“I was so shocked to learn that the opposite of belonging is fitting in. Because fitting in is assessing a group of people and changing who you are. But true belonging never asks us to change who we are. It demands we be who we are.” – Brené Brown
Welcome back from Summer!
I hope the warm months were nourishing in many ways. For me, the break was a perfect blend of activity, adventure, personal and spiritual growth, relaxation and preparation for returning refreshed and excited about our year ahead. This is our final year of interim ministry together, and I am looking forward to moving deeply into the final stages of helping UCV to prepare for its next settled ministry, as well as simply being here with you and for you as your minister.
As we move into this new year together, I want to share with you the 3 Program Priorities that we will all be working towards together through the many ministries of UCV.
- Embodying our Covenant.
Drawing from great suggestions from the Board report and the DMTF report as well as other sources, a variety of activities, presentations, materials and programs will be geared towards building trust, dealing with past and present conflicts, learning about communication tools and building community relationship. The Healthy Relations Team and Ministerial Transitions Team will be working together to engage the congregation in many ways.
- Enacting the 8th Principle.
This will include multiple ways for people to engage in anti-racism and anti-oppression learning and work at many levels, from beginner to advanced. Building on the Widening the Circle, Bystander Intervention Training, Book groups, Giving up Racism for Lent and more that was available this past year. The goal is to incorporate the essence of this new Principle into the body of UCV’s ministry, considering and reviewing whether current practices and culture inadvertently perpetuate systems of oppression, colonization and marginalization, and offering consistent messaging and learning about what we can do differently.
- Exploring Landscapes of Ageing.
Lifespan faith development will continue to support family programming, and will also increase opportunities for specific topics and experiences more relevant to our older demographic. This group has had a harder time engaging in online communications and may be feeling more disconnected or under- served, also considering how much has changed during the past couple of years. An example are the two “Death Cafe” gathering that were held in June and August.
These program priorities are in alignment with the Board’s Strategic Priorities and the vision of UCV. The will help to transform the culture of UCV, build stronger volunteer engagement, increase membership, encourage fiscal stewardship and promote Legacy giving. Look for opportunities to become involved and to lean into these goals to build this community together.
From our Soul Matters theme of Belonging
You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome that invited you to enter entirely…
You began to breathe again… You learned to sing.
But the deal with this blessing is that it will not leave you alone, will not let you linger…
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you but because it desires for you to become the sanctuary that you have found…
– Jan Richardson
Richardson begins with hunger. And so do we. Just saying the word “belonging” conjures it up: The primal hunger to be included; the longing to be let in. No one likes standing outside the circle. No one likes leaning against the locked door listening while everyone is laughing inside. From the time we are little, belonging is the thing we seek. It’s the hoped for Holy Grail. The promised resting place.
But Richardson will have none of that. Our own belonging is only the beginning. That’s what she wants us to know. One minute she’s wrapping us in comforting words about settling in and allowing ourselves to finally breathe. The next she’s shaking us awake and telling us to get up and go.
That shaking should tell us something.
In other words, this is no gentle invitation, friends. No sweet reminder to think of others. It’s a warning. A desperate hope that we will wake to the fact that there are two kinds of belonging: one that wants to bless us and another that wants to enlist us.
Deep down we know this. The hard part is to remember it. To use Richardson’s language, if we find ourselves being invited to linger rather than leave, alarm bells should go off. We need to be weary of those who welcome us with a club jacket and a soft couch. They may have let us in, but soon they will enlist us into the work of keeping others out. There will likely even be a part of us that wants to keep others out. After all, closed circles don’t just set us apart, they sit us above.
But they also keep us small. Maybe this is why Richardson’s blessing is so intent on not leaving us alone. It knows that we only grow when the circle does. Circles that keep others out also keep the air out. No one inside a closed circle truly sings; they only suffocate, slowly.
It’s all one big reminder that the true blessing of belonging is not that you get to come inside the circle; it’s that you get to participate in expanding it. Again, as the circle grows so do we.
In this month of “Belonging” I offer you these questions for reflection:
- How does the assurance of belonging most often enter your body? Through words? Touch? Silence? Song? Solitude? Nature? Creative expression? Prayer? Memory?
- What one change in your UU church community would increase your sense of belonging?
- If someone asked you, “How do you belong to the land?”, what would you answer?
This month’s theme of “Belonging” has had me reflecting a lot about where I belong and who my people are, and I truly feel it is you, the UCV members, friends and community, to whom I belong and who are “my people” in so many ways. I am grateful to be here with you during this special, transitional time, and will embrace all of the opportunities this coming year offers as your minister. With that in mind, I want to share with you this somewhat anecdotal and evolving list for your reference as encouragement and invitation to you to reach out to me.
When to Call the Minister?
- When you haven’t met me yet, but would like to.
- When you have problems to discuss—about anything.
- When a sympathetic ear might help.
- When you’re going in the hospital or know someone else who is.
- When someone close to you dies or is critically ill.
- When you’re planning to be married, or thinking about it.
- When you return from vacation and want to reconnect.
- When one of your children graduates from university or moves away.
- When you have a child to be dedicated.
- When you’re pregnant but wish you weren’t.
- When you’ve been arrested, or ought to be.
- When you want to learn more about Unitarian Universalism.
- When you’re scared or feeling unsure about who to talk with.
- When you’d like to plan for a bequest to the church.
- When you’re considering joining the congregation.
- When a friend of your wants to know more about our faith.
- When you have suggestions about the programs for the congregation.
- When you have suggestions for worship services.
- When you’d like to help with any congregational activities.
- When you want to discuss community issues.
- When you’re mad at me.
- When you’d like to talk religion with me.
- When you are considering end-of-life issues.
- When you want to reflect on a meaningful question or even in your life.
- Call early, call often!
With warmest blessings,
Rev. Lara Cowtan
Interim Minister, Vancouver Unitarians