In the interim: Widening the circle together

“He drew a circle that shut me out – heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in!” Edwin Markham

As we enter the 2nd month of 2022 (many 2s!), UCV’s worship services remain online only due to the wave of Omicron variant. We are hoping to reopen in a couple of weeks as the curve flattens out again. Prayers and crossed fingers welcome!

We all miss being together. As we prepare a path for being back together in person, we do so as a community grounded in science and bound by principles of radical inclusion. From the beginning of the pandemic, UCV has centered concern for the most vulnerable to severe complications from COVID in our operational decisions. I know that these decisions have also impacted those in our community who are unvaccinated or who suffer greatly from the isolation and do not connect in virtual, on-line engagement. I regret the harm that is caused inadvertently by the safety precautions. I hope we can all find nourishing and healing ways to connect with others during these complex times. If there is anything that you need or if you have ideas we can try to better serve those who are greatly impacted by not being able to be in-person, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or to our Care and Concern Team. Let us continue to support one another in all the ways we can, and to grow as a community even when we are apart.

February is Black History Month and, also given that our theme this month is Widening the Circle, it seems appropriate to reflect on how the words we choose to use can perpetuate the very systems of injustice that we are working to change.  Our guiding Principles now include that we affirm and promote, “Individual and communal action that accountably dismantles racism and systemic barriers to full inclusion in ourselves and our institutions.” What does this look like in action? I have been asked how this new 8th Principle is different than the first Principle, affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all people. I think we may have an example of “barriers to full inclusion” in our institutions to explore together. Part of the reconciliation work in Canada has been addressing the impact of people like John A. MacDonald and Bishop Grandin, among others whose names have been enshrined on many buildings and street signs. How do we as thoughtful and accountable Unitarian Universalists reconcile the complex history of the name of the “Jefferson Room” in Hewett Hall?

In April 2011, the Thomas Jefferson District of the Unitarian Universalist Association voted overwhelmingly to change its name to the Southeast District. Below is an excerpt from UU World.

Proponents of the name change claimed that even though Thomas Jefferson argued eloquently for religious freedom, he was a slave holder, with troubling views of Native Americans and women. In addition, they argued, he was not really a Unitarian, although he has often been identified as a “famous Unitarian.” Those in favor of keeping Thomas Jefferson’s name celebrated his influential views on the separation of church and state and his contributions in writing the Declaration of Independence. They also cautioned against applying modern morality to a man of the seventeen hundreds.

The district’s board first proposed changing the name in the aftermath of a controversial “Thomas Jefferson Ball” at the 1993 UUA General Assembly in Charlotte, N.C., which people were invited to attend in period costume. Hope Johnson, a delegate to the 1993 GA and now a UU minister, asked whether she and other African Americans should wear “rags and chains.”[1]

Following the district name change came a wave of name changes of churches, community centres, schools, and more.  Recognising and holding the complexity of who Thomas Jefferson was and the times he lived in.  Did he do good things and support religious freedom? Yes.  Did he also do things we know to be abhorrent and degrading of humanity? Yes. People are complicated. Our heroes and prophets are no exception.

Things were different in Jefferson’s day, and he was indeed a remarkable supporter of freedom and justice by the measure of his time. Today, we are aware of only a fraction of the impact of the massive sale after Jefferson’s death of people enslaved by him, as well as accounts by those affected and the efforts to reunite families.  In our work towards healing and reconciliation of past injustices, we need to take this continuing impact into account and ask ourselves how we are called to show up on the side of Love today. I believe Thomas Jefferson himself would agree.

At UCV, The Jefferson Room, aka “The Everything Room” is a place where our children and youth are learning about what it means to be UU, about what UU values are and how to live our lives in ways that express them.  This is where they learn what it means to be radically inclusive and how we collectively and individually make decisions every day that can build the beloved community of which we dream. And this is where we all know that our words matter.  Our youth and RE leaders have been considering rededicating this room to better reflect Canadian Unitarian Universalist History and values.  I hope everyone at UCV will support this symbolic and meaningful step towards “dismantling systemic barriers to full inclusion in ourselves and our institutions”.

I look forward to exploring with you the many ways UCV can engage in Widening the Circle together.

Brightest Blessings,

Rev. Lara Cowtan

Interim Minister





In the Interim • Recent News