Welcome to a journey of learning and sharing towards reconciliation and healing between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Jointly sponsored by the Unitarian Church of Calgary and the Canadian Unitarian Council, this one-day event welcomes all who are interested in addressing the damage of colonization and in particular, the ongoing societal effects of the residential school system. Anyone interested in being part of the journey towards reconciliation and justice, is welcome!
As part of this experience, a local Calgary Elder group will facilitate the Kairos Blanket Exercise to guide participants through 400 years of Indigneous history on the land we know as Canada.
WHEN: Saturday, October 14, 2017
WHERE: Wild Rose United Church (1317 1 St NW, Calgary) & Unitarian Church of Calgary (1703 1 St NW)
COST: Adult – $90 | Student & Self-defined low-income – $50. Includes lunch
REGISTER: Scroll down to register by September 29, 2017
10:15 am – 3:30 pm: At Wild Rose United Church
3:30 – 4:00 pm: Walk to Unitarian Church of Calgary
4:00 – 6:00 pm: KAIROS Blanket Exercise
10:15- 10:30 am: Registration
10:30 am – 12:00 pm: Part I is the beginning of a shared journey towards truth, justice, healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It explores reconciliation and decolonization, and the commitment to engage with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s 94 recommendations, using the lens of Unitarian Universalist principles of worth, respect, dignity, compassion and equity. Read the CUC’s Expression of Truth and Reconciliation from 2014.
12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch
1:00 – 3:30 pm: Part I continued
3:30 – 4:00 pm: Walk to Unitarian Church of Calgary & Snacks
4:00 – 6:00 pm: KAIROS Blanket Exercise
The Blanket Exercise is an experiential learning exercise that takes participants through 400 years of Indigenous history in the space of a couple of hours. The blankets represent the land we know today as Canada. The participants represent the Indigenous peoples and are given quotations from Indigenous people to read at key points and cards which determine their outcome in the Exercise. Facilitators act as Narrators and an elder will open the Exercise and lead the talking/debriefing Circle after the Blanket Exercise is completed.
Facilitators for Part I
The Rev. Samaya Oakley currently serves as the Minister for the South Fraser Unitarian Congregation, and as the President of the Executive of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada. She is also a co-chair of a task force of the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Reflection Guide – a task force that is creating reflection guides for Canadian Unitarian congregations around issues of the Indian Residential School system and its impact. She has been involved in Unitarian Universalism regionally, nationally and continentally in Unitarian Universalism for over twenty years. She considers herself blessed to have served as the Youth Program Coordinator at the North Shore Unitarian Church for close to fifteen years. She also holds degrees in Business Administration and Life Skills Coaching.
Jeff Webber grew up Unitarian, and has been actively involved as long as he can remember. As a child in Ottawa, and a youth in Hamilton, Unitarian teachings and values were ever present. Later with the Regina Fellowship, and now with Calgary Unitarians, he has been an active participant in leadership and a “big picture” thinker. Jeff recently began his journey toward truth and reconciliation through personal discernment, and hopes to further his learning through the facilitation and education process.
What does it mean to be a Welcoming Congregation?
When the First Unitarian Congregation of Hamilton voted unanimously to become one in 1998, completing the Canadian Unitarian Council’s program for congregations wishing to be more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer or questioning people, it was blazing something of a trail. The church had only one openly LGBTQ congregant. It had been only six years since the Unitarian Church of Edmonton had become the first in Canada to complete this program. Equal marriage rights for same-sex couples were still six years in the future.
In the almost two decades since, times have changed. Today, Hamilton is one of 99 percent of Unitarian congregations in Canada that have voted to become Welcoming Congregations, and is home to many LGBTQ members. Rev. Linda Thomson, who co-chaired the committee that oversaw the Welcoming Congregation project, credits the slow, deliberate approach the committee took leading up the vote with an affirmation that has produced lasting results.
“That work really seems to have stood the congregation in good stead for a long time,” she says.
But the Hamilton congregation also recognizes there’s still work to be done, which is why it decided in recent years that LGBTQ issues would be one of its main areas of social justice focus. Indeed, the Unitarian Universalist Association recommends congregations reaffirm their welcoming status every five years, and offers additional programs congregations can undertake to “deepen their welcome”.
While First Unitarian hasn’t formally signed on for any of these yet, the congregation is still pursuing a number of LGBTQ-affirming policies, such as making most of their washrooms gender-neutral. The congregation has also become home to a monthly PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group and a LGBT social group. Monica Bennett, a longtime member who identifies as bisexual, believes that these and other initiatives are already enhancing the congregation’s welcoming status.
