A Campaign to Fix Canada’s Broken Refugee System

As noted in July 2017 by the Globe and Mail, last year’s Canadian private refugee sponsorship system, exported as a model for the world,  has this year cracked and slowed, frustrating many who are waiting for their applications to be processed. To speak out against the present slow processing of refugees, Victoria Unitarians have joined their local Anglican Cathedral and Diocese and others. They are protesting the broken promises of the government made in March 2016 and before to throw open Canada’s doors to refugees, as well as the lack of transparency about the refugees system and families’ status in the increasingly long waiting system.

There is an estimated backlog of 40,000 cases awaiting processing, with an additional 14,000 who have registered their intent to claim asylum in Canada in the first few months of 2017. The July 2017 Globe and Mail editorial further says, “A government analysis obtained by the Canadian Press forecasts the number of refugee claimants in Canada will hit 36,000 this year, and rise by as much as 20 per cent a year after that. If the current trends hold, the time required to process an application will reach 11 years in 2021, and could cost $3-billion in social support payments. This must not be allowed to happen.”

The CUC is concerned for the estimated 1,000 private sponsorship groups waiting for the Canadian government to process their requests for refugee families. The sponsorship groups have raised the amounts of money ($30-50K per family) required to resettle refugee families. The cost to fix the refugee system is a drop in the bucket compared to the $40 million already raised by private sponsors.

There is concern that the Immigration and Refugee Board has announced working at reduced capacities due to shortages in staffing. There are reports refugees from Lebanon and Jordan were given priority. There is concern that refugees from certain countries have been given priority over others, and a  note from the Turkish Ambassador states that Turkey (which hosts 2.9 million refugees) was not delaying families at all and that long waits are due to Canada.

The CUC, as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder, receives dozens of calls and emails a week from those desperate to come to safety in Canada. All of them are heart-wrenching, like the single mother of 6, or the family of 5 in a refugee camp in Jordan where access to education and medical attention is scarce. Or this email from a young girl: “I am 13 yers old and i am from syria  since i was small i dremed of go to canada my family make up 6 peopel and our financial situation is not good for living i do not want money i want go to canada please help me please.”

The CUC cannot bring any more refugees to Canada in 2017 – our number of allotted spaces are used up.  But politicians say that handwritten letters are worth 200 e-mails; that numbers count, and that popular opinion matters, especially if it comes from across Canada. Help us please, Unitarians from British Columbia to Newfoundland.

So, for maximum effect:

  • Today, please hand write a short, simple, personal, courteous but firm and pointed letter (one page is good)

  • Ask the government to live up to its promise of welcoming refugees by allocating resources to deal with the backlog, to fill staffing positions, and to increase quotas. See a sample letter here

  • Send one letter to the Prime Minister and do NOT cc or copy to anyone.  That is priority #1.

  • Send a similar letter to Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (who is mandated to increase immigration levels)

  • Send more letters to your local Member of Parliament, and to the Leaders of the other parties. Find your MP here. Address is House of Commons, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, K1A 0A6. NO STAMP is needed for for a letter to Parliament.

Please note that letters have to be non-partisan, ie without targeting or supporting a specific politician or political party, so please write to all parties.

Welcome, Ministers!

Canadian Unitarians extend an enthusiastic welcome to ministers who begin new partnerships with congregations this fall. Congregations in Winnipeg and Kingston have called newly settled full-time ministers, and several others embark on developmental, interim and intern journeys.

Settled ministers

Meghann Robern – Winnipeg

Rev. Meghann Robern comes to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg following a stint as sabbatical minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, where she had also served as an intern minister from 2015-2016. A graduate of Claremont School of Theology, she also holds a BA in English from the University of Southern California.Beckett Coppola – Kingston

Beckett Coppola – Kingston

Rev. Rebecca “Beckett” C. Coppola comes to the Kingston Unitarian Fellowship from Colorado, where she served as a chaplain resident of a large medical campus serving the Northern Denver metro area. She was ordained in January, 2017 by Jefferson Church in Golden, Colorado and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, Colorado. A graduate of Naropa University, Rev. Coppola is a native New Englander who also holds a BA in philosophy from Boston University.

