Alison Miller’s Responses to Joint Working Group
5 Questions from the ICUU/ UUPCC/ International Office
- What do you see as the role of the UUA and the UUA president in engaging with the global U/U community?
Our Unitarian Universalist Association is a partner in nurturing, supporting and promoting Unitarian/ Universalism/ Unitarian Universalism worldwide. As the organization with access to the greatest number of funds, staff, and resources, the UUA carries a special responsibility to be generous and mindful about holding a global consciousness as we move forward through mutual partnerships between larger U/U institutions and between local congregations/covenanted communities.
It is important to recognize that the presence, participation, and resources of our UUA makes a difference. For example, the UUA’s resources makes it possible for leaders of U/U organizations like the UU Partner Church Council (UUPCC), the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), the UUA (and its International Office) to convene, to set global goals, and to implement them together. It is also important to recognize that the UUA must be aware of power dynamics and not engage with an imperialist or colonial mindset. Each organization brings perspectives and gifts to the table that are to the benefit of all of us. Structures must allow for the UUA to be one voice among many global partners, such as we have today through the council model of the ICUU.
In addition to the organizations above, it’s worth highlighting partnerships and connections our UUA has with the UU Service Committee, the UU-United Nations Office (now part of the International Office), the International Women’s Convocation, and the UU Holdeen India Program. These UU institutions engage volunteers and donors who are interested in supporting Unitarian/Universalism and promoting U/U values around the globe. There are also opportunities for increasing collaboration within and among these globally focused and justice oriented UU institutions, especially considering the benefits we are seeing with increasing collaboration between the International Council of UUs, the Partner Church Council, and the UUA’s Interfaith Office.
As a senior leader, spiritual leader, and spokesperson for our UUA, the President represents our Association in inter-institutional relationships with interfaith and with U/U global partners. The UUA President can’t be everywhere, so she is also responsible to delegate opportunities for others to represent the UUA well. As head of staff, the President oversees the maintenance and development of an International Office dedicated to serving the global context of our wider U/U faith. As a public witness and social justice leader, the President helps decide on opportunities for collaboration between the UUA and internationally focused organizations to further our values of religious freedom, climate justice, human rights, peacebuilding, and economic justice.
- What are some ways you would plan to engage with the global U/U community?
I am committed to nurturing, supporting, and promoting partnerships between the UUA and the global U/U community during my administration. If elected, I would engage in the roles of the President as I described in the last paragraph of my answer above. I am also interested in hearing from our International Partners as to how the UUA has been most effective and helpful in the past, as well as any ideas they hope to see in the future.
It is my experience that through relationships and connections over time between UUs in the United States and U/Us around the globe, we learn better how to cooperate and meet in a responsible and mutually beneficial way. I am grateful for the personal relationships and work experiences that I’ve had with International U/Us and the ways that has offered me insights as someone who cares about the wellbeing of U/Uism around the globe.
When I worked at the UUA in the early 2000s, the International Office included U/U staff who were emerging leaders from other countries. I overlapped with Gyero David from Transylvania (now President of the ICUU), as well as Darihun Khriam and Nangroi Suting from the Khasi Hills. As someone who is a language major and has gone to school, lived and worked outside of the US, I already knew the value of cross-cultural relationships. I became friends with these fellow staff members and learned from them firsthand about the importance of the UUA’s commitment to international partnerships and the difference it makes. I also learned from them about the specific opportunities and struggles they were facing as emerging Unitarian leaders in their respective contexts. I have maintained a level of connection with all of them since then and kept up with changes in our faith in Transylvania and the Khasi Hills.
My connections with the International Office while I was on staff inspired me to attend the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) conference in Kolosvar in 2006. I hoped to learn more about how global U/Uism is unfolding and to hear the theologies, hopes, and concerns facing U/Us in a global context. The symposium gave me an appreciation of the mutual growth and learning that happens when we create an international community of learners where all cultures are valued for what we can teach one another. It was also there that I first witnessed the critical role the ICUU plays with emerging U/U communities in places like Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia.
I am also blessed to have experiences with the UU Partner Church, which you can read about in the next question.
As a Candidate for UUA President, I will engage in and support:
- Gatherings of mutual learning (theologies, justice issues, human rights, community development, etc.)
- Governance models which support accountability and mutuality
- Funding opportunities that generate more equitable relations among International U/Us
- Funding projects which nurture and grow U/Uism globally with an ethic of valuing the wisdom and leadership of emerging local U/U leaders
- Supporting projects that lead to economic sustainability for the individuals and families of U/U communities that are economically disadvantaged
- Promoting U/U values around the globe especially as they intersect with human rights abuses and the global climate crisis
- What is your view of the Partner Church movement, and how would you support it as UUA President?
The Partner Church movement facilitates connections among international U/Us on a congregation to congregation level. The UU Partner Church was founded in 1993 after the fall of Ceausescu with a goal of mutual learning, support, and relationship-building between Unitarians in Transylvania and Unitarian Universalists in the United States. Congregations in the United States hoped to be able to support the Hungarian Unitarian minority in Romania who faced significant economic and political challenges. The congregations in the Transylvania region offered UUs in the United States connection to the rich historic traditions of our U/U values and how our commitment to religious freedom has unfolded worldwide. Today, the Partner Church movement facilitates connections between North American congregations and Unitarian congregations primarily in Transylvania, the Khasi Hills, the Philippines, as well as Unitarian Universalist communities that are emerging elsewhere around the globe, such as in Africa.
