Unitarians in North East India Celebrate 125th Anniversary

By Eric Cherry

On September 18, 1887 Hajjom Kissor Singh started the journey of organized Unitarianism in North East India. And, on that same day in 2012, 125 years later, the anniversary celebration and worship of the members of the Unitarian Union of North East India were spectacular. It was an honor for me to participate in many of the Anniversary events - along with Derek Mitchell (the Director of the UUA Holdeen India Program) and Richard Van Duizend (Past-President, UU Partner Church Council). Together we brought a message of solidarity, faithful partnership, and commitment to a shared future from the UUA and its congregations to our brothers and sisters in North East India. And, we returned with a sense of awe at the strength and hope of Unitarianism here - as well as inspiration from the unrestrained joy and pride that members of Unitarian Churches feel for their faith in this part of the world. I am a better UU - and I expect all of us are - by virtue of experiencing the faithful example of Unitarianism during this anniversary.

Among the special events that took place was a parade through the streets of Shillong a few days ahead of the anniversary. 1,000 Unitarians, representing every congregation in the UUNEI - some traveling 10-12 hours to attend - marched through Shillong amidst cars and trucks with immense lit-up flaming chalices on their roofs. We sang Khasi songs, cheered and laughed throughout the 5k parade. And upon arriving back at the Madan Laban Unitarian Church the festivities exploded into music and dance. I don't know that I've ever had as much fun being a Unitarian.

On the night before "Unitarian Day" - a special Holiday in the state of Meghalaya - we gathered in the town of Jowai which is home to the UUNEI's largest church, and the location from which Hajjom Kissor Singh organized Unitarianism. The church gathered for an evening service, followed by festivities in members homes. At one of those homes we shared a prayer of gratitude for a child who had recently been declared cancer-free following treatment for leukemia. After some socializing a guitar came out, along with some song books, and the men in the room began singing some of our favorite UU hymns (brought back to the Khasi Hills by Rev. Helpme H. Mohrmen after his visit to a recent UUA General Assembly). I have never heard Blue Boat Home sung so sweetly. And it was a beautiful surprise, as they reached the chorus of another song, that the women who were gathered on the balcony of the home suddenly joined in like angels - almost from out of nowhere. Such a special evening - among many On Anniversary Day itself there were three church services - morning, afternoon, and evening. Each service was SRO (standing room only) - or nearly - and included excellent anniversary sermons/prayers and music. Between services we visited some of the most elderly members of the Jowai church. And, just prior to the evening service, a torch procession through Jowai took place. There may have been another 1,000 Unitarians participating - not only with lit-up chalices - but with more than 125 flaming torches (like Birthday candles) as well. As we processed through the town I couldn't help but wonder: What could inspire 1,000 US Unitarian Universalists to do something similar with the same immense pride and joy?

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The visit continued beyond 'Unitarian Day' including a trip to the remote Umru Unitarian Church and School in the Ri-Bhoi district that straddles the border of Meghalaya and Assam, and many other events in Shillong. My deep thanks are extended to the President of the UUNEI, Rev. Derrick Pariat, as well as the UUNEI's General Secretary, Rev. Nangroi Suting, and many other committed Unitarians who taught me - a life-long UU from the US - about the depth and power of our global faith in a unique way. What a precious gift.

About the Author

Eric Cherry

Eric was the Director of the UUA’s International Office since August 2007. Prior to this Eric served for 12 years as a parish minister with UU congregations in Burlington, Iowa and N. Easton, Massachusetts. Eric has long been involved in the UU Partner Church movement, serving as the English...


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