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.

 

Saskatoon’s Ministry: From Mission to Community Partnership

Rev. Karen Fraser-Gitlitz, 2016 Western Regional Fall Gathering. Photo by Erica Bird

On August 1st, 2016, Rev. Karen Fraser-Gitlitz entered a new phase of ministry with the Unitarian congregation of Saskatoon.  She became their settled minister, after serving over five years in developmental roles with the congregation.  UU churches often grow into professional ministry, as the size and needs of the community change.  The decision to invite the leadership and participation of a professional minister takes discernment, engagement, and a clear understanding of what the congregation hopes to accomplish by moving from being lay-led to ministerial engagement.  After several years being lay-led, Saskatoon had made the decision to return to ministerial leadership.

As the Saskatoon congregation grew, they began to consider their options for ministerial leadership.  Working with Rev. Karen, in a part-time, developmental capacity, they were able to identify specific goals, such as adult religious education, worship, and social justice, where they felt ministerial leadership would benefit them.  As do most of our congregations considering hiring a minister, they needed to address how they would be able to afford compensation and benefits.

As their conversations moved forward, the congregation focused on their desire to have a greater impact in their larger community.  They wanted to be more visible in Saskatoon, and more able to engage in social justice efforts that would make their city a better place for people to live.  They realized that they wanted to not only serve the needs of their members, but to also become better known in the larger community.

One important development was the creation of their mission statement:  Find meaning. Experience wonder.  Live ethically.  Now they had a focus for considering the organizations, individuals, and programs with whom they could potentially align to accomplish their congregational goals.  They agreed that to create a broader and more engaged Unitarian presence, they needed to focus their social justice efforts on areas aligned with their mission to create a positive impact on their community.

And so, they got to work.  Under the pioneering leadership of Kathie Cram, they developed a social justice coordinating committee to serve as a “clearinghouse” for the many opportunities to get involved.  The committee helped identify people and organizations and service providers that were doing the kind of work they wanted to be involved in in Saskatoon. Rev. Karen focused on getting to know people, attending community events, volunteering at organizations, and developing partnerships within Saskatoon’s social justice community.  They looked for ways to create an impact, to show up as Unitarians and demonstrate their faith and highlight our Principles.

Things have gotten busy!  The congregation began work on certification as a Green Sanctuary, with the guidance of Gail Stevens.  They partnered with others in the community to support the performance of a play about the pain of bullying, hosting a performance and assisting with funding to take the play into local schools.  They have supported refugee settlement by sponsoring a family from Burundi.  The Sponsorship team, led by Doug Daniels, has both UU and non-UU members.

Saskatoon served as hosts and coordinators of the fall 2017 Western Regional Gathering, focusing the event on reconciliation with aboriginal communities.  The day-long workshop was facilitated by local Metis elder Marjorie Beaucage, and the whole event was opened to the larger community.  UUs were there, and so were representatives of the United Church of Canada, Catholic, and native communities, as well as the general public.  Each of these initiatives has moved them into new and exciting partnerships in their community.

Thinking of themselves as partners in their community has shifted the Saskatoon congregation to a new place in their thinking about social justice.  “When we partner with others in the community, we can accomplish so much more and the benefits are multiplied”, says Rev. Karen.  These partnerships allow the congregation to leverage their connections in the community, allowing more to be accomplished than could be done by members of the congregation only.  Non-UUs are getting involved and creating a network of life-minded folks in Saskatoon to address community needs.

Rev. Karen says, “When we show people who we are, it is a more compelling way to draw people in to the church.  They come to see us as a group to respect and be interested in because of what they see us involved in within the larger community.”  As people get to know about the UUs, they are coming to Sunday worship, getting involved in the church’s singing group, and taking advantage of participating in congregational activities.  Some have become member, others haven’t.  But, making members isn’t the point.

