The Silent Hero

By: Rev. Diane Rollert, 11 November 2018

Last week, I spent seven days in Toronto at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. One of the highlights was an invitation that I and the other Unitarian Universalist ministers attending the parliament received on behalf of the City Shul, a synagogue in downtown Toronto. We were asked if we would please come to form a circle of peace around the synagogue, in response to the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.

Eleven Jewish worshipers had been massacred in Pittsburgh the Saturday before, on October 27, by a man who shouted that he wanted to kill as many Jews as he possibly could. The pain, grief and horror were still so raw in everyone’s hearts.

The City Shul is a small synagogue that rents space at the Bloor Street United Church. It was early when we arrived, the chilliest morning of the week. At first we were just a few, but with time, the circle grew and we succeeded in surrounding the building. We were joined by the members of the Bloor Street church, along with Muslim neighbours and others. As members of the City Shul congregation arrived, they greeted us with the words “Thank you so much for being here. Shabbat Shalom.” Before their worship service began, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein and other leaders of the congregation walked the perimeter of the circle, thanking us with tears in their eyes.

Clergy and community representatives were invited inside for the service. It was an incredibly moving experience. The congregation was emotionally overwhelmed by the number of guests who filled their sanctuary. After prayers were sung, local dignitaries and visiting clergy spoke. A local imam said that he and his community were there because the synagogue had supported them when their mosque had been attacked.

The memory of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones was lifted up as well, two African Americans who were shot in Louisville, KY, the week before, by a man who had intended to attack an African American church. Finding the church closed, he mercilessly executed two strangers in a grocery store, simply because of the colour of their skin.

The Rabbi Goldstein spoke powerful words as she honoured the dead in Pittsburgh.

Read the full text here.

What Makes a Super Hero?

Sunday, 4 November 2018

This year, on the first Sunday of every month, the children are invited to stay in the sanctuary for a multi-generational service. The prayground is set up with materials, and both children and adults will be invited to participate in the service today. Today’s service takes the form of a play, with a script and all!

To see the full text version of this service, click here.

Seeds and Stones Meditation

By: AmberDawn Bellemare, 21 October 2018

I invite everyone to imagine holding a river rock in one hand and a sunflower seed in the other. As you explore the two textures, I invite you to reflect on a big risk that you may have had the blessing to experience, and join me in the spirit of prayer, meditation, or silent reflection.

Mother Earth takes her breath
with a profundity and passivity
that shifts whole continents without notice.

The great void within yesterdays’ oceans
eventually becomes the meeting place for coastal collision,
forcing rocky mountains to ascend beyond reach.
Ice caps the distant rugged tips that decorate Father Sky;
Theirs is a slow and steady race toward nothing
that began however many billions of years ago.

Grandfather Sun shines on the glacial plains,
warming drops of water that carve out the rock one grain of sand at a time,
carving out vein-like riverbeds
that blend into watersheds
into basins
and lakes
and oceanic voids.
In however many billion years from now,
as the earth exhales once again and Grandmother Moon keeps ancient time,
the coast may just find itself high above the rest of the world once more,
capped by the frozen waters
it once embraced down below.

The rivers that divide and re-join as they meander down the mountain
look a lot like lightning bolts or tree branches,
look a lot like roots in the ground, veins in stone, in our hearts and in our hands.

Beneath the surface, rose coloured salmon fight their way
upstream, determined to return to their natal rivers,
beckoned to their birthplace.

From the breath of the earth to the veins in our hearts,
from the raging rivers to the salmon who swim them; against all odds,
life is carried back to itself.

Connecting with our deepest humanity,
we are carried back to the place we were born,
carried on the backs of each other,
to that threshold we kick against.

It is here we find within us the very seeds and stones
that gift birth
and weigh us down.
Heavy are the stones, sometimes
but one million rocks in hand
could never amount to the summits we climb together.

This sacred surface on which we tread, trip over, scrape our knees
reveals the path that shapes our vision;
It guides us, reminding us,
just where, exactly, to plant our seeds.

Can we grow beyond the form of our ancestors?

Into unfathomed potentials,
we are fed by the wisdom of the waters that rush by,
dividing and re-joining,
meandering down the mountain upon which we stand.
Within our grip, we balance
the risks we take and the people we take them with.

Can we grow beyond our fear of hurting too much,
of laughing too hard,
of dividing and re-joining?

Connecting with our deepest humanity,
we may just find ourselves at the beginning again.

Wherever we are in this sacred circle
May we all carry one another
the long way home,
stones and seeds in hand.

Our unfathomed potential,
anchored in the breath of the earth.

