Hamilton: Living Social Justice Values ‘Out Loud’

Three years ago, the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton decided to get focussed as a congregation on social justice and community outreach. After a number of years of working diligently to keep the church going through ministerial transitions, internal reorganizing of governance, and staffing changes, it was time to consider their larger call to faith and service in the community at large.

With the guidance of Rev. Carly Gaylor, the congregation engaged in a discernment process to identify the specific areas of expertise and concern where they felt they could have the greatest impact in the Hamilton area. From an initial pool of over 100 ideas for possible social justice projects and initiatives, the congregation developed three priorities:  face-to-face volunteering and support for the Eva Rothwell Centre (a community service centre in a challenged neighbourhood in Hamilton’s north end), affordable housing, and work with the LGBTQ+ community. A task force headed by Jennifer Kaye, Gail Rappolt, and Ed Canning worked to develop and implement the congregation’s vision and priorities.

Work began to develop the relationships, contacts, and opportunities needed to actively engage the congregation with these social justice priorities. Volunteers started working in programs offered at the Eva Rothwell Centre, including an early morning breakfast program for children, reading and tutoring support for kids after school, and a community clothing room offering donated items at no cost. This involved coordinating volunteers and schedules, learning about each other’s cultures and communication styles, and working through issues and concerns as they arose. Pat Dickinson, a First Unitarian congregant, stepped forward to match volunteers with opportunities and interface with the staff of Eva Rothwell to address issues that arose during the initial phases of the project. Over a year later, volunteers report that they are learning from and enjoying their work at the Centre.

Bill Johnston leads the congregation’s efforts to work for affordable housing in the Hamilton area.  He and his volunteer team have worked to identify community partners where the support of the First Unitarian congregation can have a meaningful impact. The congregation has decided to partner with Sacajawea Non-Profit Housing, which develops housing options for Aboriginal and First Nations individuals. Recently, the congregation was able to make a $5000 donation toward the group’s work, specifically to develop and furnish a community room at one of their housing developments.

UU’s have, of course, been supporters and allies for the LGBTQ+ community for many years, and First Unitarian Hamilton is working to expand their visibility and service in this area.  After a number of years on hiatus, a reorganized PFLAG group now meets regularly at the congregation’s building.  In the fall, the congregation will be engaging in furthering their engagement as a Welcoming Congregation, a status they first achieved a number of years ago. Monica Bennett leads the efforts of the congregation in this focus area.

A unique opportunity recently arose as the City of Hamilton called for public comment on a proposed new protocol for working with the Trans and gender-nonconforming community. The City of Hamilton was ordered by the court to develop this protocol in response to the settlement of a case brought against the City by a Trans woman denied entry to a public washroom facility.

The First Unitarian Church of Hamilton responded to a call by one of the City Councillors to the progressive churches of Hamilton to speak to their support for the Protocol. Rev. Victoria Ingram, First Unitarian’s minister, was among the more than 50 people who testified before City Council on the protocol. Four of those faith communities testifying urged the Council to not ratify the protocol’s provisions, citing concerns for public safety. Representatives of the two synagogues, the Mennonite churches, the United Church of Canada churches, the Catholic Teacher’s Association, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and various organizations supporting the LGBTQ+ community of Hamilton spoke in favour of the protocol, which eventually passed the Council’s vote unanimously.

The Protocol for Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Persons represents a progressive step forward for Hamilton, and is a model for other Canadian cities. The First Unitarian Church of Hamilton is proud to have been a part of its passage, but is even prouder of the success of their efforts in re-focussing and actively engaging in providing support for social justice and outreach through their renewed efforts to be a congregation living their values “out loud.”

A Tradition of Covenant

Joan Carolyn, Congregational Development (B.C. Western)

The Promise of Covenant – We are a “People of Promise” [Alice Blair Wesley 5 Lecture Series]

This promise to enter into relationship with each other carries with it the capacity to inspire, provide mutual support, pool our wisdom and enter into accountability. All with potential to encourage our journeys to become our best selves and inform the manner in which we relate with the full interdependent web of life. Growth within and without. Rev. Linda Thomson, CUC Congregational Development staff, recently shared: “Covenants are not a panacea, a cure all. They do have a great deal to teach and offer, should we be willing to engage in the journey.”

