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Creating Theology Together

There’s a perception out there that being a Unitarian means believing whatever one wants.

There is, of course, a lot of latitude in our tradition for shaping a theology that makes sense to us as individuals. Indeed, we are encouraged to “build our own theology,” piecing together our best understanding of the big theological questions—questions about the purpose of life and the meaning of death, the nature of the divine and the reality of evil, the call of justice and the demands of a life of integrity.

In this, Unitarianism calls us to a “free and responsible search” for truth and meaning. We are empowered to undertake a curious and critical exploration of the world around us, unencumbered by doctrine, while remaining mindful of the rich theological tradition to which we belong. Maintaining that balance between freedom and responsibility, for me, requires a community because I find that building one’s own theology is something best done in dialogue.

Later this month, in an effort to foster that dialogue, Kiersten and I will co-facilitate the next round of Creating Theology Together, a workshop that begins with a Saturday retreat on February 24th and will continues over three consecutive Wednesday evenings. In this series we’ll explore the theology we share as a congregation. Kiersten and I have substantially rewritten the curriculum to fit our context at VanU, and we hope you’ll join with us for this time of shared meaning making. We will delve into the history of our Principles, reflect on the influence of Universalism, and discuss how our theology of interdependence has changed our view of the world around us. You can find more information and register to
attend here.

I’m grateful to be sharing this adventure with you all!

In faith and love,

Shawn


February Sunday Services

February 4th – “Belonging”

Kathy Sayers

It’s been said that we are living in a time of profound loneliness. Kathy Sayers, founding member of Vancouver’s newest cohousing community, explores what happiness research says about how the communities we belong to impact our wellbeing. How does knowing your neighbours well enough to borrow a cup of sugar contribute to feelings of trust? What part do casual relations—say, the woman in your local yoga class, your librarian, or your mailman—play in your happiness? Are there novel ways we can live together—like the cohousing community Kathy belongs to—that can enrich our lives and ease our feeling of
separateness?

February 11th – “All Kinds of Love”

Rev. Shawn Gauthier

Though Valentine’s is often thought of as a day to celebrate romantic love, we will mark this holiday as an invitation to bask in the splendour of love’s many forms. This Sunday’s service will involve a marvellous mix of music and powerful poems that speak to the love found in many different types of relationships.

February 18th – “Facing Life’s Fragility”

Rev. Shawn Gauthier

Most any effort to make sense of our own mortality leads on to questions about how we are living “in the meantime.” This Sunday, Rev. Shawn will invite us to reflect on the delicate dance through life, and through death.

February 25th – “Worthship”

Rev. Shawn Gauthier & the Worship Services Team

This Sunday, we will explore the meaning of various elements in our weekly worship services. Rev. Shawn and the Worship Team hope to demystify aspects of worship in the Unitarian tradition, while also lifting up the complexities involved in creating worship in a theologically diverse congregation.

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Investment advice from your Minister

As the calendar turns from one year to the next, it’s a natural time to take stock of the return on whatever investments we have made with our lives over the prior year. With anxiety over the economy so often in the news, we could be easily seduced into thinking our bottom line is the only meaningful measure of our lives. But, it is not, and it never really has been. After all, when was the last time you attended a memorial service where the balance of the dearly departed’s bank account mattered—unless that person had somehow managed to be extraordinarily generous with whatever they had?

While we cannot always forecast our financial futures with as much certainty as we might like, there is much we can do to ensure a healthy, balanced, and meaningful life. So, here’s my best spiritual investment advice to you:

Engage: Jump in with everything you’ve got. Don’t hold back! It’s like the Hokey-Pokey: “You put your whole self in, you take your whole self out, you put your whole self in, and you shake it all about. . .” The poet Wendell Berry was so right when he said, “Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.”

Diversify: Broaden your involvement. Branch out. Have a spiritual life that extends beyond Sundays. Listen to different opinions. Seek out new perspectives. Consider possibilities you never have before.

Go with your gut: Trust your instincts, and be guided by that “voice, still and small” within. Regularly ask yourself what you are feeling called to do with your life, and when the way becomes clear, go for it!

Follow your bliss: Invest your time and energy and resources into the things inthis world that matter most to you. Give the labour of your heart and your hands to making the difference that you, alone, can.

