Did you know that there are about 220 million people speaking French? Did you know that 115 million of them live in Africa and more than 7 million in Canada? Did you know that French is one of the 6 languages through which ideas are spread in the world today?
Imagine the message and values you care about shared in French. You do not have to imagine. “La Communauté Sans Frontières, Unitarienne /Universaliste” is a Ministry venture that seeks to serve the French speaking community in Saskatoon, in Canada and the world!
The reality is that U/Uism is packaged in English and its culture. When one looks up Unitarianism or Unitarian Universalism, everything that comes up is in English and a little bit in Spanish and some pieces in French. The materials available in French do not give enough material for people to understand and connect.
The U/U faith has a lot to offer to the world. I am here to tell that story. When I was in prison, two particular members of my congregation in Bujumbura kept me informed about the efforts to get me out of jail. They would say, 918 people have signed the petition so far or another letter was sent to the embassy today or someone from the Philippines inquired about your situation and so on. Every day at 6PM, everyone would go home and I would stay alone in a dark locked room. I would think about many things, including the risks of not getting out alive. I would also think about all the positive energy being sent my way and what I share with the people who were fighting my fight. Like me, they valued freedom of speech, the democratic processes in our congregations and institutions, the worth and dignity of every person. We shared values and we shared our humanity. The flaming Chalice kept coming to my mind as a symbol of what we share. Care for others, sacrifice for others including those we do not know, have not met and probably will never meet. The values we stand for can and do save lives. It did in the past, it does today and will do in the future. If my life could be used to tell that story of love, of resistance, of care, of speaking truth to power, it would be worth doing and that is the story I want to tell to as many people as possible, in as many languages as possible and this time in French. U/Usm represents the worldview that supports those values and a spirituality that in the words of William R. Murry has to do with “genuineness, depth and devotion to values other than my own self-interest”.
U/Um is a faith that has been transformative for many people who have been in contact with it and embraced the values that the faith promotes.
I have been involved in different ways with the francophone community of Saskatoon and hold monthly services in French in the sanctuary of Saskatoon Unitarians. Some people have expressed a desire to learn more in French and I shared the disappointment that they can’t.
Beside the demand in Saskatoon, there is also a demand from the Burundian refugees now in East Africa and a handful in other countries and a huge potential for millions of French speaking around the world.
There is a need to share our life-giving, life-shaping and yes life-saving message to the people who speak French. The need is both for those who already know about the faith and need to sustain it. The need is also to make it available and accessible for other people whose lives and communities can potentially be impacted in a positive way.
Technology has made it possible to connect with people instantly regardless of where they are. Online meetings, videos and messages are easy to share and distance has become irrelevant. It is still important to have face to face meetings for a real connection but learning and building online communities are features of our contemporary world.
This ministry stands on the shoulders of a giant. The Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) founded in 1944 serves isolated UUs in the USA, people in the military and people in prisons. CLF also serves people around the world, mostly expatriates north Americans working and living abroad. This project will learn from CLF and will do certain things differently due to the geographic proximity of some of the people involved. There will be opportunities of annual retreats which we call “Institut de Croissance” or growth Institute.
This ministry intends to translate and create materials in French and set up a website where people can learn about the faith and connect to a minister. The ministry will build an online community, hold weekly online services, provide adult programming, small group ministry and hold a retreat once a year. The face to face aspect of the work with Francophones in Saskatoon both in the form of a French service and working with immigrants will be part of this ministry.
There are different views about how to share our message and how far we can go. My personal experience of colonization, imperialism, paternalism and paternalistic treatment makes me aware of how important it is to be sensitive to these realities. There is a difference between sharing the values we believe are life affirming and life changing and bragging that our worldview is the only valid one and pressuring others to adopt it.
The hard work is to let people determine what our values mean for them in their cultures. It is a journey of learning through listening, facilitating and be helpful only when needed and at all times, be out of the way for the growth that needs to happen.
I strongly believe that, as a faith, we have something important and precious to offer. I choose to carry the flame for the world to see that U/Usm is one of the ways! For this project, Le Français is my tool!
Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana