What’s in a Name (Part 2)
In case you missed it, read about what prompted us to begin marketing ourselves externally as “SSUC: Spiritual Seekers United in Community”. Read What’s in a Name (part 1) Who are Millennials?  Millennials are the generation born somewhere from the late 1970’s until the late 1990’s. There’s much debate about what defines this generation, but some of what makes them unique is that they are marrying later; are upbeat about their economic future, despite the fact that almost 60 percent of them do not have full-time jobs and are likely living at home; are heavily into social networking; and communicate almost entirely through smart phones. 59 percent of millennials with a Christian background are not attending church, and some eight million in North America will leave the church before age 30. According to Rachel Held Evans, millennials, more than any other generation, will not choose between science and religion, but want
What good is Good Friday?
How do I judge the value of a religious observance? The only way it makes sense to me is if the holiday has relevance to my life, my living, and provide inspiration for me to improve myself and make a difference in my world. If not, it’s a relic of the past and doesn’t have any wisdom to share. Good Friday is one of those days that, traditionally interpreted, can be challenging to find relevance. In so many traditional settings, the story of Jesus’ death is read and re-enacted with melodrama and sadness, the purpose being to “experience” the death of the ‘son of god’, the snuffing out of the light of goodness in wait for its triumphant return on Easter. Those sad and melancholic observances are the result of centuries of theological gymnastics that the christian church has done to layer this story with liturgical meaning, turning the execution
The Dinner Project: A New Spiritual Gathering
Excited to announce a new type of Spiritual Gathering. Over the next 3 months SSUC will be featuring The Dinner Project.  An evening of shared wisdom and activity, followed by a catered dinner. Explore ideas that help make the everyday meaningful, connect you with community and make an impact. Perfect for people of any age – all are welcome to connect, share, discuss, and relax.  First one is Friday April 6, 6-7:30pm. Others are scheduled for Friday, May 25, and Friday, June 15. Stay up to date on Facebook To ensure the caterer has an idea of the number attending please contact the office to RSVP.
Southminster-Steinhauer United Church (SSUC): Our Community, Our Name
What’s in a name? There’s a lot of history, reputation and identity for sure. There is 50 years of identity as Southminster United Church and 40 years of identity as Steinhauer United Church.  There’s a reputation for innovation and for investment in social justice. There’s identification as a congregation within the United Church of Canada. More recently, there’s identity as a progressive and affirming congregation. For those of us who are on the inside, there is much in our name and much for which we are proud to be known. We know, too, from experience that there are many in our society who identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’, ‘casuals’ or ‘non-religious’ who would love who we are and resonate with much that we do. While they consider themselves spiritual seekers, they would never imagine themselves to be interested in a church. For many seekers, the “brand” is irrelevant and
Winter’s Dark
Winter’s dark… but some of SSUC’s bravest went outside anyway! We were quite the spectacle before we got going each Tuesday evening… imagine all twelve of us gathered in a circle around a fire pit – with no fire lit – bundled up in all our winter gear like puffy snowmen, sitting on our summer lawn chairs! We would open with everyone lighting a candle and then together lighting a big birch-wood fire. We then settled in for poetry, storytelling and sharing. Our theme was apt… darkness! Discussion was rich. We talked about the patterned seasonal living we all do in this part of the world, we thought about the unknown things that are ‘in the dark’ to us, and we held some of the more challenging aspects of our lives in the circle. With all the grief that is associated with this time of year, it can feel like
Christmas 2017 Vlogs
« Prev1 / 1Next »Pink Shirt Day Reflection Feb 25 2018 (short version)March 18th 2018 Reflection (short)March 4th 2018 Reflection (short)Planting Love April 22 2018 (short version)Beauty is NecessaryIt's too easy to say, I want to be a good Christian...May 6th 2018 Short reflection« Prev1 / 1Next »
Think Fast
Life can move quickly. Even if it seems like nothing happens for a long time, suddenly everything can happen all at once. Someone in my life had a weekend where their car was rear-ended, they fell on some ice, and they didn’t feel like leaving the house for fear of what else might happen. The reality is that sometimes life gets overwhelming; sometimes despite planning ahead, you still come to a point where you have to make fifteen decisions in ten minutes. A few nights ago, the Edmonton Oilers played the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite a discouraging start to the season, the Oilers played two of the three periods very well. It was a potential turning point in their energy and performance. The Oilers had tied the game and were about one minute away from sudden-death overtime (one of the very few stats that they have excelled at this season)
Alison, ministry student
Hello! My name is Alison Brooks-Starks. I love water – swimming in a lake, skating outside in the winter, canoeing…. I feel more at home in the water than I do on land. I’ve always lived in Treaty 6 territory along the North Saskatchewan River… my childhood and youth in Prince Albert, SK, and my university and working days here in Edmonton, AB. Now that you know who I am, here’s what I’m doing this year. I’m in a practicum at SSUC until May 2018 for ministry, with a focus on spiritual care. I am a candidate for ministry in the United Church of Canada to be a “diaconal minister.” This is coming from a tradition of deacons practicing “diakonia,” which means “service among others.” Diaconal ministers in the United Church have a focus on education, service, and pastoral care. The only school for United Church diaconal ministers is CCS (the
More than Remembering
While at theological school in Pennsylvania in the nineties, a debate emerged around the practice of churches displaying the American flag prominently at the front of worship spaces. The question was asked, “What happens when the priorities and principles of Christianity/Jesus/the Gospel are at odds with those being demonstrated and espoused by the state?” Although there was vigorous debate in the halls of academia, I knew of no congregations nor denominations that actually dared remove flags from churches. Instead, most local leadership agreed that flying the Christian flag (something that I had no idea was a thing) next to the American flag was symbolic enough of the relationship and balance between the two. In Canadian circles, I have never experienced either of these flags in any worship spaces that I’ve known or visited. Yes, this demonstrates a marked difference between the two countries and the prominence of an American civil
A little more action please
I was recently at a meeting to interview candidates for ordination in the United Church of Canada where a conversation ensued about the purpose of church attendance. There was some discussion about “worshiping god and expressing gratitude and praise to god for life.” After I recovered from the wave of nausea that this kind of religious ‘please and appease’ belief  was still common, there was a suggestion that one of things the United Church is not very good at is discipleship. By that, this person meant teaching how to live like Jesus lived and become a good ‘disciple of Jesus’. In my opinion this is a better answer, but still so wrapped in religious theological language that for most people, it’s hocus-pocus; it’s only halfway to normal-speak. Why do we gather? Because in community we can challenge and encourage one another to live lives that make a difference – that

SSUC Fall Event: Hope and Resilience in Changing Times

Save the Date! SSUC Fall Event:
Hope and Resilience in Changing Times 
Saturday, October 13th 
8:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Keynote Speaker: Kathleen Charpentier of Red Tail Farms

Join us for a day of speakers and breakout sessions focused on spirit/body/mind with a delicious lunch and coffee breaks. Who should attend? Young adults on up to those who have stopped counting! Invite your friends and neighbors. Information on registration and sessions to follow. Registration $25. Please speak to one of our ministers if cost is a barrier.

What’s in a Name (Part 2)

In case you missed it, read about what prompted us to begin marketing ourselves externally as
“SSUC: Spiritual Seekers United in Community”. Read What’s in a Name (part 1)

Who are Millennials? 

Millennials are the generation born somewhere from the late 1970’s until the late 1990’s. There’s much debate about what defines this generation, but some of what makes them unique is that they are marrying later; are upbeat about their economic future, despite the fact that almost 60 percent of them do not have full-time jobs and are likely living at home; are heavily into social networking; and communicate almost entirely through smart phones. 59 percent of millennials with a Christian background are not attending church, and some eight million in North America will leave the church before age 30. According to Rachel Held Evans, millennials, more than any other generation, will not choose between science and religion, but want spaces to doubt, to wrestle with questions about meaning, sexuality, science, beliefs and understandings, without committing to a worldview, an institution. Instead wanting matters of spirituality to be more than a set of beliefs or rules to obey, but rather a lifestyle to live, values to pursue, and a conduit to make a positive impact on their world.

What has the church always done?

In each generation, the Christian church has had to decide if and how it would change to speak the language of the time. Whether it be literally translating words and rituals into the language of the people they were serving, or taking stands on justice issues to side with the marginalized, or whether to shift their theological focus, age-old customs and practices to meet a changing world, the way the historical church has had to communicate what it offers has always had to meet people in the reality of their experience.

How are we speaking today’s language?

Throughout its 50 year history, Southminster-Steinhauer United Church has been emboldened to have conversations about the kind of community that would express Christianity relevantly for the south side of Edmonton. It decided from the beginning to be different – to be less focused on a church building and more focused on helping populations who were under served. From the start, the expression of spirituality experienced by this congregation was in how a life and love exhibited in Jesus helped inspire a life and love of community, outreach, justice and communal leadership. Those decisions have had lasting impact in continuing the evolution of how this Christianity could be expressed within the community. In recent years we’ve been expanding the act of questioning and exploring as this community seeks to be inspired by wisdom of the Jesus tradition alongside the valuable wisdom of other traditions and sources. In its public gatherings and studies, SSUC has never been afraid to imagine ancient traditions for what meaning they might have in the 21st century, and if they have none, to leave them in the past. Being committed to inclusivity, we’ve taken steps that help exclusive god-talk language be opened so that we can be focus on how we’re connected by our common humanity and desire to live and exhibit the best of our values.

Spiritual Seekers United in Community: why use that phrase?

Using our acronym, SSUC as both a short form for our name (Southminster-Steinhauer United Church) and as a descriptive phrase (spiritual seekers united in community), we are describing ourselves to our target demographic. We want people who might be drawn to a community of value-oriented spirituality to know who we are at first glance. We wish not to hide the richness of our community, but to shine a light on who we are and what we are about to those who’d be very interested. What we’re learning about these often younger people who are finding their way to us, is that they don’t give us a chance because they are don’t get past the word ‘church’ before they write us off. We know that there are those who won’t give us a second look because they don’t think anything called “church” could possibly be relevant to them. But testimonies of some of our newest members reveal to us that this community is much different and much more than the conception they had of ‘church’.

Let’s think of this phrase as a tool. It gets frustrating to describe the kind of christian you are by having to describe what kind of christian you aren’t. The phrase is one tool that has helped many of us describe what we do together in a positive way rather than saying ‘yes, we are a church but not that kind of church’. It isn’t helpful to have only negative responses in describing who we aren’t rather than a simple positive statement that encapsulates what we ARE. We are spiritual: embracing the long history of spirituality, rooted in the Jesus tradition. We are seekers: not limited and constrained to one interpretation of a tradition but seeking wisdom and meaning wherever it can be found. We are united: yes, connected to a denomination but also united in our efforts to live our values and make a difference together. We are in community: recognizing that we all need to love and be loved, to be supported in our often-isolating world to celebrate our diversity and demonstrate compassion. What a positive and easy way to share who we are and what we’re about – all in four letters: SSUC.

Some results so far…

The phrase spiritual seekers united in community interests our newcomers a lot. We have much more contact with younger adults as a result of their interest in a spiritual community. This way of describing ourselves has helped the Rainbow Connection program describe who we are to the more than 20 young adults who participate on Monday evenings for meditation and yoga, to the 100 children, young adults, and families who come to rainbow connection all age dance parties. We inevitably have conversations with people at those events who ask, “I can’t believe a church is hosting this event! What kind of a church is this?”  How heartening to look at our Facebook followers and know so few of them personally, many representing a generation that we are thrilled to connect with.  How heartening to see newcomers in our Sunday circle who have had the courage it takes to venture here in person – here because they identify themselves as spiritual seekers who want to find community.

Our newly relaunched website (where you’re currently reading this) is mobile friendly. Did you know that over 80% of users view this site on their mobile devices? Just a year ago, our old site would receive about 50 visits per week. The new site is pulling about 260 sessions per week and 2000 page views.

We’re working for our future

The name Southminster-Steinhauer carries lots of important history and is treasured by many who’ve been here for 40 or 50 years. We imagine that this name will remain significant within our community for years to come. One of the things we learn from two millenia of church history is that the beauty of our community, the foundations it is built upon, and the message it has for the world is a great legacy, but only if it remains nimble enough to survive. All of us want our community to continue its important legacy with new generations and new people. To do that, we’ll always need to find effective ways to communicate what’s unique about us. In an age when denominational brands don’t carry much freight anymore, where most of the young adults who connect with us have no idea what’s different about lutheran, anglican, baptist, united or catholic but see us all as “church” while not thinking that “church” has much to offer them, we can evolve, we can be who we are in new ways and in ways that honour the past and the changing present. How exciting to be part of that evolution.

Dwelling Place

Dwelling Place with Alison
3 Sundays: May 20, May 27, June 3; all at 11:30 am

Need time to be present? Want to connect with nature? Join us for Dwelling Place! Experience a short gathering and solo time in different local landscapes: forest, prairie and by water. This drop-in series runs Sundays 11:30 am until about 2:30 pm May 20th, May 27th, June 3rd and it’s recommended you come to 2 or 3 outings. Meet at 11:30 am at SSUC with your bag lunch. We will arrange carpooling there and head out together to the location. The first Dwelling Place is prairie, at the Golden Ranches Land Trust, which is located in the Beaver Hills UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Activity level/accessibility: light walking on packed old dirt road. One barbed wire fence to duck under. Minimum walking 3 minutes.

Bring: bag lunch, weather appropriate clothing for sitting outside, walking shoes, something to sit on, optional whistle if you have and journal and pen if you wish.

The Empty Fridge

Gaetan Doremus
Wilkins Farago, 2013

It seems everyone in Andrew’s block has been so busy during the day, they’ve forgotten to buy anything for dinner. Their fridges are empty…but not quite. With only three carrots to eat, Andrew decides to go upstairs to ask his neighbours if they have anything.  As the growing group of neighbours ascend each floor of their apartment, they gather more ingredients from more neighbours until they reach the top floor and everyone finally has enough for a meal. But what to cook? The Empty Fridge tells us what they decide and then ends with a fun twist. It’s also really fun because the book, itself is oddly well-shaped like a refrigerator!

This story is a very well-told, fun to read aloud story that is a welcomed update to Stone Soup. As with all good stories, there are so many different directions one can go and meanings one can take from this story. After reading aloud, I’ve had delightful conversation with children about what it means to be community. The fact that no food in the fridge doesn’t have to spell disaster for one person, or for that matter, for any of the apartment dwellers to have to suffer their empty fridges alone. They can come together to contribute what they have in order to be healthy together (physically and socially). And in fact, the whole apartment block participated in the cooking making time and opportunity for real friendship. Communities should be able to do this for us: to decrease our isolation and to make it more possible for more people to thrive.

The willingness and ability to share is another easy theme to explore within the book. There’s the opportunity to learn the wisdom that holding one’s possessions (even their groceries) too tightly can lead to a loneliness that openness and sharing can remedy. None of the neighbours thought that their little ingredient should be kept to themselves. In sharing, they all ended up with something better.

A word about the twist at the end (spoiler alert): Once the meal is cooked and all are enjoying it on the rooftop, we look out to see that all the other apartments in the city are doing the same thing and eating with one another. Soon after, we learn that this was all a dream. Andrew wakes up, but rather than it being the end of the story, he decides to act out the vision he had in his dream, taking his three carrots to the neighbours. Rather than inciting a groan to this well-worn story-telling technique, I find it actually brings a sense of reality and authenticity to the fancifulness of the neighbourhood scene. It hasn’t happened in this idyllic way…yet. But it could if Andrew (and us readers) follow through on such a beautiful vision of community.

I love this book and hope you will too.

Verdi

Janell Cannon
Toronto: Harcourt, Inc. 1997

When Verdi’s mother tells him to grow up big and green, Verdi can’t imagine why. All the big green snakes seem lazy, boring and rude. So he decides he simply won’t turn green, which is why he finds himself in a whole heap of trouble.

Verdi is a children’s book. But like so many good children’s books, this one focuses on a theme appropriate for all of us. When we grow older, we worry about remaining who we’ve always been, losing pieces of our identity, and losing what has made us feel like ourselves. When changes happen around us (and to us), this book helps reassure us that we can remain true to who we are. Our aging, our graduating to a new grade, a new school, a new job, or a new reality doesn’t mean that we can’t be true to the essence of who we are on the inside.

This book can also lead into a conversation about knowing our limitations. There are certain things that we can learn about ourselves – what we’re good at, what we’re not so good at, what our strengths are and what we’d like to work at. Verdi believes he’ll be young forever, but he forgets that as he gets older he will appreciate different things about life. We might really miss something we used to do, but can focus also on the things we can still discover about ourselves when we try new things, or do things differently.

If You Want to See a Whale

Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead
New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2013

If you want to see a whale, you will need to know what NOT to look at. Pink roses, pelicans, possible pirates . . . If you want to see a whale, you have to keep your eyes on the sea, and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.

This is an excellent read-aloud book. The text is charming and demonstrates the difficulty in waiting for things. There are so many things to distract. What makes this story such a great introduction to a conversation about patience is that the things that distract us are, in their own right, very worthwhile and beautiful things. What’s not to like about roses, pelicans and clouds?

