Category: Blogs

News from the parish minister, director of religious education and other staff or key volunteer leaders.

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

https://vancouverunitarians.ca

Mystery Pals 2021 Save the date: Saturday, September 18

These kids are moving away, but Paula is enthusiastic about keeping in contact with her pal.

Covid restrictions at UCV and elsewhere are lifting and more and more of us are fully vaccinated, so summertime is a great time to connect with your mystery pal (or coming of age partner). If you need help with contact information, let us know.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm for an early fall Pal meetup at UCV so SAVE THE DATE: Saturday, September 18 from 4 to 5:30 pm.  All pals are invited to an autumn “Pal Party”. We’ll harvest, munch, play and walk and run or even dance on the labyrinth. Possibly this will be the first annual fall Pal Party. Unitarian traditions come easily.

With the needed covid adaptations, we went ahead with our Mystery Pal program this year to connect up people from different generations. Indeed we had the largest group ever: Fourteen pairs participated. Most were kids matched with an adult, but we had a couple of younger adults matched with older and two kids under 14 matched together!

Most chose snail mail which came to UCV and then was forwarded. Hence, the usual four-week program became eight to allow for postal forwarding. Other pairs chose to send email through a volunteer.

To offer assistance, we included artist trading card (“ATC”) materials for those who wanted to create art to share–and many did!

If you were a pal or parent of a pal and haven’t yet completed our feedback form, we’d really appreciate it: https://forms.gle/pG2aJoJ4c3yZoaf57 You can RSVP for September 18th there as well.

As time went on, our hopes for a big spring reveal party were dashed by covid restrictions, so individual pairs and small groups have been meeting up in parks or at UCV. Here’s a poem and some photos.

This pair have started a vegetable garden and are meeting weekly to garden together. Cynthia applauded us for making a “perfect match” with her new pal. On July 25, they read the “story for all ages” together, adding in their own stories as well.

 

Mystery Pal Revealed so much

by Vivian Davidson

Being a mystery pal was as fun as it was exciting,

To exchange letters had me antsy to keep writing.

I loved learning more and more about my mystery friend

I could hardly wait for my fresh letter to send.

I am grateful to have had this opportunity

To engage so intimately with someone in my UCV community.

To feel the paper, read the words sent to me by my pal

Mairy Beam got to visit the Imagine: Van Gogh exhibit with her mystery pal, Maddie, and sister Emma and mom, Sheri.

Was something so wonderful forever treasure I shall.

I hope others in the future engage in this wonderful treat

For it’s rare to get the chance to learn about others at UCV you meet.

It was exciting to think about and plan what to say and write

Oh my watch my grammar, serendipitous did I spell it right?

I learned letter by letter about my special pal and their likes

That included leaves and stickers, dolphins and hikes.

I can now certainly attest to how great it is to have a mystery pal

It was my first time and certainly a boost to my morale.

I will be back and ready to write, draw, paint and send

What a great way for a lonely day or weary heart to mend.

For this mystery pal exchange is a real treat for the young and young at heart

And made me feel special and that to UCV’s community I really am a part.

Artist to Artist Mystery Pals

We try to match up pals with something in common: Paula is an artist and loved her exchanges with her artist pal.

Here’s what she says:

Who couldn’t use an emergency packet of confetti?

My last package included a great picture of a unicorn with very long legs and a long neck and a little horn, a thin long multi-coloured banner announcing I LOVE PURPLE,  a bracelet made of beads and pipe cleaners and (best of all) a custom packet of homemade confetti. On the outside it said  I LOVE MAKING THINGS.  IN FACT I AM AN ARTIST.
Who couldn’t use an emergency packet of confetti? They are little bundles of  joy coming coming through the post and  it just makes my day when I receive one  🙂
-Paula

Their pair had the codename “Wolfgang Gerson” and it accidentally led Paula to exploring the theme of home/buildings and a connection with a student and friend of Wolfgang Gerson’s, the architect of our buildings.