- AmberDawn Bellemare, Unitarian Church of Montreal

Read full sermon: Campfire, Traplines, and Wildflowers

Listen to full Service here:

Bringing Your Spirit Home

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 14 October 2018

As I think of our ancestors, I keep returning to this quote from African American writer, Ralph Ellison:

“Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.”

I love the beautiful messages of gratitude that many of you wrote to your ancestors last week for our Thanksgiving service. There were thanks for life, love, courage, song, traditions, eyebrows, thick skin, health and longevity. Our ancestors have given us many blessings. But ancestry also comes with the burdens of the past.

Unitarian Universalism is my chosen faith, and Unitarian Universalists are my chosen ancestors. I come here holding onto the teachings of the family I grew up with and the ancestors who connect me to my racial, ethnic, religious and cultural roots. This faith has enabled me to hold onto what is good in my past and to let go of what I don’t need, as I engage in this ever unfolding process of bringing my spirit home.

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Tell Me a Story

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 23 September 2018

I remember once taking a very wet camping trip with our kids. It rained heavily all week. It rained so much that giant mushrooms started to take over our campsite, and we were forced to live under a canopy of blue tarps that we had strung up to protect our tent and our gear. With little to do, I sat with my daughter in our tent for hours, reading one of the Harry Potter books out loud. I don’t remember which book it was, but its magic saved our vacation.

When my kids entered their teen years and decided they were too sophisticated for children’s books, I was still anxiously looking forward to the release of the next book in the Harry Potter series. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to Harry and his friends as they grew up, and I needed to know that someday the evil He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (Voldemort) would be vanquished.

You may think I’m weird, but there was a study a few years ago that found that adults make up more than 50% of the readers of young adult novels. These are not adults who are reading to children, but adults who are reading for their own pleasure. I discovered this, and a lot of the information that I’m going to share today, while listening to a program called The Ministry of Ideas, which is part of the Harvard Divinity School Religious Literacy Project. (https://www.ministryofideas.org/) This program was one of the inspirations for choosing to focus on the theme of story this month.

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The Narrative You Choose

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 16 September 2018

Years ago, when I was just a member of a Unitarian congregation, I was deeply disappointed when my minister decided to ignore the Jewish High Holy Days. As someone who has always held onto my Jewish identity as part of my Unitarian Universalism, this hit me hard. So I wrote him a short note to express my feelings. The poor guy, it was probably the last thing he needed to hear. But he sent me a handwritten card of apology, promising that he would never overlook the High Holy Days again. When I became a minister, I made the same commitment to myself and to the people I serve. 

Yom Kippur is the last day of the High Holy Days. From sundown this Tuesday, to sundown on Wednesday, observant Jews will fast, refraining from both eating and drinking. It’s a time when you settle your accounts with God, as well as the people in your life. You ask for forgiveness as well as offer forgiveness so that you can begin again with love; so that you will be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.  

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Reflections from Our Water Communion 2018

On the first Sunday of the fall season, for as long as most of us can remember, we’ve been celebrating a special ceremony we call the water communion. We use the word communion to simply mean “a sharing, a coming together” to affirm all that connects us to each other once again. It’s a tradition that is practiced by many Unitarian Universalist congregations and groups around the world. We come together from different directions, bringing water that we pour into a communal bowl.

Each congregation does the water communion differently. Here at the Unitarian Church of Montreal, we ritually pour water five separate times to symbolize the range of our summer experiences: our times of rest and renewal; our moments of happiness and joy; our grief and loss; the periods of change and transition, and finally, the experiences that remain unnamed.

It’s beautiful to watch as everyone gets up at different times during the ceremony to pour out water, as Sandra Hunt, our director of music, plays music to reflect each mood. Together, we witness an emotional map of our community. From the youngest child to the oldest adult, we see how many of us have been touched by highs, lows and change over the summer.

Here are two reflections from this year’s water communion by Rev. Diane Rollert, our minister, and Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert, our new song leader and choir director.

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Simple Gifts

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 17 June 2018

’Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free,
’tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,
and when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained, 
to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘till by turning, turning we come ‘round right.

            — Quaker hymn

There’s a moment in the Hebrew Bible when the prophet Elijah finds himself standing upon a mountain waiting to hear from God. First a strong wind breaks the rocks around him, but God is not in the wind. Then an earthquake comes, but God is not in the earthquake. Then fire comes, but God is not in the fire. Finally, Elijah hears a still, small voice. In that moment, Elijah realizes that God is in the silence.