Be in for the long-haul: Deepen your commitment to what spiritually sustains you and this community. Reach out to others. Join a small group. Come to see Coffee Hour as an adventure! Help out with what needs to be done. Take on responsibility. Take up leadership. Take your spiritual development seriously.

As we move into this new season, this is the soundest advice I can offer. As your advisor, please let me know if you’d like to discuss your investment strategy for the year ahead.

May 2024 be a year of great joy and deep meaning for us all.

In faith and love,

Shawn


Services this month

Lives Lived – link

January 7th – Rev. Shawn Gauthier

In this strangely life-affirming service, we will look back on the lives of some of the famous and not-so-famous people who died in 2023, and whose lives changed our world in ways big and small.

The Great Good Place – link

January 14th – Rev. Shawn Gauthier

As the world around us becomes increasingly secularized, it’s fair to ask—and essential that we ask—what our congregation is really for.

The Unitarian Genome Project – link

January 21st – Rev. Shawn Gauthier

In this service, Rev. Shawn will put our tradition under the proverbial microscope. In this exploration of the Unitarian genotype, we’ll seek to understand what’s in our DNA.

Feeding the Fire of Intentions – link

January 28th- Vancouver Unitarians Lay Chaplains

Our Lay Chaplain team will lead us in a service honouring the Pagan tradition of Imbolc by reflecting on the meaning of spiritual growth.

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A note from Rev. Shawn: Glacial Erratic

I was recently asked the oh-so telling question: “If you were a rock, what kind of rock would you be?”  Having taken geology in university, I immediately began comparing myself to the qualities of obsidian and granite and limestone, wondering just how I stacked up. In the end, it was less a question about what I am made of and more about where I’d been. 

My answer was that I am a Glacial Erratic. Those are the boulders that end up a long way from home, slowly transported by the plodding pace of a glacier and then dropped as a stranger in a strange land as the melting glacier recedes. (That’s how the United State’s much-hyped Plymouth Rock settled on the sandy shores of Massachusetts Bay some twenty thousand years ago, even though its lithology reveals it started out somewhere between Boston and Quebec.)

Like most Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists, I started out in another religious tradition and explored a few others along the way for good measure. Today, swept far away from where I first began, I’m grateful for the marvellous mix that is our theological home. Yet, the journey is far from over—for ours is a faith that is “ever moving, ever still.” 

It is this idea that is at the heart of one of the creeds by which I live my life: “Nothing is settled. Everything matters!” By these words, I’m reminded that we can build a world better than the one we know. So, as I settle in at UCV, I delight in the knowledge that we can make a difference, even if it requires that we be a little erratic along the way!

I look forward to seeing where time takes us, together.

In faith and love,

Shawn 

November Sunday services at UCV

November 5th – Rev. Anne Barker: “Three Lessons that Changed My Mind”

On the 5th, we will welcome to our pulpit Rev. Anne Barker, the Congregational Life Lead for the BC and Western Regions of the Canadian Unitarian Council. In gratitude for the wisdom and gifts of others, Rev. Anne will bring a 2nd Source reflection. She’ll share three lessons that surprised her with their transformative power …changing her mind, as well as her life.

A ceremony to dedicate a new heritage plaque in the courtyard will follow the service, at 12:15pm. Rev. Shawn and Rev. Steven Epperson will take part in the ritual with members of the Building & Grounds Committee. All are welcome.

November 12th – Rev. Shawn Gauthier: “War Is Hell”

This weekend, we mark Remembrance Day with new and jarring reminders of war’s utter brutality. Rev. Shawn will reflect on the moral injuries of war and the rarely-heeded call of peace.

November 19th” – Rev. Shawn Newton: “The Alchemy of a Sunday Morning”

A not-insignificant part of a minister’s working week is dedicated to what happens on Sunday mornings. This week, Rev. Shawn will pull back the curtain to reflect on the craft of preaching and the art of worship, because what we do together on Sundays is very much a shared endeavour.

November 26th – Paul Prescod: “Can we remain fully Human in the Age of Spiritual Machines?”

Scientists and leading capitalists have declared that they can foresee the near-term end of a project that they have been working on since 1956: the creation of digital beings that are as intellectually flexible as humans: Artificial Intelligence. Whether they succeed or fall short, some form of “Homo Digitalis” is on the horizon. What are the implications for us, the Homo Sapiens? What, especially, of those of us who hold reverence for humanity and nature as not just a preference, but as a sacred devotion.

