Heather Walker, a member of Calgary Unitarians, travelled to Kathmandu, Nepal for the February 2018 conference of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU). Having been a delegate for the Unitarian Church of Calgary at the Canadian Unitarian Council’s 2017 Annual General Meeting, Walker was asked by ICUU Treasurer John Michell (Calgary) if she was interested in participating in the ICUU conference and decided to take him up on the offer.
Although a big part of her initial interest had been in visiting the original location of the Shillong congregation in India’s Khasi Hills, Walker wasn’t deterred when the conference location changed to Kathmandu, a location she describes as “fantastic”. Listening to presentations and participating in listening circles as part of the conference, Walker came away with a heightened appreciation for the diversity of Unitarianism from the conversations she engaged in with other participants.
“Cans of worms were opened and the feeling was, that’s okay, to have this out in the open, and to not have a resolution to it. Cause we weren’t trying to come to a resolution on it, it was ‘this is our way and this is your way and wow, that’s cool, that we still have similarities in this diversity’”.
Walker also appreciated the similarities she discovered within the participants, particularly while attending the ICUU’s Annual General Meeting. When they realized a key document hadn’t been circulated prior to a planned vote on its approval, Walker and the other delegates all declined to move forward until they could see the information in question, an unspoken decision she appreciated.
“I saw how the organization pulled together,” she says. “Like ‘we’re all in agreement that we’re not going to agree on this’”.
The conference’s location also gave Walker the opportunity to visit the Child Haven home in Kathmandu. Founded by Unitarian minister Fred Cappuccino and his wife Bonnie, the home is one of several inspired by the ideals and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi which provides assistance to women and children in developing countries. Walker came away impressed that the organization is able to do so much with relatively little.
“Child Haven was amazing,” she says. “It’s a humble facility, serving an immense amount of children, and they’ve covered so many other avenues, like when people age out, high school and college, that the young people are still supported in other group home situations. The whole community benefits from this school that they built. It’s so simple in what they have. They don’t seem to be offering a lot more than the bare basics, but their arms are going in every direction from it”.
Walker says she’d recommend going to ICUU conferences to other Unitarians based on the connections she made and the things she learned. Participants at the 2018 Conference came from over 20m countries.
“There just seemed to be a real buzz of support and enthusiasm that was leaving that conference on the wrap-up morning,” she says. “I just think internationally we have so much to offer each other in support of each other”.