PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN AT UCM

Within a safe and loving community, we help our children grow up to be responsible and respectful members of the global community, able to act with compassion and to speak for justice.
Our programs for children strive to honour our children’s natural sense of wonder, teach about the beliefs and practices of the world’s religions, foster respect for the diversity and inspire children and youth to act for justice, within a supportive community.
In addition to a regular Sunday program there are a variety of special events held throughout the year..

Our programs for children strive to honour our children’s natural sense of wonder,  teach about the beliefs and practices of the world’s religions, foster respect for the diversity and inspire children and youth to act for justice, within a supportive community.

During our Sunday morning worship service we offer loving care for toddlers and engaging programming for pre-school and school-age children. The children & youth programming at UCM is known as Spiritual Exploration (SE).

Our team of carefully chosen volunteer teachers help the children explore our 7 principles through the use of story, discussion, crafts, cooperative games, and activities to create a fun, interactive experience for young people.

In addition to a regular Sunday program there are a variety of special events held throughout the year.

To register your children in the Spiritual education program, email Pamela

SPIRIT PLAY
Spiritual Exploration for ages 4-9

Spirit Play is a UU curriculum founded in Montessori Philosophy in a proven educational method whose values support Unitarian Universalism:

  • Encourages independent thinking through wondering questions
  • Gives children real choices within the structure of the morning
  • Creates community of children in classroom of mixed ages
  • Develops an underlying sense of the spiritual and the mystery of life
  • Supports congregational polity through choice of lessons

Spirit Play is a way of thinking about religious education and inviting children and adults into an exploration of their own needs and “existential” limits.
It provides for the modeling of authentic religious questioning, the freedom to search for one’s own meaning, and perhaps most importantly, is emotionally provocative. I often tell the children that faith is not really something you
think, but something you feel.

Spirit Play storytelling and wondering can bring to the surface many feelings and allows for the processing of those feelings. There is not so much of an “aha” quality as there is an “aaaah” quality to the program, a comfort and
connection. That, I believe, is how connections are made, and it’s how our children can bond to their UU faith.|
–Kerrie Lirosi

To register your children in the Spiritual education program, email Pamela

Our programs for children strive to:

  • Honour our children’s natural curiosity and sense of wonder
  • Familiarize our children with our Unitarian Universalist heritage and values and with the beliefs and practices of the world’s religions
  • Encourage children’s appreciation for our shared humanity and respect for the diversity of opinion, ability, affectional orientation and ethnicity among us
  • Foster children’s sense of connectedness to the extended spiritual family in our congregation and support parents in a community of like-minded individuals
  • Inspire children and youth to act for justice, equity and compassion

To register your children in the Spiritual education program, email Pamela

We know that parents of young children need a spirit break.  At our regular Sunday morning services, children join their families for the welcoming, chalice lighting and a story for all ages.  Children may opt to stay with their parents in the children’s nook or can visit the nursery were they can spend approximately 45 minutes in the care of loving and friendly caregivers before being pick up in time for Fellowship Hour.

To register your children in the Spiritual education program, email Pamela

Parents and caregivers come to Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations for communities that help raise children to become kind, respectful, fair-minded, caring, and strong enough to side with love and fight for justice. UU religious education and participation in worship, social justice work, and multigenerational gatherings reinforce what parents teach at home. We nurture truth-seeking, spirituality, and progressive moral values that will continue to shape and support our children as they grow.

Unitarian Universalist (UU) children’s programs build resilience, offering support through life’s tough times and encouraging each child to connect with their own quest for purpose and meaning. Kids learn respect for others and respect for themselves. They experience spiritual practices and learn ways to center themselves, whether by sitting cross-legged and taking a few deep breaths, giving thanks before they eat a meal, or looking up at the stars in wonder. Our programs create peer connections that break the patterns of a school or neighborhood social scene, allowing children to build genuine friendships across differences.

UU religious education is goal-oriented in one way: We seek an outcome of respectful, responsible, life-loving kids who know they are valued for all of who they are and are ready to show others the same deep acceptance.