In my conversations with children around this topic, we’ve talked about the difficulty in waiting for exciting things like parties, birthdays and special days, but we’ve also talked about the challenge of waiting for difficult things too. Kids know a lot about waiting…it can seem like an eternity of waiting for parents to end their chit-chat, to be done at the grocery store, to arrive at destinations, to name only a few! We can practice compassion and empathy when we can imagine what it’s like waiting for results from a doctor when we’re sick, a surgery date, or waiting for a family move to a new neighbourhood/city/school. These situations all require waiting and we all can learn ways to make the waiting easier – for ourselves and for our friends and family.

I’ve often wondered out loud to the children if the author of this story might be telling us a little bit of a joke: Although she writes that we can’t be distracted if we really want to see a whale, aren’t there times when being distracted by these ordinary, but wonderful sights might just be a positive? Might noticing these everyday wonders help us be patient, help us in our waiting?

This book opens up all these ideas and I imagine sharing this book again and again.

What good is Good Friday?

How do I judge the value of a religious observance? The only way it makes sense to me is if the holiday has relevance to my life, my living, and provide inspiration for me to improve myself and make a difference in my world. If not, it’s a relic of the past and doesn’t have any wisdom to share.

Good Friday is one of those days that, traditionally interpreted, can be challenging to find relevance. In so many traditional settings, the story of Jesus’ death is read and re-enacted with melodrama and sadness, the purpose being to “experience” the death of the ‘son of god’, the snuffing out of the light of goodness in wait for its triumphant return on Easter. Those sad and melancholic observances are the result of centuries of theological gymnastics that the christian church has done to layer this story with liturgical meaning, turning the execution of the movement’s leader into an opportunity to emphasize and “bring glory” to a god who’s “in charge”, controlling even the destinies of our life and death.

I’m not interested in any of that. How does the emphasis of seeing this as a prophesied ‘sacrifice’ inspire me right here in the present? This story, if it’s going to be at all helpful to the spiritual life, needs to be about the life, the attitude, the actions that led to a corrupt system being threatened enough to need to silence it. I have to read this story with the eyes of an activist. The stories of Jesus give us an archetype, an example of how to live in such a way as to never accept exploitation, injustice and the corrupt systems that we encounter – politically, religiously, and socially. He staged a protest parade that mocked the Roman Empire and the overt displays of power, he initiated a movement that saw the fringes of society treated as equals, doing it all with a commitment to non-violence, building power from among rather than holding power over anyone. This Friday story of execution lays out how living in this way has consequences to those who benefit from the status-quo and unjust systems of our world.

There’s no purpose to experiencing sadness on Good Friday. I’d much rather encourage us to feel anger. Anger that corrupt systems still exist. Anger that there are still people who are pushed aside and marginalized. Anger that any number of powerful people make warring decisions that impact and end the lives of thousands. The story of this Friday inspires us to do something with that anger: to let it inspire ideas and action that can make a difference. Whether in large ways or small, let’s let this life and death inspire our activism, inspire our living, and inspire us to stand up for any and all who need it.

The Dinner Project: A New Spiritual Gathering

Excited to announce a new type of Spiritual Gathering. Over the next 3 months SSUC will be featuring The Dinner Project

An evening of shared wisdom and activity, followed by a catered dinner. Explore ideas that help make the everyday meaningful, connect you with community and make an impact.

Perfect for people of any age – all are welcome to connect, share, discuss, and relax. 

First one is Friday April 6, 6-7:30pm. Others are scheduled for Friday, May 25, and Friday, June 15. Stay up to date on Facebook

To ensure the caterer has an idea of the number attending please contact the office to RSVP.

Remember Who You Are

How do we define who we are? Our identity is made up of so many aspects. We’re unique individuals while sharing a common humanity. We have an atomic oneness with all matter while our communities and loved ones shape who we are. We contain multitudes! As Canadian R&B band Beatchild and The Slaqadeliqs say, “The only difference between you and I is everything and nothing at all.”

Beginning March 4th, SSUC begins a 4-part Sunday morning series where we’ll explore four aspects of our identity. Each week, we will “remember who we are” and honour how we live the wisdom of our identity.

One

Kathryn Otoshi. Publishers Group West, 2008.

Blue is a quiet colour. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. The other colours don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colours how to stand up, stand together, and count.

This is an amazing story, told in an accessible way for almost any child 4+. The fact that the characters of this story are colours and numbers means that this story of bullying and possible responses is appropriate for anyone – children, teens, adults, seniors. I use this story to enter conversations about how we can respond to a bully, and that there are many possibilities. Most students get taught in school to tell a trusted adult. This is good and important information, but what else? There is a need to say stop to a bully. Of course, this can’t always be done safely, or individually. When a group is inspired to stand up for others, the norm of acceptability can change, the culture of bullying can be transformed, positive results can happen. The message of this story? It often only takes one to inspire a group to do the right thing. Bystander research shows this: inaction might be the default, but as soon as one stranger helps another, it gives permission to other bystanders to get involved alongside.

There’s a sense of realism to this story when the bullying red grows bigger as his anger increases. Likewise, when he is stopped by the others, he returns to normal size. This is an excellent conversation starter around how bullies like to increase their own size/power at the expense of others.

The book ends with an invitation for red to join the other colours. Sometimes this is possible with a bully, and sometimes it isn’t. But this is a fantastic glimpse into offering inclusion as a way of resolution, as long as (and this is important to discuss with children) that it’s safe and the offender understands the boundaries of behaviour and that the group won’t tolerate other instances of bullying.

All in all, this book easily leads to conversations about possible action to take when confronted with a bully, safety issues in standing up and saying ‘stop’, the importance of our responses when we see others being bullied, and even how we might think about inclusion and reconciliation.

We’ve used this book at our annual “Pink Shirt Day” when we pledge to do our best to create an anti-bullying atmosphere. Kathryn Otoshi has created a fantastic story and a wonderful entry into a difficult topic for all ages.

SSUC Annual General Meeting

The congregation’s AGM will take place on Sunday, March 11th following the spiritual gathering. Members, adherents and guests are welcome to attend and vote at the meeting. Business will include a review of 2017, approving the 2018 Board and Budget.

