In Dreams Begin Responsibility

Reflection by Mark Abley, 4 March 2018

When I was a child, an only child growing up in a small city on the prairies, my father would sometimes appear at the supper table with a pencil behind his ear. His eyes would have an abstracted look. My father would sit down at the table, pick at the food my mother placed before him, and as soon as possible, disappear again.

Or rather, he would disappear from the dining table and walk back into the living room, which is where the piano stood. And soon my mother and I would hear him playing some notes, usually just a simple melody or a short sequence of chords, no more than a bar or two. He was composing. Inside his head, even when he sat down to eat his supper, he was listening to music. Sometimes he didn’t need a piano – he would just take the pencil from behind his ear, and scribble some notes on the back of a used envelope or the previous Sunday’s church bulletin.

Read More

Love and Justice (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 25 February 2018

The Unitarian Church of Calgary, which is my home congregation, has spent the last 6 or 7 years hosting a Service auction, as one of their primary fundraisers. Every year the Minister, Rev. Debra Faulk auctions off a sermon title. This means that the person who bids the highest is allowed to pick the focus of a sermon that she will deliver during the next church year. Sometimes the person would choose a topic that they wanted to share the service with, a topic that they wanted to help create a service about. But others would offer ideas that they wanted to hear Debra’s opinion on, asking her to do the research and share her learnings.  A few years ago the person who won this auction item was Gorham H. Now I have known Gorham since I was 10 or 12 years old, he has been a patriarch of the Calgary Church for several decades, and when I decided to do an internship in the Calgary church I asked Gorham if he would be willing to sit on my intern committee. He is an incredibly endearing, generous man who really cares about his community, and is often in the church garden and the community garden tending to the dehydrated plants during the peak of Alberta’s hot summer months. He would deliver extra produce to the food bank, and teach the children and youth about the composting red wiggler worms. And has the RE community help bring the red worms back inside in the fall, so that they don’t die in the cold compost buckets, and then takes them back out in the spring. 
I knew Gorham to be a Universalist, Unitarian – holding onto pieces of the Christian Science theology that he grew up with (such as the ideas that sin was an illusion – but refusing to believe that pray and faith would heal all things), so when he won the Sermon Title at the auction I assumed that he would ask Debra to preach along these lines. But oh how I was mistaken. Later on, during one of our Intern committee meetings Gorham told us the title he had chosen was “Unitarian Universalism- Out with the Old and In with the New.” 

Read More

The Antidote to Perfectionism (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 18 February 2018

Part 1:

Has there ever been a time when you were free from making mistakes? Perhaps a school paper that you were able to receive 100 percent on? Or a project at work were you were able to execute everything perfectly… Where everything aligned itself just so … that when all was said and done, and you looked back at the process, there was nothing that you would have changed? Have you ever been so satisfied with the results of your efforts that you believed there was no room for improvement?

Yeah, me neither.

And yet there is this concept of perfectionism in our society that constantly calls us to be better, calls us to strive for more, and urges us on to the point of breaking.

Read More

By This We Live (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Nicoline Guerrier, 11 February 2018

Imagine it’s Sunday evening, only a few hours from now.

You and a few others have just finished a delicious meal in a restaurant. Along with the aroma of coffee and perhaps Indian chai, there’s the ever present scent of fresh, hot cooked food. It wafts into the room every time the kitchen door swings open or a smiling waiter walks by carrying plates to neighbouring diners.

The energy in the room is high: along with laughter and all the sounds you’d expect - like ice clinking in glasses, dishes being stacked and removed, and the chatter of excited patrons waiting to be seated - there’s also an unusual amount of interaction between tables. People are introducing themselves to folks they’ve never met before. They’re trading stories and discovering connections. One table is teaching another a song.