School age children join their families for the welcoming, chalice lighting and a story for all ages at regular Sunday services.  They then participate in 45 minutes to 1 hour of programming.

To register your children in the Spiritual education program, email Pamela

UCM holds a variety of all ages special events throughout the year, from Family Movie Nights, our annual Halloween Party featuring the “Haunted Barn”, the Winter Dinner, the February Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the June Picnic. Check the calendar for more information.


Sunday Service Children Books

Killing the Wittigo

Click here for PDF

A husband and wife headed out one autumn to find a winter campsite and
stockpile game for the long winter ahead. One day, the woman is tying snares
nearby when she hears rustling in the bush. When she turns, she comes face to
face with a horrifying figure: a giant, hairy man in tattered clothes whose
shoulders and lips are gnawed away. It’s like this giant man has gone insane with
hunger and eaten his own flesh. The giant is grinning at her, his teeth too large for
his mouth. The woman knows this is Chenoo, the terrible cannibal creature. She
knows she is in trouble, so she decides to be kind to this creature, in the hope
that Chenoo might spare her life. She says, “My dear father! My heart is glad to
see you again. Where have you been so long?” Chenoo, who always hears
screams of horror and fear from the humans he encounters, is so amazed at
her reaction that he cannot speak. In the silence, the woman reaches out and
takes his hand. Chenoo allows himself to be brought into the family’s wigwam.
“Dear father,” the woman says, “I am sorry to see you in such a state, dirty and
with worn clothes. Please make yourself comfortable.” She brings Chenoo a
birchbark basket filled with warm water and also brings him some of her
husband’s clothes. This kindness is new to Chenoo, so he stays quiet. He bathes
himself and changes his clothes. Then he sits by the fire. He is sullen and sad but
quiet. When the woman goes outside to chop wood for the fire, Chenoo follows
her.
She thinks, This is it. He’s going to kill me now and devour my flesh. Chenoo says
gruffly, “Give me the axe!” The woman hands the axe over quietly, expecting to
die at any moment.
But instead of attacking her, Chenoo begins to split the wood. The woman
watches as great logs of pine are split in an instant. She has never seen such
chopping! Wood is tossed everywhere on the ground, and it looks as if the
family’s winter camp has been visited by a hurricane. “Father, we have enough
now!” the woman cries. Chenoo puts down the axe and walks back into the
wigwam, taking his place by the fire, silent once again. As she is making the
woodpile, the woman hears her husband return from the bush. She runs to greet
him and tells him about Chenoo. She tells him of her plan, and her husband
agrees that her strategy is wise. So he agrees to do the same. He, too, will be kind
to Chenoo.
“Dear father-in-law!” says the man when he enters the wigwam. “Where have
you been for so long? Many things have happened. It is good to see you return.”
Chenoo stares in amazement, but as he listens to the man talk about hunting and
family and events in the community, Chenoo’s fierce gaze changes into a gentler,
more human look. The man and his wife eat and offer Chenoo food. He hardly
touches his meal, though, and lies down to sleep instead. The man and his wife lie
awake in terror all night, sure that Chenoo will devour them in their sleep. But the
only thing Chenoo does is move his bedding away from the fire and toward the
door. “The fire is hot,” he says. The man and his wife know that Chenoo’s heart is
made of ice, so they understand why he needs the cool air to shield him from the
heat of the fire. For three days, Chenoo stays in the wigwam. He is sullen and grim
and does not eat. Then on the fourth day, something changes. He says to the
woman, “Do you have any tallow?” She says, “Of course. How much would you
like?” Chenoo fills a large kettle with many gallons of tallow, puts it on the fire
until it is scalding hot, then drinks it all at once. Chenoo then becomes very sick.
He goes pale and vomits up all the horrors and atrocities of the world, things
unspeakable and horrendous.
When it is all over, he is changed. He lies down to sleep. When Chenoo awakes,
he asks for food. He eats a lot, and afterward, he stares at the fire as usual. But he
is no longer sullen and surly. Instead, he is kind and good. The woman and her
husband can see that they do not need to be afraid of him anymore. Chenoo lives
with them throughout the winter. During one intense blizzard, when the snow
keeps them inside and all they have is the dried meat from the snares, Chenoo