The meeting will take place over a potluck lunch, and if you’re able, please bring finger food to share:

Last names A-P: sandwiches or vegetables
Last names Q-Z: fruit or sweets

To prepare for the meeting, please see the Annual Report for 2017. To save paper, please consider reading it online and printing only the pages you need for the meeting. Some copies will be available at the church beginning on February 25th.

SSUC Film Series

Calling all movie fans, film buffs, and people who need a night out…

SSUC’s Film Series runs for 3 Wednesdays:
February 21, February 28 March 7
6:30 pm

Do you trust us? We don’t tell you the movie in advance. It’s a secret. No pre-judgments, no preconceived notions about genre or actors or topic or theme. We can say this: they will all be movies from 2017 that deal with ideas and themes that will lead to great conversation. Snacks are even provided at no charge (take that theatres!)

Are you in?

Contact us to help us plan, or simply show up. Let’s get the popcorn going!

United in Wonder – An Observer Article

An ‘expansive spirituality’ conference in Edmonton draws longtime United Church members seeking a broader perspective on faith

By Alison Brooks-Starks

February 2018

I settle into my chair on a warm Friday evening last September at Southminster-Steinhauer United in Edmonton. Intricate rainbow quilts frame the front window, looking out onto spruce trees. The gathering space is lofty, inviting and bubbling with the enthusiasm of those around me.

I should be excited, too. I grew up in The United Church of Canada. I’ve worked at United Church summer camps, often as a chaplain, for over a decade. I’m an inquirer for diaconal ministry. I should feel at home, but instead I feel deeply anxious.
I take some deep breaths.  Read more as it appears at www.ucobserver.org…

Musings on Meaning

A new monthly opportunity at SSUC hosted on the second Monday of every month, beginning February 12, 7:00 pm

Have you been reading some meaningful books? Engaging in some helpful practices? Wondering about certain ideas? Wanting to explore the path of meaning and spiritual wisdom with other seekers? This monthly group will provide space for conversations about living our values, exploring our spirituality and making meaning in our lives. There will be opportunities to bounce thoughts around, share what’s been helpful, and learn and support one another in creating meaning and significance. Facilitated by our Ministry Team, you’re invited to come to one or come every month.

February 12, March 12, April 9, May 14

Grand Opening for Right at Home’s New Beginnings

The New Beginnings net-zero townhouse development for newcomers in Westmount had its grand opening on February 2, 2018. Part of SSUC’s donation to Right at Home housing Society helped fund it. Pictured above are Anne Stevenson (Board Chair, Right at Home Housing Society), Peggy Dodson and Carol Allen from SSUC, and Cam McDonald (Executive Director, Right at Home Housing Society) at the opening.  Here’s a note we received:

To the Congregation of Southminster-Steinhauer,
What a remarkable story of generosity and service to community we celebrate today.  Your commitment to providing homes for those in need has led to a remarkable development that will continue to improve the lives of so many for decades to come.
Thank you so much for your outstanding contribution to Right at Home Housing.
All the best,
Anne Stevenson, Board Chair
(Right at Home Housing Society)

See more details about New Beginnings townhouse development here.

Ish

Peter H. Reynolds
Candlewick, 2004

Ramon likes to draw but after his brother criticizes his art, Ramon gets frustrated and loses interest in his art. Then his sister shows that art does not have to be perfect and introduces him to the concept of “ish”. This is a beautiful and funny story about learning that self expression is personal, unique and subjective. Our thoughts, ideas, writing, drawing, and by extension our whole living, doesn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. In fact, it’s the uniqueness and creativity of each person’s interpretations and expressions that make art and life so beautiful.

This book leads so well into a conversation about the willingness to try, the boldness of expressing one’s self, and the courage it requires to draw/play/speak/express what one sees and how one sees it. The conversation can also go in the direction of valuing ourselves. We may not be perfect at something, but it matters more that we enjoy it, that we be true to who we are than what others might think of it.

I like to follow up a conversation of this story with a video from Sesame Street that has singer Wil.I.Am singing with the Sesame Street gang a song called “What I Am”. Not only is the song catchy, but its message reinforces that we are all unique and important people….all valuable and affirmed.

2018 SSUC Marketing Campaign

Hello Spiritual Seekers,

Nevin (marketing coordinator for SSUC) here. I wanted to just take this opportunity to share the campaign we have been working on creating to help reach others who are in search of a spiritual community such as SSUC.

The following is a sampling of the culmination of hours of brainstorming, researching, revising, and designing and it could not have been done without the help of the SSUC communications committee, Nancy and Chris, and the vision of the entire SSUC community.

These graphics are meant to provoke thought, raise questions, and engage others. They will be seen in publications, our front lawn, and online.

The Sneetches

Dr. Seuss
New York: Random House, 1961

Themes: inclusion, equality, inner worth, jealousy, justice, prejudice, discrimination, outer differences, friendship

The Star-Belly Sneetches think they are the best, and look down upon Sneetches without “stars upon thars”. The Plain-Belly Sneetches remain oppressed, prohibited from associating with their star-bellied counterparts. They learn a lesson when Sylvester McMonkey McBean (“the Fix-it-up Chappie”) comes to town and teaches them that pointless prejudice can be costly.

This story is a great one for teaching all of us the danger of making judgements based on outward appearances or even perceived differences. Once McBean comes to town with his star-off and star-on machine, there’s no more telling who’s who anymore. The Sneetches are left without money, but also without the source of their prejudice. The confusion helps all the sneetches to recognize that there is no declaring anyone is ‘the best Sneetch on the beach’.

The story leads very well into a discussion about what we can learn from the Sneetches. We are all different, whether its due to our outward appearance, how we think, what we eat, or who we love… These differences, like the stars on the bellies, are not a good reason to exclude. They are opportunities to celebrate our uniqueness. It is so important to reinforce with our children that they are valuable and that each person is equally valuable, although uniquely different. Where and how it matters, we are the same. We are human, we all want to be included.

