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The Year in Review

I’m struggling to believe it’s already June. The soggy early days of “June-uary” (which the Search Committee fully warned me about) may be part of it. But, even more, it’s my surprise that we’ve almost completed our first year together as minister and congregation. How did that happen, so quickly?! Yet, looking back over my calendar and adding up the many milestones, the math does, indeed, check out.

It’s been a wonderful year, from my perspective. I have enjoyed learning the rhythms of the year at VanU, navigating together through the seasons with all the holidays and holy days they bring. I’ve made progress in learning your names and taking in your stories. I’ve basked in the music of the choir. Been awed by the dedication of the congregation’s many committees, teams, and task forces. I’ve appreciated our conversations across meetings, one-on-ones, and several special listening circles. I’ve been moved by your generosity in stretching to surpass the goal for this year’s canvass. And I felt deeply honoured to be installed with the promises we’ve made to one another in support of our shared ministry. Thank you for the adventure of this year together!

While I will be here for most of the Sundays of June, I will be taking an extended break over the summer to catch my breath and to begin planning for the coming year. I will return to the office and the pulpit in mid-August. I’m grateful to everyone who has stepped forward offering to lead services in July and August.

Whatever your summer plans, I hope you will find the gifts of deep rest and renewal in these slower, warmer months. (And don’t forget to scoop up a bit of water to share in our Water Communion Service on September 8th!)

In faith and love,
Shawn


Upcoming services, June 2024

June 9th: The Good, the Bad, and Everything in Between

Rev. Shawn Gauthier

It’s been said that experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted. And, yet, experience can be an incredibly valuable gift. In this service, we will reflect on the role that experience plays in shaping our existence.


June 16th: Bridging Ceremony

Youth, Kiersten, Olivia, Shawn and more

In this year’s Bridging Ceremony, we will meaningfully mark a number of transitions, including our graduating youth group members moving into adulthood. The service will include reflections from those transitioning from one life stage to another.


June 23rd: Life at the Improv

Rev. Shawn Gauthier

So much of life is made up as we go along, an improvisation of the themes of everyday life. Shawn’s sermon will focus on embracing improvisation as a key to the art of living.


June 30th

Reilly Yeo

UU Candidate for Ministry, Reilly Yeo, returns to VanU for a message reflecting on our relationship with the earth and the places where we can find hope.

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Promises to Keep

As I write these words, I am mindful that it has been exactly one year since you called me to be your minister on 30 April 2023. Anniversaries are incredibly important to me. Each year, on my wedding anniversary, I read and reflect on the vows I made to Bob when we said, “I do.”

Every June 10th, I read and reflect on the vows I took the day I was ordained a minister. And every May 5th, for years to come, I will take time to read and reflect on the vows that we — that you and I — will make to one another at next Sunday’s Service of Installation.

Some three decades ago, one of my most important mentors gave me guidance that has served me well: “Make promises you can keep. Keep your promises. And your promises will keep you.” To me, these words are a reminder that enduring relationships require both intention and ongoing commitment. Fortunately, the routine maintenance they demand and deserve is, more often than not, repaid in the blessings and benefits of happy, healthy relationships. This is my deepest hope as we make our promises to one another.

The text of the Act of Installation can be found HERE. These words draw heavily on earlier words spoken between the Vancouver Unitarians and its previous ministers at their installation services, going back almost a century. The Board has reviewed and approved these words on the congregation’s behalf. We share them with you now, in advance of Sunday’s ceremony, that you might read and reflect on them before we exchange these promises in our sanctuary at 4:00pm, next Sunday, May 5th.

The installation service will feature an array of great speakers, including Rev. Shana Lynngood, co-minister of the First Unitarian Congregation of Victoria, who will deliver a sermon titled “Present Moment, Future Moment.” Rev. Anne Barker, from the CUC, will return to VanU to deliver “The Charge to the Congregation.” And the “Charge to the Minister” will be delivered by four of my closest friends and colleagues, all classmates from Harvard Divinity School and part of an ongoing collegial study/support group that we founded almost twenty years ago; for nearly two decades, we have met monthly and for a retreat annually, to reflect on the work of ministry and our calling to serve the well-being of our beloved liberal religious tradition.