says, “I am tired of this small meat. Tomorrow, we will go hunting.” After the sun
rises, Chenoo, who used to be so withdrawn and sad, flies fast over the new
snow. He uses his medicine power to catch a small shark, which he makes grow to
many times its size. Chenoo and the man come back with enough meat to feed
the three of them until the spring. The wife does not want to touch this strange
meat, but the husband tastes it and finds it good. He and Chenoo feed on it, and
they all live together as friends.
One day, Chenoo warns the man and his wife that another chenoo is coming to
kill them. This chenoo is coming fast, on the wind from the north. This chenoo, he
says, will be far more angry and far more cruel than even he had once been — so
they must fight. Chenoo does not know how the battle will end, but he knows he
must try to keep the woman and her husband safe. So Chenoo asks the woman to
bring him his bundle, which has been hanging from a tree since he arrived at their
wigwam. He tells the woman, “If you find something inside my bundle that
offends you, throw it away. But make sure to bring me the smaller bundle inside.”
The woman goes to the tree, opens the bundle, and finds a pair of human legs
and feet, from one of Chenoo’s earlier frightful and revolting meals. She throws
the flesh far away into the forest and brings Chenoo the smaller bundle. Chenoo
removes two dragon horns from this bundle, keeping one for himself and giving
one to the husband and his wife. He tells them that these are magical weapons,
the only ones that will work in this fight. “Stay back until after the chenoo
screams,” Chenoo says. “If you hear this scream, it will kill you. But if you hear me
scream, then the danger has passed. If I ask for you, come running. Bring the
dragon horn. You may save my life.”
The husband and wife do exactly as their friend says, hiding deep in the bush.
When they hear the evil chenoo arrive, they hear a sound like screaming thunder.
They cover their ears and writhe in pain, almost dead from the sound. Then they
hear their friend scream in response, and they know they are no longer in danger
of dying from the other chenoo’s sound. The battle begins, and the fight is
fearsome and forbidding. The chenoos, in their rage, grow to the size of
mountains. Trees are torn from the ground, and the ground trembles as if there is
an earthquake. The conflict goes on until Chenoo says, “My son-in-law! Please
come and help me!” The man runs to the fight, and when he arrives, he sees two
giants, taller than the highest clouds, struggling on the ground. The evil chenoo is
on top of Chenoo, trying to force the dragon’s horn into his friend’s ears and eyes.
His friend is rolling his head from side to side, trying to escape the evil chenoo.
This evil chenoo mocks his friend. It says, “You have no son-in-law to help you. I
will take your cursed life and eat your liver.” The man is so small in comparison to
the giants that the evil chenoo does not notice him. He creeps up to the evil
chenoo. Chenoo says, “Now! Use the dragon horn!” and the husband pushes the
horn into the evil chenoo’s ear. When the dragon horn touches the evil chenoo, it
grows in length. It pushes through the evil chenoo’s head and out the other ear,
and when it senses ground on the other side, it changes direction, pushes
downward, and pins the evil chenoo to the earth, taking firm root. Chenoo says,
“Now, take the other end of the dragon horn and place it against a nearby tree.”
As soon as the dragon horn touches the tree, it wraps itself around the trunk like
a snake. In this way, the evil chenoo is held tightly and unable to escape. To
avenge the evil chenoo’s threat, Chenoo takes out the chenoo’s liver and eats it
right there, in front of him, before he is even dead. Then Chenoo and the man
begin their long and weary work. There is only one way to kill an evil chenoo: they
must be cut into tiny pieces and all the flesh and bones put into the fire.
Everything must be consumed by the flame. If even a small fragment of flesh or
bone is left unburned, that small fragment will sprout again into an evil chenoo,
as large as the original one, and with all the evil force of the first creature. The
hardest task is melting the evil chenoo’s heart, because it is much colder and
much harder than regular ice. When they put the heart into the fire, it almost
extinguishes the flame. But they watch over it, stoke the fire, and eventually the
ice heart breaks into small pieces. Then Chenoo and the man take these small
pieces and break them up using a hatchet, to make sure they melt completely
away. Then they return to the camp. When the weather warms, the snow
changes to water and flows with the rivers to the sea. The man and his wife also
move toward the sea, and Chenoo, with his softened soul, goes with them. The