Covenants are historically grounded for Unitarian Universalists. Blair’s lecture series delves into some major historical roots of UU covenant and some shifts over time. I invite you to explore some of this rich history and share only two comments now.

From Lecture #2- “Reasoning together about what we love, and about all the social implications and complexities of love, in continuous consultation, has been a built-in part from the very beginning of the free church tradition from which we Unitarian Universalists have come. Continuous consultation our ancestors called “walking together.” Herein lies the free church concept of discipline.”

From Lecture #5- “in the minds of our congregationalist founders, strong convictions about the autonomy of each church, did not imply sectarian isolation.

  • Though all churches were “distinct…and therefore have no dominion over one another,” they are to be a community of independent churches.
  • It was not acceptable “if a church be rent with divisions…and yet refuse to consult with other churches for healing…” If a divided church does refuse to “consult,” neighboring churches – not a staff person from headquarters– neighboring churches are to “exercise a fuller act of communion by way of admonition.”

Blair traces developments within our UU history which moved us away from this congregational covenantal way of interacting, toward more isolated, independent ways for congregations to exist.

So what of our modern approach to UU covenant? Current practice has moved away from inter- congregational, to intra- congregational relationship agreements. There is within this interpersonal covenant agreement within congregations, the potential to grow into new realities. A covenant with the full range of relationship benefits, from support to accountability, grounded in love and a invitation for all to participate. The underlying assumption is that conflict simply is – what becomes noteworthy is how we engage with it and in what directions we grow.

Even though it may at times be frightening and we may have things to learn about how we implement our covenants, the exciting invitation to shared growth still exists.

During one of the covenant workshops in which I raised this question regarding the willingness to engage, an astute congregational member challenged me, asking if I’d ever participated. Heartwarming images flooded my mind regarding the many ways in which I’ve received support within UU congregation relationships. It’s what keeps many of us actively engaged within our congregations.

Three examples also entered my mind during which I risked becoming one of the active participants in a covenant accountability process.

Two of these experiences taught me the potential negative impact when covenant processes aren’t well developed or facilitated. There needs to be great care in: developing just protocols; building resource pools of well trained facilitators who operate from a shared base of operations; identifying an umbrella organization/group within which facilitators are supported, trained and held accountable.

One experience revealed to me how a shared covenant, designed and implemented by all those affected, could open doors of growth in relationships (those newly created and others revisioned) and directing me in alternative directions I’d never envisioned and now hold dear. One such group began with participants new to each other, each coming from different backgrounds, with a certain role in mind – volunteer helper, volunteer person in need of assistance, and staff person. Over time, these roles began to blur and we all had times when we needed help, we were all able to offer support and teach. We have grown beyond what began as a support group to become friends. One great treasure within these new friendships are closer links crossing class and race lines and the shared wisdom to be found in that particular classroom of life. The support group has ended, however the basis for long term, positive community relationships continues.

The question remains, will we UUs engage in covenant, and why should we? Blair asserts that there are potentially powerful positive ripple effects within our lives and within our congregations if we do.

So if we have covenants within our congregations, are we willing to use them ourselves? If not, what needs to change for us to be willing to take that step?

If we are unwilling to apply support & accountability within our own groups, how are others, especially those outside our known circles, to trust and respect us when we call for accountability in their communities?

How we learn to live together well carries far reaching potential effects to:

  • Teach us some humility, strength and experience regarding ways in which to engage with others.
  • Create more openness as we receive invitations/ challenges to become more accountable ourselves, as well as receive support, sometimes from unexpected places and people.
  • And then there’s that great welcome to potentially grow beyond our wildest dreams – with new and/or renewed partners, in different directions and with Increased opportunities to learn and share

What do you value about your congregation’s covenant and what stories of implementation would you share? Where are the challenges and the growth areas? And what about exploring inter-congregational covenant relationships with more depth?

Free Minds, Open Hearts: Winnipeg’s Year of Celebrations

The year 2016 was busy with celebrations by the Winnipeg congregation, as they marked 125 years since their beginning as an Icelandic-Canadian Unitarian church in 1891. The 10-person Team 125 began planning for the big year in January 2015, and are now just wrapping up.

Team 125 hosted a kick-off event in September 2015, which brought in many volunteers, especially newer members who wanted to take on specific projects for the year. By October, we had two bright new banners in our front yard, which read Free Minds, Open Hearts.

