Author: Rev. Lara Cowtan

Opening to joy

“Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer

It is December. Bringing to close another topsy-turvy, bumpy ride of a year marked by all the uncertainty and concerns wrought by the continuing pandemic. A year as well, like any other, with its growth and losses, celebrations, and sorrows.  The UCV community continues to amaze me with its resilience, generosity, and dedicated involvement.  UCV, along with the other UU congregations across Canada has been deeply engaged in the process leading up to the Special Meeting on Saturday November 27th, 2021 at which 95% of the congregational delegates voted democratically to approve adding an 8th Principle to the current seven Principles.

“We, the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, covenant to affirm and promote:”

Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and systemic barriers to full inclusion in ourselves and our institutions”

We celebrate this moment as an act of good faith, an intentional step toward this aspirational future that is affirmed in UCV’s vision statement:

Because we envision a more compassionate world, we seek to deepen our spiritual and religious lives, grow and enrich our congregation, and advocate for love and justice.

UCV has been actively engaged in anti-racism and anti-oppression work, and will continue, renewed in its commitment by this endorsement of this 8th Principle.

Margaret Wanlin, President of the CUC Board of Trustees said, “We respect and give thanks for the hard and dedicated work of many leaders, over many years, that brought us to this moment. We acknowledge the sacrifices, and losses, experienced by those marginalized persons who became disillusioned with, or left, our faith tradition prior to this vote. And we commit to live fully into the lessons of this work, as we learn how to be partners in accountably dismantling racism and systemic barriers to full inclusion.”

Our theme this month is “Opening to Joy”.  We know that this is not as simple as lighting candles for Hannukah, Advent or Solstice, nor is it about unwrapping the perfect Christmas present. Opening to Joy means preparing to receive it.

Our covenants with one another and our aspirations that envision a more just and compassionate world bring us hope and prepare us to receive the joy we dream of. It is hard, often painful work requiring sacrifice, self-awareness and growth or even sacrifice or loss. And, this is the season we light our candles and prepare to receive hope and joy into the world.


Brightest blessings of hope and joy to you all,

Rev. Lara Cowtan

Interim Minister

Vancouver Unitarians


Welcome to the Month of Holding History

Let’s start with the words of Parker Palmer from our Soul Matters resource,

“Jewish teaching includes frequent reminders of the importance of a broken-open heart, as in this Hasidic tale: A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”

So, a closed heart. It’s admittedly a strange place to begin a month of exploring Holding History. And yet, when we are honest, we know that defensiveness, protectiveness and closed doors rule our relationship with history more than we’d like.

On the first Sunday we had people back into the sanctuary for worship, October 24, I shared warm and enthusiastic greetings from the pulpit which included a brief summary of the UCV survey results on the 8th Principle which affirmed that, while there are valid concerns raised about the wording, format and process of the proposal, we are absolutely united as a people in our desire and will to engage in anti-racism action.  I want us to be able to engage in conversations from this very solid common ground, rather than feeling divided.

I drew my comments from the general survey report prepared by Cheryl Amundsen and Derrick O’Keefe. The results of the survey — in response to the question “Do you support the proposed 8th principle?” – were that, of the 98 respondents, 67 answered ‘Yes’, 20 answered ‘No’ and 11 answered ‘Undecided.’ I misspoke when I said the 20% had concerns and 70% are completely in favour, as some of the Yes votes included concerns or suggestions, just as some of the No votes also had positive or supportive comments, so are not completely opposed. While close to 70% is a strong democratic majority, this survey wasn’t intended to be a vote on the proposal; it was for feedback to contribute to the overall CUC process. Thank you again to all those who took the time to share their thoughtful and heartfelt feedback.

I want to clarify that my intention on Sunday was to affirm UCV’s overwhelming agreement with actively combatting racism, which does not negate or minimize any of the valid concerns raised about the proposed 8th Principle. Concerns largely about process, format, and wording – or to do with the notion that an eighth principle was redundant given our existing seven.

The CUC and Dismantling Racism Study Group have now changed the proposed wording in response to the feedback.  I commend their leadership in this complicated and emotional process to hear all the voices and to respond with acknowledgment of the concerns in proactive and adaptive ways that can move us all forward together.