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I Say Yes! (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev Diane Rollert, 10 June 2018

Sometimes when I explain Unitarian Universalism to people who’ve never heard of us before, they’ll ask, “But if you don’t follow a single scripture like the Bible or the Qur’an, and you don’t put God or Jesus at the centre of your faith, then what makes you different from a social club?”

I often answer that we leave room for each person to find their own path to the holy, and we’re still a religious community. Why? Because we’re focused on more than just the social. We come together in community to search for answers to the most essential questions: How do we live with meaning and purpose? How do we respond to the intimate and the ultimate in our lives?

You might say we’re seeking simplicity. We’re trying to figure out what’s truly essential. How do we make our mark in this life, when we will never know for sure if there is anything beyond this life? Reincarnation, heaven, hell, the great void of nothingness, the returning from dust to dust and ashes to ashes, or the rearrangement of energy into some new beginning. We can have theories about what happens when we die, but all we truly know is what exists here and now in this very moment. That’s the quest that unites us as something more than a people who gather for coffee and conversation. 

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Simplify My Life, Please (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 3 June 2018

​​​​​​​Years ago, when I was a Montessori teacher, there was nothing I loved more than the days at the end of the summer when I would prepare my classroom for the new year. I’d spend hours in silence, carefully preparing materials, and deciding exactly where each activity would be placed on the bare shelves. It was a kind of meditation. When I was done, I could imagine the children inhabiting the space with their excitement and curiosity.

We rented classroom space from a public school that was surrounded by woods and farmland. In September, as the school year began, I’d buy a sunflower from a local farmer. I’d place the big head of the flower on a tray along with a pair of tweezers. I loved watching even the most restless four- and five-year olds mastering the art of using the tweezers to pull out one seed after another from the drying flower head. Time would be suspended as the simple task became everything for that child.

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The Blessing of the Living Goddess

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 13 May 2018

The late John O’Donohue tells a beautiful story in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. (I love this book. If you’re looking for an inspirational text to read each day, this is it.) 

As a young priest O’Donohue was sent to visit a community of nuns who lived in mostly silent contemplation. When he arrived, an old sister opened the door. Knowing that O’Donohue was a new priest, she asked for his very first blessing. She knelt before him and he drew upon every resource he knew “to invoke the most intimate blessing.” 

And then it dawned on him that the situation was incredibly ironic. Here he was blessing a nun who had lived for more than 60 years “contemplating the searing silence and darkness of God,” and she was asking him, a 25-year-old priest, for his blessing. When she stood up, he knelt down before her and asked for her blessing. The sister was utterly taken aback. She mumbled something and practically ran out of the room. No one, certainly not a priest, had ever asked for her blessing before. 

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A Curious Confluence (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 1 April 2018

Easter, Passover, April Fool’s (Poisson d’avril), the first Sunday in a month focused on the theme of curiosity, my very first day back after a three-month sabbatical. I’ve got nothing... You can go home now…  April Fools!

But seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this dream on a Saturday night that I’m standing in some very strange sanctuary and I discover that I’m supposed to preach and I have no manuscript, no notes, no clue about what I’m supposed to say. I stand in terrified silence, desperately searching through random papers. “What do I say? What do I say?” By the time I finally start to speak, everyone has given up and left the sanctuary.

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Creative Passion or Spiritual Practice (Audio Available)

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 18 March 2018

Last week our service talked about the many different pathways to creativity. Chloe spoke about how creativity could be a person’s “thing” that dance had become her thing, when she was quite young, and although she had attempted to draw and engage her creativity in different ways, it was always the dancing that kept calling her back. She argued that everyone did not need to have a “thing.” That we all ought to engage the many ways that we can be creative and enjoy the many different possibilities. And when you think about creativity in this way, of have your own special “thing”, it creates this isolation of creativity, that people who are really good at something are the only ones who can be creative. Or perhaps it is that only people who are truly creative are those who have an undying passion, or people who need to be creative, else their passion will over run their lives. Many artists have famously fit into this category – Ludwig Van Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and perhaps John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

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Pathways to Creativity

Reflection by Danielle Webber, 11 March 2018

The first time I picked up a pair of knitting needles I would have been 9 or 10, and it was my grandmother who taught me how to cast on, knit and purl. But when I went home from that summer vacation I was not able to maintain the process of making knots with strings and sticks. Well I could make knots, but they didn’t look the way they were supposed to and knitting was more frustrating than enjoyable. Although every time I went back to my grandparents’ house, or they came to visit me I would sit down beside my grandma while she made slippers for one of the many people who received them, or perhaps she was knitting cotton dishcloths, and I got swept up in the mesmerizing rhythm of her needles. I would soon be asking for her help once again to learn how to knit.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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