Events under 'Sunday Services'
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Event Name

Date

Stay Tuned!

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.

A few years ago, I saw a painting created to visually depict Unitarian Universalism. Among many other symbols, the painting included a stack of three books meant to visually convey the different sources of inspiration and authority in our tradition. On the bottom was a copy of The Bible, representing our Jewish and Christian heritage. Next was a collection of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the one-time Unitarian minister who went on to challenge much of the religious orthodoxy of his day. And on top of this stack was a blank book—a book without a title on the spine, a book with pristine pages without a word of text. This book was meant to convey our conviction that “revelation is not sealed”—that the wisdom of the world wasn’t granted, once upon a time, and once and for all. Instead, we affirm that the journey of insight and understanding about the meaning and purpose of life is an ever-unfolding adventure. On Sunday, as we take up this month’s theme of Revelation, we’ll explore what our approach to the evolving nature of knowledge means in a world of competing and conflicting revelations, especially when so much is at stake.

Earlier in the service on Sunday, we will dedicate our new memorial space that has been created on the landing near the base of the stained glass tower. The memorial will provide a tangible way those within our congregation can mark the deaths of loved ones and honour their loss in a shared space. The names of members who have died and those added by others will be displayed for the year following the person’s death. At the end of each month, cards that have been in place for a year will be collected and held until our annual Day of the Dead service in late October, when they will be burned and the ashes scattered in our Secret Garden. While this part of the service will be brief, it will be a meaningful moment to create this sacred space that will surely benefit us all for years to come.

Finally, it is good to be home! I used my sabbatical month this year to delve more deeply into my understanding of European religious history. As you might expect, I hope to share stories about it all in the weeks and months to come. Thanks, as always, for the time away and for your commitment to my ongoing growth and renewal. It is a great gift.

In faith and love,
Shawn

Sunday, April 03, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Multiple Intelligences

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.

It’s one of the worst retorts to receive in an argument, especially for Unitarians who have long prided ourselves on the committed use of reason in all things. From the Enlightenment forward, theological liberals have revered reason in religion, usually above all else. And, yet, logic has its limits, and reason doesn’t always prevail. Sometimes our understanding of what is real isn’t completely rational. Instead, it’s based on a feeling in our gut, an experience we can’t quite explain, the input from our senses that don’t neatly square with our individual capacity for reason. Does that make our understanding untrue? I don’t believe so. Instead, I believe it’s a call for us to broaden our appreciation for different ways of knowing ourselves and the world around us. While I deeply cherish our tradition's devotion to reason, I believe it's past time for us to update our rhetoric to reflect other meaningful ways of making sense of what it means to be alive.

See you on Sunday.

In faith and love,
Shawn

Postscript:
      In the sermon I shared a few impressions about my recent visit to Damanhur,
      the eco-spiritual community in the Italian Alps. You can visit their website here,
      and see photos of the elaborate underground temples here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

In Celebration of the Earth

Sermon by Stephen Scharper.

I am delighted to welcome to our pulpit this week Professor Stephen Bede Scharper, who teaches religion, anthropology, and environmental ethics at The University of Toronto. He is a frequent contributor to The Toronto Star and appears regularly in other media across the country. Dr. Scharper is a delightful, thoughtful speaker, and I’m grateful he has accepted our invitation to join us for Earth Day Sunday. His recent books have focused on the need for a “compassionate ecology” that invites us to rethink and repair our relationship with the earth.

This Sunday, he’ll discuss “Nature Deficit Disorder”—focussing particularly on the need for urban dwellers to reconnect with the natural world. (He’ll also be giving a tutorial during the Time for All Ages on recognizing a dramatic bird call.) I’ll be serving as the Worship Leader on this week, and I’m looking forward to hearing Dr. Scharper’s encouraging message about finding our way toward a more sustainable future.

Enjoy these first real days of Spring!

In love and faith,
Shawn

Postscript:
      In my sermon last Sunday I shared a few impressions about my recent visit to Damanhur,
      the eco-spiritual community in the Italian Alps. You can visit their website here,
      and see photos of the elaborate underground temples here.

