Our Living Tradition

Sermon by Rev. Shawn Newton.

Stained glass flaming chalice Over time, I have become sufficiently Canadian to be routinely irritated by the way news from the U.S. so often overwhelms our media north of the border and, sadly, distracts us from similar concerns here at home. Such is life sleeping next to the proverbial elephant, I know. As a dual-citizen of both countries, I hold this tension deep within me. At times, I struggle to discern what I, as a Canadian, need to know or feel or do to respond to something unfolding in the American context—especially when the issues on the other side of the border resonate here, as well. Perhaps this, or some version of it, is something many of you have felt in this present (re)awakening around racial justice. Yes, of course, there is systemic racism in Canada, and clearly there is much work to be done to dismantle it. But, if we’re not careful, we can so easily be obsessed with the American story that we fail to sustain our attention and our action to do our work in Canada.

I find there is a similar dynamic in how we as Canadian Unitarians tend to relate to the Unitarian Universalist Association in the U.S. While we serve our wider UU faith in two different national contexts—contexts with many similarities and many meaningful differences—we are all working to live our lives from the same set of guiding principles.

Over the last few years, there has been a concerted effort in the UUA and its member congregations to dismantle racism and other oppressions alive and well in our world and in our faith movement. While there have been similar efforts within the congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, with particular focus on the work of Reconciliation, there is more that we could and should be doing. As I see it, a big part of our work is discerning what is uniquely ours to do, here and now in our context, while drawing on the resources, wisdom, and experiences of others who are on this path.

In the service on Sunday, we will unpack Unitarian Universalism’s complicated history around race and racism. While part of this story is set in the U.S. context, much of it overlaps with Canadian Unitarianism; indeed, we were a single denomination for several decades, including the years of the Civil Rights Movement. The story I will share on Sunday touches on Unitarian ties to Black slavery and eugenics, to boycotts and walk-outs (within our own denomination), and sometimes to our bold efforts to try to set things right. This story covers over two centuries and spans from Boston to Selma, from Calgary to Toronto. This story needs to be shared, because if we hold a common understanding of our history, we may be able to move toward a different and better future. That is my sacred hope.

In faith and love,

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