It is hard for many Canadian and American UU’s to imagine, but there are dozens of UU congregations outside North America whose members are economically impoverished. My ministerial internship was in one of those places, the UU Church of the Philippines (UUCP). There are 27 congregations on the island of Negros in central Philippines, where the vast majority of members are farmers and fisherfolk. Their average monthly wage – $100, which puts them in the lower class even in the Philippine context (where $300/month is considered middle class). Health care, secondary and post-secondary education, quality housing, clean water, transportation, are all virtually inaccessible and unaffordable.
And yet, there is a flourishing UU presence. For a generation, since the late 1980’s, it has been supported heavily by UUA grants. $15,000 or so each year, making up 75% of their budget. It has been a lifeline, one that is changing. While there is some despair, there is also a generation of relationships with UUA allies, and the UUA funding has supported a number of income generating projects. Within 3-5 years, they project to make up 50% or more of their lost revenue.
The theological vision of the UUCP is more christian, more patriarchal, and in a more fundamentally Catholic context. They are experiencing the influence of humanism later than we are, but minister from concepts of liberation theology and liberal religion. Rev. Nihal Attanayake is the new President of the UUCP, and has been visiting UU Congregations in America over the last month. He spoke at GA in Ft Lauderdale, and was a part of the UUMA Ministry Days. He is the first UUCP Minister to come since Rev. Rebecca Sienes was in the USA at Meadville-Lombard. A former Anglican Priest raised in Sri Lanka, Nihal has been a UU minister for 8 years. He will be coming to Portland on the final leg of his trip, meeting with UU’s the weekend of July 26.
I’m excited to help host Nihal, a member of my internship committee, friend and mentor. We’ll be meeting area ministers, lay leaders, and some members of the UU Partner Church Council.
Nihal will be sharing stories and pictures from the Philippines. He will also be making a pitch for the Quimada Dormitory, a proposed University Dorm built on the UU Headquarters site in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental. It is a visionary undertaking, and a great group of UU’s in America are working to fundraise. Check out their website (uudorm.wordpress.com), and consider making a donation. A similar dorm was built on the ancient Unitarian site in Kolosvar/Kluj, Romania (old Hungary) with substantial UUA support and direct giving.
The UUCP is welcoming ministers and lay persons on annual pilgrimage tours through the UU Partner Church Council, and on an ad hoc basis. I’m happy to share with any interested parties about my experience and help think through traveling to the Philippines. There is not a trip scheduled yet, but hopefully in Spring 2009.