Sunday, April 17, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

The Writing On the Wall

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.

The idiom about “the writing on the wall” has warned of doom and disaster since this dramatic depiction of revelation first appeared in the story of Belzhazzar’s feast in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Daniel. Today, to not see the writing on the wall is to be ignorant, often willfully so, of an emerging reality. In our time, many would say the writing on the wall speaks to the growing crisis of climate change. Today, as we mark Earth Day, there’s much cause for despair. But is there something beyond despair? Something more productive and life-affirming that can lead on to a more hopeful future? Is there anything else written on the proverbial wall? On Sunday, we’ll search for clues in the story of Passover, which our Jewish friends celebrate starting tonight, and the work of Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy, who points to our need for “active hope.”

This week, I officially began the Doctor of Ministry program at The University of Toronto. Already, the work with my cohort (comprised of four Anglican priests, an Orthodox priest from Ireland, a Baptist lay leader from the Philippines, and a female Sufi psychologist) has been opening my mind to new ways of thinking about the challenges religious communities face. It has also made me very grateful for the relative strength of our congregation and the freedom our tradition affords us for experimenting and growing in different ways. Thank you for supporting me on this journey as I grow and deepen my knowledge. I look forward to sharing my academic explorations with you along the way!

In faith and love,
Shawn

Sunday, April 24, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Technology and Tradition

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

I’ve always been skeptical about this statement. Is that really true? Does change just bring us back to the place we started from?

This week, as we take up May’s theme of “Tradition,” I’ll be looking at the ways technology has changed and challenged tradition—both in our wider culture, and in the context of religious communities. What effect is screen-time having in our lives? In what ways do the tools of technology allow us to do things as a congregation our predecessors could have never imagined? And where is all of this going?

See you on Sunday.

In faith and love,
Shawn

Sunday, May 01, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Dealing with Extreme Cases

Sermon by Peter Hughes.

Did you know of the Unitarian foundations of Mother’s Day? And did you know it was originally focussed on peace-making? This Sunday, as we delve deeper into our theme of “tradition,” I will lead us through the words of Julia Ward Howe’s “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” and Rev. Dr. Peter Hughes will speak on our history of pacifist non-resistance. At the end, we’ll light candles of hope and peace, as we consider our part in this long-standing tradition.

Following the service, everyone is invited outside for a photograph in front of our building at noon. But let me explain… A few weeks ago, Anthony, a gender-creative 11-year old in our Saskatoon congregation, took great offence at a rap video created by a woman calling on religious people to rise up in support of Alberta’s proposed “washroom bill” that would introduce gender-based discrimination into that province’s schools. Anthony, recognizing that Unitarians are religious people who have gone on record supporting the rights of transgender people, made a video that answered the original with Unitarian values.

Anthony is now encouraging Unitarians across the country to make a video that speaks to our values in a more general way. Our group photo will be our contribution to this effort, so I encourage you to join us out front at noon. (And then move to Workman Hall to celebrate Anne Murdock’s 90th birthday with cake!)

In faith and love,
Shawn

Sunday, May 08, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Sunrise, Sunset

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.

We often joke in congregational life that the first time we do something it's a novelty, the second time it's a coincidence, and the third time it's... a tradition!

This week, we delve into the traditions that are part of our life at First Unitarian. The best way, I believe, for us to do this is to hear directly from those who've lived through significant spans of our congregation's history. So, this week, we'll hear from eight people who, together, share over 500 years of First Unitarian history!

Margaret Bryant, who grew up at First in the 80s will offer the testimony, and then I will lead a discussion with a "Council of Elders," all long-time members, who will reflect on the ways the congregation has changed and the ways we've remained the same through the years. Our esteemed elders will be Jean Galt, Shirley Grant, John Lewis, Elisabeth Michnick, Anne Montagnes, Gwen Wulff, and Larry Wulff. I'm looking forward to this conversation and the knowledge they will impart.

See you on Sunday.

In faith and love,
Shawn

Sunday, May 15, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

A People So Bold

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Intern Minister.

