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


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