Spring 2023 Retreat: Workshop on international U/U collaboration: some thoughts on the past and future of Unitarians and Universalists around the globe

Some EUU members were involved in the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) from the start. Many of us shared disappointment, even anguish, when ICUU was dissolved in 2021. But not everyone knows this story, so a short introduction to the workshop on The future of international U/U collaboration may be needed.

EUU’s membership in ICUU brought us in contact with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists around the world. Unitarians from many countries have joined our meetings online or even attended retreats in person (UK, Germany, France, Burundi, Czech Republic, Poland, Finland, Transylvania,…) At ICUU meetings, we became acquainted with people we invited to be our retreat theme speakers from Transylvania, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. We also got to know members of the main German Unitarian group, with whom we held a joint EUU-DU retreat in Oberwesel in 2003. We went on to organize two European conferences (EUT) in 2017 and 2019. Today EUU is well-connected internationally. This is due, in large part, to our committed membership in ICUU from its beginning until its end.

EUU also played an active role in ICUU, and our members at various times served as its Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.

 In 2021, however, the ICUU and the UU Partnership Church Council in the US each voted for dissolution and for a process to create a new, common global “framework”. We – EUU – voted against this change. For me, it seemed like replacing an established, working organization, which certainly had both its strong points and its weaknesses, with an amorphous process. Sadly, we were in a small minority, ICUU was closed, and discussions for the new framework were launched.

It might seem like a lot of background information for an article about a retreat workshop, but when Liz Slade of the British Unitarian and Zsolt Elekes of the Hungarian Unitarians came to Bad Homburg to lead a workshop on the new framework, they found that many participants wanted explanations.

Liz and Zsolt, who are members of the Leadership and Design Team working on the new framework, were faced with EUU members who wanted to know why ICUU was dissolved, and why it was dissolved without a clear way forward. These are questions that we raised in the discussions that led up to the 2021 ICUU vote. Liz and Zsolt faced the questions and comments calmly, though they had to explain that they weren’t involved in those earlier discussions and were only part of the new process. They came to Bad Homburg to ask what EUU and its members were looking for in the new setup being designed.

After an initial, sometimes heated discussion, we split into groups to share our thoughts on what we were looking for in a new framework. We brought many ideas. Here are just a few of the suggestions that Zsolt wrote out on the final flipchart:

  • A clearing-house for information and advice
  • A place to meet each other, both online and in person
  • Connections to enable social action work
  • A lighthouse for Unitarians and Universalists around the world

In 2021, EUU found itself a minority in the vote to dissolve ICUU. While we still have our questions, and the process for a new framework still seems nebulous to me, I personally am glad that Liz and Zsolt came to meet us and listen to us. I wish them the best in their work in the Leadership and Design Team, I hope that we’ll receive regular updates too, and I hope that the results will create a strong structure for Unitarians and Universalists around the world.