These and the many other colleagues who will be with us on Sunday sustain, encourage, and challenge me, and I’m so deeply honoured they’ll be here with us to celebrate. And I’m delighted that you will get to meet them, and they you. In addition to wonderful speakers, our choir and Chalice Ensemble will be singing three of my favourite anthems. It’s going to be a great occasion.

Now, you may well wonder why we’ve waited a year for this Service of Installation. My hope is that this past year has given us the time required to develop a deeper sense of one another, so that in making our promises to this shared ministry, we might do so in a more meaningful and informed way. After all, the hope is that these promises will keep us, for many years still to come.

I am excited for all that our future holds, and I look forward to celebrating our promises to this possibility next Sunday.

In faith and love,
Shawn

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Sunday Services Coming up in May

May 5th (11:00am) – “Creativity Constrained”

Rev. Claire Feingold Thoryn

Shawn’s dear friend and colleague, and one of Unitarian Universalism’s finest preachers (who
now teaches preaching at Harvard Divinity School), will deliver the morning sermon. Rev. Claire
will speak about how our perceptions/what our eyes see is not always the truth, and how
sometimes we are more creative when our creativity is constrained.


May 5th (4:00pm) – “Present Moment, Future Moment”

Rev. Shana Lynngood

Rev. Shana, the co-minister of the First Unitarian Congregation of Victoria, will deliver the
sermon during the Service of Installation. She will challenge us to live out our shared ministry in
the here and now, while building for the future.


May 12th – “Waging Peace”

Rev. Shawn Gauthier

Rev. Shawn’s sermon will reflect on the worrying state of wars in our world, drawing on what the
origins of Mother’s Day can teach us about labouring in the cause of peace.


May 19th – “A Celebration of Stories”

Our IPA Team (IBPOC Plus Allies) will lead this service, inviting us into the stories that make us
who we are. The service will feature guest musicians and the opportunity for the congregation to
begin learning to sing “Spirit of Life” in Mandarin.


May 26th – “Is There Unity in Our Diversity?”

Rev. Shawn Gauthier

Sometimes, given our great diversity of views, one has to wonder if we can find common ground.
Rev. Shawn’s sermon will explore what we share and what keeps us together.

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Why we exist

The Unitarian minister A. Powell Davies once said, “life is a chance to grow a soul.” He didn’t mean something out-of-this-world, but rather an experience rooted in the reality of the here-and-now.

The work of growing our souls, with intention and care, is the high calling of our faith and the purpose of our congregation. It is the work we undertake, together, when we gather on Sundays, when we engage in meaningful dialogue, when we tend the sacred bonds that knit our lives with others and the great web of being. It happens at potluck dinners and committee meetings, while tending the grounds of our campus, and while marching together for justice.

And it is work we undertake whenever we choose to be generous with our resources in support of those things we most cherish. It is by such transformative acts that a soul is grown. It is through such dedication that “we build the common good and make our own days glad,” to quote one of my favourite hymns.

On April 14th, we will launch our annual campaign to seek financial and volunteer support for the future well-being of our congregation. I would ask, between now and then, that you consider what it would mean for you to make a principled commitment to VanU for the coming year.

To ask what it would take for your giving—of your money, your time, yourself—to be truly transformative? To wonder and to respond to this chance to grow your soul by investing in this community of memory and hope.

With excitement for our future,

Shawn


Sunday services coming up in April

April 7th – Kiersten Moore: “Growing Up and Growing Whole”

Kiersten Moore, our Director of Lifespan Faith Development, will reflect on the stages of faith development as we move through the seasons of life.


April 14th – Rev. Shawn Gauthier: “Investing in Our Future”

Over the past few years, the congregation has focussed a great deal on who it is and who it aspires to become. In this service, Rev. Shawn will invite us to consider how much of ourselves—through the work of our hearts and hands (and our resources)—we are willing to invest in our congregation to make those dreams come true.


April 21st – Councillor Christine Boyle: “A Celebration of Earth Day”

Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle and the Environment Team come together to reflect on the challenges we face and the hopes we carry, as we celebrate the earth and the interdependent web of life, of which we are a part.


April 28th – Rev. Shawn Gauthier: “The Wheels on the Bus”

In this service, Rev. Gauthier will reflect on the possibility of finding deep joy and enduring meaning, even in the mundane stuff of life.

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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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