When I got home from the Annual Conference and Meeting (ACM) in Ottawa this spring, my husband looked at the group photo from my Our Whole Lives (OWL) training class and remarked “if I didn’t know you were Unitarians, I could tell just from that photo.” I didn’t argue the point – though, there’s no way he’d know what a Unitarian is if he didn’t know me – because he’s right. There we all are, eager, optimistic, a group of people living our faith.
This year was my first ACM, and having failed to clone myself and be in two places at once, I didn’t manage to do all of the things I wanted to. Somehow, though, through the grace and benevolence of the staff and volunteers of this year’s conference, and my friends and family in Ottawa who put me up and got me around the city, a way was found for me to be just where I needed to be, each and every time (even when that time was 7:30am choir practice!).
Every person I met at this year’s ACM stood as a shining example of UUs in Canada living our faith: administrators, religious educators, ministers, and congregational volunteers committed to the vitality of our religious communities. There are certainly concrete things from the conference which I want to bring back to our congregation in Montreal, but more than that, I want to hold up all of the relationship building that I began at the ACM this year.
The ACM left me which an overwhelming feeling of the bright future of UUism in Canada. The Youth and Young Adults I met at the conference reminded me of the unmatched wonder of the shared spiritual experience and the responsibility we each have to one another to keep creating, connecting, and singing. Thank you to everyone who helped make my ACM so special. See you in Vancouver next year!
Katharine Childs is a member of Unitarian Church of Montreal, an avid cyclist and knitter, and a creative events organizer.
The theme of the conference this year was “Seeking Justice in a Changing Land.” That was not the theme that I took away at all. My experiences reflected themes like “too much Starbucks,” “too many sandwiches,” and “exactly the right amount of wine”. But the overall theme, as I experienced it, was “We Are One”. From the DREs’ (Directors of Religious Education) offering one another their best practices, to the shared problem solving exercised by the DREs and ministers, to hundreds of people participating through song at the keynote address; there was an overwhelming sensation that not one of us was more important that the rest. That the contribution of each person was valued by all. And this illustrated itself in the most lovely way at the Saturday night dance.
I love to dance, it’s one of my favourite things to do, and as the last song came on (which is one I adore; “What A Wonderful World”) I was immediately somewhat downcast that I wouldn’t have a partner to dance with. But the mood of the group wasn’t going to allow them to break the sense of kinship, and within moments everyone wrapped their arms in a large circle and swayed and danced together. All were welcome, no one needed to be left out. The entire conference was filled with these beautiful moments of connection. We are so very fortunate to have a community this warm.
Julie Taylor is the Director of Religious Education at Grand River Unitarian Congregation in Kitchener.
Katrina Den Hollander:
When I think of my last CanUUdle, ToUUch the Earth in Ottawa this year, I can’t help but think of my first CanUUdle in Victoria, BC 2010, and how each of these events mark the start and ending of some of the biggest milestones in my life so far. I remember the last six years marked by fall conferences and OWL weekends, and the passing of every May long weekend at CanUUdle, which holds some of my greatest memories. Most of these include being surrounded by an amazing staff team, who have supported myself and others to take on leadership positions that deepened our friendships and our faith. From the stories that we shared, the strongest of connections were formed and for all of them I am thankful as they gave me the strength and encouragement I needed to face and overcome my own challenges.
At this year’s CanUUdle I was a part of one of the most inclusive and welcoming communities I’ve ever witnessed. There was a profound power in being surrounded by nearly a hundred other people whom you can trust, strike up a conversation with, or open your heart to. Although our schedule woke us up early and led us to attend worship services late at night, it was a time to revive each other’s energies. It renewed my faith that our future community has a strong wave of young-adults coming whom I am proud to join.
As I think of CanUUdle XV: ToUUch the Earth, I see the youth community as my roots that have made it possible to burst from the soil and grow towards the sun, with every new leaf blossoming from the connections and the people I met along the way. I know this tree will grow to become a part of a grander forest that has helped nourish the soil, a whole ecosystem of adults and young-adults who have already welcomed me. As I continue to grow and reach for the sun, this will be my hope, the nutrients needed, for a brighter future.
