By Joan Carolyn
Congregational Development (BC & Western regions)
Greetings to you from somewhere in the middle of Alberta! As someone with just shy of five months on the job with the CUC, I feel privileged to find myself on a steep learning curve regarding the vast network of member congregations and fellowships. As a newcomer to the CUC staff team, most of what I wish to share with you regards first impressions.
At the time of writing, I’ve had the opportunity to attend two Regional Fall Gatherings and visit with approximately half the congregations and fellowships in the B.C. and Western regions. In this first year, one of my major goals, supported by the CUC office, is to listen deeply to the strengths, resources, needs and concerns within each member group. This information gathering is necessary as I seek to fill the role for which the CUC hired me.
And what an incredibly rich journey it’s been so far!
Worship services I’ve attended have highlighted the incredible skills to be found within each member group, regardless of size, situation, or location. Music, preaching, instruction and facilitation, have left me inspired and honoured to participate in these services, workshops, and conferences.
It’s g inspirational to witness our principles hit the road in so very many ways. Several facets I’ve discovered within each of the member groups are worth a special mention:
I’ve seen members seeking to end homelessness through church initiatives, and city-wide projects. I’ve learned about Co-housing, which is environmentally friendly and welcoming to the full community through affordable housing. I’ve been exposed to shelter and soup kitchen services. In one case the project has spun off on its own and is self-sustaining. And the fellowship in question? They’re busy looking for new projects.
I’ve seen approaches to respect, dignity, and rights for all beings that move beyond an interdependent web which invites us to live with respect and “care-taking” for all levels of life with which we interact, to a view of all life forms as equal.
I’ve seen various youth groups supported, inspired, and putting their touch on principles in action, leading us into the future brightly with new visions of ways to gather, high energy, and some pretty innovative means of implementing values.
And I’ve found congregations which seek to support the full nature of each person in their responsible search for truth and meaning—mind, body, spirit, and emotion. In the midst of fodder for the brain, comes a mix of meditation for spirit, creative games for rejuvenation, music to move our bodies!
These few are only the tip of the iceberg and it’s been awe inspiring as well as humbling to be welcomed to participate within each group.
Perseverance in the face of challenges
Challenges come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of severity, from a strong desire for growth to seeking youth and young adults, loss of an elder generation to loss of a congregation’s home or minister. All are significant challenges faced by people often carrying a wide range of responsibilities.
In the face of these challenges, I want to acknowledge that stories like the lived principles above still shine. Even in the toughest situations, members speak of the community that holds them close and keeps them going. My hope is that we at the CUC can continue to walk alongside member groups in supportive and constructive ways.
Reaching out from a place of stability
Some of the congregations and fellowships I’ve visited are doing well. They are inter-generationally well represented, have a solid financial base, and a strong volunteer corps aided by broad staff teams including ministers, directors of religious exploration (DREs), music directors, and so on.
From this position of strength, they are reaching out with offers of resources, expertise, and volunteers for broader community initiatives. Stable congregations can offer worship materials and speakers for smaller fellowships feeling the strain of carrying too many roles on their own.
From individual groups to the strength of our national network
From our grassroots we’ve come together with shared passions. One national project which lies close to my heart has been the work in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I’m proud of and grateful for the active role that individuals, congregations and fellowships, regional and national leaders, have played in: creating awareness, especially within our midst; in acknowledging harm done, walking alongside current advocacy plans, and encouraging the ongoing need for continued learning and action when dealing with long term, entrenched patterns of violence.
Visioning our future
You may be tired of hearing this invitation to engage with the CUC Board’s Visioning materials. But here are my two cents:
I’ve been inspired, informed, and moved to action by what I’ve learned on my journey among Canadian UU communities so far. In relation to the CUC visioning, please share your stories and responses so that the power of that type of inspiration, information, and motivation to action can inform and guide our shared future.
As a CUC rep, I work to listen with heart and depth. I want to share just one more item, which this openness has brought to my attention: a social responsibility dream to develop Co-housing. Some have realized this dream by linking with others in the broader community outside UUism. Others are still seeking partners with whom to share the vision and cost. Still others have drawn up designs, explored locations, and are currently stalled by the initial cost outlay.
Within our CUC national staff team, housing affordability as a human right is a high social responsibility focus. Where might this lead? If this is a shared dream, then perhaps we work together to link the dreamers, planners, designers, funders, and those with lived experience to work to grow this reality. Ariel Hunt-Brondwin (Youth and Young Adult Development) has inspired me with ideas to put teams like this in motion with a model like Innovative Learning Circles – “on-line learning communities of leaders exploring adaptive challenges in a covenanted format that provides safe space to bring one’s whole self.”
Dankeschoen, Dankewoelk, Ekosani, Merci, Thank You! Thanks repeatedly, for the welcome you’ve given and the willingness to openly share the wealth of your experience. Thanks, for reading (and perhaps responding) to these early thoughts regarding the Power Potential of Our CUC Circles. And thank you for your feedback, your celebration of the gifts I’ve sought to share, and your patience when I’ve fumbled the ball, so to speak, and failed to follow-through as well as I’d hoped.
This is only the beginning of my work for the CUC and our particular shared journey. It is with humility, anticipation, a touch of trepidation, and joie de vivre that I contemplate the future of our shared journey!