What matters is how we might try our best to act like the Sneetches that are revealed at the end of the story, rather than those at the beginning. If we can include others, if we can reach out to someone that seems different…come out of our comfort zone in order to make that connection…we will soon learn how similar we are, and how we can learn from each other’s differences.

This is one of Dr. Seuss’ finest…It’s amazingly fun to read out loud….and its worth reading again and again.

Southminster-Steinhauer United Church (SSUC): Our Community, Our Name

What’s in a name? There’s a lot of history, reputation and identity for sure. There is 50 years of identity as Southminster United Church and 40 years of identity as Steinhauer United Church.  There’s a reputation for innovation and for investment in social justice. There’s identification as a congregation within the United Church of Canada. More recently, there’s identity as a progressive and affirming congregation. For those of us who are on the inside, there is much in our name and much for which we are proud to be known.

We know, too, from experience that there are many in our society who identify as ‘spiritual but not religious’, ‘casuals’ or ‘non-religious’ who would love who we are and resonate with much that we do. While they consider themselves spiritual seekers, they would never imagine themselves to be interested in a church. For many seekers, the “brand” is irrelevant and communicates nothing in particular. They don’t distinguish between Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Evangelical or Community as a modifier for the word “church”. And the word “church” is loaded with the baggage of preconceptions and expectations (many of which we have shed but how would someone who is seeking spirituality in community know that?)

For communications purposes (ie. publicity through our website, social media presence and signage) we are using our acronym, SSUC (a shorthand way of spelling the name of our church) and a way to communicate something descriptive about who we are with the double use of the acronym. Not only does it allow us to spell our name in a more user friendly way but it also enables us to communicate something about who we are to say that we are spiritual seekers united in community.  We are indebted to Clair Woodbury for his creativity in coining that phrase from our acronym.

The church hasn’t changed its name. It remains important to who we have been and who we continue to be. With the guidance and wisdom of the Communications Committee, the Ministry Team, and the Media and Communications Coordinator, we are making better use of our acronym to communicate something meaningful about who we are as a spiritual community as part of our  communication strategy. We are saying to the world that we are about the life and world-changing work of spirituality and that we don’t wish to do that alone, but together. Our byline… Spiritual Seekers United in Community…hopes to reach those who don’t yet know us in order to introduce them to a community, to values, to the collective work of a fantastic group of people making a difference in people’s lives and in the world.

We invite you to use whichever form of our name makes you feel most at home, most embraced by who this community is, has been and will be.

Winter’s Dark

Winter’s dark… but some of SSUC’s bravest went outside anyway! We were quite the spectacle before we got going each Tuesday evening… imagine all twelve of us gathered in a circle around a fire pit – with no fire lit – bundled up in all our winter gear like puffy snowmen, sitting on our summer lawn chairs!

We would open with everyone lighting a candle and then together lighting a big birch-wood fire. We then settled in for poetry, storytelling and sharing. Our theme was apt… darkness! Discussion was rich. We talked about the patterned seasonal living we all do in this part of the world, we thought about the unknown things that are ‘in the dark’ to us, and we held some of the more challenging aspects of our lives in the circle.

With all the grief that is associated with this time of year, it can feel like we are just trudging toward solstice. Through these “Winter’s Dark” gatherings, our perceptions about darkness shifted. Positive sides of the dark emerged. We wanted to share some of these insights about the dark so that perhaps tonight, even the dark night may bring you a little light.

…the dark as a time of rest, relaxation and rejuvenation

…the dark as a symbol of growth – seeds grow in the dark, just as we did

…the dark as a place of inspiration and dreaming

…only in darkness can we appreciate wonders like fireworks, fireflies, the stars and moon, northern lights and chatting together around a roaring campfire

Christmas 2017 Vlogs

Think Fast

Life can move quickly. Even if it seems like nothing happens for a long time, suddenly everything can happen all at once. Someone in my life had a weekend where their car was rear-ended, they fell on some ice, and they didn’t feel like leaving the house for fear of what else might happen. The reality is that sometimes life gets overwhelming; sometimes despite planning ahead, you still come to a point where you have to make fifteen decisions in ten minutes.

A few nights ago, the Edmonton Oilers played the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite a discouraging start to the season, the Oilers played two of the three periods very well. It was a potential turning point in their energy and performance. The Oilers had tied the game and were about one minute away from sudden-death overtime (one of the very few stats that they have excelled at this season) when Kris Russell, trying to clear a routine rebound of his goalie, just couldn’t manage to get his stick on the puck. The puck was bouncing, he had a Toronto forward on his heels, and everything seemed to speed up and happen all at once. Russell took one last swipe at the puck to clear it out of danger, but instead he sliced the perfect shot right past his own goalie, giving Toronto the lead (and the game).

Watching this happen in the many replays that that followed, I couldn’t help think that we’ve all been in Kris Russell’s shoes (or skates, as the case may be). We’ve all been confronted with situations that require split-second decisions. Do we take this fast-approaching exit on the freeway or not? Do we buy that present for someone when we first see it, or wait? Do we renew the mortgage now or wait for a better rate? Do we have the surgery or not?

When life seems to speed up, it’s easy to panic. And maybe there’s not much time to take a breath and ponder, but there’s two things I hold onto when this happens:

  1. I want to act in ways that are congruent with who I know myself to be. I may not have always got it right in the past, but if I’m a person of integrity, then I want my split-second decisions to be as close to my pondered and reasoned decisions I’ve made in the past. Perhaps it’s a bit like “muscle-memory” – I’ll lean on the practice I’ve had in making decisions in the past so that when I have to do it without the luxury of time, I might act more consistently like ‘me’.
  2. I’ll be gentle and forgiving with myself when I don’t quite get it right. In all the post-game interviews of his coach and teammates, they were very quick to point out Russell’s skills, how excellent of a teammate he is, and how he contributes to the team regularly. If we panic into a bad decision, let’s focus on the support we have and the knowledge that one decision won’t define us; We’ll be disappointed and frustrated for a while, then remember this support, give ourselves some forgiveness and love, and move on to make other, better decisions.

Nobody can plan for every situation, but the great thing about wanting to live a life of depth and principle is that there’s so many opportunities to consider and rehearse the kind of person we want to be and the kind of life we want to live. The more we practice with each other, the more ‘muscle-memory’ we build where we’ll more easily just ‘know’ what to do when we’re confronted with all of life’s quick decision moments.

Alison, ministry student

Hello! My name is Alison Brooks-Starks.

I love water – swimming in a lake, skating outside in the winter, canoeing…. I feel more at home in the water than I do on land. I’ve always lived in Treaty 6 territory along the North Saskatchewan River… my childhood and youth in Prince Albert, SK, and my university and working days here in Edmonton, AB.

Now that you know who I am, here’s what I’m doing this year. I’m in a practicum at SSUC until May 2018 for ministry, with a focus on spiritual care. I am a candidate for ministry in the United Church of Canada to be a “diaconal minister.” This is coming from a tradition of deacons practicing “diakonia,” which means “service among others.” Diaconal ministers in the United Church have a focus on education, service, and pastoral care.

The only school for United Church diaconal ministers is CCS (the Centre for Christian Studies) in Winnipeg. I go there in fall and spring to attend learning circles. I also will do external courses each year at St. Stephen’s. The rest of my time is spent in my practicum and completing assignments and readings at home (or in various coffee shops, of course).

I check in monthly with a mentor who is a diaconal minister, weekly with Nancy and Chris, and I also have a ‘local committee’ of congregation members who give advice and follow-up with what I’m doing in my placement. I’ve been LOVING my time at SSUC!

Currently at SSUC I’ve got a couple of spiritual care projects on the go. In “Winter’s Dark,” 12 brave folks and I go sit in the dark Tuesdays throughout November chatting about symbolism of the darkness. I’m also making links with Rainbow Connection yoga, and we will likely launch a spiritual-care-something in the new year. I’m also available for a tea and a chat anytime, with anyone!

Here I am with recent kijiji find: new hole punch.

It was a good day.

Alison

More than Remembering

While at theological school in Pennsylvania in the nineties, a debate emerged around the practice of churches displaying the American flag prominently at the front of worship spaces. The question was asked, “What happens when the priorities and principles of Christianity/Jesus/the Gospel are at odds with those being demonstrated and espoused by the state?” Although there was vigorous debate in the halls of academia, I knew of no congregations nor denominations that actually dared remove flags from churches. Instead, most local leadership agreed that flying the Christian flag (something that I had no idea was a thing) next to the American flag was symbolic enough of the relationship and balance between the two.

In Canadian circles, I have never experienced either of these flags in any worship spaces that I’ve known or visited. Yes, this demonstrates a marked difference between the two countries and the prominence of an American civil religion that runs deep and strong south of the 49th parallel. However, we in Canada have our own unique places where these civil issues of pride and place make their way into the conversation of our spiritual communities. Next to Canada Day, November 11th has one of the strongest pulls toward national themes and subscribed adherence to its liturgies and practices.

As people visit cenotaphs, lay wreaths and observe silence this weekend, I join them in gratitude for those who have served in all the diverse ways that contribute to the free and democratic life that we now enjoy. There have been times in our past when action was necessary to prevent (even further) atrocity, injustice and cruelty. Action is always necessary to prevent these evils of humanity whether on a global stage or on the smaller scale of our very communities, families and particularly within each of us. But what are those to do who wish to be thoughtful of the many issues that Remembrance Day raises? Speaking an alternative emphasis on such a day is often met with harsh criticism. The reaction against the white poppy a few years ago that sought to promote peace and remember civilian casualties was so strong from those who promote the red poppy that the issue got re-framed into an us vs them scenario, painting the peace promoters as disrespectful of the men and women who died in war. That the red poppy is now a trademarked symbol held by one organization who controls the use of the image of the flower is a sign of the national and financial strength of this civil religion around November 11th.

It’s our goal as spiritual communities (and those of us who call ourselves spiritual) to promote the values and wisdom that strengthens our collective movement toward love, compassion, justice, peace and care for the Earth. Speaking these values however, does not necessarily mean that the act of remembering is diminished. There can be both gratitude for the time, work and sacrifice of those who have served and currently serve their nation while holding our country to the high standard of finding just and peaceful solutions, engaging in vigorous diplomacy, and working toward a vision of global community that seeks harmony and humanitarian living situations for the world’s population. Let’s remember…not just because it’s the acceptable ritual…but so that we can build a different future based on our best and highest aspirations.

A little more action please

I was recently at a meeting to interview candidates for ordination in the United Church of Canada where a conversation ensued about the purpose of church attendance. There was some discussion about “worshiping god and expressing gratitude and praise to god for life.” After I recovered from the wave of nausea that this kind of religious ‘please and appease’ belief  was still common, there was a suggestion that one of things the United Church is not very good at is discipleship. By that, this person meant teaching how to live like Jesus lived and become a good ‘disciple of Jesus’. In my opinion this is a better answer, but still so wrapped in religious theological language that for most people, it’s hocus-pocus; it’s only halfway to normal-speak.

Why do we gather? Because in community we can challenge and encourage one another to live lives that make a difference – that not only help us individually ponder how to become better human beings (more compassionate, loving, just…among countless other character markers), but to work together to enable our own growth and depth to create healthier families, communities and global/cosmic citizens.

I value many of the stories told of Jesus; they illustrate excellent examples of this kind of selfless justice and compassion. A person doesn’t need to assent to the fact that a first-century, middle-eastern man named Jesus was the actual source of these examples, or if such a man even existed, to find wisdom in the counter-cultural ethic of love and human-fueled acts of community building. I have no need to say (in whatever plain or flowery language one might use) that I must be a ‘disciple of Jesus’ or a ‘christian’ to be able to do these things. Anyone can do these things. Any person can seek wisdom that helps them become the best version of themselves that expresses the highest of human values and principles. This is what should guide us and unite us. If a person wants to be about that task, let’s be together to get on with it. I’ve got no use for language and behaviour that isolates us in that work or that prevents anyone from joining in the great work of changing the world, one person, one act, one gesture, one word at a time.