Based on feedback the CUC received, the motion now proposed by the CUC Board has been amended to read:

“We, the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, covenant to affirm and promote: Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and systemic barriers to full inclusion in ourselves and our institutions”

The original motion read: “We, the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, covenant to affirm and promote: Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions

The Board and DRSG are working on definitions and understandings of ‘accountably,’ and ‘systemic barriers to full inclusion.’ This will be shared with you all in the weeks ahead.

There is one more related event coming up: Sunday, November 7, 7:00 – 8:30pm ET (clocks change on this day!): Forum #4 on Dismantling Racism and the 8th Principle: This fourth forum will focus on embracing the work ahead, expansion and radical inclusion. After the end of the forum, there will be an opportunity to discuss the amended motion. Connect on Zoom.

To read the full message from the CUC on the amendment, click here.

I am grateful to Cheryl and Derrick for their many hours with the UCV survey results interpreting the data, and I encourage people to read the survey results for themselves and to continue to participate in the conversations.

It is our choice as individuals and as a community how we will respond to this motion based on our values. I am choosing to value relationships within our community and outside of it, and the voices of those most impacted by our decisions. I am also listening to my heart that tells me this is the right thing to do rather than my head that often prefers arguing semantics. We can always find things to disagree about if we look for them. We can choose to argue a point, or choose to accept the majority view and work together for a positive future. These are democratic principles that we covenant to uphold. Holding a minority viewpoint may be an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position for those of us who have lived with privilege of usually being in the majority. Being discomfited is not a bad thing.  My professional and moral duty as a Minister is to look at the broader picture with a scope of history, present and future, and to guide the community towards living into its ideals.

We are an imperfect people in an imperfect time finding imperfect solutions to ever-changing issues. It will never be perfect. However, the leadership we have in our denomination and congregation have done amazing work to provide opportunities for people to engage, learn and be heard, and they deserve our trust and support.

While this current process around the proposed 8th principle and CUC vote may feel rushed to some who weren’t aware of the background, it did not just come out of the DSRG report. It is the culmination of countless times over the past 50 years when our denomination has fallen short of its promises causing deep and painful rifts, plus decades of research, reports, proposals, statements, etc. All of which have never amounted to enough actual impact and action to address racism in our systems and communities. It is time for something that cannot be simply filed away, blocked or dismissed with “process” and “wording” concerns. And maybe it needs to not “fit” with the existing format in order for it to stand apart and draw the attention it requires. Maybe it’s not so much redundant as it is a synthesis and a reminder. In striving to affirm the inherent worth of all of us within this interdependent web of existence, we need to be reminded that the playing field isn’t always even. Doing this doesn’t in any way take away from ongoing priorities of climate action and other oppressions.  There is not a limited amount of love, compassion or justice to go around. This is what is being asked of us as Unitarian Universalists by the majority of our younger and BIPOC members, as well as the overall majority across all demographics.

I believe that adopting the 8th Principle is an essential building block for the future of UCV and of our UU denomination.  In this year that has seen unprecedented numbers of anti-Asian and other racist hate crimes and the horrific discoveries at former Residential Schools, what would not supporting this call to action say about us as a faith community?  The potential negative impact on our congregations and denomination is huge. We need to engage in this essential work with unity of purpose; this is what Unitarian Universalism asks of us, what our children ask of us.   My message last Sunday was intended to call us all back into community, into relationship, into covenant with one another so we may move ahead united in purpose, restored in our commitment to the mission of UCV.

I believe the 8th principle has solid theological grounding in UU principles, sources, values and traditions. I invite you to listen to and consider this video of nine Canadian UU ministers sharing their respective theologies around the 8th principle. This video is wholeheartedly approved by the UU Ministers of Canada’s Executive.

The video is available to the public for streaming on YouTube. There is closed-captioning on it if you choose to use it. (It can be turned on and off at the “CC” icon). Please feel free to share this video far and wide.

While we are Holding History this month, I invite all of us to also look to the future.


In faith and service,

Rev. Lara Cowtan

Vancouver Unitarians Interim Minister

Autumn reflections: Cultivating relationships in challenging times


A covenant leaves room for chance and change… It claims: I will abide with you in this common endeavor, be present as best as I can in our becoming…

A creed creates a static truth, something that does not incorporate new insights and realities.

A covenant is a dance of co-creation, keeping in step with one another in the flow of our lives…

A creed creates an “us” and “them.”