January saw two exciting events. There was an intergenerational Celebration Party on Friday, January 29, with delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared by member chef Ella Clark, followed by a fabulous local talent show. Two days later, Rev, Stefan Jonasson led the celebration Sunday service, entitled Trail Makers and Bridge Builders, highlighting our church’s contributions to social equality. He illustrated our advocacy for women’s suffrage in the early years, and later, the first same-sex marriage in Canada. After church, there were historical discussions, games and a free lunch for all.

Other events that took place throughout the year were:

  • Archival displays and historical articles.
  • U May Know: a weekly UU trivia piece.
  • In March we rededicated our commitment to Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank with a Sunday visit by its founding Director, David Northcott, and with many volunteers helping out Harvest.
  • Also in March the RE youth produced a super UU video about us, as well as a time capsule.
  • Members received free Inspiration Tree posters, courtesy of Kay Gardiner.
  • Membership, under Jo’Anne Kelly’s direction, produced a Former Members’ list. These people were then invited to a reunion event in May, organized by Liz Redston, who also handled most of the communications throughout the year, and also designed banners and brochures.
  • Memorial garden: several meetings took place to plan a Memorial Garden on our property.
  • The Endowment Fund trustees successfully appealed for $125 donations from the congregation.
  • Newspapers: There were feature stories about the 125 festivities in the community newspaper and (in English) in the Icelandic-Canadian newspaper, the Lögberg Heimskringla.

The year’s celebrations culminated in January 2017 with a Voices of Earth Choir Concert, featuring a new anthem commissioned by the congregation. The members were thrilled to hear this new composition, But If I’m in Your Thought, by our Music Director, P.J. Buchan.

With a new minister search prompting us to look ahead as we look back, 2016 was a journey of exploring our shared visions of how to live in our interdependent world with love and justice. Some of us shared justice journeys into areas of social need in the city. We participated in interfaith action to sponsor refugees and to advocate for greater food security for all Manitobans. We began to understand our interconnections as Treaty 1 people. Reflection on the heritage of the past has generated energy and optimism about the future as the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg embarks on a new era of bridge-building and trail-blazing.

Steve Lennon & Linda Henderson, Co-chairs, Team 125, and Lynn Clark, Board President

Canadian Unitarians Commit to Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion

Canadian Unitarians:

  • Put our first and second principles into action by welcoming refugees, participating in marches and looking to find common ground with those we disagree with;
  • Intentionally reach out to and work with other faith groups to combat ignorance;
  • Accept and continue the work when setbacks occur.

We do this because we believe we are stronger together.

Download “Diversity is our strength” and “We are stronger together” posters as pdfs.

Unitarian Universalists are no strangers to struggle. From Selma to Standing Rock, in the US to affirming the right to die with dignity 1973, and affirming abortion rights in 1980 in Canada.

Despite this history, however, the times we live in today often seem particularly challenging. In the months following the 2016 US election, the climate of fear and hate that seems to have arisen in the US has many people wondering “could it happen here?” With the February 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque, some worry it already has.

Canadian Unitarians may be wondering how our faith and our commitment to justice, diversity, and inclusion should inform our response. Here are some ways we can act:

Remember our principles and sources

Our first principle affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, while our second calls on us to practice justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Taken together, these principles serve as a powerful reminder that all human lives matter – including people of colour, members of the LGBTQ community, refugees, undocumented immigrants, and many other groups who may feel particularly at risk. By providing welcoming congregations, by offering refugee sponsorship, by participating in the January 2017 Women’s Marches, and through many other initiatives, Canadian Unitarians have and must continue to live out our principles by being on the side of love.

This is difficult and necessary when it comes to those with whom we disagree.  We must strive not to see those who hold opposing views as the enemy, but must maintain the courage of our convictions while keeping an open mind and seeking to find areas of common ground.

Work with other faith groups

Unitarians were active participants in the January 2017 Women’s March on Washington D.C. and in many other cities, but they were far from alone. People from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and other backgrounds came together to act for human rights and against bigotry and discrimination.

