Almost 200 North American UU congregations have partner churches in other parts of the world.
Cathy Cordes, executive director of the UU Partner Church Council, which was founded to support the new partnerships in 1993, said that many things have changed in the past two decades. “Twenty years ago, you wrote a letter and hoped it got there,” she said. “Now we have Skype conference calls.”
But many other things have not changed. “A lot of the communities were very rural,” Cordes said. “They grew their own food, and had very few material resources. That hasn’t changed—but there are more TVs, and cell phones are everywhere.”
Partner church relationships aren’t about charity, Cordes said. “These are not one-way relationships. What a U.S. church gets is a way to understand people in other countries—a way to feel more international about our religion, to see how people in other countries practice the Unitarian Universalist faith.”
Many partner churches have brought Transylvanian ministers, seminarians, and young people to the United States. Starr King School for the Ministry, in Berkeley, California, has brought fifteen ministers for yearlong residencies at the school. Cordes has personally chaperoned twelve youth group visits from Transylvania to her home congregation, First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts.
Cordes said that becoming a partner church is a long-term commitment and requires a congregational vote. But she said the PCC can also facilitate other kinds of partnerships, including “Sponsor a UU Student” programs in Transylvania, India, and Burundi.
The partner church program today also links North American congregations with churches in Africa, other countries in Eastern Europe, India, and the Philippines. Learn more at uupcc.org.
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Christopher L. Walton is editor of UU World. He holds degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Utah and is a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship.