Springtime in Toronto
- Created on Saturday, 11 May 2013 08:42
Finally, spring seems to have found a foothold in Toronto!
With the arrival of the leaves on the trees, we mark what is becoming an annual tradition at First Unitarian: saying farewell to our current Intern Minister and welcoming the next person to fill the role. On June 9th, we will say our formal goodbyes to Rodrigo Solano-Quesnel, as his internship comes to an end. (He will continue on for several weeks in July and August as this year’s Summer Minister, preaching regularly and providing pastoral care.) I am grateful for the many gifts Rod has shared with us this year: his wit and wisdom, the customs of his heritage, his humour and insight, and, of course, “Chantal, the Singing Saw.” I wish Rod every success as he moves deeper into the ministry to which he is called.
When we gather to celebrate Water Communion on September 8th (remember to collect water from some meaningful source this summer!), we will welcome Lynn Harrison, our 2013-14 Ministerial Intern. Lynn is just completing her second year of seminary at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto. Lynn and her family have been members at the Neighbourhood congregation for the past decade. Many of you will already be familiar with Lynn’s talents as a marvelous singer and song-writer. I hope you’ll welcome Lynn warmly when she arrives in August.
I also want to acknowledge another transition with this column. As you may know, this is the last edition of Horizons in its current form. As our publications move in new directions to better serve the congregation’s changing needs, I want to express my deep gratitude to Louise Ripley, Helen Iacovino, Dorene Jacobs and so many others before them who have sustained the congregation through their commitment to keeping us all so well informed. I’m delighted that Dorene will continue to contribute to our new efforts.
Finally, I will be away a bit longer than usual this summer, combining this year’s month of sabbatical time with a vacation with Bob and a trip to attend the UUA’s General Assembly in Kentucky (where Dallas will lead the choir). While I’m away, Rod and our Lay Pastors will be available to support you should a pastoral need arise.
Wishing you each a wonderful summer, filled with recreation, rest, and renewal.
In love and faith, Shawn
A Challenge To Go Deeper
- Created on Thursday, 02 May 2013 12:26
Beginning next September, our congregation will undertake a year-long experiment with “theme-based ministry.” The idea behind this innovation that’s proven wildly popular in many UU congregations is that each month our worship services will be devoted to a single over-arching topic, such as integrity, compassion, or joy. I and our other speakers will get at each month’s topic in a variety of ways, all with the hope of taking us deeper.
Yet, this isn’t only about what goes on in the pulpit. There will be parts for everyone to play! In September we will also be launching small discussion groups that will meet toward the end of each month to reflect together on the topic. The format will be very familiar to those who have taken part in our Heart-to-Heart and Soul-to-Soul groups in recent years. At the beginning of each month, I will send out a packet to everyone in the congregation that will introduce the month’s topic and will include a collection of readings, suggested books and movies, a couple of possible spiritual practices to explore, and a series of questions to guide reflection through the month. These questions will serve as the basis for our small group discussions.
My hope is that this experiment will end up inviting us all to engage more deeply with one another and with key aspects of our faith. So, keep an eye out for more information in the coming months, as we embark on a year of adventure together!
In faith and love,
The Transient and the Permanent
- Created on Monday, 18 March 2013 16:11
Theodore Parker, the remarkable Unitarian minister of the 19th century, once preached a provocative sermon titled “A Discourse of the Transient and the Permanent in Christianity.” The sermon, given at an ordination in South Boston, brought a storm of controversy and, yet, has endured as a touchstone for our tradition. Parker’s main point was that there is a vital difference between pure, absolute religion—which is held in the values and ideals that endure through time— and the particular but endlessly changing forms that religion takes. He felt our focus should be on the permanent and not the transient, which has absorbed so much of human history in conflicts over theology and worship and practice.
As Pope Francis first stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s recently, I wrestled with Parker’s framework as I thought about the spectacle that comes with the announcement of a new pope. It is still too early to tell, but my hope is that Francis may focus more on what endures—kindness and charity and love—than has his recent predecessors.
I was asked at a Passover celebration recently what impact Pope Francis will have on Unitarianism. My initial response was to say, “not much.” But with sober second thought, I’m hoping his ministry will, indeed, affect our own. While dramatically divided by issues of theology and social justice, I still hope in our own and independent ways we might find common cause to serve the call of absolute religion that calls us all to our highest selves.
Snow on Snow
- Created on Saturday, 09 February 2013 15:19
As I write, in early February, I’m watching the snow (as I have all day) drift down and cover the patio in a beautiful blanket of white. I hear in my mind the words of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow
Already, this storm has brought more snow to Toronto in one day than we have apparently seen in each of the last few years. Sometimes life is like that: everything coming at once, as though the universe has been saving up in order to spend it all in one big, dramatic gesture.
The old proverb reminds us that into every life a little rain must fall. But truth be told, for better or for worse, it’s rarely a steady drizzle any of us sees. Be it joy or sorrow that falls across our life, it often comes in waves, or in record-breaking storms. There are times when it seems as though it’s been “raining buckets” for weeks on end, and then other times, of course, when we find ourselves in a bit of a dry spell, or even a prolonged drought. A blizzard of joy is a welcome thing; a drought of despair is something for which to be grateful. But, as with the weather, we know the pattern is sure to change eventually. “This, too, shall pass” is as true for the good stuff as the bad. So let us savour and store up the moments when life is piled high with the grace of good things, that we might survive and even thrive when things are otherwise.
The Risks of Relevance
- Created on Sunday, 13 January 2013 17:20
In May, I’ll be delivering the Confluence Lecture at the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Annual Conference & Meeting in Calgary. This address, presented each year by a minister chosen by her or his colleagues, provides an opportunity to examine some vital aspect of Canadian Unitarianism. I’ve chosen to speak about survival.
We are living through a period of rapid and radical change in the religious landscape. While the population of our country and the spiritual traditions observed within it grow ever more diverse, more and more people are claiming no religious affiliation. The media has recently made much of the emergence of these so-called “nones,” as well as of those who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” On one hand, this is an amazing opportunity to grow and strengthen Unitarianism in Canada; in many ways, these are “our people”! Yet, the future, even of congregations such as ours, is no sure thing. Congregations that keep doing what they have always done (and doing it as they’ve always done it) are steadily declining. To remain relevant to the religious/spiritual needs of our time (and beyond) will require us to engage with innovation and experimentation as a spiritual practice.
That’s why I’m devoting my weeks of study time this year to delving more deeply into the literature in this area and trying, as best I can, to make sense of the challenges the future likely holds in store. You will, of course, be hearing more about this from me in the coming weeks and months. I look forward to our exploring together how we might best meet the future!