husband and wife build Chenoo his own canoe.
After many days on the river, passing through fast-flowing rapids and gliding
under forest canopy, they arrive in sunshine on a beautiful lake. Suddenly,
Chenoo lies down flat in his canoe. He says, “I have just seen another chenoo,
standing there on top of the mountain. He cannot see me right now, but if he
does see me, he will become very angry and will attack. I do not know who will
win that fight. I want peace.”
The husband and wife tow Chenoo’s canoe for a while, but when they finish
crossing the lake, Chenoo says that he can no longer travel by water. So they tell
him where they plan to camp that night. Then the husband and wife paddle easily
down the river, following the flow. Chenoo walks over mountains and through
woods in a very long, roundabout route. The husband and wife think he will never
reach them that way, but when they arrive at the place where they plan to spend
the night, Chenoo is waiting for them by the fire, which he built for them. As they
travel farther toward the village, great changes come over Chenoo.
Chenoo’s fierce and formidable face is now that of a normal man, and his teeth
are of normal size. He no longer grins wildly or stares at others all the time. His
flesh has healed, and he is no longer hairy or a giant. He becomes so weak that
the husband must carry him like a little child. When they arrive at the village, the
wife sends for her mother. When the mother sees Chenoo, she knows that he has
travelled far and that he is very tired. She tells her daughter, “He must be cared
for like a child for a few days. Then he will have to go on a fast, so that his spirit
helpers will reveal themselves to him. Once he does this, he will be strong and we
will introduce him to the others.” When Chenoo hears this, he feels grateful, and
his heart is at peace.
************************
European anthropologists have long been fascinated with what they call “wittigo
psychosis.” To them, the Indigenous fear of wittigo possession is a culture-bound
mental illness, and killing a wittigo is a way for Indigenous societies to get rid of
people who are experiencing mental health challenges. Not only is this conclusion
ethnocentric — with “culture-bound” serving as a label to group together and
marginalize all non-European beliefs, and European values about the supposed
“worth” of people who are experiencing the symptoms of mental illness
superimposed onto Indigenous cultural practice — but it is also incorrect.
Disconnection and a lack of self-control are dangerous threats to collective
societies. Historically, the wittigo represented the balance between the individual
and the collective and illustrated the dangers of selfishness and overconsumption.
When Indigenous people claimed they were possessed by the wittigo, it was a
way of stating that they felt disconnected from other people and unable to
control their feelings or desires. As a symbol, the wittigo represents core ideas
within Indigenous belief systems, illustrating what happens when individuals turn
away from the values of respect, responsibility, reciprocity, and relationships that
are central to Indigenous cultures. The well-being of the individual depends on
staying in balance in both the internal and external worlds, and the well-being of
the community depends on the individual’s ability to regulate greed and excess.
The consequences for endangering community well-being were severe. Children
were warned never to let the wittigo near, and adults were told that wittigos had
to be killed. Although the wittigo’s place as a symbol for greed and selfishness
persists in today’s world — neo-liberal capitalism and the environmental
destruction that accompanies it can definitely be seen as wittigo possession
and/or cannibalism — the wittigo has taken on many other forms in the
contemporary Indigenous world.
Today, it represents the lateral violence that fuels the intergenerational cycle of
trauma within Indigenous communities, as the possessed person engages in
predatory behaviours that are a threat to the collective. The wittigo also
represents the distress of an Indigenous person who has experienced trauma,
whose daily life is impacted by unresolved emotions that are eating them away
from the inside. Today, the idea behind killing the wittigo has been distorted,
describing the tendency for Indigenous people with unresolved anger and fear to
gang up and condemn in others what they most fear within their selves, to the
point where their victims — those they bully, harass, and act aggressively toward
— are redefined as the perpetrator in order to justify a witch hunt. This has
happened to countless Indigenous people who have been targeted within
dysfunctional communities and workplaces, in situations ranging from whisper