Meg Roberts – Nanaimo.

Rev. Meg Roberts comes to the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo having served congregations in Edmonton, Montreal, Calgary, and the Comox Valley. She will be serving the Nanaimo congregation as a consulting minister. A native of Saskatchewan, Rev. Roberts worked in the the theatre before coming to ministry. She is currently co-chair of the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation Task Force.

Samaya Oakley, South Fraser

Rev. Samaya Oakley has been called as the settled minister for South Fraser, after serving as their consulting minister. Rev. Oakley is currently president of the UU Ministers of Canada (UUMOC), and co-chair of the CUC’s Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Task Force, and has been instrumental in providing training to facilitators interested in carrying on reconciliation work in their congregations.

New Interim:

 Len DeRoche  – Ottawa

Rev. Leonard DeRoche comes to the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa after serving churches across the US over the past 20 years, most recently in West Hartford, Connecticut. A former US Air Force officer, Rev. DeRoche grew up in New York City and also lived in England for 13 years, where he attended two Unitarian congregations.


Pat Trudeau – Hamilton

Pat Trudeau will be serving the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton after experience leading services at several Unitarian congregations in Ontario. A graduate of Meadville Lombard Theological School, she also holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Toronto.

Rosemary Morrison – Kelowna

Rosemary Morrison is a member of Capital Unitarian Universalist Congregation in British Columbia, who will be serving the Kelowna Unitarians, supervised by Rev. Karen Fraser Gitlitz. Rosemary is a graduate of the Vancouver School of Theology.

The following ministerial transitions are also recognized and honoured:

Congratulations to Karen Fraser-Gitlitz, who  has completed her contract ministry with the Unitarian Fellowship of Regina; Danielle Webber, who has finished her Internship and Summer Ministry with the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto; and Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana who has completed his Internship and has transitioned into his role as Affiliated Community Minister with the Saskatoon Unitarians.

Western Region Fall Gathering 2017


October 13 – 15, 2017 | Calgary, Alberta 

Held at the Unitarian Church of Calgary (1703 1 St NW) & Wild Rose United Church (1317 1 St NW)

Hosted by Unitarian Church of Calgary and the Canadian Unitarian Council

Does your congregation need to re-energize itself? Are you looking for ways to refresh your purpose, to position yourself for growth, to become better known in your communities, and to attract a young and energetic demographic?

Join us in Calgary at the 2017 Western Region Fall Gathering to hear strategies for attaining these goals, to take part in an invigorating session on Truth, Healing and Reconciliation, or to enjoy an engaging arts and music stream.

Early bird price ends September 15 – Make sure to register by September 29!

Registration: ADULT | YOUTH | CHILDREN | SATURDAY ONLY – Truth, Healing & Reconciliation Session. Please use a separate registration form for each individual.

Registration Fees: Price includes materials and Saturday lunch. For those registered for the full weekend, this also includes Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch.

Adult Full Western Region Fall Gathering: Early Bird – $135 (until Sep 15) | Regular – $160 (Sep 16 – 29)  Low Income [self-defined]  $60

Saturday Only – Truth, Healing & Reconciliation Sessions: Adult – $90 | Youth & Self-defined low-income – $50

Youth Con (12 to 20 years) – $60

Children (6 years to 12 years old) – $50 for Saturday programming

Childcare (under 6 years old) – $50 for Saturday childcare

Sunday service – everyone welcome! Childcare will be provided during the service

Registration: ADULT | YOUTH | CHILDREN | SATURDAY ONLY – Truth, Healing & Reconciliation Session. Please use a separate registration form for each individual.

Please click here for information on the youth con and schedule.

Download the poster for the full weekend gathering here.

Download the poster for the Saturday-only Truth, Healing & Reconciliation event here.