 

Charlotte and Eva and Mr. and Mrs. Chickadee’s Adventures

I really enjoyed reading the story complete with an illustration of two birds named: Mr. & Mrs. Chickadee who are discussing where to build their nest to start their family made by Eva who is trying to encourage Mr. & Mrs. Chickadee to not peck holes in the house wooden siding for their nest.
It was lots of fun receiving Eva’s letters AND meeting her in person!
Charlotte

Panda in the Sun by Charlotte

 

January 2021 In the Interim

We did it!  2020 is now in the rear-view mirror, hindsight, so to speak.

A new year doesn’t erase the old year, nor do things change with the flipping of the calendar page, yet it does feel as if we are closing one book and opening another.

It would take many books to catalogue and explore all that has happened and changed in the past year, in the larger world and also here, in this beloved congregation. While change is a fact of congregational life, this transition period in between settled ministers and amidst all of the upheaval and physical distancing wrought by the pandemic, this ministerial transition period is unlike any other ever experienced. It has been incredibly challenging, and not without some bumps!  However, I continue to be humbled and amazed by the resiliency, creativity and dedication of folks at UCV, and feel honoured and blessed to be serving this community during this historic time. Yes, it has been hard, AND you have done some amazing things! First among them is that you keep showing up, keep bringing your presence, supporting one another and UCV, planning for a future that is rapidly unfolding in new and unexpected and exciting ways.

Our Soul Matters theme for January is “Imagination”, which will be explored in our worship, small groups and religious exploration.   What does it mean to be a people of Imagination?

Maybe our most important work is to re-imagine imagination. Imagination’s great gift is improvement. At least that is what we’re usually taught. The deep magic lies in the way it can reshape our reality. We are urged to imagine the world we dream of. A world with more justice. More peace. More love. From that, a mysterious magnetism arises, a magnetism that pulls our imperfect present into an improved future. Imagination moves us forward. It makes us better.

And illuminates it too. That’s right. Imagination isn’t just a force that drives us forward toward a more perfect future, it also pulls the sacred into our impoverished present. Imagination is what transforms trees from potential firewood into wise friends. Imagination is what moves us from lording over the natural word to seeing ourselves as part of it. It gives the world a soul. And not just the natural world, but the ordinary world too. Through the lens of imagination, we perceive the common as precious, even miraculous. The laughter of our children becomes the sound of angels. Sunshine on our face becomes a greater treasure than gold. Our “everyday” lives are understood as amazing adventures and inexplicably lucky gifts.

So friends, this month, do everything you can to soak in the many messages of imagination. It’s not just shouting, “Improve the world!” It’s also pleading, “Let the world come alive!”

This month, let us begin to imagine the future of UCV together.

In faith,

Rev. Lara Cowtan

P.S. If you haven’t ordered your ‘I survived 2020’ t-shirt yet, you still have time. Click here. (https://tinyurl.com/yb995y3z

Note from the Board Chair – Jan 1, 2021

Dear Unitarian friends,

I hope you had a rejuvenating winter break. It is a new year, a fresh start, and a lot of exciting work lies ahead. I have two invitations for you to consider in the coming weeks which both further the mission and the vision of our church.

Because we as Unitarians are committed to creating a more inclusive, compassionate and equitable world, I am organizing a Decolonizing Practices Workshop for staff, board, and members that will be run by professional Indigenous consultants.

I would like us all to have the opportunity to get better informed on decolonizing our practices and how to diversify our organization’s membership and board to include more Indigenous people and persons of colour. We need to identify the barriers to our organization and to develop the solutions. This one-day workshop will also include a half-day on the history and ongoing colonization in Canada.

The Decolonizing Practices Workshop will be in early spring and hopefully live and in person. If Covid prevails, we will pursue an online format. If you are interested in this, please let me know so I have an idea of interest and numbers. If the numbers are high, I may have to organize two workshops. president@vancouverunitarians.ca.

Secondly, I would like to invite you all to an Ideas Forum for the Upgraded Sanctuary to generate ideas together for how the new space could be used and be more productive.

This Ideas Forum will be on Sunday Jan. 17th at 12:30 on zoom. Galen Elfert and Dianne Crosbie will be on hand to answer any questions about the lighting/sound upgrades and the new chairs.

