Mark Morrison-Reed’s Theme Speech

 2001 Mid-Winter Retreat, Ancaster, Ontario
February 10, 2001

Did you grow up reading Tom Swift and watching Buck Rogers as I did? Do you remember when John Glenn orbited the earth? I was 13. Later I became a Trekkie, and the movie Star Wars premiered the summer Donna and I were married. From Dr. Who to Ender Wiggin, from Hal to the Borg, from Star Trek to Deep Space Nine, space the so-called “final frontier” has captivated human imagination.

Outer space captivates human imagination because it frees our imaginations from both the cultural conventions and the physical laws of earth. It can transport us to either long ago in a galaxy far, far away or into our own future. But in the end these adventures and voyages always reflect the human experience from which they emerge. The issues of loyalty and betrayal, fear of strangers and cultural clashes, the will to survive and the desire to control, human hubris, madness and compassion play out over and over again in space — for we carry our essential nature with us.

Set out into space and you don’t know what you will discover. Go where no-one has gone before and you don’t know what will happen. That’s what happened to me on the way to this talk. I didn’t know quite where it was going and then I got sucked into the CUC-UUA vortex. It’s a wormhole that has appeared at irregular intervals perhaps eight times in the last four decades. They are generated in the Bostonian Quadrant of space but inevitably the energies of our best and brightest are caught in its force. Renegotiating the CUC-UUA Accord sucked them dry. In 1987 the Schulz Administration called for a re-negotiation of the Accord, and over the next four years until 1991, the CUC-UUA Accord was furiously renegotiated. It was finally settled we thought until 1998 when the Buerhen’s Administration demanded a new Accord and we have been working on it ever since. And my fear is that if we wait until the next administration is installed – with a new President, new Moderator and a substantially changed Board we’ll have to invest still more time in negotiating rather than beginning to build our future.

Science Fiction often looks like a ‘morality play’ set in space. Hal the murderous computer, Ender Wiggin vs. the Buggers, the Federation vs. the Klingon Empire, Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker, the Alliance vs. the Empire. The contrast between good and evil is stark But then it turns out redemption is possible and that the evil is not as evil as it seemed, while the heroes manage to justify the evil they do in the name of good.

Sometimes it has felt to Canadians as if the UUA was the Empire. I want to say that is not the case. No one is at fault. There are no good guys or bad guys – just a system that doesn’t work well for either nation. Challenges proliferated as the relationship between the CUC and the UUA evolved. They seem to be built into the nature of the relationship, and since smart people have struggled with them over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that the problems are intractable.

I will outline them for you:

  • The CUC was created to provide services the UUA simply could not provide –— social witness in the Canadian context, chaplaincy training and accreditation, associational ties between Canadians, international and interfaith representation. Eliminate the CUC and you eliminate not only these programs but also our only unequivocally Canadian voice.
  •  A multi-layered, three-tier system of governance with three Boards, Annual Meetings and separate Staff.
  • An overlapping service delivery system in which services come from the CUC, UUA and unevenly from six UUA districts. E.g. Western Canada congregations get one visit a year from its quarter time consultant. PNWD is reported to be among best served in North America. Most congregation members are not sure which organization is providing which service.
  • The additional expenses of both money and human energy of maintaining such a system.
  • From the UUA administration’’s perspective Canadians have not been paying their fair share, even if most pay the APF “Fair Share.”
  • It is impossible to determine exactly what Canadians should be paying because while we use some UUA services there are many others that we do not use e.g. Public relations, and Social Action.
  • Canadians have repeatedly asked that RE and Growth services be adapted to the Canadian context, while the UUA has neither the ability or incentive to do this for 5,500 Canadians, and the CUC does not have the capacity.
  • Monetary issues beyond our control — currency fluctuations and the difference in the cost of living
  • Different laws and parliamentary systems.
  • An inability to reach a stable, sustainable agreement.