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A note from Rev. Shawn: An Invitation to Go Deeper

From time to time, I meet people, completely unattached to a Unitarian congregation, who explain to me that they are, in fact, Unitarians. While that may be true in terms of belief and outlook, I question whether the claim holds up in practice. To put it plainly, I’m not convinced one can be a Unitarian all alone. I believe ours to be a faith that comes alive in community. Our theological beliefs are honed through dialogue. And our principles are enlivened (and tested!) through our relationships. Without these practices, our faith can become largely theoretical.

It’s often said that what we get out of our congregations is directly related to what we put in—what we invest, in terms of our time, our energy, and our financial resources. So, as we move into this first autumn together, I invite you to deepen your involvement at UCV. (Now, if you’re already serving on three committees and singing the choir, this message isn’t necessarily for you!)

Through the course of this year, Kiersten Moore and I will be leading three one-month units of a program called Creating Theology Together. Each unit begins with a half-day retreat on a Saturday or Sunday, followed by three Wednesday night gatherings. The units, which build on each other, will be offered in the fall, winter, and spring. We are hoping for significant participation from the congregation, so please consider whether this is a form of faith exploration that you might weave into your life this year. You can find more information about the program, as well as the registration form, here.

As well, we invite you to join a small Covenant Group for monthly exploration of the themes we will explore this year through Sunday services and other areas of life at UCV. I will be curating the “Soul Matters” materials and will share these resources for your reflection through the course of the month. Each packet will contain a collection of readings, a possible spiritual exercise, and discussion questions to consider. These materials will anchor the group conversations later in the month. You can find more information about these groups and the form to indicate your interest here. We hope, if there is a strong response, to launch new groups in different parts of the city and on various days of the week.

May this be a year of deep and meaningful engagement for us all—and a reminder that we best discover what it means to be Unitarians together!

In faith and love,

Shawn

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A note from Rev. Shawn: Beginner’s Mind

In the Zen Buddhist tradition, there is a wonderfully helpful concept known as “Beginner’s Mind.” It is an invitation to view a new situation as if for the first time, with fresh eyes and free from the burdens and limitations that come with preconceived notions.

Sōtō Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki described the practice as simultaneously emptying one’s mind while opening oneself to everything.

Through cultivating this practice of deep curiosity, Suzuki believed beginners could gain access to a world of possibilities—possibilities largely inaccessible to the seasoned expert who, thinking they’ve seen it all, can be limited by their knowledge, their assumptions, and their expectations. 

As I take up the role of settled minister here at UCV, I’m trying to practise Beginner’s Mind. This is relatively easy for me, given that I am, after all, just beginning. So many aspects of life at and around UCV are completely new to me. This is both exciting and daunting! 

At the same time, you called me to serve as minister here, in part, because I actually do have some experience and expertise. For better or worse, I’m not a novice. So, as I open myself to this first year together, I’m seeking to balance the discipline of Beginner’s Mind with the need to draw on hard-won wisdom from other chapters of my life. I imagine my work in the months ahead will involve both suspending judgement and simply taking things in, all while putting to use the skills I bring to our work together. This means my primary goal for the coming year is to simply get to know the congregation, as you get to know me. This will involve listening and learning for us all, as we deepen our trust and commitment to each other and to this ministry that we now share.

While I’ve appreciated having these last few weeks to unpack my office, attend Sunday services, visit with various committees and teams, and meet many members of the congregation, I’m really looking forward to finally leading worship on Sunday, September 10th, when we will gather for our beloved Water Communion ritual. That morning, through rituals and reflections, with the return of the choir, and by raising our voices in joyous singing, we will launch a new year in the life of the congregation. I encourage you to bring a small amount of water that literally or symbolically reflects a meaningful experience you’ve had in recent months. (If you forget, know that we’ll have plenty of water on hand so you can still fully participate in the ritual.) This year’s ceremony will include three invitations to pour water: the waters of sadness and grief, the waters of change and transformation, and the waters of renewal and joy. Give thought in the coming days to what these recent months have meant to you—and what meaning your water holds.

With great hope,
Shawn 

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