The Sum of All Things
Presented April 9th, 2023 Rev. Fiona Heath
I first met this congregation on Sunday April 27th 2014 at the beginning of the candidating week, where we decided whether or not to go forward together.
We did, and in these past nine years we have lived in interesting times! Who knew how much the political landscape would change or how quickly the climate crisis would accelerate, or about a global pandemic, or just how many superhero movies would be made.
This congregation has grown and changed, I have grown and changed. We have lost many beloved people, sometimes in tragic ways, and that’s been hard. We have also had the joy of welcoming new people, hands up who arrived with me or after me.
Change brings joy as well as sorrow. Last week we sang just the first verse of Let it Be a Dance as we had a full service and today we are singing it all – not just because it is one of my favourite hymns – but because the life of a chalice community is a dance.
Like our fabulous Ceilidh a few weeks ago, we move together and alone, in circles and out again, dancing the dance of Unitarian Universalism. The dance patterns shift, changes happen, but the dance continues, dancing again and again to touchstones – caring for each other, shared principles, celebrating the mystery.
The dance continues even as the dancers change. The dance continues, even as I move on.
Today I want to look back and highlight some of the beautiful dancing we have done together.
2014 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of UCM. I arrived to a whirlwind of activity: a concert series, a special anniversary dinner, the creation of a history book, the lovely mugs, and the peace pole installation all happened that first year in celebration. We all had a lot of energy that year!
The next year we created, with intention and care, a mission statement. It took months and much consultation with everyone, but we came to agree that we come together to Deepen in Spirit, Nurture Community and Act for an Equitable, Sustainable World.
Now this isn’t as simple and catchy as some missions, so even after the congregational vote affirmed the mission, there was some desire to re-write it, but the board held steady and over time it has become clear that this is indeed our DNA, the essence of our being. There will come a time when it needs refreshing but it still rings true to today.
As Charlotte noted, Sunday services have evolved as we worked to deepen our spirits. There are now five anchor ceremonies – an in-gathering with water in September, the Ritual of Mourning in early November, the fire ceremony at the end of January, the spring ceremony at the equinox and the flower ceremony in June. These touchpoints help us dance the year, bringing us back into connection with one another and the mystery.
We have had many memorable services, from buffalo dancing to the hyyge of cosy slippers to the infamous Kobayashi maru. We have gathered an impressive collection of saris and cloths to decorate the Great Hall! A new piano joined us, thanks to the great generosity of some anonymous members.
We’ve had losses too, with Sourcefire, the neo-pagan group coming to an end. Other groups rose and faded away as well.
Several years of monthly themes, with small groups meeting to reflect, gave us space to think about our values, about concepts like resilience and compassion. The UU Wellspring program provided another opportunity for personal transformation.
With themes, the sources and principles courses, the history sessions, the retreats, my intent was simple, to give you an opportunity to learn more about Unitarian Universalism and yourselves. I know I learned much, I hope you did as well.
I often say I hope people leave services feeling better then when they arrived. Not just services, but any activity of the church including committee meetings. Because there are a lot of committee meetings!
At most committee meeting we now light a chalice to begin, share silence or a reading, and take some time to check in, to listen to one another and how we are doing. This small, simple act reminds us all that we are human beings, with bodies and feelings, and that we bring all we are to this chalice community. When I attend meetings outside of UCM and there is no check-in, it feels uncomfortable, like we are denying we are human.
In this dance of UUism, we feel better when we are heard and understood. And so we created a Covenant of Right Relations, which the congregation affirmed in 2016 and we read last week at our new members ceremony, helps us remember how we want to treat one another.
Bad behaviour, selfish choices, thoughtless words, refusal to admit mistakes or offer a genuine apology, I’ve seen it all happen here, and I’ve done it all myself. And I’ve seen the consequences – the dance falters and some dancers walk away. I hope you can forgive me for the times I was not enough.
UCM needs the covenant, to recall us all to healthier ways of communicating, of being together. We can only be a safe and welcoming place to people when we are willing to be in right relations, to swallow our pride and hear our impact on others, and change behaviour.
I have faith that you will let the dance open to people bringing their gifts and shift the pattern into one that includes them.
In this dance that we do, we have engaged in learning and action, using a well thought out strategic plan to guide our choices to support Syrian Refugees, engage in Truth & Reconciliation work, and become a Green Sanctuary.
I believe this work culminated in one of our proudest achievements – being the first Canadian congregation to vote to approve the eighth principle. While elsewhere in Canada there has been great resistance to the new principle, here it passed with no opposition. Good job!
We knew this principle was necessary. As leader Margaret Wheatley says, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
We see all the many Syrian families we helped to bring to Canada, some of who have thrived here, but some have struggled. Canadians aren’t so kind to newcomers that don’t speak English well and wear hijabs.
