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!”