Letters, Fall 2009

Letters, Fall 2009

Readers respond to the Summer 2009 issue.
Jane Greer


Growth in Africa

Development experts say that providing direct support to missionaries, and paying for schools and other social work, is often a one-way street that makes recipients dependent on foreign aid. Citing this as a reason, the UUA has not donated money directly to UU churches in Kenya ( “One Tribe, One People,” by Scott Kraft, Summer 2009). This sounds like a real cop out.

The efforts being made by the Kenyan churches are self-generated, not imposed from the top down by some outside entity. How could it hurt to pay off the loans for the two cows, or for the mill to grind maize into flour, so the Kenyans could use all their earnings to fund their programs instead of paying interest? We should support the Kenyan UUs financially, especially when the amounts being required are on the order of pocket change. Surely we can figure out the difference be­tween supporting them in their ef­forts and imposing dependency on them.

Daniel Chase
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Allen Avenue UU Church

Editor’s note: The UUA is trying to raise $100,000 for its African Partner­ship Project, which will fund groups supporting relationships between North American and African UU congregations..

As an anthropologist who has worked and lived in Kenya’s rural areas off and on since 1977, I was drawn to the issue on “Unitarian Universalism in Africa.”

In the rural areas of Kenya, one thing is certain: when “wananchi” (ordinary people) hear of, or see, “wazungu” (whites), to Kenyans it spells “money.” An inclusive religion such as ours may be attractive, but it may be that Kenyan UUs see a pipeline to future funding in their desire to join our ranks. A large part of what is driving the Magaras and other Kisii is the promise of donations for their church and its projects, as the article revealed.

As UU churches grow in Kenya, whereas in the United States they are faltering, a word of caution. It could turn out to be a Kenyan fad when the bucks don’t come in. Or, it could turn out to be a potentially mutually beneficial partnership for some churches.

Jean Davison, Ph.D.
Harborside, Maine
Wildflower UU Church of Austin, Texas

Former UUA President William G. Sinkford says that after visiting Africa, he better understands that “where poverty is extreme, managing a Unitarian Universalist church that does not address that poverty is simply impossible.”

The organization I founded, Bridges Into Africa, is not a missionary effort. It is purely UU, helping folks help themselves through businesses they establish and maintain.

Thanks to the contributions of friends and family, UUs in Africa enjoy jobs and income by processing palm oil, grinding grains, providing transportation, raising and breeding animals, and cultivating gardens.

While none of these ventures entirely solves the problems of terrible poverty, it is a start. I hope more UU congregations join me in supporting UU congregations in Lagos, Bujumbura, Nairobi, and Kigali.

Janice Brunson
Founder, Bridges Into Africa
Paradise Valley, Arizona

UU Congregation of Phoenix

uu&me!’s supporters

As uu&me!, the magazine for UU kids, comes to an end, I’d like to say a few words of thanks. First I’d like to thank UU World—Tom Stites (former editor), in particular—for seeing the value of a UU magazine for children. From his encouragement in our early days, to his advocacy for our inclusion in UU Worldfive years ago, Tom’s support was critical. But uu&me! would not have happened at all without two visionary leaders at the Church of the Larger Fellowship: Nancy Engels and the Rev. Scott Alexander. From the moment I pitched the idea of a subscription magazine for children they never wavered in their commitment or support.

Financially we were awarded many grants from the Fund for Unitarian Universalism and I thank Hillary Goodridge for her unflagging support and encouragement. Thanks also go to Judy Campbell, whose wonderful characters, Raychel and Tony, brought Martin and Judy into the twenty-first century, and Claudia Cimini, who sent regular art and craft ideas. Finally, I must thank our readers. I’ve learned many things as creator/managing editor of uu&me! but none mean more to me than the knowledge that we made a difference in your lives.

Betsy Williams
Editor, uu&me!
Harvard, Massachusetts
Harvard UU Church

Nature’s cruelty

As a UU working in the field of biology, I am frequently distressed by the one-sided views of nature often espoused by those in our faith who conceive of god as “creativity in the natural universe” (as described by William Murry in his article “Natural Faith,” Spring 2009). I rarely hear these folk speak about the full, stark range of natural phenomena—about the old moose hunted to stumbling exhaustion by a wolf pack, about the wasp that paralyzes a caterpillar and then lays eggs within it that will eat it alive, about the Boxing Day tsunami and its wake of shattered trees and bloated corpses. Nature is indivisible; I feel one cannot with integrity deify its “creative” aspects while ignoring or deploring the rest of it. For this reason, I cannot be a pantheist or a “natural theist.” I respect and marvel at the natural world, but I will not worship it—instead, I choose to join with other caring beings to cherish nature’s beauty while working to mitigate its casual cruelty. For me, god is in this choice.

Amanda Birmingham
Lafayette, Colorado
Boulder Valley UU Fellowship

Partner church past

As a historian I must point out that three entities have been conflated in Jane Greer’s news story “UUA Shifts International Focus to Congregations” (uuworld.org, June 15, 2009; an abbreviated version appears on page 52). They are the Sister Church program, the partner church movement, and the Partner Church Council.

The Sister Church program of the 1920s was started by American Uni­tarian Association President Louis Cornish and renewed by UUA President William Schulz and Mod­erator Natalie Gulbrandsen in 1988 as an emergency response to Ceau­sescu’s village destruction policy.

Dr. Judit Gellerd, my wife, arrived in the U.S. in 1988 and volunteered her expertise to organize what would become the grassroots partner church movement, under the “Save Transylvanian Unitarianism” appeal. She wrote guidebooks and published volumes of sermons on Transylvania, translated her martyred father’s scholarship on Unitarian intellectual history, and spoke in more than 150 UU churches.

In 1993 when the UUA Board declined to support the Transylvania program, Gellerd asked the Rev. Dr. Richard Boeke, the Rev. Dr. C. Leon Hopper, and the Rev. Dr. Peter Raible to take action. They met during the 1993 General Assembly, and with other Transylvania enthusiasts, established the Partner Church Council with Raible as its first presi­dent and Gellerd as general secretary.

George M. Williams
Sun City West, Arizona
West Valley UU Church

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