For a time, we supported a Community Huddle that focused on women’s rights – rights currently under erosion in the United States. We see that oppressions can return, even here.
Our years of Truth & Reconciliation helped us better understand the indigenous experience in Canada. We explored the unfair local treaties, heard about the trauma of residential schools, and more. We know there is on-going racism here.
The Green Sanctuary work reminded us that the climate crisis is a crisis of racism and oppression, where the poorest are the most impacted.
The Green Sanctuary designation is another highlight of the past few years – we were told our application was one of the best they had ever seen – articulate and thorough!
To achieve our Green Sanctuary designation we focused on water, hosting an insightful Watershed Weekend where we learned about local water issues and indigenous teachings about water. We engaged with the municipality and region about bottled water bans. Members helped found the Mississauga Climate Action Group.
Last year we began connecting with Eagle Spirit, a local indigenous group, held a successful Friendship Weekend and planted a tree in memory of residential school survivors. This on-going relationship has led to a drumming circle and an upcoming medicine wheel workshop.
We have indeed acted for an equitable, sustainable world. Give yourselves a round of applause and a pat on the back!
UCM has shown up at marches for women’s rights, for climate action, to stop highways, and more. We continue to support affordable housing through Pathway. Today we help the Food Bank feed our neighbours in need.
We also renewed our Welcoming Congregation status and added pro-nouns to our name tags to help all identities feel welcome.
We have done much good work these past nine years and there is more to do. We are, slowly, at times a few steps back, but slowly dancing ahead into the eighth principle to dismantle oppression. Not just through action but also through learning to shift ourselves.
The internal work is the most important, systems of oppression won’t change until we ourselves change, until we not just want better, more inclusive systems, but know deep down in our bones that we need them for our own well-being.
Throughout our time together we have also been nurturing community. From delicious fellowship lunches, valentine tea’s hosted by the youth, to the music of Piece of the Rock; from hosting local artists, to dinners for UUs of twenty five years or lunch for our 90 year old elders; from Christmas Cheer Boxes to thanksgiving gifts, to phone calls and visits and hugs and high fives, we look after one another.
This congregation excels at hosting and hospitality, as was obvious last Thursday night. Thank you!
Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day said “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” This place, with this beautiful Great Hall and gardens, is a sanctuary for many. How has it been a sanctuary for you?
I have been reading the old Visions and Voices monthly newsletters – another shift has been to The Shining Chalice e-news – and I can see that the UCM I arrived at in 2014 is both the same and transformed.
The caring community, the desire for a better society, these I saw when I first came. The dedication to the now eight principles, the greater spiritual depth, has developed over the years.
I hope all of you can see that we have had a good ministry together. I know that I couldn’t always feel that truth, but looking back I know we have danced a beautiful dance.
A dance interrupted by COVID-19. Managing through a global pandemic certainly wasn’t on my list of ministry goals when I began here,and in some ways, I feel them as lost years, despite learning more about Zoom technology than I ever wished to know!
Those were tough times, and I admit to often feeling quite alone, for much of those endless months on-line. I am so grateful we have been able to return into the fullness of presence here in this beautiful Great Hall.
Despite the struggles, there was joy to be had on-line, and we managed to create a real sense of connection through virtual services, even with the many technical surprises we encountered. I would be happy to never say “you are on mute” again!
The pandemic pushed us to re-invigorate UCM social media and we now have active youtube, facebook and Instagram accounts, bringing our story to more and more people.
On the other side of all the shutdowns we are, I think, wiser and stronger. And definitely more tired.
Most of us have found our capacity for doing needs to balanced by our capacity for being. Just being and being together. The pandemic highlighted the vital importance of community, particularly one that is accepting and welcoming and considers the bigger questions of life.
People are in need, and they need a spiritual community which welcomes atheists, pagans, and all those in between. That welcomes LGTBQ+ people just as they are. That strives to see white privilege and shift to a culture that embraces difference.
I hope you know that this chalice community matters, it is a beacon of hope, a sanctuary, a place of learning, healing and growing.
The dance we do, is needed by many. We move together and alone, in circles and out again, dancing the dance of Unitarian Universalism, of life itself in all its endless glory.
We dance a beautiful dance and I am sorry to leave. But it is time for me to move onto a new dance pattern, one with more nature in it, but still part of the grand dance of all life.
As Anais Nin says “Life for me is a profound, a sacred, a joyous, a mysterious, a soulful dance.” I’ve loved my time dancing life with all of you. May you continue to dance the beautiful dance, caring for one another, living the principles, celebrating the mystery.
As American writer Mark Twain once said “On with the dance, let joy be unconfined!”
On with dance, let joy be unconfined!
So Say We All.
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