Some say that ministers are here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I find myself in this position sometimes, and this week I'll be leaning more towards the latter. In my sermon on Sunday, I'll be inviting you to reflect on the recent actions of the Black Lives Matter Toronto group and what it means to be a good ally in the struggles of people of colour seeking to end systemic racism and oppression.

How can white people effectively stand by the side of people of colour and support their ongoing efforts for justice? We will need to examine our white privilege and various forms of complicity in the evil system of white supremacy. We cannot simply remain silent and thus complicit with the system. Instead we will need to step outside our comfort zones and live out of a place of revolutionary love. This means building real relationships with marginalized, oppressed peoples and doing the difficult work of staying in relationship. Using an example of a unique friendship forged by a visionary leader from nineteenth-century Unitarian history, I will argue that one great, albeit imperfect, resource for learning to be good allies for racial justice is our own prophetic tradition. As feminist theologian Carter Heyward argues, "Love creates righteousness, or justice, here on earth." May we continue to put our faith into action and to be a people so bold.

Blessings,
Stephanie

Sunday, May 22, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Habits of the Heart

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton

This week we celebrate our annual Flower Communion ceremony. Everyone is invited to bring a flower to contribute toward our dazzling bouquet, which represents the diversity at the heart of our community. (There will be extra flowers available for those unable to bring one.) The service will feature the wonderful sounds of Jack Zorawski's jazz combo. I'll offer a reflection on the enduring meaning of ritual in our lives. And at the end of the service, just before everyone is invited to take a flower home, we'll make an announcement about an exciting change at First.

I'm grateful to the members of our congregation who travelled to Vancouver last week to attend the annual conference of The Canadian Unitarian Council. We adopted a new mission statement, heard a compelling Confluence Lecture calling us to live with more heart and more compassion, and delved deeper into the work of reconciliation with our Aboriginal neighbours.

A reminder that the many musicians of our congregation will share their gifts in a concert on Friday, May 27th. Come out and help us Celebrate with Song!

I'm looking forward to basking in our shared bouquet on Sunday.

In faith and love,
Shawn

Sunday, May 29, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

If I Can't Dance, It's Not My Revolution?

Sermon by Chris Wulff.

As we take up June's theme of "Revelry," we will have the pleasure this Sunday of hearing from our Seminarian Chris Wulff before he and Ariel Hunt-Brondwin move to Victoria, where Chris will serve as the Intern Minister for the next two years. Before they leave, it will be my honour to lead the congregation in dedicating their new son Rowan on Sunday morning during the service.

Later Sunday afternoon, we'll celebrate the tremendous accomplishment thus far of our Syrian Refugee Project, which has now brought five families to the safety and stability of a new life in Canada. It is right that we pause to revel this powerful work we, as a congregation, have done over the past year.

Finally, it was such a great joy to welcome Rev. Lynn Harrison to First Unitarian last Sunday, when it was announced that she will serve, starting in mid-August, as our new Minister of Community Engagement. Lynn brings wonderful gifts to us, and I am truly thrilled at the opportunity we have to work together as a ministry team. My deepest thanks to everyone who raised their financial commitment to help make this effort to increase First's impact possible.

In faith and love,
Shawn

On this Friends of NVT Sunday donations may be made to that social justice project.

Sunday, June 05, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Welcome to the Play Space

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Intern Minister.

This Sunday marks my last official one in the role of intern minister. I am so grateful for the last nine months we've had for learning, growing, and journeying together. It's been a wonderful experience for me and my ministry, and it's been an honour for me to serve such a dynamic and caring congregation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Our theme during the month of June is Revelry, and this week in worship I'll be inviting you into the spirit of playfulness. What role, if any, does play have in our busy lives? What are the benefits of play for our overall health and well-being? I'll be arguing that play has sacred aspects and that we need more play in our spiritual lives and in congregational life more broadly. Come prepared to loosen up and play with me!

Bright blessings,
Stephanie

Sunday, June 12, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Unplugged

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.

On Sunday, following the service (more about that below), I’ll begin my summer break, which this year will include a mixture of denominational work, study time, and vacation.