I am blessed to have participated in a partner church relationship over the last 12 years through the congregation that I serve in Morristown, NJ. We started a relationship with Unitarians in Sinfalva, Romania in 1993 because of the inspirational efforts of Ruth Vogler, a member of our congregation. She was a survivor of the bombing of Dresden in WWII and was a US immigrant who lived by a global ethic of caring for the wellbeing of neighbors around the world. She helped organize the Partner Church relationships in Morristown and Summit between Sinfalva and Barot, respectively. Our relationship with Sinfalva has yielded many gifts on both sides. One interesting example for us is that we live in an area of New Jersey with a higher Hungarian American population. The Hungarian UUs in our congregation have found this relationship brings new insight into their culture and religious heritage. Many members have traveled over the years to Sinfalva and spent time with our sister congregation and the minister, Rev. Denes Palfi. I am one of the people who has had this deepening experience of a pilgrimage to our Partner Church, which connected me to our faith in a cultural, economic, societal, and historical context that differs greatly from the US.
As a Candidate for UUA President, I am committed to nurturing, supporting, and building our relationship with the UU Partner Church Council (UUPCC) as a vehicle through which Unitarian Universalists can support one another through local to local U/U/UU connections on a global scale. This relationship is one of the ways we fulfill our objective to nurture and grow U/Uism globally. There is work to be done around continuing to implement what the UUPCC has learned over the decades about what makes for a successful, mutually beneficial partnership between congregations and what creates an imbalance. The UUA has an important role in supporting the UUPCC, so it can provide a framework, coaching and networking to facilitate vibrant and healthy connections between established congregations in North America with established and emerging communities around the globe.
- What responsibility does the UUA and the UUA President have in growing U/Uism globally?
The UUA President and the UUA have a responsibility as the most resource rich UU entity in the world to be generous and to have a global mindset as we remember the difference our faith makes in people’s lives. The UUA must seek to balance responsible spending limits and generosity to further growth of our faith on a global scale. It is also vital that the UUA support mutual models that do not export American Unitarian Universalism, but rather empower U/Us around the globe to lead in ways that meet the needs across diverse class, cultural, racial, theological, and political contexts.
As chair of the Board of Church of the Larger Fellowship, I am deeply aware that there are individuals, families, and groups around the globe who are drawn to our liberal tradition. The CLF has a mission that is global in scope, and we serve people who live in remote places and urban centers throughout the world. As we look at online analytics of our worship, we see upticks at various times in places such as India and Barbados. When I attend the worship online, I can see people checking in from several countries. It’s powerful to have a practice that reminds me of our global UU connections.
Over the last decade, I’ve followed with interest as leaders I met in the symposium attempt to build and lead U/U communities in brand new contexts for us and for them – in Indonesia, Burundi, and South America. Our international communities have had moments of great hope and challenging heartbreak that put into sharp relief all the ways that our faith, our values, and our connections are sustaining and buoying people’s spirits.
I have heard the story time and again of a person or a group of people creating something that looks like our faith, and the joy of discovering that they are not alone and that we exist even if we’re not the same. This has been happening for centuries. When this happens, there is an opportunity for individuals and groups to discern whether they belong to the U/U umbrella. Whether in the US or elsewhere, in English or in another language, we have an appeal and offering that changes lives for the better. Yes, the UUA needs to remain a partner and an investor in allowing this type of event to flourish.
It also strikes me that at this time when Unitarian Universalists in the US are asking ourselves how to be and become a multicultural, multiracial, and religiously inclusive faith, our global partner churches have something to teach us if we pay attention to the lessons before us. The fact that ours is a global UU faith is evidence of how our open-hearted theologies and our covenantal way do transcend culture, race, class, and country.
- What is the UUA’s role in encouraging US congregations to engage in responsible international engagement and connection?
The UUA can model healthy, mutual, and creative partnership between US based Unitarian Universalists and International U/Us. (It is also important to note that the UUA includes over twenty congregations outside of the US.) The UUA, the UUA President, and the International Office model collaborative partnerships through the way they participate in structures for funding, for governance, for growth, and for accountability. The UUA’s role on the ICUU as one voice among a group of leaders is an example of how we can proceed in ways that are mutual in our objectives around learning, faith development, social justice, community development, and growth.
The UUA can make use of its publications, communications networks, fundraising networks, and funding panels to promote a consciousness of global U/Uism and what our siblings in faith are facing around the world. These stories can highlight healthy, vibrant examples of internationally focused UU institutions working together, as well as local congregations and individuals making a difference in one another’s lives.
One thing we have learned through our international partnerships is the need to evaluate periodically how well the relationships are developing including in terms of our commitments to antiracism, anti-oppression, and anti-colonialism. The UUA can foster an ethic of evaluation as part of accountability and be willing to restructure partnerships to practice more effective or more equitable ways of doing things. This requires a permission giving culture where mistakes and missteps can be acknowledged, amends can be made, and learnings can be integrated into new projects. The ICUU, the Partner Church, and the International Office have opportunities to nurture feedback loops with one another in the interest of promoting the health of all.
Our work with international U/Us can also help us to create more equitable, sustainable, and supportive relationships with non-UU communities that we engage with around the globe. We can apply our learnings about partnership with International U/Us to our partnerships around the globe to promote peace, human rights, climate justice, religious freedom, and economic justice. There are several examples of which the following is one. Our efforts to support U/Us outside of the US as they answer the call of love around LGBTQ issues help us to become better informed about how to support non-UU allies in this work around the globe.
I look forward to continuing this dialogue with you about the ways that we can support a global Unitarian/Universalism and international partnerships. Please be in touch with our campaign at www.alisonforuua.org and let us know your ideas, hopes, and concerns for our shared future.