The UUA and CUC negotiating teams have come to the conclusion that the system as it exists cannot work. The UUA decision is further influenced by the anti-racism work the UUA Board has engaged in. Through the insights they have gained about power and privilege they became aware that their relationship to Canada is neo-colonialist – within the UUA the value norms, decision-making and resources that shape our lives as UU’’s in Canada are overwhelming controlled by Americans. It seems as if the UUA has decided to apply the ““Prime Directive”” which is as you know not to interfere in the cultural affairs of other worlds.

The Borg is made up of a humanoid race, which has been enhanced with cybernetic devices. It originated in the Delta Quadrant. The Borg roams the galaxy in search of new technology to assimilate into the collective. In one episode the Enterprise discovers a crashed Borg scout ship. One crewmember whose designation is 3 of 5 had survived. As Capt. Picard struggles with the decision of what to do with 3 of 5 the crew’s treatment 3 of 5 as an individual helps him to learn how to self-differentiation his needs from that of the Borg Collective. As he becomes more self-aware he takes on a name – ‘Hugh.’ When ‘Hugh’ is eventually re-assimilated into the Borg collective the individuality he has acquired has far reaching repercussions. That is another episode, however, what I am concerned with is the process of individuation because it resembles the Canadian experience.

Prior to the CUC there was no locus of identity for Canadian Unitarian and Universalists. Congregations simply belonged to the AUA or not. When, 40 years ago, the CUC came into existence, its office was a box and phone in Barbara Arnot’s home. In 1983 the CUC hired its first Executive Director. Last year the CUC hired Mary Bennett its third ED, and began work on its third long-range plan. Over time the CUC began delivering more and more services tailored to Canadians’ expressed needs. It also found itself repeatedly having to renegotiate the Accord that governed the CUC-UUA relationship. This dialogue demanded that Canadians differentiate our needs from theirs. Add to this the steady growth in the number of Canadian ministers settled in Canada, and Philip Hewett’s telling of the Canadian story and you can see how through this process CUC became increasingly self-aware, and self-differentiated from the UUA. Now we have come to a time in our organizational development that we need to be autonomous so we can get on with our own life. With hindsight I would say this outcome was inevitable. It only came faster than I expected.

Some will say, ‘but aren’t we all Unitarian Universalist? Why should we let national boundaries divide us?’

Writing in “Theology in Red, White and Black” theologian Benjamin Reist argues that for Christians to undercover the full meaning of the gospel they need to be in dialogue with black and native American theology. He has called this process “liberation into particularity.” In understanding oneself there are two elements – to know both the universal human condition and one’s uniqueness. For Unitarian Universalism to know itself in its fullness it has to discover itself through dialogue with other Unitarians and Universalists from the Khasi Hills in India, in the Philippines, in Hungary and Romania as well as England. When we become acquainted with their struggles and beliefs our awareness of our own assumptions grows. Then we can begin to discern what values we espouse which are a product of culture and class, in which are universally affirmed. In this process our own beliefs becomes relative and distinctive. Then we can move outward from the strength of discovering our uniqueness to uncovering what are the common values upon which we can deepen our relationship to our “partners in faith.” For us it will mean that we begin to identify how UUism as lived out in Canada is different from that shaped by the US experience and mythos. I would suggest that the most obvious way can be found in the current principles. Say “with peace, liberty and justice for all.” It sticks in our throat because we know the Canadian formulation is “peace, order and good government.”

Reflecting on the current proposal Joy Johnston, a former CUC Board member wrote this: ”You are aware of the First Nations concept across the continent of the earth as the Great Mother. However, each First Nation group has developed spiritual practices relating to its own environment using varied natural objects as sacred depending on their significance in their culture and history. Their ways of governance vary too yet when they come together they celebrate and share their commonalties.

“May I suggest you think about this concept for UUs across this continent. We do share universal values but our ways of expressing them may well be different. Many Canadians have problems with the exclusiveness of U.S. materials in RE and UU history. We do have our own story to tell in Canada and can hardly expect the UUA, which functions much more as a national rather than an international body, to do it for us.”

