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UUA president meets with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa

During 19 day African trip, Sinkford scheduled to meet with Unitarians, human rights leaders.
By Michelle Bates Deakin

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William Sinkford and Desmond Tutu (Paula Cole Jones)

UUA President William G. Sinkford (left) meets with Archbishop Desmond Tutu November 7 in Cape Town on the first leg of his 19-day African trip. (Paula Cole Jones)

The Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, met and worshipped with South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu last Friday in Cape Town on the first leg of a 19-day pilgrimage to Africa.

Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—a board established after the abolishment of apartheid to address victims of that oppressive policy—lead the congregation at St. George’s Cathedral in prayers for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda. He also prayed for a resolution to conflicts in the Holy Land and between India and Pakistan, noting the important work of all religious and human rights leaders. Tutu also thanked the American people for their wisdom in electing Barack Obama as the next U.S. President, according to the Rev. Eric Cherry, director of the Office of International Resources for the UUA, who is accompanying Sinkford on the trip.

During the trip, Sinkford will be visiting Unitarian congregations and social justice projects, meeting with leaders in human rights organizations, and bearing witness to cultural and political landmarks in six countries. After South Africa, he will visit Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria.

Following the service, Sinkford presented Tutu with a signed copy of the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, in appreciation for his long years of leadership and as a gift that would help the Archbishop know more about our faith.

While in Cape Town, Sinkford also visited the Unitarian Church of Cape Town, and he met with leaders of The Triangle Project, which fights homophobia and lobbies for LGBT rights. He planned to then travel to Johannesburg, where he will meet with Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) partner, the Coalition against Water Privatization to discuss water rights in Soweto.

Sinkford has four stated goals for the historic trip. They include meeting with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists, and conferring with Tutu and other leaders in Truth and Reconciliation. He will also meet with leaders of social justice and human rights organizations involved in causes such as LGBT rights, fair wages, HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, and socially responsible investing. Finally, he will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site at Île de Gorée in Senegal, the largest slave-trading center on the African coast.

Traveling with the group are Sinkford’s wife Maria Sinkford, the Rev. Eric Cherry, and Paula Cole Jones, UUA staff for the JUUST Change Consultancy, which supports congregations, districts, UUA staff groups, and Unitarian Universalist organizations in their antioppression and social justice work.

Sinkford, along with some of his travel companions, is writing a blog about the trip, posted at http://uupilgrimage.blogspot.com. As he prepared to leave on November 2, he wrote: “Each part of the journey will require openness to the experience as it unfolds. My spiritual preparation has centered on that openness, on quieting my preconceptions. I have to have faith, to trust, that I will learn what I am supposed to learn on this journey, even if those learnings don't fit perfectly with my hopes.”

In addition, Sinkford wrote that, as an African American, Africa had a “special power” for him. “Although on neither side of my family tree can I trace my ancestry far back into the days of slavery, I know that I stand on the shoulders of my African ancestors who survived so much. This pilgrimage will bring me into contact with my personal history. I am both excited and anxious as I prepare for this encounter.”

In Uganda, Sinkford is slated to visit the UU congregation in Kampala and its founder the Rev. Mark Kiyimba, who will brief Sinkford on the church’s HIV/AIDS project. And he will attend the founding worship service of a new Unitarian Universalist congregation in Masaka.

Sinkford’s next stop will be Nairobi, Kenya, where he will meet and worship with representatives of the Kenya Unitarian Universalist Council, which has more than 40 congregations. He will also visit social justice projects in and around Nairobi that were established by Kenyan UU churches. Two UUSC partner organizations are in Kenya, the Kenya National Alliance of Street Vendors and Informal Traders, and the Rock Women Group, which promotes civil and workers’ rights as well as the right to water. Sinkford will meet with leaders of both groups.

The main stop for the UUA president in Senegal will be the UNESCO world heritage site at the Île de Gorée, which commemorates the plight of Africans sold into slavery.

In Ghana, Sinkford will meet leaders of the UU United Nations Office’s (UU-UNO) program partner, the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association of Eastern Ghana. The UU-UNO and the Queen Mothers Association work together to assume responsibility for the care and education of hundreds of AIDS orphans in various communities in Eastern Ghana. Sinkford will also confer with leaders of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), the United Nations Development Program, and the Ghana AIDS Commission.

Sinkford will meet activist James Kofi Annan, who received the 2008 Frederick Douglass Award for his work to end modern-day slavery. The Douglass Award is one of several annual Freedom Awards given to people fighting to eradicate slavery worldwide. Annan, himself, had been sold into slavery as a six-year-old. He founded the organization Challenging Heights to empower children through education and protect them from the modern slave trade.

Sinkford’s African odyssey will end in Lagos, Nigeria, where he will meet with leaders and members of that country’s Unitarian community.

On each of the three Sundays that Sinkford will be in Africa, the UUA will arrange live, interactive, one-hour chats with the UUA president. Sunday school classes are encouraged to participate in the webcasts.

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