Read More

How I Became Unitarian

Carole TenBrink, 4 February 2018

This month’s theme is growth.  All our lives we are growing, growing spiritually into our larger selves. This is true for me.  Inspired by Marc Boucher’s reflection here recently, I’d like to tell you of the long, winding road that led me being a Unitarian, passing thru many way stations…. From Dutch Reformed, to Catholicism, to Buddhism, on to Paganism.  May this reflection stir thoughts of your own religious-spiritual journey.

Read More

The Growth of Humanity (Audio Available)

The Growth of humanity. What could that possibly mean? I struggled to describe my concepts to my colleagues as we prepared for this Sunday’s service. 
What is your theme and what are some songs that you think would suit it? What is your take away message? How would you describe this theme to children? 
I felt flustered while attempting to answer each of these questions. How was I supposed to express my sense of disconnect between the growth of a person, and the growth of human kind? That I saw these two concepts as polar opposites to one another, and that I believed that the growth of one, inhibited the growth of the other? 

How do you express that concept in music? Or in a children’s story? Or in a sermon. How do I express my thoughts when they swirl around and are messy on my own head? When I can hardly make sense of them myself? 

Well, I suppose the best way to explain something that is hard for one to express, is to start at the beginning, and take one step at a time. 

Read More

The Pains of Growing (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 14 January 2018

While preparing for this service I watched a TED talks video entitled Why Comfort will ruin your life by Bill Eckstrom, a leadership coach based out of University of Nevada.

Eckstrom describes research that he did on the science of discomfort and growth. After being fired from a job where he had become comfortable and secure in upper management Eckstrom began discerning how discomfort can challenge us to grow or to shrink. His research finds that there are four environments that promote or hinder growth – what he calls growth rings, that run into each other, and overlap one another. The first environment is called stagnation – obviously not much is happening here, people are required to follow certain steps, have certain permissions, and have a consistent repetition in their lives. The last environment is Chaos – and yet again obviously no growth happens here, because there is zero possibility of input or predictability. There is no room for growth because there is no control of outcomes.

Read More

Growing the Space Between

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 7 January 2018

I have been doing theological reflections for much of my life. Although, of course, I would not have called it that. But ever since I was little I have been reflecting on the world, pondering the meaning of things. Trying to decide how people interacted, and why they interacted they way they did, and making connections. Growing up Unitarian Universalist, and being raised by Unitarian Universalists meant that I was always pondering, always questioning and searching for truth. I learned about the Seven Principles, probably before I turned seven. And I was always asked to connect our faith’s principles to everyday reasoning. My parents expected that I would use the principles as a tool when making decisions and I have now relied on this practice for many years. This soon became habit for me. To look for deeper meaning in everything around me. Whether it was for a school assignment, or listening to a music album I would look for more, I would seek deeper understanding. Reminiscing on a conversation I had with my best friend, struggling to remain considerate through my divorce or trying to determine how I was going to move across the country. Every aspect of my life required greater decision making, required that I look to my faith, and the ideals that I proclaimed were important to me. Although I would not have known I was doing it, I have been reflecting on theological concepts since I was a pre-teen.

Read More

Our Most Humble Moments

Reflections by Rev. Diane Rollert and Rev. Lynn Harrison. 26 November 2017

Part I: Rev. Lynn Harrison

When Diane suggested the sermon title of “Our Most Humble Moments” to me, I thought it was a great idea!

It sounded so human and down-to-earth…I loved it. That is, until I started thinking about it, and realized that I’d have to share a story about being humbled…coming to terms with my own flaws or imperfections. Suddenly I was a little less keen on the idea.

Mind you, I am preaching this morning at a congregation other than my own…so, I feel a little more free in sharing with you some of my less-than-stellar moments.  

We all have them of course. Things we’ve said that we wish we could take back… Choices we made that we soon regretted. Over time, if we’re lucky, those moments contribute to our deepening sense of what it means to be human. They help us develop compassion, as we watch other people also learn lessons the hard way. Most of all, they teach us that “inherent worth” is not about never making mistakes. It’s about extending love to ourselves and others, even when—or especially when—we do make mistakes.