“There’s more talk about it, there’s more conversation about it, people are more open to it, I can just feel people’s openness and their curiosity and compassion. There’s a bigger sense I have of it,” she says.
Lyla Miklos, a lay chaplain at First Unitarian agrees that while it might not always be immediately visible to outsiders, the church has made progress on LGBTQ issues. But she also believes that there’s still a ways to go.
“When you walk in, we’re not all wearing rainbow stickers on our heads,” she says. “It’s understood, without it being said, that we’re a pretty safe space. But how can we make it even safer?” Miklos expresses concern, for instance, over a survey First Unitarian conducted about a decade ago in which some respondents indicated they were uncomfortable with the prospect of a trans minister in their congregation. An education worker with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, she’s advocated mandatory training on LGBTQ issues for her employer, so that there’s a shared standard of behaviour for all employees that they feel comfortable holding each other accountable for.
“My vision would be something similar,” she says. “So that we’re all on the same page together, and we all have the same understanding together.”
On a broader level, Miklos also sees a need to hold the congregation as a whole accountable. Laudable as the unanimous vote to become a welcoming congregation may have been, she says, it’s important to recognize it was just the beginning of a process, not the end. And being a welcoming congregation, she adds, goes beyond simply welcoming the LGBTQ community to tackling the many other forms of discrimination that still persist. In short, the question of what it means to be a Welcoming Congregation is still one everyone should be asking.
Recently the Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana spoke at a service at the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, and met with some of us afterwards to speak about his recent experience as a political dissident and prisoner in his country, Burundi. I’m writing to share an opportunity to support Unitarians who have fled Burundi for a refugee camp. This is on my own initiative, not from any official or formal point of view.
In Burundi, it’s dangerous to stand for freedom of religious thought. Members of the Unitarian Church in Bujumbura have become targets of harassment for participating in peaceful demonstrations, and helping victims of the Burundian regime. Late in 2015, Rev. Fulgence was picked up by members of a militia representing the government, held and tortured. After some time he was able to contact the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. Within twenty-four hours, 1200 Unitarians and Universalists had signed a petition demanding his release, and sent letters to the regime and its embassies.
That action saved his life; Rev. Fulgence was released. He and many members of his congregation fled the country. Through the intervention of the Canadian Unitarian Council, Rev. Fulgence came to Canada as a “person in need of protection”, and is living with his family in Saskatoon. Rev. Fulgence completed his internship with the Saskatoon Unitarian congregation, and has recently been confirmed as the Affiliated Community Minister. Fulgence is preparing to be ordained in North America.
In discussions with the refugees, Rev. Fulgence asked them how they see their lives moving forward, and what they thought they could do to make sure war chaos and hatred do not have the last word. As the discussion wound down, a young man timidly raised his hand and said “Education is the way to resist war, chaos, and hatred.” Rev. Fulgence promised that he would tell the young man’s story to UUs around the world so that his dream of building peace and harmony through education can happen.
With his supporters in Saskatoon, Rev. Fulgence has established a foundation, the Flaming Chalice International Education Fund, to enable young Burundi refugees to build a new life through education. Usually, the congregation would take a special collection for the work of the foundation. The foundation has applied for charitable status under the Canada Revenue Agency’s guidelines, but has not yet received it. Under CRA guidelines, charities are not able to send monetary donation to non-charities, therefore, the congregation is unable, under those restrictions, to take up a collection or provide receipts for these donations.
However, individuals, families and groups who want to change the course of the life of a refugee overseas can commit to sponsor a student for a year. $130 per month will cover safe and comfortable housing, nutritious food, tuition, and other basic expenses for one student. Students will be in touch several times a year with their sponsors. The foundation is currently sponsoring five young people.
Our UU congregations generously support refugees from over a dozen countries, including Syria, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan and Burundi. Can we do the same for young Burundian Unitarians? It would take twelve donations of $130, or 24 of $65 to do so; any other amount will be helpful. I know we can manage this.
If you are able to share in this project, please make out your cheque for any amount to Flaming Chalice International, education fund, and send it to me, Ellen Campbell, at 555-602 Melita Crescent, Toronto M6G 3Z5. I’ll send the cheques on and report back to you on our results, and forward news about our student/s.
Thank you for supporting the international family of Unitarians.
The Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) annual General Assembly (GA) was held in steamy New Orleans this year. Between June 21 – 25, over 4,000 Unitarian Universalists gathered at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Centre.
This was a challenging gathering for American UUs. Following the resignation of former president, Rev. Peter Morales, and multiple resignations of senior staff in leadership positions, and the death of Moderator Jim Key just weeks before GA, the UUA team grappled with the issues of race, inclusion and equity that had precipitated the resignations. The three interim co-presidents who had been appointed by the UUA Board of Trustees to fill in the 11 week vacancy before the election of the new UUA president, addressed the issues in a straightforward manner.