Schedule: please note that the Gathering takes place at two locations, the Unitarian Church of Calgary and Wild Rose United Church

Friday – Unitarian Church of Calgary (1703 1 St NW, Calgary)

5:00 – 7:30 pm: Registration/Check in

7:30 pm: In-gathering and welcome

8:00 pm: Reception

Saturday – Wild Rose United Church (Adult and Children) – 1317 1 St NW, Calgary

9:00 am: Welcome Ingathering and singing – all ages

9:15 am: Keynote Address

10:15 am: Coffee break

10:30- Noon: Morning Streams

Noon: Lunch

1:00- 3:30 pm: Afternoon sessions

3:30 pm: Return to the Unitarian Church of Calgary for snacks & coffee

Saturday 4 pm onward – Unitarian Church of Calgary

4:00- 6:00 pm: Blanket Exercise- A reconciliation exercise from KAIROS Canada. This includes those registered for the full weekend and Saturday program.

6:15 pm: Dinner in Wickenden Hall

7:15 pm: Tony Turner & Jane Perry host Entertainment Night. Not to be missed!

Sunday – Unitarian Church of Calgary

9:00 AM: Networking Meetings begin.

10:30 AM: Worship

Noon – 1:00 pm: Lunch. Youth con ends.


Accommodations are not included in the registration fee. Special rates for Western Regional Gathering participants are available at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology [SAIT- 1301, 16th Ave NW]. Only two bedroom suites are available for the following prices.

  • $115/night + 9% tax for the whole suite
  • $57.50/person for a bedroom
    • If two people are sharing a bedroom, there is an additional $10 charge/night

To view two bedroom suite, please check here. 

Room price includes breakfast and parking. SAIT is 5 minute drive or 1.9 km. from Unitarian Church of Calgary. Reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance.

NOTE: Check the box on the registration form if you wish SAIT housing. Once you’ve registered for the conference, a confirmation will be sent to you with a direct link provided by SAIT so you are able to book a room within our block.

Billeting is limited and available on a best effort basis. To register billeting request, please use the check boxes on the registration form. Contact is billeting@unitarianscalgary.org


If you would like help with transportation, please check the appropriate boxes on the registration form.

Children’s Programming for Saturday – Ages 6 – 12 years. Register here

A VERY Special Children’s Program is being planned for the Western Region Fall Gathering. We will be using the new children’s Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Reflection Guide from the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Team. A local team is creating an insightful and fun learning experience for the children of all the UU churches in the Western Region, and a special invitation is extended to children. Join us, and learn to become life-long healers in the reconciliation process to bring healing to all nations that make up Turtle Island (the name bestowed on North America by some Indigenous Peoples).

NOTE:  Childcare is available for ages 0-6 on-site at Wildrose United Church. Meals are to be taken with parents.

General Program Schedule for both Children’s age groups:

  • 8:45 a.m. – Gather at Wild Rose United Church
  • 9:00 a.m. –  12:00 pm – Programming
  • 12 noon – Join adults for lunch
  • 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. – Programming
  • 3:30 p.m. – Join families for walk back to Unitarian Church of Calgary
  • 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. – Children’s program will take place at the Unitarian Church of Calgary

Youth Program: Register here

Join Western region youth and advisors for an amazing weekend in Calgary filled with community building, touch groups, worships and of course games galore! (including circle games, board games, card games and of course Wink!) Through theme games we’ll have some serious fun while contemplating what games can teach us about rules, winning & losing and what to do when you keep having to ‘go fish’.

This Con happens concurrently with the Western Regional Fall Gathering, so we’ll take part in some multigenerational magic as well. Youth and advisors will join the InGathering and Reception on the Friday evening, and on Saturday we’ll have the traditional Multigenerational Dinner and Coffee House. As well on Saturday,  to continue our work of learning about truth and reconciliation with indigenous peoples, all Con participants will have the opportunity to join with the adults and children to experience the Kairos Blanket Exercise.

Youth Con Registration deadline: Fri Sep 29 | Forms & Payment deadline: Sun Oct 1

CUC Contact: Asha Philar (asha@cuc.ca)

Calgary Con Contact: Rebekah-Mobely Kasner (Rkasner@telus.net)

ADULT PROGRAMMING – Saturday at Wild Rose United Church (9:00 am – 3:30 pm) & Unitarian Church of Calgary (4:00 – 6:00 pm)

Keynote Address: Fishing Tips: How Curiosity Transformed a Faith Community

Rev. Dr. John Pentland will share some Hillhurst United Church practices as it moved from a sleepy inner city community (60-70 attendance) to a dynamic growing mainline church (450-500).