Next week, I’ll be in Columbus, Ohio, attending the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. In mid-July, I will be in the Netherlands to attend the biennial meeting of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. I’ll spend time at this conference with our co-religionists from around the globe, and specifically continue strengthening our ties with the Kenyan Unitarian Universalists, with whom First Unitarian is in a Mentoring Coalition.

I’m also looking forward this summer to joining Angela Klassen for an intensive eight-day Encounter World Religions Program in Toronto; the course involves multiple lectures each day, and visits to nineteen different faith communities in the GTA. I’ve long wanted to take part in this program (which I’ve heard many people rave about through the years), as it offers a unique and fascinating way to deepen in my understanding of and appreciation for the amazing diversity in our city.

Beyond these structured activities, I’ll be devoting some quiet time to writing for my doctoral program, planning programs for the coming year at First, and taking two weeks of vacation with Bob. (I’m grateful that while I’m away, Stephanie Gannon will serve as our Summer Minister, leading most Sunday services and offering pastoral care, along with our Lay Pastors.)

Aside from these plans for the summer, my bigger project will be to unplug. I’m feeling a deeper than usual need to catch my breath and gain perspective—the kind of perspective that can’t easily be found amid our crowded calendars or through the constant barrage of information that comes through our round-the-clock news cycle. Instead, I feel the need to listen to life. To sit with the state of the world, in all of its present heartache and promise, and try to see the way forward to my part, to our part, in the work of healing, justice, and peace. My sense is that this is work—soul work, even—that many if not all of us might benefit from. So, Sunday’s service, here as we approach the Summer Solstice, will be an invitation to revel in the gift of summer, of life lived at a different pace, so that we may be renewed and strengthened for our work in the world.

In faith and love,
Shawn


Donations may be made at this service to our Aboriginal Awareness Group social justice project.

Sunday, June 19, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Cultivating Character

Sermon by Rev. Lori Kyle.

This week, we welcome the Rev. Lori Kyle to our pulpit. Lori was ordained by our congregation last year. She serves as the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham.

Lori says this of her sermon:

While many of us extol the character traits heard in memorial eulogies, the virtues we actually pursue, live by, and revel in are often found in resumes. On this Sunday we will explore author David Brooks’ take on this dichotomy.

Wishing you all a wonderful summer!

In faith and love,
Shawn

Sunday, June 26, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

To Be Loved

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Summer Minister.

The inspiration for my sermon this week comes from James Baldwin's letter to his fifteen-year-old nephew, which was written in the early 1960's. Baldwin tells his namesake that although he was born into an unjust world based in white supremacy, James should know that he's loved deeply by his family and that their love will enable him to survive despite the oppression he'll inevitably encounter as a black male. In the last couple of years, we've been made increasingly aware of the vulnerability of black bodies, but also of other bodies: Indigenous women's bodies, transgendered bodies, cisgendered straight women's bodies, and queer bodies. Unfortunately, violent actions driven by fear and hate often seem to dominate the headlines.

These times call for responses based in abundant love and deep acceptance of self and other. May our religious community always be a sanctuary of radical hospitality and hope. Come to church this Sunday to hear some of my reflections on the importance of love in every aspect of our lives and how intergenerational relationships like the one between Baldwin and his nephew can be lifesaving and healing.

Happy Canada Day to you all and Happy Pride weekend as well! For those of you travelling this holiday weekend, I wish you safe travels and an enjoyable time away.

Blessings,
Stephanie

Sunday, July 03, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

No Religion is an Island

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Summer Minister.

A little over 50 years ago, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel gave his famous talk "No Religion is an Island" at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Still highly relevant today, it was a plea for religious groups to come together across their theological divides to join forces in the cause of justice. Rabbi Heschel was a great model for this kind of interfaith work, having marched side by side with Martin Luther King, Jr. at Selma and been one of the leading voices in the Civil Rights Movement.

If you're like me, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all of the heartbreaking news this week. How to respond? How to respond religiously? Heschel comes directly out of the great tradition of the Hebrew prophets and Psalms, and one of the most-quoted lines from his writings is, "A person cannot be religious and indifferent to other human beings' plight and suffering." Rather than calling you to action, I hope in this week's sermon to invite you into that place of deep sorrow and lament, but also of anger, found in the book of Lamentations. Building bridges between our divisions requires first that we move from a place of compassion and love. As we worship together this week, let us express our tears for this broken world of ours.