Co-president William G. Sinkford stressed that the challenging time was “a moment of opportunity….. we don’t want anybody to leave because we refused to do the work.” Co-president Sofia Betancourt added, “The risks of failing to engage these issues are enormous for this faith. Change must come if our faith is to thrive.”
UUs of Colour had many opportunities to engage together. Some sessions were specifically for UUs of Colour, in order to create a safe space, and others were open. Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUMM) and Religious Professionals of Colour hosted these sessions.
Susan Frederick-Gray was elected as the first woman president of the UUA, and installed in a moving ceremony on June 25. Speaking to the assembly, Frederick-Gray stated, “This is a defining moment, and the stakes are very high. We have deep work to do within our association and our tradition, and critical work to do beyond the association.” She also took time to speak with Vyda Ng, CUC Executive Director, at an international reception to discuss the relationship between the CUC and UUA.
Rev. Diane Rollert of the Unitarian Church of Montreal coordinated the International Worship during GA with Rev. Tet Gallardo of the Philippines. After GA, Rev. Rollert reflected:
I’ve just gotten back from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly. I’ve been going to GA since 1997, and I have to say this was the most powerful one I’ve attended.
I am encouraged by the significant number of young leaders of colour who said graciously but firmly that they are not leaving, that this faith matters to them and they are stepping into the circle rather than retreating to the margins. I was touched by the open, caring conversations I experienced with a wide range of people who are in this for the long haul. I didn’t get to attend half the workshops I wanted to, but what I did attend profoundly shifted my thinking.
We were all leaning into the discomfort around issues of whiteness and racism but we were also leaning toward each other with love. There is much work to be done and no overnight solutions or simple checklists to complete. This is lifetime work and that’s what I’m signing up to do.
At the business meetings, delegates “overwhelmingly voted” to approve language to amend the UUA Bylaws’ Article II Section C-2.1 line 26-28, effectively shifting Unitarian Universalism’s Second Source to no longer read “Words and deeds of prophetic women and men,” but to instead read “Words and deeds of prophetic people.”
In addition, the UUA Board of Trustees will appoint a commission to review Article II of the UUA’s bylaws, which deals with the Principles and Purposes. This is in response to an expressed desire by UUs to have a deeper conversation about the Principles, and to a proposed 8th principle. The commission is to be appointed by the Board’s October 2017 meeting.
The voice of Canadian UUs was also heard. CUC Executive Director Vyda Ng participated in the International Worship and presented as part of a workshop on “Voices of Refugees: Finding Sanctuary,” and took part in international gatherings and meetings. And as is tradition at GA, Canadian UUs and friends gathered for a social evening at the World of Beers!
There were uplifting moments. Of the 4,069 participants at GA, 318 of those were youth. A high energy Synergy Bridging Service welcomed sixty Unitarian Universalist high school youth into young adulthood. Bart Frost, UUA Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries said, “some of the best church I’ve witnessed lately. Synergy is unique to our faith, honoring these youth like this.”
Rev. Cheryl Walker at the Service of the Living Tradition, held to honour ministerial transitions, talked eloquently about making a difference. She challenged the audience to ask themselves, “Am I trying to make a name or make a difference? Do I just want to make a change, or make a difference?”
The Service of the Living Tradition recognized ministers in preliminary and final fellowship, as well as ministers who have passed away in the last year. In our Canadian context, the following were recognized:
- Rev. Rebecca C. “Beckett” Coppola – preliminary fellowship. Rev. Coppola has been called as the new minister at the Kingston Unitarian Fellowship in Kingston, ON
- Rev. Meaghann Robern – preliminary fellowship. Rev. Robern has been called as the new minister for the UU Church of Winnipeg in Manitoba
- Rev. Norman Horofker – final fellowship, Minister at the UU Church of Halifax
- Rev. Samaya Oakley – final fellowship, Minister at South Fraser Unitarian Congregation
Sadly, we said goodbye to Rev. Julie Denny-Hughes and Rev. J. McRee “Mac” Elrod.
The Ware Lecture is a highlight of GA. Each year, a distinguished guest is invited to address the assembly. 2017’s Ware Lecturer, Bryan Stevenson, invigorated the thousands in attendance. Mr. Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, and has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He said, “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth—it is justice. He went on to outline the four things we must do to create a more just and equal world: Get proximate to the poor, the excluded, neglected, and abused; change the narratives that underlie racism and other inequalities; stay hopeful about creating justice; and be willing to do uncomfortable things.
The 2017 Ware Lecture is not available for on-demand viewing.
For more news of GA, visit UUWorld on-line at GA Coverage.