Dr. Pentland invites participants to explore what each can do in their particular location to ensure curious and faithful engagement.    

WORKSHOPS: Please choose one workshop for Saturday morning and one workshop for Saturday afternoon. Note that that the Truth, Healing and Reconciliation sessions run all day on Saturday, so you will only be participating in these sessions. All workshops include the KAIROS Blanket Exercise at the Unitarian Church of Calgary from 4 – 6 pm.

MORNING Workshop A : More Fishing Tips with Rev. Dr. John Pentland – 10:30 am – 12:00 pm.

This builds on the Keynote Address and takes Fishing Tips into our specific contexts, and will continue exploring the curiosity and the invitation to engage raised in the keynote address.

MORNING Workshop B: Pick a Pack of Posies” Creative Art Session with Hedda Zahner & Linda Brown – 10:30 am – 12:00 pm

Come join us for a step by step demonstration on how to make this                         simple but beautiful floral popup card. Have fun as you engage your inner artist and gain a new skill! Two instructors will be there to guide you through.  Participation is limited to 10 people so sign up soon so that you can get a seat.

AFTERNOON Workshop C: Congregational Visibility & Welcoming Young Adults – 1:00 – 3:30 pm

Part I: Visibility & Social Media with Erica Bird, President of Saskatoon Unitarians 

Are you looking for ways to bring more visitors to your congregation? Do you wish your website, posters, and online postings looked more fresh and engaging, and that your promotional materials had an attractive and consistent look? Are you hoping to improve the reach of your social media postings?

In this dynamic session, Erica Bird will explain how the Saskatoon congregation [SU] re-imagined their visual identity and developed a compelling social media presence.

Part II: Welcoming Young Adults with Asha Philar, CUC Youth & Young Adult Ministry Staff

Drawing on insights and research from the CUC’s national Young Adult Welcoming and Inclusion Project that started in 2016, this workshop section will provide concrete tips for improving congregational young adult ministry. Then we will focus on how to improve interactions with young adults, especially visitors, using role plays and strategies on how to make these interactions truly welcoming and friendly.

Our overall goal with this presentation/workshop is to give participants a taste of the research, knowledge and stories from the Young Adult Project, hopefully inspiring you to continue the work of creating cultural and institutional change in your congregation. We will make sure that participants know how to connect with the project’s insights and next steps if they want to continue this work.

AFTERNOON Workshop D: “Singing for Change” with Jane Perry & Tony Turner – 1:00 – 3:30 pm

In this workshop we will explore the importance of songs to social action related to our seven principles. Using historical and recent examples we will learn that the power of song can unite minds and spirits and aid the cause of social change.

SATURDAY ALL-DAY Workshop E: Truth, Healing & Reconciliation – 10:30 am – 6:00 pm (including Blanket Exercise at 4:00 pm at the Unitarian Church of Calgary)

Welcome to the beginning of a shared journey towards truth, justice, healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples. Share in the exploration of reconciliation and decolonization as they are addressed within the framework of our Unitarian Universalist principles.

Note: Participation in Truth, Healing & Reconciliation session only is open to the general public for $90 [lunch included, but not dinner] and $50 for students/ self-defined low income. Registration for Saturday only is here.

Saturday Truth, Healing & Reconciliation Schedule:

10:00- 10:15 Registration for Saturday & public participants

10:30- Noon: Part I Session

Noon – 1:00:  Lunch

1:00- 3:30: Part I Session continued

3:30- 4:00: Walk to Unitarian Church of Calgary & Snacks

4:00- 6:00: Blanket Exercise

PART I:  THR Sessions, Morning & Afternoon:

Presenters: Rev. Samaya Oakley & Jeff Webber

PART II:  A Reconciliation Experience, Kairos Blanket Exercise: Led by local Elder Group.

The Blanket Exercise is an experiential learning exercise that takes participants through 400 years of Indigenous history in the space of a couple of hours. The blankets represent the land we know today as Canada. The participants represent the Indigenous peoples. They are given quotations from Indigenous people to read at key points and cards which determine their outcome in the Exercise. Facilitators act as Narrators and an elder will open the Exercise and lead the talking/debriefing Circle after the Blanket Exercise is completed.