campaigns to harassment to wrongful dismissal.
The wittigo also represents the colonial control figure: the systems, institutions,
and ways of thinking that enacted historical cruelties; the contemporary
government policies and practices that continue to oppress and marginalize
Indigenous peoples and communities; and the willful neglect that underpins the
failure to adequately address issues of poverty, poor housing, and lack of
infrastructure within Indigenous communities.
The wittigo’s craving for human flesh is about predation: not actually cannibalism,
but something like it. Today’s wittigo cannibalizes other people’s souls through
sexual abuse, and it eats away at another person’s identity by inflicting emotional
abuse. It cannibalizes the strength of communities by engaging in toxic
communication patterns: the “backbiting, gossip, criticism, putdowns, personal
attacks, sarcasm, and secrets” identified by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation as
an everyday impact of the intergenerational cycle of trauma. Today, the wittigo
craves alcohol and empty sex to numb the pain and fill the gap created by a lack
of love and belonging. The wittigo destroys connection: to others, and to oneself.
The wittigo story at the beginning of this chapter is told by the Peskotomuhkati
people in present-day Maine and New Brunswick, who call their wittigo figure the
chenoo. It is an ancient story, and it illustrates Indigenous concepts of health and
healing.
Despite the incorrect assumptions of European anthropologists, killing a wittigo
isn’t about murdering someone who is mentally ill. Killing a wittigo is about
destroying the negative energy that makes an individual feel disconnected, angry,
fearful, or sad. It is about destroying the terror that characterizes the everyday
life of someone who has survived trauma. It is about destroying the cannibal: the
selfish, greedy behaviours of individuals, systems, and institutions that destabilize
communities and prioritize individual gain over collective well-being. In the
context of intergenerational trauma, killing the wittigo also means unpacking the
traumatic story that keeps Indigenous peoples tied to the past and creating a new
story of our own choosing.
The Peskotomuhkati story illustrates exactly how health and well-being can be
restored to the individual and to the community. In the story, the wife chooses to
be kind. Kindness is the only way to bring an individual back into the community
and the only way to heal a community. It’s very simple: people must demonstrate
kindness if they want to experience kindness. When kindness becomes a mainstay
of daily interpersonal relationships and part of everyday life in a community, then
the community becomes a safe place to be. The story also tells us what to expect
when we are interacting with people who have experienced trauma. When
Chenoo moves his bedding to the door, he is backing away from the symbol of the
fire: the centre of the home, which represents the warmth provided by the
husband and wife. He is just not ready to accept their kindness and inclusion right
away, because he feels vulnerable. This speaks to the idea that healing cannot be
accomplished overnight or on any but the survivor’s own schedule.
The woman and her husband are ready to show kindness and to include him, but
to Chenoo, kindness and inclusion are unfamiliar and therefore threatening. His
choice to move farther away from the fire is respected by the husband and wife.
When Chenoo makes an attempt to contribute to the life of the community by
chopping wood, he makes a mess, retreating afterward to stare at the fire.
Chenoo needs time and space to make mistakes and then spend time thinking
about those mistakes — and about the way he will do things in the future. For
Indigenous peoples, healing describes processes that relate to mind, body, spirit,
and emotion.
When Chenoo cannibalizes others, he is taking something that does not belong to
him. When he drinks the tallow, he is taking something that has been offered to
him. In Indigenous philosophies, animals offer themselves to humans because
humans need them to survive. That is why humans must be thankful and humble
and strive toward regulating greed and over-consumption: because the natural
world is a gift, a gift that helps us live without having to assume power over
others. After he accepts the gift of tallow, Chenoo “vomits up all the horrors and
atrocities of the earth.” He is letting go of the unresolved emotions that turn him
into a predator, letting go of the traumatic inheritance that fuels the negativity he
carries within him. This letting go is a necessary step toward rebuilding his sense
of self and his sense of connection to others. Purging is considered part of healing
