ICUU's First President Looks Back

Remarks by Rev. David Usher in Montserrat, Nov. 2005

In late 1986, I was having coffee with a friend. He asked me about the international Unitarian scene, and after I had told him about the various national groups, he asked how they all got together. I had to concede there was no formal mechanism to enable them to do so, and he was amazed. "You mean that you espouse all these fine international sentiments, but you don't do anything about them."

I realised he was right, and so I organised a motion for the British Unitarian Annual Meetings in April 1987, which called for discussions about forming such an international organisation. I proposed that motion; Rev. Cliff Reed seconded it. There were questions about what the organisation would do, how it would be funded and structured, to which there were no immediate answers, but when the motion passed, I was given the job of initiating those discussions. I wrote to the national organisations, and received a positive but cautious response from most. The principle objection came from the UUA, its administration of the time having a very different view of international outreach. It wanted the world to join the UUA, rather than have the UUA join the world.

For six years I laboured to enlist people's interest and support. I had some excellent allies, but for the most part it was lonely and oftentimes discouraging. I formed a loose coalition of individuals called AEIOU - Advocates for the Establishment of an International Organisation of Unitarians - who were interested in the proposal and who lobbied their own groups, but the reality was that without the political and financial support of the UUA, the project was unlikely ever to come into being. However, in 1993, the incoming UUA President, Rev. John Buerhens, had an international vision similar to mine, and appointed Rev. Ken MacLean as his Special Assistant for such matters. With funding now available from the UUA, a planning meeting for ICUU was held at Essex, Massachusetts in March 1995. Thirty or so people attended, from all around the world, for five inspiring and thrilling days. ICUU was born. It had taken eight years from initial idea to final consummation.

In the subsequent ten years, ICUU has grown and accomplished more than could have been imagined in those early days. It has organised leadership and youth conferences, theological symposia and travel opportunities. It has nurtured emerging groups in countries in which it had never been thought Unitarianism would take root. It has published worship literature, histories and theological papers. But most importantly, it has brought together Unitarians and Universalists from around the world in a spirit of mutual celebration and support. It has enriched those individuals who have experienced its magic, and it has made real our shared religious convictions about the unity of our world and our responsibilities to it.

From such humble and uncertain beginnings, what a wonderful story it has proven to be. And continues to be.

Image: 
David Usher, first ICUU President