The seed behind the Sanctuary Upgrades was planted by Steven, and furthered by a generous donor. Then we asked ourselves, could our beautiful Sanctuary become a cultural and spiritual destination, a hub for various performance and spiritual groups to meet, worship, rehearse, perform, share ideas?  In this way, could we attract a younger and more diverse demographic to our Church, boosting accessibility by allowing for more varied and inclusive styles of music/art/worship?

We as a congregation are welcoming and wish to diversify our membership. So let us be pro-active and create a space that is inviting to various creative interests, ages and spiritual practices. Let us not only create that space, let us intentionally seek out and invite communities into our space. Our new Membership and Outreach staff person will definitely help with the marketing and outreach end of things, but what else can we envision for this space and how can we fill it?

Come with your ideas and let’s imagine together! I look forward to seeing many of you there and sharing our thoughts.

Best wishes for the New Year,

Diane Brown, UCV Board President.

Imagination Month for Kids and Families

Kiersten is currently on a well-deserved break. As she puts it, “I’ve put down every ball I had up in the air.”

So here are some ideas and invitations to be part of our various programs for kids, youth and families. And first a chalice lighting for this month:

May the light of this chalice, spark our imaginations.

May it lead us back to the stories and characters

that romp and roam the corridors of our minds.

In the warmth of this chalice, may we remember again

how thankful we are to have others who love us,

and guide and accompany us, as our own stories unfold.

The Soul Matters theme for January is Imagination — so watch out! or better still, dive in!

If you’d like to receive the package for families, please let Kiersten know.

December saw a flurry of activities in the kids, youth and family programs.

The highlight might have been the Winter Solstice play. The kids tell me the hardest part was the two minutes of sitting silently.

For me, that was also the most moving part.

Kiersten did an amazing job of writing, casting and directing.

As well, though programs on zoom happened regularly coordinated by Olivia, our youth coordinator, volunteers including Mairy and Nan and the Tween ukulele group with Donna Brown.

UCV and our young people are always a fount of imagination. What could possibly happen when we actually focus our attention on that theme for the whole month?

 

Can you imagine yourself as part of the extensive team who plan, facilitate or support programs for our kids and families?

I’ve taken on a role to assist with communications and especially multigenerational activities and I can tell you it’s very nourishing and Kiersten is a dream to work with. It’s a sincere pleasure to support her and therefore support our families and the broader congregation.

For a list of kids, youth and family programs with contact and date/time, click here.

by Mary Bennett

 

In the Interim: Stillness

Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and just listen. No more is needed. Being still, looking, and listening activates the non-conceptual intelligence within you. Let stillness direct your words and actions.”  ― Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks

Heading into the last stretch of this year, I’m sure I am not alone in wanting to see the end of 2020. December is a time to look back and review the past year, to decide what to let go of, and what to carry into 2021. My goodness this has been a hard year!  I am trying to imagine the world of December 2019, and is just seems so distant, so out of touch with our lives today. Never in my lifetime has the world changed so drastically, so suddenly. My heart breaks with the cumulative grief of lives shattered and lost due to the pandemic, of people who are suffering from illness, loneliness, addiction, economic insecurity, struggling with distance from loved-ones and facing uncertain futures. In a world that was already burdened with environmental and refugee crises, this seems like one challenge too much. Yet, here we are. Finding our way towards a new “normal”, learning new ways of coping, of supporting one another, of staying connected. If ever there was a year to count our blessings, this is it. My dear ones, I am truly feeling blessed.  The human capacity for resilience and innovation, for finding joy and possibility in the midst of adversity, constantly renews my faith and my own spirit. This beloved community of Vancouver Unitarians is very special. Your gifts of vision, engagement, generosity, patience, your willingness to speak your minds and also to listen, to show up, to try new things and to hold on dearly to traditions, to reach out to one another in care, to find ways to continue your creative acts of social justice, all of these things have welcomed and warmed me and my ministry, showing me again why it all matters. You prove over and over that UCV is not simply a building or a Sunday service, but a community woven tightly by common purpose and care, of faith in each other and in a future yet unknown. I am grateful to be here with you.