Blessings,
Stephanie

Sunday, July 10, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Opening to Grace

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Summer Minister.

In this week's sermon, I'll be focused on the theme of grace and how it can transform us if we can open ourselves to its power. Sometimes grace can seem to elude us, especially in some of our most challenging times. As Anne Lamott writes, "I do not at all understand the mystery of grace--only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us." Is grace a given? If so, how can we receive it? What do we need to do to feel worthy of it or to open to its presence in our lives?

Despite its messy theological baggage, grace can offer things to Unitarians too. There are ways of seeing grace as an unexpected gift of life and the very essence of joy. Let's celebrate this week grace's ongoing presence in our lives and reflect on how we can become more receptive to it.

Blessings,
Stephanie

Sunday, July 17, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Walking the Holy Road

Sermon by Christopher Moore, Seminarian.

It has many names in many different cultures. to some it is a journey by boat. For others, it is the crossing of a sacred bridge. For the Cree people it is called the "Three Day Road". But they all have the same meaning. It is the sacred pilgrimage from this life to what lies beyond.

My time this summer, working in hospice, has given me much to think about, reflect on, and share. But this is not really about death. Ironically, there is something about dying which compels us to seek meaning and beauty in life. And to acknowledge what we hold most dear. To what gives us our sense of purpose. It is the black velvet cloth upon which rests a brilliantly shinning diamond. Hope you will join me as I share some very special and uplifting stories.

Sunday, July 24, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Alone Together

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Summer Minister.

As a framework for this week's sermon, I'll be using a recent study on how technology is affecting how we relate. MIT professor Sherry Turkle argues that although we're more connected now than at any time in our history, we've lost the capacity for true intimacy and vulnerability and instead find ourselves "alone together."

For a long time I've been curious about and also disturbed by the tension in our denomination between individualism and community. What is it that binds us together despite our divergent theologies? Remember that Unitarianism is a covenantal rather than a creedal or doctrinal faith. We freely choose to covenant in how we wish to be together--something that's both exciting and radically countercultural. Join me this week for some reflections on how you can be co-creators of a vibrant faith community.

For those of you going out of town this holiday weekend, we'll miss you! Travel safely and have a relaxing time away.

Blessings,
Stephanie

Sunday, July 31, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Teaching Each Other How to Be Human

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Summer Minister.

In my sermon this week, I'll be exploring some of the ideas of the most influential American Unitarian theologian of the twentieth century, James Luther Adams, who died in the mid-1990s. Adams spent time in 1930s Germany, when Fascism was on the rise, and was affiliated with anti-Nazi church groups. Partly as a result, he became one of the greatest critics as well as proponents of liberal religion. Paraphrasing Socrates, he famously said, "An unexamined faith is not worth having."

At a time in which we're seeing a frightening resurgence of right-wing movements around the world, Adams' work perhaps couldn't be more relevant. This Sunday I'll be asking the question, What is liberal religion's promise? How can Unitarian Universalism give us the hope we need during these troubled times?

Blessings,
Stephanie

Sunday, August 07, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

On the Road to Find Out

Sermon by Stephanie Gannon, Summer Minister.

The road, the way, the path--these are all metaphors different traditions use for the spiritual journey. So many great spiritual teachers leave home, go on a long, arduous journey, and then return home transformed. Where are you right now on your life's journey? What keeps you rooted as you travel along the open road? My sermon this week will explore the paradoxical need to leave home in order to find it, or, as the American poet T.S. Eliot says, to "know the place for the first time."

Sadly, this Sunday will be my last at First Unitarian. I'm so grateful for the opportunities we've had over the course of the last year to learn and grow together. Thank you for sharing your stories with me and for allowing me to journey alongside you over the last several months. I will miss you!

Love & light,
Stephanie

Sunday, August 14, 2016 10:30 am - 11:30 am
This event does not repeat

Search Calendar