Unitarians were proud to march with members of other faiths in the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 60s, and it’s equally important that we show up today. Indeed, getting to know members of other faiths better may be the single most important thing we can do to combat ignorance. Many UU congregations already have relationships with local mosques, but for those that don’t, now is the time to establish one. Consider organizing an event, such as a prayer vigil or an intergenerational meal, and invite members of local mosques, synagogues, temples, and churches. It’s also important to reach out to those of no faith or the “spiritual but not religious” to show them the valuable role organized religion can play in working for social justice. Sharing stories of multifaith action on Facebook is a great way to spread the word without seeming to evangelize.

Don’t lose sight of history

While the present era may seem uniquely challenging, it’s important to bear in mind that it is by no means the only time in history when Unitarians – and indeed, humanity – have faced difficult circumstances. We survived World War II and the Cold War, and there’s reason to believe we will prevail again. It’s also worth remembering that the struggles for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and many other causes have rarely gone in a straight line, and setbacks have accompanied every seeming step forward.

The CUC, for instance, passed a resolution in 1978 calling for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that most provinces began to amend their laws. Few could have predicted then, however, that same-sex marriage would be legalized across the country in 2005, a move Unitarians had worked hard for and which had five Canadian Unitarian youth from Calgary parading on Parliament Hill with a 500-foot rainbow banner.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice”.

We are stronger together.

Written by Kenzie Love for the CUC National Voice Team. Kenzie is a freelance journalist and a member of the Unitarian Church of Calgary. The CUC National Voice Team consists of the President of the CUC Board, the President of the UU Ministers of Canada, and the CUC Executive Director.

Annual Program Contribution: The Conversation and The Vote at AGM 2017

In January 2017, a motion was circulated to the CUC leaders’ group regarding an alternative method of calculating the Annual Program Contribution to the CUC from member congregations. Please note that the proposed motion to vote on this method at the 2017 AGM is being withdrawn by the CUC Board. This is because explicit instructions are now available for congregations to project calculations for their APC based on a percentage of operating budget, and the Board believes that more time is needed for congregations and the CUC to consider the impact of the possible change. An updated motion regarding method of APC calculation will be brought to the 2018 Annual General Meeting.

Closer to the date of the 2017 AGM, the Board will propose a motion to set the 2018 per member fee to an amount sufficient to sustain the current level of CUC operations and provide fair compensation for existing staff within a balanced budget. The amount of the fee increase will likely be in the range of 3% to 7% (from $93 to $96 or $100 per member). Should this motion fail, a second motion will be made to approve a fee at the current level of $93 per member. This option is likely to lead to a reduction in CUC service levels.

A Guide to Calculating Annual Program Contribution Based on Percentage of Operating Expenses has been developed by Grant Thornton, the CUC’s auditing firm, for congregational treasurers, or their accounting advisors, to determine what to include in the annual operating expenditures that they will report to the CUC. Please contact treasurer@cuc.ca to obtain this Guide if you have not already received it.

The CUC Board requests that congregations use the Guide to calculate the amount of your congregation’s APC based on this alternative method. Please send your calculations to the CUC office by March 31, 2017 by email to treasurer@cuc.ca or mail to 215 Spadina Ave | Suite 400 | Toronto ON M5T 2C7

The calculation information provided by congregations using this alternate method will help inform the CUC Board about next steps in the APC process.

 

The level of APC amounts paid to the CUC has continued to decrease annually despite an increase in 2013 from $91 to $93 per member. Please see Table 1 in this linked document for details. (Note also the increasing level of commitment congregations have been making to pay their full fair share contributions.)

There has been no application of a cost of living index (CPI) over the intervening years, which means that congregations have been contributing less each year to the CUC over the past six years. If adjusted for CPI, the per member fee would now be $100.

Financial support for the national and global initiatives undertaken by the CUC is understood to be part of the commitment or covenant that member organizations make when they join the CUC. When individuals join a CUC member congregation, they are joining not just their local congregation, but also the wider UU community. A small, dedicated CUC staff and groups of volunteers work hard every year across a very large country to fulfill these national and international mandates efficiently and effectively through carefully chosen supportive programs, special projects, and public statements by the Executive Director and National Voice Team that affirm and promote UU principles related to selected important issues. Member financial and volunteer support for the CUC to sustain this work is essential, and deeply appreciated.

Join CUC Board Treasurer Kristina Stevens and Board President Keith Wilkinson on March 4th, 8th, or 10th to discuss the alternate method of calculation and what this means for your congregation. Please see the dates, times and registration information on the CUC web site here.