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


In the Interim