiring to meet and celebrate the efforts of these leaders who work so hard to act locally toward global change. The following day, attendees of all ages were invited to a multigenerational lunch. Guests were randomly assigned seating to ensure an even generational distribution at each table, and were instructed to consider and discuss our UU principles and favorite UU hymns and traditions through a group game. My past experience with multigenerational activities at my home congregation and district has typically been limited to my personal interaction with adult advisors during youth group and youth cons, and a Time for All Ages every other Sunday service. I was impressed by the CUC’s organized effort to bring together conference attendees of different generations, and by the innovation and preparation that went into planning this activity. This intergenerational approach is critical to growing our faith and expanding our social justice movements. Multigenerational UU-UNO Envoy Teams in congregations can bring an important new dimension to existing social justice work and stronger bonds in the congregations. The UU-UNO also fosters these relationships in a yearly Intergenerational Spring Seminar where youth and adults come together to tackle issues of global concern such as economic inequality, racism, criminal justice, or climate change. Following lunch on Sunday, another UU-UNO representative and I led a multigenerational workshop, Guns or Butter, during which I was further inspired by the beauty of intergenerational relationships. In this international relations simulation that modeled the work of the UN, participants were split up into five separate nations and each was assigned a leadership role within their own nation. As a nation, they were instructed to establish goals related to their economic growth, human development, and relationships with other countries, and then to engage in trade and develop treaties with other nations. Each team included approximately the same proportion of youth and adults, and over the course of the game, intergenerational teams plotted and planned their route to achieving their goals. As I watched team members interact with one another, I saw youth and adults immersed in dialogue over their next ‘move.’ I was excited to see UUs engaged in the topic of international relations and by the potential for success found in intergenerational work. By the end of the conference, I felt more connected to the Canadian UU community than ever before. As I hugged and bid farewell to my new Canadian friends after Sunday night’s closing ceremonies, I felt a familiar feeling of sadness to be leaving an environment of warmth that I had not felt since bridging into young adulthood. I left Conference 2016 in Vancouver eager to engage in bold activism for climate justice and international human rights, with new ideas about the power of intergenerational work, and a wave of optimism for the future of the Canadian UU community.
By Audrey Carleton, Envoy Outreach Intern at UU United Nations Office