Three Options Are Available

Networking Option #1 – An Invitation to a Conversation with the CUC Board members

A warm welcome to join with Susan Ruttan, a Western Region rep to the CUC Board, for a conversation regarding:

  • Welcome for all to participate  in the two contests designed by the Vision Implementation Team- the sermon contest and the art contest. Deadline, Feb. 1, 2018
  • How the CUC works – updates regarding various staff changes
  • Your comments/ queries/ ideas regarding best practices and our national office- the CUC.

Networking Option #2 – Refugee Sponsorship Groups Networking meeting

Facilitators: April Hope & Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana

Rev. Fulgence (Unitarian refugee from Burundi) and April (CUC Social Responsibility Coordinator) will be sharing their experience and some stories about refugee sponsorship; the joys and challenges of being a newcomer to Canada, and how to manage expectations vs. responsibilities of sponsors and newcomers.

A case scenario will be provided where a sponsoring group faces unexpected challenges. In small group discussion, participants will consider alternate ways of resolving these problems.

This session will appeal to anyone interested in refugee sponsorship; whether they have been involved for a long time or are brand new to the process.

Networking Option #3 – Fund Raising Strategies:

Facilitators: Joan Carolyn, CUC Congregational Development & Erica Bird, Saskatoon Unitarians President

Does fundraising make you break out in a cold sweat? If even the idea of talking about money makes you squirm:


Joan and Erica welcome you to a networking session sharing innovative and best practices from a variety of congregations across Canada.

We welcome participants to bring summaries of their congregation’s fundraising strategies/ best practices. We will learn what we are each doing in our congregations, and share our successes and challenges. These can be electronic or hard copy. Facilitators will collate materials to be shared.

Facilitator Bios

 John Pentland was born in Ontario and moved throughout Ontario for many years. He attended post graduate schools at Queens University, Emmanuel College , Toronto, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He completed a D. MIn at Chicago Theological Seminary. “Speaking Faith in Public Space”.Since 1988 he has served rural Alberta, Urban Calgary, United Way of Calgary and an inner city Hillhurst United Church. His church experienced significant growth and he wrote  a Canadian best seller: Fishing Tips: How Curiosity Transformed a Community of Faith. He is curious about good religion and how churches make difference.A lover of questions, curiosity and playfulness. A cyclist, partner and parent of  four kids 25 to 6 years.

Erica Bird is active at SU on the Communications Team, has developed marketing and communications strategies and is also the Facebook admin and congregation photographer. She was actively involved in the Saskatoon Unitarians’ recent rebrand and looks forward to sharing the results of that process.

Asha Philar grew up in Ottawa, attending the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa since the age of 5, and enjoying many Sunday school adventures along the way. She gained a Bachelor’s degree in Environment and Resource Studies from the University of Waterloo, where she was involved in food justice, fair trade and environmental justice activism.

Hedda Zahner has a degree in Fine Art at UofC and ACAD, has been teaching art privately for 40 years, and then at the Unitarian Church for 2 years. The Alberta Foundation of Art has purchased two paintings and her work is found in collections nationally and internationally. She truly enjoys helping people find the joy of art.

Tony Turner is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose life affirming, articulate and socially relevant songs are as diverse as this country. From Circle of Song, his much-loved anthem of unity recently published in Rise Again, to his award-winning protest sing-along Harperman, Tony has proven he can channel both the mood of the times and the ties that bind.  An active Unitarian now based in Nanaimo, Tony has been writing songs for over twenty-five years and has created three critically acclaimed recordings.

Jane Perry is in her seventh year as the Music Director at the Unitarian Church of Calgary, and her eighteenth year as a Unitarian church musician.  She is the Artistic Director of One Voice Chorus and the Calgary Renaissance Singers & Players.  Jane is also the Co-Artistic Director, with Jean-Louis Bleau, of the national Unison 2018 Festival for Canadian queer choirs, which will take place at Mount Royal University in Calgary from May 18-21, 2018.