A covenant invites relationship. 

 – by Lisa Ward


 Autumn is proof that change is beautiful. It is also hard.

I recently read an article explaining why the colours of fall have arrived early — about how the summer’s heat and drought may be to blame. 

Martha Barwinsky, a forester with the City of Winnipeg, said trees have been suffering this year amid the dry conditions. Going into the spring, there was very little soil moisture, she said. The extreme heat throughout the summer and the low soil moisture heading into the fall has had an impact on the city’s tree canopy. The forester said some species – such as Birch, Alder and Lindens – are more susceptible to drought and heat. However, even some oak trees have been starting to turn brown early because they used up their reserves. 

At UCV, during the scorching heat wave this summer, the trees and shrubs survived only due to the diligent care and tending with buckets of water by staff and volunteers.  Not all made it. Yet, I understand there is still an excellent apple crop for the picking.  It won’t be until next Spring that we know the true toll.

This made me think of the deep and continuous trauma we are all experiencing from the past 19 months of the Covid-19 pandemic. This stress, like the sustained drought and heat experienced by the trees, has been sapping away our reserves until even the most resilient and sturdy folks are reaching their limit. 

Many of us, myself included, are experiencing reduced abilities to cope as well as we used to. Even if we might still produce some amazing pieces of work, it takes more effort. This is a reminder and a request to be mindful of caring for yourselves and others; to listen to your own needs and recognize that, although we may not always be our best selves, we are doing the best we can. Be patient, be kind, be forgiving. We will get through this — together.

Many of you know that I have been taking some time to rest and recover from a concussion injury sustained over the summer. I am healing and working very hard at resting. Ironic indeed, and humbling. I am grateful for the overwhelming support and good wishes and offers of help, and assure you that I am doing well and will be back with you soon. It is a testament to the strength and resiliency of this UCV community that I am able to rest assured that everything is fine. I will be returning through October in different and careful ways, and am very much looking forward to gathering in-person, as it is possible and as I am able.  

One of the important lessons we have learned during this pandemic is how essential it is to be available in virtual space as well as physical. Remaining online is no longer an option; it is an accessibility requirement to allow people to engage in community when coming to the campus is not possible or desirable. Members of the UCV community from around the world as well as across the Lower Mainland of B.C. will always be welcome to engage in programs and services virtually, even when in-person gatherings become regular once more. 

Our Soul Matters theme for the month of October is “Cultivating Relationship.” As I write this, UCV just had a Sunday serve led by special guests Aline LaFlamme and the Daughters of the Drum. Aline shared a poignant message about reconciliation and coming to terms with the culture of white supremacy within which we all live in order to make a change. She spoke about the generational trauma of the ongoing racist practices of our systems and institutions. You could hear the fatigue in her words as she told us what she must have shared countless times already, hoping that we might not only listen but also act. 

Aline said that it is “nice” to have the flag lowered in recognition of the Indigenous bodies found in unmarked graves, but asked where the outrage was over decades of no drinking water for whole communities of people. This month we are engaging in a process led by the CUC as well as UCV leaders to explore and discuss the proposed 8th Principle in preparation for a vote in November about whether the CUC will adopt this as a new principle for our Canadian Unitarian denomination.  This is the proposed principle: 

We, the member congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, covenant to affirm and promote: Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and other oppressions in ourselves and in our institutions.

For more information about the proposed principle and the CUC forums being held for people across Canada to engage in learning and conversation please see the links below.

All forums take place on Sundays at 7pm ET.

Forum II: October 3 Zoom

Forum III: October 17 Zoom

Forum IV: November 7 Zoom

UCV is also engaging in our own learning, programming and conversations around this important decision, as we are not only sending delegates to represent UCV for the national vote with the CUC, but the UCV Board may also bring this question for a congregational vote about whether or not to adopt this principle. Your engagement is called on in order to participate in and uphold another principle: the use of the democratic process and the right of conscience both within our congregations and in society as a whole.

As I conclude, I draw your attention to the quote I posted at the beginning of this article, about the difference between a covenant and a creed.

We are a covenantal people. Our UU principles are a covenant, not a creed. As we enter into discussions with one another about the proposed 8th Principle, let us remember these words from Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed: “The central task of the religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered amid the particulars of our own lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspires us to act for justice.”

