Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Brothers and Sisters

In the past 5 days we've visited the UU's of Kampala (Uganda) and the UU's of Kenya. At the soul satisfying worship service in Nairobi, I found myself speaking to "my fellow UU's" and to "my brothers and sisters."

I always try to speak from the heart, and there is no doubt that I was feeling fellowship with thosde good people. But what does it mean to claim a common faith identity across the lines of race and culture, education and income?

Let me describe the "congregation" that was in church last Sunday morning. UUism is new to Kenya, arriving in 2001 (link to history article), but today there are some 3-4000 Kenyans who calim a UU identity. That is more UU's that exist in all but a few of the United States. 100 or so of them showed up at the worship service last Sunday.

Not only were 25-30 congregations represented (nearly as many as some of our districts), but 10-12 of Kenya's 43 tribes were in the room. Tribal conflict has been the defining tension in Kenya's internal life since independence. Remember that it was the European powers who drew the national boundaries in Africa. Africans had no voice.

At church were college professors from Nairobi and very poor women and men from rural areas who work in the "informal economy."

And each and every one, aside from two of my fellow pilgrims, was Black.

Brothers and Sisters.

Few of you would have recognized the singing, all in Swahili, the common language of the many tribes. All the songs were "lined", with the female song leader singing the first line and the congregations responding. When the spirit moved, everyone was up out of their seats moving and dancing as we sang.

Each congregation, or group of congregations, brought a song or a dance or a poem. I remember the young woman who spoke of Unitarian Universalism as the faith of open minds, loving hearts and helping hands.

There was no recognizable "sermon". but a short reading and reflection from the Bible. We said the Lord's prayer in unison at the close of the service.

For Kenyan UU's, our faith is about action. They cannot imagine a faith which proclaims our principles that does not work to alleviate poverty, provide education, care for the orphans...and neither can I.

They know the Universalist message that no one should be left behind. They affirm the presence of the one God in their lives.

Brothers and Sisters.

We, in the US, have known for some time that the theology, the liturgy...what UUism looks and feels like in other cultures is often very differenet from the expression of our faith in our congregations. We can be and are becoming a "faith without borders."

My prayer is that we will be able to know these differences as blessings which can enrich us all, rather than curses. I pray that we will refrain from the creation of orthodoxies and live into the world communmity of Unitarian Universalism which is already being born.

Brothers and Sisters.

Video of Opening Songs and Chalice Lighting