The Rev. Samaya Oakley currently serves as the Minister for the South Fraser Unitarian Congregation, and as the President of the Executive of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada. She is also a co-chair of a task force of the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Reflection Guide – a task force that is creating reflection guides for Canadian Unitarian congregations around issues of the Indian Residential School system and its impact. She has been involved in Unitarian Universalism regionally, nationally and continentally in Unitarian Universalism for over twenty years. She considers herself blessed to have served as the Youth Program Coordinator at the North Shore Unitarian Church for close to fifteen years. She also holds degrees in Business Administration and Life Skills Coaching.

Jeff Webber grew up Unitarian, and has been actively involved as long as he can remember. As a child in Ottawa, and a youth in Hamilton, Unitarian teachings and values were ever present. Later with the Regina Fellowship, and now with Calgary Unitarians, he has been an active participant in leadership and a “big picture” thinker. Jeff recently began his journey toward truth and reconciliation through personal discernment, and hopes to further his learning process through the facilitation and education process.

April Hope and her two children have attended Ottawa First Unitarian Congregation since 1998. Over the years, April has been involved at Ottawa First in Religious Exploration, Our Whole Lives small group facilitation, Women’s groups and as a Youth Advisor. She is passionate about everything Unitarian and is very happy to have found this spiritual home.

Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana is an ordained Unitarian Minister from Burundi.   He has recently come to Canada as a refugee and is now an affiliated community Minister with the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon. Rev. Fulgence  is also active in the International work through the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), of which he is  the vice president.  He is married to Therese and a proud father of Well Brown Bwigenge.

Susan Ruttan is a retired newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist living in Edmonton. She worked at the Kingston Whig-Standard, Victoria Times, Winnipeg Tribune, Calgary Herald, and Edmonton Journal before taking early retirement in 2008. Susan joined the Unitarian Church of Edmonton (UCE) in 2001 and has been very active in the congregation.

 Joan Carolyn been an active participant with the First UU church of Winnipeg since early 1999 and a member since mid-2000.

She is married to life partner, Ken Nicholson and shares with him two sons (Max, Alex), a daughter-in-law (Sheila) and first grandchild, Grace. Joan wishes to share the excitement and gratitude with which she approaches the position of Congregational Development Western and B.C. regions with the CUC. She looks forward to interacting with and learning from all she is privileged to meet.

Promotional Posters:

Congregations are welcome to share the following posters with their communities.

Western Region Fall Gathering poster

Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation poster (colour)

Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation poster (black and white)


Welcoming Congregations: A Journey, Not a Destination

What does it mean to be a Welcoming Congregation?

When the First Unitarian Congregation of Hamilton voted unanimously to become one in 1998, completing the Canadian Unitarian Council’s program for congregations wishing to be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer or questioning people, it was blazing something of a trail. The church had only one openly LGBTQ congregant. It had been only six years since the Unitarian Church of Edmonton had become the first in Canada to complete this program. Equal marriage rights for same-sex couples were still six years in the future.

 In the almost two decades since, times have changed. Today, Hamilton is one of 99 percent of Unitarian congregations in Canada that have voted to become Welcoming Congregations, and is home to many LGBTQ members. Rev. Linda Thomson, who co-chaired the committee that oversaw the Welcoming Congregation project, credits the slow, deliberate approach the committee took leading up the vote with an affirmation that has produced lasting results.

 “That work really seems to have stood the congregation in good stead for a long time,” she says.

 But the Hamilton congregation also recognizes there’s still work to be done, which is why it decided in recent years that LGBTQ issues would be one of its  main areas of social justice focus. Indeed, the Unitarian Universalist Association recommends congregations reaffirm their welcoming status every five years, and offers additional programs congregations can undertake to “deepen their welcome”.

 While First Unitarian hasn’t formally signed on for any of these yet, the congregation is still pursuing a number of LGBTQ-affirming policies, such as making most of their washrooms gender-neutral. The congregation has also become home to a monthly PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group and a LGBT social group. Monica Bennett, a longtime member who identifies as bisexual, believes that these and other initiatives are already enhancing the congregation’s welcoming status.

 “There’s more talk about it, there’s more conversation about it, people are more open to it, I can just feel people’s openness and their curiosity and compassion. There’s a bigger sense I have of it,” she says.