So…here’s the story of one of my most humble moments.  

Read More

The Humble Leader (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 12 November 2017

Less than two weeks ago, I was standing before the monument to the Canadian soldiers at Vimy Ridge, just outside the city of Arras, France. It’s a place beyond words. The monument stands in the middle of 250 acres of open land. Two soaring towers of beautiful gleaming golden-white marble represent the ten thousand English and French Canadian lives lost during the battle at Vimy Ridge, waged between April 9th and 12th, 1917.  The towers are so tall that you get vertigo looking up at them.

Names of the ten thousand dead are carved in alphabetical order around the base of the monument, names of soldiers, most whom their bodies were never individually identified. A few giant allegorical figures are placed strategically around the towers. None of the figures are triumphant. Instead, they represent helplessness, loss, the values that were fought for, a soldier breaking the sword in hopes of peace, angels looking up to the heavens. One female figure stands alone beyond the others, her head bowed in sorrow as she surveys the killing fields below. She’s known as Canada Bereft or Mother Canada, mourning her dead.

Read More

Connecting With the Light (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 15 October 2017

Many of you already know that I’m leaving for Europe next Thursday for a two-week trip. Sometime ago, I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the European Unitarian Universalists’ fall retreat that will be held in Spa, Belgium. Before we get to Belgium, we’re starting out in Paris where I’ll be preaching at the Paris UU fellowship next Sunday. I want to thank you for graciously letting me make these connections with our fellow UUs in Europe. I’m also grateful to Rev. Nicoline Guerrier who will lead the worship services during the two Sundays I’m away.

When Nicoline and I mapped out the services for this month’s theme on connection, we agreed that there was a lot that could be said about human connections, this sort of horizontal connection to each other, but there had to be at least one week when we talked about connecting to God or to the Ultimate. In other words, the vertical connection. Nicoline laughed and said to me, “I’ll let you do the God connection.” 

Read More

Call Me Maybe (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 1 October 2017

The other day I heard this wonderful interview with Guillermo del Toro. (
Del Toro is a Mexican-American film director, screenwriter, a producer and a novelist who has been fascinated by monsters since he was very young. He made one of my favourite films, Pan’s Labyrinth, set in post-Civil War Spain during the early fascist era of Franco’s regime — the story of a young girl’s fantastical encounters with the netherworld. An excellent exhibit of Del Toro’s monster collection just opened in Toronto at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Del Toro explained that he finds monsters to be very moving. Unlike heroes, they are creatures who are suffering. Monsters, like humans, are imperfect, fallible, in pain. We are closer to monsters than we are to the angels, he says. He saw his own difficulties as an awkward child in monster stories. Then he said this, which really struck me: Most every artist spends their entire life solving their first ten years of life. “That’s the forge in which we are created,” he said. “And then we spend the rest of our lives deciphering, disassembling and correcting the things that were done wrong when we were kids.” 

Read More

I'm Never, Ever Letting You Go (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 24 September 2017

It was late April. Two years ago in the evening. I had every intention of getting home by 9:30 that night, but there I was in my office after a long meeting. There’s was a knock at the door. That night’s concierge popped her head in. “Your sister-in-law’s on the phone,” she said. It was really odd for any of us to have picked up the main church line at that hour. My mind couldn’t even register why one of my sisters-in-law would be calling.

I picked up the phone. It was my brother’s wife in California. My father was in the hospital. There was a large hemorrhage in his brain. They didn’t know if he would survive the night.

Read More

The Reed that Bends, the Tree that Breaks(Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 17 September 2016

There’s a French fable from the late 17th century by Jean de La Fontaine, The Oak and the Reed, Le chêne et le roseau. The oak stands tall and tells the thin reed, “You grow along the banks of the river, but you are weak and you need me to give you shelter.” “Oh,” says the reed, “you are too kind to care so much about me. But just wait. When the storm comes and the winds blow hard, I will still be here, but you will be gone.”