Our Soul Matters Theme for December asks us, “What does it mean to be a people of Stillness?”  As we head into this season of Advent, of festivals of Light, of darkness and silence, may you find in yourself a place to rest in stillness to reflect on this past year, to grieve what has been lost and hold close the precious lights of hope and love. May you go into this Holiday season truly feeling and knowing that You are blessed.

 

Rev. Lara Cowtan

 

Theatre Friends – share your reviews and recommendations

Paula and Mary invite you to a weekly theatre discussion on zoom – Mondays @ 4pm.

Sign in at https://ucv.im/theatre  You’ll need the regular connect and engage password.

Mary also has set up a private facebook group called “Theatre Friends” – theatrefriendsmary If you have a connection with UCV and/or Mary, you’ll be approved for membership after you answer the member questions and agree to rules.

Hoping to help us all take advantage of the amazing theatre available online at this time, and post-pandemic share theatre reviews and information and perhaps even a theatre project together.

This weekly discussion grew out of a book and video discussion, so we may throw in a bit about what we’re reading and films we’re watching as well. Hope to see you there!

Sponsored by Connect & Engage team

Connect & Engage in a Zoom-time

Our Connect & Engage team is part of the overall Membership Committee. Our focus is on welcoming new members who have joined within the past 5 years.

This meeting will be an update of how we’re doing zoom gatherings to connect and engage and brainstorm of other ways we can help “newish” members meet people and get involved during this time.

If you are on the team, or want to contribute, please contact Mary Bennett in advance of the meeting.

Sign-in information will be sent out prior to the meeting

All Ages Book and Video Sharing Online Group

by Paula Vander

Did your heart do a little gasp when you heard the libraries were closed? Did the locked door of your own library, with all those lonely books behind it, convince you that we were really and truly locked down?

If you are someone who loves to read, you will enjoy the book sharing zoom meetings. You will find your peeps.

Everyone shares a bit about the books they are reading and sometimes films they have seen on Netflix too. This way you can start to assemble a good dream list of books to take out when we finally, finally can get back into our libraries!


from Mary: Bruce and Phaedra are regulars, as are Paula and myself. We welcome others of all ages.

Bruce helped Phaedra put her book review on a video.

If you love kids and young adult books, please have one ready to share according to who’s on the call.

You can also ask some questions or for recommendations.

This past week I asked for some discussion related to Jane Eyre so I’m ready to watch the National Theatre broadcast. I got a great context-setting and additional reading (or re-reading) of various 19th century novels. I’ve now posted a request for Middlemarch on my Buy Nothing Group. Confession: Although I owned a copy and it was required reading, I no longer have it and (oops) never did finish reading it.

 

Imbolc – How to Celebrate Early Spring

by Mary Bennett   Imbolc (usually pronounced with a silent “b”) is a good time, if you’re like me, to finally put all of the Christmas decorations away and finalize your New Year’s resolutions!

I’d like to propose an annual snowdrop count on the labyrinth for the first Sunday of February. There are lots, so perhaps rounded off to the nearest 100!

Traditionally, Imbolc, half-way between the winter solstice and spring equinox, was (and is) a good time to look spring in the eye and say: come on in!!

Speaking of “come on in”, many neo-pagan groups welcome Brigid, the Celtic fire goddess, into their midst and thank her for her presence.

CBC  was talking about how people who went dry for January, are celebrating Feb-BREW-uary. Saint Brigid approves. Learn about the connection between Brigid and Beer here: http://brewmuseum.com/st-brigid-patron-saint-beer/

I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.

(Me, last year I discovered making kombucha, so that will be my febrewary drink of choice. I’d be happy to share if you’re interested.) Saving the world one SCOBY at a time.

Some seeds can be planted now, but perhaps indoors is safest.

As February 2nd is also Groundhog Day, and in Vancouver what that means is Banyen Book’s annual 20% off everything sale–including a great collection of pagan/earth spirituality books.

And if you’re still wanting more ideas, in the Catholic tradition, it’s Candlemas; you could buy and bless new candles for the year, melt down candle stubs to make all new candles or just light a whole lot of candles.

For all upcoming earth spirituality events, go to vancouverunitarians.ca/earth-spirit

You can sign up for the monthly e-newsletter there as well.

Questions? contact earthspiritucv@gmail.com