contributed by Sigrid Van Eepoel, a Christian UU from Belgium, member of the Brussels UU Fellowship since 2005
When I first joined an ICUU conference in the Netherlands about a decade ago, I had fairly recently discovered UU and had been attending the Brussels Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s monthly services for only a few years. You could say I was quite “new to the faith.” But let me make this point: in reality, I was no such thing. I discovered I had been a UU all my life because UU does not require one to “blend in,” take on new beliefs and adhere to standardized practices. UU is a place, a group of people and a state of mind all at once, where every new face adds to the bigger picture, where who you are and how your story sounds are vital, where “integration” is truly a multilateral, gradual process of enrichment and development. If anything, UU is not, but becomes. And because of that, paradoxically, one does not become a UU, one is a UU (or is not). But may become a different one, perhaps a better one, over time, naturally.
Photo by John Hewerdine
Nowhere is this more real than in the ICUU community, at least in my experience. Perhaps because attendees meet less frequently, and more intensely, and with the explicit purpose of knowing each other better, the ICUU retreats offer such depth. A willingness to explore and understand defines every moment. Real encounters allowing for joy and pain alike to be expressed happen all the time. The way in which each person embodies UU is honored and adds to the whole. There are fairly different ways of being UU, as we discover as we shake hands and eat and discuss with people from (almost) all continents. Some communities are only just emerging; others date back to one or several centuries ago, be it not always in name. Some groups call themselves churches and some expressly do not. Some have theologians for leaders and others lead themselves. Different languages are spoken, and different traditions are drawn upon. There is diversity within UU indeed.
But something which is difficult to name pervades all that variety. You could call it a sense of the divine perhaps, a universal spirit, a love without borders, a presence through and behind it all? How does one express that experience of beauty? You cannot photograph it or pin it down in a treatise. You need to just be there and live it. Perhaps I have I lived it more strongly than others. During ICUU retreats, I feel more myself than usual. I seem to see something unseeable. Ambiguities are not a problem, and a more inclusive, more humane future seems possible for all the world. I arrive back home with a stronger sense of hope for humanity – which sounds of course too unearthly… If I say I feel at peace, am I just trading my rationality and responsibility for a feelgood trip into the clouds?
You might be able to tell me more about it after participating yourself in one of ICUU’s international events. The next one coming up is not an ICUU retreat in itself, but ICUU will be represented at the next EUT, or European Unitarians Together, retreat. In the words of Inga Brandes and Sara Ascher, ICUU’s current President and Executive Director respectively:
“This meeting of Unitarians, Unitarian Universalists, Free Religious and Humanists from different parts of Europe is hosted by two of our member organizations: the Unitarier – Religionsgemeinschaft freien Glaubens (URFG) and the European Unitarian Universalists (EUU).”
As Ascher and Brandes invite all to participate in the 2019 EUT, they state that
“Our various faith traditions have tremendous common ground. At the same time our different cultural practices require each one of us to live our religion by honoring the ‘other’. We acknowledge that this is not always easy. But we have found that it is extremely rewarding.”
This word “rewarding” sums up what I have been trying to share with you. I recommend this or any other future international UU gathering as a unique opportunity to grow and become more connected. Unexpected things may happen then. Will you try it this year perhaps? Will we meet in Berlin next month?