 Lyla Miklos, a lay chaplain at First Unitarian agrees that while it might not always be immediately visible to outsiders, the church has made progress on LGBTQ issues. But she also believes that there’s still a ways to go.

 “When you walk in, we’re not all wearing rainbow stickers on our heads,” she says. “It’s understood, without it being said, that we’re a pretty safe space. But how can we make it even safer?” Miklos expresses concern, for instance, over a survey First Unitarian conducted about a decade ago in which some respondents indicated they were uncomfortable with the prospect of a trans minister in their congregation. An education worker with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, she’s advocated mandatory training on LGBTQ issues for her employer, so that there’s a shared standard of behaviour for all employees that they feel comfortable holding each other accountable for.

 “My vision would be something similar,” she says. “So that we’re all on the same page together, and we all have the same understanding together.”

 On a broader level, Miklos also sees a need to hold the congregation as a whole accountable. Laudable as the unanimous vote to become a welcoming congregation may have been, she says, it’s important to recognize it was just the beginning of a process, not the end. And being a welcoming congregation, she adds, goes beyond simply welcoming the LGBTQ community to tackling the many other forms of discrimination that still persist. In short, the question of what it means to be a Welcoming Congregation is still one everyone should be asking.


A Chance to Support the Work of Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana

Recently the Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana spoke at a service at the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, and met with some of us afterwards to speak about his recent experience as a political dissident and prisoner in his country, Burundi. I’m writing  to share an opportunity to support Unitarians who have fled Burundi for a refugee camp.  This is on my own initiative, not from any official or formal point of view.

In Burundi, it’s dangerous to stand for freedom of religious thought.  Members of the Unitarian Church in Bujumbura have become targets of harassment for participating in peaceful demonstrations, and helping victims of the Burundian regime.  Late in 2015, Rev. Fulgence was picked up by members of a militia representing the government, held and tortured.  After some time he was able to contact the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.  Within twenty-four hours, 1200 Unitarians and Universalists had signed a petition demanding his release, and sent letters to the regime and its embassies.

That action saved his life; Rev. Fulgence was released. He and many members of his congregation fled the country.  Through the intervention of the Canadian Unitarian Council,  Rev. Fulgence came to Canada as a “person in need of protection”, and is living with his family in Saskatoon. Rev. Fulgence completed his internship with the Saskatoon Unitarian congregation, and has recently been confirmed as the Affiliated Community Minister. Fulgence is preparing to be ordained in North America.

In discussions with the refugees, Rev. Fulgence asked them how they see their lives moving forward, and what they thought they could do to make sure war chaos and hatred do not have the last word.  As the discussion wound down,  a young man timidly raised his hand and said “Education is the way to resist war, chaos, and hatred.” Rev. Fulgence promised that he would tell the young man’s story to UUs around the world so that his dream of building peace and harmony through education can happen.

With his supporters in Saskatoon, Rev. Fulgence has established a foundation, the Flaming Chalice International Education Fund, to enable young Burundi refugees to build a new life through education. Usually, the congregation would take a special collection for the work of the foundation.  The foundation has applied for charitable status under the Canada Revenue Agency’s guidelines, but has not yet received it. Under CRA guidelines, charities are not able to send monetary donation to non-charities, therefore, the congregation is unable, under those restrictions, to take up a collection or provide receipts for these donations.

 However, individuals, families and groups who want to change the course of the life of a refugee overseas can commit to sponsor a student for a year. $130 per month will cover safe and comfortable housing, nutritious food, tuition, and other basic expenses for one student.  Students will be in touch several times a year with their sponsors.  The foundation is currently sponsoring five young people.

Our UU congregations generously support refugees from over a dozen countries, including Syria,  Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan and Burundi.  Can we do the same for young Burundian Unitarians?   It would take twelve donations of $130, or 24 of $65 to do so; any other amount will be helpful.   I know  we can manage this.

If you are able to share in this project, please make out your cheque for any amount to Flaming Chalice International, education fund, and send it to me, Ellen Campbell,  at 555-602 Melita Crescent, Toronto M6G 3Z5.  I’ll send the cheques on and report back to you on our results, and forward news about our student/s.

Thank you for supporting the international family of Unitarians.