Les vents me sont moins qu’à vous redoutables.
Je plie, et ne romps pas.

The cruel North wind blows and just as the reed has warned, the oak tree is uprooted in its inability to bend, while the reed remains, small but mighty.

Read More

As the Water Flows: Reflecting on Letting Go (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 10 September 2017

Two months ago, when we set the plans for this water communion Sunday, we weren’t anticipating hurricanes Harvey, Irma or Jose, or the 40 million people in South Asia facing the aftermath of epic floods, or the people of Mexico responding to a major earthquake, or historic forest fires out west. Much of this has happened just in the past few weeks.

So let us a take a moment to acknowledge the fragile balance we share with the oceans and rivers that surround us. Let us also acknowledge our relationship to the earth and her climate — recognizing the role we play in climate change and the power this earth has to change our lives in an instant. May we remember all the lives that have been lost and the millions of people struggling across the world to rebuild their lives.

Breathe with me. Mourn with me. Pray with me.  Amen.

Read More

Let Go with LEGO (Audio Available)

Reflection by Akiko Asano, 23 July 2017

Good morning,

First, I would like to thank the summer services team for asking me to present again in front of all you awesome people.

Little did I know that when I first presented a “family coming out” speech at the Guelph Sexuality conference in 2013, that it would lead me to present it again many times. Each time it got easier and each time the “introduction” phrase of who I am started to shift and to change as I became aware of other aspects my own gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. I started to construct the new, improved, better version of “me”. Not only was I advocating for my trans child, I started to advocate for me.

Read More

To Hold Our Traditions Fast — Or Not? (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 11 June 2017

To clap or not to clap, that is the question. 

Many years ago, it wasn’t unusual for the congregation to clap after each piece of music, breaking the flow of worship. A lot of people began to feel that the clapping took away from their feeling of being in worship and moved things more into a performance. So, in 1999, when two of our members went to an organ concert in Davis, California, a solution was conceived.

The couple noticed a man in the pew in front of them who did not clap. “Instead he used one or a combination of hand actions. Sometimes he held both hands vertical, palm out, in front of himself and rotated them out and back in rapidly several times – this action, he said when questioned after the concert, is the International Sign Language for the Deaf sign for applause. 

Read More

The Flower Communion 95 Years Later (Audio Available)

This month we are exploring the theme of tradition. Now and then, over the years, I encounter someone who asks me why we Unitarians — who have liberated ourselves from the chains of rigid dogma — why would we celebrate traditions of any kind? “Do you do anything the same way from week to week or year to year?” they ask. “Do you even have worship services?”

Over the years, I’ve encountered a few people who argue that Unitarians should have no traditions, but that’s a pretty hard and rare line. Personally, I cherish our freedom of thought and the way we invite each other to responsibly search for our own truth and meaning and sense of the sacred. But I also love tradition, and I believe we humans need traditions to help us make sense of our lives.

Read More

Cinnamon Sugar

Yvette Salinas, presented as part of the May 7th  Race, Diversity and Inclusion: A Teach-in Sunday Worship Service

Verónica loved cinnamon. She loved making tea with cinnamon sticks on cold, gray days. She loved rolling pan de polvo cookies in cinnamon powder while they were still warm from the oven. She even loved mixing cinnamon sugar into her mother's cafe those mornings after the baby had cried all night long. There was something about its color, its flavor, that just made her happy...even a little bit connected to the home of her Ancestors, far south from where she lived now.

Verónica lived with her Mother, Mami; her father, Papi; and the baby. Far from any extended relatives, Veronica's little family took care of each other. Always.

One Saturday, Verónica noticed her mother looking sad. Really sad. “Tomorrow we will try going to a new church,” Mami announced suddenly.

“Why?” Veró and Papi asked. It had been years since they last attended any church.

Read More