I was privileged to facilitate the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) Young Adult Program at the biennial ICUU conference and council meeting in the Netherlands this July. Over the past year I worked with Rev. Sara Ascher, the incoming Executive Director of the ICUU, to plan the young adult program. The ICUU is a council group made up of Unitarian, Unitarian Universalist, and liberal religious groups from all over the world—it is essentially a group of groups, and its work seeks to deepen the connections of the global U*U community.
Many of you generously gave to our Faithify Campaign in March and April 2016. Together we raised $9,000 to enable young adults from all over the world to attend the five-day ICUU conference. Some participants had never been on a plane before. We had twenty young adults at the conference from Transylvania (Romania), Kenya, the Philippines, the Khasi Hills of India, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and the United States! We offered funding to young adults ages 21–35, and were blessed by the presence of two youth under the age of 18 who joined in our program. Our experience was greatly enriched by their participation.
With 140 people total at the conference, it was easy to create a sense of community, and to learn about the diversity of our shared faith. The conference included workshops, worships, lectures, small group ministry, and business meetings to reimagine the mission and purpose of the organization for the next twenty years. Much of the content revolved around finding a spiritual response to climate change.
The young adults participated in some separate sessions, but were predominately there to participate in and contribute to the work of the conference as a whole. They led four panel discussion workshops, sharing a diversity of experiences about what it’s like to be a young adult in a U*U community, and to share their reflections on climate justice. We created a worship together, where we spoke eight different languages, and the Transylvanians translated a favorite song into English.
After the work of the day concluded, people stayed up late into the night chatting, sharing experiences. The last two days were a flurry of connections—sharing gifts from different countries, hugs, drinks, theological insights, and—from our Dutch friends—herring and salty licorice (although those last two items weren’t as universally treasured as the beloved stroopwafels!).
I was incredibly moved by the work of the ICUU and the wisdom, depth, and energy of the global young adult U*U community. In 2018 the conference will be in the Khasi Hills of India—I encourage all of you to promote the conference to the young adults in your life who would benefit from such a unique, international U*U experience!
Here are some reflections on the ICUU Conference and Council Meeting from our young adult participants:
I come from a small town in India, and it has been a good learning experience to be with kind, like-minded people, who in their diversity are so connected. Listening to stories, the workshops, the services … have really given me new perspectives, inspiration, and a hope in the future.
—Juban Lamar, Khasi Hills of India
The warmth and love [of the young adult program] made me feel that I belong in this faith more than anywhere else. I had doubts whether I should take the ministerial path, but with advice and encouragement [at the conference] it’s a path that I’d love to take and be of service to my community back home. The ICUU conference in the Netherlands will always have a place in my heart and the connections made will forever burn. Thank you for giving us
—Emma Wanjiru, Kenya
I come from a small group in Amsterdam. While there are a few other young adults, here I found a whole new group of people of my faith from all over the world. I learned much, I was nourished, inspired, and challenged. This I hope to carry with me and to stay in touch with everyone for a long time.
—Eva Kortekaas, Netherlands
I’m very thankful for the ICUU and UUPCC for this conference. Meeting different people from different countries, the workshops and sharing makes me strong. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
—Rosela Piera, Philippines
This conference opened me to consider new possibilities and paths to take in my life. Meeting people from different parts of the world and seeing that we young adults face similar problems, gave me strength and confidence to keep thinking of finding new ways for us.
—Noémi Gergely, Transylvania