The point is that more and more people in Saskatoon know that the Unitarian Universalists exist, that they can be relied upon as partners in building a better community, and that they are visible as representatives of their faith.  And, as Rev. Karen shares, “That makes for an exciting and engaged congregation that shares a “groove” for doing social justice!”

How CUC was of value to the world in 2016

How did Canadian Unitarians benefit from investing $93 per year in the CUC?

The CUC Board of Trustees knows that the Canadian Unitarian Council provides valuable engagement and support to Canadian UU communities and congregations. The value of this may not be immediately evident to members in congregations, and so in 2015, I prepared a summary of some of the benefits I saw resulting from CUC’s existence. This is an update of the 2015 report.

In 2015, as now, the CUC board was engaged in discussion of annual objectives and budgets, proposed changes to annual program contribution (APC) method, and options for APC fee increases to ensure that the CUC remains sustainable. No APC fee increases were made in 2016 pending further analysis and a vote by delegates at the May 2017 AGM. Note that there has been no change in CUC fees since 2013 (from $91 to $93/member) and 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. Reduced APC income has had several impacts, not all bad: increased efficiencies (e.g., more telecommunications, less travel for CUC Board and staff), reduction of some services (e.g., less support for monitoring groups), and fewer face-to-face board meetings.

As I see it, the main value of our national organization is this: CUC provides a national presence in support of the principles and vision of Unitarians and Universalists across Canada and around the world. The CUC extends the reach of every Unitarian and Universalist community in Canada, bringing our shared vision and values to national and global attention.

Here are some specific moral and practical benefits that came to our congregations in 2016 because the CUC existed: Continue reading

Udvozlet to London!

Rev Zsuzsanna Bartha (L) and Maria Roka chat with UFL members at an informal gathering.

In the last week of January 2017, the Unitarian Fellowship of London welcomed Rev. Zsuzsanna Bartha, the minister of our partner church in Kocsord, Hungary, and her friend Maria Roka.

What a wonderful experience! Since 1991, when our two congregations became partners, 4 members of the UFL have visited Kocsord but this was the first time members from Kocsord visited the UFL in London. Many among us feel the relationship between our two congregations has been rejuvenated and strengthened. We are all grateful to have had this opportunity.

We learned that some of our challenges are the same. Both congregations struggle to attract young families. In London this is a problem shared by most mainline churches, as, sadly, many people are moving away from organized religion in general. In Kocsord, the reality is that many young families in Hungary are moving to places like Berlin. In fact, the population of Hungary is decreasing. Only ten million people live there.

Other challenges are different. Whereas the UFL has a wide diversity of beliefs within a fairly cosmopolitan centre where participation in faith communities is declining, the Hungarian church is Christian Unitarian within a community of  Trinitarians, mostly Presbyterian and Catholic people.

This is Unitarian Universalism. “We do not need to think alike to love alike”. (Francis David)

Rev. Zsuzsanna has a four-point charge with the church in Kocsord being the centre. She actually lives 35 kilometers away, in Romania, with her husband and three sons. She crosses the border and a time zone every day when she drives to Kocsord!

Rev. Zsuzsanna conducted the service on Sunday morning and spoke about the importance of our partnership and the meaning it has for both congregations. Maria led us in a responsive reading about the importance of knowledge in faith and stressing that the most important spiritual function is conscience. (#566 Living Tradition).

Our wonderful pianist Eric Charbonneau finished the service with a rousing rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

After the service, as part of the UFL’s yearly fundraiser to assist the Kocsord church, we enjoyed a delicious Hungarian goulash lunch – the “real thing”- prepared by Rev. Zsuzsanna and Maria (with help from UFL members)! We raised $1,000 for our partner church!

Church members hosted Rev. Zsuzsanna and Maria for dinners during the week and  there was a coffee and cake afternoon mid-week where people gathered to chat with our visitors.

It was a very successful visit and we are so pleased to have had this time together.  From London Rev. Zsuzsanna and Maria will attend a women’s conference and a visit with another UU congregation in  California. Our sincere thanks go to the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Alameda, California who provided their airfare.