because it changes the makeup of the physical body, restoring the energetic
signature (or spirit) of the sick person. After they talk and Chenoo requests his
bundle, the wife follows Chenoo’s suggestion and throws away the human legs
and feet that are inside. This section of the story is about setting boundaries.
When the community sets standards for behaviour, it does so in consultation with
its citizens, rather than imposing rules and regulations.
Because his autonomy is honoured, Chenoo does not adopt an inflexible position.
Instead, he shows a willingness to understand the needs and values of others.
When she retrieves the bundle, the wife does not judge Chenoo’s prior actions —
there is no disgust or contempt. She cleans up the bundle while also giving
Chenoo the things he needs. This shows how we balance kindness with the
boundaries that ensure collective safety. When Chenoo warns his friends that the
evil chenoo’s scream will kill them, he speaks about the power of traumatized
people to negatively affect the lives of the people around them. In some cases,
people might choose to set a boundary of non-engagement to protect their own
well-being (as the wife does, when she refuses to eat the meat that Chenoo and
her husband bring back from their hunt). In other cases, the community must
come running — as the husband does to Chenoo, when Chenoo asks — to assist
their fellow citizens in their battle to become whole. Healing is a social process
that involves everyone. Part of that process is learning how to assist others and at
the same time protect yourself. The story makes reference to the “long and weary
work” of killing the evil chenoo because healing is not a straight line from there to
here. It is filled with small successes and large failures, with huge gains and a
reduction in (but sometimes not elimination of) the behaviours and beliefs that
bind the survivor to the traumatic past. When Chenoo lies down in the canoe
after seeing the second evil chenoo, he is succumbing to his old fear, even while
experiencing the beauty of the lake and the company and assistance of friends.
When he eats the evil chenoo’s liver, he forgets the lessons in kindness that the
husband and wife are teaching him and slides backward into vengeance and
anger. He forgets the lessons he has been shown — such as the husband’s small
size leading to victory over the evil chenoo — and relies on the familiar tools of
vengeance and anger to try to increase his power through artificial means. Eating
the evil chenoo’s liver does not bring Chenoo back to his self or increase his
medicine power. He regains his sense of self through the journey he takes to
become whole.
Chenoo is tired at the end of the story because healing is hard work. His mind,
body, and spirit have transformed because he has accepted love and can now
show love. But now he is like a little child: he has to revisit the stages of
development that his past experiences of trauma have prevented him from
achieving. When the wife’s mother tells him he must fast, this is the final step in
rebuilding the self that he should have been at this point in his life. When he fasts,
he will meet his spirit helpers and discover who he is and what he has to offer to
the community. So, why kill one wittigo (the evil chenoo) and treat the other
wittigo (Chenoo) with kindness? Because the evil chenoo is a metaphor for
Chenoo’s disconnected self, the self that is out of balance. Chenoo must rid
himself of that creature in order to regain his well-being, aided by the kindness
and assistance of others. Once he regains that well-being, he will become part of
the foundation for community wellness. The story describes Chenoo’s journey to
become human again as a gradual process that involves several different activities
and some inadvertent steps backward. This is another teaching provided by the
story: that healing is only accomplished by transformation over the long term.
Unfortunately, short-term approaches and one-off programs that fit easily into
election cycles and funding calendars are the most common method of
addressing current challenges within Indigenous communities.
Methot, Suzanne. Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing (pp. 266-278). ECW Press.
Kindle Edition.



The inherent worth and dignity of every person

COMING EVENTS

23Oct

Online Event: Mindfulness Friday

Friday, Online
24Oct

Online Event: Fall Focus for Committee Chairs

Saturday, Online
25Oct

Online Service: Keeping Faith

Sunday, Online
28Oct

Online Event: Hearth Light

Wednesday, Online
29Oct

Online Event: Orientation to UCM

Thursday, Online
More events

JOIN US!

Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga
84 South Service Road
Mississauga, ON
905-278-5622
info@uucm.ca