by Vicki Roberts-Gassler

What makes a successful UU fellowship? How is its success judged? The Brussels UU Fellowship, the BUUF, has almost always been small over its decades of history and has sometimes gone dormant entirely for months or years. And yet, for its members, it has been an enriching part of their lives in Brussels, whether their stay was brief, long-term or even permanent.

When Scott and I moved to Brussels in 1990, there was a small but active group meeting in members’ homes around Brussels. It took us a while to find the group, but Scott noticed an announcement in the International Herald Tribune – remember when newspapers were still significant? Shortly after we connected with the group, the BUUF ran the retreat in Spa in the spring of 1991. But within the next year, several key members retired or were transferred and left the area, and the group went dormant within another year. We attended a retreat or two, but work and financial challenges prevented us from regular attendance until later.

From our older members we learned that the Brussels group went back to the 1960s and had waxed and waned in the meantime, counting up to 80 members at one point and then going quiet as the expat contingent rotated out. It has now been continuous since the mid-90s – super! Scott and I were the local contact from about 1992, so when we heard from Gerda Keiswetter in around 1994 that she and her husband could host meetings in their lovely diplomat home we had a list of potential members, and Gerda and Alan Keiswetter revitalized the group. Usually the monthly gatherings were lay-led, but we did occasionally have a guest speaker, most memorably for me Orloff Miller, with talks about his involvement in the civil rights movement, as he was with James Reeb in Selma when Rev. Reeb was beaten to death by white supremacists, and another speaker who spoke about the history of Unitarianism in Central Europe. The group was again able to host a retreat in Spa.

When the Keiswetters returned to the US after their tour, we feared for the group, but everyone pulled together, and we kept up our meetings, getting together in each other’s homes and at times in the International Protestant Church and later at the Scottish Presbyterian Church. I must admit to some embarrassment when we invited Rev. Wyman Rousseau, the American UU minister who married us in 1983, to speak – he asked whether 60 copies of his handout would be enough, when by inviting interested parties from The Netherlands group we may have increased our crowd to 20.

Starting in 2003, Scott and I had an apartment with enough room to host our small group, and lay-led services sometimes depended on sermons by Unitarian ministers that members found meaningful. In general, we had short presentations with more extensive discussions on a wide range of religious and philosophical topics. Joys and Concerns took on increasing importance as our way of sharing our lives, and we always followed meetings with a potluck meal. We were able to host a CC meeting and, with help from the NUUF and from at-large people, we have organized our share of retreats.

We have been relieved and delighted that the BUUF has continued and grown stronger after we left in 2013. Then-UUA president Rev. Morales pointed out that groups that are “like a family” are less likely to grow; this is logical, as they are harder for new people to break into, and the presence of even one person a member finds annoying could mean dropping out. This does not make the “family” type group necessarily a bad thing, though, as some of us really need those close relationships, perhaps especially as UUs in a non-UU world, and for many of us as expats whose fit in a foreign society will always be imperfect.