Rev. Jeffrey Brown Named Minister Emeritus at Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga

On Sunday June 4, 2017, at the Annual General Meeting, the Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga voted to designate its former pastor, Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Minister Emeritus. With a near unanimous vote, the motion passed easily. The title of “Minister Emeritus” is granted to honour long service to a congregation. It expresses the congregation’s appreciation for the Minister’s dedication.

Brown served Mississauga’s congregation for 16 years, the longest of any minister in its 62-year history, retiring in 2011. In a letter to Brown announcing the designation, UCM”s Board of Trustees cited  his steady ministry during extensive renovations to the building, and thanked him for his efforts building a thriving congregation known for its support of the Mississauga Food Bank, Pathway Housing and the Interfaith Council of Peel.

Brown will be invited to a Sunday service this fall to be recognized and to preach. His name will also be added to the church’s letterhead and to its website in recognition of his service.

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.”

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!”

A Vital Congregation in Search

Nanaimo BannerTucked into the coastal rainforest on the edge of Vancouver Island, a small Unitarian Fellowship is searching for a ministerial love match. The First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo is currently seeking candidates for a half time minister. “We’re looking for a long-term relationship,” says Bob Goodman, a member of the Nanaimo ministerial search team. “That was something I was going to mention,” Debbie Goodman, chair of the Nanaimo Board, interjects. While there are many qualities that exceptional ministerial candidates might possess, including a knack for excellent services and homilies, top of the list for Nanaimo is a hope for some stability.

“Many small churches experience this,” Debbie continues, “They become a starting ground for new graduates. There’s no problem with that, but small churches get in this pattern where they get a new graduate who stays for three years and leaves, and I think it takes three years just to develop a good working relationship and a deep understanding and knowledge. So if someone leaves after that time period, that’s a loss. It’s also a real strain on resources for a small church to then have to provide all of its own weekly services with no minister and go into the search process.”

The Nanaimo Fellowship is certainly not the only congregation seeking stability, and growth, but in some ways this congregation is very unique. The most notable feature of this small congregation is undoubtedly the Extreme Weather Shelter housed in the Fellowship’s basement. A project which began as an attempt to address what was seen to be a (hopefully) temporary need has grown in response to need in the last eight years. The shelter has expanded to 30 beds available every night, from a few people sleeping on the sanctuary floor a couple nights of the year. It has become a flagship social justice project for the Fellowship. Although the shelter now operates independently from the congregation, the current Executive Director is a member of the Fellowship, who has recently made efforts to engage the church community more directly in the work. First and foremost, was re-branding the name to the ‘Unitarian Weather Shelter.’

Debbie can’t help laughing at the simplicity of this change. “For eight years, we were just the Weather Shelter on Townsite Rd. We sort of overlooked this obvious opportunity to say who we are.” And the congregation responded positively.

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Standing With Standing Rock

L to R: Lynn Harrison, Shawn Newton, Danielle Webber, Debra Faulk and Marian Stewart from Lakehead Unitarian Universalist Church located in Kirkland, WA.

L to R: Lynn Harrison, Shawn Newton, Danielle Webber, Debra Faulk and Marian Stewart from Lakehead Unitarian Universalist Church located in Kirkland, WA.

In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked members of the clergy to come to Selma, Alabama to bear witness and stand in solidarity with African-Americans whose basic human rights were being denied. A significant number of the clergy who responded to his call were Unitarian Universalist ministers, quite a few from Canada.

As the months rolled by in 2016, another situation was unfolding in North Dakota which demanded witness and solidarity.  This time, of course, the issue was the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, and its potential to not only desecrate land sacred to native people, but to endanger the water supply, health, and human rights of indigenous sovereign nations.  As the situation has unfolded, ministers from many faith traditions have gone to North Dakota to pray, show support, and protest with the water protectors.

As the situation intensified in November, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, again asked clergy to gather for an Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4th.  Believing that police and others respect the moral witness of clergy members, Chief Looking Horse called for a gathering to support the youth of his nation in protesting the pipeline and calling for a halt to construction, at least along the currently proposed route.

Unitarian ministers in Canada responded with support, prayer, and messages of solidarity.  Rev. Debra Faulk (Calgary), Rev. Shawn Newton (Toronto First), Rev. Lynn Harrison (Toronto First), and Danielle Webber (intern minister at Toronto First) decided that they were called to personally make the trip to Standing Rock. Continue reading