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The partner church movement today

Almost 200 North American UU congregations have partner churches in other parts of the world.
By Christopher L. Walton
Fall 2010 9.1.10

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When the Iron Curtain fell twenty years ago, Unitarian Universalists in North America began to reestablish connections with the historic Unitarian communities in Transylvania. Founded in 1568, the Unitarian Church of Transylvania today includes approximately 60,000 ethnically Hungarian people in 144 parishes in northwestern Romania. Under Communism, their largely rural communities were almost completely cut off from the outside world. But since 1990, thousands of UUs from the United States and Canada have visited them, setting up partner church relationships with 161 North American congregations.

Cathy Cordes, executive director of the UU Partner Church Council, which was founded to support the new partnerships in 1993, said that many things have changed in the past two decades. “Twenty years ago, you wrote a letter and hoped it got there,” she said. “Now we have Skype conference calls.”

But many other things have not changed. “A lot of the communities were very rural,” Cordes said. “They grew their own food, and had very few material resources. That hasn’t changed—but there are more TVs, and cell phones are everywhere.”

Partner church relationships aren’t about charity, Cordes said. “These are not one-way relationships. What a U.S. church gets is a way to understand people in other countries—a way to feel more international about our religion, to see how people in other countries practice the Unitarian Universalist faith.”

Many partner churches have brought Transylvanian ministers, seminarians, and young people to the United States. Starr King School for the Ministry, in Berkeley, California, has brought fifteen ministers for yearlong residencies at the school. Cordes has personally chaperoned twelve youth group visits from Transylvania to her home congregation, First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts.

Cordes said that becoming a partner church is a long-term commitment and requires a congregational vote. But she said the PCC can also facilitate other kinds of partnerships, including “Sponsor a UU Student” programs in Transylvania, India, and Burundi.

The partner church program today also links North American congregations with churches in Africa, other countries in Eastern Europe, India, and the Philippines. Learn more at uupcc.org.


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