I invite you to reflect on the choice, the right and the privilege to speak and the choice, the right and the privilege to remain silent.  When do we have a duty to speak or remain silent?  And when can we tell others to speak or remain silent?   How do our principles inform our understanding of freedom and responsibility?  When can we offend and when should we be offended? What does “Cultivating Relationship” ask of us? 

With brightest Blessings and Faith,

Rev. Lara Cowtan


Interim Minister

Vancouver Unitarians

In the Interim, March 2021

“Inevitably in our lives we commit ourselves to something, whether worthy or not. The direction and intensity of our loyalties give shape and meaning to our lives. Loyalties, commitments, covenants, the promises we make to one another: These are the things [that] tell us to what we belong. By doing so they tell us who we are.”

– Henry Nelson Wieman

Ah, March. The beginning of Spring, when Earth re-awakens with a promise of buds, blooms and birdsong.   As the weather warms, I have been dreaming of sailing, so please permit me the use of some nautical metaphor in this month’s column.  Our Soul Matters theme for the month of March is “Commitment”. What does it mean to be a people of commitment?

We set a course to a destination, and even when the winds and current may favour a different direction, we hold steady. We may encounter rocks or storms or even a sunny beach that pull us away for a time, even make us re-evaluate and maybe change our course. And then we set sights on a star or horizon or port and continue, forward.  Not having a goal is perilous, and wasteful of the precious days we have on this earth.  Author Paulo Coelho wrote in Brida, “I’m afraid of committing myself,” she thought to herself. She wanted to follow all possible paths and so ended up following none.”

This is the season of Lent, February 17 -April 3.  Those who observe Lent typically make a commitment to fast, or to give up something—a habit, like smoking, watching TV, swearing, or a food or drink, such as sweets, wine, or coffee. Some Christians also take on a Lenten discipline, like reading the Bible and spending more time in prayer to draw nearer to God.

This is done both as a form of penitence and as a spiritual tool to tame the body and ‘sharpen the spirit’ for prayer, reflection and contemplation in preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Christians and non-Christians alike, habitual behaviours tend to shape our lives. It is a good practice to examine our choices by adding or removing things for a period of time so that we may consciously commit to what we truly want directing the course of our lives, not just staying on auto-pilot. So, spend this month adding a new helpful habit to your life or removing an unhelpful one.

We constantly make commitments to ourselves, to eat better and exercise more, take more time for ourselves. We commit to relationships, even when the going gets tough, even when, sometimes, we decide to let it go and start over again.

Membership at UCV is a commitment to this community, to belong to, participate in, support and be part of a diverse, inclusive group of people, some who share similar interests and some who are connected only by the experience of belonging. In this time of Covid-19, when we cannot gather in person, there is a real challenge to feeling like we are truly connecting with one another, to being in community. And yet, being a member is a commitment that can weather this storm of distance and change.

The most important reason why people become members of our congregations: the need for growth and transformation. Theologian James Luther Adams reminds us that for practitioners of liberal religion, “revelation is continuous.”  Throughout our lives we humans are learning, growing, changing creatures. Using both reason and intuition, we spend our lives seeking to enlarge our understanding of ourselves and others and the world around us.

The possibility of growth and change, of transformation, is the real basis for participation in a religious community. We have all experienced losses and disappointments, pain and grief. We have been broken by life and need healing. The closest that contemporary Unitarian Universalists may come to a concept of salvation is to offer opportunities for growth and transformation, for becoming more whole. As one of the great ministers of the past century, Rev. A. Powell Davies, memorably put it, “Life is just a chance to grow a soul.”

As your interim minister, I am committed to you, to each one of you and to UCV. To nurturing, supporting, guiding and even challenging you to live into the promise that is this religious community. UCV has been a liberal religious, social-justice-minded, progressive community for over a century, a beacon in Vancouver. UCV has stayed active and relevant through generation after generation of sometimes stormy times by being committed to its purpose, guided by its vision and driven by people who recognise that UCV is precious and truly needed in this world.  Together, we will navigate the choppy waters of this pandemic and time of transition, holding before us the vision and purpose of UCV that binds us together in religious community.

If you have questions about becoming a member, or think you are a member but have not yet signed the book, please contact me at  Making connections is the essence of the religious experience, and that connection goes both ways.

Brightest Blessings,

Rev. Lara Cowtan

Interim Minister