Katrina Den Hollander, Mississauga, Ontario.
Winner of a free registration this year because she registered by the March 31 early bird deadline.
There are a few reasons I like to attend the CUC ACM. The first and most important is to connect with fellow Unitarians whom I only get to see at these annual events. So wonderful to walk in and be greeted with hugs and hellos! The second reason I like to attend is to find out what is going on, get some information first hand with an opportunity to ask questions and discuss my views. The third and for me, the most important aspect of attending the ACM is connecting with other Unitarian seminarians.
I attend Vancouver School of Theology, an ecumenical and very liberal seminary. They have welcomed me, my liberal theology, and our Unitarian principles and sources. However, I am the only Unitarian student at VST. Attending the ACM is a chance for me to talk with and get to know other Unitarian seminarians. The conversations are rich, discussions about course work, candidate status and our experiences at seminary be it at a Unitarian or Christian college.
This year, it was especially important to be there as the process for obtaining candidacy through the Unitarian Universalist Association has changed. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to discuss these changes with representatives from the UUA who came to the ACM to talk with us. I very much appreciated their presence and the opportunity to meet and ask questions directly. I am very grateful to Debra Faulk and whoever else was instrumental in making this happen.
Next year the ACM will be here in Vancouver. I look forward to seeing many friends, both familiar and new next year at the CUC ACM.
Rosemary’s home is in Victoria but is living in Vancouver to attend Vancouver School of Theology and is the parent of two amazing adults.
It’s All About the Connections…
When people talk about the reasons they go to the Annual Conference and Meeting, they nearly always talk about connections: meeting new people and seeing old friends, being part of a larger community, learning about the thoughts and needs that connect Unitarian Universalists throughout Canada and the world, discovering common ground and exploring it together. When we come together, we can overcome the loneliness or isolation we may feel in small or remote congregations, share the successful programs and social actions we’re involved in, and experience new ways of living our faith and building community.
After every ACM, the feedback and evaluations reflect the appreciation for the chance to connect both informally and through well-designed streams, workshops, meetings, dialogues, and so on. It also reflects the desire for more time and opportunities: there is never enough time for us to say and hear all we have to share.
And each year, the people who plan the ACM (board, staff, and a very impressive number of volunteers who come forward each year to serve on the Host Committee and its subcommittees and the Program Planning Committee) look carefully at the comments of people who have attended the ACM in order to figure out ways to integrate different kinds of conversations into the schedule.
Here are a few things we did differently this year to give attendees a chance to create connections:
- Instead of having a keynote speaker right after the Ingathering, we had a multigenerational music experience. This gave children, youth, young adults and adults a chance to sing together and make strong connections through music before the youth left for CanUUdle.
- Other parts of enhancing the multigenerational nature of our gathering included providing a space for people of all ages to take part in art activities or read, and providing more information in the Program Guide about the multigenerational lunch. We hope that this led to some meaningful encounters across the generations.
- The congregational dialogues were held on Saturday morning before the streams, instead of on Sunday afternoon. This decision was made in response to comments that people wanted to meet people from other congregations which may be struggling with similar issues and finding helpful solutions early in the weekend, so they could continue the conversation and take home more ideas. Feedback this year was that the congregational dialogues were great and could have lasted (much) longer.
- Instead of structured early morning spiritual practice, there was a variety of networking, small group and informal circles: free play with art materials, an Aboriginal smudge and drum circle, conversations about congregational libraries and leadership, and information sessions on charitable status and the Annual Funding Contribution formula. In most cases, people were free to drop in and enjoy conversations with people about a variety of topics.
How did these changes work out for you? Did you have a chance to engage in important conversations and make strong connections? I hope that the conversations you began in Ottawa, both in streams and workshops and as part of informal networking, will be part of an ongoing dialogue about Unitarian Universalism in Canada.
Jo-Anne Elder-Gomes of Fredericton is the Conference Convener for the CUC’s National Conference.