Humanity Under Construction

There is much that the community of SSUC does together. We make meals, sponsor refugees, discuss ideas, make music, extend care, work for justice, mentor new generations, engage issues, build safe community, and gather to celebrate for many reasons. But what if we had to define what we seek to accomplish together in one sentence?

Eureka

I had a conversation today that reminded me how many great ideas I have in the shower. I looked online to find out why and came across a lot of articles about the subject. It’s not because there’s magic in your soap bottle – and it certainly has nothing to do with shampoo, if you’ve ever seen my shiny head.

Most of the research seems to say that you’re more likely to have a creative thought when you’re doing something boring like washing the dishes, running on a treadmill, driving (ahh!), or showering. Why? These are all activities that don’t require much thought and we can easily turn on autopilot. This frees up our unconscious to work on something else and our mind goes wandering, leaving us to quietly play a game of free association. This kind of daydreaming relaxes the prefrontal cortex—the brain’s command center for decisions, goals, and clears the pathways that connect different regions of our brain….which allows us to make new, creative connections that our conscious mind would have dismissed.

I love that there’s research studies about how our brains are working all this out…but mostly, I just love that there are situations we can put ourselves in to be creative…to solve problems….to come up with a much-needed solution to the most persistent question of humankind: “What’s for dinner?”

I think I’ll stop complaining about doing dishes, digging up sod, vacuuming, and long commutes. Instead, I’ll start thinking of them as my creativity time. I don’t know that I’ll solve the world’s biggest problems, but I might come up with where I left my computer mouse, and I’ll definitely have another blog post planned. Hoping your routines and your boredom lead you to some great ideas.

My Mouth is a Volcano

Julia Cook and Carrie Hartman
Chattanooga, TN: National Center for Youth Issues, 2005

Themes: interrupting, self-control, behaviour, listening, speaking, words, waiting, respect

Louis always interrupts. All of his thoughts are very important to him, and when he has something to say, his words rumble and grumble in his tummy, they wiggle and jiggle on his tongue and they they push on his teeth, right before he ERUPTS (or interrupts). His mouth is a volcano, but when others begin to interrupt Louis, he learns how to respectfully wait his turn to talk. Ages 4 and up.

As stated on the jacket, this is a book that deals with the universal challenge of teaching children the social nuances of polite conversation, not interrupting, and when to stop talking. It’s funny, and every child and parent will recognize the urge to say what comes to mind immediately!

This is an excellent tool to engage the topic of conversation being a two-way communication with both speaking and listening, and even more than that: that there is a time to wait and be quiet. There is a supplementary teachers guide available as well, of interest to parents, teachers and leaders of all kinds.

The Old, Old Man and the Very Little Boy

Kristine L. Franklin and Terea Shaffer
Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1992

Themes: aging, story telling, life reflection, young at heart

Description: An African boy loves to listen to the village elder’s stories.  “Inside this old, old man lives a very little boy,” says the story teller. The man can’t believe how fast time can pass, while the boy doubts that the old man could have every been young. When enough seasons pass, however, the boy, long grown, begins to speak of the inner youthfulness that he now experiences.

I’ve used this story to emphasize the value of story telling. Whether we’re the tellers or the listeners, there is something to learn. As is the case when teaching children, there are times when the understanding is immediate, and there are times where it’s more productive to think of the task as planting seeds. The wisdom of the old, old man wasn’t apparent to the child until he was much older and remembered the stories told to him, and how meaningful they were to him as a child. The story also opens the question of who is learning from whom. Is it always the story teller who is the teacher or can the inquirer be the teacher? Our questions and our wonder can be so helpful for us elders who often see ourselves as the communicators of wisdom. More often than not, the wisdom flows in the other direction.

 

 

Ollie and Claire

 

Tiffany Strelitz Haber and Matthew Cordell
Toronto: Philomel Books (Penguin Readers Group), 2013

Themes: friendship, routine, boredom, adventure

 

Description: Ollie and Claire are as tight as two friends can be. Every day they picnic together, do yoga together, and eat dinner together – all on a precise schedule. But when Claire longs to break free from this routine and dreams of traveling the world, she worries that Ollie would never join her. So she takes matters into her own hands when she  responds to an anonymous sign she sees posted in town: “Travel friend wanted for round-the-world journey! Come circle the planet with me!” Who could it be? And how can she ever tell Ollie that she’s leaving to have an adventure? Ages 3-7

I like this story because it might be just the right conversation starter for those who might feel the need to mix things up every once in a while…and who doesn’t? Even children can feel the weight of routines that don’t leave space for any adventure. I’m remembering my very free-range childhood where I’d have to fill whole weekends with either alone or with friends. How that differs from how many kids experience their young years today- with programs and schedules and with very little time to just explore and create fun from scratch. Digital screen time, while fine in small doses, doesn’t provide the same call for creativity and ingenuity.

  • What was Claire worried about when she started planning her adventure?
  • How would this story be different if Claire had talked to Ollie about wanting an adventure?
  • Is it fair to think of different friendships as providing us with different opportunities? Some more adventurous, some more safe and routine?
  • How much routine and how much adventure do you prefer? How do you balance them both?
  • What are some things we might do if we need a change in our routine?

Book Launch- “Our highest values”

Join Christopher New and Friends to help celebrate the publication of “Our Highest Values”, his collection of songs for an expansive spirituality. Share some refreshments, sing a few songs from the book and celebrate its completion. Chris says, “I wrote these songs so that they could be shared, sung in homes and communities where a new evolving and broad spirituality can be shared.” Come and celebrate this music and each other. More info here: http://www.smsuc.com/music

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Gatherings at 10AM Sundays