Although the roots of Canadian Unitarianism and Universalism are quite different from those in the U.S. – being Loyalist, English, Scottish, Irish and Icelandic – we had neither an institutional focal point nor indigenous ministries to give this particular experience voice. Whenever it attacked, the Borg would say “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” To speak of theological differentiation is to speak of a future in which rather than being assimilated we become more self-consciously Canadian UUs, while the Borg will embrace its own form of liberal religion and then join the ICUU.


“”These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise whose continuing mission is to seek out new life and new civilizations and boldly go where no one has gone before.””

The CUC is about to go where we have not gone before. 2001 will be the beginning of our space odyssey, our voyage into the unknown.   A voyage into the unknown is by its very nature scary. Let me tell you briefly some of what we know:

  • The UUA is prepared to transfer $1.5 million US to the CUC.
  • As of July1, 2002 the CUC will assume responsibility for all delivery of service in Canada except for – ministry and ministerial settlement, young adult and youth programming and services.
  • It is expect that after July 1, 2002 Canadian congregations will not be part of UUA districts.
  • The UU World magazine will no longer be delivered to Canadian households except by subscription.

How will these Canadian services be paid for?

  • Interest from the $1.5 million grant from the UUA.
  • The savings of $30,000 currently paid to the UUA.
  • Redirection of the $80,000 in Districts dues to the CUC.
  • An increase in APF contributions
  • A capital campaign with a goal of at least $1 million.

The CUC board members will have a more detailed description when they visit your congregations in March and April. But at this moment what I find most exciting is envisioning what the Canadian Solar System will look like and how it will work. Now repeat after me; D–R–A- F- T     P-R-O-P-O-S-A-L.   A draft proposal is all that this is. A task force is being created to hack it apart, consult with people across Canada, then rebuild it and present it to the 2002 AGM

  • The ICUU will be the organization that binds Unitarians and Universalists together. Currently we are provide leadership to the ICUU through John Slattery and Ellen Campbell. This is a very Canadian and very important role.
  • We will continue to have a special relationship with the UUA as ““partners in faith.””
  • The CUC will form three regional service councils – West, Central and East.
  • At the hub of each of these will be a staff person. One whose expertise is R.E, the other in Extension. The coverage two FTE will provide will be a significant increase over the .86 time we currently get from District consultants.
  • The three regional service councils will be made up of the volunteers who deliver services e.g. R.E, Extension, Social Action, MSR’’s, Compensations Consultants, Stewartship. The volunteers will network with their counterpart in each congregation They will receive expenses and a per diem for visits and workshops.
  • Rather than waiting to be approached the councils will be proactive. The Council members will share their knowledge, review the needs of each congregation, and offer appropriate support. The councils will be able to reach out to and support several leaders in each congregation.
  • The volunteer consultants will also be networked to one another via the Internet and the RE and Growth Teams will meet together for training at least once a year.
  • Each Region will have an annual conference/workshop.
  • The CUC Staff and Board would meet every other year with the congregational presidents, ministers and council members. This gathering of about 100 would constitute the annual meeting but would not be a policy setting body. Its primary purpose would be training, networking and implementation of policies passed at the AGM. It should also require less staff time and expense than the current AGM.
  • The AGM would be the policy setting body of the CUC and meet every other year.

I’’m convinced that with a model similar to this we can provide superior service at a reasonable cost.

Finally, I want to end by expressing three emotions:

  1. Grief. In the face of loss and change this feeling is inevitable and appropriate. Many of us have invested our lives in the larger movement. Many of us can’’t imagine identifying ourselves as anything put members of the UUA. I can’’t help but wonder how much of the resistance I have seen is fueled by a wish to avoid the pain that always accompanies change, loss and transformation.
  2. Thanksgiving and appreciation for all the UUA has done for Unitarian Universalism in Canada. Money and ministers from south of the border have nurtured the movement for its entire history. And now they are giving us a gift far beyond anything the negotiating team had imagined possible.
  3. Finally, excitement. Our future is before us. It is open to possibilities limited only by our inventiveness, commitment to our faith and generosity of spirit. May we go boldly where we have not been before.